The odd couple: Spieth, Reed have unique rivalry

By Rex HoggardJanuary 8, 2016, 4:30 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Sports, and by association golf, is always best when served with a dollop of rivalry.

Ali had Frazier, McEnroe had Borg, Johnny Manziel has whoever that Billy Football guy was in Las Vegas, and it seems, at least at selected outlets, Jordan Spieth has Patrick Reed.

It’s a peculiar relationship. The Texas-born golden child who has engaged fans from Des Moines to Dallas and the Texas-born iconoclast who has a tendency to turn a phrase down the wrong path.

Although it’s easy to shoehorn characters as heroes and villains, when it comes to Spieth and Reed it would be a wild generalization and patently wrong.

Each player is far more nuanced than that, but the duo’s increasingly frequent bouts between the ropes are becoming something of a blueprint for a rivalry.

Reed clipped Spieth in a playoff in 2013 at the Wyndham Championship, Spieth returned the favor in extra frames last year at the Valspar Championship, and on Thursday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions the tandem traded punches on their way to the top two spots on the leaderboard, with Reed clipping the world No. 1 with an eagle at the last for a 65.


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“He got me when I think I may have deserved it on the last hole of the Wyndham. Kind of left an itch on me to want to get that tournament back in the Valspar,” said Spieth, who is poised a shot behind Reed at 7 under.

“Any time Patrick loses in a head-to-head format, you're not going to see somebody that's that upset for a very long time. He hates it. I mean he hates losing in a match-play situation.”

The dichotomy of Spieth and Reed is straight out of central casting. While Spieth enjoys the role of fresh-faced and outgoing champion, Reed is more guarded in interviews and recedes into a competitive cocoon and the safety of clichés.

Spieth once declined to talk about how humble he was in an interview because, well, that wouldn’t be humble; while Reed raised eyebrows at the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship when he proclaimed himself a top-5 player despite an actualranking that hovered closer to 40th.

Spieth dotes over his family, spending the week before this championship frolicking in the Pacific Ocean with his sister; while Reed is estranged from his parents.

Spieth is a media darling with his likeness littered about Kapalua this week, while Reed – the defending champion in Maui – has gone largely unnoticed.

For all the differences, however, the two have created a unique, mutually beneficial bond over their relatively short careers.

The duo went undefeated teamed together in four-ball play at the 2014 Ryder Cup and added a foursomes victory at last year’s Presidents Cup to their collective resume.

“For whatever reason it is, whether we want to feed off each other or we want to beat the crap out of each other, we somehow play well together,” Spieth said. “We still want to outdo each other even when we're teammates in a Ryder Cup or Presidents Cup. So it's a good pairing.”

Although not as effusive as Spieth, Reed seemed to acknowledge a connection born largely from competitive necessity. Simply put, for Reed to reach that goal of being a top-5 player - he’s currently 10th - the most direct route would be through Spieth.

“Any time I play with Jordan we always have a good time and we seemed to play pretty solid with each other,” said Reed, who will head out paired with Spieth for the second consecutive day on Friday. “So, just another day to go out and play some golf with a friend and we went out and played some fun golf.”

There are others who would more easily qualify as Spieth’s rivals in the current golf landscape.

Jason Day pushed him during last year’s FedEx Cup playoffs – giving players, however briefly, a reason to reconsider rubberstamping that Player of the Year ballot with Spieth’s name – and world No. 3 Rory McIlroy seems poised to reclaim the top spot in the world after being slowed by injury in 2015.

All three players, however, seem forged from the same mold. While there is no lack of competitiveness among the threesome, they share an easy likability that dulls the leading edge of any real rivalry.

They will battle on the course for titles and break bread at night recounting the round. Yet, be it real or perceived, for Spieth and Reed there is only grudging respect.

“I guess each time we're together we almost feel like we're playing each other in a match,” Spieth said. “Maybe he doesn't, but that's what I think of it, that's why I think we play well together. We certainly want each other to play well, to push ourselves, [but] I don't like losing to him in a round when I play with him.”

And that, by definition, is the central ingredient of any good rivalry.

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Web.com Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."

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CIMB champ Leishman hopes to improve on CJ runner-up

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:29 pm

Marc Leishman is back in Korea with momentum on his side, hoping to fare a little better than a year ago.

Leishman nearly took home the trophy in the inaugural CJ Cup, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff with Justin Thomas. But the Aussie put his approach into the water on the second extra hole, allowing Thomas to wrap up the win a few minutes later.

"Excited to be back in Korea. I have a lot of good memories here at this golf course," Leishman told reporters. "Hopefully I can play well again and go one better than last year."

Leishman's playoff loss kick-started a strong opening stretch to his wraparound season, but he closed it without a victory. That drought ended in emphatic fashion last week, as he cruised to a five-shot win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia for his fourth career PGA Tour win and his third since March 2017.


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Leishman told reporters last week in Malaysia that before the week started, his driving was so crooked that he feared his equipment reps might need to add a few golf balls to his locker. Instead, he found his groove en route to shooting 26 under par at TPC Kuala Lumpur and leaving the field in his wake.

"Golf's a funny game. It can change very quickly from bad to good or from good to bad," Leishman said. "It was certainly a goal of mine to win this season, and to win my first event of the season is great. Also to be going back to Maui puts me in a different frame of mind for the whole year. For a lot of reasons, I'm really happy with what last week brought."

Leishman played on the Korean PGA Tour in 2006 while getting his pro career off the ground, but even with that experience he expects a learning curve while going from the steamy conditions of Malaysia to the cool and wet climate that has greeted players this week on Jeju Island.

"It's a big adjustment going from so hot and humid last week to fairly cold and hopefully not wet, but it was wet this morning," Leishman said. "The ball goes different distances, your body's not quite as loose as what it is when it's hot. Just little things like that that you have to adjust to."

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Bowditch eyes same fusion surgery as Tiger

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:03 pm

After struggling through a couple lean years on the course, Steven Bowditch is ready to go under the knife.

Bowditch has won twice on the PGA Tour, and the Aussie was a member of the International Team at the 2015 Presidents Cup in South Korea. But his game fell apart shortly thereafter, as Bowditch has made just two cuts in his last 40 starts dating back to July 2016 while putting up some eye-popping scores.

Bowditch's exemption for his win at the 2015 AT&T Byron Nelson expired in August 2017, and he spent last season without full-time status on Tour for the first time since 2010. He made eight starts, notably finding a caddie via Twitter search before missing the cut at the John Deere Classic in July.

But the 35-year-old revealed Tuesday that his on-course struggles have been tied to some health concerns that have been difficult to pinpoint. Having finally received the appropriate diagnosis, he is preparing for a spinal fusion surgery next month between the L5 and S1 vertebrae - the same two that Tiger Woods successfully fused last year:

Bowditch's estimate of a "late 2019" return likely means he'll miss the entire 2018-19 season. When he returns he would do so with past champion status based on his wins, which also included the 2014 Valero Texas Open.

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Thomas, Koepka grouped as both vie for No. 1 in Korea

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 1:44 pm

The PGA Tour remains in Asia this week, where another star-studded field is gathered for a no-cut event. Here's a look at some of the marquee, early-round groupings at the CJ Cup in South Korea, where Justin Thomas will look to retain his title as the tournament's lone champion with the action getting started Wednesday night for American viewers (all times ET):

7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im

Thomas won the inaugural edition of this event last year in a playoff, and he returns to defend his title with hopes of supplanting idle Dustin Johnson as world No. 1. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Koepka, who is making his first start since being named PGA Tour Player of the Year and, like Thomas, could move to world No. 1. Rounding out the group is Im, a Korean native who went wire-to-wire leading the Web.com Tour money list in 2018 and nearly won his first event as a PGA Tour member in Napa.


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8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els

Leishman lost to Thomas in overtime at this event last year, but he returns to Jeju Island with plenty of momentum after dusting the field last week en route to a five-shot win at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia. Joining him will be Kim, who won the 2017 Players Championship and will have plenty of support from the Korean fans, and Els, playing this week on a sponsor invite as he continues to keep an eye on potential stars for the Presidents Cup team he will captain next year.


8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

They're two Aussies who teamed on plenty of Presidents Cup squads and have both reached the top of the world rankings, and now they'll play together for the first two rounds in Korea. Day is making his first start since East Lake, while Scott made a rare appearance at the Japan Open last week where he tied for 50th. Rounding out the trio will be Matsuyama, another Presidents Cup fixture who tied for fourth at the Tour Championship to end last season.


8:35 p.m. Wednesday, 7:25 p.m. Thursday: Kevin Tway, Austin Cook, Xander Schauffele

Tway finished T-27 last week in Malaysia in his first start as a PGA Tour winner, having taken the trophy two weeks ago in Napa. He'll be joined in Korea by Cook, who contended throughout last week en route to a T-13 finish, and Schauffele, the former Rookie of the Year who shot 65-68 over the weekend in Kuala Lumpur.