Blazer of glory: Spieth looking for second coat

By Rex HoggardApril 5, 2016, 9:09 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – At a place with more ceremonies than a Greek wedding it’s slightly anticlimactic that returning the most iconic symbol of major championship success is as unceremonial as hanging up a coat.

The coveted green jacket that golfers grow up wanting to win has never been far from Jordan Spieth the last 12 months. He’s traveled with it, he’s glanced at it, daily, in his closet, he’s even entertained friends and grilled with it on.

But Spieth’s run as Masters champion ends this week and with that passing goes the green jacket, which can now be worn only when he is on property at Augusta National unless he becomes the first player since Tiger Woods in 2002 to win back-to-back Masters.

Two weeks ago as he prepared to travel to the WGC-Dell Match Play, that reality sank in for Spieth.

“When I packed it to go down to Austin [Texas], I was like, wow, there's a possibility that I don't have this back at my house anymore when I was leaving home,” said Spieth, who has shown a refreshing amount of sentimentality in his young career. “It kind of fired me up a little bit. Just the jacket itself provides a little motivation, which is cool but at the same time, it's not easy.”

It’s not easy parting with his green jacket and it won’t be easy bringing it back home to Dallas, not if the oddsmakers are to be trusted.

Jason Day, who unseated Spieth atop the Official World Golf Ranking two weeks ago, is the favorite, which Spieth said was fine by him.

Inasmuch as a defending champion who blitzed Augusta National with an 18-under total for a wire-to-wire victory last spring can, Spieth is happy to be under the proverbial radar.

Spieth has, after all, not been his dominant self the past few months after opening his year with an eight-stroke victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

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Since Maui, his best Tour finish is a tie for ninth at the Match Play. After making an early run last Sunday at the Shell Houston Open that included four birdies in his first five holes, he faded into a tie for 13th place.

Against that backdrop Spieth begins his title defense with something less than his best stuff to those watching from outside the green punchbowl.

Just don’t tell the 22-year-old that.

“We know we're capable of playing this place. We have proven it to ourselves the last two years. So the focus is on this week, and we feel as confident as probably ever leading into at least on Tuesday,” Spieth said. “So my game actually feels better right now than I think it did last year on Tuesday.”

The record would suggest that Spieth is at least on par with his performances through the first six months of last season.

Heading down Magnolia Lane last year he had won once, a playoff victory at the Valspar Championship, and had just one missed cut, the same as this year.

Statistically, he is 62nd in driving distance this year (55th at this point last year), 79th in driving accuracy (101st in 2015) and fourth in birdie average (sixth).

Beyond the nuts and bolts of his season it’s the unquantifiable elements of Spieth’s game that seem to give him confidence going into this week’s event.

After winning the first two majors last year and coming within a stroke of adding the claret jug to his growing Grand Slam collection, Spieth has largely quieted the outside noise that comes with such success and focused his energies on the inside voices. 

“It's more the internal stuff that is trickier for me,” he said. “The only way it affects my golf is if I'm on the course and I feel like I'm giving strokes away and, therefore, I make an aggressive play that's unnecessary.”

Spieth also has history on his side.

Despite having played the Masters just twice he’s appeared to have the moves of a savvy veteran, avoiding the pitfalls both on and off the golf course the last two years and not allowing the enormity of the event to overcome him.

For Spieth, the familiarity is the byproduct of his early success when he finished runner-up to Bubba Watson in 2014.

“I think I was lucky that the first try, I wasn't trying as hard, and I think now I can just go back to the past couple years and draw off of that,” he said.

It’s that confidence, born from on-the-job experience, that helped temper his green jacket’s return to Augusta National this week, and why despite a chorus of concern over his recent form the moment was far from melancholy.

“I didn't take it for granted whatsoever,” Spieth said. “I think that I could have taken advantage of having it in my possession more than I did. But you learn and next time I'll do a little bit better.”

Next time.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry