A flash of inspiration gave Jordan Spieth hope of becoming the youngest Masters champion ever last night, as Europe’s challenge for the green jacket faded.
At just 20 years old, Spieth was out to replace 21-year-old Tiger Woods as the youngest title winner at Augusta National, as well as becoming the first player since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979 to win on his tournament debut.
The American star looked completely unfazed by the occasion as he birdied four of his first seven holes until bogeys on eight and nine handed the initiative to his playing partner and former champion Bubba Watson.
Spieth, who only turned professional in December 2012, hit poor tee shots on the opening two holes but made par on the first and then holed from 15 feet for birdie on the par-five second.
The par-three fourth hole had already cost England’s Lee Westwood a potentially fatal double bogey and also saw title rival Matt Kuchar four-putt for a double bogey, but Spieth had no such worries as he holed out from a greenside bunker for an unlikely birdie.
Watson had bogeyed the third and was briefly three behind, but the 2012 champion then calmly holed from five feet for his own birdie to close the gap.
Spieth was unable to conjure up more magic from a greenside bunker on the fifth, but a brilliant tee shot to the sixth set up another short birdie putt which he converted after Watson had holed from 10 feet for a two.
Another birdie on the seventh took Spieth to eight under par but in the space of the next two holes the nerves began to get the better of him as he registered two bogeys while Watson retaliated with successive birdies to enter the back nine with a two-shot lead.
Sweden’s Jonas Blixt was two shots further back on four under with Denmark’s Thomas Bjorn two under alongside 50-year-old Spaniard Miguel Angel Jimenez, who was aiming to become the oldest winner of any major.
Sandwiched in between Blixt and the two veteran Europeans was Kuchar, who despite starting with two birdies to get to six under, slipped back to three under.
Westwood, seeking a first major title at the 64th attempt, began the final round just three off the lead but dropped three shots in his first four holes before a birdie on the ninth took him to level par.
Rory McIlroy was left to wonder what might have been after he shot a best-of-the-week 69 to finish on level-par. He had three birdies in a row before the turn as he threatened the late starters, but he could not complete the charge on the back nine.
Earlier in the day, Holland’s Joost Luiten finished his final round just as the leaders set off, but the Ryder Cup hopeful’s superb 67 suggested an exciting finale was in store.
Luiten birdied four of the last five holes to finish four over par on his tournament debut, taking advantage of some more generous pin positions than in Saturday’s third round.
“It feels really good to shoot 67 on Sunday at the Masters,” said Luiten, who made the halfway cut on the mark of four over before a third round of 77.
“I look at my tournament and I’m very happy. (Saturday) was a little bit of an off day, and in the future you need four good days to compete here.
“It felt like they watered the greens a little bit overnight. They were a little bit slower and a little bit more forgiving than (Saturday) when they were very slick and quick.
“So it felt like they set it up a little bit easier, but there were still a lot of tough pin positions and you just have to play smart to some of them and take your par and then go on to the next.”
Sheffield amateur Matt Fitzpatrick narrowly failed to birdie the last hole on Friday night as he missed the cut by a shot.
Having opened with a 76 on Thursday, the 19-year-old who won the Open silver medal and US Amateur championship last summer responded with a 73 on Friday, but it was not enough to book him a place for the weekend’s action.
“Obviously to miss by one is very disappointing but it’s just one of those things,” said Fitzpatrick. “It’s not the end of the world. Life goes on.
“It’s been a great experience and I’ve enjoyed being here. I’m just really disappointed.
“This place, there’s no place like it.
“You don’t play courses like it every day or every tournament, for that matter.”