Spieth, ZJ storylines stand out on 'Marathon' Monday

By John FeinsteinJuly 21, 2015, 3:54 pm

In 1974, after Hale Irwin had won the U.S. Open at Winged Foot with a score of 7 over par, the late, great Dick Schaap wrote an entire book on that remarkable four days. The title was “Massacre at Winged Foot.”

The only thing lacking right now for a book on the five days that finally ended in the gloaming at St. Andrews on Monday is a title. Perhaps, something simple like “Marathon” would fit. 

Without question, there were enough storylines for a book – a long one at that. 

Consider this for a moment: the continuing saga of Tiger Woods was little more than a footnote. Rory McIlroy’s absence was barely noticed once the championship began. Tom Watson’s farewell was sweet and joyous but was on almost no one’s mind even a little bit as Monday’s drama slowly unfolded. Phil Mickelson didn't make many headlines all week, but one of them was his caddie for life, Jim Mackay, looping back onto the golf course on Sunday to get a close-up glimpse of Jordan Spieth. 

The weather is often a part of the storyline at the Open Championship and that was never truer than it was the 144th time that they have played for this title. The dire predictions that were heard early in the week didn’t turn out to be entirely correct, but they were accurate enough to force a Monday finish for the first time since 1988 and for the second time in history. 

When they played on that Monday at Royal Lytham & St. Annes, Seve Ballesteros shot 65 to win his third Open title and his fifth major. It was his last major victory. He was 31 at the time and there was no reason to suspect that he would never again hoist a major trophy. 

Zach Johnson is 39, a couple months younger than Woods, and has quietly put together what is now a likely Hall of Fame resume.

Much like Spieth, Johnson doesn’t blow anyone away with his length, but has a mental toughness that has allowed him to put together a record that looks like this: 12 PGA Tour wins, two of them majors, and four Ryder Cup appearances, that will no doubt become five next August. One other stat: He’s now 4-1 in playoffs. His only loss came to Spieth, at the John Deere Classic two years ago. That playoff went five holes and ended with Spieth’s first victory. 

Open Championship full-field scores

Nine days ago, Spieth won the Deere in a playoff again – this time beating Tom Gillis. One shot out of the playoff after missing a birdie putt on the 18th hole? Johnson. 

Of course neither Spieth nor Johnson should have been in southern Illinois that weekend. They should have both been in Scotland preparing to play St Andrews – especially Spieth, who was trying to make history by becoming the second player (Ben Hogan, 1953) to begin a year by winning the Masters, U.S. Open and British Open. 

Spieth though, is a believer in doing the right thing, which is why he played in the John Deere. He had played there on a sponsor exemption in 2013, and he thought he owed it to the tournament organizers and sponsors to come back now that he’s a star and his presence means something to the event. Johnson, who is from Iowa, is also a past Deere champion (2012) and is a local hero. So, he plays annually and then hops on the Sunday charter the tournament supplies for those players to get across the Atlantic Ocean. 

Apparently, both Johnson and Spieth knew what they were doing because, even arriving jet-lagged on Monday, they played superbly when everyone began keeping score on Thursday morning. 

And, while Johnson’s victory and Spieth’s near-miss – to call it a loss seems terribly unfair – were stories 1 and 1A after Johnson had finally lifted the claret jug, the list of dramatic storylines that unfolded was almost never-ending. 

There was Louis Oosthuizen, trying to win the Open at St. Andrews for a second consecutive time, having run away from the field in 2010 for a seven-shot win. By losing in the playoff, Oosthuizen has now finished second in three of the four majors: he lost to Bubba Watson at Augusta three years ago in a playoff and tied for second with Dustin Johnson a month ago at Chambers Bay after shooting 77 the first day. 

Speaking of Dustin Johnson, his meltdown this time around wasn’t nearly as dramatic as the three-putt on the 18th hole on Sunday at Chambers Bay but, in its own way, it was equally stunning. After overpowering the golf course for two rounds (over three days) to lead at 10 under par, Johnson shot 75-75 the last two days to drop from first place to a tie for 49th. On Sunday, he beat one player among the 80 who made the cut – Ryan Fox, who shot 76. On Monday he beat five players. 

Johnson is a breathtaking player to watch when he is at his best. He is also breathtaking to watch at his worst. Everyone knows his best 72 holes on a major weekend will be plenty good enough to win. The question remains whether he can get to that finish line. Seventy-one good holes, as Johnson has painfully learned, aren’t good enough. Neither are 36. 

One of the players Johnson beat on Monday was Paul Dunne, the Irish amateur who went from playing in the NCAA Championship for UAB a couple months of ago, to being tied for the lead at the Open Championship after 54 holes, a feat last accomplished by an amateur 88 years ago when Bobby Jones had the 54-hole lead. It was entirely predictable that Dunne came apart and shot 78 playing in the final group with Oosthuizen on Monday, but he too was an amazing story. 

So was Marc Leishman, who shot 64-66 the last two days to get into the playoff, four months after he thought he might lose his wife, Audrey, to a rare disease called myopathy that causes muscles to stop functioning. Audrey has recovered and was home with their two children watching her husband almost win the Open. After his ball landed in a divot on the first playoff hole leading to a bogey, Leishman summed up the entire week best: “In the end,” he said, “it’s still just golf.” 

Not surprising that he would take that approach. 

There were other stories: Adam Scott bolting into contention Monday, then melting down (40) on the back nine and, of course, Jason Day coming <em>so</em> close yet again, his putt to get into the playoff on 18 stopping several inches short of the cup. “There will be other majors,” he said resolutely. One hopes that he will win one soon. 

In the end though, the story of “Marathon” will focus on two men: Zach Johnson and Jordan Spieth. Johnson was absolutely brilliant on Monday, shooting 66, including a twisting 25-foot birdie putt on 18 that he absolutely had to have, and a 1-under performance, after starting birdie-birdie, in the playoff. His 15-footer on No. 1 right on top of Oosthuizen’s opening birdie, might well have been the turning point of the soap opera that didn’t end until Oosthuizen’s miss for birdie on 18 almost an hour later. 

In his own way though, Spieth was every bit as extraordinary as Johnson. There was no doubting his disappointment when his final birdie putt from the Valley of Sin veered 2 inches left, meaning he would finish one shot out of the playoff. And yet, after an exhausting, pressure-filled week, he not only went through all the post-round interviews, he went back outside to the back of the 18th green to watch the playoff finish. 

When it was over, he was one of the first to congratulate Johnson. One thing we know for certain about Spieth: he wins with class and he loses with class. That, in itself, is breathtaking to watch. 

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The Social: G.O.A.T., after G.O.A.T., after G.O.A.T.

By Jason CrookJanuary 23, 2018, 6:00 pm

Tom Brady compares himself to Tiger Woods, who coincidentally is returning to the PGA Tour this week, Jordan Spieth hangs out with some decent company and kids these days ruffle some feathers with their friendships.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

Well, it’s finally Farmers Insurance Open week and Woods has been spotted practicing for his official return to the PGA Tour on Thursday.

Some thought this day might never come after a 2017 filled with mostly downs for the 14-time major champ.

But as he has taught the golf world time and time again, you just can't count Tiger out.

So even as Jon Rahm attempts to overtake Dustin Johnson for No. 1 in the world this week at Torrey Pines, all eyes will be on one of the greatest we've ever seen do it, even if that guy is ranked No. 647 in the world.

Speaking of greatness …

There’s not many who can just offhandedly compare themselves to Tiger, but if anyone gets a pass, it’s Tom Brady.

The 40-year-old New England Patriots quarterback led his team back to the Super Bowl for the second straight year despite playing the AFC title game with a cut on his throwing hand.

When asked about it after the Patriots come-from-behind victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady answered, “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. It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament.”

So there you have it. A 40-year-old Brady is winning AFC Championships with his C game. Good luck, Eagles; you’re going to need it.

Also, if for some reason you wanted an update on Justin Thomas' life, it's still awesome:

Yeah, that's last year's PGA Tour Player of the Year hanging with Cy Young winner Cory Kluber in a suite at the Patriots game and teasing us with a possible #SB2K18 cameo.

Curtis Strange likes his competitive golf straight up, hold the friendliness.

This, according to Curtis Strange.

The two-time U.S. Open champ took to Twitter during the CareerBuilder Challenge to vent his frustration regarding the constant chit-chat and friendliness between Rahm and Andrew Landry:

This, of course, makes sense in theory. But good luck watching golf – or really any sport – from here on out. Sure there will be a few old school guys who buck the trend here and there, but for the most part, it’s really hard to share a private jet/dinners/vacations/(insert awesome thing here) with someone, and then completely turn off the friendship coming down the stretch of a big tournament.

Damn millennials. They ruin everything.

By now you've all seen that poor Philadelphia Eagles fan who lost his battle with a subway station pillar (from multiple angles), so instead here is a video of a man attempting to stand on an egg. Bet you can't guess how that goes.

Tony's gonna stand on an egg

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Seriously if you haven't seen the video of that Eagles fan, here's your last chance in this column. You'll be glad you did.

Jordan Spieth, Michael Phelps and Bryce Harper walk on to a golf course … there’s no punchline, that actually happened last week in Las Vegas.

Was the whole thing just a big advertisement for Spieth’s new Under Armour shoe? You bet.

But that doesn’t make the optics of three of the biggest superstar athletes on the planet teeing it up for a round any less awesome.

Off to the next. #Spieth2 #TEAMUA

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The trio has three major wins, five All Star Game appearances and 28 Olympic medals between them, and there they were over the weekend just fake laughing for the camera and driving around individual golf carts with their own personalized logos on them.

Just guys being dudes. Nothing better than that.

Matt Kuchar. Still good at golf. Still overly polite. This according to European Tour pro Eddie Pepperell who had the privilege of hitting on the range next to Kuuuuuch in Abu Dhabi last week.

That image is burned into your brain forever now, thanks Eddie. From now on when you think of Kuchar you're going to think of those Sketches ads and "oopsies."

Which, I suppose is better than a, "Did you get that?"

Blayne Barber's caddie, Cory Gilmer, collapsed and hit his head while at a restaurant at the Sony Open and has been mostly unconscious in the neurological intensive care unit ever since.

The outpouring of love and support from the golf community has been overwhelming on social media, and a GoFundMe page has been set up to help with the mounting medical costs for Gilmer and his family.

Check out the link below for more info or to donate to a worthy cause:

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Top-ranked amateur wins LAAC, earns Masters invite

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 23, 2018, 5:38 pm

Joaquin Niemann walked Augusta National Golf Club as a patron last year. He’ll be a competitor in 2018.

Niemann, the top-ranked amateur in the world, shot 8-under 63 Tuesday at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Santiago, Chile, to win the Latin America Amateur Championship.

And with the title, both redemption and an invitation to the Masters Tournament.

Full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Niemann finished runner-up in last year’s LAAC to fellow Chilean Toto Gana. He followed Gana around Augusta grounds, watching as his best friend played two rounds before missing the cut.

Niemann, who was going to turn professional had he not won this week, started the final round one back of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz. Niemann was sluggish from the start on Tuesday, but then drove the 313-yard, par-4 eighth and made the eagle putt. That sparked a run of five birdies over his next six holes.

Niemann was bogey-free in the final round and finished five shots clear of Ortiz, at 11 under.

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Judges Panel, Host Announced for Wilson Golf's "Driver vs. Driver 2," Premiering This Fall on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJanuary 23, 2018, 4:15 pm

‘Driver vs. Driver 2 Presented by Wilson Currently in Production; Sports Broadcaster Melanie Collins Returns to Host

Morning Drive: Driver vs. Driver 2 Judges Announced

Golf Channel and Wilson Golf announced today the panel of judges and host for the second season of Driver vs. Driver, the innovative television series that follows aspiring golf equipment designers as they compete for the opportunity to have their driver idea or concept transformed into the next great golf driver from Wilson. The show is currently in production and will premiere this fall.

Joining judge Tim Clarke, President of Wilson Golf, are two newcomers to the series: 9-time National Hockey League (NHL) All-Star and current NHL on NBC hockey analyst Jeremy Roenick – an avid golfer with a single digit handicap and a self-described golf equipment junkie; and PGA Professional, golf coach, equipment reviewer and social media influencer Rick Shiels.

“Golf is a big passion of mine, and personally I enjoy learning about new equipment and concepts,” said Roenick. “To be able to see this side of the business in how equipment is developed first-hand is fascinating. Being a part of the process in reviewing driver concepts and narrowing them down to an ultimate winning driver that will be sold across the country is a tremendous honor.” 

“Jeremy, as an avid golfer, and Rick, as a coach, equipment reviewer and golf professional, bring incredible, real world insights and different perspectives to the show and this process,” said Clarke. “I’m excited to work alongside these two judges to push the boundaries of innovation and bring a next-generation driver to golfers around the world.”

Sports broadcaster Melanie Collins returns as the host of Driver vs. Driver 2. Currently a sideline reporter for CBS Sports’ college football and basketball coverage, Collins hosted the inaugural season in 2016 and formerly co-hosted Golf Channel’s competition series, Big Break.

Production for Driver vs. Driver 2 began in the fall of 2017 and will continue through the summer, including this week at the PGA Merchandise Show. The series is being produced by Golf Channel, whose portfolio of original productions include interview series Feherty hosted by Emmy-nominated sports personality David Feherty, high-quality instruction shows School of Golf, Golf Channel Academy and Playing Lessons and a slate of award-winning films.

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Tiger Tracker: Farmers Insurance Open

By Tiger TrackerJanuary 23, 2018, 4:00 pm

Tiger Woods is competing in a full-field event for the first time in nearly a year. We're tracking him at this week's Farmers Insurance Open. (Note: Tweets read, in order, left to right)