Newsmaker of the Year, No. 1: Jordan Spieth

By Rex HoggardDecember 20, 2015, 1:00 pm

Even when Jordan Spieth weaved right as the arm-chair analyst and 19th-hole historians argued that he should have hooked left in 2015, he emerged as a singular voice of reason.

With his best Opie Taylor shrug, Spieth dismissed the notion that he should have skipped July’s John Deere Classic to better prepare for the Open Championship, where he was poised to become just the second player to win the first three legs of the single-season Grand Slam.

“When I get over there, whether I play well or don't play well has nothing to do with what I did the week before,” Spieth said at TPC Deere Run. “I will certainly have enough energy. I will certainly have enough rest, and I will be as prepared as can be, as I am for any other event, by the time I tee it up at St. Andrews.”

Spieth would win his second John Deere Classic title in a playoff against Tom Gillis, but not the coveted claret jug and yet his pre-Open detour through middle America was never revisited.

After the history and headlines he made this year, why would it be?

In 2015, the man dubbed the “Golden Child,” a nickname he abhors, by the way, proved to have the golden touch both on and off the golf course on his way to the best major championship season since Tiger Woods nearly ran the Grand Slam tables in 2000.

But even that comparison, one of many between Spieth in ’15 and Woods’ litany of accomplishments, is not exactly an apples-to-apples examination.

In 2000, Woods began his major championship season with a fifth-place showing at the Masters and closed with three consecutive victories at the U.S. Open, Open Championship and PGA Championship.

Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list

On paper, Spieth’s 2015 season – which included maiden victories at Augusta National and the U.S. Open and a tie for fourth at St. Andrews and second at the PGA – runs a respectable second to Tiger’s year in 2000, but there is something to be said for the degree of difficulty the third-year Tour player faced in his major quest.

Spieth bolted Chambers Bay, where he beat Dustin Johnson by a stroke, with history looming at St. Andrews.

Only Ben Hogan had won the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship in the same season, in 1953, but the Hawk never had a chance to complete the sweep because the PGA Championship and British overlapped that season, and Woods was not competing against the calendar in 2000 after finishing fifth in the year’s first major.

“I like to study the history of golf, and I think it's extremely special what this year has brought to our team and to have a chance to do what only one other person in the history of golf has done doesn't come around very often,” Spieth said at St. Andrews. “I'm embracing that opportunity, but by the time I start on Thursday, it won't be in my head.”

Spieth endured the pressure, and multiple weather delays, at St. Andrews and began the final round a stroke out of the lead, but he bogeyed the 17th hole, which ranked as the toughest par 4 on Tour in ’15, and failed to convert a birdie putt at the final hole that would have lifted him into a playoff that was eventually won by Zach Johnson.

For all the news Spieth made on the course this year, however, it was his maturity that stretched well beyond his 22 years that helped make him much more than another celebrated champion.

It was a testament to Spieth’s unique sense of perspective that he bolted the scoring area after finishing his round in Scotland to watch the playoff and was one of the first people to congratulate Johnson.

“To have a champion like Jordan take the time on 18 to give me best wishes speaks volumes as to what he is,” Johnson said. “He's a phenomenal talent, and I'm telling you right now, a lot of you guys know him, he's a better person than he is golfer.”

After finishing second to Jason Day at the PGA Championship he settled for a historic consolation prize, becoming just the fourth player – along with the likes of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Woods – to win the year’s first two majors.

“For him to play St. Andrews for the very first time and to see it under different winds like he did and be able to play it that well was very impressive,” Woods said.

By the time Spieth finished his year with a victory at the Tour Championship to shatter the single-season earnings record ($12 million) and become the youngest FedEx Cup champion the comparisons to Woods’ past dominance were not just accurate but also inevitable.

Spieth joined Woods as the only players since 1940 with four Tour victories before age 22, he played 16 major championship rounds in 54-under par; and with his runner-up finish at Whistling Straits became the second-youngest player to ascend to No. 1 in the World Golf Ranking, behind only Tiger.

Spieth is normally reluctant to spend much time digesting the accolades that his play produces. But even he acknowledged the similarities between his play this year and some of Woods’ accomplishments. Spieth also pointed out – as only he could – that while 2015 was Tiger-like, it was just one year.

“What we were able to do this season [Woods] did for 15 years straight. It took a lot out of us this year, and to imagine doing that, which is what obviously is the goal, it's really special,” Spieth said earlier this month at the Hero World Challenge.

It’s that kind of humility that made Spieth the top newsmaker in 2015 as well as the best story.

Getty Images

Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

Getty Images

13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.