'One bad swing' sends Spieth to brutal Masters loss

By Ryan LavnerApril 11, 2016, 2:08 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – All was quiet on the Augusta National practice area Sunday afternoon, except for the occasional thwack of a golf ball meeting iron.

It was 2:25 p.m. The final tee time was fast approaching.

Three men in white jumpsuits swept balls off the putting green. A few others raked divots into a pile. A lone camera crew was positioned 10 yards away, their lens fixed on the only player still working. All of the other competitors had long ago departed, but about 100 fans remained in their plastic seats, watching silently.

The range on Masters Sunday is the last place to search for answers – and yet there was Jordan Spieth, 20 minutes before his tee time, working and grinding and trying to find a go-to shot to take to the course.

As range sessions go, this one was inauspicious. Spieth’s longtime swing coach, Cameron McCormick, had decided on his own to fly in from Dallas. The 22-year-old was leading the Masters for the seventh consecutive round, but his sloppy finish Saturday, when he dropped three shots on the last two holes, had shaken his confidence. Up by four at one point, he entered the final day only one clear of Smylie Kaufman, a Masters rookie, and 11 players, including Danny Willett, were within five.

Spieth, McCormick and caddie Michael Greller arrived more than three hours before the final tee time Sunday, their normal routine on major weekends with so much time to kill. But it was clear early on that something was awry, with Spieth grumbling about the plane of his swing and the crispness of his contact and the shots that drifted to the right.

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At one point, McCormick lined up behind Spieth, bent over at the waist and put his hands on his knees, checking his alignment. With each poor strike, Spieth’s frustration mounted. After pushing one iron shot, he circled around McCormick and returned to his bag, rubbing his fingertips on his towel, hoping to slow down his mind.

In that quiet moment, Spieth couldn’t possibly have known what would unfold over the next three hours:

That he would find his swing.

That he would sprint five shots clear.

And that, improbably, he would suffer the worst collapse in Masters history.

In the span of 13 minutes, Spieth crashed from first place to fourth with a shocking meltdown on the sinister 12th hole. After leading outright for 58 holes, he finished three shots behind Willett.

“Big picture,” Spieth said afterward, “this one will hurt. It will take a while.”

That he even had a chance to win this 80th Masters was a testament to his grit and tenacity.

Spieth claimed that he walked to the first tee Sunday with confidence, but he played tentatively to start and needed a few fortuitous breaks to stay in front. When he finally started swinging with conviction, he ran off four birdies in a row, burying a 15-footer on 6, stuffing an approach on 7, making a stress-free birdie on 8 and rolling in a 21-foot sidewinder on 9.

"A dream-come-true front nine," he said.

Leading by five, it was over. Done. A size-42 jacket, same as last year …

Except Spieth fanned an approach into the greenside bunker on 10 and made bogey.

And then he sliced his drive into the right trees on 11 and missed an 8-footer for par.

And then, of course, he stepped to the tee on the par-3 12th, the most daunting hole in championship golf, and rinsed not one but two shots, including an 80-yard wedge that was chunked so badly that it barely reached Rae’s Creek. Spieth carded a quadruple-bogey 7 – a Normanesque collapse in two swings.

“It’s unfortunate what happened,” said Smylie Kaufman, who was paired with Spieth in the final group. “It just kind of stunk to watch it.”

Spieth led for a record seven consecutive rounds at Augusta, cracking the code here faster than a cryptographer. But for the second time in three years, he will be haunted by an uncommitted tee shot in the heart of Amen Corner.

“The swing,” he said, “just wasn’t quite there to produce the right ball flight.”

And, to be fair, it wasn’t there all week.

Even though he was on the verge of becoming the youngest three-time major winner since 1923, Spieth stewed Saturday evening when he met with the press. A half hour earlier, he made an unforced error on 17 and butchered the 18th to add an unexpected dose of drama to the toughest Masters in nearly a decade. From four shots ahead to one, it now was anyone’s game Sunday, and Spieth joked that he’d “go break something really quick” and be fine.

Instead, he received a text from McCormick, his coach for the past decade, who was back home in Dallas: Hey, would you like it if I came back? Spieth said sure, that it couldn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on his swing, but it seemed a curious decision, and a troubling sign, because he prides himself on being a self-fixer. Through three rounds, though, only six players had hit fewer fairways than Spieth (66 percent), and just four had found fewer than his 32 greens. With a “B-minus game tee to green,” he was relying on his strategy, wedge play and putter. Eventually, he cracked.

Three times this week Spieth forged at least a four-shot lead. All three times, he backed up to the field, gave hope to the hopeless, and on Sunday, it finally caught up with him.

After his implosion on 12, Spieth turned to Greller, hoping for a spark and some solace.

"Buddy," he said, "it seems like we’re collapsing."

Despite going nine holes without a par, Spieth rallied with birdies on both back-nine par 5s to stay alive. He arrived on the 16th tee needing two more birdies for a playoff with Willett, who was already in the clubhouse at 5-under 283 after a flawless 67.

Spieth flagged his tee shot on 16 to stir the crowd, but his 8-footer never had a chance. Another errant approach on 17 led to a bogey, dooming Spieth to a tie for second and touching off Willett’s celebration inside Butler Cabin.

“There’s no give up in us,” Spieth said. “We tried, but it just was one bad swing.”

On the last hole, he crouched near the edge of the fairway, hung his head and replayed how it had slipped away, how he had come home in 41. Approaching the green, he received a standing ovation, but it looked, sounded and felt nothing like last year, nothing at all.

Neither did the green jacket ceremony.

With his hands stuffed in his pockets, he staggered over to the putting green for the presentation. In a cruel twist of fate, it was Spieth, the defending champion, who slipped the blazer onto Willett’s shoulders. He even smoothed out the winner's collar.

“I can’t think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience,” he said.

Spieth's team took the loss particularly hard. McCormick, Greller and Spieth’s father, Shawn, gathered on the perfectly manicured lawn outside the clubhouse for a group hug, but they were in no mood to talk afterward.

Spieth gracefully answered questions, shook hands with a few members and rushed upstairs to the Champions Locker Room to collect his belongings. Before departing in a silver Mercedes SUV, he cracked, with a hint of sarcasm: “They just told me I can’t take my green jacket with me.”

No, stunningly, on this day a different champion was fitted.

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McCoy earns medalist honors at Web.com Q-School

By Will GrayDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 am

One year after his budding career was derailed by a car accident, Lee McCoy got back on track by earning medalist honors at the final stage of Web.com Tour Q-School.

McCoy shot a final-round 65 at Whirlwind Golf Club in Chandler, Ariz., to finish the 72-hole event at 28 under. That total left him two shots ahead of Sung-Jae Im and guaranteed him fully-exempt status on the developmental circuit in 2018.

It's an impressive turnaround for the former University of Georgia standout who finished fourth at the 2016 Valspar Championship as an amateur while playing alongside Jordan Spieth in the final round. But he broke his wrist in a car accident the day before second stage of Q-School last year, leaving him without status on any major tour to begin the year.

McCoy was not the only player who left Arizona smiling. Everyone in the top 10 and ties will be exempt through the first 12 events of the new Web.com Tour season, a group that includes former amateur standouts Curtis Luck (T-3), Sam Burns (T-10) and Maverick McNealy (T-10).

Players who finished outside the top 10 but inside the top 45 and ties earned exemptions into the first eight events of 2018. That group includes Cameron Champ (T-16), who led the field in driving at this year's U.S. Open as an amateur, and Wyndham Clark (T-23).

Everyone who advanced to the final stage of Q-School will have at least conditional Web.com Tour status in 2018. Among those who failed to secure guaranteed starts this week were Robby Shelton, Rico Hoey, Jordan Niebrugge, Joaquin Niemann and Kevin Hall.

Els honored with Heisman Humanitarian Award

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 11:41 pm

The annual Heisman Trophy award ceremony is one of the biggest moments in any football season, but there was a touching non-football moment as well on Saturday night as Ernie Els received the Heisman Humanitarian Award.

The award, which had been announced in August, recognized Els' ongoing efforts on behalf of his Els for Autism foundation. Els received the award at Manhattan's PlayStation Theater, where Oklahoma quarterback Baker Mayfield won the Heisman Trophy.

Els, 47, founded Els for Autism in 2009 with his wife after their son, Ben, was diagnosed with autism. Their efforts have since flourished into a 26-acre campus in Jupiter, Fla., and the creation of the Els Center for Excellence in 2015.

The Heisman Humanitarian Award has been given out since 2006. Past recipients include NBA center David Robinson, NFL running back Warrick Dunn, soccer star Mia Hamm and NASCAR driver Jeff Gordon.

A native of South Africa, Els won the U.S. Open in 1994 and 1997 and The Open in 2002 and 2012. He has won 19 times on the PGA Tour and was inducted into the World Golf Hall of Fame in 2011.

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Monday finish for Joburg Open; Sharma leads by 4

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 10, 2017, 8:57 pm

Rain, lightning and hail pushed the Joburg Open to a Monday finish, with India’s Shubhankar Sharma holding a four-stroke lead with 11 holes to play in Johannesburg.

Play is scheduled to resume at 7:30 a.m. local time.

South Africa’s Erik van Rooyen will have a 3-foot putt for birdie to move within three shots of Sharma wen play resumes at the Randpark Golf Club. Sarma is at 22 under par.

Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland and James Morrison of England are tied for third at 14 under. Pulkkanen has 10 holes remaining, Morrison 11.

The top three finishers who are not already exempt, will get spots in next year’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.



Stricker, O'Hair team to win QBE Shootout

By Will GrayDecember 10, 2017, 8:55 pm

It may not count in the official tally, but Steve Stricker is once again in the winner's circle on the PGA Tour.

Stricker teamed with Sean O'Hair to win the two-person QBE Shootout, as the duo combined for a better-ball 64 in the final round to finish two shots clear of Graeme McDowell and Shane Lowry. It's the second win in this event for both men; Stricker won with Jerry Kelly back in 2009 while O'Hair lifted the trophy with Kenny Perry in 2012.

Stricker and O'Hair led wire-to-wire in the 54-hole, unofficial event after posting a 15-under 57 during the opening-round scramble.

"We just really gelled well together," Stricker said. "With his length the first day, getting some clubs into the greens, some short irons for me, we just fed off that first day quite a bit. We felt comfortable with one another."

Full-field scores from the QBE Shootout

Stricker won 12 times during his PGA Tour career, most recently at the 2012 Tournament of Champions. More recently the 50-year-old has been splitting his time on the PGA Tour Champions and captained the U.S. to a victory at the Presidents Cup in October. O'Hair has four official Tour wins, most recently at the 2011 RBC Canadian Open.

Pat Perez and Brian Harman finished alone in third, four shots behind Stricker and O'Hair. Lexi Thompson and Tony Finau, the lone co-ed pairing in the 12-team event, finished among a tie for fourth.