Spieth comes up short at Torrey Pines

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 27, 2014, 2:17 am

SAN DIEGO – Jordan Spieth sighed deeply before stepping onto the podium Sunday at Torrey Pines.

His face was smudged with sunscreen.

His hands were stuffed in his pockets.

His mind appeared in overdrive.

That flashy second round with the world No. 1? Oh, by now, it seemed but a distant memory. Instead, what Spieth will take away from his week here are the bad shots, the driver woes, the cracks in his mental game, the overwhelmingly lost feeling.

Up on that podium Spieth talked not about his fast start but his sluggish finish. He revealed that he felt “very comfortable” all weekend. That he “didn’t feel nervous at all.” That there was “no tension.” That, in the end, he “just didn’t have my stuff.”

Staked to his first outright 36-hole lead on the PGA Tour, the 20-year-old wunderkind shot 75-75 on the weekend at the Farmers Insurance Open. No one in the top 45 had a worse final round than Spieth. Just like that, he sank to joint 19th. 

There is a rush to anoint the kid as the next superstar, and there remains plenty of evidence that he’ll reach headliner status soon, if he hasn’t already.

After all, Spieth has been a winner at every level, from the peewee ranks (multiple U.S. Junior titles) to the college campus (NCAA champion in lone full season at Texas) to the pros (John Deere Classic). Here at Torrey Pines, he was vying to become the youngest two-time PGA Tour winner since 1932.

But such hastiness tends to obscure the fact that he’s still just 20 – with a lifetime full of successes and disappointments ahead. He’s still learning how to win and, more often than not, lose, since this was the 12th time in the past 10 months that he had started a weekend round inside the top 10.

On Friday, Woods, who knows a bit about outsized expectations as a young star, remarked that one of the reasons that Spieth is such a great putter is that he rolls the ball with reckless abandon. His mind wasn’t cluttered with old feelings and bad thoughts.

“You haven’t experienced enough yet, you know?” Woods said.

Twenty-seven starts into his PGA Tour career, this one likely the most disappointing, Spieth continues to supply the memory bank.

This week, he played the first two rounds alongside FedEx Cup leader Jimmy Walker and Woods – the first time he’s played with the 14-time major champion in competition. Afterward, Spieth learned that he wasn’t “intimidated by any means,” and he ended up dusting his childhood idol by eight shots.

“It’s not something he’s going to dwell on,” his caddie, Michael Greller, said after that round. “He’s going to play with Tiger for a long time, hopefully.”

That confidence waned over the weekend, though, when Spieth began to get out of sync with his driver. (It didn’t help, of course, that he “tweaked” his ankle at some point during Friday’s round, making it difficult to properly load onto his right side.)

This weekend, on the more punishing South Course – which featured long, gnarly rough a few feet off the fairway – Spieth hit just 12 of 28 fairways, leading to only 10 greens hit each of the last two days.

“When I’m struggling with my driver, mentally, it’s very difficult for me to stay neutral and refocus and finish off a good round,” he said. “It’s something I really need to work on.

“It’s a detriment to my success – learning how to get over it and find a go-to shot. Typically, I can, and this is really the first event where I just had no idea where the ball was going to go."

Look at the 18th hole, he said. Spieth pulled an 8-iron for a lay-up, with a 30-yard-wide landing area, and missed the fairway by 10 yards. “It was a borderline shank,” he said, shaking his head.

The self-critique continued on the podium when he lamented letting “stuff get to my head too easily.”

After Spieth hit his approach through the back on the par-5 sixth, an unwitting photographer stumbled around the green and stepped on his ball, sinking it deep into the grass.

Spieth was alerted of the incident by a group of spectators. “OK, OK,” he told them, clearly perturbed. “Just tell the rules official that when he gets here.”

Spieth was awarded a free drop, but that ball, too, settled down in the thick stuff. He rolled his eyes. After a nice pitch to 5 feet, he tugged the putt and settled for par.

Stewing, he chomped on his gum and fidgeted with the bottom button on his shirt. In the background a few clever fans yelled, “Step on it!” and “Fluffy!”, like the lie in the rough that he previously had enjoyed.

“When that putt missed, it got in my head,” said Spieth, who went on to bogey the next hole (No. 7) and squander birdie opportunities on the upcoming par 5s. He finished at 4-under 284, five shots behind winner Scott Stallings. “I’ll learn from that just to brush it off. There’s nothing I could do about it; I couldn’t prevent it.

“So, all in all, I just really wasn’t mentally ready to win this week.”

And with that, Spieth stepped off the podium and headed toward a line of spectators, Sharpie in hand. Up next is a week of physical therapy and practice and reflection, this humbling weekend – not the 63 with Tiger – weighing heavy on his mind.


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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.

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 four 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. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."