Sure bet: Spieth shows he belongs on PGA Tour

By Doug FergusonMarch 18, 2013, 10:47 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Except for the size and noise level of the crowd and the significance of the stage, the moment was reminiscent of 17-year-old Justin Rose chipping in on the final hole at Royal Birkdale in 1998 to tie for fourth in the British Open.

This was much more valuable for 19-year-old Jordan Spieth.

He needed a birdie on one of his final two holes in the Tampa Bay Championship to complete an amazing trip through four countries in four weeks and essentially lock up a spot on the PGA Tour for the rest of the year. His ball was in the rough to the right of the 17th green. With a smooth swing, Spieth produced a flop shot that came out pure and rolled into the cup for birdie.

''That was as loud as it gets,'' Spieth said. ''Hair on the back of your neck stands up.''

He followed with a 7-foot par putt on the 18th, a rapid-fire pump of the fists and a tie for seventh that was worth $148,893, pushing his Tour earnings to $521,893 for the year and giving him special temporary membership.

As he sat near his locker at Innisbrook scrolling through text messages, the mention of Rose didn't register immediately. That was a long time ago in his world.

''I was born in 1993, if that helps,'' he said.

That was the same year another polished talent from Dallas who went to the University of Texas – Justin Leonard – turned pro and did well enough in seven starts to earn a Tour card without ever going to Q-School.

Spieth still has a ways to go. He probably needs another $150,000 or so to secure a full card for next year. He technically would not fall into that group of players who never went to Q-School – Gary Hallberg, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Leonard, Ryan Moore and Bud Cauley – because Spieth failed to get out of the second stage last year when his putter let him down. He was still an amateur, still a Longhorn.

Spieth has faced a couple of forks in the road since then, and he keeps making the right turn.

Instead of returning to Texas for the spring season and a chance to repeat as NCAA champions, his heart was set on turning pro, hopeful of getting a mixture of exemptions on the Web.com Tour and PGA Tour to see where it would lead.

He started in Panama and tied for fourth and then tied for seventh in Colombia. With just over $50,000 in two starts, he was about $4,000 short of earning full status on the Web.com Tour and wanted to go to Chile to lock that up. But he had already accepted a spot in Puerto Rico on the PGA Tour and felt compelled to honor it.

''We sat there for 30 minutes trying to figure it out,'' Spieth said.

He chose Puerto Rico, which turned out to be a great move. Spieth was tied for the lead deep into Sunday afternoon until he couldn't keep up and tied for second, picking up $308,000. The top-10 finish got him into the Tampa Bay Championship, and suddenly his outlook changed.

''I thought my focus was going to be on the Web.com Tour for the year, and now my focus is out here,'' he said. ''It's a nice change.''

He took care of the rest on Sunday. The special temporary membership means Spieth can take unlimited exemptions the rest of the season, and that should be no trouble. He already is committed to play three times in Texas – the Houston Open, Texas Open and Byron Nelson – and more exemptions are sure to follow.

Spieth has all the trappings of a future star, though the real measure will be over the course of a year, instead of a month. Success at this level is all about consistency and learning how to cope with failure. There's still a long way to go.

But what a start.

''He's a great kid, obviously very mature,'' Leonard said. ''I can't imagine being out there. I don't even know how old he is – 19? I can't imagine being out here at 19 and to do what he's done. He hasn't just driven a couple hundred miles. He's been to three or four different countries this year already. It's pretty remarkable. It's beyond the game and what happens on the golf course. He's handling himself very, very well.''

In a much broader context, Spieth is another reminder that there was too much hang-wringing over the change in how to get to the big leagues. Starting this year, no Tour cards are awarded at Q-School, only a spot on the Web.com Tour. It took away the instant path to the Tour, and the complaint was that it required even the best college players to spend a year in the minor leagues.

But it can be done. Good play goes a long way.

Ben Kohles last year graduated from Virginia, turned pro and won twice in a row on the Web.com Tour to assure himself a spot on Tour. Luke Guthrie finished up at Illinois and did well enough in a partial Web.com Tour season to earn his card. He played in the final group at the Honda Classic this year.

Spieth had no status anywhere, but he has finished in the top 10 in four straight weeks and already has earned just over $572,000 this year.

''At the beginning of the year, when you know that you only get seven unrestricted exemptions – first of all, it's hard to get seven tournaments in, let alone make enough money to get your card – to be able to do it in really three events ... I never would have guessed that I would get in this quickly,'' Spieth said. ''I feel in control, and I know what it's like to be in contention in a Tour event. I just want to get back and get a win now.''

He finished too late on Sunday to make his flight home to Dallas. He was still excited Sunday night, so instead of going to bed, he got together with his father, his caddie and his agent for a late-night game of poker. They didn't have poker chips, so they used M&Ms. Spieth wound up the winner. No taking candy from this baby.

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.


Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.


Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”