Spieth is in Houston, but with eyes on Augusta

By Will GrayMarch 30, 2016, 7:38 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – The calendar has yet to hit April, but it’s already been a banner year for chalk in golf.

Week in and week out, the best in the game are showing, well, why they’re the best in the game. Players currently ranked inside the top 21 have won on Tour seven of the last eight weeks, and only one player has managed to punch his ticket to the Masters by virtue of a win. (Take a bow, Vaughn Taylor.)

Jordan Spieth kicked off this recent run of top-shelf dominance with his eight-shot romp at Kapalua, a signal that he was eager to pick up right where he left off following an all-everything season.

But in subsequent weeks, Spieth has stalled while other top players around him picked up steam.

Granted, the sky is not exactly falling on the newly minted world No. 2. Spieth’s “drought,” if that term even applies, consists of four top-25 finishes in five starts since leaving Maui. But he was visibly frustrated during rounds at Riviera and Innisbrook, and he was hardly a factor at Doral.

Returning to his college roots last week in Austin, Spieth appeared in command before a poor range session led to an upset loss to Louis Oosthuizen in the Round of 16.

“I just couldn’t grab a shot that I knew I could go to the course with,” he said. “It was just a very off day.”

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One year ago, Spieth arrived at the Shell Houston Open brimming with confidence and on a mission. He had won the Valspar Championship and finished second at the Valero Texas Open in his two most recent starts, and he stated his clear goal during a pre-tournament news conference.

“I’m trying to trim the fat this week,” he said at the time. “Trying to find the little straighter ball flight to take into Augusta versus working it quite a bit both ways, then especially nailing down my short game.”

Needless to say, he accomplished what he set out to do. Spieth lost in a playoff to J.B. Holmes, then headed east and promptly laid waste to the field at Augusta National.

It’s a two-step that Spieth would certainly love to repeat. But this time around, there’s some extra gristle left on the bone.

“I need to do a little bit more than just trimming the fat,” Spieth said Wednesday. “Last year my consistency was there. We had just won and finished runner-up, coming in here off better finishes than I am this year.”

Spieth was quick to note that, on the heels of a five-win season, he feels better equipped to perform in the clutch than he did a year ago. And, after some thought, he added that an early-week consult with swing coach Cameron McCormick has his major prep back on track.

“Everything is there,” he said. “It’s right where we want it to be going into the Masters.”

But in listening to Spieth’s self-evaluation, it’s clear that there’s work to be done and, what’s more, he knows it. Things may have been on autopilot 52 weeks ago, but he is forced to take a much more hands-on approach this time.

It marks a bit of a paradigm shift for the 22-year-old, who has essentially been at the center of the golf universe since he first slipped an arm inside the green jacket. Now he is one of a handful of Masters favorites, relegated to the sidelines in recent weeks while Bubba Watson, Adam Scott and Jason Day racked up trophy after trophy.

Spieth noted that this year’s Masters could be one of the most difficult to predict in recent memory, simply because so many top players are performing so well. But if that creates a more muddled upper echelon heading into the season’s first major, that’s fine with the defending champ.

“I don’t really care about spotlight or not,” Spieth said. “We go and do our thing that week. Hopefully we’re the ones that are in contention, and we’re the most recent winners of it. We’ve got it fresh in our mind. Hopefully it’s an advantage.”

As the Masters approaches with increasing speed, the time for finding one’s game has passed. Momentum, however, can still be harnessed, and it can sometimes make all the difference under the crucible of major championship pressure.

Charl Schwartzel knows all about winning at Augusta National, but he’s enjoying a recent boost from his playoff win at Innisbrook, his first on the PGA Tour since his major breakthrough.

“You feel your game is good enough to win, but to know it’s good enough is a different thing,” Schwartzel said. “Just having that win makes you believe more.”

For Spieth, the emphasis isn’t necessarily on winning – it’s simply being near the lead, as evidenced by last year’s results. Contending breeds confidence, and it leads to invaluable opportunities to execute under pressure.

“It’s just a matter now of hitting nerve-racking shots and putts before that week, which means I’ve got to get myself into contention this week,” he said.

Spieth is hardly alone in mapping out his early-season schedule with an eye on Augusta. He could also miss the cut this week and still find a way to successfully defend his title next week.

But for Spieth, the plan has always been to peak for what he views as the biggest event of the year. While he’s not quite there by his own admission, he has one more opportunity this week to make up some ground.

The Masters may be on the horizon, but right now it’s time for Spieth to go to work in Houston.

“There’s a lot I need to do this week to better prepare for the Masters and feel that I have the confidence to win,” he said. “I just need a little more consistency.” 

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Vegas helicopters in to Carnoustie, without clubs

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 9:33 am

Jhonattan Vegas did some range work, putted a little and strolled to the first tee for his 5:31 a.m. ET start in the 147th Open Championship.

Everything before that, however, was far from routine.

Vegas' visa to travel to Scotland expired and the process to renew it got delayed - and it looked like his overseas' flight might suffer the same fate. Vegas, upon getting his visa updated, traveled from Houston, Texas to Toronto, Canada to Glasgow, Scotland, and then took a helicopter to Carnoustie.

He arrived in time on Thursday morning, but his clubs did not. Mizuno put together some irons for him and TaylorMade got him his preferred metal woods. He hit the clubs for the first time on the range, less than 90 minutes before his start.

"I'm going to go out there and play with freedom," Vegas told Golf Channel's Todd Lewis.

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How to watch The Open on TV and online

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:40 am

You want to watch the 147th Open? Here’s how you can do it.

Golf Channel and NBC Sports will be televising 182 hours of overall programming from the men's third major of the year at Carnoustie

In addition to the traditional coverage, the two networks will showcase three live alternate feeds: marquee groups, featured holes (our new 3-hole channel) and spotlight action. You can also watch replays of full-day coverage, Thursday-Sunday, in the Golf Channel app, NBC Sports apps, and on GolfChannel.com.  

Here’s the weekly TV schedule, with live stream links in parentheses. You can view all the action on the Golf Channel mobile, as well. Alternate coverage is noted in italics:

(All times Eastern; GC=Golf Channel; NBC=NBC Sports; GC.com=GolfChannel.com or check the GLE app)

Monday, July 16

GC: 7-9AM: Morning Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: 9-11AM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

GC: 7-9PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Tuesday, July 17

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Wednesday, July 18

GC: 6AM-2PM: Live From The Open (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Thursday, July 19

GC: Midnight-1:30AM: Midnight Drive (stream.golfchannel.com)

GC: Day 1: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 1: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Friday, July 20

GC: Day 2: The Open, live coverage: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Spotlight: 1:30AM-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, Marquee Groups: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 2: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 4AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 4-5PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Saturday, July 21

GC: Day 3: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 3: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 3: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-3PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 3-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

Sunday, July 22

GC: Day 4: The Open, live coverage: 4:30-7AM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

NBC: Rd. 4: The Open, live coverage: 7AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/theopen)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Spotlight: 4:30AM-2:30PM (www.golfchannel.com/spotlight)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, Marquee Groups: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/marqueegroup)

GC.com: Day 4: The Open, 3-Hole Channel: 5AM-2PM (www.golfchannel.com/3holechannel)

GC: Live From The Open: 2:30-4PM (www.golfchannel.com/livefromstream)

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The Open 101: A guide to the year's third major

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 5:30 am

Take a look at some answers to frequently asked questions about The Open:

What's all this "The Open" stuff? I thought it was the British Open.

What you call it has historically depended on where you were. If you were in the U.S., you called it the British Open, just as Europeans refer to the PGA Championship as the U.S. PGA. Outside the U.S. it generally has been referred to as The Open Championship. The preferred name of the organizers is The Open.

How old is it?

It's the oldest golf championship, dating back to 1860.

Where is it played?

There is a rotation – or "rota" – of courses used. Currently there are 10: Royal Birkdale, Royal St. George's, Royal Liverpool and Royal Lytham and St. Annes, all in England; Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland and St. Andrews, Carnoustie, Royal Troon, Turnberry and Muirfield, all in Scotland. Muirfield was removed from the rota in 2016 when members voted against allowing female members, but when the vote was reversed in 2017 it was allowed back in.

Where will it be played this year?

At Carnoustie, which is located on the south-eastern shore of Scotland.

Who has won The Open on that course?

Going back to the first time Carnoustie hosted, in 1931, winners there have been Tommy Armour, Henry Cotton (1937), Ben Hogan (1953), Gary Player (1968), Tom Watson (1975), Paul Lawrie (1999), Padraig Harrington (2007).

Wasn't that the year Hogan nearly won the Slam?

Yep. He had won the Masters and U.S. Open that season, then traveled to Carnoustie and won that as well. It was the only time he ever played The Open. He was unable to play the PGA Championship that season because the dates conflicted with those of The Open.

Jean Van de Velde's name should be on that list, right?

This is true. He had a three-shot lead on the final hole in 1999 and made triple bogey. He lost in a playoff to Lawrie, which also included Justin Leonard.

Who has won this event the most?

Harry Vardon, who was from the Channel Island of Jersey, won a record six times between 1896 and 1914. Australian Peter Thomson, American Watson, Scot James Braid and Englishman J.H. Taylor each won five times.

What about the Morrises?

Tom Sr. won four times between 1861 and 1867. His son, Tom Jr., also won four times, between 1868 and 1872.

Have players from any particular country dominated?

In the early days, Scots won the first 29 Opens – not a shocker since they were all played at one of three Scottish courses, Prestwick, St. Andrews and Musselburgh. In the current era, going back to 1999 (we'll explain why that year in a minute), the scoreboard is United States, nine wins; South Africa, three wins; Ireland, two wins; Northern Ireland, two wins; and Sweden, one win. The only Scot to win in that period was Lawrie, who took advantage of one of the biggest collapses in golf history.

Who is this year's defending champion?

That would be American Jordan Spieth, who survived an adventerous final round to defeat Matt Kuchar by three strokes and earn the third leg of the career Grand Slam.

What is the trophy called?

The claret jug. It's official name is the Golf Champion Trophy, but you rarely hear that used. The claret jug replaced the original Challenge Belt in 1872. The winner of the claret jug gets to keep it for a year, then must return it (each winner gets a replica to keep).

Which Opens have been the most memorable?

Well, there was Palmer in 1961and '62; Van de Velde's collapse in 1999; Hogan's win in 1953; Tiger Woods' eight-shot domination of the 2000 Open at St. Andrews; Watson almost winning at age 59 in 2009; Doug Sanders missing what would have been a winning 3-foot putt at St. Andrews in 1970; Tony Jacklin becoming the first Briton to win the championship in 18 years; and, of course, the Duel in the Sun at Turnberry in 1977, in which Watson and Jack Nicklaus dueled head-to-head over the final 36 holes, Watson winning by shooting 65-65 to Nicklaus' 65-66.

When I watch this tournament on TV, I hear lots of unfamiliar terms, like "gorse" and "whin" and "burn." What do these terms mean?

Gorse is a prickly shrub, which sometimes is referred to as whin. Heather is also a shrub. What the scots call a burn, would also be considered a creek or stream.