Spieth not letting Masters loss haunt him

By Rex HoggardApril 16, 2014, 7:11 pm

HILTON HEAD ISLAND, S.C. – That empty feeling that has been gnawing at Jordan Spieth since Sunday’s final round at the Masters was still there as he made his way around Harbour Town Golf Links for Wednesday’s pro-am.

It will be there when he tees off for Round 1 of the RBC Heritage on Thursday. It will be there for the rest of this season. Truth is, it will be there forever.

“You don’t ever get over it. It will always be disappointing,” Davis Love III said.

Love came by his pain honestly. At the 1996 U.S. Open he bogeyed his last two holes to finish a stroke behind Steve Jones. Love turned 50 on Sunday, celebrating with friends and family right about the time Spieth’s magical Masters run was being washed down Rae’s Creek, and the ghosts of that ’96 Open loss still haunt him.

So imagine how Spieth, a 20-year-old going on 35 who was playing his first Masters, has spent the last three days – reflection, regret, resentment?

Sure.

“It left me stinging,” he acknowledged Wednesday.

Yet as the golf world is learning, this is not your off-the-shelf 20-year-old. Along with the pain came plenty of appreciation for the opportunity to play for and ultimately lose the green jacket.


RBC Heritage: Articles, photos and videos

Photos: Jordan Spieth through the years


“There’s nothing haunting me from last week,” he said.

Spieth, who moved to ninth in the world golf ranking this week to become the youngest American to crack the top 10, spent Sunday night relaxing with friends and family. They played ping-pong and ate beef shish kabobs with rice and sub sandwiches, because that’s how 20-year-olds roll.

Late Sunday, Spieth texted his Dallas-based swing coach Cameron McCormick and on Monday the two had a lengthy conversation about what had happened during the final round at Augusta National: the less-than-perfect layup at No. 8 compounded by a follow-up bogey at the ninth that resulted in a four-stroke swing with eventual champion Bubba Watson, the indecision at No. 12. Oh, the indecision at the 12th.

“I let the 20-year-old inside me just barely slip out,” Spieth said.

And it cost him. A 9-iron from 150 yards, 143 yards to carry Rae’s Creek, that he’d hit a thousand times in his mind. A 9-iron that would drop short into the bank and eventually trundle into the creek.

“I hate having 9-iron and not being able to go to the pin,” he said. “We picked a spot and I got over the ball and felt like there was no wind or, if anything, a touch of help, which is what that hole does to you.”

McCormick calls it “objective self-reflection.” In practical terms, it is what separates Spieth from many, if not all, of his up-and-coming contemporaries.

“It goes back to when he was 16 years old and we would have conversations and I’d make suggestions. He’s always been receptive and at the same time inquisitive,” McCormick said. “He questions you, challenges you. Part of that is he’s developed this trait of objective self-reflection to understand very quickly what he needs to improve on.”

This goes back to a moment earlier this year during a match against Ernie Els at the WGC-Match Play Championship when Spieth admittedly lost his cool.

“I’m embarrassed about the way I acted on the course today. Played like the 13-year-old version of myself mentally. A lot of positives,” Spieth tweeted following the loss.

McCormick said that Spieth’s social-media mea culpa was “from the heart,” and completely unprovoked. By comparison, his Sunday swoon at the Masters was more an opportunity to learn than an opportunity lost.

For 61 holes Spieth controlled his emotions and his golf ball with equal savvy, not a first-timer learning the nuances of arguably the most demanding test on the fly.

“I’ve looked back to all the positives,” Spieth said. “I feel like I played really well to not shoot an over-par round on that course and not make more than a bogey for four days the way that course was playing.”

It’s why Spieth’s mental toughness, more than his flawless swing or short game, appears to be his best attribute. Consider that at this point last year he didn’t have status on the PGA Tour and watched the year’s first major from his couch like the rest of us.

Where some see failure and the baggage that comes with it, Spieth appears determined to take a more scientific approach to an opportunity that can’t be reproduced in a lab.

“He will learn from how Bubba carried himself or how Ernie carried himself at the Match Play,” McCormick said. “There are always learning experiences and he is good at understanding that.”

Still, missed opportunities have a tendency of festering into painful reminders (see Mickelson, Phil, U.S. Open). If Spieth sounded resolute in his ability to move on from his Masters miss, there were telltale signs that he still may need some time.

Asked on Wednesday if he’d watch the replay of Sunday’s final round Spieth offered a quick, “No.”

Will you ever watch it?

“Probably not. I don’t think so,” he said before pausing, “maybe if I win.”

Some wounds are better left unopened.

Getty Images

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.

Getty Images

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.”

Getty Images

Harrington: Fiery Carnoustie evokes Hoylake in '06

By Ryan LavnerJuly 16, 2018, 3:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – One course came to mind when Padraig Harrington arrived on property and saw a firm, fast and yellow Carnoustie.

Hoylake in 2006.

That's when Tiger Woods avoided every bunker, bludgeoned the links with mid-irons and captured the last of his three Open titles.

So Harrington was asked: Given the similarity in firmness between Carnoustie and Hoylake, can Tiger stir the ghosts this week?


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I really don’t know,” Harrington said Monday. “He’s good enough to win this championship, no doubt about it. I don’t think he could play golf like the way he did in 2006. Nobody else could have tried to play the golf course the way he did, and nobody else could have played the way he did. I suspect he couldn’t play that way now, either. But I don’t know if that’s the strategy this week, to lay up that far back.”

With three days until the start of this championship, that’s the biggest question mark for Harrington, the 2007 winner here. He doesn’t know what his strategy will be – but his game plan will need to be “fluid.” Do you attack the course with driver and try to fly the fairway bunkers? Or do you attempt to lay back with an iron, even though it’s difficult to control the amount of run-out on the baked-out fairways and bring the bunkers into play?

“The fairways at Hoylake are quite flat, even though they were very fast,” Harrington said. “There’s a lot of undulations in the fairways here, so if you are trying to lay up, you can get hit the back of a slope and kick forward an extra 20 or 30 yards more than you think. So it’s not as easy to eliminate all the risk by laying up.”

Getty Images

How will players game-plan for Carnoustie?

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:31 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Thomas took a familiar slash with his driver on the 18th tee on Monday at Carnoustie and watched anxiously as his golf ball bounced and bounded down the fairway.

Unlike the two previous editions of The Open, at what is widely considered the rota’s most demanding test, a particularly warm and dry summer has left Carnoustie a parched shade of yellow and players like Thomas searching for answers.

Under the best circumstances, Carnoustie is every bit the unforgiving participant. But this week promises to be something altogether different, with players already dumbfounded by how far the ball is chasing down fairways and over greens.

Brown is beautiful here at Royal Dark & Dusty.

But then it’s also proving to be something of a unique test.

Where most practice rounds at The Open are spent trying to figure out what lines are best off tees, this is more a study of lesser evils.

Tee shots, like at the par-4 17th hole, ask multiple questions with few answers. On his first attempt, Thomas hit 2-iron off the tee at No. 17. It cleared the Barry Burn and bounded down the middle of the fairway. Perfect, right? Not this year at Carnoustie, as Thomas’ tee shot kept rolling until it reached the same burn, which twists and turns through both the 17th and 18th fairways, at a farther intersection.


Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“A hole like 17 in this wind, the trick is getting a club that will carry [the burn],” said Thomas, who played 18 holes on Monday with Tiger Woods. “If that hole gets downwind you can have a hard time carrying the burn and keeping it short of the other burn. It’s pretty bizarre.”

The sixth hole can offer a similar dilemma, with players needing to carry their tee shots 275 yards to avoid a pair of pot bunkers down the right side of the fairway. Yet just 26 yards past those pitfalls looms a second set of bunkers. Even for the game’s best, trying to weave a fairway wood or long-iron into a 26-yard window can be challenging.

“Six is a really hard hole, it really just depends on how you want to play it. If you want to take everything on and have a chance of hitting an iron into a par 5, or just kind of lay back and play it as a three-shot hole,” Thomas shrugged.

It’s difficult to quantify precisely how short the 7,400-yard layout is playing. It’s not so far players are flying the ball in the air, particularly with relatively little wind in the forecast the rest of the week, so much as it is a question of how a particular shot will run out after it’s made contact with the firm turf.

As the field began to get their first taste of the bouncy fun, one of the earliest indications something was askew came on Sunday when Padraig Harrington, who won The Open the last time it was played at Carnoustie in 2007, announced to the social world that he’d hit into the burn on the 18th hole.

“This time it was the one at the green, 457 yards away,” the Irishman tweeted. “The fairways are a tad fast.”

Most players have already resigned themselves to a steady diet of mid-irons off tees this week in an attempt to at least partially control the amount of run-out each shot will have.

Jordan Spieth, the defending champion, hadn’t played a practice round prior to his media session, but could tell what’s in store just from his abbreviated range session on Monday. “Extremely baked out,” he said.

The conditions have already led Spieth and his caddie, Micheal Greller, to conjure up a tentative game plan.

“You might wear out your 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you’re used to,” Greller told him.

But even that might not be the answer, as Tommy Fleetwood discovered on Sunday during a practice round. Fleetwood has a unique connection with Carnoustie having shot the course record (63) during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship.

The Englishman doesn’t expect his record to be in danger this week.

In fact, he explained the dramatically different conditions were evident on the third hole on Sunday.

“There’s holes that have been nothing tee shots, like the third. If you play that in the middle of September or October [when the Dunhill is played] and it’s green and soft, you could just hit a mid-iron down the fairway and knock it on with a wedge,” Fleetwood said. “Yesterday it was playing so firm, the fairways really undulate and you have bunkers on either side, it’s actually all of a sudden a tough tee shot.”

The alternative to the iron game plan off the tee would be to simply hit driver, an option at least one long-hitter is considering this week if his practice round was any indication.

On Sunday, Jon Rahm played aggressively off each tee, taking the ubiquitous fairway bunkers out of play but at the same time tempting fate with each fairway ringed by fescue rough, which is relatively tame given the dry conditions. But even that option has consequences.

“It’s kind of strange where there’s not really a number that you know you’re going to be short,” said Fleetwood, who played his Sunday practice round with Rahm. “[Rahm] hit a drive on 15 that was like 400 yards. You just can’t account for that kind of stuff.”

Whatever tactic players choose, this Open Championship promises to be a much different test than what players have become accustomed to at Carnoustie.