Commentary

Spieth's Augusta dream in sight

Updated: April 12, 2014, 10:59 PM ET
By Ian O'Connor | ESPN.com

AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Under a fading Georgia sun, standing with hands on hips on a knoll overlooking the 18th green, Steven Spieth was looking at more than the giant Masters scoreboard that reported his older brother held a share of the lead.

He was looking at his childhood.

"I'm at a loss for words seeing that," he said.

Jordan Spieth predicted this would happen, of course. As a boy, he would putt with Steven on the makeshift green in the family's front yard in Dallas, a small green Jordan would maintain with the lawn mower, his kid brother said, "when he was barely old enough to use it."

[+] EnlargeJordan Spieth
Michael Madrid/USA TODAY SportsAt 20 years old, first-timer Jordan Spieth could become the youngest winner in Masters history.

This was Jordan's personal gateway to Augusta National and a chance to become the youngest winner this tournament's ever seen. "He would be standing on that green, across from me," Steven Spieth said Saturday, "and I can still hear him saying, 'This putt is to win the Masters.'"

Jordan, 20, might just have that putt somewhere on Sunday's back nine. He'll go off at 5-under with Bubba Watson, who started the third round with a three-shot lead and a four-shot advantage over Spieth, who saw this day coming as a 12-year-old confident enough to tell his coach, Cameron McCormick, that he wanted to win the Masters and become the best player in the world.

Steven, 19, stood out among the family and friends who trailed Spieth on his march toward history. First, he is a 6-foot-6 forward for the Brown University basketball team who averaged 8.2 points and 5.5 rebounds as a freshman and was named Ivy League rookie of the week more than once. Second, he lived the dream with Jordan on that green in the front yard, and on the basketball hoop at the end of their slanted driveway that was the site of one-on-ones rarely shaped by any brotherly love.

Start with the green. Early in the mornings, before heading off to middle school, Jordan and Steven would start challenging each other with their wedges from all kinds of creative places.

"We hit from everywhere," Steven said. "Our yard. Our neighbor's yard. Over the neighbor's tree. Across the street and one house over, maybe 100 yards away. All the neighbors had kids around the same age, so sometimes we'd do that all day."

Then head over to the basketball hoop. Generously listed by the PGA Tour at 6-foot-1, Jordan was smart enough to get Steven when the getting was good.

"The last time we played was eighth or ninth grade, when he was still bigger than me," Steven said. "That was the last time he beat me, and he wouldn't play me after that. He knew he wouldn't beat me again."

Steven kept smiling over the faraway memories Saturday evening as he faced that white scoreboard at 18. His brother had just saved par out of a fairway bunker to preserve his round of 2-under 70 and his place in Sunday's final group.

"My heart's beating," Steven said.

Beating faster than it would before a big free throw against Harvard or Princeton.

"That's pretty awesome seeing that right there," Steven said of the scoreboard that had Spieth and Watson at the top with their red-number fives. "He's in the last group ... It's unexplainable. This whole week's been amazing."

Ben Crenshaw and his longtime caddie, Carl Jackson, opened that week by giving Jordan some tips about the greens. Tom Watson, 64, told Spieth about the 63 he shot last month on the Champions Tour, his first round with a score lower than his age. And at a dinner Wednesday night, Jack Nicklaus shared some of the local knowledge that helped him win here six times.

Spieth needs less help than most. Paired with Tiger Woods in January, he shot 63 to Woods' 71 at Torrey Pines, where Tiger had won eight tournaments, including the 2008 U.S. Open. Spieth's 62 in the company of Phil Mickelson last summer inspired Lefty to call the Presidents Cup captain, Fred Couples, and lobby for the kid to make the team (he did).

As a 16-year-old on a sponsor's exemption, Spieth actually contended in the Byron Nelson. The only two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion not named Tiger Woods won his way into the Open Championship and the Masters at last July's John Deere Classic, where his miracle comeback included a hole-out from a bunker and enough grit to survive a five-hole playoff.

Saturday, Spieth outscored his playing partner, Adam Scott, by a half-dozen strokes, all while spending much of the afternoon giving himself pep talks.

"I'm 20 and this is the Masters," Spieth explained, "And this is a tournament I've always dreamt about. And as Mr. Crenshaw has always said, it brings out more emotion than ever in somebody."

Siblings included. Spieth's younger sister, Ellie, was born with a neurological disorder and was not on the Augusta National grounds; she was scheduled to be cheering in front of the nearest TV. "She's Jordan's biggest fan," Steven said.

The kid brother is right there with Ellie, along with parents Shawn and Chris, both college athletes. Ellie attended some of Steven's college basketball games, wearing Brown colors and supporting her brother with such passion that he always heard her voice above the others in the crowd.

The family that plays together stays together. Before his third round, Jordan woke up Steven at 10:30 a.m. by pouring cold water on him. Yes, it will be a little easier to get out of bed before the final round.

"I know it will be a good night's sleep Sunday night," said the father, Shawn. "We won't get one tonight."

But this much is clear: Jordan Spieth isn't afraid to do this. He isn't afraid to be the first Masters rookie to prevail since Fuzzy Zoeller in 1979. He isn't afraid to conquer Augusta National faster than the 21-year-old Tiger did in 1997.

"It's pretty crazy to think he can win this," Steven Spieth said. "But he's believed he could do it for a long time."

Way back when, the golfer and the basketball player did what brothers always do in their yards and driveways: They dreamed of sinking the championship shot.

Now the fantasy doesn't feel quite as good as the reality. Sunday at Augusta National, with his 6-foot-6 brother rising above the gallery, Jordan Spieth gets his chance to be the tallest man alive.

Ian O'Connor

ESPNNewYork.com columnist
Ian O'Connor has won numerous national awards as a sports columnist and is the author of three books, including the bestseller, "The Captain: The Journey of Derek Jeter." ESPN Radio broadcasts "The Ian O'Connor Show" every Sunday from 7 to 9 a.m. ET. Follow Ian on Twitter »

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