Spieth a master of preparation

By Ryan LavnerAugust 12, 2015, 10:42 pm

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – There are obvious benefits to those practice-round money games: bragging rights, hitting shots that matter, and, yes, a little extra pocket change when things work out, as they did here Tuesday, with Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas handing Phil Mickelson and Rickie Fowler a 1-up defeat.

But for Spieth, the more important work was done Wednesday at Whistling Straits. Throwing down balls in gnarly rough, sizing up runoffs and slashing out of the inconsistent bunkers, he treated his nine-hole practice round like a complex math equation, testing all of the variables, trying to find the best solution.

It was Spieth at his tactical best, and it’s one of the biggest – and most underappreciated – reasons why he has climbed to No. 2 in the world in only his third year as a pro.

“He’s always been really high on the golf IQ spectrum,” said Spieth’s instructor, Cameron McCormick. “I call it tactical intelligence. He takes in information really, really quickly, and he can go from very broad to very narrow and center in on it, whether he’s looking at a yardage book, or whether he’s played the hole only once.”

Indeed, for all of Spieth's myriad gifts – his envy-inducing short game, his magical putter, his relentless attitude – this is arguably his most impressive: He’s proven to be a quick study.

Spieth began the 2013 season with no status on any major tour, playing courses that he had seen only on TV. Rookies typically struggle their first year out as they adjust to life on the road or a full schedule, but not this kid. He shot 13 rounds of 65 or better, won once, posted three runners-up, recorded nine top-10s and 13 top-25s and, perhaps most impressive, missed only five cuts.

How was he able to adapt so quickly?

PGA Championship: Full-field tee times

“I didn’t really have another choice,” he said. “You either do it or you don’t have a job. If you don’t learn quickly how to play golf courses that you haven’t played before, you’re going to be very, very far behind. I don’t know how, other than just realizing that it was live or die."

In preparation for his first Masters, Spieth played Augusta National with McCormick in fall 2013. One of McCormick’s biggest takeaways was that, surprisingly, it didn’t require a tremendous amount of prior knowledge. Sure enough, Spieth shot par or better all four rounds in his debut, shared the 54-hole lead and tied for second. He won the very next year, of course, and tied the tournament scoring record.

TPC Sawgrass is one of the most diabolical layouts on the Tour schedule, a design that usually requires years of trial and error to learn the best angles of attack. Yet in his first start there as a pro, Spieth shared the third-round lead.

Course knowledge can be just as important as form at St. Andrews. Spieth had seen the most famous links in the world only once in person, during a round with some of his Walker Cup teammates in 2011, and then on his home simulator. He arrived for the biggest tournament of his life late on a Monday, played a full practice round, and added 28 more holes over the next two days.

After playing the Wednesday practice round on the Old Course, it became apparent to McCormick that they hadn’t gathered all of the information that they needed. With the shifting winds, they didn’t know the line for the layup to the left of the fairway on the par-5 14th. It was a point of reference that Spieth would need to draw from, so after the round caddie Michael Greller headed back out to the hole and jotted down a few notes.

The next day, with all of the Grand Slam hype swirling around him, Spieth shot 67 in the opening round.

“It’s about paying attention,” said McCormick, who was recently named the PGA National Teacher of the Year. “The player that maybe is complacent and talking to his player partners, the player who maybe is more interested in the social aspect just as much as the exercise of playing a practice round, that player might miss that. And then he might get to that situation and say, ‘Now what do I do?’ You hit a shot with certain unknowns. And when you’re competing and trying to beat the best players in the world, unknowns are bad.”

Which is why Spieth tries hard to eliminate them, running through every possible scenario, even if only for a few seconds. On the fourth green Wednesday, he looked back down the fairway, almost as if there was a thought cloud above his head.

“He was thinking to himself: 'Is this a realistic place that I can miss it? Will it roll up into the rough or will it stay in this collection area?'” McCormick said later.

“That’s telling to the type of tactician that he is, and how he can deduce very quickly what is the likely miss and where do I need to practice from.”

This wasn’t a trait drilled into Spieth by his instructor. Heck, during Spieth’s junior days, McCormick traveled with his pupil to only a few of the big tournaments each year, such as the U.S. Junior and U.S. Amateur.

“It’s his own intelligence that he’s developed over time, just recognizing that I need to create a competitive advantage,” McCormick said.

Well, Spieth has certainly put that advantage to good use this season. In the first three majors, he is a combined 37 under par – 14 shots better than the next best player, Louis Oosthuizen.

Now comes the PGA, held on another venue where, on paper, he would seem to be at a disadvantage, having never played the course in competition. The last time Whistling Straits hosted a major, in 2010, Spieth was entering his senior year of high school.

He saw the course for the first time a few days before the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, in a 40-mph wind. This week, when he wasn’t taking money off Rickie and Phil, he was playing shots from the edge of the greens, where the bluegrass blends into the fescue and makes chipping difficult.

Said McCormick: “There are mistakes that you can prevent by making sure that you’re observant rather than playing practice rounds where maybe they’re more into the exercise of playing 18 holes than what can do I today that will save me a stroke tomorrow? That’s the attitude Jordan takes. Always has.”

And it’s one that’s proven quite successful.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)