Spieth stresses focus as ever-changing scrutiny swirls

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 15, 2015, 10:38 pm

LAKE FOREST, Ill. – Tiger Woods has come to understand how it works. Now Jordan Spieth is learning all about the modern, 24/7, hyper-social sports media culture.

After all, talk shows need something to discuss for all of those hours … and websites need something to put on all of these blank pages … and social-media managers need something to type with 140 characters or less.

And so earlier this month, when Spieth missed consecutive cuts for the first time in his brilliant career, he scrolled through his Twitter and Instagram feed, past the posts about his beloved Longhorns and Cowboys, and stumbled upon a few pictures of himself. There was a theme: He was annoyed, frustrated, tired.

“It’s actually amazing the amount of pictures photographers must take to get these crazy reactions that randomly you don’t think anybody is around that you’re giving and they capture it,” he said.

Here he smiled.

“It’s not the most flattering of pictures that happen when you’re not playing well.”

And after one of the best major seasons ever, no, Spieth has not played well during this playoff run. Poor opening rounds on tough golf courses have left him with too much work to make up, and as a result he has missed two cuts in a row for the first time as a pro. 

On his personal panic meter, the early exits at the Barclays and Deutsche Bank rate pretty low. He took some time off, attended a few football games, and after a little work says he feels “very confident about where I’m at right this second.”

Can’t blame him, because even after his recent struggles, the two-time major winner is still guaranteed to be among the top five players in the FedEx Cup standings next week at East Lake, giving him a clear shot at the $10 million bonus.


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And besides, Spieth joked that there’s no way his oh-fer can continue here outside Chicago – there is no cut with only a 70-man field.

“I’m happy to be checking into my hotel, and when they ask what day I’m checking out, I can say, ‘I’m checking out on Sunday,’” he said.  

But Spieth’s social-media experience offered a glimpse into a professional athlete’s mindset in these rapidly changing times. The question that prompted all of this was whether he was aware of the “What’s Wrong with Jordan Spieth?!” chatter that has been so prevalent on TV, websites and social media over the past week and a half.

“I’m not aware of the specifics of what Joe sitting on his couch in Montana thinks about my golf game,” he said Tuesday, “but it’s interesting how it’s a what-can-you-do-for-me-now? kind of thing when the spotlight is on. I’m that way with sports teams, so why can’t people be that way with me?”

Now this is where it really gets good, when he brings in the rest of the Tour’s new world order, with Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler.

“Everyone has their opinions, and the hardest thing for me to do is to not react to that and just to say, you know what, two weeks ago, everyone said, ‘You’re the best there is. You’re awesome, man.’ Not a bad thing said. And then Jason wins, and it’s ‘Jason is the best in the world, man. He’s awesome.’

“And then Rickie wins. Rickie wasn’t even what you guys were talking about. You guys were talking about me, Rory and Jason. Rickie wins, and all of a sudden people are coming out of their igloos and they’re saying, ‘Man, that’s my guy. He’s the best in the world.’ It’s just, what can you do for me now?”

He’s right, of course. In this hot-take, pageview- and ratings-driven world, there’s little room for perspective and thoughtful analysis. Patience? Puh-leeze. 

McIlroy made his own observations about the ever-changing narratives during his eight-week break because of injury.

Last year, he was alone at the top.

Then, during the summer, it was Rory and Jordan.

And now? Well, it’s a three- or four-pronged attack, depending on whether you want to lump in the majorless Fowler with the newly formed Big 3. 

“We live in such a world that everything is so reactionary and everything happens so quickly,” McIlroy said at the PGA. “Eras last about six months these days instead of 20 years. With social media and everything having to be instant, it’s the world that we live in.”

Indeed, Spieth, McIlroy and the rest of the Tour’s new stars are simply getting a taste of what Woods has dealt with his entire career.

Even the most scrutinized golfer of all time recently weighed in on the sport’s shifting dynamics: “We didn’t have a Tiger Tracker where everything is tweeted about every shot I hit and where it’s placed. Trust me, I hit some shots and I went through some rounds where it was really bad, but nothing was reported. So things are scrutinized a little bit differently than when I sent through some certain parts of my career, but that is the day and age we live in.”

It’d be reasonable to expect a letdown from Spieth after he became only the third player in history to record top-4 finishes in all four majors, but he swears he’s not dealing with a major hangover.

He was asked the same questions after the Masters, The Players and the U.S. Open. Each time, he responded.

“There wasn’t a letdown this year,” he said. “I just had two bad weeks.”

So, no, his world wasn’t crashing down, and no, the situation wasn’t nearly as bad as his Twitter mentions and Instagram posts would lead you to believe.  

Spieth realizes now that there is only way to stay "relevant" these days: continue to play great golf.

“You just need to keep your head down, stay focused,” he said, “and try and be the guy that people are talking about next week.” 

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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.

@tommyfleetwood_1

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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.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."


Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."