Polished Spieth looks poised to finish the job

By Joe PosnanskiApril 10, 2015, 11:14 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The thing that blows the mind about Jordan Spieth is how utterly finished he is as a golfer. Flawless. It is like he was designed by Apple in California. Really, there should be one of those Jony Ive Apple commercials about him, one where a piano plays in the background and Ive says in that British accent: “Golf is, in its essence, about perfection. But perfection is not merely the absence of error or freedom from flaws. It is a state of being that hovers above the every day frailty of the human experience. Jordan Spieth is our clearest representation yet of that unreachable goal.”

Or, you know, something really out there.

Jordan Spieth is really out there. It isn’t just the record-breaking 14 under par he shot the first two days at Augusta. It isn’t just the absurd ease with which he seems to handle the pressure and deflect distraction. It isn’t just the effortless joy he conveys in the way he plays and responds to questions and requests and fans (everyone – and I mean everyone – likes the kid). And it isn’t just that he’s 21 years old, only months older than Tiger Woods was when he shook up the world and almost two years younger than Seve Ballesteros when he did.

No, it’s all of it, the sheer completeness of Spieth’s game, his attitude, his public persona, his competitiveness. It is all in balance. On the 18th green Friday, with a huge lead in hand and a record-low score assured, he faced a short birdie putt to go 15 under par. He misread the putt and left himself a tap-in for par. He was clearly surprised and upset. But instead of tapping it in, he looked at the ball, looked at the hole, looked at the stance he would need, and decided instead to mark the ball and putt it later.

“I was a little outside my comfort zone,” he said. “I didn’t want to force anything … there was no point. I was going to make it if I stepped off.”

This is a small thing, but then everything wonderful about Spieth’s game comes down to small things. Golfers and analysts talk about this all the time: Nothing about Spieth’s game really stands out. He doesn’t hit the ball longer than others, higher than others or even straighter than others (he is currently 107th on the PGA Tour in greens in regulation). His sand game is good but not necessarily great. He’s very good around the greens, but he’s not a Ballesteros- or Tom Watson-like genius. He is a marvelous putter, but that alone doesn’t tend to get the blood pumping.

So what makes him the hottest golfer on earth comes down to mathematical possibilities. Bill James, in trying to explain what made Hall of Fame pitcher Pedro Martinez great, used an example from math: Seven factorial (7 x 6 x 5 …) is just 5,040. But 10 factorial (10 x 9 x 8 x 7 …) is 3,628,800. How could the three numbers between seven and 10 make that much of a difference?

That’s mathematics. Two to the tenth power is 1,024. Two to the 20th power is more than a million. Two to the 30th power is more than a billion. If you keep throwing in factors, the numbers go up exponentially. Maybe Spieth can’t hit it as far as Dustin Johnson, can’t turn the ball like Bubba Watson, can’t hit iron shots like Rory McIlroy, but then you multiply all the things Spieth can do. He hits it straight and far enough. He is good with his irons. He is imaginative around the greens. He is a fantastic putter. He thinks through the game well. Then you factor in his composure under pressure and his never-ending aggressiveness and his uncommon sense of self … well, when you are finished with all the calculations you have a player who can almost win the Masters at age 20 and shoot 14 under par the during first two rounds at the Masters a year later.

There’s a funny thing about Augusta: Everyone loves to talk about the Curse of the Par 3 Contest, which sounds like the least interesting “Scooby Doo" episode ever. They started playing this Par 3 Contest in 1960, and since then no one has won that and the Masters in the same year. This curse frightened Woods so much he actually failed to show up for a Par 3 Contest playoff.

Of course, it’s also possible that the curse might not be some odd hex but, instead, simple probability. Try this trick at home: Take out two decks of cards. Shuffle them thoroughly. Now look at the first card in each deck. Are they the same card? No? Try it again. Are they same card now? No? Try it again. Are they the same card now? No? Well, you obviously have a cursed deck of cards there. I’m guessing if you do that 10,000 times, the same card will come up roughly once out of every 52 shots – there being 52 cards in a deck.

There are more than 52 golfers at the Masters, by the way.

But while people talk about that absurd thing endlessly, there’s another Augusta quirk that is pretty interesting: Only one first-round leader in 30 years has actually won the tournament. Trevor Immelman was tied for the lead after one round in 2008 and he went on to win it despite a final-round 75. That’s it. Nobody else has done it. That does seem weird.

Only, it actually isn’t that weird: Truth is, Augusta National tends to be a different golf course on Thursday and even Friday than it is later in the week. Tom Watson says that the Masters people have told him they want low scores the first day or two. They make the pin placements somewhat benign. They soften up the greens. This gives the tournament a little pizazz to start. Then, when the weekend comes, the tough pin placements come out. The greens get a little faster. Tack on some tournament pressure … it’s actually not too surprising that players have a hard time holding on.

Point is, everyone is still watching Spieth closely. He’s dominated the first tournament. He’s five shots up on Charley Hoffman, seven or nine or 10 shots up on most of the contenders,12 up on Tiger – who still wants to believe. The tournament is Spieth’s to lose. But now the second tournament begins, and curse or no, early-round leaders haven’t done that well in the second tournament. Woods knew exactly what he was saying when he referred to Greg Norman’s collapse in 1996: “With 36 holes here to go, anything game happen – ’96 proved that.” Sleep on that, Jordan.

And it must be said that last year, Spieth led by two shots on Sunday and then blinked.

“What I learned (last year),” he said, “was that the weekend of a major, those rounds, can often seem like two rounds with all the mental stuff running through your head, the stress levels … The hardest thing to do is put aside wanting to win so bad.”

Thing is, after watching the remarkable display Spieth put on Thursday and Friday, you sense that he will put all curses aside and handle all the challenges the course will throw his way. You sense that he will stay within himself, keep shooting low scores, leave everyone else behind. You sense that he’s actually this new Apple product that wins Masters Tournaments and makes it look absurdly easy.

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McIlroy 'committed to everything ... ran out of holes'

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 7:08 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy summed it up: “I don’t really feel like it’s a defeat. I feel like it’s a good week.”

McIlroy, in search of his fifth major, tied for the lead at The Open late on Sunday at Carnoustie when he made eagle on the par-5 14th hole. An hour later, he had made five consecutive pars to close out a 1-under 70 and tie for second place with Justin Rose, Kevin Kisner and Xander Schauffele.

That group ended two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. McIlroy thought it was realistic to squeeze one more shot out of his round, but he never though it was possible to squeeze out two.

“I committed to everything,” he said. “I hit the shots when I needed to. I made good swings on 17 and on 18. I just ran out of holes.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy hasn’t played poorly this year, but this hasn't been a year that would rank as a total success. He took the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March and collected a second-place finish at the BMW PGA Championship. He had a legitimate chance to win the Masters before a terrible Sunday round, and then missed the cut at the U.S. Open last month at Shinnecock Hills.

Sunday at Carnoustie, McIlroy bogeyed two of his first five holes and quickly became an afterthought. When others faltered, McIlroy birdies Nos. 9 and 11, then eagled 14 to vault back into the picture.

“I’m happy with how I played,” he said. “I didn’t get off to a great start, but I hung in there, and I battled back.

“So I’ll look back at this week and be very encouraged about what I’ve done and the golf that I played. I feel like that will stand me in good stead for what’s coming up.”

McIlroy is scheduled to play the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in two weeks, followed by the PGA Championship and the FedExCup Playoffs.

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Edoardo, other pros congratulate Francesco on Twitter

By Grill Room TeamJuly 22, 2018, 6:54 pm

Francesco Molinari played a bogey-free weekend at Carnoustie to claim Italy's first claret jug.

His rock-solid performance in the final round earned him his share of social media plaudits.

Here's a collection of Twitter hat-tips, and we start off with Frankie's brother, Dodo.

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Woods: Fan who yelled had 'tipped back a few'

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 6:37 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Tiger Woods stood on the 18th tee and thought he needed birdie to have a chance to win The Open. He pulled driver out of his bag, a sign he wanted to boot the ball as far down the fairway as possible.

Woods took a mighty swat and - right in the middle of his downswing - someone yelled. Woods flinched.

Luckily his ball still found a decent spot just off the right of the fairway.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I’ve had things like that happen a lot in my career with people who just tried to time it,” Woods said Sunday at Carnoustie after shooting 71 to tie for sixth place. “They tipped back a few, and it’s late in the day.

“Unfortunately, that’s part of what we have to deal with in today’s game. People are trying to yell out things to try to be on TV or be in social media or whatever it may be. That was too close to the game of play.”

Woods hit his approach to 6 feet and missed the birdie putt. He tapped in for par to shoot even par and finish 5 under for the week, in a tie for sixth.

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Pros melt down on Twitter as they watch Tiger

By Grill Room TeamJuly 22, 2018, 6:30 pm

Tiger Woods mounted a final-round charge and, for a little while, took the outright lead at Carnoustie on Sunday.

His fellow pros were watching and tweeting like your average fans.

We compiled some of their missives below:

Woods would go on to finish in a tie for sixth at 5 under par for the week.