Who's the best? Who knows? But Spieth gets it done

By Ryan LavnerJuly 24, 2017, 4:00 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – It’s the Great Barroom Debate of this era: Who would win if the top players in the world all were at their best?

For the past few years, the default answer has been Dustin Johnson or Rory McIlroy, who possess the usual hallmarks of dominance, but it’s time to reassess.

Because what good is all that firepower if they can’t access their potential as consistently as Jordan Spieth?

Since 2015, Spieth has led after 14 rounds in a major. That’s twice as many as Johnson, the world No. 1, and 13 more than McIlroy, whose four major titles (including two eight-shot romps) are the most in this generation.

And that’s only recent context. Through 70 career major rounds played, Spieth has spent more time atop the leaderboard than both Tiger Woods (seven) and Jack Nicklaus (four). Spieth becomes visibly uncomfortable when those comparisons are mentioned, because they’re premature, but they’re still facts. At 23, and now a three-time major champion, he is historically great.

“What those guys have done has transcended the sport,” Spieth said Sunday night at Royal Birkdale, “and in no way, shape or form do I think I’m anywhere near that, whatsoever. So it’s a good start, but there is a long way to go.”

Every player summoned to the media tent early last week was asked the same question, about the string of seven consecutive first-time major winners (the second-longest streak since 1934) and how so little now separates the game’s top tier, thanks to advancements in fitness, technology and coaching. The margins have never been smaller, and yet it is Spieth – the sublime iron player, the demoralizing putter, the on-course tactician – who continuously maximizes his potential, even without awe-inspiring physical gifts.

“Those four or five guys, they never cease to amaze me,” Zach Johnson said. “I’m not going to say they’re Tiger Woods, because they’re not – that’s the best athlete golfer I’ve ever witnessed. But they have some of those intangibles.

“You see it with Jordan. It’s not like Jordan is out there obliterating the golf course with power. But his short game is a joke.”

Unlike DJ or Rory, some aspects of Spieth’s brilliance are difficult to quantify – the clutch gene comes to mind – but his success is a credit to his preparation at home, his on-site homework with swing coach Cameron McCormick and caddie Michael Greller, and also his in-game instincts.

Again and again this shows up, the reason why Spieth has earned trophies anywhere and everywhere. He has won on Bermuda grass and fescue. He has won on the most perfectly manicured course in the world and a burned-out moonscape. He has won in Sydney and Silvis, in Cromwell and Kapalua, in Tampa and his home state of Texas.

Spieth has won shootouts and dogfights, by margins wide and small, from behind and as a frontrunner … and so there was no panic Sunday, no here-we-go-again dread when he twice lost a multiple-shot lead during a bizarre and thrilling final round at The Open.

“We’ve only been out here five years,” Greller said, “but he’s been in enough big-time situations with the greatest pressure to know to slow down.”

And if that meant taking 22 minutes to size up his third shot on the par-4 13th hole, so be it. Spieth apologized to his playing partner, the unfailingly polite Matt Kuchar, for the lengthy delay, then bulldozed him over the closing stretch, going birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to steal the claret jug.

“The Jordan of usual,” Justin Thomas said.

Indeed, all Spieth does is grind, and score, and win – the first player with double-digit PGA Tour wins and three major titles before the age of 24. (His birthday is Thursday.) In an era of titanium-denting machines, Spieth has emerged as the best American player of the post-Tiger era, and it’s not particularly close.

Other players may have a higher ceiling, more swagger, more head-turning firepower.

But someday Spieth will have what they all desire.

The best résumé.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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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.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

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.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

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.