E.A. Sports Today

Willett wins Masters

Former JSU player shoots 5-under 67 in final round, wins by 3 over defending champion Jordan Spieth and countryman Lee Westwood

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

Golf isn’t a game where people openly applaud another player’s misfortune, but James Hobbs and Marcus Harrell couldn’t have been too displeased when Jordan Spieth was making a mess of the 12th hole at The Masters Sunday.

The 7 Speith took on the most famous par-3 in the world, which included three balls in places no player wants to be, opened the door for former Jacksonville State golfer Danny Willett to take the lead Sunday and eventually win the tournament that will change his life.

Hobbs coached Willett at JSU for two and a half years and Harrell was Willett’s travel roommate the last 18 months the Englishman played there.

Willett shot 67 Sunday – 3-under on the back — for a 5-under 283 total. He won by three shots over Spieth and final-round playing partner and travel companion Lee Westwood.

Before hitting his final putt, he pulled off his white sweater to reveal a green polo that went nicely with the green jacket he received – ironically – from the player whose implosion on 12 made it possible.

The tournament appeared over after Spieth made four straight birdies on the front to turn at 7-under. But getting to the back he bogeyed 10 and 11 before collapsing on 12 to bring Willett to the fore.

“For Danny to win, something like that had to happen,” said Harrell, the White Plains golf coach who roomed with Willett on JSU road trips from 2006 to December 2007 when Willett left. “I’m definitely not going to say it didn’t put a smile on my face. It’s one of those moments you almost are shocked at first then after another bad shot it becomes a moment where you jump out of your chair and scream and be like, ‘Oh my God. I can’t believe it was happening.’

“You never want to root against somebody and you hate it for Spieth, but there’s nothing like seeing an old teammate, your roommate, pulling out the Masters.”

With his win, Willett becomes the second winner of a golf major with Calhoun County ties. Former Anniston resident and Calhoun County Sports Hall of Fame inductee Jerry Pate won the U.S. Open in 1976.

Actually, it almost was a week that wasn’t. Willett was the last man in the field. His first child was due Sunday and if the baby hadn’t arrived early he was not going to play. His son entered the game of life March 30.

Hobbs visited briefly with Willett during Wednesday’s practice round and said his former No. 1 was glad to be on the grounds.

“I asked him how was everything and he said the wife was good, the baby was good, I’m just glad to be here where I can get some sleep,” said Hobbs, in Nashville with several of players preparing for a college tournament. “He looked great today. You’ve just got to get in those situations and when you play in enough majors you can handle the pressure; some never handle it very well and some handle it pretty easily. Today, he looked just completely comfortable out there. He just didn’t miss a shot.”

Spieth missed three critical ones on 12. He hit his tee shot and third shot into Rae’s Creek and his fifth shot found the bunker.

“There was a man I was watching it with and when (Spieth) hit that shot the guy said he doesn’t look very comfortable right now,” Hobbs said. “Suddenly I thought to myself the ball game is on. I’m thinking we’re back in this thing. We’re going to be in the lead and that’s a heck of a thing to think about. Then I’m hanging on every shot for Danny.”

After the big change at the top, Willett took a two-shot lead with a birdie at 16 and then made a brilliant chip on 17 to save par.

After the birdie on 16, he was two shots ahead of Lee Westwood and Speith was scrambling to catch up from four holes behind. Spieth was putting from above the hole for birdie on 16 to get within one, missed, and the lead remained two with two holes to play.

Harrell thought the shot on 16 won Willett the tournament. Hobbs marveled at the play on 17.

“That was always Danny’s forte, his ability to get it up and down,” Hobbs said. “He always had that capability and I think that’s what’s made him such a good professional.”

The final round had a lot of similarities to another year when an Englishman came from way back to win the Masters. Nick Faldo came from six shots back to beat Greg Norman in 1996. Faldo shot 67 in that final round.

Just like Willett.

Norman made a 7 on 12.

Just like Spieth.

And that year more attention was paid to the guy who lost and the way he did it than the guy who won. Harrell said people shouldn’t overlook the job Willett did to get it done.

“You hate to see somebody come apart at a hole, especially in the majors,” Harrell said. “But it wasn’t that. Danny won the tournament. He took advantage of the opportunity and came away with the victory.”

You must be logged in to post a comment Login