Spieth, McIlroy invite you in to the new era

By Randall MellJune 24, 2015, 9:00 pm

We’ve all got front row seats now to the majors.

In fact, we’re all invited a little closer to all the game’s big events.

That’s what it feels like with Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy separating themselves at the top of the game, with Spieth and McIlroy combining to win the last four majors, with McIlroy and Spieth reigning as Nos. 1-2 in the Official World Golf Ranking.

This new era unfolding in the game isn’t just younger. It’s different in another way, too.

Spieth, 21, and McIlroy, 26, are making it feel more accessible, more intimate even, more open to all of us.

Each in his own way has reached out a hand, invited us to share their journeys in meaningful ways. They’ve welcomed us to closer glimpses of how and why they do things. They both do this in news conferences. They’re already two of the best interviews in the game, insightful and even precociously wise. They do it hanging around for scrums after news conferences end, giving us extra time to explore topics, to pick their brains about the way they’re thinking.

There’s a gravitating charm in these two, undeniable but also distinct.

There’s the Texan’s charm in Spieth.

“I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp,” Ben Crenshaw said of the look he saw in Spieth’s eye in a practice round at the Masters this year. “He looks like he wants to gun you down.”

That’s only half the amalgam. There’s also the chivalry ingrained in Spieth, and we mean that in the way C.S. Lewis defined chivalry, in an ability to be tough to the nth degree and gentle to the nth degree. We see that in Spieth’s relationship with his little sister, the way he adores Ellie, a special needs child born with a neurological disorder.

And there are the charms of the Northern Irishman, gifted with the eloquence the Irish are so famous for. When he’s opening up on a topic, McIlroy has the ability to make you feel like you’ve both got a pint of Guinness in front of you, bellied up to the bar at a local pub. He has that disarming, earnest and engaging nature.

Spieth and McIlroy will practically write stories for you in their interviews, revealing opinions, beliefs or insights that change the nature of what you planned to write.

Spieth engages us beyond interviews. It feels as if he’s talking to us when he’s playing, when he’s chastising his golf ball, or bouncing ideas off his caddie, or muttering to himself. The way he corrals and wrestles disappointment over mistakes, it’s more than fun to watch. It’s fun to listen to. He commands a stage in his own engaging way.

When McIlroy is striping it, he walks in a way you want to emulate, with a confident gait and bob of the head, like a fighter pilot on his way to his jet.

Of course, there’s no escaping the shadow the game is emerging from, the once overwhelming but now fading presence of Tiger Woods, whose reign was so towering, so majestic and yet often so cold and forbidding. This isn’t meant as a criticism of Woods. Nobody’s stage presence in the history of the game compares to his. His march through the game’s history books was electric, crackling with unforgettably brilliant moments. His footsteps landed so hard they echoed through time, his fist pumps summoned thunder, his glare and smile mesmerized, but he always made sure he was more than an arm’s length from us. In fact, he often stiff armed us. He was more like Ben Hogan than Arnold Palmer, with an intimidating aura he seemed to like to cultivate. That was Tiger’s style, and it worked for him, though we’re seeing a gentler side of him now.

But that brings us back to Spieth and McIlroy, who are almost Palmer-esque in the way they engage us, in the way they let us in.

Tiger was like the Beatles were, a storm of brilliance, with a breathless, chaotic swarm of energy always chasing after him. Spieth and McIlroy are showing more the brilliance you see in singer songwriters, performers motioning for us to pull our chairs a bit closer to enjoy their music.

Spieth and McIlroy aren’t perfect. Who is? They’ll reveal human frailties. They’ll make mistakes along the way, but there’s something refreshing in the charms they’re bringing to the majors, to the top of the world rankings. Here’s hoping we all continue to enjoy having front row seats.

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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 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.

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made 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.''

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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

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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.