Golf: Jordan Spieth becomes second youngest player to win Masters at 21, ties record score

AUGUSTA (AFP) - Jordan Spieth won a historic Masters triumph for the ages Sunday, deftly handling the final-round tension to hold off Phil Mickelson and Justin Rose and win his first major title by four shots.

Writing an epic conclusion to a week of domination at Augusta National, the 21-year-old American fired a two-under par 70 to finish on 18-under 270, matching the 72-hole tournament record set by Tiger Woods in 1997.

Spieth claimed the green jacket symbolic of Masters suprmeacy and the top prize of US$1.8 million (S$2.46 million) at the US$10 million event.

England’s Rose, the 2013 US Open winner and Spieth’s last-pair playing partner, shot 70 to share second place on 274 with 44-year-old US left-hander Mickelson, a five-time major winner, who closed with a 69.

World number one Rory McIlroy, seeking a third consecutive major win to complete his career Grand Slam, was fourth on 276 after a 66, one stroke ahead of Hideki Matsuyama, who also fired a 66.

“It’s awfully impressive,” McIlroy said of Spieth’s performance.

Woods, a 14-time major champion, fired a 73 to share 17th on 283, his best finish since 2013 and a sign that the worst of his physical and shotmaking woes might be behind him.

“Considering where I was... I’m really proud of it,” Woods said of his effort.

Spieth was a runner-up to Bubba Watson last year in his Masters debut after squandering a front-nine lead on Sunday, but this time responded four times when dropping a shot to his rivals, restoring his margin each time on the very next hole.

Spieth, who will jump from fourth to second in the world rankings, became the second-youngest winner in Masters history, five months older than Woods when he won his first major in 1997.

Also, Spieth became only the fifth wire-to-wire winner in Masters history, joining Craig Wood in 1941, Arnold Palmer in 1960, Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and Ray Floyd in 1976.

Starting with a four-stroke lead after setting the 36- and 54-hole Masters scoring records, the youngest 18-hole leader in Augusta National history answered every stumble quickly.

Three times on the front nine Rose trimmed Spieth’s lead to three shots and each time the Texan boosted his edge back to four on the very next hole.

When Rose made bogey at nine and Spieth followed with a 23-foot birdie putt at 10, the US prodigy’s lead was six shots over Rose and Mickelson with eight holes remaining.

Spieth sets birdie mark

Spieth’s birdie at 10 was his 26th of the tournament, breaking the Masters mark of 25 set by Mickelson in 2001, and he added two more at the par-5 13th and 15th for good measure.

Spieth dropped a shot at the par-3 12th and Mickelson, who would have been the second-oldest Masters champion, birdied the par-5 13th to pull within four. B

ut once again Spieth answered a challenge with his own birdie at 13 to restore a five-shot edge.

It wasn’t over yet, however. Mickelson eagled the par-5 15th, blasting in from a greenside bunker, and Rose birdied 14 to join him on 14 under, both four back of Spieth with four to play.

Again Spieth answered. He went over the green at 15 but pitched to seven feet and made the birdie putt to reach 19 under par, the first time any player at any point in any Masters was so far below par.

Rose birdied to stay four back but could gain no ground as both parred 16 and 17 and made bogey on 18, Spieth missing a five-foot par putt at the last which would have given him the tournament record alone.

Spieth became the seventh man to finish second one year and win the Masters the next, the first since his fellow Texan and mentor Ben Crenshaw won in 1984. Crenshaw, 63, played his 44th and final Masters this week.

Woods hurts wrist

McIlroy and Woods faded well out of contention early after starting the day 10 adrift, each needing the greatest comeback in Masters history to stop Spieth.

McIlroy went four under on the back nine to surge into fourth, his best Masters finish.

“I played well,” McIlroy said. “I’m happy with how the weekend went. I’ll take a lot of positives from it.”

Woods missed every front-nine fairway and was favoring his right wrist after blasting an approach off pine straw and hitting a tree root at the ninth.

“A joint went out of place but I popped it back in,” Woods said.

Woods, in many ways, had a successful week, proving at age 39 that he can still contend in a major, although he said of his next start, “It’s not going to be for a while.”

But Woods has not won the Masters since 2005, has not won a major since the 2008 US Open and has not won any tournament since the 2013 WGC event at Firestone.