Spieth back to the beginning of his historic run

By Will GrayNovember 25, 2015, 5:00 pm

It’s hard to fathom now, but it wasn’t that long ago that Jordan Spieth traveled halfway around the world with a string of questions trailing behind him.

It was one year ago, in fact, that Spieth headed Down Under for his debut start at the Australian Open. But this wasn’t major champion, world No. 1, all-everything Jordan Spieth.

No, this was full-of-unrealized-potential Spieth: a player clearly on the rise, but one who was also outside the top 10 in the world rankings and 16 months removed from his lone professional win.

Spieth had his chances, notably at the 2014 Masters and Players Championship, but couldn’t hold on. He watched as peers like Patrick Reed racked up multiple victories, and he had a front-row seat for Rory McIlroy’s ascension into the golfing stratosphere.

Then with one stunning close along the Australian sand belt, Spieth took the trophy from McIlroy, put to bed many lingering doubts and launched a 12-month run that has reached significant heights.

Spieth began that final round tied for the lead at The Australian Golf Club, and facing blustery conditions he fired a course-record 63. The score was four shots better than anyone else in the field – eight shots better than crowd favorite Adam Scott – and turned a tight leaderboard into a six-shot romp for the 21-year-old.

“To come into that Sunday and shoot one of the best, if not the best rounds I’ve ever shot in my life, in those conditions, and to win that tournament significantly, it was huge,” Spieth said in August. “That win gave me a winning formula. I was able to just get a massive load off my shoulders.”

That relief was clear as the results piled up – immediately. Spieth flew to Florida the very next week and lapped a world-class field, winning the 18-man Hero World Challenge by 10 shots at Isleworth.

Another win followed in Tampa, and a pair of majors after that. All told, in the 12 months since he left Oz, Spieth has won six times and finished second on four other occasions.

“I think after the Sunday round here, I felt like it was a very special round that was going to do something for me,” Spieth said Tuesday. “No, I didn’t think it would launch the type of year that we’ve had, because each piece needed to come together to get a bit more comfortable in the bigger situations. But I learned how to really close here with my head.”

The snowball effect has seemed more like an avalanche this year, but the premise rings true: Spieth likely doesn’t win the U.S. Open without the confidence derived from his Masters triumph. He may not win the Masters without his victory weeks earlier at the Valspar Championship, and so on.

But it all leads back to Australia, to this stretch of golf far from the PGA Tour where Spieth received the confirmation that he can outlast some of the best in the game.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one to follow this formula. McIlroy’s 2013 season was mired with equipment-related controversy and yielded no trophies until he closed with a similar surge to win this event, denying Scott the Australian Triple Crown in the process.

That victory served as a springboard for McIlroy, who like Spieth went on to win a pair of majors the next year.

“It ended the year for me on a high,” McIlroy said. “It hadn’t been a great season for me. I’d had my struggles, but to win one of my last events was great. It gave me momentum going into 2014.”

As he summited various peaks throughout this past season, Spieth was always cognizant of just what catalyzed his torrid run.

“We had not found the solution as a team, and we found the solution in Australia against a world-class field including the world No. 1 and 2 at the time,” Spieth said after winning the Masters. “I was able to see putts go in. I knew that I could make them under pressure and I knew the strategy mentally, most importantly, to get the job done.”

“I thought of the two events that I played at the end of last year, Australian Open and Tiger’s event, as paramount in what happened this year,” he added at the BMW Championship in September, on his way to the FedEx Cup title. “They were extremely key events that I don’t know if the success that happened this year happens without those two events, I really don’t.

“Mentally they took me to a different level, just learning how to close those two out.”

When it comes to prodigious talent, sometimes all it takes is a spark. Many fans remember Tiger Woods’ romp at the 1997 Masters, but that win was preceded by three other victories in the prior six months.

McIlroy became a major champion at the 2011 U.S. Open, but he first needed to learn how to win in Dubai and Charlotte.

Now Spieth returns to the scene of his own crunch-time tutorial, the course outside Sydney where on one day when he absolutely needed it, his game delivered beyond his wildest expectations.

It’s a response from him that now seems routine, but once was anything but.

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

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Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

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Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

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Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.