Days later, still difficult to sum up Spieth's win

By John FeinsteinJuly 25, 2017, 10:00 pm

Finding words to describe Jordan Spieth’s Sunday performance at The Open is difficult. So, let’s begin by agreeing on one thing: The Open always delivers.

Since Louis Oosthuizen’s stunning runaway at St. Andrews in 2010, every Open Sunday has produced something remarkable.

It began with Darren Clarke’s emotional victory at Royal St. George’s in 2011. In his 20th Open – at age 42 – Clarke held off Phil Mickelson and Dustin Johnson for an emotional triumph and choked up during the victory ceremony talking about his wife, Heather, who had died of cancer five years earlier.

A year later, Ernie Els, also 42, played a brilliant back nine at Royal Lytham and St. Anne’s – the same course where he thought he was going to win in 1996 – and walked away with the claret jug when Adam Scott imploded over the last four holes.

Then came 43-year-old Phil Mickelson’s closing 66 at Muirfield, giving him a victory he honestly didn’t think he’d ever achieve. Rory McIlroy ended the 40-something’s dynasty a year after that at Royal Liverpool with a bravura performance that ended with an emotional hug with his mom on the 18th green.



At St. Andrews in 2015, weather pushed the finish to Monday and, after a wild scramble down the stretch, Zach Johnson, Oosthuizen and Marc Leishman played off – with Spieth, eyeing the single-season Grand Slam, one shot and about three inches from joining them. Johnson putted like a demon to walk away with the victory.

And the last two years have given us breathtaking mano-a-mano duels on Sunday: Henrik Stenson and Mickelson last year; Spieth and Matt Kuchar this year. Mickelson shot 65 on Sunday at Troon and went from a one-shot deficit at the start of the day to a three-shot defeat, after Stenson threw a 63 at him to win his first major.

Kuchar couldn’t help but note Sunday that, after taking a one-shot lead walking to the 14th tee, he played the next four holes in 2 under par. Which meant he only dropped THREE shots to Spieth during that stretch.

Which brings us to trying to find words to describe what Spieth did in the last 90 minutes of The Open – 30 of which were spent on the 13th hole.

Let’s start with two phrases that will be repeated for years-to-come:

Birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. And: Driving-range shot.

There’s the ‘car-park shot,’ dating to Seve Ballesteros’ recovery at the 16th hole at Lytham on Sunday in 1979, leading to his first major title. And now, there’s the driving-range shot.

Everyone knows what happened: Spieth, fighting his swing and his emotions, hit about as bad a shot as a professional can hit on the 13th tee, described by NBC’s Roger Maltbie as being, “100 yards right.”

It took more than 20 minutes for Spieth to hit another shot – his third after taking an unplayable lie from the dune where the ball ended up. Because golf’s rules and those who enforce them have been under fire for a couple of years now and because Spieth has a (deserved) reputation as a slow player, there was a good deal of grumbling about how long it took him to play his third shot.

It would be a shame if people focused on that rather than Spieth’s final 19 shots of the championship, beginning with the one he finally struck from the driving range.

But, let’s review the circumstances for a moment. Spieth first had to choose from his three options after declaring the ball unplayable: go back to the tee; try to drop within two club lengths of the spot where his ball had finished; go back as far as he wished as long as he kept the dune where his ball had been, between him and the hole.

The first option – especially having to stand up on that tee again – almost certainly would have led to a 6, at least – and probably would have finished Spieth. The second was impossible, no place to drop.

So, it had to be option No. 3. The question was where could Spieth and his wandering golf ball go? The answer, as it turned out, was the nearby driving range – which (like the car-park) probably wasn’t out-of-bounds because nobody thought anyone would hit a shot anywhere close to there.

Spieth then took a lot of time checking yardage – there was nothing in his yardage book about playing a shot from there – talking to caddie Michael Greller and figuring out where he needed to aim his shot. Meanwhile, Kuchar sat and waited.

What made the situation impossible was there’s nothing in the rules – believe it or not – that covers this. It was unique. All the officials and all the king’s men couldn’t force Jordan to hit again.

Hale Irwin, who was playing with Ballesteros at Lytham in ’79 suggested Monday that it’s time for golf to have some kind of shot-clock. “Once the ball is in play, regardless of how tough the shot may be, there should be a limit on how long you can take. You’re a professional, YOU put yourself in that situation. There should be a limit on how long you can take to get yourself out of it.”

On Sunday though, no such rule was in play. So, everyone waited.

The good news was that you can’t say that Kuchar was affected by the delay. Imagine if Rory Sabbatini had been playing with Spieth. Come to think of it, don’t imagine it. The visual’s too gruesome.

Spieth, as everyone knows, made bogey when all the dust and clouds and dunes cleared. The 8-foot putt that he made might have been the most important of the 268 shots he played at Royal Birkdale last week.

Clearly, it gave him a jolt. He went from looking baffled and bewildered by the round he was playing to steely-eyed, the way the true greats get when something clicks. Bruce Edwards always said he got a chill when Tom Watson turned to him on the driving range and said, “I’ve got it,” when he figured out a swing-thought he knew would work.

Spieth had it by the time he walked to the 14th tee. He almost holed his tee shot, settling for a 6-foot birdie putt. Then came the ludicrous eagle putt that travelled through several English counties (or 38 feet) at 15. That’s when his victim, Kuchar, no doubt began to get that sinking feeling.

Then came the birdies at 16 and 17. By then, Kuchar, who had played well all day and all week – no one in the field ended up within two shots of him – had to feel like Joe Frazier at the end of the Thrilla in Manila: He’d thrown everything he had at Muhammad Ali, as played by Spieth, and it hadn’t been enough.

So, back to the words that describe those last 90 minutes? You pick one: extraordinary, amazing, stunning, fantastic, supernatural, ridiculous, remarkable, indescribable.

They all fit. But one other stands out: historic. Those two phrases will remain part of the golf pantheon forever: the driving-range shot and birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie.

Enough said.


John Feinstein's new book 'The First Major: The Inside Story of the 2016 Ryder Cup' will be released October 24. It is available now for pre-sale online.
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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.