Spieth, like his performance, shines at Masters

By Joe PosnanskiApril 13, 2015, 10:00 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – At the end of every Masters, an official from Augusta National will ask the newly crowned champion to “please go over your round.” This, like so many Masters things, is a tradition from a simpler time, before ShotLink disseminated on the Internet every possible scoring statistic for every golfer. Before television had 18-hole coverage, back when people could not see what the players had done.

In any case, this has become one of the first duties of a Masters champion: To sit at the microphone and mindlessly recite what shots he hit on every hole of his final round. The “going-over-the-round” oration tends to be a perfunctory 90-second affair, with the champion in his new green jacket impatiently reciting, “OK, on the first hole, driver, 8-iron, two putts. On the second hole, driver, 4-iron, hit a chip to 10 feet, made birdie. On the third hole …”

Jordan Spieth, of course, turned his round review into a long and joyous reenactment of what was “probably the best day of my life.” Because, you see, Spieth is like that.

“Michael [Greller, Spieth’s caddie] and I were joking at the first tee today,” Spieth said. “The University of Texas team is in Pasatiempo, another great Alister MacKenzie [golf course]. Actually I think he’s buried there.”*

*To interrupt for a moment: Spieth mostly got this right. MacKenzie, the great golf course architect who designed Augusta National and died two months before the first Masters, did have his ashes spread over Pasatiempo Golf Club in Santa Fe, Calif.”

“Anyway,” Spieth continued, “they are at Pasatiempo, and I would be a senior with the team right now. Michael said, ‘Aren’t you glad you are not at Pasatiempo now?’ Actually, he said, ‘Face it, aren’t you glad you’re here instead of there?’ That kind of sums it up.

“I had a 3-wood off No. 1 tee box. Then I had a good, kind of smooth, 9-iron into the green. Tried to bleed a little fade up there. I got it to where I wanted. Then I putted it where I wanted to; it was a straight putt coming right back up the hill. Justin obviously made his putt to start, so it was really nice to drop one on top of his to start the round.”

That was just Spieth’s description of the first hole. He did 17 more holes just like it.


On Spieth’s bogey at No. 7: “I hit driver right again. Then I hit a 6-iron through a little gap in the trees, which may not have been the smartest move but I didn’t really like any other options at that point. I got a bit unlucky because if the ball went into either of the sand traps there, it would have been a pretty easy up-and-down. Instead, it’s in between [the bunkers] and I don’t have a stance. I’d be interested to see a picture of that. Half my feet were dangling over the bunker.

“I was just standing there on my toes, and I actually hit a really good pitch to get it to makeable length. It’s just a tough putt. … It’s a feel-based putt. I just didn’t quite hit it hard enough to hold its line. So that was two bogeys in three holes. I was disappointed at that time.”

We haven’t seen a player quite like Spieth before. And it’s easy to get carried away. Every time a player puts together a sort-of-staggering performance like Spieth did at this year’s Masters, there’s a hunger to declare him The Next Big Thing. We go overboard. Golf is a sport vitalized and energized by its stars; when there aren’t players at the top who animate the imagination, the whole sport feels a bit lifeless. This wasn’t a problem in the late 1990s and most of the 2000s, because Tiger Woods was such a force of nature. But it has been almost seven years since Woods won a major championship, and while his on-again, off-again, now-he’s-injured, now-he’s-playing-great thrill ride always makes news, golf fans have been desperate to find someone new to headline.

Think James Bond movies after Sean Connery.

So, let’s see here, Keegan Bradley won the PGA Championship at 25. Webb Simpson was 27 when he took home the U.S. Open trophy. People tried to get excited about Jason Dufner for a while after he won the PGA. Martin Kaymer made mincemeat of Pinehurst No. 2 at the U.S. Open, and there was some thought he could dominate golf. Adam Scott, nicest guy in the world, won the Masters and he seemed to have sort of a cool Australian Bond vibe. Jason Day? Rickie Fowler? Bubba Watson? Justin Rose? All of them have been called The Next Big Thing.

Of course, the best bet to fill the Tiger void long has been Rory McIlroy, a brilliant young player with a wonderful personality. He is only 25, he’s the world’s No. 1 player and he has won four major championships. He plays the game with a verve and power that should thrill everyone. But, to be blunt, there’s just something Woods had that McIlroy, through no fault of his own, can’t quite duplicate, at least in America. Maybe it is because McIlroy is from Northern Ireland. Maybe it is that Woods is utterly irreplaceable because he was a social force in addition to a golf force; he was, after all, an African-American dominating a sport that had long been closed off for African-Americans.

Or maybe it is this: No one since Tiger (and few before Tiger) has so willingly and forcefully grabbed that No. 1 spot in the world. It’s a tough job. Sure, there’s good money in it and lots of glory – Late-night talk shows! Magazine covers! Commercials! Parties with celebrities! – but you can get plenty of that stuff being the No. 17 or No. 23 or No. 35 player in the world, too. And that’s easier. At No. 1, you are always the focus. You get the most autograph requests, the most selfie requests, the most interview requests. The other players want to beat you first. Whatever you say makes news. Wherever you go, you carry the game with you.

And, most just don’t want all that. Everybody wants to be James Bond, but nobody wants to get shot at all the time. I will always remember the delightful Nick Price – after he won two major championships in 1994 and was the No. 1 player in the world – coming into the Masters unsure that he even wanted to win the green jacket. He just didn’t want his life to get even crazier.

Tiger’s hunger to be the greatest player ever was so overpowering that he never had any doubts what he wanted: No. 1 was the only place to be. There haven’t been many who have so deeply craved to be on top of the world. Even McIlroy seems to have struggled with it at times as his personal life and various misjudgments have been splayed in stories across the world.

And Spieth? Can he handle how his life is about to change? Beyond that: Does he want – really want – the magnificence and responsibility that comes with being the best? Well, it sure sounds like it.

“The ultimate goal that I have mentioned, I think, each week,” he said, “is to try and become the No. 1 player in the world. … All in all, [winning the Masters] is really cool. This isn’t an honor that’s carried lightly. The members of Augusta National and everyone who partakes in the Masters demands the highest quality on and off the course from their champions. I’m ready to carry that baton.”


On Spieth’s birdie at No. 13: “I hit 3-wood, and got a nice little hook on the ball and a really good bounce to get up there so I could hit a comfortable 5-iron in. I think those shots at 13 were the two biggest shots I’ve ever hit in my life. I was coming off a three-putt, and Justin [Rose] was in a pretty good spot off that tee. I needed to do something. I needed to birdie that hole because otherwise I think I would have dropped.

“So I missed the 5-iron a little. I was trying to go a little left and just kind of hit it straight, kind of hit it a little off the toe. I was yelling, “Get up! Get up!” When it landed, from my angle, I thought it hit short and went in the water. All of a sudden the roar came up. When I walked up I saw the pitch mark was right on that little peninsula. And there was another moment where I thought, ‘This could be destiny.’”

The marvel of Spieth is that he is, at this moment of his life, a blend of wise-beyond-his-years sensibleness and youthful wonder. One minute, under the most intense pressure, he will be sinking an utterly impossible putt on greens that are like Formica. The next minute, he will be talking about the movie “Forgetting Sarah Marshall.” One minute, he is charming everyone with his unusual blend of humility and confidence; the next he’s leaving dirty dishes all over his house. As a father, I sometimes will see a young person and wish I could talk to his or her parents just to ask: “How did you do that? How did you raise such a cool kid?”

Spieth says that his grounded nature was forged by the relationship with his younger sister, Ellie, who has a neurological disorder on the autism spectrum. She inspires him. She also reminds him constantly of what’s really important. A week before the Masters, in Houston, he lost in a playoff. He saw it through Ellie’s eyes; at the end of each day she would ask him if he had won. And through her eyes, Spieth realized his week could be summed up in five words: “Not yet. Not yet. No.’”

He took those five words with him to Augusta and did all sorts of remarkable things – youngest player to lead after the first round, lowest 36-hole score ever at a major championship, lowest 54-hole score ever at the Masters, most birdies at the Masters (28) – but the most impressive feat of all might not have been an actual record. He became the first player in almost 40 years to lead the tournament wire-to-wire. The last was Raymond Floyd in 1976 and before that it was Jack Nicklaus in 1972 and before that it was Arnold Palmer in 1960.

But even those three would concede that going wire-to-wire now is a much different deal. The intense pressure that comes from leading the Masters in today’s 24-hour news frenzy simply does not compare to years ago. Spieth said he slept pretty well the first night he had the lead. He slept considerably worse the second night. He hardly slept at all the third. He kept promising himself that he would not look at leaderboards; but he could not help but sneak a few peeks. He kept telling himself not to let the roars of the crowd distract him, but it is not easy to turn off your hearing, especially when you are as alert and present as Spieth.

Still, he endured. More than that, he dominated. His golf game is a symphony of small things done well. He does not hit it very far, he does not always hit it straight, he will occasionally falter in shots around the green. But he has a genius for hitting the right shot at the right time, which is what Nicklaus says professional golf is all about. And nobody putts like this guy.

“He has no weaknesses,” said Phil Mickelson, who could not quite find a way to rattle the kid on Sunday. “He doesn’t overpower the golf course, but he plays the course strategically well. He plays all the shots properly. And he has the ability to focus and see things clearly when the pressure is on and perform at his best … that’s something you really can’t teach.”


Spieth on No. 18: “My driver wasn’t what I wanted it to be today. … But I got it over in the pine straw, and I knew I could get a 5-iron at least to into the bunker. If it gets into the bunker, then I can blast it out on to the green. … It curved to a perfect spot and at that point I knew I had won the tournament.

“After I got that 5-iron out, I knew. I had kept my head down before that. I was enjoying the right and intensity of the round because that’s what we played for. But it didn’t creep into my mind that I had won the tournament until I hit that second shot on 18 and walked up there. And I said to Michael, ‘Mike, I think we just did it.’ He says, ‘No, you haven’t. Don’t say that. Just go up there and hit the chip.’ That was perfect. That’s what he should say there.

“I’ll never forget watching the front of the hole as the last tap-in went in the front edge. There was no need for crazy celebrations. At that point, I was just really, really pleased with the whole week, being on top, being able to stay on top, being able to conquer my favorite tournament in the world.”

Jordan Spieth took 2,593 words to go over his round. To give you a comparison, the Gettysburg Address is 272 words. Spieth’s round review was a few more words than Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart” and only about 40 words less than Mark Twain’s famous “The Celebrated Jumping Frog of Calaveras County.”

Spieth’s short story was every bit as enjoyable. You sensed that he never wanted to stop talking about it. And isn’t that the most human thing? Don’t we all want to talk and talk about our best dreams?

In the end, Mickeson got it right: Spieth just has this knack for seeing things clearly. How can someone so young have that ability? How far can it take him? How much fun will it be to watch him and McIlroy and all those prodigies and perhaps even a revitalized Woods play for that spot on top of the world? How good can this kid be?

These are open questions. But when the Masters ended - and Jordan hugged his father Shawn, then his mother Chris, then his brother Steven, then his high school sweetheart Annie Verret, and then walked back onto the green to applaud the crowd that was applauding him – I’m willing to wager that across America my wife Margo wasn’t the only person crying.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.