Nicklaus, Spieth meeting may ensure Jordan wins

By Jason SobelApril 13, 2014, 12:25 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – There was a party at Augusta National Golf Club on Wednesday evening before this week’s Masters began. It took place on the back lawn, right behind the clubhouse, not far from the first tee. The scene wasn’t considered overly formal, but – like most parties around here – it featured plenty of green jackets.

Really, this was a party for the club’s membership to get reacquainted with one another on the eve of its annual crown jewel. Officials from other golf organizations and a few titans of industry hobnobbed, too. Hors d’oeuvres and cocktails were served. It was a festive little celebration underneath the fading sun, a warm breeze greeting all attendees.

Competitors in the tournament were also invited – and those two dozen competing for the first time were especially encouraged to attend. There might have been a few present, but one source reported seeing only one of the 97 players who are here this week.

That player was Jordan Spieth – and his plus-one was his mom.

“He was allowed to invite one guest,” Chris Spieth said. “I think it was kind of special that he picked me.”

The story could end here and it would still provide terrific insight into the 20-year-old as a person.

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But it wouldn’t explain how a guy who tried to hide his ear-to-ear smile walking off the first tee Thursday morning is tied for the lead entering Sunday’s final round. It wouldn’t explain how he’s opened with three under-par scores in his first three competitive rounds on this course. It wouldn’t explain how he could be on the verge of eclipsing Tiger Woods as the youngest Masters champion in history.

No, for that answer, we must look deeper into this party.

Hardly intimidated by the scene, Spieth walked around the hallowed turf and politely shook hands with everyone he met, referring to them as sir or ma’am, just like he always does. At one point, he locked eyes with Jack Nicklaus, who was holding court with a USGA official. They’d only briefly met before, but the six-time Masters champion waved him over and they spoke for a few minutes.

Well, not really.

Nicklaus spoke. Spieth listened.

“Obviously, a guy with six green jackets could have some advice,” Spieth later explained. “He told me that from the middle of these greens, there’s no difficult par.”

It would be shortsighted to suggest that their brief conversation alone has lifted Spieth to his current position on the leaderboard. After all, he’s also received immeasurable advice from fellow University of Texas product Ben Crenshaw, himself a two-time Masters champion. And even at his young age, he’s shown enough talent to win a PGA Tour title, compete in the Presidents Cup and rise to 13th in the world ranking.

The guidance from Nicklaus would have been meaningless if the talent level didn’t already exist.

Through three rounds, though, it’s obvious that this counsel has had a profound effect on the way Spieth has approached this course. Normally an aggressive player, he’s dialed it back to aim for fewer flagsticks in favor of the center of more greens.

“Definitely, yeah, compared to normal,” he affirmed. “I've never picked so many targets at the middle of the greens when I've see the pins on the side and committed to it.

“I'm like, well, I want to go at the pin. But you can't do it here. I have a lot of respect for this golf course.”

His ball-striking abilities are gaining the respect of everybody watching, too.

Spieth is tied for the tournament lead, hitting 75.93 percent of all greens in regulation. During the third round – a day on which he’s often struggled in the past – he hit 13 of 18 greens, good for third place in the field and a second straight score of 2-under 70.

Meanwhile, the man who dispensed such valuable words has been watching. Nicklaus owns six green jackets, but he’s similarly piling up an impressive record of advising Masters champions. Both Trevor Immelman (2008) and Charl Schwartzel (2011) sought his advice prior to their victories. He knows Spieth could keep that every-three-years streak intact.

“He seems like a genuinely nice young man,” Nicklaus told “Jordan is obviously a very good player. He seems to have a good head on his shoulders. He’s very mature for a 20-year-old.”

That maturity level hasn’t just gotten him into uncharted territory for someone below the legal drinking age. It hasn’t just elevated him to amongst the game’s elite. It hasn’t just placed him on the cusp of becoming the youngest major champion in over a century.

It is because of Spieth’s maturity that when he met Nicklaus this week, he said almost nothing.

He just listened.

“It was really cool getting to talk with him for a few minutes,” Spieth said. “Just being in his presence, knowing he’s the all-time leading major winner and get what I could out of him.”

It is also really cool that a discussion on the back lawn at Augusta National on Wednesday evening between a six-time Masters champion and a first-time competitor has become so important. It will be even cooler if it leads to history.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


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The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.