Anticipate Spieth's future, and enjoy the present

By John FeinsteinApril 14, 2015, 4:25 pm

In today's jock world, the question that is asked of athletes is never, “What have you done for me in the past?” It isn't even, “What have you done for me today?” It is almost always, “what can you do for me tomorrow?” 

That might explain why, within minutes of Jordan Spieth tapping in his final putt to win the Masters by four shots over Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson, almost everyone was becoming breathless about what Spieth might do next. 

Oh sure, there were a million or so words spent on Spieth's remarkable week, during which he deconstructed Augusta National as if it was the TPC River Highlands by shooting a mind-blowing 64-66 the first two days and then cruising to a record-tying 18-under 270 for the week. 

Spieth is 21 – the same age Tiger Woods was when he shot an identical 270 (on a much shorter, but not as soft golf course) 18 years ago. His victory puts him in an elite group of pre-23-year-old major winners that, in addition to Woods, includes names like Gene Sarazen, Walter Hagen, Rory McIlroy, Jack Nicklaus and Seve Ballesteros. That's remarkable company to be keeping. 

Which is why the focus on Sunday evening wasn't on what everyone had just witnessed, but on what we might witness in the future. Spieth is now firmly established as The Next One, maybe The Current One, among American players and as the player who should be Rory McIlroy's great rival for the next 15 or so years. There's plenty of evidence that this is the case, but golf is often not as predictable as it appears to be. Sixteen years ago, when a 19-year-old Sergio Garcia finished second to a 23-year-old Woods at the PGA, we all knew that they would be the great rivalry of the early 21st-century. It never came to pass. 

Like Woods and Garcia, McIlroy and Spieth are four years apart in age. There are several differences. When Garcia was 19, he had a boyish charm that everyone latched on to – thus, the El Nino nickname. Woods was the golf savant, driven by history and his father and, as we later learned, demons that churned inside him. Woods left us gasping; Garcia left us grinning. 

McIlroy couldn't be more different than Woods and Spieth couldn't be more different than Garcia. Maybe that's why the rivalry will come to fruition this time. 

McIlroy has a temper (see Honda Classic 2013 and WGC-Cadillac 2015) but he also clearly enjoys the spotlight, doesn't see a loss as the end of the world (see, Augusta 2011) and has no issues with the pressures that come with being the No. 1 player in the world. There's still a lot of kid in him, a few weeks shy of 26. 

Spieth is like McIlroy in that he too has a temper and that he doesn't shy away from the crucible. He feels the pressure – his comment about his hairline Sunday evening was telling – but he deals with it with a poker face and remarkable composure – except when his golf ball is in the air. His conversations with his airborne ball are about the most entertaining thing going in golf right now. 

But there's nothing boyish about Spieth. When he opens his mouth you think you're listening to a 35-year-old. Some guys say the right thing because they're coached to or because they're thinking about keeping their sponsors happy. Spieth does it naturally, as if he was born to be in the public eye. 

Often, when an athlete faces adversity, the media makes it into much more than it is. In the case of Spieth, there's little doubt that his 14-year-old sister Ellie, who is autistic, has played a major role in shaping him. Spieth isn't just a loving big brother, he's spent time volunteering at Ellie's school, which is for special-needs kids. Clearly, being exposed to kids who have issues that go well beyond a missed par putt or a duck hook, has given Spieth a perspective a lot of coddled young athletes don't have. It may also account, at least in part, for his remarkable maturity. 

McIlroy-Spieth has everything a great rivalry needs: Two gifted young players with different but engaging personalities. It doesn't hurt that they should be on opposing Ryder Cup teams for years to come. Imagine the possibility of McIlroy-Spieth playing a singles match someday with the Ryder Cup at stake. THAT would be dramatic. 

Before all of that happens – or even if it doesn't happen – it's worth savoring the past week. Spieth was brilliant, putting on arguably the most memorable performance seen at Augusta since Woods first took the golf world by storm with his matchless play back when Spieth was 3 years old. 

There was more, though, than Spieth. Ben Crenshaw's farewell could have turned embarrassing but the devotion of everyone in golf to him and to his gentle (thus the nickname) spirit made 91-85 almost disappear. Crenshaw's Friday round was reminiscent of Arnold Palmer's last U.S. Open round at Oakmont in 1994. Palmer shot 81 that day but no one cared. Afterwards, he sat on a bench in front of his locker and said, "Any other sport I'd have been booed for the way I performed today. How lucky am I to play golf?" 

Crenshaw no doubt felt the same way when he said, "I feel like I won the tournament," after his emotional walk up 18 and the long, tearful hug with Carl Jackson, his caddie at Augusta for almost 40 years. Jackson is battling cancer and couldn't be on the bag, but he was there, in his white jumpsuit to greet Crenshaw at the finish. That was the chill moment of the week. 

There was also good news for the game's two elder statesmen. Mickelson played, by far, his best golf since last year's PGA and Woods was able to shed the chipping yips to finish a respectable 17th. Any notion drummed up pre-tournament that there was somehow a “new” Tiger went away as soon as he launched his first tee shot on Thursday and went into full game-face mode: the angry glares at missed putts; the profanity directed at an awful tee shot on Saturday; the pabulum answers to questions post-round – all vintage Woods. Which, if you want to believe he's got another major victory in him, was a good sign. 

In the end, though, the week was about a prodigy blossoming into a genuine star. If Spieth decides to retire from golf next week to join the Peace Corps, he will have left his mark on the sport forever. 

Of course he'll be at Hilton Head this week and, presumably, on major leaderboards for years to come. That though is for the future. For now, it's worth taking a step back and marveling at what he accomplished during four extraordinary days in April 2015 in Augusta, Ga. The future can wait. 

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

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

Former 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 Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted 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