Knox, Kisner lead DJ by 1, Spieth by 3

By Doug FergusonNovember 8, 2015, 1:22 am

SHANGHAI - Even with two majors, five victories, a FedEx Cup title and more than $22 million in earnings this year, Jordan Spieth offered an honest appraisal about the final World Golf Championship of the year. He really didn't think he would have much of a chance in the HSBC Champions.

Now he does.

The third round at Sheshan International ended Sunday morning when Russell Knox returned to play one hole and it proved to be a wiser decision than trying to finish in the dark. He made birdie for a 4-under 68 and tied Kevin Kisner for the 54-hole lead.

Dustin Johnson played mistake-free to get within one shot. Also one back was Li Haotong, the 20-year-old who gave China hope one of its own could win on a world stage.

And then there was Spieth, right where he has been so much of the year.

"My theory on the tour and trying to win is your lead is never safe because some guy is going to make birdies," Kisner said after a 70. "Look at Jordan today. His name popped up. I don't even know where he started and he was on the leaderboard."

Some 24 hours earlier, Spieth was 12 shots behind and wondering if he could even make another par. He ended Friday with two birdies, and then raced up the leaderboard in soft conditions Saturday with a 9-under 63 to go from the middle of the pack to three shots behind.

"This will be the first and only time I would say this, but I was not expecting myself to be in this position come Sunday when the week started," Spieth said with a smile. "I came in with very little confidence in my trust of what I'm trying to do in my swing. ... But yeah, I'm extremely pleased just to be in contention."

Finishing it off doesn't figure to be easy.

Kisner chipped in for birdie on the 15th hole to go from a two-shot deficit to a tie for the lead when Knox three-putted for bogey, and the 31-year-old American pulled ahead with a birdie on the 16th and two pars to finish at 16-under 200.

Johnson, who won the HSBC Champions the last time he was here two years ago, has made 10 birdies in his last 21 holes and shot a 65. Li wasted no time getting the Chinese gallery fired up when he opened with four straight birdies on his way to a 66.

"It's going to be a dog fight tomorrow no matter what," Kisner said.

Spieth felt he was struggling to avoid his club face being shut during the final month of the PGA Tour season, and he has been working on a fix that is difficult for him. But he found a swing thought on the practice range Saturday morning and hit the ball so well that he shot 63 despite missing four putts inside 10 feet.

"I'm not going to complain about the round, but I felt like the way I played could have been 10 or 11 (under) for sure," Spieth said.

He finished with a bold move. Spieth had 239 yards to the hole, which required a precise carry over the water, on the par-5 18th. He could get there with a 3-iron if he flushed it, so caddie Michael Greller suggested he play it safe.

"Michael said, 'It's a bad number. Let's lay up and make birdie with a wedge,' Spieth said. "I said, 'I'm not laying up from 239. So I hit a 3-wood and aimed 30 yards left of the green with a big cut. I cut it a little too much. I was trying to get in the middle of the green, and it went further right and closer to the hole."

He missed the eagle putt from 15 feet, typical of his round. He still had another chance to win, typical of his year.

Knox birdied his opening three holes and built a two-shot lead with a birdie on the 11th. But he three-putted the 15th, narrowly avoided another bogey on No. 16 by making an 8-foot putt and missed on a short birdie attempt on the 17th. With the option to finish in the dark - as Kisner and Branden Grace did - Knox chose to wait.

Li might have wished for this day to never end.

China's brightest young star, he played the PGA Tour China series last year and earned Web.com Tour status, and he was in range to earn a PGA Tour card this year until fading late in the season. Playing before a home crowd - he grew up in Shanghai and plays out of Lake Malaren, home of next week's BMW Masters - he prepared Friday night to cope with the stress and pressure and turned it into the most fun he's had on a golf course.

"I never thought I could play that good," Li said. "Can't believe it."

Liang Wenchong, who tied for eighth in the 2010 PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, is the only other Chinese player to finish in the top 10 in a PGA Tour event. Even though Li is only one shot behind, he kept his goal modest. He wants to finish in the top 10.

Can he win?

In a press conference in Chinese, Li answered in English with a big laugh.

"I don't think so," he said.

Patrick Reed (68) and Ross Fisher (65) joined Spieth at 13-under 203, with Grace playing the final three holes in 3 under for a 70. He was four shots behind. Rory McIlroy and Rickie Fowler each shot 68 and were eight shots behind.

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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."

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 triublations 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."

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Rahm ready to bomb and gouge around Colonial

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 3:40 pm

Faced with one of the PGA Tour's most traditional layouts, Jon Rahm has no plans to take his foot off the gas pedal.

Rahm is one of four players ranked inside the top six headlining the field at this week's Fort Worth Invitational, where the Spaniard dazzled with bookend rounds of 66 to share runner-up honors in his tournament debut a year ago. Set to make his return, Rahm explained that Colonial Country Club is similar to the narrow, tree-lined course in Spain where he first learned the game with driver in hand.


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So while many other players in the field will play for position, Rahm plans to employ the same strategy he did on his boyhood course by letting it rip off the tee and taking his chances.

"I felt like if I am going to miss the fairway, I would rather be 60 or 70 yards away than laying up and having 130, especially with this rough being unpredictable and these small greens," Rahm told reporters Wednesday. "The closer you are to the green, the easier it will be to hit the green. That's kind of the idea I have."

Rahm struggled in his most recent start at The Players, but otherwise has had a strong spring highlighted by a win in Spain and a fourth-place showing at the Masters. The 23-year-old added that he feels "a lot more comfortable" off the tee with driver in hand than a fairway wood or long iron, so expect more counterintuitive strategy this week from a player who had no trouble solving one of the Tour's oldest riddles a year ago.

"I like traditional golf courses," he said. "You know, everything that says it shouldn't be good for me, in my mind, is good for me."

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Power Rankings: 2018 Fort Worth Invitational

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 2:54 pm

The PGA Tour stays in Texas this week, heading across town for the Fort Worth Invitational. A field of 120 players will tackle venerable Colonial Country Club, where Ben Hogan won a record five times.

Be sure to join the all-new Golf Channel Fantasy Challenge - including a new One & Done game offering - to compete for prizes and form your own leagues, and log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to submit your picks for this week's event.

Kevin Kisner won this event last year by one shot over Jordan Spieth, Jon Rahm and Sean O Hair. Here are 10 names to watch in Fort Worth:

1. Jordan Spieth: When it comes to Spieth at Colonial, throw out the stats. He has gone T-2, Win, T-2 over the last three years and hasn't finished worse than T-14 in five career trips. While his putter has continued to hold him back, including last week in Dallas, Spieth lists Colonial among his favorite venues on Tour and plays accordingly.

2. Webb Simpson: Simpson is making his first start since a decisive win at TPC Sawgrass, one that capped a string of impressive play this year. Now he returns to a course where he finished fifth last year and T-3 the year before, with nine of his last 10 competitive rounds at Colonial in the 60s.

3. Zach Johnson: Johnson is a two-time champ and the tournament's all-time leading money winner, having averaged almost a $300,000 payday in 12 prior appearances. Like Spieth, he speaks openly about his affinity for the type of golf Colonial demands and his fifth-place finish last month in San Antonio proves another win may be on the horizon.

4. Jimmy Walker: Walker has finished T-6 or better in each of his last three starts across three pretty different tracks: TPC San Antonio, TPC Sawgrass and Trinity Forest. While he doesn't have the best history at Colonial, Walker did tie for 10th in 2014 and clearly has momentum on his side now that he's feeling healthy for the first time in months.

5. Jon Rahm: The Spaniard impressed in his Colonial debut last year, missing out on a possible playoff by a single shot. While many other top-ranked players have received more acclaim in recent weeks, Rahm has quietly gone about his business including a fourth-place showing at the Masters and a win in his home country. He struggled at The Players, but a similar result didn't impact him much last year once he got to Fort Worth.

6. Kevin Kisner: Don't discount the defending champ, who has now cracked the top 10 each of the last three years at this event. Kisner thrives on the "small ball" style of layouts like Colonial and Harbour Town, and he would be higher on this list were it not for missed cuts in each of his last two starts.

7. Rickie Fowler: Fowler's missed cut at Sawgrass, largely the result of a slow start and a lost ball in a tree, can be discounted since his play up until then this year has been largely strong, highlighted by his Masters runner-up. Fowler hasn't played Colonial since a missed cut in 2014, but he did finish T-16 and T-5 in 2011-12.

8. Adam Scott: Once again equipped with the long putter and with his sights set on qualifying for the U.S. Open, Scott's game is starting to turn around. A T-11 finish at Sawgrass was followed by a T-9 finish last week, his first top-10 anywhere since June. Now he heads across town to a course where he won in 2013 and where his stellar tee-to-green play should again be rewarded.

9. Matt Kuchar: A frustrated Kuchar saw his consecutive made cuts streak end last week at Trinity Forest, but he'll likely start a new one this week on a course where he has missed the cut only once in 10 appearances. Kuchar was a runner-up at Colonial in 2013 and has finished T-16 or better in four of his last six trips to Fort Worth.

10. Justin Rose: The Englishman opted out of the European Tour's flagship event to make his return to Colonial for the first time since 2010. While his T-13 finish back in 2005 remains his best result in four prior appearances, Rose has cracked the top 25 in four of his last five individual starts and seems likely to continue that run on a course that should play to his strengths.