Spieth wins Open as DJ misses short putt for playoff

By Ryan LavnerJune 22, 2015, 6:49 am

UNIVERSITY PLACE, Wash. – Jordan Spieth stared at the TV in the scoring trailer, wondering if he had thrown it all away.

Only a half hour earlier, it looked like he’d sealed this U.S. Open with a 25-foot slider on 16, a moment so electric that it sent sunburned fans tumbling down the dunes. But now, as Dustin Johnson lined up a 12-foot eagle putt to win, Spieth felt helpless.

“What did I do?” he finally asked his caddie, Michael Greller. “How did I possibly let this happen?”

The simple answer, of course, is that he blew a 6-iron so far right on the 71st hole that he briefly thought it would sail out of bounds. He staggered off the green with a double bogey, and soon his three-shot lead was gone. Though he played two perfect shots to birdie 18, he thought he'd blown the Open and a shot at the Grand Slam. 

“It would have definitely stung,” Spieth said. “It would have stung a lot because it was mine. I controlled my destiny. It would have been tough to swallow.”

Except it was Johnson who was reminded of that feeling Sunday. 

After rushing his eagle putt past the cup, he yanked the 4-foot comebacker to miss the 18-hole playoff, the latest in a series of major-championship crackups.

The ending was so sudden, so surprising, Spieth and Greller didn’t even know how to react. They looked at the screen in silence. Finally, after what seemed like 10 seconds, Greller rose from his chair and said: “Dude, give me a hug. You did it.”

“I’ve never experienced a feeling like this,” Spieth said Sunday night, glancing at the U.S. Open trophy to his left. “Just total shock.”

The 21-year-old is a self-styled golf historian, but even some of these post-round statistics blew him away:

• He’s the youngest Open winner since Bobby Jones in 1923.

• The youngest two-time major champion since Gene Sarazen in 1922.

• The sixth player to capture the Masters and U.S. Open in the same year.

• The first since Jones in 1926 to birdie the 72nd hole to win.

Full-field scores: 115th U.S. Open

“You only get a few moments in your life like this,” he said, “and I recognize that. And to have two (majors) in one year and to still be early in the year, that’s hard to wrap my head around.”

This gripping victory was so different from his romp at the Masters, when he won on talent alone. That week he was flawless, dominant, unrelenting.

He prevailed at Chambers Bay largely because of his patience and toughness, because of his unwavering belief. His second major title revealed less about his skill and more about his character.

“He’s a fighter,” Greller said. “He’s gritty. He’s fiery. He doesn’t give up on any shot. If anything, this week he just validated who I know that he is, which is a world-class player with an unbelievable mind. He’s just a gamer.”

Spieth credited his “winning formula,” but he wasn’t about to reveal trade secrets. All he would concede is that it’s a feeling, a mental attitude, a focus. It allows him to overcome imperfect execution. 

“I’d rather not get into it,” he said with a smile, in case his peers were listening.

Hey, whatever works, because Spieth stamped himself as a once-in-a-generation talent and now will head to St. Andrews as one of the biggest stories in all of sports. Ben Hogan is the only player to win the year's three majors, back in 1953.

“The Grand Slam in one year?” asked Spieth’s father, Shawn. “The dream is still alive.”

And it’s not that far-fetched.

For the first time all week, the focus Sunday was on the players and not the most controversial course in U.S. Open history.

Chambers Bay is visually stunning, but it's also deeply flawed. At least two caddies suffered injuries while attempting to navigate the treacherous terrain. Spectators howled about being unable to see and follow the action, though perhaps that was best, because for the first three days all they would have seen were scores of frustrated players.

Wailing about the course and setup is an Open tradition. The difference this year was the frequency and volume of the criticism, even among the leaders, with practically everyone from Spieth to Rory McIlroy to Gary Player to Old Tom Morris weighing in.

Aside from a few qualms with the setup – most notably, the alternating par on the first and 18th holes – the players’ biggest beef was with the “predominantly” fescue greens that also had patches of poa annua. Henrik Stenson compared the bumpy surfaces to “putting on broccoli.” Player slammed the host venue, called it a “tragedy,” and woofed that one of his fellow course designers, Robert Trent Jones Jr., “had to have one leg shorter than the other” to draw up this place.

Were the greens championship quality? Clearly not, and it shouldn’t have been a surprise. Six temporary greens were used as recently as February, and then the USGA pushed them to the brink too early in Open week, creating an uneven surface. With all of its humps and swales and mounds, Chambers already tested players’ patience because of the inevitable odd bounces and hops; now, regrettably, luck was introduced as a significant factor on the greens.

“We got over it,” Spieth said. “Someone had to hold the trophy. There’s noise around every golf tournament, but someone has to win it. The quicker you realize that and don’t worry about it, the easier it is just to move on with your game and that’s what we try to do.”

A boldfaced champion doesn’t necessarily validate Chambers Bay as a worthy major venue, but the USGA redeemed itself Sunday by setting up the course for pyrotechnics and also playing the difficult 18th as a par 5, not a par 4, as previously intended. It ended up being the stage for the best drama all year.

And once again, it was Johnson on the losing end.

The 30-year-old has long been the most extravagantly gifted player on Tour, a physical freak capable of overwhelming his competition, but his ability to think clearly under pressure has led to a number of high-profile screw-ups.

There was the 2010 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach, where he self-immolated during a Sunday 82. There was the PGA at Whistling Straits later that year, where he took a one-shot lead into the 72nd hole, then infamously grounded his club in a bunker and missed the playoff. And then there was the 2011 Open Championship, where late in the final round he sailed a 2-iron out of bounds to hand the title to Darren Clarke.

Even with victories in eight consecutive seasons, the longest such streak on Tour, Johnson has been labeled a player who doesn’t have the mental fortitude to withstand major pressure.

He cracked in another big spot Sunday, and it was his most crushing loss yet. 

Johnson played flawlessly on the front side, stuffing eight approach shots within 20 feet and opening up a two-shot lead, but a wayward shot into 10 led to a run of three bogeys in four holes. 

Even with all of his miscues and missed opportunities over the last two hours, Johnson still had a chance to win this Open. After Spieth’s double on 17, Johnson ran in an 8-foot birdie putt on the same hole to share the lead. A 353-yard bomb left him only a 5-iron into 18, and he nuked his second shot up the throat of the green and into an area 12 feet above the cup.

His eagle putt missed high, and then his birdie putt missed low, and at long last Johnson and Scott Hoch had something in common.

The crowd was stunned, even conflicted. There was muted applause, sure, but also a few boos. As Johnson stumbled toward his bag, his brother and caddie, Austin, slammed the flag back into the cup. 

“This was just an odd deal,” Spieth said. “Very odd.”

“We were numb, really,” Greller said. “Still are.”

The scoring area was somber. Johnson's fiancée, Paulina Gretzky, wiped away tears from behind black aviators. Once Johnson emerged from the trailer, he never broke stride as he grabbed her hand and bounded up the steps of the gold Ford E-350 passenger van. He skipped the trophy presentation and finally was tracked down near the locker room.

“I did everything that I could,” he attempted to explain later. “I tried my damnedest to get it in the hole and I just couldn’t do it.”

Meanwhile, down below on the 18th green, Spieth hoisted the silver trophy, dedicated the win to his dad and local caddie, and looked ahead to St. Andrews, one of his favorite places in the world.

“Can’t win ’em all unless you win the first two,” he said.

Suddenly, the dream doesn’t seem so improbable. 

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.