Spieth already looking to improve in 2016

By Rex HoggardDecember 2, 2015, 9:56 pm

NASSAU, Bahamas – The time for reflection is at hand.

Well, actually, in four days Jordan Spieth will huddle with his team, review 2015 – a season that included five victories, two major triumphs, a PGA Tour Player of the Year title and an historic bid for the single-season Grand Slam – and plot the course for 2016.

He held a similar “Jordan Combine” last year following a season that featured very different results.

Although Spieth failed to win on Tour in 2014, he closed the year with a victory at the Australian Open and a 10-stroke romp at the Hero World Challenge, where he returns this week to defend his title.

Prior to his late fortnight surge to salvage his season in 2014, Spieth’s year was best considered progress for the then-21-year-old. He finished runner-up in the Masters and the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, but faded on the weekend at the Farmers Insurance Open after opening rounds of 71-63 gave him a one-stroke lead through 36 holes.

Still, when he arrived at last year’s World Challenge he had one Tour title on his resume and, by his own admission, doubts about whether he could finish a tournament like he needed to in order to be a regular champion.

“I had four or five leads going into weekends in 2014 during the PGA Tour season and each time you don't come through, you wonder what's wrong, is it me, is it my game?” Spieth said Wednesday. “You hear the noise of, he's a good player but he can't close and this and that.”

The “noise” this year tells a vastly different narrative, but Speith conceded that there is still room for improvement. Compared to last year, when he said his victories in Australia and the World Challenge taught him how to “close mentally,” the end of another calendar will require a more nuanced assessment.

There aren’t many “how to” books on following up the type of year Spieth had in 2015 and even fewer people who can offer any insight into what might be the appropriate way forward.

Following his victory at the Masters in 2007 Zach Johnson faced a similar quandary. For players like Johnson and Spieth, who are focused on goals and creating well-defined game plans, success can be its own obstacle.

“I learned a lot in ’08,” Johnson said. “You don’t want to get content and get into that maintenance mode. For me, the moment I get content and lackadaisical or even just going through the motions, is the moment when golf is not where is should be.”

It doesn’t seem Spieth, who at 22 enjoys a maturity beyond his birthdate, would fall into bad habits or suffer from indifferent play or practice, but with dramatically increased expectations can also come understandable missteps.

Spieth will end the year ranked No. 1 in the world and the drumbeat to establish him as the man to beat at Augusta National will begin as soon as he arrives in Maui for the Hyundai Tournament of Champions next month. None of that, however, seems to be a concern for Spieth.

Although he said December is the time for assessment, the blueprint to back up 2015 has already began.

“In my mind I can certainly improve in spots of my game,” Spieth said. “It doesn't necessarily mean the results will happen the way they do where you get two majors and five wins. I believe I can get better certainly in different specific parts of my game and I can grow mentally as a player as well.”

Whether those nip/tucks lead to a sequel of his sensational 2015 season is not really the point, Spieth patiently explains, as much as it is arriving at next year’s Hero World Challenge thinking he improved as a player, both physically and mentally.

“If that's the case, wins will fall my way. I hope they come at the same time that they did this past year, but you just never know,” he said.

In that respect, Spieth’s outlook and general game plan is similar to that used by Tiger Woods, this week’s host and the most influential person in his golf career, Spieth said.

While victories are the ultimate goal, putting yourself in contention at the biggest events on a consistent basis is the only way to get there.

“The way that [Woods] was able to get into contention and be in contention and be at that highest mental part of the game week in and week out and major in and major out for 15 years straight ...” Spieth said. “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.”

As goals go, eyeing Woods’ record is certainly a lofty benchmark to set, but after the season Spieth just completed it’s a good place to start.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.