Careful with applying too much pressure on Spieth

By Will GrayApril 16, 2014, 3:00 pm

“It’s only a matter of time.”

That’s the general sentiment pertaining to Jordan Spieth and major championship victories, now that Spieth has begun his Masters career with a T-2 finish at the ripe age of 20. A player that has exceeded all realistic expectations for more than a year did so again last week at Augusta National, and the question of him landing a maiden major title appears to be not if, but when.

It’s an understandable stance after Spieth held a two-shot lead at one point Sunday, and only nine months after winning on the PGA Tour as a teenager. He’s now the ninth-ranked player in the world.

His jaw-dropping debut on a major stage, though, seems somewhat familiar.

The year was 1999. A rising star with boyish charm took galleries by storm during the final round, only to fall short to a player who went on to claim his second career major title.

Sergio Garcia was 19 when he finished runner-up to Tiger Woods at the ’99 PGA Championship, but like Spieth he had a decorated amateur career (Garcia won the British Amateur and European Amateur, while Spieth took home two U.S. Junior Amateur titles and an NCAA championship at Texas). Like Spieth, he already had a victory among the professional ranks, having won the Irish Open earlier that summer.

Photos: Spieth through the years

Photos: Garcia through the years

Spieth’s rise up the OWGR since early 2013 has been impressive, but Garcia’s was as well. Turning pro after earning low amateur honors at the 1999 Masters, Garcia was ranked No. 354 in the world for his professional debut. He cracked the top 100 with his win in Ireland, and after a runner-up finish at the PGA Championship was inside the top 30 in the world – just four months into his pro career.

When Garcia and Woods left Medinah that week, it appeared a burgeoning rivalry had been gifted to the game. Woods’ rise had been foreseen for years, but here was a precocious teenager ready and willing to give him a run for his money, all while wearing his heart on his sleeve. The majors – plural – would soon follow.

Fifteen years later, Garcia’s next major title will be his first. He has not lacked for chances – another defeat to Woods at the 2002 U.S. Open; then a pair of runner-ups to Padraig Harrington, first in a playoff at the 2007 British Open and again at the PGA the following year. He’s had a distinguished career, one that saw him reach No. 2 in the world after a win at the 2008 Players Championship, but many will suggest that the promise that began at Medinah has, to this point, gone largely unfulfilled.

As is often the case in sports, a series of close calls do not equate to victory, and golf is the ultimate “prove it” game. There’s a reason why Greg Norman wasn’t at the Champions Dinner last week in Augusta, why Arnold Palmer has never lifted the Wanamaker Trophy and why the spot on Phil Mickelson’s shelf marked “U.S. Open” remains vacant.

Does Spieth possess the talent to win majors? Certainly. The game that took him to the top of the standings Sunday is one that few can match. But before trademarking “Heir Jordan” and projecting whose major haul he’ll most likely match, let’s allow Spieth to find his footing on his own terms. After all, sometimes the earliest estimations are the ones that go the most awry.

Just ask Sergio.

Getty Images

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).

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.” 

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

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 phoned 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. 

Getty Images

Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.