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Saturday, April 12, 2014
Updated: April 13, 10:40 PM ET
Jordan Spieth shows moxie with T-2

By Gene Wojciechowski
ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- By 5:55 p.m. the preparations were complete. Ten rows of folding chairs arranged just so. The green outdoor carpet runner tapped into place. The podium set atop the table. Trophies lined up on the taut felt cover.

As it turned, the only thing missing an hour or so later was Jordan Spieth.

The Masters giveth and the Masters taketh your lunch money, dunketh your head into Rae's Creek, rubbeth your face into its Bonneville Salt Flats greens. It tests you. Humbles you. And often breaks you.

Jordan Spieth
Jordan Spieth didn't earn his first major victory Sunday, but he his T-2 at the Masters was his highest major finish by far.

It didn't break the 20-year-old Masters rookie on Sunday, but it did provide the kind of priceless golf education that you only get by finishing second (OK, tied for second) in a Masters.

"This is the frickin' Harvard, Yale ... this is the whole Ivy League of it," said Spieth, as he stood in the nearly deserted Augusta National locker room moments after packing up his belongings. "This was fast-track learning while competing on the biggest stage in golf."

Spieth didn't lose the Masters; Bubba Watson won it. Spieth didn't gag, choke or collapse. He didn't need a binky or a vomit bag. He got beat fair and square by a now-two-time Masters champion who does things to a golf ball that defy the laws of physics. Watson's 366-yard cut drive on the par-5 13th was in the air so long that they showed a movie on the flight.

A Bubba victory is always good theater. But a Spieth win would have been history. Had he matched Watson's 3-under-par 69 instead of shooting 72, we would have had a playoff. And then we might have had the youngest-ever Masters champion and the youngest major winner since 1931.

Of course, the Masters is always about ifs. If his third shot on the par-5 eighth hole hadn't somehow dug its claws into the marble floor green ... If he hadn't 3-putted on the same green for bogey ... If his 9-iron on the cruel par-3 12th hadn't somersaulted into the waters of Rae's Creek ... If a putt here, a putt there hadn't rolled toward the cup and then said, "Never mind."

There's a reason why the Earl of Augusta National, longtime Ben Crenshaw caddie Carl Jackson, kept gushing about Spieth. Earlier in the week he pulled Spieth's caddie Michael Greller aside and said, "What I love about Jordan, he has moxie."

Moxie is an old-school word. It's a Carl Jackson word. It's the kind of word that explains why Spieth leaves Augusta National as the next big thing. It's why he was still receiving pockets of applause long after defending champion Adam Scott had slipped the 44-long green jacket onto Watson.

Spieth began the day tied for the lead with Watson at 5-under. He tried to sleep in until 9:45 -- nearly five hours before his tee time -- but could make it to only about 8:15. Once on the grounds, he went through his normal routine, had a so-so warm-up on the range, and then proceeded to birdie Nos. 2, 4, 6 and 7 to take a 2-stroke lead over Watson.

He was already 3-under for the day, a score so audaciously low that had someone promised it to him before the round, "I would have thought, you know, it would be difficult for me not to win this golf tournament."

Augusta National wasn't interested in Spieth's thoughts. And to prove it, the par-5 eighth hole kneecapped him, and the par-4 ninth flicked his ear lobes. He bogeyed both holes and suddenly his 2-shot lead had become a 2-shot deficit.

"When I got to 10 tee box, I still believed that I could win the tournament, no doubt about it," Spieth said.

Then his tee shot on the world's most famous par-3 landed a yard too short and rolled back into the creek. Hello, bogey.

And when Watson went driver-wedge (wedge!)-2-putt for birdie on No. 13 -- and Spieth could only manage a par -- the tournament was basically done.

Spieth's mom, dad and younger brother were here. His swing coach, Cameron McCormick, had flown in from Dallas on Sunday morning just to be a fan. After all, Spieth had told him eight years ago, in their very first meeting, that his goal in golf was to win a Masters. You don't watch a dream unfold on TV; you watch it in person.

We didn't get history, but we did get a long look at the future. For all the hand-wringing over the Tiger-less Masters, over the early departure of Phil Mickelson, over "My gawd, how will golf urvive?" ... Spieth -- and Bubba -- gave us a reason to keep watching.

What this Masters lacked in a big finish, it made up for with the watchability of Bubba and the promise of Spieth.

"I told him it was one of the best weeks of my life," said Greller, a former sixth-grade teacher who quit his job to caddie for Spieth. "It was a career week, just emotionally for both of us. ... We just both told each other how proud we were of each other, and we're going to have a lot more of these."

The more, the better.