Spieth back to the beginning of his historic run

By Will GrayNovember 25, 2015, 5:00 pm

It’s hard to fathom now, but it wasn’t that long ago that Jordan Spieth traveled halfway around the world with a string of questions trailing behind him.

It was one year ago, in fact, that Spieth headed Down Under for his debut start at the Australian Open. But this wasn’t major champion, world No. 1, all-everything Jordan Spieth.

No, this was full-of-unrealized-potential Spieth: a player clearly on the rise, but one who was also outside the top 10 in the world rankings and 16 months removed from his lone professional win.

Spieth had his chances, notably at the 2014 Masters and Players Championship, but couldn’t hold on. He watched as peers like Patrick Reed racked up multiple victories, and he had a front-row seat for Rory McIlroy’s ascension into the golfing stratosphere.

Then with one stunning close along the Australian sand belt, Spieth took the trophy from McIlroy, put to bed many lingering doubts and launched a 12-month run that has reached significant heights.

Spieth began that final round tied for the lead at The Australian Golf Club, and facing blustery conditions he fired a course-record 63. The score was four shots better than anyone else in the field – eight shots better than crowd favorite Adam Scott – and turned a tight leaderboard into a six-shot romp for the 21-year-old.

“To come into that Sunday and shoot one of the best, if not the best rounds I’ve ever shot in my life, in those conditions, and to win that tournament significantly, it was huge,” Spieth said in August. “That win gave me a winning formula. I was able to just get a massive load off my shoulders.”

That relief was clear as the results piled up – immediately. Spieth flew to Florida the very next week and lapped a world-class field, winning the 18-man Hero World Challenge by 10 shots at Isleworth.

Another win followed in Tampa, and a pair of majors after that. All told, in the 12 months since he left Oz, Spieth has won six times and finished second on four other occasions.

“I think after the Sunday round here, I felt like it was a very special round that was going to do something for me,” Spieth said Tuesday. “No, I didn’t think it would launch the type of year that we’ve had, because each piece needed to come together to get a bit more comfortable in the bigger situations. But I learned how to really close here with my head.”

The snowball effect has seemed more like an avalanche this year, but the premise rings true: Spieth likely doesn’t win the U.S. Open without the confidence derived from his Masters triumph. He may not win the Masters without his victory weeks earlier at the Valspar Championship, and so on.

But it all leads back to Australia, to this stretch of golf far from the PGA Tour where Spieth received the confirmation that he can outlast some of the best in the game.

Of course, he wasn’t the only one to follow this formula. McIlroy’s 2013 season was mired with equipment-related controversy and yielded no trophies until he closed with a similar surge to win this event, denying Scott the Australian Triple Crown in the process.

That victory served as a springboard for McIlroy, who like Spieth went on to win a pair of majors the next year.

“It ended the year for me on a high,” McIlroy said. “It hadn’t been a great season for me. I’d had my struggles, but to win one of my last events was great. It gave me momentum going into 2014.”

As he summited various peaks throughout this past season, Spieth was always cognizant of just what catalyzed his torrid run.

“We had not found the solution as a team, and we found the solution in Australia against a world-class field including the world No. 1 and 2 at the time,” Spieth said after winning the Masters. “I was able to see putts go in. I knew that I could make them under pressure and I knew the strategy mentally, most importantly, to get the job done.”

“I thought of the two events that I played at the end of last year, Australian Open and Tiger’s event, as paramount in what happened this year,” he added at the BMW Championship in September, on his way to the FedEx Cup title. “They were extremely key events that I don’t know if the success that happened this year happens without those two events, I really don’t.

“Mentally they took me to a different level, just learning how to close those two out.”

When it comes to prodigious talent, sometimes all it takes is a spark. Many fans remember Tiger Woods’ romp at the 1997 Masters, but that win was preceded by three other victories in the prior six months.

McIlroy became a major champion at the 2011 U.S. Open, but he first needed to learn how to win in Dubai and Charlotte.

Now Spieth returns to the scene of his own crunch-time tutorial, the course outside Sydney where on one day when he absolutely needed it, his game delivered beyond his wildest expectations.

It’s a response from him that now seems routine, but once was anything but.

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Winning on Kerr's mind this week and beyond

By Randall MellMarch 24, 2018, 2:11 am

Cristie Kerr moved into position Friday to do more than win the 21st LPGA title of her career.

She moved into position to claim an LPGA Hall of Fame point this week.

Yes, winning is foremost on her mind at the Kia Classic, where she took the lead with an 8-under-par 64 in the second round, she’s on a larger quest, too.

After turning 40 last fall, Kerr was asked what her goals are.

“The Hall of Fame is attainable, if I stick with it,” she said.

Kerr is five shots ahead of Lizette Salas (67), In-Kyung Kim (69), Hee Young Park (70) and Caroline Hedwall (70).

It’s a good time for Kerr to get on a hot streak, with the year’s first major championship, the ANA Inspiration, next week. She has long been one of the best putters in the women’s game, but her ball-striking is impressive this week. She hit 17 greens in regulation Thursday, and she hit 16 on Friday.

“I like winning,” Kerr said. “I like challenging myself. Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older, with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, `Man, why does my hamstring hurt?’ From working around this hilly golf course.”

Kerr acknowledged Friday that her body is more vulnerable to time’s realities, but her mind isn’t.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

“The golf ball doesn't know an age,” Kerr said. “I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.”

Kerr won two weeks after her 40th birthday last fall, boosting her LPGA Hall of Fame point total to 22. She is five points short of eligibility for induction. A player earns one point for an LPGA victory and two points for a major championship title. So there’s a lot of Hall of Fame ground to gain this week and next.

It’s a long-term goal that motivates Kerr to take care of her body.

“I don't think the golf changes,” Kerr said. “I think, physically, it gets harder as you get older. Like I said, I've got tape on my hamstring. I strained it, just a little bit yesterday, walking around this golf course. It's tough as you get older, just being fresh and rested. I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.”

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Big names chasing Kerr into the weekend at Kia Classic

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 1:55 am

CARLSBAD, Calif. - Cristie Kerr shot an 8-under 64 on Friday in the Kia Classic to take a five-stroke lead into the weekend.

The 40-year-old Kerr had eight birdies in her second straight bogey-free round to reach 13-under 131 at rain-softened Aviara.

''I like winning. I like challenging myself,'' Kerr said. ''Definitely doesn't get any easier as you get older with the travel and recovery time. I got up this morning and I'm like, 'Man, why does my hamstring hurt?' From working around this hilly golf course. The golf ball doesn't know an age. I've always said that. As long as I stay hungry, going to just keep playing.''

She has 20 LPGA victories, winning at Aviara in 2015. She won twice last year and helped the U.S. beat Europe in her ninth Solheim Cup appearance.

''It's tough as you get older just being fresh and rested,'' Kerr said. ''I put more focus into that as I've gotten older. I still practice, but off the course I try to get more rest.''

Lizette Salas, In-Kyung Kim, Hee Young Park and Caroline Hedwall were tied for second. Salas shot 67, Kim 69, and Park and Hedwall 70.

''I really like this golf course. I really like the environment,'' said Salas, the former University of Southern California player from Azusa. ''My family gets to come out. So much confidence at the beginning of the week, and definitely showed the first two days.

Jeong Eun Lee was 7 under after a 69, and defending ANA champion So Yeon Ryu had a 70 to get to 6 under.

Full-field scores from the Kia Classic

Ariya Jutanugarn (72), Brooke Henderson (70) and 2016 winner Lydia Ko (71) were 5 under. Shanshan Feng (68) was another stroke back, and Singapore winner Michelle Wie (72) was 1 under.

Lexi Thompson was 2 over after a 74, making the cut on the number in the final event before the major ANA Inspiration next week at Mission Hills.

Kerr opened with birdies on the par-5 10th and par-3 11th, added birdies on the par-4 16th, 18th and second, and ran off three in a row on the par-3 sixth, par-4 seventh and par-5 eighth.

''I don't think you can fall asleep on one shot,'' Kerr said. ''It's a really good golf course. I think I play better on courses that demand the focus, so I think that's why I've played well here in the past. ... I'm trying not to put limits on myself right now. I've got some good things going on with my swing.''

She has long been one best putters and green-readers in the world.

''I can see the subtleties that a lot of people can't,'' Kerr said. ''It's a gift from God being able to do that. I've always had that, so I'm lucky.''

Laura Davies withdrew after an opening 82. The 54-year-old Davies tied for second last week in the Founders Cup in Phoenix, playing through painful left Achilles and calf problems.

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DJ hits 489-yard drive, but it doesn't count for history

By Rex HoggardMarch 24, 2018, 12:22 am

AUSTIN, Texas – Dustin Johnson is no stranger to big drives, but even for DJ this one was impressive.

Trailing in his Day 3 match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, Johnson launched a drive at the par-5 12th hole that traveled 489 yards, but that number comes with an asterisk.

“He got lucky it hit the road,” smiled Kevin Kisner, who was leading the world No. 1, 3 up, at the time. “I thought he would make an eagle for sure, he only had 80 yards [to the hole]. He didn’t hit a very good putt.”

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Johnson’s drive, which was 139 yards past Kisner’s tee shot, is the longest recorded on the PGA Tour in the ShotLink era, surpassing Davis Love III’s drive of 476 yards in 2004 at the Tournament of Champions.

The drive will not go into the record books, however, because the Tour doesn’t count statistics from the Match Play.

It should also be noted, Kisner halved the 12th hole with a birdie and won the match, 4 and 3, to advance to the round of 16.

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Durant leads Champions event in Mississippi

By Associated PressMarch 24, 2018, 12:21 am

BILOXI, Miss. - Joe Durant had three straight birdies in a back-nine burst and a shot 6-under 66 on Friday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' Rapiscan Systems Classic.

Durant birdied the par-4 11th and 12th and par-5 13th in the bogey-free round at breezy and rain-softened Fallen Oak. Because of the wet conditions, players were allowed to lift, clean and place their golf balls in the fairway.

''It just sets up nice to my eye,'' Durant said. ''It's a beautiful golf course and it's very challenging. The tee shots seem to set up well for me, but the greens are maybe as quick as I've ever seen them here. You really have to put the ball in the right spots. I played very nice today. With the wind swirling like it was, I'm really happy.''

He won the Chubb Classic last month in Naples, Florida, for his third victory on the 50-and-over tour.

Full-field scores from the Rapiscan Systems Classic

''Done this long enough, Friday's just one day,'' Durant said. ''Especially in a three-day tournament, you've got to go out and shoot three good numbers. Fortunate to put one on the board, but I know I have to back it up with a couple of good days because you can get passed very quickly out here.''

Mark Calcavecchia was a stroke back. He won last month in Boca Raton, Florida

''It's probably my best round I've ever had here and it was a tough day to play,'' Calcavecchia said. ''The greens are just lightning fast. They're pretty slopey greens, so very difficult to putt.''

Steve Stricker was third at 68. He took the Tucson, Arizona, event three weeks ago for his first senior victory.

''Just getting it around and managing my game I think like I always do,'' Stricker said. ''You get in the wrong position here with the greens being so fast and you're going to be in trouble. I did that a couple times today.''

Billy Mayfair, Billy Andrade and David McKenzie shot 69. Jerry Kelly, the winner of the season-opening event in Hawaii, was at 70 with Wes Short Jr., Glen Day, Gene Sauers and Jesper Parnevik.

Bernhard Langer opened with a 71, and two-time defending champion Miguel Angel Jimenez had a 72.

Vijay Singh, coming off his first senior victory two weeks ago in Newport Beach, California, had a 73.