Spieth's dominance begins, peaks in Georgia

By Rex HoggardSeptember 27, 2015, 11:47 pm

ATLANTA – It’s only fitting that Jordan Spieth would end his historic season just down Interstate-20 from where it essentially all began in April.

The 22-year-old king of the golf world went 2-for-2 in Georgia this season with his victory on Sunday at East Lake, a four-stroke statement that lacked the style points of his historic victory in April at Augusta National but provided an apropos exclamation point to what was already a breakout season.

As he has all year, Spieth made it look much easier than it actually was, grinding out a 1-under 69 to become the youngest FedEx Cup champion and the first Tour player to reach $12 million in earnings in a single season, lapping the old mark by more than $1 million.

“[Caddie Michael Greller] told me when we were going to the 18th tee box, ‘You did this with your head this week,’” said Spieth, who is now 4-for-8 in converting 54-hole leads. “He knew that I wasn’t comfortable over the ball, but we kept our head in it.” 

In completing the Georgia Slam, Spieth became the first player to win the Masters and Tour Championship in the same season. He also put a neat bow on what could have been a muddy ending both on and off a soggy East Lake layout.

Heading into the finale the background noise had reached a crescendo, with players split in a Player of the Year vote that until five weeks ago had been a foregone conclusion.

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But then Jason Day won The Barclays and the BMW Championship to add to his PGA Championship title, and while Spieth’s dominance wasn’t diminished the electorate was certainly divided.

On Saturday, however, Spieth did what Spieth has done all season, plod his way around a demanding golf course and convert crucial putts, like his 20-footer at the 54th hole to move one stroke clear of Henrik Stenson.

As expected, Sunday’s finale quickly turned into a two-man race for the Tour Championship hardware and the FedEx Cup riches with Spieth and Stenson keeping the field at bay with steady if not stellar play early.

After making just two bogeys in his first 54 holes, the Teflon talent rattled off back-to-back miscues in less than 15 minutes on Nos. 5 and 6, but Spieth rebounded with closing birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 to grab a two-shot lead in what appeared to be a nine-hole match for all the millions.

But the two-man race quickly became a coronation.

After trading birdies with Stenson at the 11th, Spieth slowly pulled away and played his final six holes in straight pars that were anything but routine.

After rolling in a 46-footer for birdie at the 11th, Spieth converted par putts from 9 feet after making a mess of the par-5 15th hole, 8 feet after finding a greenside bunker at No. 16 and 8 feet after being overly aggressive with his birdie attempt at the last. But by then the big check was already in the mail.

“Jordan was putting unbelievably well,” said Stenson, who closed with a 72 after making a double-bogey 6 at the 16th hole to tie for second. “Whenever he had to make a putt, he did it. He’s hard to beat on the greens, we know that. I just couldn’t keep pace with him today.”

Spieth finished third in total putts for the week and first in putts-made distance, averaging just under 8 feet per putt. But that’s nothing new for a player who has seemed to make every clutch putt he’s faced this season in Georgia and beyond.

While critics seem to focus on what Spieth can’t do, most notably a driver that left him ranked in the middle of the Tour pack (he finished the year 78th out of 184 players in driving distance), his clutch putting and a clarity of thought that transcends his 22 years separated him in 2014-15.

Earlier in the week Jason Day joked that if Spieth and McIlroy had a baby, he would be it. After the way he turned the playoffs into a chess match Heir Jordan had the look of a Tiger Woods-Bobby Fischer hybrid.

With his spot inside the top five on the FedEx Cup points list locked up through to the Tour Championship, Spieth organized his priorities accordingly, conserving energy until he arrived at East Lake even if that meant relatively pedestrian performances at the first three postseason stops.

“Like I said before New York, everything now is to prepare to peak in Atlanta,” Spieth said. “Approach Atlanta like a major championship. The whole year it's been about the major championships, and I consider this to be the fifth one at the end.”

After missing back-to-back cuts to begin the playoffs at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship for the first time in his Tour career, Spieth seemed to get back to work last week with a tie for 13th at the BMW Championship that set the stage for East Lake.

The payoff for Spieth was an astronomical payday. Beyond his $12 million in earnings he also collected the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. That’s $22 million in 25 starts, or $880,000 per event.

But it was the victory, his fifth this season, that finally quieted the Player of the Year debate and propelled him back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking that meant the most to Spieth.

As he made his way down the hill to the 18th green on Sunday, his tee shot safely on the green and his status as the game’s alpha male soundly reestablished, it was a moment Greller wanted to savor.

“I said, ‘Hey, you’re No. 1 in the world again.’ He said, ‘That’s why you keep your self belief,’” Greller said. “You hear all the noise. That’s why you block that out and believe in yourself. You’re trying to peak this week and that’s what he did.”

It was a perfect ending to what was a nearly perfect year that began and fittingly ended at a pair of Georgia gems.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

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It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.