Spieth puts Augusta disaster behind him

By Rex HoggardJanuary 4, 2017, 10:15 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – However unfair and shortsighted it may seem, for many, Jordan Spieth’s 2016 season came down to a single swing.

Of the 25 worldwide turns he took at the till, his two victories on the PGA Tour and heroics at the Ryder Cup, his near miss at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and late-season run at the FedEx Cup, it was a single 9-iron from 150 yards on a postcard-perfect Sunday in April that defined his fourth year as a big leaguer.

It’s not fair, but he knows that’s the way stardom works. He knows that’s the way of the sports world, which is why last month when he stepped to the 12th tee at Augusta National with a group of members and friends he politely requested a moment of silence.

“I was vocally expressing that, guys, we have some demons to get rid of here, I'd appreciate if y'all stood to the side of the tee box while I do my work here,” Speith laughed on Wednesday at Kapalua.

Spieth hit 8-iron to 18 feet and made birdie. He followed that the next day with a 9-iron, of all clubs, that nearly spun into the hole. Another birdie.

“Last two times I played the hole, I made birdie,” he smiled.

It was Spieth’s way of acknowledging the 800-pound gorilla in the room that has lingered since last year’s Masters, where he turned a 5-stroke lead with nine holes to play into a runner-up finish after making a quadruple bogey-7 at the 12th on Sunday.

Charles Dickens pretty much summed up Spieth’s 2016: best of times, worst of times.


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At 23, Spieth continues to impress by taking the long view when it comes to 2016 – thinking more about a career than what may or may not be around the next corner.

“Overall, recognizing that if last year is a down year for us, we're in really good shape long term when you start compiling those numbers,” he reasoned. “It makes me think a lot more positive about last season and my career going forward, just looking at it from a more elongated perspective.”

It’s a healthy outlook that’s defined Spieth in his young career, but that doesn’t mean he’s entirely immune to the inevitable peaks and valleys of golf. “I was happy when the [New Year’s] ball touched down and 2017 started,” he admitted.

As tough as the media may have been on Spieth’s season, it was probably the internal dialog that led to a few fitful nights for the eight-time Tour winner. He’d been virtually unstoppable in 2015, winning five times including the Masters and U.S. Open, and was a regular on leaderboards at the season’s final two Grand Slam events.

Winning the ’16 lid-lifter in Maui by eight strokes only fueled those expectations going into the meat of last year’s schedule and he began his week at the year’s first major with three solid rounds for a one-stroke lead heading into Sunday at Augusta National.

“The first major of the year after starting strong, I thought the last five majors I had a chance to win, why won't this continue,” he said. “But it's unrealistic for that to continue every single major consecutively.”

His misplayed 9-iron may have marred his play through Amen Corner and nixed his title chances, but he suggested it was his play at the U.S. Open, where he finished tied for 37th, that was truly frustrating. That he wasn’t a factor at The Open or PGA Championship only compounded that frustration, but throughout it all Spieth clung to the notion that by the time he ambles into the sunset of his career 2016 will be a distant footnote.

He closed last year with a playoff victory at the Australian Open in November and returned this week to Kapalua, where he’s finished first (’16) and second (’14) in two starts to begin anew.

Although he talked of the Plantation Course being a bomber’s paradise, it’s been his putting that has made Spieth the king of Kapalua in recent years.

Last year he led the field in putts, putts per GIR and putts made distance. That he spent his abbreviated offseason working almost exclusively on his putting should give the rest of the Tournament of Champions field plenty to think about.

But mostly, Spieth said he’s put 2016 behind him, a mental housekeeping he probably didn’t have much interest in when he arrived in Maui last January.

Earlier this week a jokester among his Tour frat brothers turned the sign marking Spieth’s parking spot at Kapaula around and scribbled a familiar moniker –  “Golden Child.”

That wayward 9-iron that found Rae's Creek last April has done nothing to dull the golden one’s shine, or his confidence that something special is just one start away.

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Maggert and Parnevik lead at Bass Pro Shops

By Associated PressApril 19, 2018, 10:49 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik shot an 8-under 63 in better-ball play Thursday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' chilly Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

''It was very relaxing for me because I felt like terrible,'' Parnevik said. ''I was so stiff this morning. It was freezing cold. I thought if I can just try to make some pars in case he ever makes a bogey, but I didn't even have to do that.''

Playing together for the first time in the team event, Maggert and Parnevik eagled the par-5 eighth and had six birdies in the cool and breezy conditions on Big Cedar Lodge's Buffalo Ridge course.

''We play well together,'' Maggert said. ''We both contributed a lot. Jesper had a lot of birdies and an eagle on our final nine. It was so cold this morning, I just was going to come out and just try to hit fairways and greens. Really I wasn't thinking about making birdies, I was just trying to play steady and give myself an opportunity to have some birdie putts.''


Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf


The next three rounds will be played on par-3 courses. Maggert and Parnevik will play the 18-hole Top of the Rock on Friday and Sunday, and the 13-hole Mountain Top on Saturday.

Mark Calcavecchia and Woody Austin were a stroke back. They also eagled No. 8. Austin won the 2016 title with Michael Allen. Calcavecchia won the Boca Raton Championship this year.

''I lucked in a few birdies on the back, but it was tough, tough conditions,'' Calcavecchia said. ''Even when it warmed up a little bit, it was still tough to make birdies out there. All in all, 7 under's a pretty good start.''

Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman were at 65 along with Davis Love III-Scott Verplank, 2015 winners Billy Andrade-Joe Durant, Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett and Steve Flesch-David Toms.

''We kind of brother-in-lawed or ham-and-egged it or partnered it,'' Love said. ''Neither one of us were playing great, but we had one guy in every hole and that's kind of what you have to do. We're going to have to go to the par 3 courses and get two birdie putts on a hole is what you really want to do and we didn't do that enough today.''

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week for his first senior title.

Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were tied for 22nd at 68.

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Dredge, Quiros share early lead in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 19, 2018, 8:41 pm

RABAT, Morocco - Bradley Dredge reeled off three birdies in his last five holes to share the lead with Alvaro Quiros after the opening round of the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II event Thursday.

Quiros finished with two straight birdies as the big-hitting Spaniard joined Welshman Dredge on 5-under-par 67.

Dredge, who made seven birdies in all, has won twice before but his last triumph came in 2006.


Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II


Quiros, who has claimed seven victories, last won at the Rocco Forte Open in Sicily last year.

The joint leaders have a one-shot advantage over Oliver Fisher, Joakim Lagergren, Erik Van Rooyen and Lorenzo Gagli at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course.

Former U.S. Masters champion Danny Willett, without a win since his victory at Augusta two years ago, opened with a 1-over 73.

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Murray battles wind, takes early Valero lead

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 7:59 pm

Amid a feast-or-famine season, Grayson Murray appears poised for another meal at the Valero Texas Open.

Murray battled windy conditions during the opening round at TPC San Antonio, carding seven birdies against a double bogey to start with a 67. At 5 under, he held a one-shot lead over Chesson Hadley at the end of the morning wave.

There has been no middle ground for Murray this year, as each of his nine starts in full-field events have yielded either a top-15 finish or a result outside the top 70. That includes his two most recent starts, where he finished T-14 at the Houston Open despite putting "terribly" and then missed the cut last week at the RBC Heritage.

But Murray spent time on the range early this week to iron out a swing flaw, and the results were quickly evident during his opening round.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

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"When I get off, it's never far off but it seems like I'm always searching for something, and then I start compensating and then I create a new bad habit," Murray told reporters. "Ball-striking for me gives me confidence with every other club in my bag when it comes to putting or chipping or anything. I know if I hit it well, those parts of the game are going to be good, too."

Murray made more headlines for his words than his game for much of his rookie season, but a breakthrough win at the opposite-field Barbasol Championship in July solidified his playing status for the next two years. With swirling winds reaching 25 mph during his round, Murray was pleased to have found 13 of 18 greens in regulation and capitalize on several of his birdie chances.

"The wind bothers me when I'm hitting it like I did last week, when I'm not compressing the ball. That's just the bottom line," Murray said. "But once you start swinging it well, like hitting it into the wind really shows you how you are hitting the golf ball because it's only going to maximize your dispersion. So if you hit a 5-yard cut, it's going to be probably a 10-yard cut into the wind. That tells you when you're hitting it good."

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One year later: Surgery to success for Tiger

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 6:30 pm

So much can happen in a year.

Exactly 365 days ago, Tiger Woods went under the knife. When it comes to Woods, surgery has become a somewhat regular occurrence over the years; his timeline of injuries and procedures stretches nearly as long as the one detailing his on-course accomplishments.

But this one was surprising, both for the timing and the operation in question.

It was only one day prior, after all, that Woods sat in front of a sparse gallery of fans and media to announce his plans to design a new course at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri. He smiled while sitting carefully in a wooden folding chair, then stood up and gingerly hit a short wedge shot to cap the publicity stunt. He needed to re-load and swing again in order to find the makeshift green.

While it was clear that Woods was not firing on all cylinders, at no point in the proceedings did he mention the surgical appointment looming on his calendar.

“The back is progressing,” Woods said on April 18, 2017. “I have good days and bad days. I’ve had three back operations, and that’s just kind of the nature of the business unfortunately. That’s all I can say.”

He added back operation No. 4 the very next day, this time opting for a lumbar fusion that was more serious and invasive than any of its predecessors. The surgery brought with it a six-month recovery window and the very real notion that, at age 41, Woods may have already played his final hole of competitive golf.



“He is looking forward to life without pain, looking forward to day-to-day without pain,” Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, said the day after the surgery. “He’s looking forward to playing with his kids without pain, playing golf without pain. He knows he’s got a long road, but there’s a huge sense of relief right now.”

Fast-forward one year, and Woods returned to Missouri this week to survey the progress of his Payne’s Valley layout that is scheduled to open in 2019. And near the same spot where he swung through pain with wedge in hand, this time around he ripped a driver at full speed to the delight of the estimated 7,000 fans gathered for a junior clinic he hosted.

Given the relative normalcy of his most recent appearance, what Woods endured last April 19 seems like a lifetime ago.

In recapping the subsequent 12 months, keep in mind that the surgery wasn’t even Woods’ lowest point. That would come six weeks later, when he was arrested and cited for driving under the influence in Florida. There was the mugshot photo, and the arrest reports, and of course the police video where one of the greatest athletes of the last 30 years struggled to tie his shoes.

At that point, professional golf was an afterthought.

But Woods entered private treatment over the summer for his use of prescription drugs, and when he re-emerged as an assistant at the Presidents Cup in October the focus was again on his potential return to life inside the ropes – even as Woods himself acknowledged the possibility that he may never return to competition.

“I don’t know what my future holds for me,” he said. “As I’ve told you guys, I’m hitting 60-yard shots.”

It wasn’t long before those pitch shots gave way to irons and full swings with drivers, one social media video at a time. Woods’ whirlwind renaissance after receiving clearance from his surgeon raised expectations for his return at the Hero World Challenge in December to stratospheric levels.

Now four months into his latest comeback attempt, Woods has exceeded nearly every expectation while re-establishing himself as a regular contender on the PGA Tour. Three straight top-12 finishes in Florida highlighted his spring, and his health is such that questions about the status of his back from the media are now few and far between.

“I think as an athlete, you’re always pushing yourself, right? And the best ones are pushing themselves beyond their limits,” Woods said at the Valspar Championship. “I happened to be one of those guys who pushed my body and my mind to accomplish the things I knew I could. I was able to do it.”

How the next 365 days unfold remains to be seen. Woods is now 42, fighting an undefeated opponent in Father Time, and it wasn’t that long ago that the one-year retrospectives about him had a decidedly different tone.

But heading into the heart of the summer season, Woods’ prospects seem more promising than they have been at any point since his five-win season in 2013. And the winding path from bleak to rosy can be traced back to a fateful decision exactly one year ago to try once more to heal his ailing back where multiple prior attempts had failed.

From limping with a wedge to veering off the road to hinting at a possible return to smashing expectations while staring down players half his age.

So much can happen in a year.