WINDERMERE, Fla. — Jordan Spieth obliterated the competition at the unofficial, 18-player Hero World Challenge at Isleworth, extending his lead to as many as 12 strokes before signing for a final-round 66 to win by 10 over Henrik Stenson (69).
It was the Texan Spieth’s second consecutive win, coming one week after he won the Australian Open by six strokes.
“It was a one-horse race,” Stenson said. “All the rest of us had to do was battle it out for second, really.”
Spieth’s 26 under par total breaks Tiger Woods’ Hero tournament record of 22 under in 2007. Spieth’s margin of victory also set a record at this tournament, and he was the first wire-to-wire winner. He is expected to move from 11th to ninth in the World Ranking.
“This caps off the best golfing year that I’ve ever had,” Spieth said. “Each year has been a little better than the last. Hope it continues in 2015.”
Patrick Reed (68) — a late addition to the field after Jim Furyk pulled out with an injury — and Keegan Bradley (70) tied for third at 15 under, 11 shots back. Such was Spieth’s dominance that Bradley’s caddie, Steve “Pepsi” Hale, joked Sunday that he was going to have to sabotage Spieth’s bag when his caddie, Michael Greller, wasn’t looking. When Spieth eagled the 7th hole Sunday, Bradley made as if to tackle him.
“He came over,” Spieth said, “and he goes, ‘Nice putt. Are you kidding me?’ Something like that. I don’t know. I was a little scared. He’s bigger than I am.”
Hero host Woods did little more than finish the tournament, signing for an even-par 72, but that was no small accomplishment. Playing for the first time since he shot 74-74 to miss the cut at the PGA Championship in August, Woods battled through flu-like symptoms that were at their worst Saturday, when he vomited while shooting a third-round 69.
He was on the mend Sunday and again hit several solid full shots while finishing his first tournament under new swing coach Chris Como. The two are trying to create a more natural, flowing swing that harkens back to Woods’ amateur days, and Woods saw good signs at Isleworth despite continued short-game foibles. He suffered through another misadventure Sunday, stubbing two chips on the way to a triple-bogey at the 13th hole — bringing his tally of chili-dipped chips to around 10 for the week.
“I’ve got my speed back now,” said Woods, who also had his voice back Sunday. “Look how far I’m hitting it again now. That’s nice. I just obviously need to clean up my short game. That still needs a lot of work.”
Steve Stricker, who has played as much golf with Woods as anyone, was paired with the 14-time major winner at the Hero on Sunday.
“Obviously his short game and chipping isn’t up to his expectations,” Stricker said, “and other people’s expectations. But he’s going through the ball a lot better and really taking a rip at it. I think it looks better.”
Among the most notable developments early in 2014 was Spieth walloping Woods by nine strokes when the two were paired together for the first two rounds of the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines. Woods, it turned out, was playing with a bad back, which would require surgery in late March, and Spieth fell back on the weekend at Torrey. He would fail to win an official Tour event in 2014 — last year’s John Deere Classic remains his only official Tour win — before coming on strong late in the season. He said an extended putting session with coach Cameron McCormick in Australia led to his dominant victory Down Under, and he kept it going at Isleworth.
Spieth, who finished a shot out of a playoff at the Japan Golf Tour’s Dunlop-Phoenix tournament two weeks ago, is 46 under par for his last eight rounds. He is on such a roll he joked with caddie Greller on Saturday, “Mike, is there any tournament next week we can find a way to play in?”
“This was like a storm you could see coming in the distance,” swing coach McCormick said by phone after spending the day teaching at Brook Hollow Golf Club in Dallas. “He could feel it. This was largely a result of his hard work, but also his patience. When that second win didn’t come this year to validate what he’d done at the John Deere, the burden was heavy, but I think the end of the PGA Tour season gave him closure and allowed him to relax. When I saw him in Australia he said, ‘If I’d have putted better I’d have won.’ We changed the backswing on his putting stroke and got the putter head going through the ball straighter on the follow-through. It had started going left, which was at times producing a bit of a pull.”
Spieth, who won a college tournament at Isleworth by eight strokes three years ago, spoke Sunday of his next goal, which has two parts. He would like to win a major after coming so close (T2) at this year’s Masters, and he would like to chase down No. 1 Rory McIlroy.
“I think I did a good job of starting that chase these last couple weeks,” Spieth said. “That’s only really the beginning of what needs to happen for the ultimate goal, which is to overtake him.”
In Australia, Spieth said he was still “very, very far away” from catching McIlroy. And after the Hero? “Just very far,” Spieth said.