The week's storyline: How will Spieth recover?

By Ryan LavnerApril 4, 2017, 8:44 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The shot was struck on Tuesday, not Sunday.

And it was a round for fun, not score.

Jordan Spieth has maintained that he’s not haunted by what happened on the 12th hole at last year’s Masters. That he won’t be defined by the most shocking collapse in tournament history. He tried to prove it yet again Tuesday during a practice round at Augusta National, stuffing his tee shot to a foot – so close he could do one of those hunched, Arnold Palmer-style tap-ins. 

Spieth turned to the patrons, crammed into the grandstand behind the tee, and smirked: “I really could have used that one about 12 months ago.”

Since then, Spieth has been asked incessantly about his travails on the 12th hole, and he has gone through the classic stages of grief. First he shrugged off the meltdown, said that he got over it quickly. Then he became frustrated, tired of the constant questioning and the perception that 2016 was a down year. And finally, he accepted it, chalked up the attention to the 24/7 sports-media culture, and became more guarded in what he offered during his weekly sessions with the press.

Now, two days before the start of the 81st Masters, he just wants to stop talking about it.

“You add them up after 72 [holes],” Spieth said through gritted teeth. “I look forward to getting out there, taking it right over the bunker, just like I can tell you my strategy for any other hole.”

Spieth tried to set the tone early this year. At the SBS Tournament of Champions in Hawaii, Spieth was asked an innocuous question at a pre-tournament news conference. It was Jan. 4.

“Do you find yourself daydreaming about Augusta already?”

Spieth could have answered this question any number of ways – but he decided to do so anecdotally. In vivid detail he recalled the two rounds he played at Augusta National in December, the first time he’d been back to the club since he blew a five-shot lead on the back nine.

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When the group arrived on the tee of the par-3 12th, Spieth was quick to break the ice with his playing partners.

“We have some demons to get rid of here,” he said.

Then he pured an 8-iron to 15 feet. Birdie.

He theatrically pumped his fist and declared, “Demons gone.” He made 2 the next day, too.

By sharing that story, the implication was obvious:

See, I’m over it, guys. No need to talk about it anymore.

If only it were that simple.

The Masters is the biggest golf tournament of the year. It’s the only one with eight months of anticipation. It’s the only one that dominates the sports calendar and draws in casual viewers. And unfortunately for him, How Spieth Recovers is the top storyline.

That much has been reinforced over the past few weeks, as TV networks, websites and magazines revisited the scene in agonizing detail. It’s clear that Spieth has grown tired of rehashing the past, and understandably so. “It will be nice once this year is finished from my point of view, to be brutally honest,” he said recently. But that, again, was wishful thinking.

“It’ll be something he has to prove to himself,” said two-time Masters champion Ben Crenshaw. “We’ve all had our catastrophes around here, but that happened at a bad time, and it was self-inflicted. But you make mistakes like that if you’re a golfer. You learn from it.”

Spieth and those close to him insist that it was merely one bad swing at a bad time, and that it was a minor miracle he was even in position to win back-to-back Masters, given his fatigue from offseason globetrotting and the shaky state of his ball-striking.

“That’s my takeaway,” said Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller. “You have your C-game, but his short game, mentally, he was tough that week. No. 12 is what it is, but what he did the last six holes shows his stubbornness and his will.”

Those attributes should serve him well this week, with all eyes on the 23-year-old as he returns to the Masters – and to the 12th tee for the first time in competition.

“It will be difficult for him to put that out of his mind,” Colin Montgomerie said. “He says he has played the 12th hole in practice and he has come back and birdied it on every occasion. Yeah, but wait until he gets a card and pen in his hand again and see what you do on No. 12.”

There’s reason to believe this time will be different. Unlike last year, when he cracked the face of his driver and struggled with the weak right shot, Spieth has been sharp, especially with his irons, ranking first in strokes gained-approaches.

He began the year with three consecutive top-10s before a dominant victory at Pebble Beach. Since then, however, he hasn’t finished better than 12th in his last four starts, including a surprising missed cut last week in Houston, where he shot a second-round 77.

Spieth chalked it up to a rare off day. Nick Faldo believed it was something deeper.

“That’s why he hasn’t played well this past month, maybe winding himself up a little over it,” Faldo said. “All this attention.”

After missing the cut in Houston, Spieth also made an uncharacteristically brash statement – that “we strike fear” into others at Augusta. That turned some heads, since he is not physically intimidating, or with power and length. But he did have a point: His record here is 2-1-2.

“It’s the best course of the year for him,” Greller said, “and last year doesn’t change that.”

No, but there is scar tissue now that didn’t exist before, and Spieth will continue to be dogged by the memory of last year’s final round until he wins another green jacket.

“He’s got to go down there and deal with it,” Faldo said. “That’s the hardest thing in golf or any sport is when you don’t have an opportunity to come back and deal with it again. You don’t have another chance to square it up again.”

Spieth gets another chance Thursday, when his score on 12 actually begins to count.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.