Nice guy Spieth wins Masters in cold-blooded fashion

By Rex HoggardApril 13, 2015, 1:12 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Those prone to sentimentality or encumbered by hair-trigger waterworks should reach for the Kleenex now.

Twenty years after Jordan Spieth’s mentor and hero Ben Crenshaw won an emotional Masters following the death of his swing coach, Harvey Penick, the 21-year-old pulled off every shot that mattered and on every heartstring.

As Crenshaw was completing his 44th and final Masters on Friday a light splash of rain began to fall, thunder rumbled in the distance and the crowd gasped.

Sappy stuff, but the moment wasn’t lost on Spieth, who is every bit the sentimental soul. He’s the kind of guy who cherishes spending time with his special-needs sister, Ellie; doesn’t like to talk about how humble he is because that wouldn’t be humble; and corrected one scribe this week who asked him about “Ben,” with a pointedly polite, “You’re talking about Mr. Crenshaw, right?”

Ben Hogan, the quintessential Texan and two-time Masters champion, would have hated this. That is, the Hawk would hate the symmetry, the fawning and the niceties – not Spieth’s clinical, some would even say cold, dismantling of the 97-player field as well as the storied 18-hole field in record fashion.

One would imagine Hogan appreciating the kid’s second shot at the par-5 13th hole from 204 yards to 14 feet. “Go, go, go hard, go,” yelled Spieth, who would birdie the hole to go from four clear to a cool five-stroke advantage with five to play.

A heart of gold, the head of an assassin.

And the glare. Hogan – dubbed the Hawk for his icy gaze – would have loved that glare.

“When I first met him, I tell you, I'll never forget it. I looked right at him and he looked at me and I thought I was looking at Wyatt Earp. He just had that look about him, just wonderful,” Crenshaw said.

With eyes filled with tears the young man who would have been a senior at the University of Texas this year had he not gone the one-and-done route hugged most everyone in the family tree after putting out on the 18th green, and the enormity of his accomplishment closed in all around him.

In ’95, after his second Masters victory, the Gatlin Brothers serenaded Crenshaw on the veranda of the old clubhouse. On Friday, the group performed at his farewell party, bringing the house down with a chorus of “The Eyes of Texas.”

At this rate, the iconic tune will become Spieth’s anthem.

For the record, Spieth became the second-youngest Masters champion, behind Tiger Woods; set the 36-, 54- and 72-hole scoring records with rounds of 64-66-70-70, and became the first player in Masters history to reach 19 under par when he birdied the 15th hole on Sunday.

It was a dominant performance from the outset. Heading out in Sunday’s final group – just as he did last year – four strokes clear, he was expected to play defense.

It’s what 21-year-olds do with a green jacket hanging in the balance.

Instead, he birdied two of his first three holes and added one more before the turn to build his advantage.

Remember when Nick Faldo won the 1987 Open Championship with 18 pars on Sunday? Yeah, this wasn’t like that.

Justin Rose, playing with Spieth in the day’s final pairing, made a run with back-to-back birdies to start his round; Phil Mickelson tried to threaten on the closing nine with an eagle at No. 15, but they always needed help and as kind a soul as Spieth is he wasn’t interested in charity on Sunday.

Under that kind exterior is a player with an edge, a chip on his shoulder forged after he began the final round last year at the Masters tied with Bubba Watson only to card a 72 and join the bridesmaids. There was also last week’s playoff loss to J.B. Holmes at the Shell Houston Open to consider.

“I was already hungry from last year having already had an opportunity and watched it slip away and watched Bubba win and everything that came with Bubba being the Masters champion,” he said. “That definitely left me hungry.”

Spieth’s performance at least temporarily suspended the thread that the Masters had become a long-drive contest, won by those willing to swing with abandon particularly if they do so from the left side of the ball. But Spieth, like his mentor Crenshaw, won the Putting Invitational the old-fashioned way, on the greens.

For 72 holes, Spieth was nearly flawless on Augusta National’s flawless putting surfaces, holing crucial putts every time the moment called for heroics. None was bigger than his twisting 20-footer for birdie at the 10th hole to move six shots clear of the world and set the Masters record for most birdies in a week (26).

“He steps up to every putt and thinks it’s going in. He’s not afraid of any putts,” Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller said. “When he has nerves, that motivates him in a very positive way.”

That Mickelson was able to record his 10th runner-up finish in a major championship after more than a year of putting woes is a testament to Lefty’s abilities as a quick study.

Following an opening 70, Mickelson reconnected with putting coach Dave Stockton Sr. on Friday with predictably prolific results. For the week, he had just four three-putts and his putting average improved each day.

At 44, Mickelson continues to be reinvigorated by the smell of dogwoods and the lure of a fourth green jacket. What else could explain how a player with just a single top-10 finish in his last 29 Tour starts can play the year’s first major with such confidence?

“The fact is, I would have taken 14 under at the start of the week. I would have been happy with that,” Mickelson said. “I've played really well to shoot 14 under and I just simply got outplayed by a young player who just played some incredible golf.”

The other half of the marquee, Woods and Rory McIlroy, also began Sunday with great expectations but quickly settled into an inglorious duel for “B” flight honors.

The two had a best-ball score of 65, which still wouldn’t have been enough to catch Heir Jordan on Sunday.

Still, the high-profile twosome provided an interesting juxtaposition. McIlroy’s fourth-place finish was still well short of an appointment in Butler Cabin after he began the week on the cusp of the career Grand Slam.

“I wish I would have finished off a little bit better. But happy with how I played over the last couple of days,” said McIlroy, who, for the fifth consecutive year, carded a nine in the 40s at Augusta National on Friday. “I obviously left myself with a bit too much to do after 27 holes of this tournament and that's what really cost me.”

Likewise, Woods, playing his first event since he withdrew from the Farmers Insurance Open in February, wasn’t reciting his “second sucks” motto following rounds of 73-69-68-73 to finish tied for 17th place, his first top-20 finish on the Tour since the 2013 BMW Championship.

“It was mostly positives,” said Woods, who had a brush with a tree root on the ninth hole that caused a few anxious moments but appeared unscathed afterwards.

“You saw the state of my short game at the time, because again I was caught in between two different patterns. But now my short game’s my strength again, which is good stuff.”

Of course, in retrospect he may become less optimistic considering how dominant Spieth was in just his second Masters start.

Not only did Spieth win in record fashion but he did so with a cast of contenders behind him that had collected a combined 10 major championships (not counting Tiger’s 14). But with last year’s finish – not to mention that runner-up in Houston – driving him, the nicest guy in golf turned in the meanest of performances.

“He wanted so badly to come back right away after what happened last year and we all believed in him,” Spieth’s father Shawn said. “You can see it in his eyes.”

Kind and caring, cold and calculating - it’s all in the Texas eyes.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.