Augusta: The average age of the Masters spectators is somewhere above 40 years old. It is a settled, mature group. That made it easy to spot the fans in attendance Sunday who were in their 20s or even younger. But there was another reason they were noticeable. (Click here for latest on Golf)
As Jordan Spieth, 20, roared to an early lead in the final round, young fans all around him leapt in the air with each birdie - something few of their elders would, or could, do. (Also read: Bubba Watson wins Augusta Masters)
Stiff and rigid, Augusta National Golf Club was getting a face-lift. For the first 90 minutes of Sunday's round, the tradition-laden grounds in Georgia were overtaken by a youth movement, with young fans giddily pumping their fists in celebration as Spieth took a two-shot advantage on the field.
The Masters leader was one of them. He was even younger than many of them.
Bubba Watson, Spieth's playing partner, is a man of the people, the Everyman hero. But Spieth was going to be the guy - part adolescent, part young adult, part dude - to make golf more relevant to young souls everywhere.
He would be the youngest winner of the Masters, supplanting, not insignificantly, Tiger Woods, a cultural fixture and the youthful representation of a previous era. Spieth would also be the youngest major championship winner in 83 years. And he was going to do it in his first appearance at the Masters, an appropriate accomplishment in an age of instant gratification.
Spieth, brash, aggressive and confident, would vault golf into a new epoch, shaking up the status quo and pioneering a fresh approach to the game - as perhaps only someone born in 1993 might do.
It was all there through seven holes, evident in Spieth's flushed cheeks and the hop in the step of the fans following him.
And then it all went wrong.
Youth was not served. The movement stalled. Spieth's bouncy band of followers were grounded. Within 30 pivotal minutes, a two-shot lead became a two-shot deficit. There was mistake after mistake until the mounting disappointment grew very old.
Watson, a growing presence in the golf world with a boyish mien, won his second green jacket at 35 years old. Spieth, so close to a groundbreaking victory, finished three shots back, tied for second place.
"It was a dream start for a Sunday at Augusta," Spieth said afterward with little angst in his voice. "If you told me that I would have three birdies in the first seven holes, I would have said it would be difficult for me to not win. It was in my hands."
But providence on a golf course is not guided by logic, especially during a major championship. At the long, par-5 eighth hole, Spieth, with his confidence growing, hit a pitch to the green that he considered aggressive and attacking.
"I figured it would run past the hole because I hit it too hard," Spieth said.
Inexplicably, on Augusta National's firm and fast greens, Spieth's shot checked up and dribbled forward only 18 inches. He was still 25 feet from the hole and would make bogey. Watson made birdie to tie him.
Minutes later, on the ninth hole, Spieth's second shot landed on the green but spun down a steep incline. His subsequent chip settled 5 feet from the hole, but his putt from that makeable distance skittered along the hole's edge. The ball toyed with the left edge but continued past the cup nonetheless. Watson made another birdie putt and now had a two-stroke lead.
"I went to the 10th tee still confident," Spieth said. "There was time to get the lead back."
As has happened so often in the Masters, the tournament turned on the 12th hole. Spieth had a 9-iron in his hands, the implement from his bag that he and his caddie, Michael Greller, had agreed on for the shot. But as he stood over the ball, in that lonely place between a strategic decision and its execution, Spieth's mind began to wander.
He wondered if the wind, which he had thought was slightly in his face, had died. He wondered about his aim. He wondered if he had the right club. And he slightly changed his plan - golf's version of a double-cross.
The ball ended up in the pond in front of the green, where countless other Masters dreams have sunk and disappeared.
"That's what that hole does," Spieth said later.
He kept his composure. He took dozens of deep breaths. He stared into the crowd as he walked the last holes, trying to use the energy of the fans to catch the surging Watson but knowing his pursuit would most likely be futile. When it was over, he doffed his cap and waved it to the gallery around the 18th hole.
For 90 minutes, he had shaken the Augusta National grounds. Now he considered it a prelude.
"I was already thinking about next year and when I can come back," Spieth said as darkness enveloped the golf course. "It stings right now, but I'm OK."
He was clear-eyed. He was calm. And he was still so young, saying at one point, "I've worked my whole life to get the lead on Sunday at the Masters."
But Spieth also knew what he had accomplished in those heady 90 minutes when he had the field chasing him, and him alone, on Sunday.
"I'm ready to win here," he said. "It's just a matter of time."
© 2014, The New York Times News Service