In the end, Spieth comes up four shots from perfection

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2015, 2:37 am

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – The pursuit of the Greatest Major Season Ever isn’t supposed to be easy.

“There’s a reason I have a receding hairline,” Jordan Spieth said, “and it's because of that kind of pressure building up and that kind of stress. As much of a thrill as it is, it can wear you down.”

He emptied the tank Sunday at Whistling Straits. 

With one final chance to stamp his major season as the best of all time, Spieth embraced the moment and put on a memorable show at this PGA Championship – crouching and kneeling, begging and pleading, spinning and marching, swiping and fist-pumping, barking and cheering.

It just wasn’t enough.

Spotting one of the hottest players in the world a two-shot lead, Spieth could only watch in awe as Jason Day buried five years of frustration with a near-flawless 67 to bully his way into the major winner’s circle.

“By far the best loss I’ve ever had,” Spieth said.

Spieth lost to the lowest score ever shot in a major, 20-under 268. His own 17-under total is the best score in a major (relation to par) by a non-winner or playoff participant.

Big picture, Spieth's 54-under par cumulative score in the majors is the best all time, eclipsing by one Tiger Woods’ epic 2000 season. His 1,090 strokes in the majors are the fewest ever, five less than Woods' gold standard. And he is the third player since 1960 to finish in the top-4 in all four majors in a season.

Historic by any measure. 

But it wasn't until after the round that Spieth learned of the greatest consolation prize of all: His solo second was enough to overtake Rory McIlroy and ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Ranking, one of his lifelong goals. 

"That will never be taken away from me now," he said.

Neither will one of the two best major seasons of the modern era.   

This week there was considerable debate on where a three-major haul by Spieth would rank in the pantheon of all-time great seasons.

It’s all a moot point now, of course, because Spieth fell short of earning the hat trick, and thus his major season will be slotted behind Woods in 2000 and Ben Hogan in 1953. But the conversation was interesting, and it served as a reminder of how close the 22-year-old came to reshaping our perception of major greatness.



So while it’s easy to mourn what could have been, it’s worth celebrating one of the most impressive stretches of golf we’ve ever seen.  

There was the runaway, record-breaking victory at the Masters.

There was the taut finish at the U.S. Open, where Spieth was fortunate not only to avoid a loss, but also a playoff, after Dustin Johnson’s three-putt from 12 feet. 

And then there was the gut-wrenching conclusion to the Open Championship, where Spieth had a tie for the lead after 70 holes and kicked away a chance to win. No one in the modern era – not Palmer, not Nicklaus, not Woods – has come closer to winning the third leg of the Grand Slam.

All told, Spieth came within four measly shots of the single-season Slam. Only Nicklaus in 1975 (three) was closer.

“You only get four (majors) a year,” Spieth said, “and to have an opportunity to win all of them is so cool.”

Thing is, Spieth could very easily have mailed it in after St. Andrews. He could have showed up at the PGA, punched the clock, recorded another top 10 and been content with his two-major campaign. But his focus shifted to the winning this major, to making the most of this glorious year, the moment his last gasp from the Valley of Sin veered left of the cup. When he returned home to Dallas, he took only two days off and got back to work with swing coach Cameron McCormick. After a rusty start at Firestone, he closed with 66 and back-doored a top 10.

“In our conversations where he confides in me, there was no letdown at all,” McCormick said. “Of course he would have loved to get into the playoff and win that tournament. That’s obvious. But there’s still a lot to play for.”

Here he smiled.

“Jordan is also very good at revising goals once he checks off a box, and he’s set some further goals for the rest of the season.”

The PGA was next on Spieth's list, and with a victory he could have become the first player to sweep all three American majors in the same season.

His bid got off to a slow start, but a 71 in tough conditions kept him in touch with the leaders. No surprise there – he never trailed by more than five strokes after any major round this season. After his putter heated up, Spieth soared into contention with rounds of 67-65 and stirred hopes of even more history. With a back-nine 30 Saturday, he earned a spot in another final group, trailing the star-crossed Day by two.

No player has put himself in position to break through more often recently than Day, but the Aussie showed the kind of audacity Sunday that had been lacking in his other close calls. Wailing away on his driver, he birdied four of his first seven holes to create some separation.

The turning point in the final round came on No. 11, a reachable par 5 of 555 yards. Day belted a drive that practically waved at Spieth’s ball on the way by, bounded down the hill and settled 382 yards away. Walking up to their tee shots, Spieth whirled around and yelled, “Holy s---! You’ve gotta be kidding me!”

Day smiled and flexed his bicep.

A few moments later, he launched a wedge onto the green for an easy birdie, and when Spieth’s weak attempt from 6 feet peeled away at the cup, Day had regained his four-shot advantage.

“It was a stripe show,” Spieth said. “It was really a clinic to watch.”

Day got up and down out from the sand on 12. He stuffed an approach out of a deep fairway bunker to 10 feet on 14, then poured in the birdie putt. And after he gave back a shot on 15, he ripped a 4-iron to 20 feet on the par-5 16th to set up a stress-free birdie.

“Each time he stood and took it back, I had hope,” Spieth said. “And each time after it came off the face, the hope was lost.”

Spieth tried everything. He talked to his ball. Listened to pep talks from caddie Michael Greller. Made a few of the best up-and-downs of his life. Tried to will his ball into the cup.

“To be honest,” Day said, “the kid just doesn’t go away.”

But nothing worked, not this time. 

Spieth’s goal at the start of the day was to shoot 68. That’s exactly what he signed for – and lost by three.

Ever gracious in defeat, Spieth unabashedly praised his fellow competitor down the stretch. When Day made an unlikely birdie on 14, Spieth waited for him by the next tee and said, “I mean, wow, that’s impressive right there.” When Day nestled his long lag putt on 17 to within tap-in range, Spieth locked eyes and gave him a thumbs up. And when it was all over, when Day sobbed in his caddie’s arms and his young family spilled out onto the green, Spieth stood and applauded.  

Later, while waiting in the scoring trailer, Spieth looked at Day and told him, “There was nothing I could do.”

That helps explain why a legitimate run at the single-season Grand Slam only comes around every decade or two. It requires exquisite golf, yes, but also mental toughness, good fortune and timing. So much has to align, and in the end Spieth was four shots from perfection, from the Greatest Major Season Ever.

“I’m tired right now,” he said. “I left it all out there.”

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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.”