It always has to be the best win or the worst loss of all time, just because sports gets bigger as we go, starting with bigger stakes and bigger money, all tied up in the time we spend watching sports and talking about them and tweeting about them. The walkway keeps moving, fast, and the more young people get interested, the more they think sports really started when they got interested in them. So people move on from talking about Michael's greatness, to LeBron's, before they move on to Steph's.
If Jordan Spieth had made it two Masters in a row at the age of 22, it would have become a story as important as Jack Nicklaus coming from behind and winning his sixth Masters 30 years ago, and would have immediately turned the kid into the immortal we want him to be, and fixed his status as one of the great players of all time.
Except he isn't one of the great players of all time, not yet. It's as good a place to start as any.
What happened to Spieth on No. 12 absolutely was shocking, just because about a half an hour before he had finished the front nine at Augusta with four straight birdies that had some golf experts on social media declaring the thing over. But then in what had occasionally been a wide-right week for him, Spieth still decided he could hit a fade on a hole where you can't miss right or risk turning into Michael Phelps.
When that shot ended up in the water, Spieth compounded his original brain-lock mistake by not being dry with his next shot; because if he is dry, then the worst that happens is that he's still leading the Masters when he gets to the 13th tee.
So Spieth rolled a 7 at the worst time, and he was no longer winning by five shots. His putter wasn't going to save him after all. Nobody wanted to remember how much chopping around he'd done since his 66 on Thursday, that once he bogeyed No. 10 on Sunday, and right before he bogeyed No. 11, he was only even-par for the 46 holes he'd played since he finished Thursday's round.
Nobody wanted to remember that he'd started out hitting it left on Saturday and ended up hitting it right, the same way he hit it wide right on the 71st hole at Chambers Bay, when he made double-bogey and nearly lost the U.S. Open right there. The signs were there but, damn, he'd made those four birdies and had that big lead and was daring people to come get him the way Tiger Woods used to do the same thing when he was the frontrunner at a major.
"Before he'd birdied six, seven, eight and nine, Jordan had even slopped it around on Sunday," Curtis Strange told me on Monday afternoon.
Strange once won back-to-back U.S. Opens. But before that he lost a Masters he thought he was set up to win. In 1985, he was the one with a big lead at Augusta National, four strokes when he got to the 10th tee. Then he hit a 4-wood in the water on No. 13 and a 4-iron in the water on No. 15, and Bernhard Langer was the one who won his first green jacket that year. So he knows as well as anybody how Sunday at Augusta can become an undersea adventure.
"(Spieth) is still just 22," Strange said on Monday. "People need to remember: He's gonna make mistakes."
Before Spieth got to the 12th tee on Sunday, by the way, the great Dan Jenkins tweeted this out:
"I would remind everyone, including myself, that Jordan's still five water holes from home."
Spieth got past one of them, No. 11, even if he hit another sketchy drive there, because of another errant drive. The whole world knows what happened next. There was one bad swing, followed by one much worse, when the kid chunked his fourth shot so badly it barely made Rae's Creek.
It was one of the worst losses you will ever see in golf. Just not the worst of all time, despite some of the state-funeral coverage on TV afterward.
Arnold Palmer had won seven majors before the 1966 U.S. Open at Olympic, and was seven shots ahead of Billy Casper with nine holes to go. Arnold at 36 wasn't what he'd been before Jack Nicklaus came along, and before Jack won his own first major at the age of 22. But in this world, nobody ever expected that Arnold, on his way to breaking the all-time U.S. Open scoring record, was going to blow that lead. But he did, ended up tied with Casper, losing the Open in a playoff the next day.
And 50 years later, it doesn't matter why it happened or how it happened, just that it did. Palmer, still one of the most famous and glamorous golf immortals of them all, had made a seven-stroke lead disappear in nine holes, after doing a lot more than Spieth has done in golf so far, which means even after the year that the kid had in 2015.
After Casper beat Arnold in the playoff and after Arnold had done his press conference that day, the story was that somebody asked him if he wanted to leave by the back door. But Arnold knew how to lose the way Spieth showed he knew how to lose on Sunday.
"The way I played," Palmer said, "I deserve whatever they do to me."
And when Greg Norman lost his own six-shot lead over Nick Faldo in 1996, he had been a huge star of his sport for a long time, twice a major champion, and somebody who had suffered so many other heartbreak losses in majors you lost count. Norman shot 63 in the first round that year, was 13-under par by the time he got to the first tee on Sunday, as much at the top of his game as he'd ever been at a major, playing much better golf than Spieth played before No. 12 on Sunday.
When it was all over that day, and before Norman and Faldo hugged it out on the 18th green, there would be an 11-shot swing between the two men on Sunday at Augusta. Just because it was a slow-motion train wreck doesn't mean it wasn't a train wreck.
Spieth might win as many green jackets as Arnold did before he was through (four), or make a run at Jack's six, and might eventually win 10 majors or more. He may yet turn out to be an all-time great. He's just not there yet. For now he's as famous for a loss like this as he was for making his Grand Slam run last year. He was a great kid last summer, just not the greatest golf kid of all time. This was a bad loss on Sunday. Just not the worst of all time.
Somehow people decided the Masters was over with nine holes to go on Sunday even -- as Jenkins said -- with what sometimes must look like an Atlantic Ocean of water still left to navigate at Augusta. You want to know something really shocking that happened in the last round of the Masters? That.