Spieth absorbs lessons from Masters collapse

By Rex HoggardMay 11, 2016, 6:22 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – For Jordan Spieth it’s ancient history – a moment to be digested and dismissed, not mourned – even if the rest of us aren’t there yet.

The tragic hero from this year’s Masters took to the stage on Wednesday at The Players, but there were precious few questions regarding TPC Sawgrass and the PGA Tour’s flagship event.

This was, after all, the first time Spieth had taken to an open forum since he built a five-shot lead heading to the second nine of last month’s Masters only to finish three shots behind eventual champion Danny Willett.

In the four weeks since last we saw the world No. 2 he enjoyed a bro-cation with Rickie Fowler, Smylie Kaufman and Justin Thomas in the Bahamas; spent a good amount of time in the gym trying to regain the strength and energy he’d lost during a grueling early-season stretch; and worked with swing coach Cameron McCormick to re-tool an action that he admits wasn’t 100 percent at Augusta National.

What he hasn’t done since depositing two golf balls into Rae’s Creek on Augusta National’s 12th hole is spend much time lamenting his poor play, or poor fortune depending on one’s point of view.

He’s focused on the road ahead, although the assembled media can’t say the same thing.

“I think people have moved on already, at least I thought so until I came in here today,” he laughed.

That’s right, he laughed.

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It really shouldn’t be a huge surprise that the same guy who handles success so well has proven himself equally adept at dealing with defeat.

Make no mistake, there were lessons to be learned.

The weak miss to the right that had crept into his game when he arrived at the Masters needed to be dealt with.

“I happened to have my miss that week at the wrong time, which also happened to be when I was in the lead on Sunday,” Spieth said. “I put in a lot of good hard work. On the driving range it's there right now. It's just a matter of being able to trust it on the golf course with trouble around. Which may not happen right away, but it's getting closer.”

The technical nuances of the current state of his swing aside, know that Spieth didn’t spend his month away from the game searching for answers to deep esoteric questions.

While it may make interesting water cooler talk, Spieth’s ability as a closer has not been tarnished by his Masters meltdown. You don’t win back-to-back majors, like he did last year, with the Sunday shakes.

For Spieth, those epiphanies were made in 2014 and early ’15 when he was learning how to connect the Sunday dots. He’ll tell you it was at last year’s Northern Trust Open when he bogeyed the 72nd hole thinking he needed a birdie to force a playoff that he began to understand what it took to win.

“I made a couple crucial mistakes on Sunday that cost me the event, even though that maybe didn't make big news,” said Spieth, who missed earning a spot in the playoff last year at Riviera by a stroke.

Just two starts later at the Valspar Championship, Spieth used the experience gained from that missed opportunity to force a playoff that he eventually won.

Consider it a bounce-back event, but even then there were no dark moments, no internal demons that had to be wrestled with before he could move on.

At least not publically, that wouldn’t be his style.

Instead, he clung to what has worked so well for him in his young career, focusing on the process and talking about the need for his team to improve and grow.

That’s not to say things were easy.

One of the coolest ceremonies in all of golf – placing the green jacket on the new champion’s shoulders – was particularly cruel for Spieth at the Masters just moments after drop kicking his title chances into a creek.

“I don't wish it upon any of y'all,” he conceded before quickly adding, “The questions have been asked to [Willett], do you think this will go down as you winning or him losing? That's absolute bull, because he won and he earned it.”

There will be plenty of more pressure moments for Spieth in his career, perhaps even this week at an event that he considers golf’s “fifth major,” and in signature style he figured he may or may not prevail.

The island-green 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass looms for everyone in this week’s field, but no more so for Spieth just because of his performance on Augusta National’s 12th hole on Masters Sunday.

“If I hit a good shot and it catches a gust and goes in the water, it's not because of the Masters. It's not something that was in my head,” said Spieth, who finished tied for fourth place in his first start at The Players in 2014.

Spieth’s finish at this year’s Masters will forever hold a place in Augusta National lore, but that doesn’t mean he has to dwell on it.

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time. 

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With blinders on, Rahm within reach of No. 1 at Torrey

By Rex HoggardJanuary 23, 2018, 10:10 pm

SAN DIEGO – The drive over to Torrey Pines from Palm Springs, Calif., takes about two and a half hours, which was plenty of time for Jon Rahm’s new and ever-evolving reality to sink in.

The Spaniard arrived in Southern California for a week full of firsts. The Farmers Insurance Open will mark the first time he’s defended a title on the PGA Tour following his dramatic breakthrough victory last year, and it will also be his first tournament as the game’s second-best player, at least according to the Official World Golf Ranking.

Rahm’s victory last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his second on Tour and fourth worldwide tilt over the last 12 months, propelled the 23-year-old to No. 2 in the world, just behind Dustin Johnson. His overtime triumph also moved him to within four rounds of unseating DJ atop the global pecking order.

It’s impressive for a player who at this point last year was embarking on his first full season as a professional, but then Rahm has a fool-proof plan to keep from getting mired in the accolades of his accomplishments.

“It's kind of hard to process it, to be honest, because I live my day-to-day life with my girlfriend and my team around me and they don't change their behavior based on what I do, right?” he said on Tuesday at Torrey Pines. “They'll never change what they think of me. So I really don't know the magnitude of what I do until I go outside of my comfort zone.”

Head down and happy has worked perfectly for Rahm, who has finished outside the top 10 in just three of his last 10 starts and began 2018 with a runner-up showing at the Sentry Tournament of Champions and last week’s victory.

According to the world ranking math, Rahm is 1.35 average ranking points behind Johnson and can overtake DJ atop the pack with a victory this week at the Farmers Insurance Open; but to hear his take on his ascension one would imagine a much wider margin.

“I've said many times, beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task,” Rahm said. “We all know what happened last time he was close to a lead in a tournament on the PGA Tour.”

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Rahm certainly remembers. It was just three weeks ago in Maui when he birdied three of his first six holes, played the weekend at Kapalua in 11 under and still finished eight strokes behind Johnson.

And last year at the WGC-Mexico Championship when Rahm closed his week with rounds of 67-68 only to finish two strokes off Johnson’s winning pace, or a few weeks later at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play when he took Johnson the distance in the championship match only to drop a 1-up decision to the game’s undisputed heavyweight.

As far as Rahm has come in an incredibly short time - at this point last year he ranked 137th in the world - it is interesting that it’s been Johnson who has had an answer at every turn.

He knows there’s still so much room for improvement, both physically and mentally, and no one would ever say Rahm is wanting for confidence, but after so many high-profile run-ins with Johnson, his cautious optimism is perfectly understandable.

“I'll try to focus more on what's going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win,” he reasoned when asked about the prospect of unseating Johnson, who isn’t playing this week. “I'll try my best, that's for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

If Rahm’s take seems a tad cliché given the circumstances, consider that his aversion to looking beyond the blinders is baked into the competitive cake. For all of his physical advantages, of which there are many, it’s his keen ability to produce something special on command that may be even more impressive.

Last year at Torrey Pines was a quintessential example of this, when he began the final round three strokes off the lead only to close his day with a back-nine 30 that included a pair of eagles.

“I have the confidence that I can win here, whereas last year I knew I could but I still had to do it,” he said. “I hope I don't have to shoot 30 on the back nine to win again.”

Some will point to Rahm’s 60-footer for eagle at the 72nd hole last year as a turning point in his young career, it was even named the best putt on Tour by one publication despite the fact he won by three strokes. But Rahm will tell you that walk-off wasn’t even the best shot he hit during the final round.

Instead, he explained that the best shot of the week, the best shot of the year, came on the 13th hole when he launched a 4-iron from a bunker to 18 feet for eagle, a putt that he also made.

“If I don't put that ball on the green, which is actually a lot harder than making that putt, the back nine charge would have never happened and this year might have never happened, so that shot is the one that made everything possible,” he explained.

Rahm’s ability to embrace and execute during those moments is what makes him special and why he’s suddenly found himself as the most likely contender to Johnson’s throne even if he chooses not to spend much time thinking about it.

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Rahm focusing on play, not shot at No. 1

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 9:06 pm

SAN DIEGO – Jon Rahm’s meteoric rise in the world rankings could end with him reaching No. 1 with a win this week at Torrey Pines.

After winning last week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, his fourth title in 51 weeks, Rahm has closed the gap on Dustin Johnson – less than 1.5 average points separates them.

With Johnson not playing this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard has a chance to reach the top spot for the first time, but only if he defends his title at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Farmers Insurance Open: Articles, photos and videos

“Beating Dustin Johnson is a really, really hard task. It’s no easy task,” he said Tuesday. “We still have four days of golf ahead and we’ll see what happens. But I’ll try to focus more on what’s going on this week rather than what comes with it if I win.

“I’ll try my best, that’s for sure. Hopefully it happens, but we all know how hard it is to win on Tour.”

Rahm has already become the fourth-youngest player to reach No. 2 in the world, behind Tiger Woods, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy. 

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Rahm: Playoff wasn't friendly, just 'nervous'

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 8:53 pm

SAN DIEGO – Too chummy? Jon Rahm says he and Andrew Landry were just expending some nervous energy on the walk up to the fairway during the first playoff hole of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

“I wouldn’t have been that nervous if it was friendly,” Rahm said with a smile Tuesday. “I think it was something he said because we were talking going out of the first tee.

“I didn’t know Andrew – I think it was a pretty good time to get to know him. We had at least 10 minutes to ourselves. It’s not like we were supporting each other, right? We were both in it together, we were both nervous together, and I felt like talking about it might have eased the tension out of both of us.”

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On Sunday, two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange saw the exchange on TV and tweeted: “Walking off the tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me? Talking at all?”

Strange followed up by saying that, in a head-to-head situation, the last thing he’d want to do was make his opponent comfortable. When his comments went viral, Strange tweeted at Rahm, who won after four holes: “Hopefully no offense taken on my comment yesterday. You guys are terrific. I’m a huge fan of all players today. Made an adverse comment on U guys talking during playoff. Not for me. A fan.”

Not surprisingly, the gregarious Rahm saw things differently.

“We only talked going out of the first tee up until the fairway,” he said. “Besides that, all we said was, ‘Good shot, good putt, see you on the next tee.’ That’s what it was reduced to. We didn’t say much.”