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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Ortiz takes Web.com Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Web.com Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Web.com Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Web.com Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x