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. 

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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 missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Web.com Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.