AUGUSTA, Ga. — It began as a hilarious press conference exchange.
“Sorry to take you back to the past,” the interviewer began.
Jordan Spieth gave him a look. “That could be a good or bad thing, but you’re apparently going the bad route,” he said, deadpan, drawing laughter from the crowd.
This was Masters Tuesday at Spieth’s pre-tournament press conference. He sounded confident. He sounded excited. He didn’t seem put off by the question that followed, an enquiry into the long-term damage wrought by Spieth’s infamous double-bogey 7 on the 12th hole Sunday of the 2016 Masters.
“Since I’ve won, I don’t feel any damage from it at this point,” he said. “Ideally I get in that situation again, and it makes me play the right shot, and I win the golf tournament because of it. For a couple of years I certainly thought about it, was questioned about it a lot, but that only lasted a couple of years.”
Spieth added that he’d exorcised his demons at No. 12 in 2018, when he made a back-nine charge towards the lead that featured some 12th-hole heroics.
“I made birdie on the hole on Sunday [in 2018] to get to maybe six under or something through 12 and ended up getting to nine under through 16, and it was just kind of that like moment where I was like, ‘All right, I got this hole back.’ So I don’t think a whole lot of it.”
Spieth’s record at the Masters, he said, helped ease the heartbreak. He already owns a green jacket. He entered this week with a preposterous five top-three finishes in eight career starts. There wasn’t much reason to let No. 12 haunt him. Augusta National was where he performed better than any other course on the planet.
“It doesn’t even come into my head anymore,” he said.
How Spieth must long for Masters Tuesday.
On Friday, our hero was in fine position as he headed to Augusta National’s back nine. He sat at one over par, just a handful of strokes off the lead and well clear of the cut line. The wind was swirling but Spieth was battling — and he’d already made it through No. 11, the toughest test on the course.
Then he stepped to the 12th tee. In Spieth’s presser he suggested that he might face this same shot again and win the tournament because of what he’d learned. You can’t win the Masters on the 12th hole on Friday. But you can certainly lose it.
At impact, Spieth knew something was wrong.
“Go,” he begged. “Go, go, go!”
It didn’t go. Spieth’s ball didn’t even make the front bunker. Instead it hit the bank and rolled back into Rae’s Creek. He turned to caddie Michael Greller, dismayed.
“I just got straight — absolutely gusted,” he said.
He took a drop short and left of the green, picking his preferred yardage. It didn’t work. Spieth’s next shot landed short and right, hardly threatening the green, and spun back into the water. The stakes were lower, the conditions were tougher, but the result was the same as in 2016: Spieth had deposited two balls in Rae’s Creek, torpedoing his tournament hopes.
The fact that Spieth got up and down from there was some small consolation. Six is decidedly better than 7, after all. Still, suddenly he was four over for the tournament and squarely on the cut line.
Spieth held steady from there. He deposited his approach at No. 13 in the water but got up and down for par. He made pars at 14, 15, 16 and 17, too. He reached the 18th tee in need of a final par; four over was guaranteed to make the cut while five over had an outside chance.
What happened next happened quickly: Spieth found the left fairway bunker, chopped it out, missed the green, raced a chip past the hole and missed the comebacker. Double-bogey 6. Second-round 76. Missed cut.
Now what? It wouldn’t be quite right to single out Spieth as No. 12’s only victim; six players made double bogey or worse on Friday alone. Plenty of pros have fallen victim to the intricacies of Amen Corner, including Tiger Woods, who made a 10 at No. 12 the last time he played the tournament. If you’re giving Spieth the benefit of the doubt, he played the course’s most confounding hole at arguably the most confounding time of the day, with winds swirling and balls splashing.
Spieth didn’t speak to reporters after his round. But it was clear that his hole served as a cautionary tale to those around him.
“I was lucky enough to hit third on that hole today. I saw Jordan spin one up in the air and hit it in the water,” said Viktor Hovland, Spieth’s playing partner.
“In front of us, Jordan hit two in the water, so that wasn’t a great visual,” added Rory McIlroy.
In other words, as much as Spieth’s competitors felt for him, they were mostly glad his mistakes weren’t theirs. On the wrong side of the cut line, that’s how it goes.
He’ll be back.