Spieth, McIlroy hope to turn good seasons into great

By Ryan LavnerJuly 26, 2016, 8:42 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – The PGA of America ditched the Glory’s Last Shot tag line a few years ago, at the PGA Tour’s request, because, it reasoned, important golf is still played deep into the fall. (Hello, FedEx Cup.)

That’s true, of course, but the PGA’s former slogan still underscores the importance of this week for players like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, whose outlooks could change dramatically depending on how they fare at Baltusrol.

It’s been a turbulent few months for both superstars, but the numbers suggest they’re far from spiraling toward Armageddon.

McIlroy has a victory and eight top-5s in 15 starts this year.

Spieth has won twice and likely was a solidly struck 9-iron from sliding another green jacket onto his shoulders.

Yet for various reasons, both players enter the year’s final major unfulfilled and unsatisfied.

Asked Tuesday to describe his year in a single word, McIlroy chose "neutral."

“I’m trying to stay as positive as I can,” he added. “I feel like I am positive because my game is in good shape. But I guess I’m just maybe running out of patience a little bit and trying to make it happen.”

His frustration has boiled over at various points over the past few months. In May, he was less-than-enthused about the negative spin regarding his game. In June, he missed the cut at the U.S. Open and blew out of town before speaking with the media. And just two weeks ago at The Open, he slammed his 3-wood and snapped the head after an errant shot.

Surely, he’s desperate to get back to world No. 1, to his winning ways?

“I think you guys are more desperate for it to happen than I am,” McIlroy said at Royal Troon.

Yet in this era of awe-inspiring power players, a year in neutral is oftentimes a year left behind. If McIlroy fails to win the PGA, he’ll have gone two full years without a major. That’s far from an eternity, of course, but it comes at a time when Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson all have taken significant strides. Fair or not, it appears as if McIlroy is lagging behind, which led an ambitious headline writer for The Telegraph (U.K.) to suggest that the former Boy Wonder was in danger of becoming Ringo.

Is it unrealistic, McIlroy was asked, to expect a world-class golfer in today’s environment – with better equipment, better fitness, better depth and talent – to capture a major title every year?

McIlroy believes it’s possible. And he should – from 2011-14, he averaged a major per year.

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“There’s no reason to think that I can’t do that for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Obviously that’s what my benchmark is, and I feel like I can attain that. I have to play my best golf, and sometimes it’s hard to come up with your best golf each and every week. But I definitely think it’s attainable.”

Like McIlroy, Spieth’s toughest challenge this year has been outracing the massive expectations that followed one of the best seasons in recent memory.

Spieth has won twice this year, but history suggested he was due for a market correction after he came up four shots shy of the single-season Grand Slam. Of the 14 players who won two majors in a season, only five returned the next year and added to their Slam total.

Even without his best stuff, Spieth led the Masters by five shots before ultimately coming undone on the back nine. He hasn’t finished inside the top 30 in each of the past two majors, however, only fueling the critics who say he’s mired in a slump.

“I don’t think that I am a better player this year than I was last year,” he said. “I think I’m the same player – I’ve just been getting a bit too frustrated.”

On the course, Spieth has seemed at times both impatient and uncertain, engaging in long, lively chats with caddie Michael Greller in which he overanalyzed each shot and club selection. In hindsight, he said, it served little purpose, other than to drive his pace of play to a screeching halt. In recent weeks, he’s tried to revert back to a “gunslinger” mentality – chose a club, pick a target, pull the trigger – but it could be further proof that his mind is cluttered with unnecessary thoughts.

Spieth has even expressed frustration with some of the negative questions about his game, as if to imply that he’s had a bad year. Though the statistics show that he’s taken a step back with his ball-striking, he’s longer off the tee and more confident in his mid-to-long iron game. And even if he’s not quite as sharp, even if he’s major-less this year, the kid still knows how to get the ball in the hole – his scoring average (69.501) is third-best on Tour.

“I set my own expectations so high,” he said. “So have I met them this year? Not yet. But I still can, based on the goals that we set for the year.”

Which brings us back to the PGA, and to, ahem, Glory’s Last Shot. A FedEx Cup title could pad their already overflowing wallets, and a Ryder Cup victory might bring a sense of collective achievement, but nothing would compare to the satisfaction of capturing another major, of transforming a good year into a great one, of silencing the questions, if only for a few moments.

It’s the only tournament left on their schedules with that singular power.

McIlroy seems to understand the stakes this week at Baltusrol. Grading his season so far, he said it’s either a “B-minus, or a B … but I could change that into an A-plus on Sunday.”

“There’s a lot of golf left, the last major of the year,” he said, “and I want to give it my all to get in the mix and try to win another one of these things before I have to wait another eight months.”

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

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The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

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''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

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The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.

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Defending champ Gana co-leads Latin America Amateur

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 11:20 pm

Toto Gana moved into early position to try to win a return trip to the Masters Saturday by grabbing a share of the first-round lead at the Latin America Amateur Championship.

The defending champ posted a 3-under-par 68 at Prince of Wales Country Club in his native Chile, equaling the rounds of Argentina’s Mark Montenegro and Colombia’s Pablo Torres.

They are one shot ahead of Mexico’s Alvaro Ortiz and Mario Carmona, Argentina’s Horacio Carbonetti and Jaime Lopez Rivarola and the Dominican Republic’s Rhadames Pena.

It’s a bunched leaderboard, with 19 players within three shots of each at the top of the board in the 72-hole event.

“I think I have my game under control,” said Gana, 20, a freshman at Lynn University. “I hit the ball very well, and I also putted very well. So, I am confident about tomorrow.”

The LAAC’s champion will get more than a Masters invitation. He also will be exempt into the The Amateur, the U.S. Amateur and any other USGA event he is eligible to play this year. The champion and players who finish runner-up are also exempt into the final stages of qualifying for The Open and the U.S. Open.

The LAAC was founded by the Masters, the R&A and the USGA, with the purpose of further developing amateur golf in South America, Central America, Mexico and the Caribbean.