Spieth not letting Masters loss haunt him

By Rex HoggardApril 16, 2014, 7:11 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – That empty feeling that has been gnawing at Jordan Spieth since Sunday’s final round at the Masters was still there as he made his way around Harbour Town Golf Links for Wednesday’s pro-am.

It will be there when he tees off for Round 1 of the RBC Heritage on Thursday. It will be there for the rest of this season. Truth is, it will be there forever.

“You don’t ever get over it. It will always be disappointing,” Davis Love III said.

Love came by his pain honestly. At the 1996 U.S. Open he bogeyed his last two holes to finish a stroke behind Steve Jones. Love turned 50 on Sunday, celebrating with friends and family right about the time Spieth’s magical Masters run was being washed down Rae’s Creek, and the ghosts of that ’96 Open loss still haunt him.

So imagine how Spieth, a 20-year-old going on 35 who was playing his first Masters, has spent the last three days – reflection, regret, resentment?


“It left me stinging,” he acknowledged Wednesday.

Yet as the golf world is learning, this is not your off-the-shelf 20-year-old. Along with the pain came plenty of appreciation for the opportunity to play for and ultimately lose the green jacket.

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“There’s nothing haunting me from last week,” he said.

Spieth, who moved to ninth in the world golf ranking this week to become the youngest American to crack the top 10, spent Sunday night relaxing with friends and family. They played ping-pong and ate beef shish kabobs with rice and sub sandwiches, because that’s how 20-year-olds roll.

Late Sunday, Spieth texted his Dallas-based swing coach Cameron McCormick and on Monday the two had a lengthy conversation about what had happened during the final round at Augusta National: the less-than-perfect layup at No. 8 compounded by a follow-up bogey at the ninth that resulted in a four-stroke swing with eventual champion Bubba Watson, the indecision at No. 12. Oh, the indecision at the 12th.

“I let the 20-year-old inside me just barely slip out,” Spieth said.

And it cost him. A 9-iron from 150 yards, 143 yards to carry Rae’s Creek, that he’d hit a thousand times in his mind. A 9-iron that would drop short into the bank and eventually trundle into the creek.

“I hate having 9-iron and not being able to go to the pin,” he said. “We picked a spot and I got over the ball and felt like there was no wind or, if anything, a touch of help, which is what that hole does to you.”

McCormick calls it “objective self-reflection.” In practical terms, it is what separates Spieth from many, if not all, of his up-and-coming contemporaries.

“It goes back to when he was 16 years old and we would have conversations and I’d make suggestions. He’s always been receptive and at the same time inquisitive,” McCormick said. “He questions you, challenges you. Part of that is he’s developed this trait of objective self-reflection to understand very quickly what he needs to improve on.”

This goes back to a moment earlier this year during a match against Ernie Els at the WGC-Match Play Championship when Spieth admittedly lost his cool.

“I’m embarrassed about the way I acted on the course today. Played like the 13-year-old version of myself mentally. A lot of positives,” Spieth tweeted following the loss.

McCormick said that Spieth’s social-media mea culpa was “from the heart,” and completely unprovoked. By comparison, his Sunday swoon at the Masters was more an opportunity to learn than an opportunity lost.

For 61 holes Spieth controlled his emotions and his golf ball with equal savvy, not a first-timer learning the nuances of arguably the most demanding test on the fly.

“I’ve looked back to all the positives,” Spieth said. “I feel like I played really well to not shoot an over-par round on that course and not make more than a bogey for four days the way that course was playing.”

It’s why Spieth’s mental toughness, more than his flawless swing or short game, appears to be his best attribute. Consider that at this point last year he didn’t have status on the PGA Tour and watched the year’s first major from his couch like the rest of us.

Where some see failure and the baggage that comes with it, Spieth appears determined to take a more scientific approach to an opportunity that can’t be reproduced in a lab.

“He will learn from how Bubba carried himself or how Ernie carried himself at the Match Play,” McCormick said. “There are always learning experiences and he is good at understanding that.”

Still, missed opportunities have a tendency of festering into painful reminders (see Mickelson, Phil, U.S. Open). If Spieth sounded resolute in his ability to move on from his Masters miss, there were telltale signs that he still may need some time.

Asked on Wednesday if he’d watch the replay of Sunday’s final round Spieth offered a quick, “No.”

Will you ever watch it?

“Probably not. I don’t think so,” he said before pausing, “maybe if I win.”

Some wounds are better left unopened.

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

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The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

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DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

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Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”

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Stenson one clear of loaded leaderboard at Bay Hill

By Nick MentaMarch 17, 2018, 10:10 pm

Four of the top 15 players in the world and two men with stellar amateur resumes will do battle Sunday to win Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how things look through 54 holes at Bay Hill, where Tiger Woods sits five back at 7 under par.

Leaderboard: Henrik Stenson (-12), Bryson DeChambeau (-11), Rory McIlroy (-10), Justin Rose (-9), Ryan Moore (-9), Charley Hoffman (-8), Rickie Fowler (-8), Talor Gooch (-8), Ben An (-8)

What it means:  For the second straight day, Stenson (71) will go off in the final pairing with DeChambeau (72), after both players failed to separate themselves from the field in Round 3, shooting a combined 1 under. Stenson really should have a win at Bay Hill by now. He finished in the top-10 four years in a row from 2013-2016, with three top-5s. The closest he came to victory was in 2015, when he lost to Matt Every by one shot after being put on the clock and three-putting the 15th and 16th greens. If he’s finally going to close the deal Sunday, the world No. 15 will need to hold off challenges from three of the top 13 players in the OWGR – No. 5 Rose, No. 7 Fowler and No. 13 McIlroy – and two men who won both the NCAA individual championship and the U.S. Amateur – DeChambeau and Moore.

Round of the day: John Huh and Austin Cook both made the 1-over cut on the number and shot 66 Saturday to move into a tie for 18th at 5 under.

Best of the rest: McIlroy, Rose and Jason Day (-5) all signed for 67. McIlroy remains in search of his first worldwide win since he walked away from East Lake with the Tour Championship and the FedExCup in 2016.

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Biggest disappointment: Fowler was 11 under for the week but dropped three shots in his last two holes. He failed to get up and down from the front bunker at 17 and then had his ball almost fully bury in the lip of a greenside trap at 18. With only a small portion of the ball visible, Fowler took two to get out of the sand and two-putted his way to a double-bogey 6, dropping him to 2 under for the day and 8 under for the championship.

Shot of the day: Woods’ 210-yard 5-iron from the fairway bunker at the par-5 16th:

Quote of the day: "I'm going to have to shoot a low one tomorrow, and probably get a little bit of help. But my responsibility is to go out there and shoot a low one first." – Woods