History Spieth's toughest opponent in 2016

By Doug FergusonJuly 25, 2016, 7:37 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Jordan Spieth walked with purpose down the long corridor toward his locker, not stopping to look at the photos and scorecards that cover more than a century of golf history at Baltusrol.

Maybe that was just as well.

History has proven to be his toughest opponent this year, and it was bound to be a losing battle.

Dating to 1934 when the Masters began, Spieth is among 14 players who have won two majors in one year. Only five of those players ever won a single major the following year, and it's an elite group - Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.

Woods is the only player to win two majors in consecutive seasons.

Spieth is not trying to salvage his season at the PGA Championship. All but four players would love to have his year of two victories and a close call at the Masters. The exceptions are the three major champions and Jason Day, the only three-time winner on the PGA Tour this year.

It only seems like a struggle for Spieth because of endless comparisons with last year.

That's what led Spieth to try to reason with the media, and perhaps to remind himself, of the reality he is facing.

''I think it's been a solid year, and I think had last year not happened I'd be having a lot of positive questions,'' Spieth said after the British Open. ''Instead, most of the questions I get are comparing to last year and, therefore, negative because it's not to the same standard. So that's almost tough to then convince myself that you're having a good year ... when the questions I get make me feel like it's not.''

Trouble is, last year did happen. Comparisons were inevitable.

Graeme McDowell recalls his magical season in 2010 when he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and delivered the winning point from the final match at the Ryder Cup. He ended the year by taking down Woods at his own tournament in California. It was tough to back up a year like that.

''It feels like a disappointment, like a certain young American who's having the same issue,'' McDowell said, smiling because it was clear he was speaking about Spieth. ''It's the same way when you shoot 62. It's very hard to come out on the golf course and back up a 62. That's the micro version. The macro version is coming off a year like that trying to replicate it. Obviously, there's a lot of traps.''

Are the expectations too high? Is the scrutiny too much?

''The kid is not having a bad year,'' McDowell said. ''But he's in a different stratosphere now. He's in the Tiger stratosphere, where every shot he hits is going to be questioned, every move he makes is going to be questioned. It's something he has to get used to.''

And there's another sobering reality that Spieth will have to consider: History suggests he might never have another season like last year.

Spieth didn't just win two majors. He came as close as anyone to being the first to capture the calendar Grand Slam. He missed the British Open playoff by one shot and was runner-up to Jason Day in the PGA Championship.

Nicklaus had that chance one time in 1972, finishing one shot behind at the British Open. Palmer created the modern Grand Slam in 1960 when he won the Masters and U.S. Open. He never got another shot the rest of his career. Woods' lone opportunity ended in the rain and wind of Muirfield in 2002.

''There are aspirations and goals and beliefs and knowledge that you can achieve such incredible things that Jordan did,'' Adam Scott said. ''But then there's reality balanced in there. History shows it doesn't repeat. One guy (Woods) repeated it a few times. So what's successful after that is what Jordan or any player having that kind of year will have to figure out. I don't know the answer.''

Spieth doesn't believe that last year was as good as it will get, nor should he. He doesn't turn 23 until Wednesday. His career is just getting started, and the last thing any young player wants to hear is that his best - results, not necessarily performance - is behind him.

''If that's a valley,'' Spieth said of his season to date, ''then that's going to be a lot of fun when we get back up to a peak.''

Then again, he alluded to how special last year was even before the U.S. Open.

One swing on the 12th tee at Augusta National cost Spieth another green jacket, though he was able to step back and see the bigger picture. It was his fifth straight major that he had a serious chance to win.

''We've been spoiled the last five of them,'' he said in June. ''We recognize that's not necessarily normal to have a chance of that many in a row. But why do what's normal?''

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

John Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge, and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means:

This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff. Rahm had missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18, his birdie bid found the cup.. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest:

A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day:Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day:

"One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry
Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).


Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship


Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Web.com Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Web.com Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.