Even Spieth's bad shots turned out well

By Nick MentaJuly 12, 2015, 1:33 am

SILVIS, Ill. – Jordan Spieth stood in the trees left of the 17th fairway and didn’t really care for his options.

“I didn’t like that opening, the punch-out opening,” he said. “There really weren’t many places to go unless I went backwards.”

That’s when his eyes started wandering left, through the trees and in the direction of the 18th hole.

And that’s when Spieth and his caddie Michael Greller had something very much resembling a Phil Mickelson-Jim Mackay conversation.

“He’s trained to say punch out, work for par, go on to the next,” Spieth said.

Instead, the 21-year-old, two-time major winner picked his spot, told Greller, “Trust me,” and navigated a 5-iron 200 yards through a narrow gap in the trees, over a bunker, and back into the 17th fairway.

“It wasn’t a big window at all that it went through,” he said. “It climbed right up over the tree and split the other two. After I hit it and it got through there, I gave Mike the little fist pump, because it could have gone very poorly if it didn’t come out the way I wanted it to.”

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Spieth left himself 106 yards to a tucked-right pin. He pulled a sand wedge – that he will tell you was “the wrong club” – made impact, mis-hit it, put too much spin on it, followed through with a displeased one-handed release, flew it about 10 feet past the pin, and …

… Made it.

Spieth, who five minutes beforehand was surveying potential chip-outs with his caddie, holed out from the fairway at 17 for an eagle-3 that gave him sole possession of the lead.

It was the highlight of a birdie-eagle-birdie finish that secured him the lowest round of his PGA Tour career, a 10-under 61 that has him two shots clear of the field at 17 under par heading into Sunday’s final round at the John Deere Classic.

Even after the eagle, Spieth needed one more birdie to set his new personal best, a fact he was plenty aware of standing over an 18-footer on his final hole.

“I had that fist pump on the last, because walking up after the second shot, I said, ‘Mike, I just saw the board and I think this for the lowest round I’ve shot on the PGA Tour.’ And I said, ‘That’s pretty cool.’

“And he said, ‘It doesn’t matter where you’re at. Just keep on trekking.’

“I said, ‘Yeah, but I appreciate this, and I really want to make this thing.’”

He did. In fact, there weren’t many times he looked at a putt and didn’t make it. Spieth needed just 23 putts in his third round after needing only 25 the day before. One of his rare misses Saturday came at the short par-4 14th, when he missed a 7-footer for birdie and then leaned forward, looking at the ball like there was something wrong with it – which there must have been, considering it didn’t go in.

Since playing his first 12 holes 2 over on Thursday, Spieth has played his last 42 holes 19 under par. Over that stretch, he’s made 14 birdies, three eagles and just one bogey. Saturday marked the first time in his Tour career that he’s recorded two eagles in the same round, with the other one coming after a 260-yard 3-wood at the second hole stopped 2 feet from the cup. It also marked the second straight day he’s played a three-hole stretch in 4 under par, after a birdie-birdie-eagle run on Nos. 18-2 Friday.

All this from a guy who after an even-par 71 in Round 1 spent the bulk of his time complaining about his short game and chastising himself for playing nothing more than a Wednesday pro-am in the weeks following his win at the U.S. Open. Two days after “a little rusty start,” he’s one-handing wedges past the hole, off the flagstick, and underground.

“A shot that was mis-hit,” he called his sand wedge at 17. “Not extremely mis-hit. I pull off one-handed even if I don’t miss by a lot. I probably should watch out for that, because it looked bad, because the shot looked pretty good in the air.”

The only things he has left to criticize at this point are his body language and his driver, which did its best to get him into trouble over his last four holes. Spieth’s last three drives were fore right, fore left and fore right. He played those holes 3 under par, thanks in part to missing the fairway so badly off the 15th tee that his ball came to rest behind a scoreboard between the 15th and 17th holes, allowing him a free drop.

“It’s been the concern as I’ve come back from this stretch,” he said, referring to his driver, before quickly correcting himself. “I wouldn’t call it a concern. I’d call it just – it’s the one club in my bag I need to fine-tune the most.”

Spieth is so fine-tuned with his other clubs that he actually damaged the hole at the par-4 eighth after his approach with a pitching wedge clipped the flagstick on the way down and rolled 24 feet away.

“I mean, it happens to everybody ,” he said. “You hit a shot exactly how you want to, and some people wind up in the water.”

He’s not most people. He made the putt for birdie.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm all can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He will return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finished worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, GolfChannel.com writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.