Spieth kept Grand Slam quest alive to very end

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2015, 9:23 pm

ST. ANDREWS, Scotland – A Grand Slam quest that spanned 99 days unraveled in three minutes Monday.

It could have ended hours or days earlier – after the five three-putts in the wind-blown second round … or the four-putt in the final round … or the countless missed opportunities that caused brief fits of rage – but the ghost of Hogan teased Jordan Spieth until the very end, right down to his final full shot on the Old Course.

Cruel game.

Fifty-five years after Arnold Palmer arrived at St. Andrews hoping to capture the third leg of the Slam, only to come up one shot short, another hugely popular American superstar watched someone else hoist a claret jug that easily could have been his.

Tied for the lead on the 71st hole, Spieth pushed a 6-foot par putt and then hit a wayward drive that left him an awkward yardage to a dicey pin. The ensuing par left him at 14-under 274, one shot out of the three-man playoff, eventually won by Zach Johnson

No one has ever gotten closer to matching Ben Hogan's trifecta in 1953. 

“It won’t hurt too bad,” Spieth said, his hands stuffed into his blue pants pockets. “I made a lot of the right decisions down the stretch and certainly closed plenty of tournaments out, and this just wasn’t one of those. It’s hard to do that every single time. I won’t beat myself up too bad because I do understand that.”

It wasn’t just talk either – he waited around for more than an hour afterward just so he could hug Johnson and congratulate him on a bucket-list major.

“He’s a phenomenal talent,” Johnson would say later, “but he’s a better person than he is golfer.” 

The phrase Spieth has used repeatedly during both summer Opens is “free rolling.” He’s playing to win, of course, but the fact that he already has two majors in the bag this year freed him up to take a few extra chances.

“There’s really no downside,” he said here Sunday night. “If we have a chance to win and we don’t execute, then we’re going to be OK.”

That doesn’t mean this loss was easy to stomach.

Because after blowing away the field at Augusta and then watching Dustin Johnson crumble on the 72nd green at Chambers Bay, this time it was Spieth who let one get away.

The greatest irony? His magical short game – his greatest strength – was the part that let him down the most in his quest for a third major in a row.

Ranked first on Tour in three-putt avoidance, Spieth’s speed control was off all week, leading to a career-worst 37 putts in the second round (including five three-putts) and a ghastly four-putt on the eighth green Monday.

“I think my biggest advantage over anybody in the world is my first-putt proximity,” he said, “and it certainly cost me at least a couple of shots.”

Yet the most fearsome version of Spieth is when he has red ass – when he quickens his pace and he chats off caddie Michael Greller’s ear and he fidgets with the bottom button on his polo. He was so ticked Sunday that he took out his aggression on his golf bag.

“I couldn’t hold it in,” he said. “I wasn’t going to break a club or throw a club. I didn’t want to hit Michael, so I figured I’d hit my golf bag.”

He promptly birdied his next three holes, and four of his next six, to come home in 32 and sit just one off the lead heading into the final day.

Spieth opted for a less violent release in the final round, flinging his ball into the gorse after the four-putt double on 8, but it proved just as effective. Needing to rebound quickly, he rolled in a 20-footer and nipped a wedge to 6 feet on the next two holes to gain back those precious strokes.

Turning back into the wind at St. Andrews, he strung together five consecutive pars to stay in the hunt. Then came the 16th, where he poured in a 50-footer that was tracking all the way. Spieth raised his putter when the ball was 15 … 10 … 5 feet away, and then he punched the air, and the grandstand shook, and suddenly, at 15 under, tied for the lead, all of the mistakes were erased and it all felt possible again.

Did the thoughts of the claret jug, of matching Hogan, of eventually tying Jones, enter his mind then?

Because it had to.

Because it’s only human nature.

“Not really,” Spieth said. “No.”

The task ahead was too difficult to consider any of the historical implications.

After hitting a drive down an adjacent fairway, he studied his long approach into the most famous par 4 in the world, the brutally difficult Road Hole that had surrendered just a single birdie Sunday, and only nine all week.

His goal was to make 4, somehow, and he had 240 yards to the flag, into a cold wind and pesky mist. “I don’t think I could hit driver that far,” he said, and so he opted for a 4-iron that he knuckled into the first cut of the right rough, the only reasonable angle into the treacherous final-round hole location.

His pitch landed softly on the green, checked near the cup and rolled out about 6 feet. He has made 77 percent of his putts from that range this season, one of the most proficient on Tour, but on this rare occasion he missed.

He claimed it wasn’t because of the pressure.

“I just didn’t hit a great putt there,” he said, nor did he hit a great drive three minutes later, when it all came undone.

Needing birdie, nothing less, he was too quick in his transition and yanked his tee shot way left. He grimaced and extended his left arm, signaling his foul ball. He bent over, tapped his tee twice with his driver and swiped at the soggy turf.

“Who would have thought a drive on 18 was going to be what really hurt me at the end there?” he said later. “It’s kind of hard to not hit a good one on that hole.”

Fans in the grandstands applauded his entire walk up the fairway, a rock star closing out his set, and Spieth gave a single tip of his blue cap. The poorly positioned drive took lob wedge out of his hands, and he marched all the way up to the green, to the exact spot where he wanted his ball to land, just over the top of the ridge, because any slight miscue meant the difference between a short birdie putt to tie and a hit-and-hope from down below the green, the Costantino Rocca putt, in the Valley of Sin.

“Up and down for a playoff,” he told Greller.

A quick-triggered photographer snapped Spieth in his backswing, and he was forced to reset, a problem Hogan never had. His three-quarter shot landed atop the ridge, nearly perfect, but it had too much spin and rolled back down the slope. Slogging toward the green, he put his left hand over his head.

A man shouted from an old stone building.

“Come on, Spieth. We believe!”

He peered into his yardage book, consulted with Greller and stalked the putt from every angle. He gave his long birdie putt a run, and it looked good for a while, but it slid by the left edge. His bid for the Slam was over.

Spieth gave Greller a quick handshake, tousled his thinning hair, and congratulated and comforted fellow playing competitor Jason Day on an Open well played.

The fans in the 18th grandstand gave Spieth a standing ovation as he walked off the green, and the kid returned the favor, clapping and thanking them with a thumbs-up.

Afterward, Spieth met with the media and thoughtfully assessed how he played, what he could have done differently. Exiting the flash area, he spotted a young fan who had climbed onto his father’s shoulders and poked his head over the chain-link fence. They held out a piece of paper and asked for an autograph.

“Slam next year,” the man said.

Spieth smiled.

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, GolfChannel.com takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time Web.com winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Web.com Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry