From adrift to A game, Spieth on verge of history

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2017, 8:41 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Remember when Jordan Spieth switched putters a few months back at the AT&T Byron Nelson and almost broke the internet?

Yeah, that was nuts.

Fast-forward two months and the Golden One is now on the brink of breaking one of the game’s most unique records, becoming the first player to win 10 PGA Tour events and three majors before age 24.

It wasn’t exactly a New York minute, but it is an indication of how quickly a player of Spieth’s caliber can go from adrift to A game; if not the measure of his unrelenting resolve.

He told us not to panic back in Dallas. We didn’t listen.

Since then he’s won a dramatic overtime bout against Daniel Berger at the Travelers Championship and played the first three frames at The Open like someone created a Tom Watson-Jack Nicklaus hybrid in a lab.

Always a threat on the greens, whether he’s wielding his trusty Scotty Cameron 009 prototype or not, but it’s been Spieth’s tee-to-green game that may well secure him the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

On Saturday in nearly perfect conditions, he hit 11 fairways and missed just four greens in regulation on his way to a 5-under 65 and three-shot advantage over Matt Kuchar.

“Our goal was to shoot 4 under today. I told [caddie Michael Greller] I wanted to get two aside, get to 10 under. Nothing changed, it played exactly how we thought,” said Spieth, whose bogey-free round was eclipsed only by Branden Grace’s historic 62 and a 64 from Dustin Johnson.

It’s far too premature to proclaim the 146th Open over, there’s enough history etched into the claret jug to discourage any such assumptions. But Spieth’s record here is rather relevant. He’s 2-for-4 in converting 54-hole leads/co-leads in majors and 8-for-9 in his career on the PGA Tour after three round.

Just by proximity, Kuchar is the most likely candidate to derail what began to look like a coronation late Saturday. Once again, the last two-ball on Sunday will be a study in contrasts.

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Spieth is demonstrative and effusive, while Kuchar seems to embrace a more subdued, simpler approach. That Kuchar played the ’98 Open at Royal Birkdale as an amateur when Spieth was 5 years old could also serve to highlight the glaring juxtaposition between the two leading men.

Although the duo is a full field goal clear of the rest of the field, Kuchar, who is at 8 under after a 66 on Day 3, was reluctant to subscribe to the two-man race theory, at least just yet.

“I think it only matters maybe come the 71st hole to adopt your strategy. 70th hole. To go, hey, maybe I'm three-down, now maybe I need to be a little more aggressive than normal,” Kuchar said. “Other than that I don't know that you adapt strategy a whole lot.”

Without any help from Spieth, who has made just four bogeys all week, the alternative might be something in the neighborhood of what Grace accomplished on a picture perfect day along the Irish Sea. The South African became the first player to shoot 62 in a men’s major championship, that he didn’t know of his historic fate until after his round only made the story more surreal.

But that doesn’t seem likely for a variety of reasons. A forecast that calls for much higher winds on Sunday would be the primary culprit, but there’s also the inherent pressure of playing with a Grand Slam title on the line.

Rory McIlroy may have given a glimpse of that unique stress on Day 3, when he charged out with three birdies over his first five holes only to fade to a 1-under 69 that left him nine strokes off the pace at 2 under.

“Once you're up there near the lead of a major championship or an Open Championship you don't play quite as free as you may have done the first two days,” McIlroy conceded.

If Spieth falters there’s no shortage of would-be champions to step up with world Nos. 1 and 2, Dustin Johnson and Hideki Matsuyama, respectively, poised within nine strokes; along with U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka and defending Open champion Henrik Stenson.

But that’s a big if.

Two months ago when Spieth went searching for answers off the face of a new putter the idea that he could go wire-to-wire at Royal Birkdale would have been met with a measure of skepticism.

Although Spieth has done special things in his career, for much of the early summer he didn’t have the look of a world-beater. From mid-February through the Nelson in late May his best finish was a tie for 11th at the Masters and he missed back-to-back cuts before things fully clicked starting at last month’s Travelers Championship.

“I thought Hartford was big,” Spieth said. “I went in and I knew I didn't feel great with the putter, and it's been kind of off and on this year and I was able to win feeling really poorly with the putter and that's never happened before, going back to junior golf.”

What Spieth is doing is special and he knows it. As he made his way up the 18th hole on Saturday, Kuchar approached: “This is pretty cool to be here walking up the last hole of a British Open,” he beamed.

Never one to miss an opportunity, Spieth slipped his yardage book back in his pocket and embraced the moment.

“Everyone is giving us an ovation and it's a time to appreciate that, enjoy the walk,” Spieth said.

Although the high-octane cast assembled atop the leaderboard may still make things interesting, absent any real drama on Sunday it’s best to simply appreciate what Spieth is accomplishing and how far he’s come in two short months.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation.