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Spieth takes his place among major meltdowns

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Every implosion in sports unfolds in slow-motion, like watching a car crash. We don't really want to see it. We wish it wasn't happening.

AUGUSTA, Ga. - Every implosion in sports unfolds in slow-motion, like watching a car crash. We don't really want to see it. We wish it wasn't happening.

But we can't help but watch.

That was true when the Bills beat the Oilers in the NFL playoffs. It was true of the Red Sox' and Flyers' playoff resurrections.

It was truest, perhaps, when Jean Van de Velde blew a three-stroke lead at the 1999 British Open with a series of bad decisions and worse swings on 18. Van de Velde's meltdown always will be cast as the worst collapse in golf.

Jordan Spieth now owns second place.

The defending Masters champion quadruple-bogeyed the 12th hole, the culmination of of a six-shot meltdown over three holes that sabotaged his tournament. In the time it takes to eat a hot dog at the turn, Spieth turned a five-shot lead into an insurmountable, three-shot deficit.

Off the 12th tee, Spieth tried to shape a shot at the front-right pin with a 9-iron. He swung too easily. The shot missed the green, hit the bank and plopped into Rae's Creek.

Then, the impossible happened. Spieth, who has the best short game in the world, dropped a second ball 80 yards from the pin . . . and hit a wedge fatter than a tick on a coon dog's belly.

The divot nearly flew farther than the ball. The ball itself barely made it to the water.

It was a shot your father-in-law would hit.

"I wasn't exactly sure what to do there. I'm not really sure what happened on the next shot," said Spieth, his head still spinning as he stood outside of the clubhouse. "I just hit it fat."

With that shot, Spieth cemented his place in golf history. It wasn't just a bad golf shot. The bogeys on 10 and 11 - those were the results of bad golf shots.

Chunking an 80-yard wedge into the water was like Steph Curry shooting an air-ball free throw in the fourth quarter, or Alex Ovechkin missing an empty net.

It was a slow-motion car crash; you just hope the passengers get out alive.

"I can't imagine that was fun for anyone to experience," Spieth said, and added with a smile: "Other than, maybe, Danny's team."

Right about that time Danny Willett was dropping birdies at 13, 14 and 16 that sealed his win in his second start at Augusta. Willett is a European Tour player hitting his prime at 28, and his spotless 5-under score won by three, but few people will remember Willett's neat win as clearly as they remember Spieth's messy collapse.

That's the nature of sporting tragedy.

Dustin Johnson and Greg Norman, who have become synonymous with major-championship meltdowns, thank him for drawing the spotlight.

Willett thanked him for the green jacket. Literally.

As part of the Masters trophy ceremony, the reigning champion helps the new champion into the most coveted sports coat on Earth.

For Spieth, it was like giving away an ex-wife at her next wedding.

"I can't think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience," he said.

Spieth gave no indication that calamity was imminent. He'd gotten a quick lesson from swing coach Cameron McCormick, who flew in from Texas on Sunday morning. Spieth's game tightened as he finished the front nine. He had just dropped four straight birdies when he teed off on No. 10. He had led the last seven rounds of the Masters. It looked like the eighth was in the bag.

But then, plenty of golf giants have staggered under major-championship pressure. Arnold Palmer led by seven at the turn in 1966 U.S. Open. Phil Mickelson hit a foolish tee shot on the 18th at the 2006 U.S. Open, costing him the career Grand Slam. Rory McIlroy gave up four shots from Nos. 10 to 12 at Augusta in 2011. Sam Snead blew the 1947 U.S. Open playoff. Adam Scott bogeyed the last four holes of the 2012 British Open.

And, of course, Spieth led by two stokes with 11 to play in 2014. He dropped one into Rae's Creek in 2014, too. But that was his first Masters, and no first-timer had won since 1979. That was different. That was understandable.

This was unbelievable.

Since then, Spieth has won six times on the PGA Tour, including the 2015 Masters and the U.S. Open, as well as the 2015 FedEx Cup Championship and Player of the Year award. He was No. 1 in the world for six months. All of that came thanks to steely focus and otherworldly wedge play.

Sure, he is just 22, but he's a two-time U.S. Junior Amateur champion and helped Texas win an NCAA title. He probably hadn't hit a wedge that fat since . . . well, maybe since Van de Velde was knee-deep in the Barry Burn, the creek in front of No. 18 at Carnoustie.

It compliments Spieth's character that he regrouped and birdied 13 and 15, but too many things needed to click for him to even force a playoff. He knew that as he stood on the 13th tee and said to caddie Michael Greller:

"Buddy, it seems like we're collapsing."

At least the collapse was temporary.

He has little time for self-pity. There are three more majors this year, plus the Olympics and the Ryder Cup. None of that is on Spieth's mind right now.

"Big picture, this one will hurt," Spieth said. "It will take a while."

Healing usually does.

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