'One bad swing' sends Spieth to brutal Masters loss

By Ryan LavnerApril 11, 2016, 2:08 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – All was quiet on the Augusta National practice area Sunday afternoon, except for the occasional thwack of a golf ball meeting iron.

It was 2:25 p.m. The final tee time was fast approaching.

Three men in white jumpsuits swept balls off the putting green. A few others raked divots into a pile. A lone camera crew was positioned 10 yards away, their lens fixed on the only player still working. All of the other competitors had long ago departed, but about 100 fans remained in their plastic seats, watching silently.

The range on Masters Sunday is the last place to search for answers – and yet there was Jordan Spieth, 20 minutes before his tee time, working and grinding and trying to find a go-to shot to take to the course.

As range sessions go, this one was inauspicious. Spieth’s longtime swing coach, Cameron McCormick, had decided on his own to fly in from Dallas. The 22-year-old was leading the Masters for the seventh consecutive round, but his sloppy finish Saturday, when he dropped three shots on the last two holes, had shaken his confidence. Up by four at one point, he entered the final day only one clear of Smylie Kaufman, a Masters rookie, and 11 players, including Danny Willett, were within five.

Spieth, McCormick and caddie Michael Greller arrived more than three hours before the final tee time Sunday, their normal routine on major weekends with so much time to kill. But it was clear early on that something was awry, with Spieth grumbling about the plane of his swing and the crispness of his contact and the shots that drifted to the right.

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At one point, McCormick lined up behind Spieth, bent over at the waist and put his hands on his knees, checking his alignment. With each poor strike, Spieth’s frustration mounted. After pushing one iron shot, he circled around McCormick and returned to his bag, rubbing his fingertips on his towel, hoping to slow down his mind.

In that quiet moment, Spieth couldn’t possibly have known what would unfold over the next three hours:

That he would find his swing.

That he would sprint five shots clear.

And that, improbably, he would suffer the worst collapse in Masters history.

In the span of 13 minutes, Spieth crashed from first place to fourth with a shocking meltdown on the sinister 12th hole. After leading outright for 58 holes, he finished three shots behind Willett.

“Big picture,” Spieth said afterward, “this one will hurt. It will take a while.”

That he even had a chance to win this 80th Masters was a testament to his grit and tenacity.

Spieth claimed that he walked to the first tee Sunday with confidence, but he played tentatively to start and needed a few fortuitous breaks to stay in front. When he finally started swinging with conviction, he ran off four birdies in a row, burying a 15-footer on 6, stuffing an approach on 7, making a stress-free birdie on 8 and rolling in a 21-foot sidewinder on 9.

"A dream-come-true front nine," he said.

Leading by five, it was over. Done. A size-42 jacket, same as last year …

Except Spieth fanned an approach into the greenside bunker on 10 and made bogey.

And then he sliced his drive into the right trees on 11 and missed an 8-footer for par.

And then, of course, he stepped to the tee on the par-3 12th, the most daunting hole in championship golf, and rinsed not one but two shots, including an 80-yard wedge that was chunked so badly that it barely reached Rae’s Creek. Spieth carded a quadruple-bogey 7 – a Normanesque collapse in two swings.

“It’s unfortunate what happened,” said Smylie Kaufman, who was paired with Spieth in the final group. “It just kind of stunk to watch it.”

Spieth led for a record seven consecutive rounds at Augusta, cracking the code here faster than a cryptographer. But for the second time in three years, he will be haunted by an uncommitted tee shot in the heart of Amen Corner.

“The swing,” he said, “just wasn’t quite there to produce the right ball flight.”

And, to be fair, it wasn’t there all week.

Even though he was on the verge of becoming the youngest three-time major winner since 1923, Spieth stewed Saturday evening when he met with the press. A half hour earlier, he made an unforced error on 17 and butchered the 18th to add an unexpected dose of drama to the toughest Masters in nearly a decade. From four shots ahead to one, it now was anyone’s game Sunday, and Spieth joked that he’d “go break something really quick” and be fine.

Instead, he received a text from McCormick, his coach for the past decade, who was back home in Dallas: Hey, would you like it if I came back? Spieth said sure, that it couldn’t hurt to have an extra set of eyes on his swing, but it seemed a curious decision, and a troubling sign, because he prides himself on being a self-fixer. Through three rounds, though, only six players had hit fewer fairways than Spieth (66 percent), and just four had found fewer than his 32 greens. With a “B-minus game tee to green,” he was relying on his strategy, wedge play and putter. Eventually, he cracked.

Three times this week Spieth forged at least a four-shot lead. All three times, he backed up to the field, gave hope to the hopeless, and on Sunday, it finally caught up with him.

After his implosion on 12, Spieth turned to Greller, hoping for a spark and some solace.

"Buddy," he said, "it seems like we’re collapsing."

Despite going nine holes without a par, Spieth rallied with birdies on both back-nine par 5s to stay alive. He arrived on the 16th tee needing two more birdies for a playoff with Willett, who was already in the clubhouse at 5-under 283 after a flawless 67.

Spieth flagged his tee shot on 16 to stir the crowd, but his 8-footer never had a chance. Another errant approach on 17 led to a bogey, dooming Spieth to a tie for second and touching off Willett’s celebration inside Butler Cabin.

“There’s no give up in us,” Spieth said. “We tried, but it just was one bad swing.”

On the last hole, he crouched near the edge of the fairway, hung his head and replayed how it had slipped away, how he had come home in 41. Approaching the green, he received a standing ovation, but it looked, sounded and felt nothing like last year, nothing at all.

Neither did the green jacket ceremony.

With his hands stuffed in his pockets, he staggered over to the putting green for the presentation. In a cruel twist of fate, it was Spieth, the defending champion, who slipped the blazer onto Willett’s shoulders. He even smoothed out the winner's collar.

“I can’t think of anybody else who may have had a tougher ceremony to experience,” he said.

Spieth's team took the loss particularly hard. McCormick, Greller and Spieth’s father, Shawn, gathered on the perfectly manicured lawn outside the clubhouse for a group hug, but they were in no mood to talk afterward.

Spieth gracefully answered questions, shook hands with a few members and rushed upstairs to the Champions Locker Room to collect his belongings. Before departing in a silver Mercedes SUV, he cracked, with a hint of sarcasm: “They just told me I can’t take my green jacket with me.”

No, stunningly, on this day a different champion was fitted.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.