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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Monahan buoyed by Tour's sponsor agreements

By Rex HoggardJanuary 24, 2018, 12:27 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance announced on Tuesday at Torrey Pines a seven-year extension of the company’s sponsorship of the Southern California PGA Tour event. This comes on the heels of Sony extending its sponsorship of the year’s first full-field event in Hawaii through 2022.

Although these might seem to be relatively predictable moves, considering the drastic makeover of the Tour schedule that will begin with the 2018-19 season, it is a telling sign of the confidence corporations have in professional golf.

“It’s a compliment to our players and the value that the sponsors are achieving,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Monahan said that before 2014 there were no 10-year title sponsorship agreements in place. Now there are seven events sponsored for 10-years, and another five tournaments that have agreements in place of at least seven years.

“What it means is, it gives organizations like the Century Club [which hosts this week’s Farmers Insurance Open], when you have that level of stability on a long-term basis that allows you to invest in your product, to grow interest and to grow the impact of it,” Monahan said. “You experienced what this was like in 2010 or seen other tournaments that you don’t know what the future is.S o to go out and sell and inspire a community and you can’t state that we have a long-term agreement it’s more difficult.”

Events like this year’s Houston Open, Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas, and The National all currently don’t have title sponsors – although officials at Colonial are confident they can piece together a sponsorship package. But even that is encouraging to Monahan considering the uncertainty surrounding next season’s schedule, which will include the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March as well as a pre-Labor Day finish to the season.

“When you look back historically to any given year [the number of events needing sponsors] is lower than the typical average,” Monahan said. “As we start looking to a new schedule next year, you get excited about a great schedule with a great group of partners.”

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Day WDs from Farmers pro-am because of sore back

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:07 am

SAN DIEGO – Jason Day has withdrawn from the Wednesday pro-am at the Farmers Insurance Open, citing a sore back.

Day, the 2015 champion, played a practice round with Tiger Woods and Bryson DeChambeau on Tuesday at Torrey Pines, and he is still expected to play in the tournament.

Day was replaced in the pro-am by Whee Kim. 

Making his first start since the Australian Open in November, Day is scheduled to tee off at 1:30 p.m. ET Thursday alongside Jon Rahm and Brandt Snedeker.

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Farmers inks 7-year extension through 2026

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 24, 2018, 12:04 am

SAN DIEGO – Farmers Insurance has signed a seven-year extension to serve as the title sponsor for the PGA Tour event at Torrey Pines, it was announced Tuesday. The deal will run through 2026.

“Farmers Insurance has been incredibly supportive of the tournament and the Century Club’s charitable initiatives since first committing to become the title sponsor in 2010,” PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said.

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“We are extremely grateful for the strong support of Farmers and its active role as title sponsor, and we are excited by the commitment Farmers has made to continue sponsorship of the Farmers Insurance Open for an additional seven years.

In partnership with Farmers, the Century Club – the tournament’s host organization – has contributed more than $20 million to deserving organizations benefiting at-risk youth since 2010. 

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Woods impresses DeChambeau, Day on Tuesday

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 11:27 pm

SAN DIEGO – Bryson DeChambeau played with Tiger Woods for the first time Tuesday morning, and the biggest surprise was that he wasn’t overcome by nerves.

“That’s what I was concerned about,” DeChambeau said. “Am I just gonna be slapping it around off the tee? But I was able to play pretty well.”

So was Woods.

DeChambeau said that Woods looked “fantastic” as he prepares to make his first PGA Tour start in a year.

“His game looks solid. His body doesn’t hurt. He’s just like, yeah, I’m playing golf again,” DeChambeau said. “And he’s having fun, too, which is a good thing.”

Woods arrived at Torrey Pines before 7 a.m. local time Tuesday, when the temperature hadn’t yet crept above 50 degrees. He warmed up and played the back nine of Torrey Pines’ South Course with DeChambeau and Jason Day.

“He looks impressive; it was good to see,” Day told PGATour.com afterward. “You take (Farmers) last year and the Dubai tournament out, and he hasn’t really played in two years. I think the biggest thing is to not get too far ahead, or think he’s going to come back and win straight away.

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“The other time he came back, I don’t think he was ready and he probably came back too soon. This time he definitely looks ready. I think his swing is really nice, he’s hitting the driver a long way and he looks like he’s got some speed, which is great.”

Woods said that his caddie, Joe LaCava, spent four days with him in South Florida last week and that he’s ready to go.

“Before the Hero I was basically given the OK probably about three or four weeks prior to the tournament, and I thought I did pretty good in that prep time,” Woods told ESPN.com, referring to his tie for ninth in the 18-man event.

“Now I’ve had a little more time to get ready for this event. I’ve played a lot more golf, and overall I feel like I’ve made some nice changes. I feel good.”

Woods is first off Torrey Pines’ North Course in Wednesday’s pro-am, scheduled for 6:40 a.m. local time.