Spieth keeps Grand Slam quest alive

By Joe PosnanskiJuly 19, 2015, 8:22 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – There’s a touching scene at the end of the movie “Big” when Tom Hanks’ girlfriend realizes that he really is just a little kid who was magically made into an adult by a carnival machine called “Zoltar.” It was a lot to take in.

“I tried to tell you,” he says.

“I didn’t listen, I guess,” she says bewilderedly. “I didn’t hear you, or want to or how would I have ... even if I did listen, why would I know? Why would I know that?”

At this moment, I feel as disoriented as she did in that one. Until Sunday, I did not really believe Jordan Spieth could win the Grand Slam. Sure, the kid is impressive – more than impressive. Yes, he has the all-encompassing game that can win any week on any golf course. And absolutely, his composure is awe-inspiring both on the golf course and off it.

Still, I just didn’t believe for a minute that anyone could really win golf’s Grand Slam.

And now, after Sunday, I do.

Now, let’s state the obvious first: Spieth is a long way from the Slam. Heck, he’s a long way from victory here at St. Andrews. He’s 12 under, a shot behind a couple of stars (Jason Day and Louis Oosthuizen) and an amateur who is actually eight months older than him (Paul Dunne). Three of the world’s top 11 players – Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose, Adam Scott – are just two shots behind Spieth. With the wind down Sunday, the Old Course was like a Chuck E. Cheese, with every player* having his very own birthday parties. Unless the wind howls (and it is not expected to blow exceptionally hard), Monday figures to be like that again.

(* Except Dustin Johnson, who shot a miserable 75 that was more like an 80 considering the conditions and his length off the tee.)

So, no, nothing is done yet. But Sunday, Jordan Spieth showed something. It isn’t entirely different from what he showed at Augusta when he won the Masters or Chambers Bay when he won the U.S. Open. But what he did Sunday on the Old Course with all the history on the line and doubts in the air, it sure seemed different.

Look: Here was Spieth, winner of the first two major championships, on perhaps the world’s most famous golf course. And he wasn’t playing very well. Over a 27-hole stretch he was just even par, which is less-than-special this week. In the multi-day adventure that was his second round, he three-putted five times. Five! On the front nine on Sunday, he missed two good birdie chances and on the ninth hole he had a dreadful three-putt – one that prompted him to slug his golf bag in fury.

“I couldn’t hold (the frustration) in,” he said. And he added, “I didn’t want to hit Michael (Greller, his caddie) so I figured I’d hit my golf bag.”

At that moment, it was absolutely clear: The Slam had slipped away. That seemed bound to happen at some point. It always has seemed to me that winning all four major championships in the same year is impossible. Heck, what Tiger Woods did – winning four major championships in a row over two seasons – is almost impossible. But to do it all in a calendar year, to beat more than 100 of the world’s best players on four wildly different golf courses in a four-month span – with all the attention and focus on you and the ghosts of golfers shrieking in the background – well, that seems fully impossible.

Nobody has ever done it. Palmer couldn’t do it. Nicklaus couldn’t do it. Player couldn’t do it. Woods couldn’t do it. See, golf is a game of the mind, and every crack of doubt, every sliver of uncertainty, every moment of hesitation weighs down the mind. When Spieth punched the golf bag, he was three shots out of the lead. It looked then that was as close as it might ever get.

And then the kid birdied the 10th hole, the 11th hole and the 12th hole to move into the lead.

That’s when it really hit home: This kid does not doubt. And this, I think, is the greatest gift in golf. I once asked Dan Jenkins what he thought separated Jack Nicklaus from all the other talented players, and he said this: “You can’t compare Jack with anyone else. It was almost as if he felt it was his birthright to win major championships.”

Tiger Woods was like that too at his best. He didn’t have to fight doubt because he never felt doubt.

And now, there’s Spieth. Maybe it’s because he’s 21 (he turns 22 next Monday) and simply hasn’t learned how to doubt. Maybe it’s because of his family, who so obviously raised him to believe without limits. Maybe it’s because he’s accomplished so much already.

Or maybe he was just born with this unique talent. What is the first thing they tell you when you are trying to walk a tightrope? Don’t look down. But Spieth does look down, he looks down again and again. He knows exactly what’s on the line here. He understands it thoroughly. And he embraces just how high he is flying.

Here’s what Tiger Woods said in 2002 when he was trying to win the third leg of the Slam.

“I’ve got to play well and take care of business,” Woods said.

And here’s what Jordan Spieth said:’ “I see it as something that's only been done once before and it was a long time ago (Ben Hogan in 1953). That opportunity very rarely comes around. … And I'd like to have a chance to do something nobody has ever done. And so if I think about it that way, then I just want it a little bit more tomorrow, to be able to try and go into the last major and accomplish something that's never been done in our sport. … I do recognize what's at stake, and for me to accomplish that feat is going to be to simplify things and to just go about our business.”

So, yes, Woods and Spieth ended their thoughts the same way, but Spieth was a little bit more expansive – he knows that he’s playing for the Grand Slam, and he knows what that would mean, and he knows enough about golf history to understand just how the odds stack against him.

But you know what? He can do it. On the back nine Sunday, he played as if he had already won the tournament and was just acting it out for the public. To watch someone be that confident, that assured, that poised is inspiring. It’s at the heart of why I love professional golf.

Jason Day could win on Monday. He’s an amazing player who keeps getting close and one of these days he will break through. Louis Oosthuizen could win on Monday. He already won an Open at St. Andrews five years ago and he understands how to do it. Padraig Harrington could win on Monday. He’s a three-time major champion who seems to have found his game again.

Frankly, two dozen people could win the Open on Monday because the field is bunched up and the golf course is exposed and shootouts are unpredictable. But it sure seems to me that while a lot of players believe they can win the Open, Jordan Spieth believes he will. There’s a wide chasm between “can” and “will.” I believe, too.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

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

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry