Mastering the greens
 Jordan Spieth begins the final round of the 2015 Masters Tournament with a birdie

Jordan Spieth begins the final round of the 2015 Masters Tournament with a birdie

Few people have putted those Daliesque greens better than Ben Crenshaw, the two-time Masters champion who bade an emotional farewell into Augusta National last Friday.

The Texan gushed about Jordan Spieth before he donned the green jacket and he could see something special in the 21-year old, long before he became the youngest Masters champion since Tiger Woods in 1997.

“When I first met him, I tell you I’ll never forget it,” Crenshaw said before the Masters started. “I looked right at him, and he looked at me, and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp. He looks at you and he’s going to gun you down. I’m amazed at Jordan. He plays it like he’s been here forever.”

While Rory McIlroy is the world No 1 and the man they all have to beat, he may never possess that precious gift that Crenshaw and Spieth seem to hold - the ability to read Augusta National’s greens through their eyes and fingers, and even with their eyes closed.

“I remember feeling quite helpless on the greens,” Graeme McDowell said of his first visit to Augusta, where he played with Crenshaw for the first two rounds. “Early in my career I was not the best fast-green putter on the planet, and the whole experience of playing in the Masters takes some getting used to. 

"I watched Crenshaw put on a putting masterclass for two days, the likes of which I had never seen before. He was just unbelievable. His ball striking from tee to green was not maybe as good as mine but he was certainly about five shots a round better than me on the greens. It was pretty cool to watch him.”

McDowell said on Sunday that he may have to change his putting style if he’s ever to conquer Augusta, where he finished 47th for putting of the 55 players who made the cut.

But while he closed with a sensational 66, McIlroy had 31 putts in the final round and 118 for the 72 holes, leaving him 32nd. Spieth was third and had 10 fewer putts than McIlroy over the four days.

And yet that wasn’t the only telling statistic.

The Texan holed 110 feet of putts in his first round 64, 92 feet in his second round 66, 106 feet in his third round 70 and 103 feet on his closing 70. He made a record 28 birdies.

McIlroy, in contrast, totalled 86 feet, 71 feet, 101 feet and 82 feet of putts. In other words, he holed 340 feet worth of putts compared to 410 feet for Spieth.

It’s not that the Holywood star putted poorly but any means but while he holed just nine putts beyond eight feet for the week, Spieth holed 16. That's got little to do with McIlroy's overly conservative strategy in a week when soft conditions begged for his usual attacking style.

 Rory McIlroy misses a birdie chance on the fourth in the final round of the Masters Tournament

Rory McIlroy misses a birdie chance on the fourth in the final round of the Masters Tournament

McIlroy was not firing on all cylinders starting the week anyway and the tension and pressere of trying to complete the career Grand Slam at the first attempt will not have helped him.

That outward nine of 40 on Friday seemed to liberate him. But even though he was 15 under par from that point and appears to be honing a proper strategy, he still lacked Spieth’s fluency with the short stick, as Sunday’s 66 showed.

“I think imagination,” said Spieth when asked why he appeared to have solved the riddle of Augusta in just two Masters appearances. “I think [I’m] very feel based.  I grew up playing a lot more than I did hitting balls on the range and just hitting the same thing over and over again. 

“Kind of like Bubba, I like to see lines.  I like to see shapes, and especially on the greens, I like putts that break.  I like being able to kind of cast something out and let it feed in and be very speed‑based.  I feel like that's been a strength of mine in the past growing up until now. 

“And that's what this course gives.  From the first time I played, I was very excited because I felt like it really suited my game.  I'm really happy that this major comes here every year (laughter), to have a course like that.”

McIlroy freely admits that he has always found it hard to match the fluidity of his swing with his putting stroke and went to Dave Stockton for help.

 Ben Crenshaw's final Masters putt

Ben Crenshaw's final Masters putt

Their partnership has born fruit but it’s still a work in progress, especially at Augusta National.

“All those guys who finished 10 under or better thought the could have won,” Stockton said in a phone interview yesterday. “I mean Rory , the way he played over the weekend, he came back really well after that 40 on the front side on Friday.

“I just thought Spieth was really settled in his whole golf game. It came through in his press conferences. He never seemed to put any stress on himself or got himself in bad places. If you can make it look easy, he made it look easy. 

“With Rory and Phil and Justin Rose coming up behind him, he was really impressive. Every time they would pick up a shot, he’d just go and make another one. 

“Rory was okay. We didn’t work before hand. I texted him last night and he said he’d take the positives from it. 

“But I’d like to have seen him hole a few more putts on Sunday. He got a little defensive on the speed and I’d like to have seen the eagle on 13 and some of the others he should have been able to make.”

McIlroy made six good putts on Sunday but also had “chances" for birdie or eagle at the 1st (17ft), 2nd (6ft), fourth (8ft), 10th (13ft), 12th (23ft), 13th (eagle 8ft), 14th (37ft), 15th (eagle 18ft), 16th (8ft) and 17th (17ft).

That he has developed a strategy for playing the course is a huge plus and a Masters win looks likely sooner rather than later if he can put it all together.

But with Spieth aged just 21 and finishing second and first in his first two trips, McIlroy's also got a rival who’s an Augusta natural and that’s going to make for some sensational battles to come.