Hole-outs a major part of Spieth's arsenal

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2015, 10:03 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – As Jordan Spieth marched toward the 18th green Friday at Whistling Straits, he expected his ball to be sitting pretty, in the flat of the bunker.

From previous conversations with local caddies here, Spieth learned that there was more sand in the bunkers on 18 than any of the other 1,000-plus on the course, but because he hit hybrid into the green he wasn’t anticipating a plugged lie. It turned out to be even worse – his ball was nestled atop soft sand against the craggy back lip.

“This is an impossible spot,” he groaned.


By now, we know better than that.

“There was a little bit of hyperbole there,” caddie Michael Greller said later, breaking into a grin, “because that way he can feel that much better when he hits a great shot. When he says it’s impossible, that usually means it’s really tough, not necessarily impossible.”

And so, yes, this one was tough, really tough, so tough that Spieth thought about slashing out 10 feet right of the flag just so he could have an unobstructed backswing. His swing had to be straight up and down, and there was no margin for error.

Catch it fat, and he’d be stuck with another bunker shot.

Catch it thin, and he’d looking at double bogey. Or worse.

Spieth chose the brave option, lining up to the right and cutting across the ball.

“You could just hear the perfect sound of a bunker shot,” Greller said.

“I struck it absolutely perfectly,” Spieth said.

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His ball landed on the green, hopped, checked and turned right, as if riding down an off-ramp. Perfect pace, straight into the cup.

Spieth said that he would have been a “very, very happy guy” just to walk off with a 4. How about a birdie-3, a two-shot swing with one shot?

“The best bunker shot I’ve ever seen him hit,” Greller said.

It was another highlight-reel shot in a year (and career) full of them, and it was a much-needed spark that propelled Spieth to three more birdies and a 5-under 67 that gave him a realistic shot at a third major this year. At 6-under 138, he’s only one shot off the clubhouse lead at this PGA Championship.

When the ball dropped into the cup, Greller smiled and held up two fingers – the number of hole-outs this week, after Spieth chipped in for birdie on the 12th hole Thursday.

Of course, Spieth’s right-hand man would need four hands to count the number of drained chips, pitches and iron shots this season. The two hole-outs this week bumped the world No. 2’s total to 16, which puts him two back of the PGA Tour lead.

More than the quantity, though, it’s the quality of the hole-outs that makes Greller shake his head. They always seem to come when Spieth needs them most, when the moment is the biggest, when he needs to turn the momentum.

He’s been demoralizing his opponents for years. The only difference now is that his heroics are televised.

Start with the 2012 NCAA Championship at Riviera. In a tight singles match against Alabama’s Justin Thomas – heard of him? – Spieth holed a long approach shot on the 15th hole en route to a crucial victory that lifted Texas to its first national title in 40 years.

“I’ve seen it so many times, nothing really surprises me,” Longhorns coach John Fields said at the time. “He has that intangible to hit an amazing shot at the right time.”

Then there was the 2013 Puerto Rico Open. Losing ground during the birdie-fest, Spieth aced the 11th hole during the third round and wound up finishing in a tie for second, a crucial result for a player with no status on any major tour.

That finish got him into the next week’s tournament, in Tampa. Needing a birdie on one of the last two holes at Innisbrook to earn special temporary membership – and allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season – Spieth’s shot on 17 ended up short and right of the green, leaving him a tricky shot to a back-right pin. From a gnarly lie, he had only one option: a high, soft, flop shot. He jarred it.

That status paved the way for other starts that season, including the John Deere Classic, where he one-hopped a bunker shot on the 72nd hole to get into a playoff, which he eventually won.

And that victory got him into the 2014 Masters, where in the final round he holed a greenside bunker shot on the difficult fourth hole to grab a two-shot lead. He slipped into the green jacket a year later.

According to the PGA Tour’s ShotLink system, Spieth had 15 hole-outs in 2013, 12 in ’14 and now has 16 this season … with four-and-a-half events to go.

Keep in mind the Tour average is six hole-outs per season.

“Good lies, I guess,” Spieth smirked. “The pins seem to be soft when I hit chip shots sometimes.”

Greller had a more reasonable explanation for how his boss is able to summon short-game magic at the most opportune times: “He’s one of the best short-game players in the world. He’s always had great touch, even when I first met him. He has great control of the face, and he’s able to look at lies and understand how it’s going to come out. That’s him being very cerebral and smart – that’s his high golf IQ. He’s able to assess the situation.”

Spieth’s two chip-ins this week could play a pivotal role come Sunday.

He had made 10 consecutive pars and was coming off a sloppy bogey on 11 Thursday when Greller stepped in and delivered a pep talk.

Spieth’s third shot had come to rest on the back of the 12th green, and he couldn’t get a drop with a sprinkler head between him and the cup. He chose a 52-degree wedge, bumped his ball onto the green and banked it off the stick. A few hours later, he signed for another under-par round in a major.

“That changed his frame of mind,” Greller said. “I don’t know what’s going to happen this weekend, but if that goes 10 feet by and we miss, I think it’s a different spot than we are now.”

After his bunker shot on 18 Friday, Spieth – who began his round on the back nine – made birdie on two of his next three holes and carded a 67, even though he found only 12 greens and the medium-length hitter (285-yard average) struggled to find the proper lines off the tee.

It was a quintessential Spieth round, and afterward he chalked up his good position to smart course management and his sterling short game – of the 12 greens he’s missed, he has gotten up and down all but once (including the two chip-ins) and whiffed just one putt inside 10 feet.

“He’s the prime example of someone whose game is very efficient when he gives himself chances,” said Rory McIlroy, who was grouped with Spieth for the first two rounds here. “Especially today he took them, and then when he got out of position he was able to get it up and down.”

Spieth has such a knack for scoring that he and Greller made a little wager at the start of the season.

Last year, they set the over/under on Spieth’s number of hole-outs at 12. Spieth had 13.

And so this year, the target was set at 13. Anything over that mark, Spieth wins. Loser buys dinner.

He reached 13 last week at Firestone with a most Spiethian birdie: tugged drive into the rough, flier over the green, and then a rammed chip that would have raced 10 feet past.

“Anything from now on is a win,” he boasted afterward. “I've got it.”

Two days later, he won the bet.

“It felt nice,” he said.

They can add two more to the total this week … or is it four?

Greller counts major hole-outs as double, so he figures Spieth actually has 18 this season.

One thing is certain: Next year, he won’t set the bar so low.

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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.