Had Zachariah James Willett not cooperated, his father would not have participated in the 80th Masters Tournament at Augusta National Golf Club, and golf history would be written differently.
Willett’s first son was due to be born Sunday, but he arrived 12 days before full term, freeing Willett to play in his second Masters.
The 28-year-old Englishman shot a final-round 67 to take advantage of a stunning back-nine collapse by defending champion Jordan Spieth that included a quadruple bogey on the 12th hole to earn a green jacket by three strokes with a 5-under 283.
Willett birdied holes 13, 14 and 16 to reach 5 under and finish three strokes ahead of both Spieth and fellow Englishman Lee Westwood. Coastal Carolina alumnus Dustin Johnson shot a 71 Sunday and was among three players who tied for fourth at 1-under 287.
Willett was perhaps the last player to arrive in Augusta when he landed late Monday night after spending time with his newborn, and his victory comes on the 28th birthday of his wife, Nicole.
“It has been crazy. You can’t really describe all the emotions and feelings,” Willett said.
“It’s been a fantastic week on and off the golf course. It’s just been one of those crazy weeks where things seem to happen and seem to go your way.”
Willett is just the second Englishman to win the Masters, joining three-time winner Nick Faldo, and he’s just the eighth player to win in two starts or fewer at Augusta National. He tied for 38th in his debut last year.
“I don’t think it’s going to sink in any time soon – probably when I get back home and start changing diapers again,” said Willett, the No. 12 player in the world who plays predominantly on the European Tour. “It was a surreal day when you look back at the ebbs and flows.”
The 28-year-old from Sheffield, England, came from three shots back in a tie for fifth entering the final round, and was five shots behind when Spieth made the turn at 7 under following consecutive birdies on holes 6, 7, 8 and 9.
“It was a dream come true front nine,” said Spieth, whose nightmare began on the 10th hole – an astounding turn of events for a player seeking his third title in the past five majors who held a Masters lead after a record seven consecutive rounds dating back to last year.
“We still have the confidence we’re a closing team and can close, I don’t doubt that ability,” said Spieth, attempting to suppress emotion while speaking shortly after his round. “But it was just a tough 30 minutes that I hopefully never experience again.”
Spieth bogeyed the par-4 10th hole after finding a right greenside bunker with his 6-iron approach and the 11th with a drive into the right woods, punch out and missed 8-foot par putt.
“I knew that those two bogeys weren't going to hurt me,” Spieth said. “But I didn't take that extra deep breath and really focus on my line on 12. Instead I went up and I just put a quick swing on it.”
Spieth’s tee shot on the 155-yard 12th hole was pushed to the right and landed in Rae’s Creek. He dropped about 70 yards from the hole and chunked his next shot into the water, then dropped again and hit his fifth shot into the back bunker en route to a 7 that dropped him from 5 under to 1 under and a couple shots out of the lead.
“It’s tough. It’s really tough,” Spieth said. “I put three weak swings on it and all of a sudden I’m not leading the Masters anymore.
“I probably should have gone to the drop zone where we knew the yardage. It was probably hard for me to commit over near the 13th tee. It was probably a lack of discipline not hitting it over that bunker coming off two bogeys and realizing I was still leading the Masters.”
Spieth wasn’t done, however. With the urging of the throng of spectators, Spieth birdied the par-5 13th and 15th holes to get within two shots of the lead, and hit his tee shot on the par-3 16th 8 feet past the hole. But he missed the putt and bogeyed the 17th.
“It was very cool what the patrons here did for me. They almost brought me back into this. They believed I could do it and made me believe I could do it,” Spieth said. “Of course we’re going to fight back. That putt on 16, I made one like that last year and if I make that who knows what happens?”
Spieth felt uncomfortable with his ball-striking the entire week but his short game kept him in the lead for three rounds. It couldn’t overcome all the poor swings Sunday, which was Spieth’s third consecutive round over par following his opening 66 Thursday.
“I had my B‑minus game tee to green, and I made up for it around the greens with my putter,” Spieth said. “Ultimately you just have to have your A game every single part, and I just didn't have those iron swings, as it showed on the back nine.”
Willett was more than happy to fill the vacuum left by Spieth’s collapse.
He made the turn at 2 under with birdies on holes 6 and 8 and continued his bogey-free play on the back nine with birdies on the 13th with a two-putt from 55 feet, 14th with a 150-yard approach to 4 feet and 16th with a tee shot to 7 feet. He made a delicate chip shot to save par on the 17th and had two putts for par from 14 feet on the 18th to preserve what at the time was a two-shot lead with Spieth on the 16th hole.
“It was a really timely birdie on 16, and then again to make contact up 17 and 18 with what goes on and to hit such a nice chip that I did on 17,” Willett said. “You practice, that's what you do, endless hours chipping, putting, hitting shots, imagining hitting shots at certain golf courses at certain times. And fortunately enough today, I've been able to relive some of them dreams and some of them practice sessions.”
Willett believes he benefited from being paired with Westwood, a friend whom he’s played numerous rounds of golf with, and his father-in-law separated himself from the family in England to lend support in the gallery and off the course.
“It was one of them things where it's just been my day,” Willett said. “We didn't really do anything majorly wrong, and didn't have a bogey today, which going around this golf course in any conditions is pretty spectacular.
“For myself, it's been a great day. To be able to experience it and do it with friends is extra special.”