Spieth faces difficult road toward second green jacket

By Rex HoggardApril 10, 2016, 3:26 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – It’s not supposed to be like this.

The Masters is the feel-good story to the drama that is the U.S. Open and the intrigue of the Open Championship.

Fans flock to Augusta National to rattle the pines with cheers, not recoil from one pile-up after another. But then, it was always going to be like this.

After Jordan Spieth ran the table in 2015 with an 18-under total that matched the tournament record, the seeds of spite were planted early and often heading into this year’s tournament.

On Tuesday players talked of greens with Sunday speeds, and the only sound that could be heard on Thursday was the hum of the Sub-Air system draining the putting surfaces of much-needed moisture.

We want birdies and eagles and heroic charges, but what we have been given is pars and bogeys and harried moments.

Even the man who would be king, Spieth, felt the cold sting of the tougher side of Augusta National this week. After cruising through a first-round 66 the world No. 2 has posted cards of 74-73 to set an intriguing Sunday stage.

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After opening his Masters career with nine consecutive at- or under-par rounds, Spieth has spent the last two blustery days trying to keep things together.

“I think it will be tough to put it behind me,” Spieth admitted. “I think I will, but that wasn't a fun last couple holes to play from the position I was in. I'm not going to dodge the question by any means. It's not going to be fun tonight for a little while, and hopefully I just sleep it off and it's fine tomorrow.”

It could have been a much different scenario.

With his second birdie of the day at No. 8, Spieth extended his lead to three strokes and appeared headed for another Sunday celebration like the one he enjoyed last year when he began the final round four strokes clear of the pack.

But things began to go sideways when he three-putted the 11th hole for double bogey, and he compounded the problem with a pair of wayward drives at Nos. 17 and 18 to finish bogey, double bogey for a 3-under total and a one-stroke lead.

Sunday will not be a “walk in the Georgia pines,” as Tom Watson waxed on Friday following his last Masters round, not with six players within three strokes and a Spieth game that is something less than 100 percent.

Unlike last year, Spieth won’t be able to play a prevent defense on Sunday, and that reality was etched into his face following a windswept day.

“With very little wind tomorrow, someone gets on a run and shoots 6, 7 under, I know I have to shoot a significant under-par round in order to win this tournament, when I could have played a different style of golf like I did on Sunday last year,” Spieth said.

Spieth could take some solace in the final act of this year’s Masters in his company atop a crowded leaderboard, if not the margin of his advantage.

PGA Tour rookie Smylie Kaufman is a stroke back and will be playing for the first time from the final pairing on Sunday after a round-best 69.

As unsteady as Spieth looked coming down the stretch in Round 3, Kaufman, with birdies at Nos. 13, 14 and 16, was the lone highlight from a day that offered few reasons to cheer.

Still, the 24-year-old acknowledged that heading out in the last two-ball with Spieth brings an entirely new set of challenges.

“He's probably 1000-0,” Kaufman said when asked his record against Spieth when the two played junior and amateur golf. “He's always beating me. Granted, he was so much better than I was as a junior and amateur. I was kind of a late bloomer in that regard.”

Although Kaufman rallied for his lone Tour victory earlier this season with a final-round 61, most will be looking to the likes of players named Matsuyama, Day, Johnson and Langer to push Spieth.

That’s right, Langer.

On Wednesday Gary Player was asked if he thought Jack Nicklaus’ record of being the oldest player to win the Masters at 46 would ever be broken and the Black Knight didn’t hold back.

“I've always said that a man at 50 would win the Masters and I was ridiculed,” Player railed. “Raymond Floyd needed to birdie No. 17 with a 9-iron, and he would have won the Masters at 49, nearly 50. Don't forget, Julius Boros won the PGA at 48. People forget about these things.”

On the 30th anniversary of Nicklaus’ historic victory in 1986, certainly no one would forget it if the 58-year-old German shattered a mark many still believe is unbreakable.

“If I play my best, I can shoot 4 or 5 under tomorrow, if the conditions are a little bit better,” Langer said. “But so can Jordan Spieth or any of the others on the leaderboard, so it all depends how the rest of the other 15 guys do. I can only play my game and see how that holds up.”

Of course, there is still a chance the stars align in the desired position and Spieth is challenged by those he is most often associated with, most notably Rory McIlroy and Jason Day. Until now it had been nothing more than water-cooler talk – theoretical debates with no right answer.

To be fair, McIlroy didn’t have his best stuff on a swirling Saturday, but on Day 3 at the Masters the metaphysical was given a healthy dollop of the material.

The esoteric debate over who, if both players are at their best, would prevail in a duel between Spieth and McIlroy – power vs. pure putting – now has a quantifiable data point.

Spieth clipped McIlroy, who struggled to find fairways and failed to make a single birdie, by four strokes after the Northern Irishman ballooned to a 77. That outcome, of course, means nothing in the big picture, Spieth will tell you as much.

Whatever confidence Spieth may have drawn from clipping McIlroy, who is five strokes off the lead, was quickly dismissed with a quick glance at a leaderboard as backed up as Sunday traffic on Washington Road.

Unlike last year’s romp to his first green jacket, Spieth will face a much more demanding and different test on this Sunday, both on the course and the leaderboard.

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Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 4:12 pm

Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.

Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.

“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”

The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.

“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.  

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 1:00 pm

This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.

The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.

Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.

The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.

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A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.

And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.

The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.

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Article: Harrington: Garcia was a 'sore loser'

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 12, 2017, 12:30 pm
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Montana parents can't watch kids play high school golf

By Grill Room TeamDecember 11, 2017, 9:47 pm

Well, this is a one new one.

According to a report from KTVQ in Montana, this line in the Montana State High School Association rule book all but forbids spectators from observing high school golf in that state:

“No spectators/fans are allowed on the course except for certain locations as designated by the tournament manager and club professional.”

Part of the issue, according to the report, is that most courses don't bother to designate those "certain locations" leaving parents unable to watch their kids compete.

“If you tell a parent that they can’t watch their kid play in the Thanksgiving Day football game, they would riot,” Chris Kelley, a high school golf parent, told KTVQ.

The report lists illegal outside coaching as one of the rule's chief motivations, but Montana State women's golf coach Brittany Basye doesn't quite buy that.

“I can go to a softball game and I can sit right behind the pitcher. I can make hand signals,” she is quoted in the report. “I can yell out names. I can do the same thing on a softball field that might affect that kid. Football games we can yell as loud as we want when someone is making a pass or a catch.”

The MHSA has argued that unlike other sports that are played in a confined area, the sprawling nature of a golf course would make it difficult to hire enough marshals to keep unruly spectators in check.

Meanwhile, there's a lawyer quoted in the report claiming this is some kind of civil rights issue.

Worth note, Montana is one of only two states that doesn't allow spectators on the course. The other state, Alaska, does not offer high school golf.