In the end, Spieth comes up four shots from perfection

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2015, 2:37 am

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The pursuit of the Greatest Major Season Ever isn’t supposed to be easy.

“There’s a reason I have a receding hairline,” Jordan Spieth said, “and it's because of that kind of pressure building up and that kind of stress. As much of a thrill as it is, it can wear you down.”

He emptied the tank Sunday at Whistling Straits. 

With one final chance to stamp his major season as the best of all time, Spieth embraced the moment and put on a memorable show at this PGA Championship – crouching and kneeling, begging and pleading, spinning and marching, swiping and fist-pumping, barking and cheering.

It just wasn’t enough.

Spotting one of the hottest players in the world a two-shot lead, Spieth could only watch in awe as Jason Day buried five years of frustration with a near-flawless 67 to bully his way into the major winner’s circle.

“By far the best loss I’ve ever had,” Spieth said.

Spieth lost to the lowest score ever shot in a major, 20-under 268. His own 17-under total is the best score in a major (relation to par) by a non-winner or playoff participant.

Big picture, Spieth's 54-under par cumulative score in the majors is the best all time, eclipsing by one Tiger Woods’ epic 2000 season. His 1,090 strokes in the majors are the fewest ever, five less than Woods' gold standard. And he is the third player since 1960 to finish in the top-4 in all four majors in a season.

Historic by any measure. 

But it wasn't until after the round that Spieth learned of the greatest consolation prize of all: His solo second was enough to overtake Rory McIlroy and ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Ranking, one of his lifelong goals. 

"That will never be taken away from me now," he said.

Neither will one of the two best major seasons of the modern era.   

This week there was considerable debate on where a three-major haul by Spieth would rank in the pantheon of all-time great seasons.

It’s all a moot point now, of course, because Spieth fell short of earning the hat trick, and thus his major season will be slotted behind Woods in 2000 and Ben Hogan in 1953. But the conversation was interesting, and it served as a reminder of how close the 22-year-old came to reshaping our perception of major greatness.



So while it’s easy to mourn what could have been, it’s worth celebrating one of the most impressive stretches of golf we’ve ever seen.  

There was the runaway, record-breaking victory at the Masters.

There was the taut finish at the U.S. Open, where Spieth was fortunate not only to avoid a loss, but also a playoff, after Dustin Johnson’s three-putt from 12 feet. 

And then there was the gut-wrenching conclusion to the Open Championship, where Spieth had a tie for the lead after 70 holes and kicked away a chance to win. No one in the modern era – not Palmer, not Nicklaus, not Woods – has come closer to winning the third leg of the Grand Slam.

All told, Spieth came within four measly shots of the single-season Slam. Only Nicklaus in 1975 (three) was closer.

“You only get four (majors) a year,” Spieth said, “and to have an opportunity to win all of them is so cool.”

Thing is, Spieth could very easily have mailed it in after St. Andrews. He could have showed up at the PGA, punched the clock, recorded another top 10 and been content with his two-major campaign. But his focus shifted to the winning this major, to making the most of this glorious year, the moment his last gasp from the Valley of Sin veered left of the cup. When he returned home to Dallas, he took only two days off and got back to work with swing coach Cameron McCormick. After a rusty start at Firestone, he closed with 66 and back-doored a top 10.

“In our conversations where he confides in me, there was no letdown at all,” McCormick said. “Of course he would have loved to get into the playoff and win that tournament. That’s obvious. But there’s still a lot to play for.”

Here he smiled.

“Jordan is also very good at revising goals once he checks off a box, and he’s set some further goals for the rest of the season.”

The PGA was next on Spieth's list, and with a victory he could have become the first player to sweep all three American majors in the same season.

His bid got off to a slow start, but a 71 in tough conditions kept him in touch with the leaders. No surprise there – he never trailed by more than five strokes after any major round this season. After his putter heated up, Spieth soared into contention with rounds of 67-65 and stirred hopes of even more history. With a back-nine 30 Saturday, he earned a spot in another final group, trailing the star-crossed Day by two.

No player has put himself in position to break through more often recently than Day, but the Aussie showed the kind of audacity Sunday that had been lacking in his other close calls. Wailing away on his driver, he birdied four of his first seven holes to create some separation.

The turning point in the final round came on No. 11, a reachable par 5 of 555 yards. Day belted a drive that practically waved at Spieth’s ball on the way by, bounded down the hill and settled 382 yards away. Walking up to their tee shots, Spieth whirled around and yelled, “Holy s---! You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

Day smiled and flexed his bicep.

A few moments later, he launched a wedge onto the green for an easy birdie, and when Spieth’s weak attempt from 6 feet peeled away at the cup, Day had regained his four-shot advantage.

“It was a stripe show,” Spieth said. “It was really a clinic to watch.”

Day got up and down out from the sand on 12. He stuffed an approach out of a deep fairway bunker to 10 feet on 14, then poured in the birdie putt. And after he gave back a shot on 15, he ripped a 4-iron to 20 feet on the par-5 16th to set up a stress-free birdie.

“Each time he stood and took it back, I had hope,” Spieth said. “And each time after it came off the face, the hope was lost.”

Spieth tried everything. He talked to his ball. Listened to pep talks from caddie Michael Greller. Made a few of the best up-and-downs of his life. Tried to will his ball into the cup.

“To be honest,” Day said, “the kid just doesn’t go away.”

But nothing worked, not this time. 

Spieth’s goal at the start of the day was to shoot 68. That’s exactly what he signed for – and lost by three.

Ever gracious in defeat, Spieth unabashedly praised his fellow competitor down the stretch. When Day made an unlikely birdie on 14, Spieth waited for him by the next tee and said, “I mean, wow, that’s impressive right there.” When Day nestled his long lag putt on 17 to within tap-in range, Spieth locked eyes and gave him a thumbs up. And when it was all over, when Day sobbed in his caddie’s arms and his young family spilled out onto the green, Spieth stood and applauded.  

Later, while waiting in the scoring trailer, Spieth looked at Day and told him, “There was nothing I could do.”

That helps explain why a legitimate run at the single-season Grand Slam only comes around every decade or two. It requires exquisite golf, yes, but also mental toughness, good fortune and timing. So much has to align, and in the end Spieth was four shots from perfection, from the Greatest Major Season Ever.

“I’m tired right now,” he said. “I left it all out there.”

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”



Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.



Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream


Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.


Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.


Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.


Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.


Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.


Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.


Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)