Even Spieth's bad shots turned out well

By Nick MentaJuly 12, 2015, 1:33 am

SILVIS, Ill. – Jordan Spieth stood in the trees left of the 17th fairway and didn’t really care for his options.

“I didn’t like that opening, the punch-out opening,” he said. “There really weren’t many places to go unless I went backwards.”

That’s when his eyes started wandering left, through the trees and in the direction of the 18th hole.

And that’s when Spieth and his caddie Michael Greller had something very much resembling a Phil Mickelson-Jim Mackay conversation.

“He’s trained to say punch out, work for par, go on to the next,” Spieth said.

Instead, the 21-year-old, two-time major winner picked his spot, told Greller, “Trust me,” and navigated a 5-iron 200 yards through a narrow gap in the trees, over a bunker, and back into the 17th fairway.

“It wasn’t a big window at all that it went through,” he said. “It climbed right up over the tree and split the other two. After I hit it and it got through there, I gave Mike the little fist pump, because it could have gone very poorly if it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to.”

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Spieth left himself 106 yards to a tucked-right pin. He pulled a sand wedge – that he will tell you was “the wrong club” – made impact, mis-hit it, put too much spin on it, followed through with a displeased one-handed release, flew it about 10 feet past the pin, and …

… Made it.

Spieth, who five minutes beforehand was surveying potential chip-outs with his caddie, holed out from the fairway at 17 for an eagle-3 that gave him sole possession of the lead.

It was the highlight of a birdie-eagle-birdie finish that secured him the lowest round of his PGA Tour career, a 10-under 61 that has him two shots clear of the field at 17 under par heading into Sunday’s final round at the John Deere Classic.

Even after the eagle, Spieth needed one more birdie to set his new personal best, a fact he was plenty aware of standing over an 18-footer on his final hole.

“I had that fist pump on the last, because walking up after the second shot, I said, ‘Mike, I just saw the board and I think this for the lowest round I’ve shot on the PGA Tour.’ And I said, ‘That’s pretty cool.’

“And he said, ‘It doesn’t matter where you’re at. Just keep on trekking.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, but I appreciate this, and I really want to make this thing.’”

He did. In fact, there weren’t many times he looked at a putt and didn’t make it. Spieth needed just 23 putts in his third round after needing only 25 the day before. One of his rare misses Saturday came at the short par-4 14th, when he missed a 7-footer for birdie and then leaned forward, looking at the ball like there was something wrong with it – which there must have been, considering it didn’t go in.

Since playing his first 12 holes 2 over on Thursday, Spieth has played his last 42 holes 19 under par. Over that stretch, he’s made 14 birdies, three eagles and just one bogey. Saturday marked the first time in his Tour career that he’s recorded two eagles in the same round, with the other one coming after a 260-yard 3-wood at the second hole stopped 2 feet from the cup. It also marked the second straight day he’s played a three-hole stretch in 4 under par, after a birdie-birdie-eagle run on Nos. 18-2 Friday.

All this from a guy who after an even-par 71 in Round 1 spent the bulk of his time complaining about his short game and chastising himself for playing nothing more than a Wednesday pro-am in the weeks following his win at the U.S. Open. Two days after “a little rusty start,” he’s one-handing wedges past the hole, off the flagstick, and underground.

“A shot that was mis-hit,” he called his sand wedge at 17. “Not extremely mis-hit. I pull off one-handed even if I don’t miss by a lot. I probably should watch out for that, because it looked bad, because the shot looked pretty good in the air.”

The only things he has left to criticize at this point are his body language and his driver, which did its best to get him into trouble over his last four holes. Spieth’s last three drives were fore right, fore left and fore right. He played those holes 3 under par, thanks in part to missing the fairway so badly off the 15th tee that his ball came to rest behind a scoreboard between the 15th and 17th holes, allowing him a free drop.

“It’s been the concern as I’ve come back from this stretch,” he said, referring to his driver, before quickly correcting himself. “I wouldn’t call it a concern. I’d call it just – it’s the one club in my bag I need to fine-tune the most.”

Spieth is so fine-tuned with his other clubs that he actually damaged the hole at the par-4 eighth after his approach with a pitching wedge clipped the flagstick on the way down and rolled 24 feet away.

“I mean, it happens to everybody ,” he said. “You hit a shot exactly how you want to, and some people wind up in the water.”

He’s not most people. He made the putt for birdie.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore a year ago, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''