McIlroy, Spieth battle for history, bound by Tiger

By Damon HackAugust 9, 2017, 7:32 pm

In his boyhood home in Holywood, Northern Ireland, Rory McIlroy could rattle off Tiger Woods’ records as if he was doing his ABC’s.

“I first saw Tiger on TV at the 1996 U.S. Amateur – he beat Steve Scott at Pumpkin Ridge,” McIlroy said back in the spring of 2009 at age 19. “Then he turned pro quite soon after, he won Las Vegas and he won a few others and then he won the Masters a year after. I had a poster of him on my wall. I had a replica scorecard after the 1997 Masters, the final round.”

Halfway around the world, Jordan Spieth was quietly charting Woods’ achievements as well, measuring himself against Tiger even as an amateur.

“Any time you can be compared to any of Tiger’s accomplishments, it’s very special,” Spieth said a week before his 18th birthday in 2011 after winning his second United States Junior Amateur. “You know, he won it three years in a row. I’m glad to have gotten two of them. Now that I can’t win them anymore I’m going to go after the [three U.S.] Amateurs that he won.”

Spieth would never get the chance, ultimately turning pro after a year at the University of Texas, but he would be chasing other Woods records soon enough, including this week at the PGA Championship at Quail Hollow Club, where he can become the youngest to win the career Grand Slam – 154 days earlier than Woods.

It is only appropriate that McIlroy, with his two wins and a runner-up finish at Quail Hollow, is best positioned to stop him and preserve his opportunity to be the next player to complete the slam next year at the Masters.

All of these years removed from their teenage youth, across oceans and time zones, Spieth and McIlroy have separated themselves from their peers by their remarkable (but very different) gifts as golfers, but also for their mirror-like success in the majors.


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In this age of parity, with Dustin Johnson as the No. 1 player in the world and Hideki Matsuyama as the hottest and Jon Rahm ascendant and Jason Day ever dangerous, Spieth and McIlroy draw more comparisons to Woods than anyone in the game.

They have earned that distinction.

And whether they know it or not, the emerald fairways of Quail Hollow could serve as the clearest opportunity yet to establish the true heir to Woods’ throne.

“Rory is a guy who is very difficult if you come into a one-on-one-type situation no matter where it is and especially in the majors because he’s not afraid to hit the shot,” Spieth said Wednesday. “He plays so aggressively and that’s what you have to do to win. He won this tournament by eight shots [at Kiawah Island in 2012]. If you’re matched up on Sunday … he is one to fear in that position because of what he’s capable of doing and how he’s doing it.”

McIlroy is similarly enamored with Spieth’s skills, which were on full display at The Open at Royal Birkdale.

“He has got the knack,” McIlroy said Tuesday. “I call it resilience. It’s a mental thing. You can stand and hit the shots that he was hitting for those last five holes at The Open on the range, no problem. But being able to do it under those circumstances, under the pressure, that’s what makes him so good. Being able to forget about a bad shot and move on to the next one, that’s his great weapon.”

Neither Spieth, 24, nor McIlroy, 28, is entirely comfortable with comparisons to Woods, an indication of the respect each has for the 14-time major champion and the knowledge that a career can be a long and winding road.

While both have benefitted from Woods’ example, each has also come under scrutiny for the inevitable dry patches in a career.

After his spirited run for an in-season Grand Slam in 2015, Spieth couldn’t shake the doubters when his 2016 didn’t measure up.

McIlroy hasn’t won a major since 2014, but he is less than a year removed from winning two PGA Tour playoff events and the FedExCup.

While the victories are celebrated with dizzying prize money and endorsement portfolios - made possible in large part by Woods - every wobble is a chance for renewed investigation and criticism.

“Tiger had very parallel wins in the way that he got it done, but that was almost like a robot,” said Spieth, pointing to Woods’s dependability as a front-runner. “Don’t really expect that to happen with myself based on what I’ve seen the first few times.”

What Spieth and McIlroy have given us, though, is the next best chance for a great rivalry and, perhaps, a few echoes of Woods.

One is a dominant driver of the golf ball, the other a master on and around the greens. Each believes that on his best day he is the player to beat.

It’s a mindset born in the heart of the Woods era and nurtured both in a childhood in windswept North Texas and chilly Northern Ireland – and on display this week in Charlotte, N.C., and beyond.

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Wise: 'No hard feelings' over Nelson missed kiss

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 10:18 pm

Aaron Wise left the AT&T Byron Nelson with his first PGA Tour trophy and a seven-figure paycheck. But lost in the shuffle of closing out his breakthrough victory in near-darkness was his failed attempt for a celebratory kiss with his girlfriend on the 18th green.

Wise appeared to go in for a peck after his family joined him on the putting surface, but instead he and his girlfriend simply laughed and hugged. After the moment gained a bit of online notoriety, Wise told reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the young couple simply laughed it off.

"Yeah, I have been giving her some s--- about that," Wise said. "A lot has been made about it. It's really nothing. Like I was saying, she was just so excited to surprise me. I was kind of ruining the surprise a little bit that she was shocked, and she didn't even see me going in for the kiss."

At age 21, Wise is now one of the youngest winners on Tour. He explained that while both his girlfriend and mother flew in to watch the final round at Trinity Forest Golf Club, where he shared the 54-hole lead and eventually won by three shots, he took some of the surprise out of their arrival in true millennial fashion - by looking up his girlfriend's location earlier in the day.

Still getting used to his newfound status on Tour, Wise downplayed any controversy surrounding the kiss that wasn't.

"No hard feelings at all," Wise said. "We love each other a ton and we're great. It was a funny moment that I think we'll always be able to look back at, but that's all it really was."

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Giving back: Chun creates education fund at site of Open win

By Randall MellMay 23, 2018, 8:04 pm

South Korea’s In Gee Chun is investing in American youth.

Chun broke through on the largest stage in women’s golf, winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago, and she’s making sure Lancaster, Pa., continues to share in what that brought her.

Chun is preparing for next week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Shoal Creek outside Birmingham, Ala., but she made a special stop this week. She returned to the site of her breakthrough in Pennsylvania on Tuesday and Wednesday, launching the In Gee Chun Lancaster Country Club Education Fund. She announced Tuesday that she’s donating $10,000 to seed the fund. She’s expected to raise more than $20,000 for the cause in a fundraising dinner at the club Wednesday evening. The fund will annually award scholarships to Lancaster youth applicants, including Lancaster Country Club caddies and children of club employees.

“I’m excited to be back here,” said Chun, who put on a junior clinic during her stay and also played an outing with club members. “Winning the U.S. Women’s Open here in Lancaster gave me the opportunity to play on the LPGA and make one of my dreams come true.”

Chun also supports a fund in her name at Korea University, where she graduated, a fund for various “social responsibility” projects and for the educational needs of the youth who create them.

“Education is very important to me,” Chun said. “I would like to help others reach their goals.”

Chun made donations to the Lancaster General Health Foundation in 2015 and ’16 and to Pennsylvania’s J. Wood Platt Caddie Scholarship Trust last year. Lancaster Country Club officials estimate she has now made donations in excess of $40,000 to the community.

“We are grateful In Gee’s made such a wonderful connection to our community and club,” said Rory Connaughton, a member of Lancaster Country Club’s board of governors. “She’s a special person.”

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Spieth admits '16 Masters 'kind of haunted me'

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:38 pm

Two years ago, Jordan Spieth arrived at Colonial Country Club and promptly exorcised some demons.

He was only a month removed from blowing the 2016 Masters, turning a five-shot lead with nine holes to play into a shocking runner-up finish behind Danny Willett. Still with lingering questions buzzing about his ability to close, he finished with a back-nine 30 on Sunday, including birdies on Nos. 16-18, to seal his first win since his Augusta National debacle.

Returning this week to the Fort Worth Invitational, Spieth was asked about the highs and lows he's already experienced in his five-year pro career and candidly pointed to the 2016 Masters as a "low point" that had a lingering effect.

"Even though it was still a tremendous week and still was a really good year in 2016, that kind of haunted me and all the questioning and everything," Spieth told reporters. "I let it tear me down a little bit. I kind of lost a little bit of my own freedom, thoughts on who I am as a person and as a golfer."


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Spieth went on to win the Australian Open in the fall of 2016, and last year he added three more victories including a third major title at Royal Birkdale. Given more than two years to reflect - and after nearly nabbing a second green jacket last month - he admitted that the trials and tribulations of 2016 had a lasting impact on how he perceives the daily grind on Tour.

"I guess to sum it up, I've just tried to really be selfish in the way that I think and focus on being as happy as I possibly can playing the game I love. Not getting caught up in the noise, good or bad," Spieth said. "Because what I hear from the outside, the highs are too high from the outside and the lows are too low from the outside from my real experience of them. So trying to stay pretty neutral and just look at the big picture things, and try and wake up every single day loving what I do."

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Spieth offers Owen advice ahead of Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:22 pm

As country music sensation Jake Owen gets set to make his Web.com Tour debut, Jordan Spieth had a few pieces of advice for his former pro-am partner.

Owen played as a 1-handicap alongside Spieth at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and this week he is playing his own ball on a sponsor invite at the Nashville Open. Owen joked with a Web.com Tour reporter that Spieth "shined" him by not answering his text earlier in the week, but Spieth explained to reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the two have since connected.

"We texted a bit yesterday. I was just asking how things were going," Spieth said. "I kind of asked him the state of his game. He said he's been practicing a lot. He said the course is really hard. I mean, going into it with that mindset, maybe he'll kind of play more conservative."

Owen is in the field this week on the same type of unrestricted sponsor exemption that NBA superstar Steph Curry used at the Web.com's Ellie Mae Classic in August. As Owen gets set to make his debut against a field full of professionals, Spieth noted that it might be for the best that he's focused on a tournament a few hundred miles away instead of walking alongside the singer as he does each year on the Monterey Peninsula.

"Fortunately I'm not there with him, because whenever I'm his partner I'm telling him to hit driver everywhere, even though he's talented enough to play the golf course the way it needs to be played," Spieth said. "So I think he'll get some knowledge on the golf course and play it a little better than he plays Pebble Beach. He's certainly got the talent to be able to shoot a good round."