'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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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.