Danny Willett believes newly-crowned Open champion Jordan Spieth was always capable of recovering from his Masters meltdown.
Spieth famously squandered a five-shot lead with nine holes to play at Augusta National in 2016, with Willett taking full advantage to claim his first major title thanks to a superb closing 67.
It looked as though history was repeating itself in the final round at Royal Birkdale on Sunday as Spieth let slip a three-shot lead and fell a stroke behind Matt Kuchar following a protracted bogey on the 13th.
However, the 23-year-old American then played the next four holes in five under par to claim his third major title and set up a chance to surpass Tiger Woods as the youngest winner of the career grand slam in next month’s US PGA at Quail Hollow.
“He’s never that far away, a guy that can score as good as he scores and putts as good as he putts,” Sheffield’s former US Masters champion Willett said after finishing 76th of the 77 players to make the cut.
“Mentally for his age, for anyone’s age, he’s one of the best around and it shows on a week like this where the weather comes in. He’s played in some pretty bad conditions and he does what he does best.
“He’s very good at leading. I think his 36 and 54-hole stats are pretty phenomenal. A lot of that is similar to Tiger - they know he’s not going to come back (to the pack), he can hit a few iffy ones but everyone thinks he’s always going to hole a few of those crucial ones (putts) at the right time.
“That’s why everyone was so surprised in April 2016 when he didn’t polish that one off.
“He shot one over on Sunday at the Masters, we shot five under. He didn’t play horrendous, it was just one of them things that happened. It was our time to do it and to win.”
As defending champion, Spieth could not simply leave Augusta National as soon as possible following his nightmare round. Tradition dictated he had to present his successor Willett with the green jacket.
“Out of anyone in the world he would take that as good as most,” Willett added.
“If you really break it down it’s one hole (a quadruple bogey on the 12th) that cost him, but he was always going to come back fine.
“You look at how he was afterwards and it shows the class of person he is and how mentally strong he is regardless of situations.”