Luck finds Spieth, and he takes advantage

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2017, 8:53 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – Jordan Spieth is leading The Open. He’s 6 under par, two shots clear of the field following a gritty 69 on a windy and wet day along the Irish Sea. He was lucky.

Given Friday’s conditions and his play relative to the rest of the field, the 23-year-old’s play should be appreciated, cheered even. He avoided the kind of links pitfalls that awaited so many of his frat brothers, like the fate of his friend Justin Thomas, who might still be playing the sixth hole from the thick hay if not for a merciful drop that led to a quintuple-bogey 9.

Spieth converted crucial putts when he had to, largely kept his emotions in check and finds himself atop a Grand Slam field after a round for the 12th time since the beginning of 2015.

But make no mistake - he was lucky.

He was lucky that Friday’s forecast, an apocalyptic outlook that called for a 100 percent chance of rain and the kind of wind that turns decent shots into disasters, never materialized.

“I would have gladly stayed on the couch. I was watching the coverage this morning and for even par I'd still be there right now,” he smiled. “I knew it was going to get windy. It was up to 95 percent by 4 [p.m.], chance of rain 100 percent 4 or 5 [p.m.].”

Instead, Spieth and the other afternoon starters were met with only periodic bouts of showers, with one particularly strong deluge causing a short suspension of play, and gusts that eased to more manageable levels than those faced by players in the early wave.

He was lucky at the 10th hole when he chipped in for par after making a mess of the par 4.

“Obviously stole one there,” he said.

He was lucky at No. 15 when he caught his 3-wood second shot from the first cut of rough off the heel of the clubhead, but watched in amusement as his ball trundled around a pot bunker to 20 feet.

The Open: Full-field scores | Live blog: Day 2 | Full coverage

“I mis-hit the shot, which is probably why it looked so gross on the ShotTracker,” he acknowledged. “It just one-hop scooted around the group of bunkers there, and then it was obviously fortunate to get all the way to the green and keep on going towards the green instead of over towards the left bunker.”

Spieth easily admitted that luck played a factor in his round, but then he also understands that luck has a tendency to favor the prepared.

He was poised, for example, to endure anything and everything Mother Nature had in store for him despite starting the day secure in the knowledge that he’d probably ended up on the wrong side of this week’s draw.

Instead, he caught a break. Call it luck, fate, karma, whatever you want, because even though Spieth knew fortune smiled on him on Day 2, he’s also keenly aware that those kinds of bounces are worthwhile only if you take advantage of them, and he did.

After making the turn in 1 over for the day and tied for the lead with Matt Kuchar at 4 under, Spieth followed his chip-in at No. 10 with a 35-footer for birdie at the 11th and a tee shot to tap-in range at the 12th. Although he stumbled with bogeys at No. 14 after finding a greenside bunker and the 16th where he three-putted, the world’s third-ranked player finished with a hard-fought 69.

“To chip in for par after being in trouble on 10, and then he holes a 35-footer or something for birdie across the green and then hits it stiff on the next,” said Henrik Stenson, who was paired with Spieth on Friday. “That could have easily been three, four shots difference over those three holes. If it’s your week and you’re going to be up there, a lot of times you need one of those kind of momentum keepers.”

There have been so many accolades heaped on Spieth over the years – endearing, focused, thoughtful – but the one trait that stood out on Friday on his way to the halfway-house lead was how resolute he remained throughout a difficult day.

“I felt like we were toughened a bit by today,” Spieth said. “My patience wore a bit thin around the turn. I was able to regroup.”

Although this is just his fifth Open Championship, the links learning curve for Spieth has been fast-tracked, highlighted by his near miss two years ago at St. Andrews when he finished a stroke out of a playoff, and a Friday 75 in similarly brutal conditions last year at Royal Troon.

“We played in that afternoon on Friday in the worst stuff I've ever played in. It was just absolutely sheets of sideways rain is how I described it,” he recalled. “I thought that was very important last year going through it. I actually talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a bit about it during the round; this isn't even how bad it was at Troon. We've got spots to play out here that we can hit greens from.”

At this rate, Spieth will likely need a little more luck to add the claret jug to his major portfolio. He managed to find just four of 14 fairways on Friday and ranks 124th this week in driving accuracy. On a links course like Royal Birkdale that kind of wayward play can catch up to you quickly.

But he proved on Friday that he’s prepared to take advantage of those fortunate bounces, and that’s the most important part of being lucky.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.