​Tour Confidential: How Jordan Spieth’s Win Shapes U.S. Open Race

May 30, 2016
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Every Sunday night, GOLF.com conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation in the comments section below.

1.) Jordan Spieth birdied the last three holes Sunday at Colonial to shoot 65 and win the Dean & Deluca Invitational by three over Harris English. Spieth also needed just nine putts over the last nine holes. The Masters is officially behind him … right?

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): The Masters won’t be behind Spieth until he closes out his next major. But this is a gigantic step in the right direction. I seem to recall that one of us predicted after Spieth missed the cut at the Players that he would contend at the Nelson and win the Colonial (pats self on back). Yes, his ball-striking had been inconsistent, but the bigger struggle was with the putter. I’d say he got that fixed this week, and that will only bode well for the rest of the season. 

Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports IllustratedThe Masters won’t be behind Spieth ever. He might be a better golfer for the experience, or not. Bruce Edwards, caddying for Greg Norman, once said to him after bogey, “C’mon, Greg–we’ll get it back with a birdie on the next.” And Norman said, “There is not getting it back.” There’s not getting it back, there’s no getting it behind you, there’s just here and now. 

SCORES: Final Leaderboard from Dean & Deluca Invitational

Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine: (@JoshSens): Does that sort of thing ever really go away? Decades after Doug Sanders missed a clinching bunny at the British Open, he admitted that he never could forget it for more than a few minutes at a time. The Masters will always be there for Spieth. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Not every memory in life is a big smiley face. It’s how you use the memory. Spieth will use it as motivation, and draw something positive from the pain. All the more so if his putter stays hot. 

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): Doug Sanders never got over the Open because he never got his major. Spieth already has two majors and he knows the Masters he lost was really only the one he almost stole. He was over it except no one else was. His putter is back online, so is his short game and his iron play is usually solid. It’s the tee shot that will determine his major fates as he continues to remind me of a better ball-striking Ben Crenshaw.

Alan Shipnuck, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@AlanShipnuck): He’s a resilient kid, clearly. Colonial is one of the best tracks on Tour, and anything in Texas is Spieth’s fifth major, so you can’t understate the importance of this win. All I know is that it was nice to see him smiling after months of grinding. 

Cameron Morfit, senior writer, GOLF Magazine (@CameronMorfit): The Masters is behind him and will continue to be behind him … until the 2017 Masters. For now, he should soak up the victory and the good vibes, because I think that positivity is helpful for him. By his own admission, Jordan can get quite down on himself, which I think is born of the (crazy but sort of admirable) belief that he can win every time he tees it up. 

Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): Sunday was vintage Spieth: scrape it around, chip spectacularly and make every putt that matters. Earlier this week we filmed a roundtable where editors were asked to make a bold US Open prediction, and some sap (cough, cough) said Spieth will miss the cut at Oakmont. My opinion has changed on that, but I still think his first major post-meltdown could be an adjustment period, just as it was at the Players (MC), his first regular Tour event. 

Godich: Bulletin: Spieth missed the cut at the 2015 Players after winning the Masters. You don’t get to 17 under by scraping it around. And I’d say that Colonial, with its alley-wide fairways and small greens, was excellent preparation for Oakmont.  

Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@JoePassov): Yes, the 2016 Masters is now behind Spieth, period. I think the back nine nightmare at Augusta will be much easier to overcome than many think, given that there’s no monkey on his back. He’s already won the Masters, he’s already won multiple majors, and he’s now won a legitimate PGA Tour event in his home state, post-Masters, after contending for three rounds last week. Jordan Spieth is back.

2.) Spieth (Colonial), Jason Day (the Players) and Rory McIlroy (Irish Open) each has won his last start. From that group, which player has the edge heading into the U.S. Open at Oakmont two weeks from now?

Godich: It’s gotta be Day. Seven wins in his last 17 starts—nobody’s hotter. I’ll rank Spieth second because he’s the best putter on the planet. I can’t see Rory negotiating those treacherous Oakmont greens.

Morfit: Jason Day is still No. 1, until proven otherwise. He has something like Spieth’s short game, and something like Rory’s long game. Oakmont is a funny place. It favors bombers like past winners Angel Cabrera (2007), Ernie Els (1994) and Jack Nicklaus (1962). But keep in mind that Loren Roberts almost won there in ’94, and Jim Furyk in ’07. I certainly wouldn’t rule Spieth out. Rory, though, might find those greens a bit harsh. CM 

Sens: That’s a good way of putting it, Cam. Day at his best, which is where he’s been for a good long stretch now, is like a composite of McIlroy and Spieth. He’s got to be the favorite of the three heading into Oakmont, which guarantees absolutely nothing. 

Ritter: Day deserves to be the betting favorite, but Rory has a proven history of going on runs, and it feels like he’s ramping up for another one. I agree that putting will tell the story for him. It’s a big “if,” but if he can handle Oakmont’s greens, watch out. 

Passov: I’m with Day as pre-tourney favorite at the U.S. Open, but Mark, Cam, I think you’re selling Rory short on fast greens. He’s posted three straight top 10s at Augusta, which dishes out some nasty, quick putting surfaces of its own, and he did win a U.S. Open, so it’s not as if he can’t handle speedy greens. He does seem to excel in soft, breeze-less conditions, so if we get a thunderstorm or two in Pittsburgh this June, look out for Rory.

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Van Sickle: It’s not that Rory can’t handle fast greens, it’s that Jordan and Jason handle them much better. The No. 1 player in the world has to be the favorite except when No. 2 is Tiger Woods, and that isn’t the case. Jason should be the favorite but we’ve got a good-looking three-headed, uh, something-or-other going into this Open. Very exciting.

Shipnuck: The clear favorite is Jordan McIlday.

Bamberger: By which Alan means Jason Spieth. Or Rory McIlroy, if it’s raining hard in Pittsburgh. 

3.) Tiger Woods did not enter next week’s Memorial. With just two tournaments between now and the U.S. Open (the other one is the FedEx St. Jude Classic), is there any chance we still could see Woods in the field at Oakmont?

Godich: Tiger teeing it up at Oakmont would be the upset of the year. He’s smarter than that. What good could possibly come of it? 

Morfit: I agree, Mark. I can’t see why Tiger would make the U.S. Open at Oakmont his first tournament back, other than pure stubbornness. And I think Tiger is no longer that stubborn.

Sens: It would take an especially masochistic Tiger to make his return at a place so penal, and an especially sadistic fan to enjoy it. Not going to happen. 

Ritter: Tiger Watch 2016 can safely move on to Troon. 

Shipnuck: Troon?! It looks to me like the Fall Series at the earliest. The saddest thing I’ve heard in a while was the “C’mon, Tiger” that Woods muttered under his breath standing over his third attempt to clear the water at Congo. There was a hint of desperation in his voice, maybe panic. He’s miles away from being ready to play real golf.

Passov: Well, he does have some good memories to draw on, with an oh-so-close runner-up finish at the 2007 U.S. Open, but yes, I’ll Fosbury flop onto the bandwagon here and join the crowd in saying Oakmont and U.S. Open conditions is not the place from which to mount a comeback.

Van Sickle: If Tiger thinks he can win, he will play at Oakmont. Not getting in some “reps” at Memorial may the last straw in that plan, however, so I will be surprised if he plays. Again, we have so little authentic info on Tiger’s condition, that it is silly to predict. I hope he gets well and plays again, somewhere, sometime, even if it’s not Oakmont.

Bamberger: If we see him at the Ryder Cup I will be surprised, and I am referring to the assistant role.

 

 

4.) In the same week that many of Europe’s top players didn’t show for the European tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, the tour’s commissioner, Keith Pelley, said that his circuit is undergoing a transformation. “It will be completely different in 2017, and a complete overhaul by 2018,” he said. Pelley didn’t offer many specifics but did say the schedule will be more travel-friendly and that purses for some events will be “significantly increased.” Is the Euro tour in crisis mode?

Godich: I wouldn’t go that far, but something needs to be done. It’s not a good look when the stars are skipping your flagship event.

Morfit: What does a complete overhaul mean? They’ll be playing tennis instead of golf? It sounds to me like a positive way to spin a schedule with fewer tournaments that mean more. But the fact that Rory skipped the BMW signals at least a mini crisis, yes.

Ritter: Right, Cam. If you don’t have stars, you don’t have an elite tour. Time for a shakeup.

Shipnuck: Well, this is a very unusual year with the Olympics crammed into the summer schedule. A lot of guys are doing things differently in ‘16. Next year’s turnout at a renovated Wentworth will be a clearer indication of where this tournament stands. The tour overall is in the same place it has been for a long time: there’s more money and World Ranking points and easier travel and lower taxes in the U.S., so the players congregate here. But many are still loyal to Europe and they’ll continue to peg it over there if the schedule is made sensibly.

Sens: Tennis instead of golf, eh, Cam? I’d say that would bode well for patriotic American sports fan, but the U.S. doesn’t seem to ever win the Davis Cup anymore either. Alas, though, this is where we so often find ourselves in sports these days: money warps all priorities, and the only solution to the problem seems to be to throw more money at it.

Passov: Just find a better golf course than the beleaguered Wentworth West and the top players will return. Winning in London is still a great thing to help a player’s brand and visibility and all that.

Van Sickle: I can only think of two complete overhauls. One, become an actual subsidiary-partner of the PGA Tour and share players in a comprehensive world-approach for TV viewers and sponsorship dollars. Two, I dunno, go big into Asia and/or Australia but that seems less likely.

Bamberger: I agree, Gary. Maybe join forces with Asia and Australia and try to lay claim to the ROTW (ret of the world). 

5.) With the Tour this week visiting Jack’s place, Muirfield Village, in Dublin, Ohio, let us pause to reflect on Nicklaus’s signature accomplishment, his 18 major wins. In the hierarchy of sporting achievements, where does Jack’s mark rank?

Godich: It’s one of those records that will never be broken. Does it get any better than that?

Morfit: I’m not sure it’ll never be broken, Mark. The speed with which Rory won his first four majors, and Spieth won his first two, and nearly a third, has me rethinking Jack’s gold standard.

Shipnuck: The fact is, most of the greatest players tend to win all their majors in a six- or eight-year burst. Even Tiger topped out at 11 years from start to finish. So by that math Rory is already halfway through his run. Is he going to win 15 majors in the next five years? I kinda doubt it. So many things about Big Jack broke the mold; his longevity is just one of them.

Godich: There are just too many good players out there. And then throw in the occasional out-of-nowhere victory from the likes of a Y.E. Yang or a Todd Hamilton or a Shaun Michel, and it becomes an ever bigger ask. Winning 18 PGA Tour events would be quite the accomplishment itself.

Morfit: We’ll see, Mark. The New Big Three are tough, and then you throw in Adam Scott and Bubba Watson and the rest, and I see your point. But Trevino and Watson and Weiskopf and Player were pretty good, too. 

Sens: Or the occasional fire hydrant, for that matter. So many roadblocks can get in the way. But in the grand hierarchy, I’d say DiMaggio’s hitting streak will outlast Jack’s 18 majors. 

Morfit: Agreed on the DiMaggio point, Josh. Oh, and Jerry Kelly ate 52 Drago’s grilled oysters at the Zurich Classic of New Orleans. If someone wants to take on that presumed record, be my guest.

Sens: If we’re going that route, then Kelly’s athletic achievement has nothing on Joey Chestnut downing 69 hot dogs in 10 minutes. I got indigestion just typing that.

Morfit: Try a Tums. On a more serious note, Tiger’s 142 consecutive cuts made is pretty darned impressive. I think that might never be broken. 

Ritter: Unbeatable or not, Jack’s record is the most significant mark in the game. It’s the golf equivalent to DiMaggio. And because of his unique brand of total domination, Jerry Kelly is golf’s Secretariat. 

Passov: I’m still thinking that Byron Nelson’s 11 consecutive wins in 1945 is the Gold Standard for golf records. And Jack deserves to be credited with 20 majors, because at the time he won his two U.S. Amateurs, they likely had better fields than the British Open. Oh, and for that matter, I believe Jack consumed eight dozen oysters at an early 60s tour event, likely New Orleans, so he’s got that over Jerry Kelly, too.

Van Sickle: Jack’s record is beatable. Tiger proved that. He got to 14 with a bad knee and three different coaches. Circumstances and his body prevented him from finishing it off. Jack’s record is the game’s benchmark because it’s relevant. Byron’s 11, to be truly broken, would require someone playing 11 in a row and no one does that. And the PGA Tour’s career victory records are messed up: Snead’s 81 wins should be 74 and Tiger should have that mark, but nobody but a few stat geeks and myself care. It’s all about Jack.

Bamberger: I don’t see anyone passing the New York Yankees for world championships anytime soon.  (They have 27; the Cardinals have 11.)  After that, I’d say Jack’s 18 majors is one of the safest career records in all of sports.

6.) After beaning a spectator with an errant drive during the third round of the Colonial, Tony Finau hand-delivered the unfortunate fan — 26-year-old Elisa Butler — flowers, chocolates and a get-well card. What’s the kindest gesture you’ve seen from a PGA Tour player toward a fan?

Shipnuck: A lot of players have married rope-hoppers. Though I’m not sure that counts as kindness!

Morfit: Phil Mickelson, whose favorability rating is taking some hits after his recent SEC-sponsored $1 million giveback, has to rank pretty high up there. At the Players Championship I was reminded of the day, long ago, when I was out early on Saturday or Sunday to follow a group that included Joey Sindelar and his caddie John Buchna. There was a young couple, friends of Buchna’s, I believe, following the group, and I heard some excited chatter. It turned out Phil had given the woman a $5,000 tip at a raucous birthday party for Jim (Bones) Mackay at Ruth’s Chris Steakhouse the night before. Not bad.

Sens: Not bad at all. There was also John Daly after the ‘91 PGA at Crooked Stick, giving $30,000 to the family of a man who was killed by lightning at the event. But there are plenty of smaller gestures that happen all the time. I remember watching Jason Day play a practice round at the 2012 Barclays at Bethpage. A young fan was trooping alongside him, and instead of just signing an autograph, Day brought the kid alongside him to walk a few holes. Day spent the whole time chatting the kid up. So sweet. It was like watching a heartwarming after-school special, without any of the schmaltz. 

Godich: The piles of money that Tiger quietly donated to the children’s hospital in Orlando is impressive.

Ritter: Tiger isn’t known to sign many autographs, perhaps to avoid creating raucous scenes in the practice areas, but I’ve seen him dish out his fair share of high-fives and flip golf balls to kids while strolling between holes. In fact, most guys seem to do this and TV cameras rarely catch it. One of the many reasons why attending a professional event can be such a fun experience for fans.

Passov: Echoing what Cam said about Mickelson’s generosity, we had a Super Bowl here in Phoenix back in 2008, between the Giants and the Patriots on the same day as the final round of the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Phil decided not to use his tickets, and instructed his caddie, Jim “Bones” Mackay to dole them out to an appropriate recipient, which turned out to be a father and his young son. Now that’s a good day.

Van Sickle: I remember when Phil Mickelson broke some fan’s watch with an errant shot and Phil gave him the watch off his own wrist (possibly a Rolex, possibly a Folex … who knows?) and a couple of hundreds. In the heat of the moment, that was pretty cool.

Bamberger: The kindest gesture I have ever seen from a PGA Tour player came at the Byron Nelson Classic 1985, when Al Geiberger had, essentially, a golf fan as his caddie  and he said to Nelson on the first tee, “Mr. Nelson, I’d like to introduce you to my caddie.” A selfless act on Geiberger’s part, who knew that Nelson would happily oblige, and I’m sure it meant a great deal to the caddie-fan, too.