Hawk's Nest: Spieth has distance to go to be great

By John HawkinsMay 12, 2014, 12:50 pm

A day or two prior to the start of the 2004 Bay Hill Invitational, I was given the opportunity to play nearby Isleworth G&CC with PGA Tour veteran John Cook. This was shortly after a course redesign had made Isleworth much longer and tougher, but I was up for the challenge of playing it from the tips.

My game was in excellent shape. I was driving the ball wonderfully. Heck, I was even thinking I’d knock it past Cookie, a very straight hitter who certainly wasn’t long by tour-pro standards. So what if it was 7,500 yards from the Tiger Tees? Just a number on the scorecard, pal.

Some morons learn faster than others. Cook shot 69 and might have missed one fairway by three yards. I fired a nice little 90-something and spent the afternoon at least 30 yards behind him. We basically played two different courses that day, and mine wasn’t really playable. He’d hit 7-irons into greens where I had hybrids. He’d tap in for par while I fought to avoid double-bogey.

This exercise in humility came with a reminder: hitting the ball a long way makes life much easier. At the game’s highest level, almost every great player has been one of the era’s longest drivers. In short, length is a requisite to premium success.

WHICH BRINGS US to Jordan Spieth, who has terminated any discussion as to the identity of America’s best young golfer. To do what Spieth has done over the last 10 months – on courses he had hardly played or never seen at all – is very rare. The kid seems to live on a leader board, although his inability to close the deal has become a valid discussion point.

“Plenty of chances to win, and it’s eating at me a little that I haven’t taken advantage of them yet,” Spieth said in his pre-tournament news conference at The Players. “The Masters was a humbling experience, not being able to pull that off.”

We can talk about how he’s just 20 years old and pass off his Sunday stumbles as a scourge of youth. We can look at other top-tier guys who have done nothing in 2014 and rationalize that faltering late is better than not contending at all. Perception is derived through context, however, and with each missed opportunity to claim a second Tour victory, Spieth’s halo loses some of its glow.

Fact: The Texan’s lone win came against a relatively weak field last summer at the John Deere Classic.

Opinion: His ability to perform under playoff pressure was quite admirable, but if all the big boys had shown up, who knows? He might have finished T-6.

Fact: Spieth entered The Players ranked 111th in driving distance. He finished 80th on the Tour in 2013.

Opinion: Great players are long hitters, and Spieth needs to get longer. His head-to-head matchup against Bubba Watson at the Masters might be an unfair comparison, as Bubba obviously belts it a mile, but quality length is a commodity that travels everywhere. Shorter irons into greens lead to shorter birdie putts.

Fact: The kid ranks 153rd in putting from 20 to 25 feet – and 183rd in putting from beyond that distance.

Opinion: Numbers don’t lie, but they can be misleading, although Spieth’s statistical profile reveals some plain truth. Players of average distance who rank 142nd in driving accuracy must be superb long-range putters to win tournaments. As good as Spieth has been, there is a ton of room for improvement.

He knows it. The clarity of his perspective is one of his many great assets. Most of Spieth’s strengths are things you can’t really teach.

“You guys [media] catch me five minutes after a round and it’s hard – I’m not mature enough to be extremely positive,” he admitted Sunday night. “I will be in about an hour, but right now, it just really, really stings.”

NOBODY HAS GOTTEN more out of his putter in recent years than Brandt Snedeker. From early 2011 to the summer of 2013, he won five times in a 27-month stretch while ranking 10th, first and fourth in strokes gained per round. Snedeker won the ’12 FedEx Cup sweepstakes not because he finished 134th in total driving or 132nd in GIR, but because he was among the Tour leaders in holing putts from almost every measured distance.

Things have been very different in 2014. Sneds’ scoring average has risen a whopping 2.12 strokes despite his driving the ball straighter than in any season since ’09. He’s one of a handful of players making less than half his putts from five to 10 feet – most of the others are guys you haven’t heard of.

He’s 175th in that category and 153rd from 20-25 feet, and it all adds up to a lousy year. Snedeker’s only top 10 in 13 starts came at Bay Hill back in March. A T-48 at TPC Sawgrass is nothing to call mom about, but he shot a 67 Saturday after making a slight adjustment in his putting setup.

“I was lining up the ball too much on the heel,” Snedeker said Saturday. “I moved it out towards the toe and the ball is coming off a lot faster, rolling a lot better and hugging the line better. I’m able to hit some quality putts day in, day out now.”

Perhaps I shouldn’t mention that Snedeker fired a 76 Sunday and didn’t make anything outside 10 feet, but it does provide for a tidy segue into my next item …

FOR THOSE OF you hoping for some fresh blood on this fall’s U.S. Ryder Cup team, there’s a pretty good chance you’ll get what you’re looking for. There are three “rookies” safely inside the top 10: Jimmy Walker, Spieth and Patrick Reed. Phil Mickelson’s continued poor play has knocked him onto the automatic-qualifier bubble, and at this point, it’s hard to imagine Tiger Woods making the team unless Tom Watson gives him a captain’s pick.

Long way to go, sure, but at this point, it wouldn’t be a terrible idea for some of America’s big names to improve their position in the standings. Rickie Fowler, Keegan Bradley and Hunter Mahan are among the notables who need to start playing better – I didn’t include Steve Stricker because he has basically become a part-time player.

Snedeker, meanwhile, entered last week 33rd on the U.S. list. It obviously has been a very strange year to this point, particularly when you think back to where those in the game’s upper echelon stood at the start of the season. Woods picked up five more victories. Mickelson mounted a Sunday charge and won the major he was never supposed to win. Adam Scott underwent a career makeover.

Even Rory McIlroy, for all his struggles, ended the year on a very upbeat note. Five months later, Tiger’s on the shelf. Scott has played consistently well, but all anyone remembers is the big blown lead at Arnie’s House. And Mickelson + McIlroy = Mediocrity.

“I don’t feel bad about my game, but mentally, I’m just really soft right now,” Philly Mick admitted after missing the cut at The Players. “I’m having a hard time focusing on the shot. I’m having a hard time [visualizing] the ball going in the hole.”

Fact: This is by far the deepest Lefty has gotten into a season as a pro without registering a top-10 finish. It’s not even close.

Opinion: The man has Pinehurst on his mind. As elated as he was to win the British Open last summer, it surely led him at some point to chagrin all those missed opportunities at the U.S. Open. He’d have a career Grand Slam by now. At this point, that’s the one thing he’d really, really like to own.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.