Ain't life grand? Spieth feeling no slam pressure

By Will GrayAugust 9, 2017, 4:35 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Go ahead and give it your best shot.

Jordan Spieth will sit patiently as you try to assign extra pressure and increased meaning to this year’s PGA Championship. He’ll even nod slightly as the 18th rendition of the same question varies ever so slightly before returning to a common endpoint.

Then he’ll deftly deflect it away, displaying the same relaxed nature he might use to knock in a 3-foot putt.

The refrain from Team Spieth, both this week and last, has been consistent: this PGA Championship represents a free roll.

While the desire to snag the final leg of the career Grand Slam is certainly present, Spieth remains confident that he’ll eventually get his hands around the Wanamaker Trophy even if things don’t go his way at Quail Hollow. It’s the kind of confidence that a trio of major titles at age 24 can foster, and it’s a sentiment once shared by the likes of Arnold Palmer and Tom Watson, both of whom never sealed the deal.

But the belief and exuberance of youth is undeniable in listening to Spieth, who is again approaching the heights he reached during his magical 2015 season. And with any lingering doubts from his 2016 Masters collapse erased emphatically at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is poised to embark on a major test with as little baggage as possible.

PGA Championship: Tee times | Full coverage

“I think when we get into these high-pressure situations, when I get off-course a little bit, there’s no negativity that comes into play in my mind, and maybe that makes a difference,” Spieth said. “I mean, I’ve already had enough not go well that I’ve almost accepted, ‘OK, if this doesn’t work out then it doesn’t work out; I’m going to have more chances.’ Just that kind of freedom allows me to take the fear away of any potential bad situation.”

Spieth rolling downhill without fear of consequence is a scary proposition for the other 155 players gathered this week, especially given his recent flair for the dramatic that included a playoff hole-out at the Travelers Championship and his memorable close to capture the claret jug.

“He has that intangible of when he doesn’t have his best stuff, like Hartford, the back nine, to still find a way to win,” said Phil Mickelson. “When you say put your finger on it, you can’t really identify and say it’s this or it’s that. It’s just that indescribable trait that he has, to find a way to get it done, find the will to win.”

Of course, that will was shaken to its core 16 months ago at Augusta National when Spieth watched a second green jacket slip through his fingers. The scars from that loss are well-worn and have been discussed at length, but now that Spieth has added to his major total he appears visibly looser when discussing their impact on his psyche.

Having returned to the top of the game, he speaks with a degree of self-assurance that would be otherwise absent had he not first had to stare into the abyss.

“I mean, I’ve gone through what will probably and hopefully be the worst loss of my career in the most public eye that golf has,” Spieth said. “So everything else that could happen is much lesser, and therefore has probably helped me since then to focus and only see the positive that could come out of a situation.”

There are plenty of positives to be had this week in North Carolina, where Spieth insists he won’t be pre-occupied with trying to become the youngest player to ever capture golf’s four biggest events.

The focus, instead, will be on “playing free.” After his news conference, Spieth told a handful of reporters that the toughest memory from The Open in 2015, when his T-4 finish derailed hopes of a single-season slam, had nothing to do with how he played the 72nd hole.

Instead he pointed to how he approached his tee shot on the 17th hole. After draining a lengthy putt to take the lead, Spieth considered taking a risky angle over the edge of the Old Course Hotel. It was a line would have brought double bogey into play, but a well-executed shot would have set up an easy par.

Instead he played safe down the left side and averted disaster, but still ended up making a bogey that ultimately cost him a spot in the playoff.

“It’s one of my bigger regrets in golf,” Spieth said.

Once again nearing the heights of that summer and again making the game look easy, it’s a mistake a liberated Spieth won’t make again this time around.

“I wasn’t thinking about it then, but if I was truly free I wouldn’t have cared,” Spieth said. “That’s kind of the way I feel now. Take the risk.”

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TT postscript: Tiger (E) survives difficult day

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 6:40 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Here are some observations after watching Tiger Woods’ even-par 70 in the first round of the Honda Classic:

• Whew, that was tough. Like, by far the most difficult conditions Woods has faced this year. The wind blew about 20 mph all day, from different directions, and that affected every part of the game, especially putting.

• And though the stats aren’t necessarily pretty – half the fairways hit, just 10 greens – this was BY FAR his best ball-striking round of the new year. He even said so himself. When he walked off the course, he was just four off the lead.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

• Woods had only one bad hole Thursday. It came on the par-5 third hole, his 12th of the day. He blew his driver into the right bunker. He had to lay way back, to clear the lip of the bunker. And then he tugged his third shot just barely in the greenside trap. And then his bunker shot didn’t get onto the green. Then he chipped on and missed a 4-footer. A truly ugly double bogey.

• The driver is still a concern – he found the fairway only once in five attempts. But only one of those misses was way off-line. That came on the 12th, when he double-crossed one way left.

• Though the driver is uncooperative, he has showed a lot of improvement with his 3-wood. The four times he used it, he controlled the ball flight beautifully and hit it 300-plus. His 2-iron is making a comeback, too, in a big way.

• After this round, he should have a little wiggle room Friday to make the cut, barring a blowup round. It’s playing tough, and the 36-hole cut should be over par. Tiger needs four rounds of competitive reps. If he plays like this Friday, he’ll get them. 

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 22, 2018, 5:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.

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Pepperell among co-leaders early in Qatar

By Associated PressFebruary 22, 2018, 5:06 pm

DOHA, Qatar – Eddie PepperellGregory Havret, and Aaron Rai made the most of calm early morning conditions at Doha Golf Club to set the pace in the opening round of the Qatar Masters at 7-under-par 65 on Thursday.

Havret went bogey free, Pepperell made one bogey and eight birdies, while fellow English golfer Rai eagled his last hole to add to five birdies.

One shot behind the leaders were four players, including former Ryder Cup player Edoardo Molinari of Italy and former champion Alvaro Quiros of Spain.

Defending champion Jeunghun Wang of South Korea started with a 68, and Race to Dubai leader Shubhankar Sharma of India shot 69 despite a double bogey on the 15th hole.

Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters

Pepperell, who is fast gaining a reputation on the European Tour for his irreverent tweets and meaningful blogs, showed his clubs can also do an equal amount of talking after missing cuts in Abu Dhabi, Dubai, and Malaysia.

Pepperell birdied Nos. 10, 11, 14, 16 and 18 with a single blemish on 13 after starting on the back nine. He made three more birdies on his back nine.

He was joined on top of the leaderboard by Havret, who made five birdies in six holes from the sixth, and Rai, who eagled the last.

''I surprised myself, really,'' said Pepperell, who finished third in Portugal and Netherlands last year.

''I've made some changes this week with personnel, so I've been working on a couple of new things and I surprised myself out there with how well I managed to trust it.

''I hit some quality tee shots, that's the area I feel that I've been struggling with a bit lately. We had a good time.

''It's definitely a bigger picture for me this week than tomorrow and indeed the weekend. I'm not overly-fussed about my early season form.”

Molinari, a three-time champion on the tour including last year in Morocco, started with eight straight pars, and then made seven birdies in his last 10 holes, including a chip-in for birdie on the last.

''I hit every green apart from the last one. I hit a lot of fairways, I had a lot of chances for birdie,'' said Edoardo, the older brother of Francesco.

''Last week in Oman, I had a decent week, I had a bad first round and then three very good rounds. It's been the case for the last few weeks so my focus this week was to try and get a good start.''

Oliver Fisher of England was the best among the afternoon groups with a 6-under 66, joining Molinari, Quiros and Germany's Marcel Schneider in a tie for fourth.

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 22, 2018, 2:15 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1-for-6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than McIlroy (13).