This time last year, Danny Willett had just completed his debut in the Players Championship. This year he arrived as the new Masters champion and with one round of golf under his belt since he holed out for that fabulous victory – and that a game with friends at home. So from Augusta National to Rotherham GC and then Sawgrass TPC: spot the odd one out. Yes, you’re right: Rotherham is the only one that’s in England.
The man whose dismay in Georgia helped pave the way for Willett’s delight, Jordan Spieth, was also making his return to competitive golf for the first time and was adamant that his taking seven at the par-three 12th at Augusta didn’t mean history should be written to say he’d lost the tournament. “That’s absolute bull,” said Spieth, “because [Danny] won and he earned it.”
Given his two visits to the aqua on that Masters Sunday, Sawgrass must have been an unnerving course for Spieth’s restart given all the water that it’s got. Jordan opened up with a level-par 72, which sounds fine, but there was a seven on this card, too, courtesy of a three-putt at the last, and his mood was not enhanced by having to watch while one of his playing partners, the current world No. 1, Jason Day, assembled a 63.
“I shot 81 the last time I played here,” said the Australian. Hey, that’s the vagaries of golf for you. His nine-under effort gave him a two-shot cushion over a group of five players. And talking about the vagaries of golf, Rory McIlroy has historically displayed widely divergent likings for the respective nines at the TPC. The second round this year made it even more so. Starting at the 10th, he was out in 29, matching the record established by Shane Lowry the previous day. That made him a cumulative 37 under for the back nine over the past four years. Coming home in 35 made him a comparative 13 over for the front nine. What’s more, he dropped a shot at the 9th, his last, a par-five, when a birdie would have given him a course-record 62. When the dusk (not a typo!) had settled after a rain delay, McIlroy’s eight-under total left him six shots adrift of Day, who still had four holes to complete the next morning. By the time he’d got those out of the way, his lead over McIlroy was seven. Spieth, like Willett, had missed the cut.
But then the course got rather out of control. The greens turned glassy – Day four-putted the 6th; Sergio Garcia went one better – sorry, worse – and five-putted the 5th. Only three players broke 70: Hideki Matsuyama (67) and Ken Duke (65) thereby got to ten under par, alongside Alex Cejka, four behind Day, who displayed all the resolve expected of a world No. 1 to survive two double-bogeys and shoot 73.
On Sunday Day did what one expected him to do. He won, a closing 71 getting him home without much ado, with Kevin Chappell four shots in arrears as runner-up. McIlroy finished eight back. He hasn’t won since Dubai last November. In contrast, in his last 17 tournaments since his near-miss in the Open at St Andrews, Day has notched up seven wins. The event that likes to think of itself as golf’s fifth major was won by the player who is currently golf’s first man.
Robert Green’s ‘Seve: Golf’s Flawed Genius’ is available on Amazon. You can follow him on Twitter @robrtgreen