Spieth motivated by Day's stranglehold on No. 1

By Rex HoggardMay 18, 2016, 7:15 pm

IRVING, Texas – With nine holes to play at last month’s Masters, the paradigm seemed to be swinging in Jordan Spieth’s direction with every confident swing.

With a five-stroke lead as he made the turn at the year’s first major, Spieth already had the metaphorical arm in another green jacket and a stranglehold on his third major championship.

With a victory, Spieth would have wrested back the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking from Jason Day and reestablished himself as the undisputed king of a game he was making look ridiculously easy.

Over the next three holes, that new dynamic unraveled shockingly quick. Bogeys at Nos. 10 and 11 set the stage for a quadruple bogey-7 at the par-3 12th hole that included not one but two shots into the depths of Rae’s Creek.

Since that implosion, Day has cemented his status as the game’s alpha male while Spieth has . . . well, struggled.

At Augusta National, Day’s advantage over world No. 2 Spieth was 1.37 average ranking points. That advantage has now been extended to 2.48 average points. To put that in context, Spieth could win his next two starts – this week at the AT&T Byron Nelson and next week at Colonial – and still not reclaim the top spot.

At the time, Spieth’s Masters meltdown was surprising, shocking even; but it was mitigated somewhat by his record and the fact he’d already made his first visit to Butler Cabin for the iconic winner’s ceremony in 2015.

There was solace in the fact that although he wasn’t the world’s best, that benchmark was only one good week away, but considering how the last few weeks have transpired, with Day winning his seventh title in his last 17 starts at last week’s Players, that warm blanket is no longer as comforting.

“There's some motivation there,” Spieth conceded on Tuesday. “[Day] is playing his game. He believes his game is better than anybody else's and he's on his game and so it is better than everyone else's . . . He's separated himself and that bothers me and it motivates me.”

That’s a Texas mile from where the game found itself just seven short months ago following Spieth’s historic season that included five Tour victories, two major championship triumphs and a FedEx Cup title.

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Spieth was the runaway winner of the 2015 Player of the Year voting despite Day’s season, which also included five victories, a major and two playoff triumphs.

On Wednesday at the Byron Nelson, however, there was no doubt who had taken control of the game.

“What Jason is doing is just dominant,” Ryan Palmer said “Seven wins in 17 starts, he’s overpowering golf courses like Tiger [Woods] used to.”

Spieth – whose record at TPC Four Seasons Resort since turning pro is less than stellar (his best finish as a Tour member was last year’s tie for 30th place) – can change that dynamic, much like he did last summer with his run through the major championship season.

But all things being equal, it’s hard to imagine Day going quietly back into a bit player role after his stellar start to the season.

Oakmont, widely considered the most challenging of all major championship venues, would fit more snuggly into Day’s wheelhouse, with his unique combination of power and precision.

The same could be said for Baltusrol, site of this year’s PGA Championship and the Memorial, where the duo will face each other next.

“Their games are so different,” Palmer said. “When they are both on they don’t miss many on the greens, but Jason will have the edge with his length.”

To be fair, Spieth has played just once since the Masters, and that didn’t go well with a missed cut last week at The Players. He also acknowledged that his swing has been off the last few weeks as he tries to initiate subtle changes to his action.

Asked if Spieth’s position in the world rankings behind Day is motivational, Colt Knost, who is spending the week staying at Spieth’s Dallas-area home, didn’t hesitate, “Absolutely,” he said.

“The kid is as determined as anyone I’ve seen,” Knost said. “He hasn’t played his best, but he has so much pressure on him, he’s only 22 years old. He will be fine.”

The expectations heaped on Spieth were always going to be difficult to deal with, but the pressure he places on himself is likely even greater and it certainly hasn’t been easy to watch the narrative swing so dramatically in another’s favor the last few weeks.

When he made the turn on Sunday at the Masters, the top rung was once again within his grasp. Five weeks later, the distance between where he is and where he wants to be is considerably further.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.