After Further Review: Spieth joins Norman in Masters lore

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Jordan Spieth's second-nine collapse ...

Greg Norman is one of the game’s all-time great players, but when it comes to Augusta National his is a name from which you’d like to keep your distance. After a shocking collapse in defense of his title, though, Jordan Spieth now joins the likes of Norman, Scott Hoch, Ed Sneed and even Arnold Palmer as players who let green jackets slip through their fingers.

Of course, once the dust settles Spieth can take solace in the title he won last year – a consolation that always eluded Norman. But the parallels between the two combatants, whose Masters meltdowns were separated by 20 years, are hard to ignore.

The confidence with which many were set to anoint Norman as he took a six-shot lead into the final round in 1996 was equaled – if not surpassed – by the sentiments directed toward Spieth as he stood nine holes away from a second straight wire-to-wire victory. But the ball can bounce funny down the stretch at Augusta National, and while Norman’s demise played out as a slow bleed, Spieth’s was over almost as quickly as it began.

The other aspect that ties the two is that their respective collapses will likely overshadow sublime rounds from their counterparts – both Nick Faldo and Danny Willett closed with sterling rounds of 5-under 67. Their strong final-round efforts may be historical footnotes, but those coveted green jackets hang in their locker just the same. – Will Gray

On the drama of Sunday at the Masters ...

The Masters delivered another epic tale of wonder and woe.

Sometimes we leave the stage that is Augusta National exhilarated by a bold charge that won it, sometimes gutted by a disheartening collapse. Apologies to Danny Willett, but this will be remembered for the latter.

The Masters can take our breath away. Sometimes it’s the dramatic way it’s won. It’s Bubba Watson hooking a shot out of the woods to win in a playoff. It’s Adam Scott burying a birdie putt on the second hole of sudden death to win for all of Australia. It’s Jack Nicklaus with the charge of all charges, winning at age 46 when he seemed untethered from his previous greatness.

And sometimes the Masters takes our breath away in uncomfortable ways.

Greg Norman’s collapse in ’96, when he lost a six-shot lead to Nick Faldo in the final round, was slow torture.

Spieth’s collapse was more like a punch in the gut, historic in its swift delivery. – Randall Mell

On the heroics and heartbreak of the final round ...

It’s not as though we needed a reminder, but Sunday’s extremes at Augusta National were everything that is special about the year’s first major.

After three days of blustery winds that resulted in few reasons to cheer, the frantic give and take over the final nine holes on Sunday was exactly what we’ve come to expect from the Masters, highlighted by equal parts heroics and heartbreak.

While Jordan Spieth’s implosion on Nos. 10, 11 and 12 – which he played in 6 over par – will be the lasting image from the 2016 Masters, eventual champion Danny Willett’s inspired play, his closing 67 matched the best round of the day, was just as a compelling. – Rex Hoggard

On the lasting effects of Spieth's meltdown ...

How long will Jordan Spieth’s collapse linger? That’s the biggest question to emerge from this 80th Masters.

Nine holes from becoming the youngest three-time major winner since 1923, the world’s No. 2-ranked player melted down in an unimaginable way, coming home in 41 – with two birdies. Spieth won’t play again until mid-May, which is plenty of time to absorb the most crushing loss of his career.

Knowing Spieth, it wouldn’t surprise at all if he returns more determined and motivated than ever. – Ryan Lavner

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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.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.