Spieth eager to put closing experience to good use

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2017, 8:54 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – There was a brief moment of suspense Saturday, a few seconds when Jordan Spieth’s shot into the 18th hole at Royal Birkdale hung up in the cool, damp air and drifted right, destined for the bunker. Matt Kuchar had just cut into his deficit, again, and now he seemed on the verge of seizing the momentum after his approach skirted past the cup and rolled 10 feet away.

Spieth looked disgusted with his second shot. He started walking after it, head down, and was genuinely surprised to hear the cheers of the capacity crowd. His ball had somehow crept over the bunker and settled atop a little knob, 20 feet from the cup.

“I was happily shocked,” he said.

It was the kind of little break that Spieth has gotten all week, but the reason why he’s in control of this 146th Open Championship, the reason why he’s just 18 holes away from capturing the third leg of the career Grand Slam, is that he has capitalized. Eyeing up his birdie putt, there was little doubt about the outcome.

“That one just felt good looking at it,” he said. “With a few feet to go, it was going to go in. It was a good feeling.”

Even better was what happened next. Kuchar’s putt from close range caught the left edge of the cup and stayed out, and just like that Spieth had turned what looked like a one-shot lead into a three-shot advantage on Kuchar and a six-shot cushion on the rest of the field.

“I’m extremely pleased,” said Spieth, who shot 65 and is at 11-under 199. “I couldn’t ask for much more.”

And so here comes the moment Spieth and every golf fan has been waiting for ever since he rinsed two shots in Rae’s Creek 15 months ago. It’s another lead at another major, another opportunity to show that scar tissue can heal, another chance to prove that he won’t be defined by the worst nine holes of his career.

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Eight of the last nine occasions that Spieth has held the lead on the PGA Tour, he has gone on to win. The lone exception, of course, was the final round of the 2016 Masters, when he took a five-shot lead at the turn and wound up three shots behind. The collapse dogged him all year, and he understandably grew irritated at the constant reminders. That he didn’t factor in a major the rest of ’16, and then squandered another chance at a green jacket this April, only fueled the talk that part of his mystique had been lost.

On Saturday, though, when he was inevitably asked about Augusta, he offered one of his most thoughtful answers to date on the topic.

“I’m in a position where it can be very advantageous, just everything I’ve gone through – the good, the bad, and everything in the middle,” he said. “I understand that leads can be squandered quickly, and I also understand how you can keep on rolling on one.

“So it was a humbling experience that I thought at the time could serve me well going forward. If I don’t win tomorrow, it has nothing to do with that – it has to do with it was someone else’s day, and I didn’t play as well as I should have. And if I win tomorrow, it has nothing to do with that, either. You’re learning, and it all goes into the mental process.”

Spieth has won four titles worldwide since the ’16 Masters, most recently in his last start at the Travelers Championship, where he won for the first time, he said, feeling uneasy with his putter. All of those experiences will prove beneficial on Sunday, as the 23-year-old attempts to become the second-youngest player in the modern era (behind only Jack Nicklaus) to capture three majors, but Sunday at The Open will be his biggest gut check yet.

Working in Spieth’s favor is that no one has been in this position more often over the past few years. He has held at least a share of the lead at a major 13 times since the beginning of 2015 – six more than any other player. All of that big-game experience is invaluable, especially compared to Kuchar, who at age 39 is playing in a Sunday final pairing at a major for the first time.

Spieth has grown comfortable in an uncomfortable setting.

“It’s a different feeling,” he said, “and one that’s harder to sleep with than the other way around because you feel like you’ve got to almost change the way you do things. You almost see the finish line, and you control your own destiny. Sometimes that can be a big thing on your mind, versus I need help and I’ll just go out there and try to play well. … But I wouldn’t rather be in any other position than where we’re at. We have an opportunity to have a really special day on this golf course tomorrow, and I’m excited about it.”

His position seemed precarious during the final hour of the third round. 

Kuchar trailed by two shots for much of the day but finally pulled even on the 15th green. Spieth’s 60-footer for eagle had raced by the cup, leaving a tricky putt with the hole cut on a crown. “A scary one,” he said. But Spieth sank the putt and looked directly at caddie Michael Greller as he pumped his fist. His lead soon ballooned to three shots, after Kuchar made double bogey on 16.

Kuchar got up and down on 17 to trim Spieth’s lead to two, but he couldn’t answer the dagger on the last.

“That’s expected with Jordan,” Kuchar shrugged.

There went any Open suspense. It’s closing time for Spieth.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.