Polished Spieth looks poised to finish the job

By Joe PosnanskiApril 10, 2015, 11:14 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The thing that blows the mind about Jordan Spieth is how utterly finished he is as a golfer. Flawless. It is like he was designed by Apple in California. Really, there should be one of those Jony Ive Apple commercials about him, one where a piano plays in the background and Ive says in that British accent: “Golf is, in its essence, about perfection. But perfection is not merely the absence of error or freedom from flaws. It is a state of being that hovers above the every day frailty of the human experience. Jordan Spieth is our clearest representation yet of that unreachable goal.”

Or, you know, something really out there.

Jordan Spieth is really out there. It isn’t just the record-breaking 14 under par he shot the first two days at Augusta. It isn’t just the absurd ease with which he seems to handle the pressure and deflect distraction. It isn’t just the effortless joy he conveys in the way he plays and responds to questions and requests and fans (everyone – and I mean everyone – likes the kid). And it isn’t just that he’s 21 years old, only months older than Tiger Woods was when he shook up the world and almost two years younger than Seve Ballesteros when he did.

No, it’s all of it, the sheer completeness of Spieth’s game, his attitude, his public persona, his competitiveness. It is all in balance. On the 18th green Friday, with a huge lead in hand and a record-low score assured, he faced a short birdie putt to go 15 under par. He misread the putt and left himself a tap-in for par. He was clearly surprised and upset. But instead of tapping it in, he looked at the ball, looked at the hole, looked at the stance he would need, and decided instead to mark the ball and putt it later.

“I was a little outside my comfort zone,” he said. “I didn’t want to force anything … there was no point. I was going to make it if I stepped off.”

This is a small thing, but then everything wonderful about Spieth’s game comes down to small things. Golfers and analysts talk about this all the time: Nothing about Spieth’s game really stands out. He doesn’t hit the ball longer than others, higher than others or even straighter than others (he is currently 107th on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation). His sand game is good but not necessarily great. He’s very good around the greens, but he’s not a Ballesteros- or Tom Watson-like genius. He is a marvelous putter, but that alone doesn’t tend to get the blood pumping.

So what makes him the hottest golfer on earth comes down to mathematical possibilities. Bill James, in trying to explain what made Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez great, used an example from math: Seven factorial (7 x 6 x 5 …) is just 5,040. But 10 factorial (10 x 9 x 8 x 7 …) is 3,628,800. How could the three numbers between seven and 10 make that much of a difference?

That’s mathematics. Two to the tenth power is 1,024. Two to the 20th power is more than a million. Two to the 30th power is more than a billion. If you keep throwing in factors, the numbers go up exponentially. Maybe Spieth can’t hit it as far as Dustin Johnson, can’t turn the ball like Bubba Watson, can’t hit iron shots like Rory McIlroy, but then you multiply all the things Spieth can do. He hits it straight and far enough. He is good with his irons. He is imaginative around the greens. He is a fantastic putter. He thinks through the game well. Then you factor in his composure under pressure and his never-ending aggressiveness and his uncommon sense of self … well, when you are finished with all the calculations you have a player who can almost win the Masters at age 20 and shoot 14 under par the during first two rounds at the Masters a year later.

There’s a funny thing about Augusta: Everyone loves to talk about the Curse of the Par 3 Contest, which sounds like the least interesting “Scooby Doo" episode ever. They started playing this Par 3 Contest in 1960, and since then no one has won that and the Masters in the same year. This curse frightened Woods so much he actually failed to show up for a Par 3 Contest playoff.

Of course, it’s also possible that the curse might not be some odd hex but, instead, simple probability. Try this trick at home: Take out two decks of cards. Shuffle them thoroughly. Now look at the first card in each deck. Are they the same card? No? Try it again. Are they same card now? No? Try it again. Are they the same card now? No? Well, you obviously have a cursed deck of cards there. I’m guessing if you do that 10,000 times, the same card will come up roughly once out of every 52 shots – there being 52 cards in a deck.

There are more than 52 golfers at the Masters, by the way.

But while people talk about that absurd thing endlessly, there’s another Augusta quirk that is pretty interesting: Only one first-round leader in 30 years has actually won the tournament. Trevor Immelman was tied for the lead after one round in 2008 and he went on to win it despite a final-round 75. That’s it. Nobody else has done it. That does seem weird.

Only, it actually isn’t that weird: Truth is, Augusta National tends to be a different golf course on Thursday and even Friday than it is later in the week. Tom Watson says that the Masters people have told him they want low scores the first day or two. They make the pin placements somewhat benign. They soften up the greens. This gives the tournament a little pizazz to start. Then, when the weekend comes, the tough pin placements come out. The greens get a little faster. Tack on some tournament pressure … it’s actually not too surprising that players have a hard time holding on.

Point is, everyone is still watching Spieth closely. He’s dominated the first tournament. He’s five shots up on Charley Hoffman, seven or nine or 10 shots up on most of the contenders,12 up on Tiger – who still wants to believe. The tournament is Spieth’s to lose. But now the second tournament begins, and curse or no, early-round leaders haven’t done that well in the second tournament. Woods knew exactly what he was saying when he referred to Greg Norman’s collapse in 1996: “With 36 holes here to go, anything game happen – ’96 proved that.” Sleep on that, Jordan.

And it must be said that last year, Spieth led by two shots on Sunday and then blinked.

“What I learned (last year),” he said, “was that the weekend of a major, those rounds, can often seem like two rounds with all the mental stuff running through your head, the stress levels … The hardest thing to do is put aside wanting to win so bad.”

Thing is, after watching the remarkable display Spieth put on Thursday and Friday, you sense that he will put all curses aside and handle all the challenges the course will throw his way. You sense that he will stay within himself, keep shooting low scores, leave everyone else behind. You sense that he’s actually this new Apple product that wins Masters Tournaments and makes it look absurdly easy.

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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.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.