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Jordan Spieth ends up tied for 2nd at Masters after dream start

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AUGUSTA, Ga. — Things aren’t supposed to be easy in golf ever, but especially when you’re 20. There are supposed to be growing pains, challenges and bumps in the cart path.

It hasn’t been like that for Jordan Spieth. He skipped over the dues-paying part of the deal when he was about 17 and headed in the general direction of greatness. It didn’t seem quite fair, but surely there would be a day of reckoning. Isn’t it a cosmic truth that you can’t have it all before your 21st birthday?

Spieth’s day of reckoning turned out to be a tie for second in his first Masters.

It’s clear that days of reckoning have gone soft.

The kid ran into something bigger than himself Sunday — Bubba Watson, a force of nature who hits 350-yard drives with a pink driver that looks like it should be stirring umbrella drinks. But Spieth escaped unscathed. Actually, it goes beyond that: He came out of the experience in one piece and emboldened.

He shot an even-par 72 to finish three strokes behind Watson, who won the Masters for the second time in three years.

“It stings right now, and the only thing I’m thinking about is, ‘When am I getting back next year?’ ” Spieth said. “That’s what’s on my mind because it’s tough being in this position. Obviously, I worked my whole life to lead Augusta on Sunday, and although I feel like it’s very early in my career and I’ll have more chances, it’s a stinger.

“I had it in my hands and could have gone forward with it and just didn’t quite make the putts.’’

The most important thing is that Spieth didn’t walk away from Augusta National a wreck. That easily could’ve happened as he played in the final pairing with Watson on a day when the greens were their usual nasty, turbo-charged selves. Think of Rory McIlroy’s final-round collapse in 2011 and the tears that followed.

Spieth entered the day tied for the lead with Watson and had a two-stroke advantage after seven holes.

“I got off to a kind of a dream start for Sunday at Augusta,’’ he said. “It’s just so hard to play the first seven holes well out there, and I was 3-under through the first seven. If you told me that when I woke up [Sunday] morning, I would have thought it’d be difficult for me to not win this golf tournament.’’

But then came holes No. 8 and No. 9, and it became a matter of simple math. Watson birdied the two holes, and Spieth bogeyed them. Just like that, in a four-stroke swing, the 2013 PGA rookie of the year went from leading the tournament by two strokes to trailing Watson by two strokes.

On the par-five eighth hole, he had a bad chip and three-putted for bogey. On the ninth, his approach shot hit the front of the green and rolled off. He never quite recovered.

Still, it was a gentle comedown, and Spieth deserves a ton of credit for not caving in to all the factors that press down on the leaders on the final day of the Masters.

Watson, meanwhile, was playing “Bubba Golf,’’ a brand that most humans are incapable of mimicking. It involves being incredibly long off the tee, being creative with your shots and being just a little goofy. He is self-taught and has never taken a lesson. It shows. His swing looks different from everyone else’s — rawer, more feral. Don’t try it at home.

“I can’t shape a ball as much as he can,’’ said his buddy Rickie Fowler, who finished tied for fifth. “There’s no way around it. It’s just not possible for me to hit as big a draw and as big of a cut as he can. I don’t have that same [swing] speed.’’

Thus, Spieth got Bubba-ed. There’s no shame in it. The better man simply won.

And the better man, an emotional sort, cried. He always cries. He’d cry at a tax seminar.

“I’m going to cry because, why me?’’ he said. “Why Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla.? Why is he winning? So I just always ask the question: Why, why me?’’

Why him? Because Augusta National sets up perfectly for someone who can bomb drives and make the ball twist and turn in ways that don’t seem possible.

And because the 20-year-old chasing you isn’t quite ready yet. That kid is asking himself, “Why not me?’’

Patience, son.

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