Spieth on verge of second win in as many weeks

By Doug FergusonDecember 7, 2014, 12:11 am

WINDERMERE, Fla. – Jordan Spieth flew from Japan to Australia to Dallas the last two weeks, took a day off and then came over to Florida for the Hero World Challenge.

His game traveled with him.

One week and half-a-world away from his six-shot victory in the Australian Open, Spieth was practically flawless Saturday at Isleworth. He opened with three straight birdies and capped his day with a 50-foot birdie putt for a 9-under 63 and a seven-shot lead over Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson.

''Felt strong coming off last week,'' Spieth said. ''Job is not done this week, but I'm a believer in my own momentum. I'm going to go out tomorrow with a very similar strategy to today. If the putts go and the breaks go my way, hopefully shoot a round like today. If not, I'm still going to have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament.''

Spieth was at 20-under 196.

He said he has never been 20 under on any course through 54 holes, and he has never finished a tournament that many under par. That gave him a target for Sunday, when he goes after his second straight victory.

Tournament host Tiger Woods was 20 shots behind and in dire need of his antibiotics taking effect. Woods lost his voice overnight and had nausea on the practice range and the golf course. He felt slightly better at the end of his round when he made three straight birdies for a 69.

He remained in last place.


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Bradley made four straight birdies around the turn on his way to a 65. He will play in the final group with Spieth.

''I've got to shoot a low one and get some help from Jordan,'' said Bradley, who has not won in more than two years. ''He's such a good player. I don't expect that. I'm going to have to shoot a really low one.''

Stenson, who played in the final group with Spieth on Saturday, recovered from a sluggish start with four birdies over his last eight holes for a 68.

''I don't think anybody is going to catch him tomorrow unless he's having a really bad day,'' Stenson said. ''Seems to be a one-horse race going into Sunday. He's a very solid player and playing solid golf at a very young age.''

Stenson recalls Spieth making a spirited charge at the Swede in the Tour Championship last year. He also is aware that Spieth finished one shot out of a playoff in Japan and won in Sydney against a field that included Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott.

''We're going to see a lot of him in the years to come,'' Stenson said.

Spieth elected to return Saturday morning to complete the rain-delayed second round instead of finishing in darkness. He had clear vision in the morning – not only of his chip to 5 feet to save par, but of Steve Stricker's 50-foot birdie attempt across the green.

Spieth had about the same putt later in the day, only going in the opposite direction of Stricker's putt. That at least gave him an idea of the speed, though he had imagined a 3-foot circle around the hole that he would have accepted to walk off with par.

This turned out even better. The putt dropped for an unlikely birdie, and Spieth raised his putter as it dropped. He was all smiles walking off the green.

''I put my putter up, which usually means it will find a way to lip out,'' Spieth said.

No chance on this day.

He opened with an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 1, got a good bounce with his 7-iron on the par-3 second to about 8 feet, and then made birdie on the par-3 third. After that, his iron play and his short game – always exquisite – were so good that he didn't need to make any big putts.

Wrapping up his second full season as a pro, Spieth gets a new experience on Sunday - playing with a big lead.

''I think I've got to have a number tomorrow to go out and really chase,'' he said. ''I haven't finished in the 20s (under par) before ever in my career, and I think most of the guys that are in this event have somewhere. So that would be a good goal, to go out there and shoot under par. Hopefully, it's good enough.''

Bradley will be chasing with a short putter, as he has done this week ahead of the Jan. 1, 2016, ban on the anchored stroke used for his belly putter. Bradley in the 2011 PGA Championship was the first player to win a major using a belly putter.

''I've had five years and hours and hours of practice that are now taken away from me,'' he said. ''But it's fun to come out here and prove to everybody and myself that it's not a big deal. This is probably the best three days of putting I've had in a couple of years.''

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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.


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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”


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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.


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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”


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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”