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Thomas ready for new season, eyes three-peat

By Associated PressOctober 9, 2017, 12:38 pm

A year ago at this time, Justin Thomas was simply hoping to prove that his victory in the 2015 CIMB Classic wasn't a fluke.

Thomas, 24, returns to the West Course at TPC Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia this week seeking a three-peat only a matter of days after helping the United States retain the Presidents Cup and being voted winner of the PGA Tour's Player of the Year Award.

"I still am having a hard time grasping and understanding that I leave for another event in a couple days," Thomas said after receiving the Jack Nicklaus Trophy that goes to the Player of the Year.

"It's a tremendous honor. It really sunk in when I got the call from the commissioner (Jay Monahan). It was something I felt I may win because of ... how the year played out. I was with my parents when I got the call, so I was able to kind of share the moment with them a little bit.

"Any time you can win an award with someone like Jack Nicklaus' name on the award, it definitely means a lot."

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Thomas, who won the CIMB Classic by one stroke over Adam Scott of Australia two years ago on the strength of an 11-under-par 61 in the second round, repeated his title when he shot 64 in the first and last rounds to beat Hideki Matsuyama of Japan by three shots.

This week, he will try to go one better than Ryan Moore, who claimed the title in Malaysia in 2013 and 2014.

"I feel like I would have played a lot of courses really well, but (TPC Kuala Lumpur) obviously suits my eye, and I think the fact that there's a lot of wedges and scoring clubs bodes well for me," Thomas said after winning the first of his five titles in 2016-17 en route to capturing the FedExCup.

"It's great to win again here. It's obviously a place I'm very comfortable with and I think a lot of that is because of just everything that goes on here. I mean, the fan base and ... everything is done very well. It's very exciting to come back. This is by far my favorite place I've been out of the country or that we go to out of the country.

"It's definitely worth the 24- or 25-hour travel day that it was to get here."

Thomas followed that up by sweeping through Hawaii in January. He won the SBS Tournament of Champions by three strokes over Matsuyama before rolling to a seven-stroke victory over Justin Rose a week later at the Sony Open in Hawaii after opening with a tournament record 11-under-par 59.

Even though he cooled off a bit over the next several months, he posted four finishes in the top 10, including a tie for fifth in the U.S. Open at Erin Hills in June. However, he saved his best for a sizzling finish to the season.

The former Alabama All-American, who won six times for the Crimson Tide before turning pro in 2013, claimed his first major title by two strokes over Patrick Reed, Louis Oosthuizen and Francesco Molinari in the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow.

A few weeks later, he shot 63-66 on the weekend to win the Dell Technologies Championship by three shots over pal Jordan Spieth in the second week of the playoffs.

Thomas capped the season by finishing one stroke behind Xander Schauffele to claim solo second in the Tour Championship at East Lake Golf Club in Atlanta to wrap up the FedExCup.

So, where does he go from here? He is going to see three wise men.

"I'll probably spend some time talking to Mr. Nicklaus or Tiger (Woods) because those are guys – those are the only people – or even Jordan, those are the only people I know that have had such success in one season multiple times," said Thomas, who is ranked fourth in the world.

"I know how hard it is to do because of how deep the Tour is right now and how many great players there are. ... (The five-win season is) something that's going to be tough to continue or tough to replicate, but I'm definitely going to give it my best.

"I know I'm going to have to sit down re-evaluate things at some point, because this just doesn't happen every year."

And he hardly had time to catch his breath before starting over.

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”