Reed, Spieth aren't intimidated by Woods grouping

By Will GrayJanuary 28, 2015, 11:41 pm

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. – For nearly two decades, a tee time with Tiger Woods has been a hazard to approach with caution.

Frenzied crowds. Extra television cameras. Throngs of security.

Many players have seen scores balloon alongside Woods. He could play well and leave them in his dust, or he could hold steady and wait for their inevitable collapse. Either way, the result felt like a fait accompli.

Not anymore.

As Woods embarks on his 20th year as a professional, the profile of his competition has changed. Where once he chased down players 10 or 20 years his senior, now the top contenders are nearly half his age – and they seem ready and willing to stand toe-to-toe with him.

Jordan Spieth was 20 years old when he was paired with Woods for the first time at last year’s Farmers Insurance Open. He shot 63 during the second round on the North Course at Torrey Pines, eight shots better than Woods.

In fact, Spieth and Woods played five competitive rounds together in 2014. Spieth was 20 shots better.

Over 90 holes on four different courses, Spieth could have spotted Woods two shots per side and still played him to a draw. It’s a remarkable statistic, even if Spieth opted to downplay its meaning Wednesday at TPC Scottsdale.

“I don’t think there is anything specifically to him. I just happened to play well in those rounds,” Spieth said. “Couple rounds with Phil (Mickelson) I have played well. I think it’s just random.”

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But Spieth is not alone in his success with Woods. Last month Woods was in the rare position of spectator, watching as a man dressed in his colors lit up the course he once owned in the event that he still runs.

Patrick Reed had played with Woods during a practice round at the British Open, but the second round of the Hero World Challenge was the first time they were paired together. Wearing Woods’ Sunday ensemble of a red shirt and black pants, Reed flirted with a 59 before carding a 63. It served as a new competitive course record at Isleworth, a layout where Woods once lived, and it was seven shots better than his 2-under 70.

While Woods certainly struggled in 2014, the success of both Spieth and Reed in his midst last year signals a shift in mentality. The Tour’s new guard has arrived, and they are not intimidated by an assignment on a tee sheet.

“Really I think it’s more that we stick to our game plan,” Reed said. “It’s just trying to play our game of golf and not anyone else’s.”

Reed and Spieth will have another chance to put that theory into practice this week, as both are grouped with Woods for the first two rounds.

The pair have outgrown the label of rising star. Both Spieth and Reed are ranked inside the top 15 in the world, and since Woods last won at the 2013 WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, they have combined for six worldwide victories. Reed won earlier this month in Hawaii, while Spieth won each of his final two starts in 2014, capped by a 10-shot romp in Woods’ former backyard.

“Tiger’s event, that is as good as I have ever played,” Spieth said.

Their ability to steel their nerves against Woods could be rooted in their age. Reed was 6 years old when Woods lapped the field at the 1997 Masters; Spieth hadn't turned 4. They have grown up in the Woods Era, and the only game they know is the one in which he sits confidently atop the heap.

Rather than anxiety, a pairing with Woods now elicits anticipation.

“I’m excited,” Reed said. “I’ve had a great time playing with him the first two times, and I’m looking forward to playing with him again.”

Spieth went as far as to tell friends in the run-up to this week’s event that he expected to draw Woods again.

“The last two times he’s come back from injuries, I have been paired with him the first two rounds,” Spieth said, referencing their grouping at Torrey Pines and the 2014 Quicken Loans National. “For whatever reason, I just thought it might happen. I think it’s cool.”

Woods remains the star of the group and the tournament, but the days have passed where that realization costs his playing partners shots. Spieth and Reed will meet him on the first tee Thursday, equally eager to beat him and equally convinced that they will do so.

Hopefully Woods can keep up.

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

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First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

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After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.