History Spieth's toughest opponent in 2016

By Doug FergusonJuly 25, 2016, 7:37 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – Jordan Spieth walked with purpose down the long corridor toward his locker, not stopping to look at the photos and scorecards that cover more than a century of golf history at Baltusrol.

Maybe that was just as well.

History has proven to be his toughest opponent this year, and it was bound to be a losing battle.

Dating to 1934 when the Masters began, Spieth is among 14 players who have won two majors in one year. Only five of those players ever won a single major the following year, and it's an elite group - Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Tom Watson and Tiger Woods.

Woods is the only player to win two majors in consecutive seasons.

Spieth is not trying to salvage his season at the PGA Championship. All but four players would love to have his year of two victories and a close call at the Masters. The exceptions are the three major champions and Jason Day, the only three-time winner on the PGA Tour this year.

It only seems like a struggle for Spieth because of endless comparisons with last year.

That's what led Spieth to try to reason with the media, and perhaps to remind himself, of the reality he is facing.

''I think it's been a solid year, and I think had last year not happened I'd be having a lot of positive questions,'' Spieth said after the British Open. ''Instead, most of the questions I get are comparing to last year and, therefore, negative because it's not to the same standard. So that's almost tough to then convince myself that you're having a good year ... when the questions I get make me feel like it's not.''

Trouble is, last year did happen. Comparisons were inevitable.

Graeme McDowell recalls his magical season in 2010 when he won the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach and delivered the winning point from the final match at the Ryder Cup. He ended the year by taking down Woods at his own tournament in California. It was tough to back up a year like that.

''It feels like a disappointment, like a certain young American who's having the same issue,'' McDowell said, smiling because it was clear he was speaking about Spieth. ''It's the same way when you shoot 62. It's very hard to come out on the golf course and back up a 62. That's the micro version. The macro version is coming off a year like that trying to replicate it. Obviously, there's a lot of traps.''

Are the expectations too high? Is the scrutiny too much?

''The kid is not having a bad year,'' McDowell said. ''But he's in a different stratosphere now. He's in the Tiger stratosphere, where every shot he hits is going to be questioned, every move he makes is going to be questioned. It's something he has to get used to.''

And there's another sobering reality that Spieth will have to consider: History suggests he might never have another season like last year.

Spieth didn't just win two majors. He came as close as anyone to being the first to capture the calendar Grand Slam. He missed the British Open playoff by one shot and was runner-up to Jason Day in the PGA Championship.

Nicklaus had that chance one time in 1972, finishing one shot behind at the British Open. Palmer created the modern Grand Slam in 1960 when he won the Masters and U.S. Open. He never got another shot the rest of his career. Woods' lone opportunity ended in the rain and wind of Muirfield in 2002.

''There are aspirations and goals and beliefs and knowledge that you can achieve such incredible things that Jordan did,'' Adam Scott said. ''But then there's reality balanced in there. History shows it doesn't repeat. One guy (Woods) repeated it a few times. So what's successful after that is what Jordan or any player having that kind of year will have to figure out. I don't know the answer.''

Spieth doesn't believe that last year was as good as it will get, nor should he. He doesn't turn 23 until Wednesday. His career is just getting started, and the last thing any young player wants to hear is that his best - results, not necessarily performance - is behind him.

''If that's a valley,'' Spieth said of his season to date, ''then that's going to be a lot of fun when we get back up to a peak.''

Then again, he alluded to how special last year was even before the U.S. Open.

One swing on the 12th tee at Augusta National cost Spieth another green jacket, though he was able to step back and see the bigger picture. It was his fifth straight major that he had a serious chance to win.

''We've been spoiled the last five of them,'' he said in June. ''We recognize that's not necessarily normal to have a chance of that many in a row. But why do what's normal?''

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.



Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.



Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.



What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”


Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”