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The New Jordan Rules

April 15, 2015

Has Jordan Spieth stepped forward as the next golfing generation’s standard bearer? Is Spieth the “next” Tiger? These are foremost among the many questions Professional Golf fans and followers have asked themselves during and after Jordan Spieth’s barnstorming triumph at the 2015 Masters.

Spieth either set or shared Masters course records at the end of every round, carding a record 28 birdies in 72 holes and going from the youngest runner-up in Masters history last year to the second-youngest Champion. I’ll let others place him in the historical context or draw the obvious, unavoidable Tiger Woods comparisons that began even before Spieth had actually won, but as Jim Nantz pointed out in Sunday’s broadcast, he’s played eight (8) competitive Masters rounds and has never been out of the top five on the leaderboard.

It’s easy to wonder after this blitzkrieg by the World’s best, whether Augusta National will break out the earth movers and raid the nursery for pine saplings again to Spieth-proof the course much as they tried to Tiger-proof the course in the 2000s. Singling out singular talents for special countermeasures isn’t a new phenomenon. In the 1980’s the Detroit Pistons created the “Jordan Rules” as an approach to contain and limit Michael Jordan’s effectiveness (further detailed in Sam Smith’s 1992 book “The Jordan Rules” about the 1990-91 Chicago Bulls championship season), and it worked, for a while. Debate has been ongoing as to whether Tiger-proofing Augusta actually worked, or whether it actually existed, or whether after last year when Bubba Watson won his second Masters in three years Augusta National should be Bubba-proofed. What is clear is that Tiger won two more Green Jackets (2002, 2005) after significant changes were first made to Augusta in 2002, but none since 2006 when a second round of alterations to lengthen the course and tighten landing areas limited favorable outcomes for Tiger’s usual scrambling game.

So could Augusta National similarly initiate a new set of “Jordan Rules”, a forthcoming era already suggested by the L.A. Times’ Bill Plaschke? Probably not, unless as one golf writer noted Augusta wanted to “dig ponds in the middle of fairways and ban putters.” Spieth isn’t cut from the same cloth of long-ball bombers or left-handed legends that have dominated Augusta’s “curvilinear camouflage” over the past 18 years. He won this week by being the most complete golfer on the course, an efficient jack-of-all-trades that allows him to overcome being outdriven by many of his competitors with his accuracy and clutch short game, zigging where others are zagging during the PGA’s current long ball era.

Although Sunday’s chase was enjoyable to watch, there was very little suspense for home viewers as well as those in the gallery munching on a $1.50 pimento cheese sando. Spieth’s second shot at the 13th sealed the deal as far as I was concerned. The announcers were prognosticating a common sense approach of laying up short of Rae’s creek on the Par 5, but instead Spieth fired right at the stick and put it within 12 feet of the hole. The fact that he missed the eagle putt that followed didn’t matter nearly as much as the gumption of the prior shot, showing he had the right stuff to become the 5th wire-to-wire Masters Champion.

It was the quality of those chasing Spieth – how many normally victorious efforts were posted – that made his dominating performance all the more impressive. Phil (he can go by one name now I think) played championship-level golf, a miraculous sand save on the 15th for eagle punctuating a steady but otherwise not spectacular enough 69 on Sunday to earn his 10th all-time runner up finish in a Major, tied (-14) with Justin Rose. On 70 of the 78 previous Masters Tournaments, both of them would have been walking back up the 18th hole for a sudden-death playoff. In other years the Sunday 66s shot by Rory McIlroy (-12) or Hideki Matsuyama (-11) would have won it outright more than three of every four times. I never saw Ian Poulter (World Ranked #26) or Paul Casey (#36) Sunday & they both finished T6th at -9 with Dustin Johnson (#6 and the second-most significant potential redemption story this week), all earning a trip back next year.

Then there was Tiger. His interview with CBS’ Bill McAtee, where Tiger claimed to pop a wrist bone back into place after swinging his club into a tree root on the 9th, was the capper to a promising but decidedly mixed bag of results for Tiger. Woods’ last hole Sunday was a microcosm of his week in Augusta, barely missing a par-saving putt after finding only his second fairway all day. Finishing T17th (-5) with Sergio Garcia, I tend to side with those who say this performance demonstrates Tiger can still contend for Majors in the future, rather than demonstrating he can’t, but to win at Augusta his game will have to continue transformation into the strategically specific point-to-point target golf that Spieth was so adept at all week.

Unsurprisingly, from my recliner none of the also-rans sounded all that happy about their performances in post-round interviews, at best barely even satisfied. That’s the thing about these pro golfers, when they see someone post a better number, they always think they could have done more.

But the immutable truth is, at 21 year 8 months, and 16 days old, Jordan Spieth is really, really good at golf. And this year, there was nothing the rest of the field could have done about that. We’ll see what Augusta National has to say about it next year and beyond.

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From → Golf, Sports

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