The emerging “Big Three” of golf left Augusta National and the Masters on Monday less big than when they arrived a week earlier.
It is true that at the halfway stage on Friday evening, Jordan Spieth was leading by one stroke from Rory McIlroy and Jason Day was still in the hunt for a green jacket near the top of the chasing pack.
But all three came to grief at one stage or another over the weekend as England’s Danny Willett pulled off an upset win in the first major tournament of the year.
Spieth went closest of the three heavyweights of the game’s new stars, but his fall was the heaviest and hardest to take.
Leading by five strokes going around the turn, he came to grief around Amen Corner, dropping six shots along the way, four of which came after two hits into the water at the par-3 12th.
The 22-year-old American defending champion was visibly shaken when he came off the 18th tee, tied for second place and questions were asked over how much damage will have been done to his hitherto solid mindset.
“Big picture, this one will hurt. It will take a while,” he said.
But he did vow to bounce back at some point, saying “there’s no give up in us” of himself his team of helpers and advisers.
More from The Masters:
Gallery: Jordan Spieth hands off Masters green jacket to Danny Willett after wild final round — in pictures
Analysis: Alabama boy Smylie Kaufman a relative unknown, but changing that with his Masters play
Reaction: For Danny Willett, Masters victory looks 'the start of the journey, not the end'
At least Spieth has no Masters monkey on his back having won at Augusta National last year. The same cannot be said of McIlroy, who once again failed to get the best out of a golf game perfectly suited to the course.
He said that he does have a mental problem at the Masters, which is the one title that eludes him in his quest for a career Grand Slam of the four majors.
“Yeah, this is the one that I haven’t won and this is the one I want to win more than anything else,” he said.
“I won a Claret Jug (British Open), I want to win more. I won a Wanamaker (PGA Championship), I won the US Open, but this is the one that I haven’t.”
McIlroy said he feels sure that he is not in danger of turning into another Phil Mickleson, who has won three of the four majors but finished second six times in the US Open, the only one he has yet to win.
“I’m trying to deal with the pressure of it and the thrill of the achievement if it were to happen. I think that’s the thing that’s really holding me back,” he said.
But it remains to be seen when he will win another tournament, having gone without a victory since late last year after which he changed to a left-under right putting style.
Australian Day does not have that problem as he won back-to-back tournaments ahead of the Masters.
But his recurring problems with back pain appeared to hold him back at Augusta, especially over the back nine.
“It’s the same old bulged disc that I’ve always had, but every now and then, it flares up and you just can’t do anything about it,” he said.
“I’ve just got to keep on top of what I need to do to keep myself strong and fit and ready to go play tournaments, and then hopefully over time, strengthening it each and every year.
“If I maintain that, then slowly it will go away, which it can.”
Day, Spieth and McIlroy are still 1-2-3 in the world, but with players such as Willett, who is up to ninth in the world rankings, Asia’s top player Hideki Matsuyama and top amateur Bryson DeChambeau all doing well at Augusta, they may not have the podium to themselves for too much longer.
Follow us on Twitter @NatSportUAE
Like us on Facebook at facebook.com/TheNationalSport