Spieth starts Masters Sunday on top ... again

By Rex HoggardApril 12, 2015, 12:53 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – When Jordan Spieth set out on Sunday 12 months ago at Augusta National, there were 11 players within four strokes of the lead. When the final turn begins this year at the Masters, only one player will be within four, and he’s not named Bubba.

Playing the role of Bubba Watson this year will be Justin Rose, who carded a quintessential closing nine to turn a boat race into . . . well, something that at least resembles a race.

Whether Rose will enjoy a similar Sunday to Watson, who closed with a 69 last year to out duel Spieth for the coveted green jacket, will depend entirely on young Spieth.

On Saturday, the 21-year-old was not as efficient as he’d been for the first two days – making his first bogey in 24 holes at No. 4 on Day 3 and opening the door by making a mess of the 17th hole – but he grinded his way to a 2-under 70 for a lead that is nonetheless commanding.

“Two under [par] I thought would be a good score,” said Spieth, who made double bogey at the penultimate hole after missing the fairway left, the green right and a 3-footer.

“Obviously being 4 under at one point in the round and closing it out at 2 under is disappointing. You would have liked to have finished the round a little bit better, but it also could have been worse.”

While the conversation eventually drifted to last year’s final round, when Spieth closed with an even-par 72 to tie for second place, this time feels different, and it’s not just that four-stroke cushion that gives Sunday a different vibe.

For three relatively flawless days, this is after all Augusta National, Spieth weathered his early miscues at Nos. 4 and 7 with more clutch putting, holing birdie putts of 10 feet (No. 12), 15 feet (No. 13), 2 feet (No. 15) and 14 feet (No. 16).

If not for Rose’s late inning heroics – he birdied Nos. 13-16 and holed a 20-footer for birdie at the last to secure a spot in Sunday’s final pairing – Spieth’s advantage would have been essentially insurmountable.

Round 4 pairings, tee times

“You want to be in the last group. You want to be seeing what you're up against; you want to feel the atmosphere,” said Rose, who shot a third-round 67 and is at 12 under. “You want to get a look at how the guys play next to you, especially when you get to [Nos.] 12, 13, 14, 15 on the back nine.”

There was a time just past noon when the Jordan Spieth Invitational began to look more like the Masters, with familiar names like Tiger, Rory, Phil and Dustin closing the gap, but if you walked to the kitchen to make a pimento cheese sandwich, you probably missed it.

McIlroy, vying to complete the career Grand Slam with a victory this week, got off to a solid start with an opening nine of 32, eight strokes better than his Day 2 tour of the outward loop, and moved to within six strokes of the lead with a birdie at the 15th hole. But the world No. 1 struggled with two late bogeys and is among a group that includes Woods at 6 under.

“I'm going to need something basically around 61, 62 to have a real chance,” McIlroy said. “I'm not sure that's going to happen but we'll see.”

Mickelson was only slightly more optimistic about his chances following an inspired 67 that was his lowest card at the former fruit nursery since Round 3 in 2012.

“I think he's playing very good golf and I think he'll have a good round tomorrow,” Mickelson said of Spieth. “If he were to come out on top, it would be great to have him in the Champions Dinner every year.”

Golf eschews the early coronation – see McIlroy, Rory (2011) and Norman, Greg (1996) – but those meltdowns took rounds of 80 and 78, respectively, which are numbers Spieth doesn’t appear familiar with.

“I think the good thing for him is he's already experienced it once. He's played in the final group at the Masters before. It didn't quite happen for him last year, but I think he'll have learned from that experience,” said McIlroy, who led by four shots through 54 holes in ’11. “I think all that put together, he'll definitely handle it a lot better than I did.”

Perhaps, but then again, names like Mickelson, Johnson, McIlroy and Woods have a tendency of making pillows a little more lumpy.

It’s tough to snooze when you’ve got a combined six majors and three greens jackets in pursuit in the day’s last two groups. It’s not the quantity of Spieth’s lead, so much as it is the quality of those arrayed behind him that may make Sunday something less than a forgone conclusion.

You know the deal, objects in the rearview mirror appearing closer and all. It’s a reality Spieth seems to have already embraced.

“There's going to be roars. Phil is going to have a lot of roars in front. Obviously a few groups up I think is Tiger and Rory,” said Spieth, who will head out in the day’s final pairing for the fourth consecutive Sunday. “But especially in the group in front of us, everyone loves Phil. Why wouldn't you love Phil? And he's going to make some noise and he's going to make a run.”

On Saturday at the 11th hole, Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller urged his man to “see a small target” as he prepared his approach, a swing cue from coach Cameron McCormick.

On Sunday, there will be no escaping either the big target on his back or the big expectations he’ll start the day with.

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at golfodds.com.

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1

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Perez (T-3) looks to remedy 'terrible' major record

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 7:34 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez’s major record is infinitely forgettable. In 24 Grand Slam starts he has exactly one top-10 finish, more than a decade ago at the PGA Championship.

“Terrible,” Perez said when asked to sum up his major career. “I won sixth [place]. Didn't even break top 5.”

It’s strange, however, that his status atop The Open leaderboard through two rounds doesn’t seem out of character. The 42-year-old admits he doesn’t hit it long enough to contend at most major stops and also concedes he doesn’t exactly have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game’s biggest events, but something about The Open works for him.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I didn't like it the first time I came over. When I went to St. Andrews in '05, I didn't like it because it was cold and terrible and this and that,” he said. “Over the years, I've really learned to like to come over here. Plus the fans are so awesome here. They know a good shot. They don't laugh at you if you hit a bad shot.”

Perez gave the fans plenty to cheer on Friday at Carnoustie, playing 17 flawless holes to move into a share of the lead before a closing bogey dropped him into a tie for third place after a second-round 68.

For Perez, links golf is the great equalizer that mitigates the advantages some of the younger, more powerful players have and it brings out the best in him.

“It's hard enough that I don't feel like I have to hit perfect shots. That's the best,” he said. “Greens, you can kind of miss a shot, and it won't run off and go off the green 40 yards. You're still kind of on the green. You can have a 60-footer and actually think about making it because of the speed.”