Things not as bad as they may seem for Spieth

By Will GrayMay 25, 2016, 6:22 pm

FORT WORTH, Texas – Having recently moved out of the Dallas area, Colt Knost spent last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson sharing a house near the course with his friend, Jordan Spieth.

It’s hardly an unusual living arrangement for a tournament week, but it gave Knost an up-close view of the tournament’s biggest draw, who spent much of the week critiquing his play but remaining on the leaderboard all the same.

“I saw him Saturday, and he just said he was really struggling bad with his golf swing,” Knost recalled. “He said how bad he hit it Saturday, and I said, ‘How the hell did you shoot 3 under par then?’”

There, in a microcosm, sits Spieth’s current game – or at least the perception of it.

As he has continued to exit the course while focusing on his flaws, questions have begun to pop up with increasing frequency. What’s wrong with Spieth? What’s holding him back? What’s different this time around?

The answer is perhaps a few little things, but ultimately not much. Contrary to popular belief, the sky is not falling on young Mr. Spieth – a fact that he’s happy to reinforce heading into this week’s Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

“Last year I was, I think, making a few more mid-range putts than I have this year, but overall I feel like I’m still stroking it the same,” Spieth said. “Recently I’ve been trying to get back to the consistency my swing was at last year, so I’d say maybe that’s it. Just a little bit of fine-tuning of the ball-striking, but it’s coming around now.”

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The stats bear out Spieth’s assertion. While his iron play has hurt him in recent weeks – he ranks 118th on Tour in greens-in-regulation percentage – Spieth still leads the Tour in birdie average. He’s sixth in scoring average, 10th in total strokes gained, and so on.

His self-described off weeks, like last week in Dallas, still produce quality results. An early exit at The Players Championship, where he missed the cut by a shot, remains his lone result outside the top 20 since March.

Clearly, though, the view of Spieth pivoted on the 12th hole at Augusta National. Had he averted disaster and won a second straight Masters, perhaps a scenario that plays out 99 times out of 100, we’re talking about how his game sets up for another Summer of Spieth, or how he can build momentum heading into Oakmont, eyeing a fourth major title over the last six contested.

Instead, the questions facing him now focus on what went wrong, what still might be going wrong, and whether remnants of his Masters collapse still linger somewhere below the surface.

But much like an M.C. Escher painting, this all boils down to perception. No one was questioning Spieth’s ball-striking stats when he was winning tournaments by the handful last year; likewise, few are lauding him in recent weeks for his ability to keep it together despite ragged iron play or inconsistent putting.

Spieth admitted Wednesday that he has never possessed the towering ball flight that Jason Day displayed two weeks ago at TPC Sawgrass, but that fact hardly keeps him up at night. For him, the goal simply remains to get the ball in the hole as quickly as possible, a notion supported by his season-long statistics which are low on individual component strengths but high on numbers that reflect the end result.

“That’s kind of the strength of mine, is my misses are still in a position where you make par at worst,” he said. “The point is I don’t hit it the highest or the longest, but we plan what shots we hit into the greens on our approaches to have our misses not hurt us.”

“That’s the big difference I see with all the young players now, they’re so much more mature at a young age from a course management side of things,” added Adam Scott. “They manage their game well and understand how they need to, how they can effectively get the ball around the golf course.”

Any reaction to Spieth’s play, of course, is exacerbated by the play of those around him in the world rankings. Since Spieth’s last victory in January, Day has won three times while Rory McIlroy captured a high-profile event last week just hours before Spieth faltered in Dallas.

Recency bias can be a powerful blinder, and it’s likely affecting how we assess the current state of the reigning Player of the Year.

As a result, Spieth is once again poised to face the music this week at Colonial, his third start in as many weeks, knowing a new set of not-so-fresh questions likely awaits him next week at the Memorial.

“I think it’s normal, and it’s tough when it is being asked, and my results aren’t showing,” Spieth said. “I’ve seen both sides of it. Right now, I’m on the side where I’ve given it back, and both of them are coming off wins, and I had a chance to win and didn’t. At this present moment, I feel exactly what the questions that are being asked, I feel the same way, and I feel like I need to work my but off to get back, and I feel like I can.”

Set to tackle a course where he has excelled in the past, perhaps a little extra motivation is all that separates Spieth from a change in perception.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x