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Thomas tops Spieth in latest battle between buddies

By Rex HoggardSeptember 5, 2017, 12:00 am

NORTON, Mass. – In what is quickly turning into a high-stakes game of give-and-take, this was inevitable.

After years of forshadowing for both Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth, the duo’s lifelong collision course toward each other reached a new level on Labor Day.

On the eve the final round, Spieth said Monday at TPC Boston would be nothing like last week’s final lap at the playoff opener.

He was right. It was better.

There was no Dustin Johnson blasting a ridiculously long tee shot over the corner in a playoff, no heroic putts, just a grinding to and fro that stretched from the opening tee shot and into an early fall evening.

Spoiler alert: Thomas hoisted the hardware, but it was a title bout that has been a decade in the making, the dye first cast when the two 24-year-olds squared off for the first time in a junior event in Mansfield, Texas.

“We battled it out on Sunday and we were about tied and I edged him out that day,” Spieth recalled. “We played a few more tournaments throughout the year and went back and forth.”

And they continue to go back and forth, the most recent edition a final-round shootout at the Dell Technologies Championship that did what so rarely happens in sports – exceed expectations.

Thomas began the final turn tied with Marc Leishman for the lead, but quickly fell behind when Spieth did what Spieth does, beginning his round birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie to take the solo lead.

“Obviously a dream start, and then you're not going to keep pace and shoot, you know, 54,” said Spieth, who dropped an overtime decision to Johnson last week on Long Island. “So at some point, you've got to recognize the difficult holes are coming up.”

Spieth would turn in 30, as would Leishman, before they all hit that TPC Boston wall, with the Australian opening the inward loop with three consecutive bogeys to fall into a tie with Spieth and Thomas.


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Spieth bookended a pair of bogeys around a birdie at the 13th hole, a rollercoaster where he was tied for the lead (after the 12th hole), leading by himself (after the 13th hole) and one behind Thomas (after No. 14).

It was that kind of day.

All total, there were seven lead changes on the closing nine before Spieth’s putter finally went cold and Thomas pulled away, making methodical birdies at Nos. 13 and 15 to take a two-stroke lead and sealing the victory with a clutch par save at the 16th hole.

“I don't like when my friends beat me. I don't like when people beat me. So I'm putting in work to hopefully beat all them,” said Thomas, who closed with a 66 for a 17-under total and three-stroke victory over Spieth.

In sports, there’s always a fine line between friend and rival. For decades Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson dominated the golf landscape at arm’s length with a relationship that was best described as frosty.

For Thomas and Spieth, however, those roots run far too deep to let competitive differences come between them. That junior event a decade ago was just the start of a truly unique relationship.

“We grew up together,” said Spieth, who moved to first on the playoff points list with his runner-up finish. “You grow up and you watch each other work from when you're 14 years old. We roomed together when we were 14 years old. He's one of my best friends in the whole world.”

Although that friendship has endured, for Thomas there was a twisted pressure by association as he watched Spieth collect titles at an amazing rate.

Thomas joined the PGA Tour in 2015, the same year Spieth won two majors (the Masters and U.S. Open) and five titles total. For so long the duo had been defined competitively by a rivalry that suddenly seemed heavily one-sided.

“Definitely jealousy. I still get jealous,” Thomas said. “Any time any of my friends win and I don't, I'm extremely happy for them, I'm pumped for them, I'm excited but I'm jealous. I wish I had three majors right now. I mean, I'm obviously pleased with one but I wish I had three.”

Thomas joined the Tour winner’s club in late 2015 and has been on a tear this season, winning for the fifth time this week to add to his PGA Championship title and virtually locking up the Player of the Year Award unless something dramatic happens over the last two events (Johnson has four victories this season and Spieth three).

He also became just the fourth player since 1960 with five victories and a major in a season before the age of 25, joining the likes Woods, Jack Nicklaus and, yes, Spieth.

It’s yet another connection in a relationship that has now come full circle, but didn’t begin well for Thomas.

“I was a sore loser, so I was just angry. I probably wasn’t much fun to be around,” Thomas recalled when asked about being beat by Spieth at that junior event 10 years ago.

A few months later, Thomas got his revenge while the two were playing for the U.S. team at the Evian Junior Masters in France. Because he’d finished in the top 3 in the event and Spieth didn’t, Thomas was invited to play in a pro-am with LPGA star Juli Inkster. Thomas had Spieth caddie for him.

“He wasn’t a very good caddie,” Thomas laughed.

But he has since turned into a very good friend and the best of rivals.

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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.”

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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.”