-- AUGUSTA, Ga. -- It was 5:36 p.m. when Jordan Spieth walked off the 11th green Sunday night, his head down, his arms swinging deliberately at his sides. He was still holding a slim two-stroke lead in the Masters, still on track to become just the fourth man in history to win back-to-back green jackets, but now uneasy murmurs were rippling through the packed gallery of Amen Corner.
Spieth had just made his second consecutive bogey to drop back to 5-under par, and on the grassy hill behind the green, his parents and brother looked on, surrounded by strangers. The smell of expensive cigar smoke filled the air. Thousands of people sipped their beers and jostled for space, the ones in the back craning their necks, desperate for a better view. Spieth began the short walk to the 12th tee in silence.
It was still 5:36 p.m. when the giant white scoreboard behind the 11th green changed, and the 2016 Masters changed with it. The red 3 next to Danny Willett's name was now followed by a red 4. Willett -- playing well ahead, out of Spieth's sight -- had just birdied the 14th hole. The Englishman was only a stroke behind.
Spieth glanced at Willett's name as he walked, then put his head down, his steps deliberate, his gait unhurried. As people on the hill and in the grandstands realized what was happening, there were gasps, then more murmurs. What felt only 30 minutes prior like it would be a celebration when Spieth arrived, now seemed like a hospital waiting room.
It was 5:37 p.m. when Spieth stood over the ball and wiggled his hips, trying and trying to get comfortable with a 9-iron in his hand. The hole was 150 yards away, and the wind was tame, the flag barely moving. He tried, in his mind, to envision hitting a gentle fade, tried to picture the ball starting on a line at the camera behind the green, 20 feet left, and drifting softly toward the pin. He took several practice swings, still hoping to get comfortable, his wrists hinging each time, back then forward. Back then forward, like a metronome.
He wanted to hit a draw -- to start the ball right, out over the water, and let it curl back toward the green -- but he feared it might go too far. It might catch a gust of wind, high above the tree line, and bound over the bunkers behind the green. The fade it would be. His caddie, Michael Greller, reminded him to commit to the shot. Don't have doubts. If he hit a normal 9-iron, the ball would land on the green and stop. He would be safe. He took several deep breaths.
It was 5:38 p.m. when Spieth pulled the club back and swung, his 9-iron snapping through the turf, his body rotating through the shot, but not quite enough. With the ball still in the air, Spieth looked away in disgust, already certain of the outcome. His Titleist 1 -- a Pro V1x that Spieth had marked with a Z as a reminder to "zero in" -- hit the sloped bank across Rae's Creek, hopped twice, then trickled down into the water. The gallery groaned in horror. Spieth looked at his feet. After Smylie Kaufman hit his ball, Spieth walked toward the creek.
It was 5:41 p.m. when he and Greller settled on a yardage they liked, a place where Spieth could take a penalty stroke and drop under Rule 26-1b. He briefly thought about going to the drop zone, but decided he didn't want to hit off a downhill lie. His mind was racing. He couldn't slow it down. He settled on taking his drop 80 yards from the pin. He believed, from that distance, he could get enough spin on the ball to keep it near the hole.
It was 5:43 p.m. when he swung for the second time, his club digging into the turf several inches behind the ball, a divot the size of a hoagie flopping in front of him. Again, gasps, then groans. Before the ball even reached the water, Spieth was walking toward Greller with his hand out, already asking for another Titleist. He took his hat off, turned his back, unwilling to look.
It was 5:44 p.m. when Spieth, now hitting 5 with two penalty strokes, took his third swing on the 12th hole. He hit well behind the ball again, dirt and grass flying. This time the ball cleared the water, but it skipped through the green and into the back bunker. He trudged across Hogan Bridge muttering to himself. He kept fiddling with his white Under Armour hat, yanking on the bill.
It was 5:46 p.m. when Spieth got his third ball out of the bunker, splashing the sand beneath it and letting it run toward the cup. Mercifully, it stopped 3 feet away. Shocked fans turned to one another, trying to find the words. What had just unfolded didn't feel quite real.
It was 5:48 p.m. when Spieth finished the 12th hole, rolling in a short putt for a 7, a quadruple bogey. The scoreboard operator pulled out a red 1 to indicate he'd just dropped four strokes. Patrons began gathering their belongings, folding their green lawn chairs to put them away. Spieth's parents, Shawn and Chris, shuffled toward the next hole, heads down, as if in a daze.
As Spieth and Greller made their way toward the 13th tee, Spieth turned to his caddie and tried, in the moment, to be brutally honest.
"Buddy, it seems like we're collapsing," he said.
It was 5:49 p.m. There was nothing they could do but walk.