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Spieth tries to reclaim spotlight from Thomas

By Ryan LavnerAugust 7, 2018, 8:00 pm

ST. LOUIS – Jordan Spieth can continue his march on history this week at the PGA Championship ... and all anyone wants to talk about is the continued brilliance of Justin Thomas.

Imagine that scenario three years ago.

Members of the high school class of 2011 and friendly rivals, Spieth and Thomas, both 25, are inextricably linked – then, now and probably forever. With a two-year head start, Spieth has almost always enjoyed the upper hand, but now Thomas is slowly but surely turning the tables.

After his resounding victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Thomas now owns nine PGA Tour titles to Spieth’s 11. Thomas has absolutely been the better player recently – he has five victories alone in the past 12 months, while Spieth is winless over that same span. You’d have to go all the way back to Spieth’s days as a Texas tyke to find a full calendar year in which he went without a win.

“Getting into the winner’s circle is obviously something I would like to do,” he said Tuesday. “I don’t feel any added pressure from it. And I won’t. If it happens or doesn’t happen through the rest of this calendar year, I’m working in the right direction. I’m doing the right things. And if you get yourself in position enough, the bounces will go your way.”

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But a debate that would have seemed unthinkable in the halcyon days of 2015 now at least has some traction: When they hang up their spikes, who will have the better career, Spieth or Thomas? There’s 20 more years to figure it out, but in the moment public sentiment seems to be drifting toward Thomas. He’s longer off the tee. He hits his irons higher. He’s a more consistent putter. And like Spieth, he’s learned how to play bigger events, after realizing that he didn’t have to be perfect to win.

History suggests that Spieth will play sublime golf again, probably very soon, and perhaps even this week at Bellerive. He has an opportunity to become just the sixth player to capture the career Grand Slam, but given his recent form – coupled with the emergence of Thomas, the defending PGA champion and No. 2-ranked player in the world – it doesn’t seem the most likely outcome on Sunday night.

“It seemed like Jordan pushed Justin to get going, and now Justin’s pushing Jordan to get going again,” Davis Love III said. “They’re going to go back and forth for quite a while, and probably win a lot of them, and I wouldn’t be surprised if both of them get the slam.”

This is Spieth’s second chance to join golf’s most exclusive club. Last year, he came in riding high off his adventurous Open victory and felt anxious about the week.

“If I worked up the leaderboard,” he said, “I knew it would create a lot of noise.”

Instead, it was eerily silent. He shot over par each of the first two rounds at Quail Hollow and finished in a tie for 28th, then conceded afterward that the PGA will be the toughest major for him to win, because the setups tend to favor the long hitters.

That’ll certainly be the case here at Bellerive, an already soft parkland-style course that was underwater Tuesday after heavy rain soaked the area. Long and straight works everywhere, but particularly at a 7,300-yard par 70 in which many of the par 4s are between 450 and 500 yards. Spieth will need to be at his best to hang, and finding that sweet spot has been an issue this season.

Spieth has regressed in almost all of the major statistical categories. He’s tied a career high for missed cuts (five), went a career-worst six consecutive events without a top-10 and generally hasn’t enjoyed the same week-to-week success, only giving himself a chance to win on a few occasions. It’s a testament to his grit and game-planning that two of those were majors. He almost stole the Masters, after a closing 64, and then was tied through 54 holes at The Open. That was the first time all season that he was within three shots of the lead heading into Sunday, but the final round was an almighty struggle, posting a birdieless 76 when an even-par round was all he needed to retain the claret jug.

“I try and focus on four tournaments a year,” he said. “I have a huge emphasis on them, and two of them I’ve had a chance to win on Sunday this year. So if I’m looking at it from that standpoint, it’s kind of mission accomplished with one to go.”

Indeed, in defeat, Spieth has remained as optimistic as ever. He chalked up his near-miss at Carnoustie to “two bad swings” that cost him a couple of shots. He said his putting is “starting to come back.” He pointed to Jack Nicklaus’ 19 career runners-up in majors, to how sometimes it’ll go his way and other times it won’t.

“This has been a building year for me,” he said.

But he’s also keenly aware of how his results stack up against his competition.

“I feel somewhat under the radar this year,” he said. “I’ve kind of felt that way a lot this year. I don’t mind it.”

That’s the position that Thomas once occupied, and then he used that competitive jealousy to fuel his rise to Player of the Year.

Spieth won’t ever truly be under the radar, of course – not as a three-time major winner, not with so much history at stake – but there is another dynamic at play here.

It’s finally Thomas’ time to hog more of the spotlight.

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Haas nearly shoots age in taking Champions playoff opener lead

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 10:05 pm

RICHMOND, Va.  -- Jay Haas shot a 7-under 65 - missing his age by a stroke - to take a two-shot lead Saturday in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Trying to become the oldest winner in tour history, the 64-year-old Haas birdied the par-5 16th and 18th holes to get to 11-under 133 on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''I've been out here too long to know that I can learn to expect anything,'' Haas said. ''While I'm hopeful every day and I've been playing OK, the last couple weeks have not been very good, but this week has been much better. I love this golf course and it looks good to my eye. Most of the holes look like I'm going to hit a good shot, so I enjoy playing here.''

Mike Fetchick set the age record of 63 years to the day in the 1985 Hilton Head event. Haas is second on the list, taking the 2016 Toshiba Classic at 62 years, 10 months, 7 days for his 18th senior title.

''That's a good way to say I'm old, 'experience,''' Haas said. ''I think I'm very nervous most of the time when I play and today was no exception, but I continued to hit good shots and, hopefully, I can put one foot in front of the other, one shot at a time, do what I tell my son to do every time, you know? See if I can put some of those adages to work tomorrow.''

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

Stephen Ames and Scott Dunlap were tied for second after the round that started in light rain. Ames had a 67, and Dunlap shot 68.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer had a 66 to join Billy Mayfair (67) and Woody Austin (68) at 9 under. Langer won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the season points lead. The 61-year-old German star has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, California, and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, was tied for 23rd at 4 under after a 71.

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Sergio leads by 4 entering final round at Valderrama

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 20, 2018, 9:26 pm

Sergio Garcia closed with three straight birdies to shoot a 7-under 64 on Saturday, taking a four-shot lead into the third and final round of the Andalusia Valderrama Masters.

The tournament, which Garcia has won  twice (2017, 2011), was reduced to 54 holes because of numerous weather-related delays.

With his bogey-free round, Garcia moved to 10 under, four shots clear of Englishman Ashley Chesters, who shot a 1-under 70.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

"Hopefully we'll be able to play well tomorrow and get another win at Valderrama," Garcia said. "Hopefully I can finish it in style."

Chesters, however, is conceding nothing. "There's always a chance," he said. "There's not a lot of pressure on me."

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Ciganda, S.Y. Kim share lead in Shanghai

By Associated PressOctober 20, 2018, 9:28 am

SHANGHAI - Carlota Ciganda of Spain shot a 5-under 67 Saturday to share the lead with Sei Young Kim after the third round of the LPGA Shanghai.

Ciganda carded her fifth birdie of the day on the par-4 18th to finish tied with overnight leader Kim at 11-under 205. Kim shot a 71 with four bogeys and five birdies.

Ciganda is attempting to win her third LPGA title and first since the 2016 season, when she won two tournaments in a one-month span. Kim is chasing her eighth career LPGA win and second title of the 2018 season.

''I want to win because I didn't win last year,'' Ciganda said. ''I love playing in Asia. It's good for long hitters, playing quite long, so I'm quite comfortable.''

Full-field scores from the Buick LPGA Shanghai

Angel Yin also birdied the final hole for a 68 and was a further stroke back with Brittany Altomare (69), Danielle Kang (71) and Ariya Jutanugarn (71).

Yin and Altomare have yet to break through for their first LPGA win. A win in Shanghai would make either player the ninth first-time winner of the 2018 season, which would tie 2016 for the third highest number of first-time winners in a season in LPGA history.

''I love competing,'' Yin said. ''That's why I'm playing, right? I'm excited to be in contention again going into Sunday.''

Local favorite Yu Liu was seventh after offsetting a lone bogey with four birdies for a 69.

Paula Creamer also shot a 69 and shared eighth at 8 under with Minjee Lee (70) and Bronte Law (71).

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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Koepka's pursuers have no illusions about catching him

By Nick MentaOctober 20, 2018, 8:50 am

Ahead by four, wielding his driver like Thor's hammer, Brooks Koepka is 18 holes from his third victory in five months and his first ascent to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking.

The tournament isn't over. No one is handing him the trophy and updating the OWGR website just yet. But it will likely take some combination of a meltdown and low round from someone in the chase pack to prevent a Koepka coronation Sunday in South Korea.

Thirteen under for the week, the three-time major champion will start the final round four shots ahead of his playing partners, Ian Poulter and Scott Piercy, and five ahead of six more players at minus-8.

As is his nature, Poulter figures to be undaunted. The 42-year-old is fresh off a Sunday singles victory over Dustin Johnson at the Ryder Cup and in the midst of a career renaissance, having broken a five-year winless drought earlier this year. In one sense, it's Europe vs. the United States again, but this isn't match play, and Koepka, a guy who doesn't need a head start, has spotted himself a four-shot advantage.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

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"Tomorrow I'm going to need to make a few birdies. Obviously Brooks is in cruise control right now and obviously going to need a shoot a low one," Poulter conceded. "Do what I'm doing, just enjoy [it]. Obviously try and make as many birdies as I can and see how close we get."

Perez, in the group at 8 under par, isn't giving up, but like Poulter, he's aware of the reality of his situation.

"We're chasing Brooks, who of course obviously is playing phenomenally," he said. "A lot of the long hitters now when they get in contention, they hit that driver and they're really hard to catch. I'm not worried about it too much. It's going to be harder for me tomorrow than him, so I'm going to try and go out and just do my thing, hit some shots, hopefully hit some close and make some putts and we'll see. I don't expect him to come backwards, but hopefully I can try to go catch him."

Gary Woodland, also 8 under par, summed up the predicament best when he alluded to Koepka's perhaps advantageously aloof demeanor.

"You obviously want to get off to a good start and put pressure on him as soon as you can," he said. "You know, Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much, and he's playing so good, so you're going to have to go out and post a number."