Weight of Masters meltdown finally lifted

By Ryan LavnerJuly 23, 2017, 8:43 pm

SOUTHPORT, England – It couldn’t happen, shouldn’t happen, wouldn’t happen.

Not again.

Not this soon.

And so, in the midst of another major collapse, and with his reputation as a shutdown closer on the line, Jordan Spieth took 29 minutes to play the 13th hole Sunday at Royal Birkdale.

It was worth every surreal second.  

In what became one of the most bizarre, gutsy and exhilarating stretches in major-championship history, Spieth made an improbable bogey from the driving range, then ripped off three birdies and an eagle late to snatch the claret jug from Matt Kuchar and capture the 146th Open Championship.

“Today took as much out of me as any day I’ve ever played,” Spieth said afterward.

Spieth has long resisted historical comparisons, but he’s also a student of the game and is acutely aware of where his march on history now stands. Four days shy of his 24th birthday, he became the second-youngest player in the modern era to win three majors, behind Jack Nicklaus and ahead of Tiger Woods. Spieth can complete the career Grand Slam next month at Quail Hollow.

“To be in that company,” he said, “no doubt, is absolutely incredible.”

His epic comeback took on an even greater significance given his recent history.  

Four-hundred-seventy days ago, halfway around the world, Spieth authored one of the biggest collapses in golf history, coughing up a five-shot lead with nine holes to play in the 2016 Masters. The past 15 months have been spent defending, rationalizing and then ultimately accepting the worst day of his professional life, and for a while Sunday it appeared as though there would be another meltdown to sort through.

That seemed inconceivable at the start of the day.

Spieth had looked unflappable for three rounds, keeping calm and pouring in putts through wind gusts and rain squalls, taking another lead into the final round of a major.


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If the memories of the Masters were fresh, he betrayed no apprehension Saturday night. He thoughtfully answered a reporter’s question – “It was a humbling experience that I thought at the time could serve me well going forward” – and then retired to his rental house, which he shared with fellow frat brothers Rickie Fowler, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Justin Thomas. They played gin and snooker deep into the night, making no mention of the day ahead. “It was pretty chill,” Walker said. 

As is his routine on major Sundays, Spieth arrived at Birkdale 2 ½ hours before his tee time. With his swing coach Cameron McCormick squatting behind him, Spieth stroked 5-footers on an alignment track for a half-hour and then headed in for lunch, a foam roller popping out of the neon green backpack slung over his shoulder.

It wasn’t long before he was tied up in knots.

Staked to a three-shot lead, Spieth’s advantage disappeared by the time he walked off the fourth green. Cue the Augusta flashbacks.

“All of a sudden it creeps in your head,” he said. “I was so confident, and then all of a sudden, the wheels come off everything. So how do we get back on track to salvage this round and just give yourself a chance at the end?”

Now tied, and sensing his boss needed to refocus, Spieth’s caddie, Michael Greller, stopped him on the seventh tee and delivered a pep talk.

“Do you remember that group you were with in Cabo?” Greller asked, referring to Spieth’s July Fourth vacation, when he headed south of the border with Michael Jordan, Michael Phelps and other A-list celebrities. “You belong in that group. You’re that caliber of an athlete. But I need you to believe that right now because you’re in a great position in this tournament.”   

It sure didn't seem like it on the 13th hole.

Playing in a light rain, Spieth’s drive sailed about a hundred yards right, over a sand dune, off the noggin of a spectator, and into an unplayable lie. Back on the tee, his reaction was eerily similar to when he rinsed the two shots on the 12th hole at Augusta: Hands on his head. Mouth agape. Eyes filled with anguish.

“Oh boy,” Spieth said. “This could be 6.”

Sorting through his options, he headed to the range, where a stunned Haotong Li was warming up, preparing for a potential playoff. 

Twirling a 3-wood in his hand, weaving between the Titleist and Callaway trailers, creating a van de Veldian spectacle, Spieth was granted line-of-sight relief from the trucks as Greller, lugging a 40-pound bag, trudged back up the dunes to offer a reference point. 

“I certainly didn’t have any numbers from the right side of the range,” Greller said, smirking.

Indeed, Spieth was so far off-line, not even the Pythagorean theorem could have helped. He guessed he had 270 yards to the front and wanted to hit 3-wood; Greller insisted it was closer to 230 yards and suggested 3-iron. As Kuchar waited patiently during the 22-minute ordeal, Spieth, with 3-iron in hand, put his ball back in play, then perfectly nipped his pitch shot from a tight, downhill lie and rolled in the 8-footer for an all-world bogey.

Spieth fell one behind but didn't panic. “That’s a momentum shift right there,” Greller said.

And it shifted the outcome of The Open.

What followed was a 6-iron laser on 14 for birdie.

A 50-foot eagle on 15, as he pointed at the cup and told Greller to “go get that.”

A 30-footer for birdie on 16.

And then, finally, an 8-footer on 17, an instantly legendary stretch that gave him a final-round 69 and a three-shot victory at 12-under 268.

“That’s the stuff legends are made of,” McCormick said. “When you’re pushed back to the wall and you’re in a corner and you keep punching … that just shows his tenacity and resilience and the heart that he has.” 

By the time Kuchar walked off the 18th green, his perma-smile was gone, his eyes were glazed over, and his young son was in tears.

“It’s hard to explain,” said Kuchar, who shot 69. “It’s crushing. It hurts.”

Yet for Spieth, it’s a reputation-saving turnaround. Even though he’d closed out eight of his past nine 54-hole leads on the PGA Tour, the one occasion he didn’t still haunted him.

“He’s heard a lot since the 2016 Masters,” Greller said, turning emotional, “and I’m sure there was somewhere in there some doubts crept in. It was just cool to see him with his back against the wall more than maybe even 12 at Augusta and see what he did. It just shows his character and his grit.”

Personally, Greller thought the 2015 Open was more disappointing than the Masters. Two years ago, on the verge of capturing the first three legs of the Grand Slam, Spieth had bogeyed the 71st hole at St. Andrews and missed the playoff by a shot. Instead of sulking, though, he waited behind the final green to congratulate Zach Johnson, then rode home on the charter flight with him, guzzling wine, cheap beer and champagne out of the claret jug, unafraid of any Open jinx.

Now, somehow, Spieth has a claret jug of his own, and another flight to catch. After the past 15 months, after a comeback for the ages, the bubbly will taste even sweeter. 

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McIlroy: U.S. Open MC 'blessing in disguise'

By Will GrayJune 21, 2018, 11:47 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Watching a major championship unfold from the comfort of your living room is never an ideal strategy for any top-ranked pro, but sometimes players are forced to make the best of a bad situation.

Case in point Rory McIlroy, who ballooned to an opening-round 80 at the U.S. Open and never factored after that. The Ulsterman struggled to find a comfort zone at Shinnecock Hills, missing the U.S. Open cut for the third straight year.

But given a few extra days to prep, McIlroy appears to have cured what was ailing him after leading the Travelers Championship field in a number of ball-striking categories during an opening-round 64 that left him one shot behind leaders Jordan Spieth and Zach Johnson.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


“Obviously you never want to miss a cut in a major, but it might have been a blessing in disguise for the rest of the year,” McIlroy said.

Even after hitting 17 of 18 greens in regulation during his second trip around Shinnecock, McIlroy went back to the drawing board as he looks to emulate the swing he used in 2010 and 2011 when he won twice on the PGA Tour including the U.S. Open. While he notes that changes to his body will limit his ability to conjure an exact replica, he’s more in search of the positive thoughts that helped get his burgeoning pro career off the ground.

“It’s just trying to go back and, OK, I was swinging it really well then. What was I doing? What was I thinking about? What was the focus on the swing?” McIlroy said. “Just trying to rack your brain to recreate feelings that you had back then. That’s basically what I did over the weekend. I got a feeling that really sort of resonated with me, and brought me back to a time when I was swinging it really well, and just sort of went with that feeling.”

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Spieth, McIlroy get back on track at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 21, 2018, 11:18 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – What a difference a week makes.

Players speak in unison about a desire to peak four times per year when the major trophies are on the line. But it’s a soft science, easier said than done. Sometimes the key is to play your way onto the biggest stages, while other times the best practice is to build reps far away from the PGA Tour rope line.

Jordan Spieth got to Shinnecock Hills the weekend before the U.S. Open began, logging two full practice rounds before sitting down for his pre-tournament interview. Rory McIlroy went to an even further extreme, basically establishing residency in the Hamptons while playing every top-100 golf course within a 20-mile radius.

They were concerted efforts, carefully calculated plans of attack that both men hoped would yield a second U.S. Open title. They also blew up in their faces in record time.

Spieth was 4 over after just two holes at Shinnecock, while McIlroy played his first 11 in 10 over. Just like that, the best-laid plans got lost in the knee-high fescue as one of a finite number of legitimate shots at major glory went by the wayside before lunch was served.


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


Both players snuck off the premises well before the course became the weekend storyline, each bearing the battle scars of a missed cut. But given a chance to quickly reverse their fortunes, they both took full advantage at the Travelers Championship.

Spieth has spoken openly in recent weeks about the wars he continues to wage with his own game, as his putter has been downgraded from balky to outright uncooperative. Just as things started to turn around on the greens at the Memorial, his reliable ball-striking began to fade. A full-blown game of whack-a-mole has ensued.

“It’s certainly a testing year for me, and it’s a building year,” Spieth said. “It’s one where I can actually come out stronger. I’ve kind of looked at it that way the last couple months.”

It’s also been difficult for Spieth simply to get out of the gates in recent weeks. His third-place showing at the Masters remains a high water mark, but it was the product of a scintillating finale that came after starting the day well off the pace. Spieth remains candid about the fact that he has lacked a quality chance to win this year, one that he has previously defined as being within six shots of the lead entering Sunday.

All of those factors combined to make his opening 63 especially satisfying, as he returned to TPC River Highlands as defending champ and quickly grabbed a share of the lead, once again carving up a lush layout where he has nothing but positive memories.

“First rounds have been tough for me, trying to do a little bit too much. Trying to get shots back when I drop one and trying to have to birdie easy holes,” Spieth said. “The putter is starting to look better to me, so I can play a little bit more conservatively and still get a lot out of the round.”

McIlroy was alongside Spieth and Zach Johnson before a bogey on the final hole, but even a 6-under 64 matched his low round of the season on Tour. The Ulsterman downplayed his eye-popping score at Shinnecock entering a fresh week, noting that his tee-to-green performance where he hit 17 of 18 greens in regulation during the second round might be good enough to win this week at a more vulnerable venue.

It appears his thesis has merit, albeit through one round.

“I did a lot of similar things to what I did today. It’s just a completely different animal,” McIlroy said. “Like, it’s nice getting off to a good start here. But as I keep saying, I’m not playing that differently now than I did last Thursday, and it’s a 16-shot difference.”

Just like his last competitive round, McIlroy missed only one green in regulation. But this time the stat line portends even greater potential, as he also led the field Thursday in driving distance, strokes gained: off the tee and strokes gained: tee-to-green.

McIlroy’s ceiling remains absurdly high, as demonstrated by the way he surged from the pack to win at Bay Hill and seemingly took early command of the BMW PGA Championship without breaking a sweat. It also doesn’t need lowering after a couple errant days on a grand stage.

“I played really well today. I feel like the work that I did over the weekend sort of started to pay off already,” McIlroy said. “Being able to work the ball both ways was something I wasn’t quite as comfortable doing last week.”

Despite flooding their respective scorecards with birdies, neither Spieth nor McIlroy created any distance from the field on a day when low scores were ripe for the picking. A total of 22 players opened with rounds of 66 or better, including four major champions not named Spieth or McIlroy.

But after pouring time, effort and energy into last week’s major and watching it all go so horribly wrong, this was a day to remember that sometimes the solutions are closer than the recent results make them appear.

“I’ve been sticking to the process. I’ve been very positive about making progress from how I got pretty off earlier this year. So it’s nice to see a good score,” Spieth said. “Just glad. The first rounds have been kind of detrimental to me, so it’s nice to be in the thick of things.”

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Spieth shares Hartford lead; Rory 1 back

By Golf Channel DigitalJune 21, 2018, 10:35 pm

Just a few miles north but light years removed from the difficulty of Shinnecock Hills, the PGA Tour returned to week-in, week-out normalcy with the Travelers Championship. Here's what happened in the first round at TPC River Highlands in Cromwell, Conn.:

Leaderboard: Zach Johnson (-7), Jordan Spieth (-7), Rory McIlroy (-6), Peter Malnati (-6), Brian Harman (-6)

What it means: The two biggest names in the field, Spieth and McIlroy, are looking for a boost of confidence after missing the cut in the U.S. Open. Their scores look good, but McIlroy won't be happy about closing with a bogey.

Round of the day: Johnson and Spieth both put up 7-under 63s. Johnson, after a relatively pedestrian 2-under front nine, caught fire on the back, making six consecutive birdies on holes 11-16. A three-putt bogey at the 17th ended the run, and he parred the last for his 63. Spieth, the defending champion, put up two birdies and an eagle on the front and four more birdies on the back. Like Johnson, he had only one blemish, a bogey-5 on the drivable par-4 15th when he hooked his drive into the water.

Best of the rest: McIlroy, Malnati and Harman each shot 64. Malnati eagled the 15th and followed that with birdies at 16 and 17 and a back-nine 29. Harman had a rare birdie on the 444-yard 18th for his 64, but McIlroy threw away a shot at the closing hole to fall out of a share of the lead. His right foot slipped as he was hitting his approach shot, and he missed the green. After taking a drop to get away from a sprinkler head, he was unable to get up and down.

Biggest disappointment: Bubba Watson, a two-time winner of this event, could manage no better than an even-par 70. Two-under through 11 holes, he bogeyed three of the next four.

Shot of the day: Can we safely say that Spieth likes the bunkers at River Highlands? Last year he got up and down from one at the 18th hole to get into a playoff, then he holed out from the same bunker to win the playoff. On Thursday he worked his magic at the par-5 sixth hole, sinking his sand shot for eagle.

Biggest storyline going into Friday: Most eyes will be on Spieth and McIlroy, to see if they're over their U.S. Open funks and gearing up for The Open Championship.

NBC Sports Group to Showcase Top Players in Women's Golf With Comprehensive Coverage of the KPMG Women's PGA Championship, June 25-July 1

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 21, 2018, 9:35 pm

Golf Channel and NBC to Combine for More Than 40 Hours of News, Tournament and Instruction On-Site from Kemper Lakes Golf Club, Most in Tournament History 

KPMG Ambassador Phil Mickelson to Join Golf Central on Monday, June 25 Live from Soldier Field 

Condoleezza Rice and Olympians Nancy Kerrigan, Hilary Knight and Maia Shibutani to Headline KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit Wednesday, June 27

 

ORLANDO, Fla., June 21, 2018 – Featuring one of the strongest fields of the year, NBC Sports Group will dedicate more than 40 hours of comprehensive on-site news, tournament and instruction coverage of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – most in tournament history – Monday, June 25 - Sunday, July 1. Taking place at Kemper Lakes Golf Club near Chicago, the third LPGA Tour major of the season will be headlined by World No. 1 Inbee Park, No. 2 Ariya Jutanugarn, No. 3 Lexi Thompson, ANA Inspiration champion Pernilla Lindberg and defending champion Danielle Kang. In 2017, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship was the most-watched women’s major championship of the year. 

Through the partnership with KPMG, the PGA of America and the LPGA Tour, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship has been elevated to become one of the most impactful weeks of the year in women’s golf,” said Molly Solomon, executive vice president of content, Golf Channel. “As the broadcast partner for the championship, we strive to elevate our coverage each year to celebrate not only the best players in women’s golf but also female leaders in the workplace through the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit.” 

BROADCAST TEAM: Live tournament coverage of the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship will be anchored by Dan Hicks, joined by Paige Mackenzie and Gary Koch in the broadcast booth. Tom Abbott will report from an on-course tower, with Kay Cockerill, Jerry Foltz and Mark Rolfing walking the course. Steve Sands will conduct player interviews. 

NBC SPORTS GROUP TO IMPLEMENT POPULAR “PLAYING THROUGH” ENCHANCED COMMERCIAL BREAKS: Making its debut on NBC at the Ryder Cup in 2016, Golf Channel and NBC will implement the popular “Playing Through” enhancement in an effort to elevate the viewing experience for fans tuning in to the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship. NBC Sports Group is partnering with several national advertisers to present select commercial breaks in utilizing “Playing Through,” which will employ a split-screen model for a select number of national commercial breaks. This enhanced break will display both the commercial with audio as well as a continuous feed of the tournament action. 

COMPREHENSIVE ON-SITE NEWS COVERAGE: Golf Channel’s signature news programs, Golf Central and Morning Drive, will provide comprehensive, wraparound news coverage throughout the week, produced on-location at Kemper Lakes Golf Club. In addition to daily shows, Golf Central will present special player news conference shows Tuesday and Wednesday, June 26 and 27, at 5 p.m. ET. 

Rich Lerner will anchor Golf Central’s live coverage alongside LPGA major champion Karen Stupples and Arron Oberholser beginning Wednesday, June 27, with Lisa Cornwell reporting and conducting player interviews. Chantel McCabe will set the stage each day on Morning Drive with on-site interviews and analysis, with Paige Mackenzie joining her Monday-Wednesday. 

PHIL MICKELSON TO JOIN GOLF CENTRAL LIVE FROM SOLDIER FIELD MONDAY, JUNE 25: Kicking off KPMG Women’s PGA Championship week will be the KPMG Windy City Skills Challenge, taking place at Soldier Field in Chicago on Monday, June 25. KPMG Ambassadors Phil Mickelson and Mariah Stackhouse along with athletes from the Chicago Bears, Bulls, Fire, Red Stars and Skywill be conducting a special clinic and skills challenge event with local youth organizations. Mickelson will join Golf Central live from Soldier Field on Monday following the conclusion of the skills challenge. 

SCHOOL OF GOLF ON-SITE AT KEMPER LAKES: School of Golf will air Tuesday at 7 p.m. from on-site at Kemper Lakes Golf Club, with Martin Hall and Blair O’Neal hosting a special short-game episode. Scheduled guests include 2018 U.S. Women’s Open champion Ariya Jutanugarn and her coaches, Golf Channel Academy coaches Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott, as well as LPGA major champion Morgan Pressel.  

KPMG WOMEN’S LEADERSHIP SUMMIT: Golf Central will offer news coverage of the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit, which will be hosted on-site Wednesday, June 27, featuring an assembly of accomplished leaders in sports, business, politics and media to inspire the next generation of women leaders. 66th Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice and Olympians Nancy Kerrigan, Hilary Knight and Maia Shibutani will headline the gathering. NBC Sunday Night Football sideline reporter Michele Tafoya will serve as master of ceremonies. The summit will be streamed live on Wednesday on Golf Channel Digital. In addition, portions of the summit also will be streamed via Golf Channel’s Facebook Live. 

DIGITAL AND SOCIAL MEDIA COVERAGE: Golf Channel Digital will feature expanded editorial content during KPMG Women’s PGA Championship week. GolfChannel.com senior writer Randall Mell will report from Kemper Lakes Golf Club with columns and daily blogs, and Golf Channel social media host Alexandra O’Laughlin will contribute to Golf Channel’s social media platforms with exclusive behind-the-scenes content throughout the week. Golf Channel and NBC also will integrate social media throughout the telecasts, incorporating social media posts from players and fans using the hashtag #KPMGWomensPGA. 

News and tournament action surrounding the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship can be accessed at any time on any mobile device and online via Golf Channel Digital. Fans also can stream NBC Sports’ coverage of live golf via NBC Sports.com and the NBC Sports app.

 GOLF CHANNEL / NBC LIVE TOURNAMENT AIRTIMES(all times Eastern):

Thursday, June 28

Round 1

11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Golf Channel

Friday, June 29

Round 2

11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Golf Channel

Saturday, July 30

Round 3

3-6 p.m.

NBC

Sunday, July 1

Final Round

3-6 p.m.

NBC

 

The PGA of America and KPMG joined forces with the LPGA Tour in 2015 to create a world-class major championship that not only sustains the 60-year legacy of the former LPGA Championship, but also aims to elevate women on and off the golf course. The KPMG Women’s PGA Championship provides a platform to inspire the next generation of women leaders through the KPMG Women’s Leadership Summit and the KPMG Future Leaders Program.

 -NBC Sports Group-