Englishman Danny Willett took advantage of a shocking back-nine meltdown by defending champion and runaway leader Jordan Spieth to win his first major title by three shots at the Masters on Sunday.
Three strokes behind the pacesetting Spieth going into the final round at Augusta National, an ice-cool Willett closed with a five-under-par 67 to end a 17-year title drought by European golfers at the year’s opening major.
Willett, a four-times winner on the European Tour competing in his second Masters, birdied three of the last six holes to cap off a bogey-free display in sun-bathed but cool conditions and post a five-under total of 283.
He became only the second Englishman to win the coveted Green Jacket, following three-times champion Nick Faldo, and ended a barren title run by Europeans dating back to Spaniard Jose Maria Olazabal’s second victory here in 1999.
“It’s been crazy,” Willett, 28, said before being helped into the coveted Green Jacket by last year’s champion, Spieth. “You can’t really describe the emotions and feelings.
“We all go out there and try and play good golf and at the end of the day someone’s got to win the golf tournament. Fortunately enough, today was my day,” added 2007 English Amateur champion Willett, who is the son of a vicar.
“It was tough. Every time we seemed to make ground, Jordan kept pulling ahead. And we were just trying to dig in and dig in … trying to make birdies and birdies. It was just a very surreal day when you look back at the ebb and flows.”
Willett’s participation at this year’s Masters had been in doubt last month with his wife scheduled to give birth on Sunday, but their baby boy Zachariah arrived 12 days ago.
“He came early … to let me play,” Willett smiled. “You talk about fate … it’s just been a crazy, crazy week.”
Spieth, bidding for a second consecutive wire-to-wire win at the Masters and a third major title, had to settle for a share of second place after carding an adventurous one-over 73 that included a quadruple bogey and seven birdies.
The American world number two had stormed five strokes in front with nine holes to play and victory seemingly assured when he bogeyed the 10th and 11th before running up a nightmare seven at the par-three 12th.
“It’s tough, it’s really tough,” Spieth told CBS Sports about his stunning three-hole collapse, his voice cracking with emotion. “Pretty sure I’ll be disappointed with that one.
“Just put a bad swing on it right at the wrong time. Just compounded mistakes. Just lack of discipline. A very tough 30 minutes for me that hopefully I will never experience again.”
Finishing level with Spieth at two under was England’s former world number one Lee Westwood who, still seeking a first major title after recording 17 top-10 finishes during a stellar career, returned a 69.
England’s Paul Casey (67) and Americans J.B. Holmes (68) and Dustin Johnson (71) tied for fourth at one under while world number three Rory McIlroy, seeking to complete a career grand slam of the majors, returned a 71 to share 10th place.
After three rounds of gusting winds, players were greeted by the coldest temperatures of the week but the calmest conditions as Sunday’s final round began with an abundance of compelling possible storylines in the melting pot.
For the first nine holes, Spieth was his usual unflappable self as he mixed five birdies with a lone bogey and several clutch putts to reach the turn five strokes clear at seven under, seemingly in total command.
However, the 22-year-old Texan bogeyed the 10th, after bunkering his approach, and also the 11th, after his tee shot sailed right into the trees, before the tricky 12th took an even more severe toll.
After hitting successive shots into the waters of Rae’s Creek in front of the 12th green, Spieth found a back bunker with his fifth en route to a mind-boggling seven, tumbling back into a tie for fourth at one under.
Though he did well to rebound with birdies on both par-fives, the 13th and 15th, he also bogeyed 17 after bunkering his approach and was never able to catch Willett, who picked up shots at the 13th, 14th and 16th to give himself a cushion.
“I had my ‘B minus’ game tee to green, and I made up for it around the greens with my putter,” said Spieth. “Ultimately you just have to have your ‘A’ game every single part, and I just didn’t have those iron swings, as it showed on the back nine.”