Spieth birdies No. 18 to grab share of lead at Kapalua

By Doug FergusonJanuary 4, 2014, 3:16 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Jordan Spieth thought the Plantation Course was a blast to play when he arrived at Kapalua. He had even more fun Friday.

Coming off a sensational rookie season, Spieth opened the new year by never coming close to bogey and making a 12-foot birdie putt on the last hole for a 7-under 66. That gave him a share of the lead at the Tournament of Champions with fellow newcomers Michael Thompson, Chris Kirk and Webb Simpson.

''It's a course that I shouldn't make a lot of bogeys on if you keep the ball in play and just think your way around the course,'' Spieth said. ''Ultimately, I did some good preparation and did a lot of hard work the last two or three weeks getting ready for today, and now just happy to be in good position after the first round.''


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The wind off the west coast of Maui was the biggest surprise, shifting direction and speed throughout the opening round on a mostly sunny afternoon. But with an inch of rain overnight, the Plantation Course was soft enough that only two players in the 30-man field of PGA Tour winners failed to break par.

Kirk thought he might be one of them when he first got to this slice of paradise. He had not played since winning the McGladrey Classic at Sea Island two months ago, and his first practice round was a skins game with Matt Kuchar and Scott Brown. Kirk got shut out and figures he shot about 80.

When it counted, he was on the money, especially late in the round by closing with five straight birdies.

The last two were not easy, especially with the wind blasting into him on the 17th hole, a par 4 that measures 545 yards down the hill. He hit a poor tee shot and had to smash a 3-wood into 30 feet for an unlikely birdie. He had to hit 3-wood and 9-iron for his final two shots on 18 to make birdie.

''Some slightly more exciting birdies in the last few holes,'' he said.

For the opening round of the year, where players are still trying to shake off some rust, the leaderboard has rarely been this tight.

PGA champion Jason Dufner had four birdies and an eagle on his front-nine 30, only to settle into a string of pars on the back nine for a 6-under 67. Kevin Streelman bogeyed his last two holes and also was at 67, along with Zach Johnson and Ryan Moore. The top 10 players were separated by three shots.

Adam Scott, coming off a two wins and a runner-up in Australia, and defending champion Dustin Johnson were among those at 70

On a day like this, experience might have been overrated.

''I think the more times you play it, the more advantage you have,'' Kirk said. ''Today was a little bit funny. Today was a day with the wind ... I've never played in this wind. All the guys who have played here a bunch of times, you're very rarely going to see that wind. So that could throw some people off that were used to it.''

Even the players at Kapalua for the first time have watched enough of it on television to know how the ball reacts on the ground. That's why Thompson was so surprised to see that his tee shot on the 18th bounced back a few feet.

''From what I understand from guys that I've talked to, that ball at least rolls 40 yards,'' Thompson said. ''So it's playing obviously very different.''

Spieth is getting plenty of attention going into a new year, mostly to see if he can back up his amazing rookie season. He had no status on any tour at this time a year ago, and by the end of the year he had won a tournament (John Deere Classic), finished No. 7 in the FedEx Cup and played on the Presidents Cup team.

He is easing his way into the year, coming out to Maui with only his agent, still finding time to enjoy the Pacific and everything else at Kapalua.

''It's almost like a vacation tournament in a sense,'' Spieth said. ''It's been an awesome week so far. Obviously, I'm here for this reason, and I don't have my family here with me. So there's definitely more of an emphasis on golf than maybe some other guys are putting into it here. Maybe that's an advantage.''

DIVOTS: Along with 13 newcomers to Kapalua, there were a few new - or different - faces on the bags. Simpson is using the caddie of Bubba Watson because the wife of his regular looper, Paul Tesori, is about to have a baby. The biggest change was with Patrick Reed, whose wife has carried his bag for his entire professional career. She is expecting their first child, so her brother is taking over. ... Kapalua is the toughest walk on tour, especially for the caddies. So it didn't help when Kip Henley, the caddie for Brian Gay, felt the bag heavier than usual on the fourth tee. He searched into the umbrella pocket and found a bottle of red wine that had been in the bag since the OHL Classic in Mexico last November. Gay gave it to his wife, who was in the gallery.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”