At the end of the second round at Augusta, Rory Mcilroy had clung onto the coat tails of Jordan Spieth, with just one shot separating the two most exciting prospects in golf. Spieth, who had looked as comfortable on the Georgia course as one would look in an armchair at home, was suddenly under pressure having dropped three shots on the 17th and 18th holes.
|Mcilroy fell to +2 when paired with Spieth on day three|
This was the moment many had anticipated – could Rory get close enough to exert some pressure and really see what the 22-year-old Spieth was made of? Could his Dennis Bergkamp-like cool be unsettled?
The answer was yes, but not by Rory.
Danny Willett’s victory came as a result of patience and mastery of timing. From rounds one to three the Yorkshire man was -2, even and even again. Spieth had led him by four, four and three across those rounds, but Willett had kept himself well positioned.
|Despite his collapse on the 12th hole, golf looks to be Spieth's|
to dominate for years to come
Meanwhile Rory missed his chance to assert his authority. Having been paired together ‘mano a mano’ as Hazel Irvine superbly put it, the more experienced Mcilroy's challenge was to wrest the narrative from Spieth's nerve-less hands. The opposite transpired, as Rory fell to +2.
Willett was one of a small group whose patience and incremental pressure on Spieth eventually told. When Spieth teed off on the fateful 12th, he led on -5 with Willett -4 and Johnson -2. The small chasing pack had made sure there was at least a question or two to be asked of Jordan going into the back nine, and eventually Spieth ran out of answers.
Spieth v Mcilroy however looks to have plenty of legs in it, and the narrative potentially is richer for Sunday’s events. Rory himself knows all too well the emotional scars Augusta’s manicured menace can leave; having thrown away a four shot lead going into the final round in 2011, the lasting image of Rory's ball striking a building and the cameras kindly leaving him to it will be something he now has in common with Spieth.
The difference remains that Jordan already has A) a Masters title and B) multiple majors, but he might do well to seek Rory out for a few tips on recovering. We got a glimpse of Spieth v Mcilroy this weekend– here’s hoping it was merely a footnote in a rich sporting rivalry.