Masters 2019: Augusta light can lead Spieth out of the shadows

In a Masters as wide open as any in recent memory, it is a superstar lurking in the shadows who could potentially have the leading contenders shifting uneasily in their golf shoes.

Trying to pick the man who will have a suave new green jacket to pack in their case come Sunday evening is about as easy as predicting winning lottery numbers.

There are the obvious names. Rory McIlroy is in the sort of form that suggests the hefty burden of completing the career Grand Slam can be lifted from his shoulders. Francesco Molinari has played with the swagger befitting the profile of a Masters-champion-in-waiting over the past 18 months. World number one Dustin Johnson has the consistency and the game to conquer Augusta, while Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and Paul Casey all have a win to their name this season.

And, of course, there is a Tiger on the prowl who in an injury-free 2018 proved he can again be a major player.

But there is one man whose name has barely been a whisper in the wind from pundits’ lips in the lead up to Augusta.

A year ago, it would have been almost inconceivable not to mention Jordan Spieth as one of the favourites at Augusta and yet here we are at the week of one of the greatest stops on the sporting calendar and the three-time major winner is being mentioned as little more than an afterthought.

It would not need forensic analysis to understand why that is the case. For a player of his calibre, Spieth’s form has, to be blunt, been shoddy.

You have to go back to The Open in July to find Spieth’s last top-10 finish, a tie for ninth having co-led through three rounds, while there have been three missed cuts in his past nine tournaments.

There were glimpses that things were about to turn in Texas over the weekend. For the opening two rounds, Spieth was playing with the sort of dogged determination that saw him ascend golf’s heights and strike fear into his rivals, before a disappointing – and all too familiar – dip on Saturday cost him dearly.

Such form has seen the former world number one slump to the relative obscurity of 33rd in the official world golf rankings, this once grandiose star slinking away to the shadows.

A shadow is merely an absence of light, a fitting metaphor for a player capable of illuminating any golf course and any tournament in the world, who is undoubtedly in his darkest period of form to date.

But it is important to remember that Spieth, for all his success, is only 25 and is still unquestionably in the infancy of his career. 

And if there is one event where Spieth is capable of shining again and taking an upward trajectory, it is undoubtedly the Masters

In a tournament swimming in history, you could dedicate a whole book to Spieth’s incredible contribution at Augusta.

A second-placed finish as an unheralded rookie was followed by a sensational record-breaking wire-to-wire victory in 2015. 

Just 12 months later, and unfortunately for Spieth infinitely more memorable, he snatched defeat from the jaws of another victory with an infamous collapse at the par-three 12th in a final round of the highest drama.

Spieth again bared his teeth in 2017, trailing by just two strokes heading into the final round before a cruel sense of deja vu and more water trouble at the 12th arrived as Sergio Garcia and Rose were left to steal the limelight in an Augusta battle for the ages.

A year ago, it was Patrick Reed getting suited up for the green jacket, but a final-day 64 from his Ryder Cup team-mate in a dazzling surge threatened to deny him before Spieth eventually finished third.

The not-so-subtle point being that Spieth has been in contention, at least at some stage, in each of his five visits to Augusta, a love affair so few can claim to have with the most daunting of golfing stages.

So, the focus for now may be on McIlroy and a stellar cast who each have legitimate claims to be considered favourite this weekend.

But it is not beyond comprehension that the spotlight will ultimately shine brightest on an imposing golfing heavyweight emerging from the shadows.