Spieth, McIlroy contrast styles, produce similar results in Abu Dhabi

By Rex HoggardJanuary 21, 2016, 12:30 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – For those tasked with filling column inches and airtime it’s become common practice to compare the games of golf’s standard-bearers in recent months.

For Jordan Spieth it’s been a story of rolling in putts from the Masters to Moline (for the record, he averaged 78 feet of putts made per round in 2015, nearly the length of a basketball court) and otherwise dissecting golf courses like a taxidermist.

By contrast, when he’s healthy Rory McIlroy has the ability to manhandle even the longest courses (see PGA Championship, 2014) with drives that seem to linger in the afternoon sky longer than they should.

Which style is preferred and will better stand the test of time is the subject of much debate, as if the world would settle for just a single flavor at Baskin-Robbins.

What made Thursday’s action at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship special was the proximity of the divergent styles. Spieth and McIlroy set out together for Round 1 in what amounted to a competitive petri dish.

For those who savor variety, consider Thursday’s action: at No. 1, the group’s 10th hole of the day, Spieth eased a 10-footer for par into the hole. At the 18th hole, their ninth, McIlroy hit a drive that sailed some 30 yards farther than Spieth’s on his way to a birdie.

Abu Dhabi HSBC: Articles, photos and videos

And so it was in between the beginning and ending, alpha and omega at ... well, not their best but certainly better than one would expect given the early hour of the season.

Spieth dealt with a two-way miss with his driver – hitting just eight of 14 fairways and referring to himself as “short and crooked” – while McIlroy battled a schizophrenic putter, one-putting his first two greens for birdie only to three-putt the 13th and 17th holes for bogeys.

When the duo’s day was done just past lunch, they were in a statistical dead heat considering there are still 54 holes to play. McIlroy opened with a 66 for a share of third place, two strokes clear of Spieth (68) who retired to the practice tee after his round in search of answers for his balky driver.

“I didn't drive the ball well, which is really the key out here,” said Spieth, who was issued a “monitoring” penalty by officials late in his round for violation the tour’s slow play policy. “To shoot 4 under with the way I felt with my driver is spectacular.”

After playing the part of scrapper to perfection on the front nine, going three-for-three in par saves, Spieth made a mess of the fifth hole after a bad drive, tough approach and terrible chip that never found the putting surface.

“I feel like I scrambled pretty well for the majority of the round, and then a couple wedge shots just really hurt me from making it a great round,” said Spieth, who is making his European Tour desert swing debut.

For Spieth, the juxtaposition between the way he digs out a score and how McIlroy plays is often striking. Despite more than a month away from tournament play, the Northern Irishman turned in a mid-season performance off the tee.

“I’d give it an 8 or 9 [out of 10],” McIlroy said of his driver on Day 1. “I wasn’t perfect, but I am driving it really well and feel like I got a bit of strength back over the break.”

It’s a telling component of their rivalry, be it real or perceived, that both Spieth and McIlroy have a genuine appreciation for how the other plays the game.

For Spieth, it was worth the trip to the Middle East to see McIlroy dismantle a course the way he did on Thursday.

“It’s the Rory I’ve seen win majors,” Spieth said. “It’s fun to watch someone stripe it. I’m not capable of hitting the ball as far as he does. It’s like playing with [Jason] Day or Dustin [Johnson]; they’re in a different league.”

McIlroy was equally effusive when asked about the world No. 1’s game.

“The thing that always impresses me any time I do watch Jordan or I get to play with Jordan is obviously his putting is exceptional, but his speed on the greens,” McIlroy said. “The ball is always traveling at a speed towards the hole that either has a chance to go in or if it doesn't go in, is going to only go 2 or 3 feet past.”

This is neither an endorsement nor an indictment of either style, simply an intriguing comparison and contrast of two distinct ways to play the game. Both methods, after all, have produced wildly historic results in recent years.

Yet many experts seem to give the edge to McIlroy in a head-to-head duel between the two if, and that is a big if, both are playing their best.

After a solid, if not spectacular day for both on Thursday that theory probably gained some traction; but we won’t know for sure until they both take to the field with their Sunday best.

After watching Thursday’s give and take, that sublime showdown could be just a day away.

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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”