Crenshaw leaves Masters stage to mentee Spieth

ByJason Sobel Via <a Href="http://espn.go.com/" Title="espn" Class="espn_sc_byline">espn </a>
April 10, 2015, 6:12 PM

&#151; -- AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Call it a coincidence if you must, but there was a poignant symmetry on extreme ends of the Masters scoreboard Friday at Augusta National Golf Club.

Leading the 79th Masters Tournament is Jordan Spieth, a deferential, 21-year-old Texan with a nasty competitive streak, stepping on the throats of older peers while addressing them as "mister" or "sir." In last place is Ben Crenshaw, a genteel, 63-year-old Texan whose own competitive fire was being administered its last rites Friday afternoon.

A pair of Texas Longhorns, one perhaps halfway to history, the other celebrating the culmination of a career filled with it on this course. Two ships in the night. A passing of the torch. But this is more than that, really. This is about a mentor bowing from the stage as his mentee steps into the spotlight.

Crenshaw has been showing the ropes to his starry eyed pupil for a few years now, but never more than here at Augusta. Last year, before Spieth embarked on his maiden voyage at this event, they played practice rounds together. The mentor showed the mentee subtle architectural traits he swore nobody else knew about. The elder player's caddie, Carl Jackson, taught the younger one's looper, Michael Greller, so much about the course that they all joked he should wear a T-shirt under his white jumpsuit that read: "CARL SAYS."

The mentor advised the mentee so well, in fact, that he nearly won the tournament. He finished in second place instead.

He might be on his way to one spot better this week.

With rounds of 64 and 66, Spieth set a new 36-hole Masters record, claimed a five-stroke lead and turned the impending weekend into what many believe could be an outright coronation.

But he didn't accomplish any of this without more help from the man they call Gentle Ben.

"I had a putt on 17," Spieth said of a practice round, "which he told me to hit from a certain spot, which happens to be the spot that I hit it to [Thursday]. And he said, 'Just watch how quick this is.' And I hit a few putts thinking, 'Oh, it's not that fast,' or, 'OK, I'll hit it softly to show him I know the speed.' Still hit it four feet past a couple times. And I get into the tournament, and I still hit it three feet past [Thursday].

"But I knew it was going to be quick, and I played it softer than I originally would have. It allowed me to have two feet instead of five or six."

Crenshaw's lasting history at this tournament will be more than just grandfatherly wisdom. He won here in 1984 and again in 1995, inspired by the death of his longtime instructor, Harvey Penick, just days earlier.

On Friday, one day after posting a cheerless 91 that validated his decision, he played his final competitive round of golf at Augusta National.

"I feel like I've won the tournament," Crenshaw said with a laugh. "I am old enough to have played in a much different era. Seen the course change dramatically. It needed to, and it's a test, and I'm kind of amazed at how it stands now with my friend Jordan."

Crenshaw will now live vicariously through his mentee. He recently joked that upon retirement from the tournament which gave him so much, he will blend into the gallery on the 15th hole, wielding a sandwich and a beer while watching Spieth contend for a green jacket of his own.

For as young as Spieth is -- if he'd stayed in school at Texas, he'd be graduating next month -- there exists an old soul within. Unlike many 21-year-olds, who might not understand the poignant symmetry that exists at the Masters this week, he acknowledges and appreciates the image.

"It's really cool," he said, "and it would be even cooler if I was able to close this out. At the halfway point, it seems cool on a day like today, which is his last round. I see it. It's awesome."

On a course renowned for its conspicuous beauty, this was the most beautiful thing Augusta National has offered us. If Spieth claims the green jacket Sunday evening -- and accepts a teary hug from his mentor -- the symmetrical journey will be complete.

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