The answer man: Spieth responds to every challenge

By Rex HoggardJanuary 11, 2016, 4:37 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Some considered Jordan Spieth’s performance along this stretch of the Maui coast a referendum on where his game, and by extension golf, is right now; but considering the PGA Tour is still a few stops shy of the quarter pole this season it felt more like a competitive Q&A.

After all, as dominant as Spieth was in 2015 he hadn’t exactly proven himself a specialist on fast tracks like Kapalua, where even-par rounds will leave a player dusted.

Spieth suggested as much on the eve of his victory lap at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions when he was asked to assess his position after starting his week with rounds of 66-64-65.

“To be honest, with the scoring we have done this week, it frustrates me that I have to shoot 4 to 6 under in order to win this tournament still,” he said.

But if there was any question as to whether Spieth had the firepower to win a shootout, the answer arrived early and often, with the world No. 1 responding to every challenge to his dominance on Sunday at the Plantation Course.

Question: How will Spieth respond after Patrick Reed, who began the day a half-dozen behind Spieth, starts his round with back-to-back birdies to cut the lead to four?

Answer: Spieth, being Spieth, rolls in a delicate 35-footer for birdie from above the hole at the second.

Hyundai Tournament of Champions: Articles, photos and videos

Question: How will Spieth respond when Reed, who went 68 holes this week without a bogey, adds a 5-footer for birdie at the fifth?

Answer: Spieth converts from 2 feet for birdie at the sixth to retain his five-shot advantage.

Eventually, the biggest and most crucial inquiries for Spieth may have come from within.

Question: What will he do after a bogey at the eighth hole, Spieth’s second dropped shot of the week, combined with Reed’s birdie at the ninth hole cuts the lead to three strokes?

Answer: Spieth birdies the turn with mid-range putts at the ninth and 10th holes to reestablish a five-shot advantage.

By the time he’d birdied the 15th hole only history could be counted as a true competitor, with the tournament-record 31-under mark within reach.

Spieth likes goals, they keep a creative mind on point, and penciling in Ernie Els’ record total from the 2003 Tournament of Champions is the type of competitive carrot that can dominate the internal dialogue.

“I was peeking at the boards here and there but knew that if we stuck to our goal of getting to 6 [under], ultimately I wanted to get to 30 under,” said Spieth, who came up just short of the tournament record with a closing-round 67 but reached 30 under for an eight-stroke victory.

That’s not to say there weren’t plenty of other accolades to be processed following a commanding performance in Maui.

The victory made Spieth the third-youngest player, behind Tiger Woods in 1998 and Horton Smith in 1929, to get to seven victories on Tour, and he became the first player since Woods in 2000 to win the last event of one season (Tour Championship) and the first stop the following year.

On a personal front, his eight-shot triumph was Spieth’s largest margin of victory in an official-money Tour event and his first triumph on the Tour’s West Coast swing.

But most importantly Spieth answered the inevitable question that came with the New Year – how could he possibly match his performance in 2015?

“[Caddie Michael Greller] said on 18 fairway, ‘Man, just a way to make a statement.’” Spieth said. “I thought that was cool. I mean, it's not what I'm going for, it's not why I do what I do. I still think it's going to be very difficult to have a year like last year.”

Following his Kapalua rout the conversation is also sure to turn to comparisons between Spieth’s current play and Woods’ at a similar age.

At the risk of breaking the internet, Butch Harmon, who was Woods’ swing coach from 1996 to August 2002, should be considered the ultimate arbiter on this subject.

“It’s not unfair to compare Jordan with Tiger because Jordan is doing exactly what Tiger did at the same age,” said Harmon, who enjoyed a 26 percent winning clip in Tour starts and eight major victories while working with Woods.

Spieth, however, is quick to deflect such comparisons.

“I just think it's premature, but I'll say that probably my entire career,” Spieth said. “There's just such an age gap that I understand these comparisons are going to be there. I hope they continue to be there - that means I'm still being in the same ballpark as he is. I know what he did and I just find it hard to believe that it can be matched.”

The 22-year-old certainly has a head for history and a head-to-head comparison between Spieth and Woods at similar points in their careers is clear enough. This week’s Tournament of Champions was Spieth’s 77th Tour start as a professional and his seventh victory. Through 77 starts as a member of the play-for-pay set Woods had won 18 times on Tour.

But Harmon’s assessment is more nuanced and takes an a la carte approach.

“The biggest difference, and this is a huge difference, is Tiger’s ability and length off the tee,” Harmon said. “Go back to 2000, he was the second-longest hitter in the game and he hit 72 percent of his fairways. He was really hard to beat because of that.”

In Woods’ third full year on Tour (1999) he ranked third in driving distance, 65th in driving accuracy and fifth in greens in regulation; compared to Spieth’s line last year of 78th in driving distance, 80th in driving accuracy and 49th in greens in regulation.

Where Spieth holds the edge at this point in their careers is on the greens, with Woods 24th in putting average and 58th in three-putt avoidance in ’99, compared to Spieth’s 2015 line of first in putting average and 37th in three-putt avoidance.

“I never thought I’d see anyone who can make as many pressure putts as Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods did,” Harmon said. “But Jordan Spieth is definitely right there. Jordan makes more long putts than anyone we’ve seen in a long time with the exception of Arnold Palmer.”

Founded or not, the comparisons will continue if Spieth continues to trend down his current path, which prompts an entirely different exchange.

Question: Can Spieth maintain this level of excellence long enough to make it a true comparison, at least in his own eyes, to Woods’ dominance?

Answer: TBD.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.

Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year

Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.

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