Spieth looks Tiger-esque in latest dramatic win

By Rex HoggardJune 26, 2017, 1:00 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Chasing ghosts.

That’s how Jordan Spieth described his game plan this week at the Travelers Championship. It’s the 23-year-old’s unique way of setting benchmarks when you find yourself sleeping on leads and winning tournaments in wire-to-wire fashion.

“Kind of chase a ghost which is normally the goal when you're in the lead is chasing score, that can be more challenging than chasing somebody else down,” Spieth said.

But beyond the immediate day-to-day goals, Spieth’s career at this early juncture could also be considered in the same context.

With his dramatic hole-out from a greenside bunker at the first extra hole at TPC River Highlands, Spieth moved into some historically elite company on Sunday.

Comparisons to Tiger Woods are always wildly unfair, if not patently unfounded. Most will tell you Woods’ career line is unrealistic even for the modern game’s best, but with his 10th PGA Tour victory on Sunday, Tiger is now the only competition for Spieth in at least one race.

Spieth’s overtime triumph over Daniel Berger made him just the second player to win 10 events before turning 24. Woods won 15 times before his 24th birthday, a mark that is out of Spieth’s reach since he turns 24 on July 27, but considering the company he’s keeping at this point in his career, it’s impressive nonetheless.

Spieth isn’t Tiger, but his performance at the Travelers Championship was unquestionably Tiger-esque.

“He’s going to hit it to 20 feet and make the putt. You know why?” asked Ryan Palmer as he watched the final dramatic moments. “Because Tiger would have made it.”

To be clear, Palmer – a regular practice round partner of Spieth’s and his partner earlier this year at the Zurich Classic – isn’t suggesting that Spieth is the next Tiger Woods. Nor is he insinuating that he’s destined for a similar career. But in the big moments, moments like Sunday at the Travelers, there is a quality that can only be compared to the 14-time major champion.

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth didn’t hit his approach to 20 feet at the 72nd hole as Palmer had predicted. Instead, he came up short from 115 yards in a greenside bunker and blasted out to 3 feet before making the par putt to finish at 12 under par.

The moment Palmer predicted came at the first extra hole against Berger after Spieth clipped a tree off the tee and ended up in the same bunker in two shots. This time, Spieth’s blast from the bunker dropped short of the hole, bounced once and trundled into the cup for an unlikely and dramatic birdie.

“He has that it factor,” Palmer said. “You watch the moments, he goes through struggles and he fights back. Not many guys can hit that shot out of the bunker [on the 72nd hole]. It was gutsy. The shot out [during the playoff] was destiny.”

It was the sixth playoff on Tour for Spieth and his fourth victory, an impressive clip made even more so by a game that wasn’t exactly perfect on Sunday.

After starting the day with a one-stroke lead, Spieth pulled away with back-to-back birdies at Nos. 1 and 2 and made the turn with a two-stroke advantage despite hitting just four fairways on the opening loop.

But Spieth bogeyed the 12th hole and added another at the 14th to drop into a tie with Berger. The two exchanged birdies at the 17th (Berger) and 15th (Spieth) holes to set the stage for the dramatic playoff.

But if the 2017 Travelers Championship is remembered for Spieth’s hole-out at the 73rd hole, the champion took solace in how he handled his emotions on a day when things weren’t exactly going his way.

“As we went from 15 to 16, and I could see Daniel, and I knew where I stood and I watched him kind of make that putt on 17, I would have been very pleased with my body language, which is very important,” said Spieth, who closed with a 70.

Berger, who began the day three strokes behind Spieth, could say the same thing after a final-round 67 that began with a bogey at his opening hole and an even-par opening loop.

As is almost always the case at this event, however, the closing nine produced plenty of dramatics - with birdies at Nos. 13, 15 and 17 for Berger to force overtime.

“I played great today. I played the playoff hole great,” Berger said. “He hit an unbelievable bunker shot, and Jordan does Jordan things. So there's not really much you can say. I'm obviously disappointed, but happy to be in the position I was in today.”

As players huddled around the television in the TPC River Highlands locker room to watch the finish, there was an anticipation that harkened back to the Tiger era.

“Wouldn't be surprised if [Spieth] just holed this bunker shot,” Justin Thomas tweeted moments before the game winner; and Boo Weekley, who began the day a stroke behind Spieth and paired with him in the day’s final group, watched in stunned silence.

“He holed out?” Weekley asked. When reminded that Spieth nearly did the same thing on the 72nd hole, Weekley frowned, “I know, I was there.”

Spieth isn’t Tiger Woods, but he can certainly create a moment to remember much like the guy in the red shirt.

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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.  

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Height of irony: Phil putts in front of 'rules' sign

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 1:36 pm

A picture is worth 1,000 words and potentially two strokes for playing a moving ball under Rule 14-5 but not Rule 1-2.

Phil Mickelson has been having some fun during his Open prep at Carnoustie hitting flop shots over human beings, but the irony of this photo below is too obvious to go over anyone's head.

Mickelson also tried tapping down fescue two weeks ago at The Greenbrier, incurring another two-shot penalty.

And so we're left to wonder about what Phil asked himself back at Shinnecock Hills: "The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’”