DJ-Spieth duel is as good as it gets

By Rex HoggardAugust 28, 2017, 12:24 am

OLD WESTBURY, N.Y. – It just doesn’t happen very often, not at this level with so many quality players and the natural competitive ebb and flow of even the game’s best.

Even in their prime, Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson – the undisputed alpha and omega of their era – went head-to-head on a Sunday with a title on the line just five times out of roughly 300 events they played together.

That’s the sum total of more than two decades of hype and hope, and it proves the stars simply don’t align that often, which makes Sunday’s extra-holes extravaganza at The Northern Trust between Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson worth more than the sum of the outcome.

DJ vs. Jordan. The world’s Nos. 1 and 3 (Spieth would move to second in the world with his runner-up finish) mano a mano at a playoff event that is often overlooked as little more than an extension of the regular season. No disrespect to Hideki Matsuyama, the Japanese machine who was ranked second in the world, but this is as good as golf gets at the moment.

It wasn’t supposed to be this epic, not with Spieth three strokes clear and cruising through 54 holes. Things looked even more unlikely when the lead went to five strokes after five holes.

With Spieth anything is possible, as anyone who watched last month’s Open Championship can attest, but it certainly didn’t feel probable.

But like he did at Royal Birkdale, when Spieth squandered a three-stroke lead with an opening nine of 37, the Golden Child slowly let a golden opportunity slip through his grasp, first with a rinsed tee shot at the sixth hole, double bogey, and then a tugged approach shot at No. 9, bogey.

By the time the duo walked to the 11th tee the day’s final pairing was tied at 11 under, the byproduct of back-to-back two-stroke swings at the ninth and 10th holes and some clutch golf from Johnson.


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“When he made his putt on 10 [for birdie], that's when I said, ‘OK, we've got a bunch of wedge holes here,’” said Spieth, who was 5-for-5 with a 54-hole lead of two shots or more in his career. “I expect him to go a couple under coming in. Therefore, I've got to step up to the plate now and deliver a couple birdies myself, and was able to do that.”

At the 17th hole, Spieth did what Spieth does in these situations when he rolled in an 18-footer for par to keep pace with Johnson; which made DJ’s 17-footer for par on the 18th hole to force overtime that much more impressive.

“I wasn't rooting for him to make that putt,” smiled Spieth when asked about Johnson’s par save at the last. “About 3 feet out, I thought it was high from my angle. But I thought it was missing high, but his body language was hanging in. I'm like, does that really still have a chance? My initial thought was: I just did that exact same thing to him the hole before.”

But if beating Spieth at his own game was satisfying, it didn’t take long for Johnson to revert to more familiar ways, with a drive on the first extra hole (No. 18) that sailed 341 yards and left just a wedge in from 95 yards. By comparison, Spieth took a conservative approach off the tee, playing to the right side of the fairway and was left with 174 yards to the hole.

On Saturday, Spieth was asked if he enjoys playing alongside Johnson at America’s annual team matches: “It's a lot of fun playing from DJ's shots. I love playing alternate-shot with DJ,” he laughed.

Against Johnson, however, is an entirely different story.

If ever there was an example of how Johnson’s power can so dramatically tilt the scales of a competition it came at the 73rd hole when he had only a 60-degree wedge shot into a bowled green, which he hit to 3 ½ feet for a title-clinching birdie, to Spieth’s 7-iron, which just missed the green right and left a winding 25-footer for birdie that he missed.

“It's a tough shot to that flag to get a 7-iron close. I mean, Jordan hit a pretty good shot. It just chased through the green,” said Johnson, who closed with a 66. “I was coming in with a 60 [degree wedge], so the odds went to my favor for sure.”

Sunday at Glen Oaks was just the second time the two had been paired together on the PGA Tour on a Sunday, and the first in the final group, which makes the title bout that much more intriguing giving the duo’s high-profile status in the game.

The 2015 U.S. Open had its moments, but back at Chambers Bay Johnson and Spieth weren’t paired together on that glorious Sunday, and at the time Spieth and Johnson were ranked second and seventh, respectively, in the world ranking.

Since then the two have been on a collision course, with Johnson winning the ’16 U.S. Open and three World Golf Championships and Spieth adding this year’s Open Championship to his major resume.

With Rory McIlroy still on the mend after an injury-plagued season and Jason Day struggling with inconsistent play, Johnson and Spieth have emerged as the default leading men in what has become an al a carte rotation of would-be world-beaters and on Sunday the golf world got what they wanted.

“I thought that was a fun show to be a part of. I was hoping it wasn't going to be that much fun,” said Spieth, who has now struggled to keep a lead in three of his last four starts, including his dramatic victories at the Open and Travelers Championship.

Even Johnson, whose lack of outward emotion on the course is legendary, flashed a rare moment of excitement with what he called a “weak” fist pump following his final putt in regulation.

“I like playing with Jordan in the last group, hopefully we play in the last group the last three [playoff] tournaments,” Johnson said.

It’s a sentiment that’s likely shared by many, but the harsh reality is these types of high-profile showdowns between the game’s best players just don’t happen very often, so take some time and savor one of the season’s most exciting Sundays.

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.


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“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.


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Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''


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J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''