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Potter's win latest stop on winding road to Augusta

By Randall MellFebruary 12, 2018, 1:38 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The fog never rolled in at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am this week, leaving a star-studded field to play four days under spectacular blue skies.

Ted Potter Jr. sure managed to cloud things up, though.

Sunday looked like Dustin Johnson’s for the taking, with the world No. 1 tied for the lead going into the final round, with the big-hitting star in perfect position to take the game by the throat again in a run up to the Masters.

Potter knocked him out.

He knocked out all the heavyweights.

Potter also knocked handicapping charts for the Masters into disarray.

Thirteen events into this wraparound season, six events into the new year, and the final leg of the West Coast swing arrives at Riviera with the top of the game more unsorted and unsettled thanks to Potter’s roundhouse.

“To get it done today, especially playing with the world No. 1, the win here at Pebble is just unbelievable,” said Potter, whose closing 3-under-par 69 left him three shots clear of Johnson (72), Phil Mickelson (67), Jason Day (70) and Chez Reavie (68).

Mickelson, who like Potter is left-handed, was asked what it says about the game that the 264th-ranked player in the world could march onto one of the most iconic venues in the world and beat one of the best fields of the year.

“Pebble Beach and Augusta National are left-handed golf courses,” Mickelson cracked. “I think that’s obvious.”

Yeah, it’s never too early to start thinking about the Masters and who is best positioning themselves for the year’s first major.

Johnson didn’t have his best Sunday, but he won his first PGA Tour start of the year and gave himself a chance in his second start here. He went to Riviera last year and won the first in his run of three victories in a row.

Still, Johnson has failed to win with a 54-hole lead two of the last three times he has held or shared one. He blew a six-shot cushion at the HSBC Champions last fall.

He looks a little less formidable than he did winning in an eight-shot rout at the Sentry Tournament of Champions last month.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am

AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am: Articles, photos and videos


“Just didn’t have it,” Johnson said Sunday. “It was just one of those days where nothing went my way.

“Ted played well.”

Johnson was uncharacteristically loose with his wedge play. He dumped his ball into a greenside bunker from 76 yards at the fourth, failing to take advantage of birdie position there. He similarly failed to take advantage of chances with wedges in hand at the 10th, 11th, 14th and 15th holes. He knocked an iron into a hazard off the fifth tee.

“Never really got in a rhythm out there,” Johnson said.

Mickelson is stoked about where his game is trending, with his T-2 finish following his tie for fifth last week at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. He looks ready to claim his 43rd PGA Tour title, his first since winning The Open almost five years ago.

“Right now, I’m hitting it as well as I have in a long time,” Mickelson said. 

Day didn’t have enough to win Sunday, but this run into contention, combined with his victory two weeks ago at the Farmers Insurance Open, has him trending nicely.

“It's good,” Day said. “I feel like there's a lot of room for improvement. My wedge play needs to improve. My iron play needs to improve. My driver's actually been pretty decent. ... If I keep doing what I'm doing, finishing first and second in the first two events, but also improve, and cut out the blemishes, then, hopefully, it will be more like 2015.”

Day’s five victories that year included a major championship and boosted him to world No. 1.

Jordan Spieth could not successfully defend his title this week, but he looks like he’s coming out of that “minor slump” with his putter, something that was an issue in his missing the cut last week in Phoenix.

Spieth needed just 25 putts in his round of 71 Sunday at Pebble Beach, which left him tied for 20th. He holed a monster 54-foot putt for birdie at the fifth.

“I came here kind of searching,” Spieth said. “I seem to have kind of found some answers to some problem areas.”

Like Johnson and Mickelson, Spieth will tee it up at the Genesis Open at Riviera.

“My putter made tremendous progress this week,” Spieth said. “I feel great about it going forward. ... The putts I missed today were the ones I misread. I don’t think I put one bad stroke on it, which is the first time I can say that in a long time.”

Rory McIlroy missed the cut here Saturday, but his second- and third-place finishes on the European Tour last month bode well if he can get his putter going better than it was on the poa annua grasses on the Monterey Peninsula. He is also headed to Riviera this week.

“I've got six weeks out of the next seven to try and play well and give myself chances to win,” McIlroy said arriving at Pebble Beach. “And I feel like where my game's at, and how I'm feeling, if I do what I know I can do, I'll have chances.”

And there should be no ruling out Potter. You don’t beat this field on this iconic course and get dismissed at Augusta National.

“Definitely a big confidence boost,” he said.

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Spieth admits '16 Masters "kind of haunted me"

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:38 pm

Two years ago, Jordan Spieth arrived at Colonial Country Club and promptly exorcised some demons.

He was only a month removed from blowing the 2016 Masters, turning a five-shot lead with nine holes to play into a shocking runner-up finish behind Danny Willett. Still with lingering questions buzzing about his ability to close, he finished with a back-nine 30 on Sunday, including birdies on Nos. 16-18, to seal his first win since his Augusta National debacle.

Returning this week to the Fort Worth Invitational, Spieth was asked about the highs and lows he's already experienced in his five-year pro career and candidly pointed to the 2016 Masters as a "low point" that had a lingering effect.

"Even though it was still a tremendous week and still was a really good year in 2016, that kind of haunted me and all the questioning and everything," Spieth told reporters. "I let it tear me down a little bit. I kind of lost a little bit of my own freedom, thoughts on who I am as a person and as a golfer."

Spieth went on to win the Australian Open in the fall of 2016, and last year he added three more victories including a third major title at Royal Birkdale. Given more than two years to reflect - and after nearly nabbing a second green jacket last month - he admitted that the trials and triublations of 2016 had a lasting impact on how he perceives the daily grind on Tour.

"I guess to sum it up, I've just tried to really be selfish in the way that I think and focus on being as happy as I possibly can playing the game I love. Not getting caught up in the noise, good or bad," Spieth said. "Because what I hear from the outside, the highs are too high from the outside and the lows are too low from the outside from my real experience of them. So trying to stay pretty neutral and just look at the big picture things, and try and wake up every single day loving what I do."

 

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Spieth offers Owen advice ahead of Web.com debut

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 6:22 pm

As country music sensation Jake Owen gets set to make his Web.com Tour debut, Jordan Spieth had a few pieces of advice for his former pro-am partner.

Owen played as a 1-handicap alongside Spieth at this year's AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and this week he is playing his own ball on a sponsor invite at the Nashville Open. Owen joked with a Web.com Tour reporter that Spieth "shined" him by not answering his text earlier in the week, but Spieth explained to reporters at the Fort Worth Invitational that the two have since connected.

"We texted a bit yesterday. I was just asking how things were going," Spieth said. "I kind of asked him the state of his game. He said he's been practicing a lot. He said the course is really hard. I mean, going into it with that mindset, maybe he'll kind of play more conservative."

Owen is in the field this week on the same type of unrestricted sponsor exemption that NBA superstar Steph Curry used at the Web.com's Ellie Mae Classic in August. As Owen gets set to make his debut against a field full of professionals, Spieth noted that it might be for the best that he's focused on a tournament a few hundred miles away instead of walking alongside the singer as he does each year on the Monterey Peninsula.

"Fortunately I'm not there with him, because whenever I'm his partner I'm telling him to hit driver everywhere, even though he's talented enough to play the golf course the way it needs to be played," Spieth said. "So I think he'll get some knowledge on the golf course and play it a little better than he plays Pebble Beach. He's certainly got the talent to be able to shoot a good round."

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Presidents Cup changes aim to help Int'l. side

By Rex HoggardMay 23, 2018, 6:20 pm

In March when the PGA Tour announced the captains for next year’s Presidents Cup there was an understandable monsoon of attention for one element of that press conference.

Tiger Woods being named the captain for the U.S. team that will travel to Australia late next year was just not news, it was a monumental shift in how many view the 14-time major champion.

Although he’s slowly played his way back to competitive relevance, his decision to lead the red, white and blue side was the most glaring example to date that Woods is beginning to embrace a new role as a leader and a veteran.

Newsy stuff.

In that blur of possibility, however, were a few other nuggets that largely went overlooked but may end up impacting the biennial team event much more than the two high-profile captains (Ernie Els was named the International side’s front man for 2019).

Among these subtle changes is a new rule that requires every team member to play at least one match prior to Sunday’s singles session, instead of the two-match minimum in previous years. In theory, this would allow a captain to “hide” a player who might not be at the top of his form.

The Tour also announced each captain will have four, up from two, captain’s picks and they will make those selections much later than in previous years.



Officials would understandably be reluctant to admit it, but these changes are designed to give Els and Co. a chance, any chance, to make the ’19 matches competitive.

Following last year’s boat race of the International team at Liberty National in New Jersey – a lopsided rout that nearly ended late Saturday when the U.S. team came up just a single point short of clinching the cup before the 12 singles matches – most observers agreed that something had to change.

The International team has won just one of the dozen Presidents Cups that have been played, and that was way back in 1998, and has lost the last five matches by a combined 20 points.

Giving Els and Woods more time to make their captain’s picks is a byproduct of the timing of next year’s event, which will be played in Australia in December; but giving both captains a little more flexibility with the addition of two picks should, in theory, help the International side.

The Tour also altered how the points list is compiled for the International team, with a move to a 12-month cycle that’s based on the amount of World Ranking points that are earned. The previous selection criteria used a two-year cycle.

“That was a change that was important to Ernie Els to make sure that he feels like he has his most competitive team possible,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations. “That in conjunction with having four captain’s picks instead of two, which had been the case prior to 2019, he feels that’s going to give him his best chance to bring his strongest, most competitive team to Australia.”

The 12-month cycle will start this August at the Dell Technologies Championship and end at the 2019 Tour Championship, and puts more importance on recent form although had the new selection criteria been used for the 2017 team, there would have been just one player who wouldn’t have automatically qualified for the team. That’s not exactly a wholesale makeover.

“It didn’t seem to be a dramatic change in the makeup of the team,” Pazder conceded.

Still, a change, any change, is refreshing considering the one-sided nature of the Presidents Cup the last two decades. Of course, if the circuit really wanted to shake things up they would have reduced the total number of points available from 30 to 28, which is the format used at the Ryder Cup and as a general rule that event seems to avoid prolonged bouts of competitive irrelevance.

Perhaps these most recent nip/tucks will be enough to break the International team out of a losing cycle that doesn’t help bring attention to the event or motivate players.

There’s no mystery to what makes for a compelling competition, look no further than the Ryder Cup for the secret sauce. History makes fans, and players, care about the outcome and parity makes it compelling. What history the Presidents Cup has is largely one-sided and if last year’s loss is any indication the event is no closer to parity now than it was when it was started in 1994.

Els has been a part of every International team since 1996 and if anyone can pull the side from its current funk it would be the South African, but history suggests he might need a little more help from the Tour to shift the competitive winds.

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Rahm ready to bomb and gouge around Colonial

By Will GrayMay 23, 2018, 3:40 pm

Faced with one of the PGA Tour's most traditional layouts, Jon Rahm has no plans to take his foot off the gas pedal.

Rahm is one of four players ranked inside the top six headlining the field at this week's Fort Worth Invitational, where the Spaniard dazzled with bookend rounds of 66 to share runner-up honors in his tournament debut a year ago. Set to make his return, Rahm explained that Colonial Country Club is similar to the narrow, tree-lined course in Spain where he first learned the game with driver in hand.


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So while many other players in the field will play for position, Rahm plans to employ the same strategy he did on his boyhood course by letting it rip off the tee and taking his chances.

"I felt like if I am going to miss the fairway, I would rather be 60 or 70 yards away than laying up and having 130, especially with this rough being unpredictable and these small greens," Rahm told reporters Wednesday. "The closer you are to the green, the easier it will be to hit the green. That's kind of the idea I have."

Rahm struggled in his most recent start at The Players, but otherwise has had a strong spring highlighted by a win in Spain and a fourth-place showing at the Masters. The 23-year-old added that he feels "a lot more comfortable" off the tee with driver in hand than a fairway wood or long iron, so expect more counterintuitive strategy this week from a player who had no trouble solving one of the Tour's oldest riddles a year ago.

"I like traditional golf courses," he said. "You know, everything that says it shouldn't be good for me, in my mind, is good for me."