Golf's biggest names want their name behind Byron

By Ryan Reiterman May 17, 2017, 7:39 pm

IRVING, Texas – The theme of this year’s AT&T Byron Nelson is “One Last Round.”

After 35 years in Las Colinas, the Nelson is moving next year to Trinity Forest, a brand new Coore-Crenshaw design south of downtown Dallas.

It will be a bittersweet week for many players who have frequented this event, including the four highest-ranked players in the field – No. 1 Dustin Johnson, No. 4 Jason Day, No. 5 Sergio Garcia and No. 6 Jordan Spieth – who all have fond memories of the TPC Four Seasons.

As a high school junior and reigning U.S. Junior Amateur champion, Spieth received a sponsor’s invite in 2010 to a tournament he first attended when he was 5 years old. Over the course of four days, Spieth went from a nice little story – local amateur gets shot against the pros – to a household name with his T-16 finish.

It wasn’t just Spieth’s rounds of 68-69-67-72 that stood out. It was the way he carried himself and spoke like a seasoned pro even though he was competing in (and winning) a high school event a week earlier.

"I don't want to think of myself as the amateur out here,” Spieth said after the second round in 2010. “I want to think of myself as a contender."

Spieth wasn’t the only player to grab headlines that week. Jason Day captured his first PGA Tour title at the 2010 Nelson, famously jumping into the arms of his caddie and coach, Colin Swatton, after securing the victory.

Both Day and Spieth have gone on to become No. 1 in the world. Day won five times in 2015, including his first major at the PGA Championship where he beat Spieth by three strokes. Normally, Day would have easily been named the Player of the Year, but Spieth also won five times with two majors (Masters, U.S. Open) and the Tour Championship.

Day has 10 PGA Tour victories, while Spieth would love to capture his 10th career title this week at the Nelson and join Day on the wall of champions that sits behind a statue of Byron Nelson near the first tee at the TPC Four Seasons.

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“I'm looking forward to creating the best memories yet this week,” Spieth said on Tuesday. “I'd really like to get my name there by Byron's statue after coming out and looking at all those names for so many years.”

Surprisingly, Day hasn’t won in more than a year (2016 Players), but he’s also dealt with a back injury and watched after his mother as she battled cancer.

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson would also like to add his name near Lord Byron. Johnson has yet to win at Las Colinas, but his record isn’t shabby. In seven starts, he has notched four top-10s, never missing the cut.

“I'm starting to hit the ball a little better than I have the last couple of weeks,” Johnson said Wednesday after the pro-am. “That's definitely a positive. This golf course I feel like it sets up well for me, and I've liked it ever since I came here.”

DJ already has three wins this season, and he’s feeling good coming off a T-2 at the Wells Fargo and a T-12 at The Players Championship, his best showing ever at TPC Sawgrass. His blockbuster season was thrown into disarray in April when he slipped on the stairs of his rental house and injured his back. Johnson withdrew from the Masters, and he spent the next month on the sidelines.

Now with two solid starts behind him, Johnson is gearing up for the meat of the season and his title defense at the U.S. Open next month at Erin Hills in Wisconsin.

“Back is a hundred percent good,” he said. “It has been the last two weeks.”

Masters champion Sergio Garcia is also the defending champion this week at the Nelson, and he made it known Tuesday after a month of celebrating his first major victory that he's ready to return his attention and energy to his game.

“I think that I still feel like I can achieve a lot of things and I want to keep moving forward,” Garcia said. “I need to focus on every week and stop thinking what's happened, which is great, but, you know it's in the past and I need to keep moving forward.”

Garcia made his first start in a PGA Tour event as a professional here in 1999 at age 19, and it was the start of a special relationship with the Lone Star State. Two years later, Garcia won his first Tour title at Colonial, and he won the first of two Nelson titles in 2004. Garcia is also engaged to Angela Akins, who is from Texas and a UT grad.

“Well, y'all …” Garcia joked when asked if he’s developing a Texas twang. “Yeah, it is funny how things work out. You don't plan for these things, but I've always had a good connection with Texas for whatever reason that's been. I've been successful here throughout my career.”

Now he would like to add one more title before saying goodbye to the TPC Four Seasons.

“A little piece of heart is always going to stay here no matter where we go,” he said.

Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.