At 21, Spieth's stats eerily similar to McIlroy's

By Jason SobelNovember 30, 2014, 1:08 pm

You can paint yourself into a pretty tight corner trying to compare players to a certain No. 1 with four majors on his resume, especially when the guy on the other end of that comparison is a 21-year-old with two career professional victories.

So let's not compare Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth. No, let's just state a few simple facts and let them linger in the air like a sweet aroma.

Just one year ago, McIlroy slogged through what most mortal golfers would characterize as a successful season, with eight worldwide top 10s entering the final month on the calendar. Still, being the young wunderkind that he is, there was criticism about failing to claim a trophy.

That’s when he “finally” broke out of that “slump” by winning the Australian Open, which turned out to be a springboard for a brilliant 2014 campaign that included two major titles.

This year, Spieth sputtered his way through a successful season of his own, earning nine top 10s around the globe, but like McIlroy also heard the skepticism when he failed to turn any of those close calls into victories. Then he traveled to the Aussie Open, where on Sunday – stop me if you’ve heard this one before – he “finally” broke out of that “slump” by winning his first title in nearly a year-and-a-half.

As for that springboard? Well, we’ll just have to wait and see. It would be too bold to hold Spieth up to the expectations of replicating McIlroy’s feats this year, but it certainly isn’t without reason to believe his momentum off this victory – not to mention the confidence gained from it – will carry over to future tournaments.

You know, not that we’re comparing them or anything.

And while we’re on the subject of not comparing Spieth to his fellow millennial, there’s this: At the age of 21, each owned two professional wins – one on the PGA Tour and one elsewhere. (For further non-comparisons, Phil Mickelson had one worldwide win before he turned 22; Adam Scott had two.) Oh, and Spieth has seven more months to add to that total, too.

Again, these are just facts, not comparisons, but they should serve to quash any notion that Spieth can’t handle the pressure or can’t close on a Sunday afternoon or – and this one is laughable – isn’t on the proper track to becoming an elite player.

Breaking news: He’s not becoming one; he’s already there. He’s now ranked 11th in the world. He’s challenged in major championships. The wins will come, maybe not in bunches, but more and more as he matures into a better player and one more comfortable in the Sunday spotlight. It’s the narrowest of narrow-minded viewpoints to simply look at his near-misses at the Masters Tournament and Players Championship, and proclaim that Spieth doesn’t have what it takes to flourish under the intense heat of a potential title.

On Sunday, he did plenty to dispel that notion, stepping on the gas pedal during a final-round 63 and stepping on the necks of his fellow contenders in the process.

“It was the best round I’ve ever played, there’s no doubt,” he said afterward, less boastful than bewildered. “Being able to spread out from the field, that was a pretty awesome experience.”

Of course, some critics will still insist that he needs to prove that mettle in a bigger tournament. To that, recent history tells us that it hasn’t happened, but our collective intuition contends that it simply hasn’t happened yet.

In other words: The kid is still 21. Give it time. Even the world’s No. 1-ranked player, only four years his senior, hadn’t celebrated more success at this point in his career.

What Spieth has accomplished so far has eerily mirrored the accomplishments of a young – OK, younger – McIlroy.

Of course, those are just the facts. Only a fool would dare make that a comparison.

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Minjee Lee co-leads Walmart NW Arkansas Championship

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 12:25 am

ROGERS, Ark. - Minjee Lee wasn't all that concerned when she missed her first cut of the year this month at the ShopRite LPGA Classic.

The ninth-ranked Australian has certainly looked at ease and back in form at Pinnacle Country Club in her first event since then.

Lee and Japan's Nasa Hataoka each shot 6-under 65 on Saturday to share the second-round lead in the NW Arkansas Championship 13-under 129. Lee is chasing her fifth victory since turning pro three years ago. It's also an opportunity to put any lingering frustration over that missed cut two weeks ago behind her for good.

''I didn't particularly hit it bad, even though I missed the cut at ShopRite, I just didn't really hole any putts,'' Lee said. ''I'd been hitting it pretty solid going into that tournament and even into this tournament, too. Just to see a couple putts roll in has been nice.''

The 22-year-old Lee needed only 24 putts during her opening 64 on Friday, helping her to match the low round of her career. Despite needing 28 putts Saturday, she still briefly took the outright lead after reaching as low as 14 under after a birdie on the par-5 seventh.

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Lee missed the green on the par-4 ninth soon thereafter to lead to her only bogey of the day and a tie with the 19-year-old Hataoka, who is in pursuit of her first career win.

Hataoka birdied six of eight holes midway through her bogey-free round on Saturday. It was yet another stellar performance from the Japanese teenager, who has finished in the top 10 in four of her last five tournaments and will be a part of Sunday's final pairing.

''I try to make birdies and try to be under par, that's really the key for me to get a top ten,'' Hataoka said. ''Golf is just trying to be in the top 10 every single week, so that's the key.''

Third-ranked Lexi Thompson matched the low round of the day with a 64 to get to 11 under. She hit 17 of 18 fairways and shot a 5-under 30 on her opening nine, The American is in search of her first win since September in the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

Ariya Jutanugarn and Celine Boutier were 10 under.

First-round leader Gaby Lopez followed her opening 63 with a 75 to drop to 4 under. Fellow former Arkansas star Stacy Lewis also was 4 under after a 72.

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Henley will try to put heat on Casey in final round

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While it will be a tall task for anyone to catch Paul Casey at the Travelers Championship, the man who will start the round most within reach of the Englishman is Russell Henley.

Henley was in the penultimate group at TPC River Highlands on Saturday, but he’ll now anchor things during the final round as he looks to overcome a four-shot deficit behind Casey. After a 3-under 67, Henley sits at 12 under through 54 holes and one shot clear of the three players tied for third.

Henley closed his third round with a run of five straight pars, then became the beneficiary of a pair of late bogeys from Brian Harman that left Henley alone in second place.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Could have made a couple more putts, but to end with two up-and-downs like that was nice,” Henley said. “I felt a little bit weird over the shots coming in, put me in some bad spots. But it was nice to have the short game to back me up.”

Henley has won three times on Tour, most recently at the 2017 Houston Open, and he cracked the top 25 at both the Masters and U.S. Open. But with Casey riding a wave of confidence and coming off an 8-under 62 that marked the best round of the week, he knows he’ll have his work cut out for him in order to nab trophy No. 4.

“I think I can shoot a low number on this course. You’ve got to make the putts,” Henley said. “I’m definitely hitting it well enough, and if I can get a couple putts to fall, that would be good. But I can’t control what he’s doing. I can just try to keep playing solid.”

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Back from back injury, Casey eyeing another win

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:36 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Given his four-shot cushion at the Travelers Championship and his recent victory at the Valspar Championship, it’s easy to forget that Paul Casey hit the disabled list in between.

Casey had to withdraw from The Players Championship because of a bad back, becoming the only player in the top 50 in the world rankings to miss the PGA Tour’s flagship event. He flew back to England to get treatment, and Casey admitted that his T-20 finish at last month’s BMW PGA Championship came while he was still on the mend.

“I wasn’t 100 percent fit with the back injury, which was L-4, L-5, S-1 (vertebrae) all out of place,” Casey said. “Big inflammation, nerve pain down the leg and up the back. I didn’t know what was going on.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Thanks in large part to a combination of MRIs, back adjustments and anti-inflammatories, Casey finally turned the corner. His T-16 finish at last week’s U.S. Open was the first event for which he felt fully healthy since before the Players, and he’s on the cusp of a second title since March after successfully battling through the injury.

“We thought we were fixing it, but we weren’t. We were kind of hitting the effects rather than the cause,” Casey said. “Eventually we figured out the cause, which was structural.”

Casey started the third round at TPC River Highlands two shots off the lead, but he’s now four clear of Russell Henley after firing an 8-under 62 that marked the low round of the week.

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Bubba thinks he'll need a Sunday 60 to scare Casey

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 11:15 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Perhaps moreso than at most PGA Tour venues, a low score is never really out of reach at TPC River Highlands. Positioned as a welcome change of pace after the U.S. Open, the Travelers Championship offers a lush layout that often pushes the balance much closer to reward than risk.

This is where Jim Furyk shot a 58 on the par-70 layout two years ago – and he didn’t even win that week. So even though Paul Casey enters the final round with a commanding four-shot lead, there’s still plenty of hope for the chase pack that something special could be in store.

Count Bubba Watson among the group who still believe the title is up for grabs – even if it might require a Herculean effort, even by his standards.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Watson has won the Travelers twice, including in a 2015 playoff over Casey. But starting the final round in a large tie for sixth at 10 under, six shots behind Casey, he estimates that he’ll need to flirt with golf’s magic number to give the Englishman something to worry about.

“My 7 under yesterday, I need to do better than that. I’m going to have to get to like 10 [under],” Watson said. “The only beauty is, getting out in front, you have a chance to put a number up and maybe scare them. But to scare them, you’re going to have to shoot 10 under at worst, where I’m at anyway.”

Watson started the third round three shots off the lead, and he made an early move with birdies on Nos. 1 and 2 en route to an outward 32. The southpaw couldn’t sustain that momentum, as bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 turned a potential 65 into a relatively disappointing 67.

“Bad decision on the par-3, and then a very tough tee shot for me on 17, and it just creeped into the bunker,” Watson said. “Just, that’s golf. You have mistakes every once in a while.”