The Masters: The difference between McIlroy and Spieth on Sunday summed up with one important detail
As Rory stumbled, Jordan roared.
After The Masters, amidst the deluge of colourful reports about Patrick Reed's family history, allegations of cheating and stealing and lack of a rapport with most of his fellow pros, there was an interesting bit about Jordan Spieth.
Well, more specifically, Jordan Spieth's caddie.
Those who watch golf regularly will know that Spieth's caddie, Michael Greller, is a class act. Greller belongs in that elite bracket of caddies who act as the perfect compliment to the man they're carrying the bag for.
Like Tiger Woods' long-time companion Steve Williams or Jim "Bones" Mackay, who forged a formidable 25-year partnership with Phil Mickelson until 2017, Greller is an integral part to his employer's success.
Much is made about how long it takes professional golfers to get around the course and, sometimes, the in-depth pre-shot deliberations between player and caddie don't exactly help. They do, however, help the player.
At Augusta on Sunday, as Spieth strung together a back-nine charge for the ages, Greller's class shone through. Chasing Reed, Spieth sprayed his drive into the pine needles right of the 13th fairway. It left the Texan with a dangerous approach to the par-5. Contemplating his options, Spieth asked Greller, "four iron, right?"
"I like the hybrid better than that," Greller offered.
"I see it fits the shape of the hole better and gives you more margin or room.
It was a crucial piece of advice at a crucial time - and one that paid off big time. After discussing the wind and club selection, Greller convinced Spieth that spanking a hybrid was the smartest option.
And so, Spieth's full-blooded effort with the longer club, dispatched straight at the target, just about cleared Rae's Creek and set up a great look at eagle. He missed the subsequent putt, but tapped in for birdie to keep up his hot pursuit of Reed. You can see the full conversation below.
— Scott (@scottberwick) April 8, 2018
Spieth ultimately fell short, but had he not had a caddie as persuasive and competent as Greller, a four iron would have found the hazard and his Masters hopes would have been extinguished there and then.
Yet, while Greller's contributions were hailed, a tweet from Lee Westwood generated an interesting discussion about Rory McIlroy.
The Northern Irishman faded in the final round, shooting 74 to fall back into the pack while Spieth and Rickie Fowler offered the most robust challenges to Reed.
Having been closest to Reed after 54 holes, McIlroy's inability to mount a charge has to be considered another crushing disappointment at Augusta.
The 28-year-old played beautifully on Saturday en route to a 65 that offered him a genuine shot at completing the career Grand Slam. However, from as early as his opening tee shot, lost to the right, there was a sense that Sunday was going to be a struggle. Ending the week at -9 represented a fine week's work for the four-time major champion but, after losing numerous shots to the right and struggling with the flatstick, disappointment was clearly etched across his face as he finished up.
Westwood had noticed something about McIlroy during the final round. See below.
Just an observation but how far left is Rory aiming today.?!
— Lee Westwood (@WestwoodLee) April 8, 2018
Westwood has never won a major but the Englishman knows how what it feels like to contend at Augusta, having finished runner-up in 2010 and 2016. Westwood's observation drew attention to McIlroy overcompensating while trying to avoid blocking his shots to the right, but it attracted an interesting response.
Most of the replies focused on the absence of an experienced, professional caddie. McIlroy parted ways with long-time caddie JP Fitzgerald last year before enlisting the services of lifelong friend Harry Diamond.
Diamond, a decent golfer in his own right, on the surface doesn't appear to possess the same level of assertiveness and expertise as someone like Greller.
Diamond played his part in McIlroy's stunning return to winning ways at Bay Hill last month but, as his employer faded at the business end of his quest for golfing immortality, Diamond was unable to intervene.
That's not to say that McIlroy's errand play on Sunday was down to Diamond. Not at all, but the absence of a seasoned campaigner on the bag showed when it mattered most. It left us wondering what McIlroy would have produced with JP still on the bag, or someone with significantly more tournament-level experience.
A poor round ultimately falls on the player's shoulders, of course, but the contrasting trajectories of Spieth and McIlroy on Sunday evening highlight how vital a caddie can be during the most testing and pressure-packed circumstances.