Crazy to think Spieth could win Grand Slam this year?

By Ryan LavnerJune 24, 2015, 2:39 pm

Historians and mathematicians agree: Jordan Spieth will not win the Grand Slam this year.

Too many good players. Too many variables. Too much pressure.

Sorry, but I’m still not convinced.

Spieth didn’t just become the fourth player in the past 60 years to win the first two majors of the year. He also showed a primetime television audience of more than 11 million that he’s good enough to become the first Grand Slam winner of the modern era.

Since it’s officially halftime of major season, let’s recap what we know:

Spieth, who turns 22 on July 27, is the youngest player to win both the Masters and U.S. Open. He’s the youngest two-time major winner since Gene Sarazen in 1922. He’s the youngest U.S. Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923.

“That’s a piece of golf history,” he said Sunday night, “and as a golf historian, that’s very special and it gives me goosebumps.”

It gives me reason to believe he’s not done yet.

Everything clicked when Spieth won at Augusta – he pured his shots, made every putt he looked at and strolled around like he owned the place. Nothing came easily at the Open. It was a battle. It was imperfect. He rolled in a clutch putt on 16 and hit two perfect shots at 18, but mostly it was guts and guile.



Both major titles are special; the latter was more revealing.  

Spieth proved that he can win different ways, with his A-game and then something much less. He proved that he can win on a linksy design, which is useful, because the next two majors are played on the most famous links in the world (Old Course) and a neo-links that certainly looks the part (Whistling Straits). And he proved that luck is now squarely on his side, as it was for Tiger in the early 2000s.

Think about everything that went Spieth's way down the stretch at Chambers Bay: Branden Grace, one of the game’s straightest drivers, blocked a tee shot near the railroad tracks when he was tied for the lead; Louis Oosthuizen’s drive on 18 caught the fairway bunker; Spieth's final drive took a soft bounce on the baked-out fairways and came up short of the bunker; and Dustin Johnson’s approach into the last hung on the back slope instead of funneling back toward the hole. Change any of those outcomes, and it’s a different story.

But that’s not how it all unfolded. Spieth won the Open not by playing perfect golf, but by playing well enough and then waiting for others to make mistakes. Somewhere, Jack and Tiger must’ve been smiling.

Spieth isn’t like those legends, at least not yet. He doesn’t dominate and intimidate. You don’t watch him play and marvel at his raw talent. He simply has an uncanny ability to get the ball in the hole; this season he leads the Tour in putting average, putts per round and lag putting. Hey, good golf isn’t always sexy. 

Augusta National and Chambers Bay have little in common, other than they are big ballparks that favor big hitters. Spieth isn’t a bomber – his 291-yard average ranks 69th on Tour – which means he must capitalize on his opportunities, limit his mistakes and lean on his trusty short game.

The scary thing about his U.S. Open performance? “We really grinded,” he said. “I didn’t have my best stuff.”

And yet it was still good enough, the mark of a rare talent.

Now, the sports world’s attention turns to the Old Course at St. Andrews, another course that favors the thumpers who can confidently shape their shots from right-to-left.

Spieth has played there only once, in 2011. Then a freshman at Texas, he and the rest of the U.S. Walker Cuppers stopped by the home of golf on their way to Royal Aberdeen. Because they already have reiterated their commitment to play the week before the Open at the John Deere Classic, Spieth and caddie Michael Greller will have only two-and-a-half days to design a game plan for the biggest tournament of their lives.

It’s also the most unpredictable, with the draw, the bounces and the weather.

Woods won the first two majors of 2002, but he was blown off the course during a wet-and-wild Saturday 81 at Muirfield. Palmer (1960) and Nicklaus (1972) each had a chance to win the third leg of the Slam, but they finished second at the Open, one shot back.

Spieth should receive plenty of resistance from Rory McIlroy, Johnson and the rest of the world’s best, of course, but St. Andrews has a history of crowning golf royalty; Jones, Nicklaus (twice), Seve Ballesteros, Nick Faldo and Woods (twice) are among those who have won the Open there. The Golden Child may be next in line. 

Spieth says his greatest obstacle to the claret jug will be blocking out the noise, managing the hype, staying focused.

His entourage consists of his family, his caddie, his girlfriend, his manager and a few high school friends. Together, they weathered the uncomfortable storm of leading the Masters in wire-to-wire fashion. Two months later, most of the clan went through a similar experience at the U.S. Open; Spieth then overcame the late-round adversity with Greller pumping positive thoughts into his ear.

Spieth’s team supports him, but also keeps him grounded. They won’t let him get sidetracked. Not with this much history at stake.

“Of course the expectations will continue to grow,” said Spieth’s father, Shawn, after the Open. “Most important for me, for us, is to keep it in perspective. He’s still 21. He’s got a lot of golf to play ahead of him. As long as he keeps it in perspective, enjoys it and has fun, he should have fun for a long time.”

The math wizards at FiveThirtyEight.com give Spieth about a 1 percent chance of completing the Grand Slam, and that’s probably true.

Only Ben Hogan, in 1953, won the first two majors and then picked off the Open. There’s too many good players. Too many variables. Too much pressure.

Jack and Tiger couldn’t do it. So there’s no way a 21-year-old could win the first four majors of his career in a four-month span …

Right?

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.