Spieth, Koepka on top of Nelson with little confidence

By Rex HoggardMay 21, 2016, 11:49 pm

IRVING, Texas – There’s something to be said for scraping it around.

If one didn’t have access to a leaderboard, the comments coming from the top two players at the AT&T Byron Nelson painted a dire picture.

“Very stressful round of golf to play because I just don't have confidence over the ball right now,” seethed Jordan Spieth, utterly uninterested in looking at the silver lining.

“I hit the ball terrible,” Brooks Koepka burned.

That Koepka and Spieth hold down the top two spots on the leaderboard, respectively, did little to soften equally foul moods born from relatively sorry ball-striking days.

Koepka shot 65 to move two strokes clear of Spieth, who grinded out a 67. Just don’t expect either contender to gush with confidence.

Spieth hit just half his fairways on Day 3, 11 of 18 greens in regulation and lost .201 shots to the field in strokes gained-tee to green, whatever that means.

Koepka’s efforts tee-to-green were even grimmer, hitting 8 of 14 fairways, 9 of 18 greens in regulation and averaging 35 feet from the hole on his approach shots.

“It was kind of embarrassing,” Koepka said. “We both kind of hung in there, battled it out and we made some good, good key 10-footers and that's what you got to do out here if you're not hitting it well.”

For Spieth, it’s been a familiar tale this week. The world No. 2 struggled with his swing on his way to a missed cut at last week’s Players and has repeatedly said that he didn’t have his best stuff last month at Augusta National, when he gave up a five-stroke lead with nine holes to play.

At TPC Four Seasons he hit it even worse – his words, not mine.

There’s a lack of execution for both players, which in golf quickly translates into a lack of confidence. For Spieth that manifested itself in a surprisingly sloppy finish.


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After pulling within one stroke of Koepka with a birdie at the rowdy 17th hole that ignited the crowd, Spieth teed off with an iron on the final hole. It was an attempt that faded weakly into the right rough, past the massive gallery, past the cart path, past any chance of reaching the green in regulation.

Spieth chipped to 8 feet but missed the par putt, sending him two shots adrift of the lead and into a less-than-stellar mood.

“If you guys knew the kind of stress I felt over the golf ball right now trying to put my swing in the right position,” Spieth said. “It is a challenge, especially with the amount of difficult tee shots out here and trouble that guard at least one side of most of the fairways.”

Still, Spieth embraced the half-full cup that is his game at the moment, taking some solace in the fact that despite his struggles he will tee off in the final group on Sunday.

With both leading men playing defense tee to green, this Byron Nelson has devolved into a putting contest, which should give Spieth some measure of encouragement considering his status as arguably the game’s best clutch putter alongside Jason Day.

“Just about every time Jordan tees it up it has to be a putting contest,” Koepka figured.

The hometown magician rolled in par saving putts at the second, fourth, fifth, eighth and 12th holes and had 11 one-putts on Day 3 at the Nelson.

Koepka may have been even better on the greens on Saturday, which was a surprise considering he’s struggled this year with his putter. But he switched to a new putter last week with a softer face insert and the result has been a dramatic change of fortune.

On Saturday, he needed just 22 putts on his way to a 16-under total and ranks fifth in the field with a 5.56 strokes gained-putting average, which is more than five strokes better than his season average.

“He told me today that he feels like he can hit the ball again with his putter,” said Koepka’s swing coach, Claude Harmon III. “His stats this year were off the charts, but he just wasn’t making the putts he needed to to maintain momentum.”

For Koepka, a power player whose driving is normally his strength, it was the grinding moments that made the difference on Saturday, like at the 15th hole after he’d missed the green right with his approach shot but calmly rolled in a 11 footer for par to maintain his advantage.

All total, Koepka rolled in 105 feet of putts in Round 3 to turn what could have been a meltdown into something manageable.

Spieth could relate, not that there was any shared pain between the two on Saturday. That’s not the way things work on Tour.

“I'm not going to tell him that I'm struggling. That's for sure,” Koepka laughed. “I'm sure he won't tell me. We both kind of knew it.”

The duo also knows they’ll likely need to find some sort of answers before Sunday to avoid a similar scenario, which would explain why Koepka went straight to the practice tee after his round and Spieth said he’d likely spend some time in his simulator at home on Saturday night.

“Normally I’m not in contention without having a go-to ball flight and that's what I'm going to try to get tomorrow,” Spieth said.

Normally the top two players through 54 holes don’t sound like they’ve just been pulled for jury duty either, but then again, this isn’t your normal week on Tour.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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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.