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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Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''


Full-field scores from the Sanford International


Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

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Glover (64) leads Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Web.com Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Web.com Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Web.com Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

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Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

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McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”


Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”