Monday Scramble: Spieth more machine than man

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 11, 2016, 5:00 pm

Jordan Spieth steamrolls another elite field, Brooks Koepka shrugs off any equipment concerns, Patrick Reed stays hot to open the year, Justin Thomas chooses a Ryder Cup victory and more in this week’s sun-kissed edition of Monday Scramble:

Spieth sent a clear message with his spectacular play at Kapalua: This run is far from finished. 

That’s what he suggested before the tournament even began, that an encore means that the show is over. And that’s what he reminded everyone after his runaway victory in paradise, that he took a three-week break during the holidays and the only thing that's changed is the date on the calendar.

It sure looked like it too, because for four days Spieth played the same kind of smart, demoralizing, near-flawless golf that has become his trademark.

The only drama Sunday was whether Spieth would match Ernie Els’ record total. Spieth came up one shot short, but he still became just the second player in Tour history to finish a 72-hole event at 30 under or lower. 

Indeed, a kid who has smashed expectations ever since he landed on Tour surprised even himself with the way that he started the new year – really, it couldn’t have been much better.

Now there's a scary thought: Maybe his best is yet to come. 

1. In recent years, it felt like the new season truly started at Torrey Pines, PGA National or Doral – wherever all of the game’s biggest stars convened for the first time.

Thanks to Spieth, there’s a buzz in early January that has been lacking for the past decade.

The addition of Spieth, Jason Day and Rickie Fowler to the Tournament of Champions field – along with three other top-10 players – gave the Tour its strongest lid-lifter since 2005, the last time Tiger Woods played on Maui. 

By blowing away the winners-only field in the first event of '16, Spieth provided a spark to a sleepy event and set the tone for the run-up to Augusta.

2. With an 8-foot birdie on the last, Spieth became only the second player to finish a 72-hole PGA Tour event at 30 under par or lower. He showed he could win a shootout, too. 

When Ernie Els shot a record 31 under at Kapalua in 2003, he was one of 11 players that week to eclipse the 20-under mark. He won by eight.

Spieth was one of five players who went 20 under or better during a week when the wind wasn't much of a factor.

The updated list for the lowest score in relation to par in a 72-hole PGA Tour event:

  • Ernie Els, 31 under, 2003 Hyundai
  • Jordan Spieth, 30 under, 2016 Hyundai
  • Patrick Reed, 28 under, 2014 CareerBuilder
  • Phil Mickelson, 28 under, 2013 Phoenix
  • Phil Mickelson, 28 under, 2006 AT&T
  • Mark Calcavecchia, 28 under, 2001 Phoenix
  • John Huston, 28 under, 1998 Sony 

3. You may have read that with his seventh victory, Spieth tied Tiger Woods for the most PGA Tour wins before the age of 23. 

But look at the Tour landscape – these days, age is just a number.

A better comparison is this: Kapalua was Spieth’s 77th start as a pro. Woods won 18 times in his first 77 events.  

Advantage: Woods ... for now. 

4. He probably won’t slam the door every time, of course, but it’s clear that Spieth has learned out how to close out victories.

After blowing his first four opportunities with at least a share of the 54-hole lead, he has nailed down his last five opportunities. 

What makes him so tough to catch? He has such a great short game, and such a solid game plan, that he forces his opponents to take unnecessary risks to try and catch up.

Think about it: Spieth is rarely in trouble, and he isn’t going to beat himself and make mistakes. That puts pressure on his pursuers to play near-perfect golf, and oftentimes they’ll come up short.   

5. Spieth said his putting “feels like it is 100 percent ready for major championships.”

No kidding – he was dropping bombs just like it was a major. 

Spieth poured in four putts longer than 25 feet at Kapalua on his way to finishing first in the strokes gained-putting statistic. 

He was also No. 1 in putting average. And strokes gained-tee to green. And par-4 and par-5 scoring. And the most birdies and eagles made. Decent week.

6. These days, it doesn’t matter whether Reed is in Hong Kong, Dubai, the Bahamas or Hawaii. 

His game travels well. 

The runner-up at Kapalua was Reed’s seventh consecutive top-10 finish worldwide, dating to late October. 

7. But this should help put into perspective how well Spieth played last week: Reed didn’t record a bogey until his 69th hole of the tournament … and yet he still trailed by six shots at the time. 

Reed had a chance to make the finale interesting, but his putter let him down. After back-to-birdie birdies to open his round, he didn’t make a putt longer than 5 feet the rest of the way. For the week, he missed nine times inside 10 feet.

8. Players who change equipment at the start of the year often are under more scrutiny, and so it was refreshing to see new Nike client Brooks Koepka contend for, well, B-flight honors at Kapalua. 

He ran out of birdies Sunday with a final-round 71, but his 21-under 271 was good enough for a tie for third. For the week, Koepka finished inside the top 6 statistically in driving distance, greens hit and putting – a promising sign moving forward. 

Other high-profile players who swapped sticks didn’t fare quite as well. 

Reigning Open champion Zach Johnson, Chris Kirk and James Hahn – all of whom transitioned to PXG, the new company started by the former founder – struggled during the opening week, finishing T-21, T-24 and T-31 (tied for last), respectively. 

9. There was more chatter last week about Rickie Fowler’s fashion than his play (solo fifth), which means we’ve temporarily returned to 2011. Golf’s most fashion-forward star tends to favor “progressive apparel,” which helps explain why he arrived at Kapalua with high-top golf shoes and jogging pants.

To be sure, reviews of his new look were mixed. 

Any look that can make golf seem less stodgy is welcome here – #GrowTheGame – but that doesn’t mean Fowler’s was a hit. The combination of high-top shoe, Velcro strap and tapered pant bottoms made him look like an ’80s pop star, or perhaps on house arrest. 

Personally, I’m a huge proponent of moving away from the traditional golf shoe – Keegan Bradley has sported Jordans for years, and Koepka’s Flyknit Chukkas looked sweet – but for the final verdict on all of the latest and greatest trends from Kapalua, we’ll have to wait until E!’s Fashion Police weighs in.

10. It was a quiet opener for Jason Day, which wasn’t all that surprising considering he played only four holes – during a corporate team event – over the past two months. From a competitive standpoint, he should have been rusty at Kapalua, and indeed he was. He tied for 10th, thanks in large part to a closing 65.

Instead, what registered as the biggest surprise was his admission in a pre-tournament news conference that he suffered another setback with vertigo Saturday at the St. Andrews Open. He said he didn’t disclose his illness at the time because “it wasn’t as severe” and because it would only have prompted more questions.

Day insisted that he’s been fine ever since, and that he’s been able to stay on top of the condition with medication, but it’s an issue that he can never fully control. “It will come back whenever it wants to,” he said. It’s something to monitor as 2016 progresses. 

11. Thomas found himself in the middle of the silliest social-media controversy ever last week when he answered a fun hypothetical: In 2016, would you rather win a major or a Ryder Cup?

The 22-year-old Thomas, who has his entire career ahead of him, chose a victory at Hazeltine, “hands down,” and yet somehow this answer – remember: to a hypothetical was spun as proof that he doesn’t want to take his career to the next level.

Uh, I’m fairly certain Thomas will give his all whether he’s trying to win his first major or playing on his first Ryder Cup team. It’s an interesting response, but only because it shows the camaraderie of these young players and how desperately they want to win together, nothing more.

12. The AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am is relevant once again, after drawing seven of the top-10 players in the world. As the San Francisco Chronicle pointed out last week, only five years ago, the event drew just three of the top 20. 

What gives? 

The power of the celebrities is likely the biggest factor. Spieth wants to play with country singer Jake Owen. Bubba Watson wants to play with actor Mark Wahlberg. Dustin Johnson wants to play with his famous soon-to-be father-in-law, hockey legend Wayne Gretzky. 

As tournament director Steve John told the Chronicle: “It’s kind of turned into a buddy tournament.” 

Throw in a smaller amateur field, shorter rounds and picturesque venues, and the Crosby Clambake is once again a must-play for many of the game’s biggest names. That’s a win-win for players, amateurs and winter-weary fans.  

13. Strange but true: Matt Every, who earned his spot in the field by defending his title at Bay Hill, finished 28th at Kapalua. That was his best result since April.  

John Peterson underwent surgery last week on his left hand, an injury that has affected the 26-year-old since March. It’s unclear how long he’ll be out, but it could be a while, which means that he’ll have plenty of time for social media.

Lucky us.

Here was Peterson's post before he headed into surgery: 

And after the successful procedure, whoever was running his social-media account that day posted nine videos as Peterson woke up from the anesthesia. It was epic.

This week’s award winners … 

Quote of the Week: Spieth, when asked what he would do for an encore: “Doesn’t an encore mean that the show is over?”

No Longer a Football School: The University of Texas. Former Longhorns teammates (for about three months, in fall 2012) Spieth and Brandon Stone won on the same day on the two best golf circuits in the world about 12,000 miles apart. After Spieth turned pro, Stone went on to win National Freshman of the Year honors. On Sunday, he won the South African Open for his first European Tour title.

Awkward Moment of the Week: CBS Sports on-course reporter (and longtime Titleist staffer) Peter Kostis weighing in on some of the players who changed equipment companies in the offseason. This could make for a few awkward post-round interviews.

Ideal Replacement Caddie: Joey Diovisalvi. Seriously, you’d be hard-pressed to find a better fill-in looper for Kapalua’s calf-burning climbs than the jacked Jupiter-area trainer.   

Ridiculous Stat of the Week: Spieth has been first or second on the leaderboard after all of his eight career rounds at Kapalua’s Plantation Course. 

Sad Confessions: Luke Donald, who told the Telegraph that he nearly quit the game because of his recent slide from world No. 1. Recently sacked by his caddie, winless since 2012 and down to 78th in the world, Donald still owns one of the world’s best short games but that alone is no longer enough to contend on today’s Tour. As 2016 begins, he is an afterthought for the European Ryder Cup team. 

Least Unexpected News of the Week: Padraig Harrington used a cryotherapy tub, set at minus-140 degrees for six minutes, as part of his rehabilitation from a torn meniscus in his knee. The notorious tinkerer explained that cryo (naturally) boosts testosterone levels and makes it easier to recover from injuries. He also doesn’t like ice baths. “I find the cold air quite easy on me,” he said.

Random Thought of the Week: Butch Harmon should get as much airtime as possible. Did anyone else catch the GOAT during Friday’s telecast? When he speaks, you listen. His résumé speaks for itself. He offers tremendous insight. He’s a great storyteller. He understands how TV works, after commentating for Sky Sports for the better part of the past decade. Selfishly, I wish he had a permanent spot in the booth at a major U.S. network.

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

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

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”