Spieth's dominance begins, peaks in Georgia

By Rex HoggardSeptember 27, 2015, 11:47 pm

ATLANTA – It’s only fitting that Jordan Spieth would end his historic season just down Interstate-20 from where it essentially all began in April.

The 22-year-old king of the golf world went 2-for-2 in Georgia this season with his victory on Sunday at East Lake, a four-stroke statement that lacked the style points of his historic victory in April at Augusta National but provided an apropos exclamation point to what was already a breakout season.

As he has all year, Spieth made it look much easier than it actually was, grinding out a 1-under 69 to become the youngest FedEx Cup champion and the first Tour player to reach $12 million in earnings in a single season, lapping the old mark by more than $1 million.

“[Caddie Michael Greller] told me when we were going to the 18th tee box, ‘You did this with your head this week,’” said Spieth, who is now 4-for-8 in converting 54-hole leads. “He knew that I wasn’t comfortable over the ball, but we kept our head in it.” 

In completing the Georgia Slam, Spieth became the first player to win the Masters and Tour Championship in the same season. He also put a neat bow on what could have been a muddy ending both on and off a soggy East Lake layout.

Heading into the finale the background noise had reached a crescendo, with players split in a Player of the Year vote that until five weeks ago had been a foregone conclusion.

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But then Jason Day won The Barclays and the BMW Championship to add to his PGA Championship title, and while Spieth’s dominance wasn’t diminished the electorate was certainly divided.

On Saturday, however, Spieth did what Spieth has done all season, plod his way around a demanding golf course and convert crucial putts, like his 20-footer at the 54th hole to move one stroke clear of Henrik Stenson.

As expected, Sunday’s finale quickly turned into a two-man race for the Tour Championship hardware and the FedEx Cup riches with Spieth and Stenson keeping the field at bay with steady if not stellar play early.

After making just two bogeys in his first 54 holes, the Teflon talent rattled off back-to-back miscues in less than 15 minutes on Nos. 5 and 6, but Spieth rebounded with closing birdies at Nos. 8 and 9 to grab a two-shot lead in what appeared to be a nine-hole match for all the millions.

But the two-man race quickly became a coronation.

After trading birdies with Stenson at the 11th, Spieth slowly pulled away and played his final six holes in straight pars that were anything but routine.

After rolling in a 46-footer for birdie at the 11th, Spieth converted par putts from 9 feet after making a mess of the par-5 15th hole, 8 feet after finding a greenside bunker at No. 16 and 8 feet after being overly aggressive with his birdie attempt at the last. But by then the big check was already in the mail.

“Jordan was putting unbelievably well,” said Stenson, who closed with a 72 after making a double-bogey 6 at the 16th hole to tie for second. “Whenever he had to make a putt, he did it. He’s hard to beat on the greens, we know that. I just couldn’t keep pace with him today.”

Spieth finished third in total putts for the week and first in putts-made distance, averaging just under 8 feet per putt. But that’s nothing new for a player who has seemed to make every clutch putt he’s faced this season in Georgia and beyond.

While critics seem to focus on what Spieth can’t do, most notably a driver that left him ranked in the middle of the Tour pack (he finished the year 78th out of 184 players in driving distance), his clutch putting and a clarity of thought that transcends his 22 years separated him in 2014-15.

Earlier in the week Jason Day joked that if Spieth and McIlroy had a baby, he would be it. After the way he turned the playoffs into a chess match Heir Jordan had the look of a Tiger Woods-Bobby Fischer hybrid.

With his spot inside the top five on the FedEx Cup points list locked up through to the Tour Championship, Spieth organized his priorities accordingly, conserving energy until he arrived at East Lake even if that meant relatively pedestrian performances at the first three postseason stops.

“Like I said before New York, everything now is to prepare to peak in Atlanta,” Spieth said. “Approach Atlanta like a major championship. The whole year it's been about the major championships, and I consider this to be the fifth one at the end.”

After missing back-to-back cuts to begin the playoffs at The Barclays and Deutsche Bank Championship for the first time in his Tour career, Spieth seemed to get back to work last week with a tie for 13th at the BMW Championship that set the stage for East Lake.

The payoff for Spieth was an astronomical payday. Beyond his $12 million in earnings he also collected the $10 million FedEx Cup bonus. That’s $22 million in 25 starts, or $880,000 per event.

But it was the victory, his fifth this season, that finally quieted the Player of the Year debate and propelled him back to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking that meant the most to Spieth.

As he made his way down the hill to the 18th green on Sunday, his tee shot safely on the green and his status as the game’s alpha male soundly reestablished, it was a moment Greller wanted to savor.

“I said, ‘Hey, you’re No. 1 in the world again.’ He said, ‘That’s why you keep your self belief,’” Greller said. “You hear all the noise. That’s why you block that out and believe in yourself. You’re trying to peak this week and that’s what he did.”

It was a perfect ending to what was a nearly perfect year that began and fittingly ended at a pair of Georgia gems.

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.