Established Spieth back at Jack's Place

By Rex HoggardMay 27, 2014, 9:28 pm

DUBLIN, Ohio – Last time Jordan Spieth wandered onto the property at Muirfield Village, Sammy the Squirrel was in the early moments of his 15 minutes of fame and the 20-year-old was still a curiosity with most fans – if not a few of his Presidents Cup teammates.

Spieth had solidified himself as a bona fide phenom with his victory at the John Deere Classic and caught the attention of U.S. Presidents Cup captain Fred Couples with two more runner-up finishes, including his near miss at the Tour Championship.

Couples made Spieth one of his captain’s picks for the matches at Jack’s Place. He had to.

“He’s going to be on Ryder Cup teams and Presidents Cups teams forever,” Couples said at the time.

But there was still a healthy amount of uncertainty as the matches approached. Spieth had started the year without any status, played a total of four majors in his life and Couples knew the pressures of playing for one’s country could be debilitating even for the most seasoned player.

So Couples paired Spieth with veteran Steve Stricker in team golf’s version of an apprenticeship, not that the 20-something seemed to need much mentoring.

Spieth aced the par-3 12th during a practice round, won his first match, 1 up, over the International side’s best pairing on paper in Ernie Els and Brendon de Jonge and ended an eventful week with a 2-2-0 record.

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In a quintessential Couples’ move, he texted Stricker a few weeks before the matches to let him know he’d be playing the role of mentor at Muirfield Village.

“He didn’t say much, you know Freddie,” said Stricker, who first played with Spieth at the Tour Championship just weeks before the matches. “Freddie being Freddie, he told us to have fun and go out and enjoy it.”

For all his accolades and accomplishments, the rookie started his week in Ohio playing like one. He was nervous, excited, anxious and not entirely comfortable.

Even when the two arrived at the first tee on Thursday there was tension that had been absent for the vast majority of his young career.

“To say the least he was nervous starting out,” Stricker said. “He needed some mentoring the first couple of holes. I talked to him going down No. 4. He was out of sorts. I was like, ‘Hey, it’s all right. We’ve all been here and I’m here for you.’”

Tour memories are not something Spieth has in abundance. He has a total of 47 starts in the major leagues, but Muirfield Village is the exception to that history. With a college tournament in 2012, the Presidents Cup and last year’s Memorial, he’s played at Jack’s Place three times under vastly different conditions and predictably his mind raced back to last fall’s matches on Tuesday.

“It was cool to drive in today to see the (18th) green and remember the celebration and just the amazing times that we had throughout that week, which is one of the most incredible weeks of my life,” he reminisced on Tuesday.

But then a lack of institutional knowledge hasn’t exactly been the kid’s Achilles heel the past 18 months.

Last month at Augusta National, which has been particularly tough on first-timers, Spieth tied for second place following a closing 72; and took a share of the lead into the final day at his first Players Championship before another Sunday swoon.

Nor are all of Spieth’s Muirfiled Village memories to be savored. He and Stricker lost a close four-ball match to Jason Day and Graham DeLaet and the Canadian beat him again in Sunday’s singles action, 1 up.

“Individually it left a little bit of a tough taste in my mouth,” Spieth said. “We got off to a 2-0 start with (Stricker), and then I didn’t play my best golf those last couple of rounds. I’d like to get (DeLaet) in a couple of years if I can again.”

A more immediate redemption loomed on Tuesday as Spieth made his way across Muirfield Village’s practice tee and walked past Tom Watson, the captain for this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team.

The captain, in town to scout potential team members, stopped and watched Spieth, who is fourth on the points list, hit golf balls for a few moments with particular interest and Couples’ words from last fall seemed to linger in the warm air – “He’s going to be on Ryder Cup teams and Presidents Cups teams forever.”

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Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”