Where Does Jordan Spieth's Masters Collapse Rank?

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth blew his chance at becoming the fourth golfer to win the Masters in consecutive years. USA Today Sports via Reuters

There is no greater mental gauntlet in sports than the final round of one of golf's four major championships. We were reminded of this on Sunday, when defending champion Jordan Spieth took a five-shot lead into the back nine of the Masters, only to relinquish it (and then some) in heartbreaking fashion before he could even make it through Augusta National's famed 11th, 12th and 13th holes—also known as Amen Corner.

Most of the damage was done on the par-3 12th, which Spieth quadruple-bogeyed after hitting not one but two shots into the water. When added to the bogeys he made on 10 and 11, after carding the 7 on 12, Spieth found himself three back of eventual champion Danny Willett. He made a valiant effort to come back with birdies on 13 and 15, but when he left, his birdie putt high on 16, it was all but over. A bogey on 17 sealed one of the most gut-wrenching major championship collapses in golf history.

But was it the most gut-wrenching? In the wake of Sunday's result, Spieth's meltdown has drawn the most comparisons to Greg Norman's in the 1996 Masters. The Shark was seeking his first Masters title and entered Sunday with a six-shot lead over Englishman Nick Faldo. "If he blows this, it will be the biggest collapse in modern golf history," said Dan Patrick of ESPN. Norman shot a six-over-par 78 on Sunday, and Faldo shot a 67 to win the tournament by five strokes. It wasn't even close. Norman would finish his career with three second-place finishes in Augusta, but no wins.

Like Faldo 20 years earlier, Danny Willett, also an Englishman, shot a 67 to overtake Spieth on Sunday and, as with Faldo's win, history will remember the collapse rather than the comeback effort. A lot of golfers have shot 67 on Sunday at the Masters, few have blown such enormous leads. The major difference between the two meltdowns is that not only is Spieth's career just beginning, but he's also already won a green jacket. The 1996 Masters was seen as one of Norman's last chances to bring home golf's most prestigious title. Heading into Sunday, it seemed like a foregone conclusion.

Norman's meltdown may have been more excruciating, as we watched one of the game's greats choke away his last chance at a green jacket over the course of 18 holes, but Spieth's was more shocking, more inexplicable. He entered Sunday with a one-shot lead, having just set the record for consecutive rounds led at Augusta with seven. In 2015, he was a wire-to-wire winner, leading the tournament after each round of play en route to a four-shot win that tied the Masters record. He had struggled at points throughout the defense of his title, but after birdieing the last four holes of the front nine to take a five-shot lead, the tournament seemed all but his.

Since Spieth's emergence as one of the world's best players, the 22-year-old has become known for, above all else, his mental resolve. He knows how to win a major; he knows how to navigate the emotional hurdles of the back nine of the Masters on Sunday; he has the experience and those chasing him do not. Then a bogey. Then another bogey. Then the unspeakable. It was over, and no one—least of all Spieth—could make sense of what had happened. "Big picture, this one will hurt," Spieth said after his round. "It will take a while."