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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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.