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.

PGA Championship: Full-field scores

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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CareerBuilder purse payouts: Rahm wins $1.062 million

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 12:50 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry on the fourth hole of sudden death to win the CareerBuilder Challenger. Here's a look at how the purse was paid out in La Quinta, Calif.:

1 Jon Rahm -22 $1,062,000
2 Andrew Landry -22 $637,200
T3 Adam Hadwin -20 $306,800
T3 John Huh -20 $306,800
T3 Martin Piller -20 $306,800
T6 Kevin Chappell -19 $205,025
T6 Scott Piercy -19 $205,025
T8 Brandon Harkins -18 $171,100
T8 Jason Kokrak -18 $171,100
T8 Sam Saunders -18 $171,100
T11 Harris English -17 $135,700
T11 Seamus Power -17 $135,700
T11 Jhonattan Vegas -17 $135,700
T14 Bud Cauley -16 $106,200
T14 Austin Cook -16 $106,200
T14 Grayson Murray -16 $106,200
T17 Andrew Putnam -15 $88,500
T17 Peter Uihlein -15 $88,500
T17 Aaron Wise -15 $88,500
T20 Ricky Barnes -14 $57,754
T20 Stewart Cink -14 $57,754
T20 Brian Harman -14 $57,754
T20 Beau Hossler -14 $57,754
T20 Charles Howell III -14 $57,754
T20 Zach Johnson -14 $57,754
T20 Ryan Palmer -14 $57,754
T20 Brendan Steele -14 $57,754
T20 Nick Taylor -14 $57,754
T29 Lucas Glover -13 $36,706
T29 Russell Knox -13 $36,706
T29 Nate Lashley -13 $36,706
T29 Tom Lovelady -13 $36,706
T29 Kevin Streelman -13 $36,706
T29 Hudson Swafford -13 $36,706
T29 Richy Werenski -13 $36,706
T36 Jason Dufner -12 $27,189
T36 Derek Fathauer -12 $27,189
T36 James Hahn -12 $27,189
T36 Chez Reavie -12 $27,189
T36 Webb Simpson -12 $27,189
T36 Tyrone Van Aswegen -12 $27,189
T42 Bronson Burgoon -11 $18,983
T42 Ben Crane -11 $18,983
T42 Brian Gay -11 $18,983
T42 Chesson Hadley -11 $18,983
T42 Patton Kizzire -11 $18,983
T42 Hunter Mahan -11 $18,983
T42 Kevin Na -11 $18,983
T42 Rob Oppenheim -11 $18,983
T50 Alex Cejka -10 $14,025
T50 Corey Conners -10 $14,025
T50 Michael Kim -10 $14,025
T50 Kevin Kisner -10 $14,025
T50 Sean O'Hair -10 $14,025
T50 Sam Ryder -10 $14,025
T50 Nick Watney -10 $14,025
T57 Robert Garrigus -9 $13,039
T57 Tom Hoge -9 $13,039
T57 David Lingmerth -9 $13,039
T57 Ben Martin -9 $13,039
T57 Trey Mullinax -9 $13,039
T57 Brett Stegmaier -9 $13,039
T63 Scott Brown -8 $12,449
T63 Wesley Bryan -8 $12,449
T63 Brice Garnett -8 $12,449
T63 Sung Kang -8 $12,449
T67 Talor Gooch -7 $12,095
T67 Tom Whitney -7 $12,095
T69 Matt Every -6 $11,623
T69 Billy Hurley III -6 $11,623
T69 Smylie Kaufman -6 $11,623
T69 Keith Mitchell -6 $11,623
T69 Rory Sabbatini -6 $11,623
T69 Chris Stroud -6 $11,623
75 John Peterson -5 $11,210
76 Abraham Ancer -4 $11,092
77 Ben Silverman 4 $10,974
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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.