Round 4 - Jordan Spieth coasts to eight shot victory
January 11, 2016
The view from the top looks as spectacular as ever for Jordan Spieth.
He was standing in the 18th fairway Sunday at Kapalua, his victory in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions easily secured, when his thoughts were interrupted by a comment from caddie Michael Greller: ''Way to make a statement.''
The statement was nearly as big as his eight-shot victory.
Coming off a year that Spieth knows will be tough to match - the Masters, U.S. Open, five wins, the FedEx Cup - the 22-year-old Texan backed up his sage comment at the start of the week that 2016 wasn't about an encore because that would mean the show was over.
Spieth crushed the winners-only field by closing with a 6-under 67 to become only the second player in PGA Tour history to finish a 72-hole tournament at 30-under par or lower. An 8-foot birdie on the final hole put him at 30-under 262, one short of the record Ernie Els set at Kapalua in 2003.
''I thought that was cool,'' Spieth said about his caddie's comment. ''It's not what I'm going for. It's not why I do what I do. I don't do it to talk back to any people that believe it's not possible or 'He got a lucky year' or something.''
And then he paused with a smile and added, ''But I still think it's going to be very difficult to have a year like last year.''
This one could not have gotten off to a better start.
Staked to a five-shot lead, Spieth made two straight birdies around the turn to restore his margin, and he spent the rest of the afternoon soaking up sights of the sun and surf on Maui. The view of him at No. 1 in the world only looks daunting to the guys trying to catch him.
Patrick Reed got within three shots before he stalled on the back nine and Spieth poured it on with a combination of great shots and smart shots. It was like last year never ended, and that's what Spieth wanted.
''I felt like it was short three-week break and continue what we were doing last year,'' Spieth said. ''That's the way I'll keep on thinking about it. It worked this week. All parts were firing.''
Reed, the defending champion at Kapalua, got within three shots with a birdie on the par-5 ninth. Spieth answered with a two-putt birdie in the group behind him, and then rolled in a 15-foot birdie putt on the 10th and was on his way.
Reed ended his bogey-free week on the 15th hole and closed with a 69. Brooks Koepka, playing with Spieth in the final group, had a wild start to his round but never got closer than the five-shot deficit he faced at the start. Koepka closed with a 71 and tied for third with Brandt Snedeker (67).
Spieth won for the seventh time on the PGA Tour, joining Tiger Woods as the only players to get that many at age 22 since complete records began in 1970.
That requires a little context.
Spieth won his seventh title in his 77th start as a pro. Woods won his seventh PGA Tour event in his 38th start, and he had 18 wins in his first 77 tournaments.
Even so, comparisons with Woods in golf can only mean great play, and no one is playing better.
''Nowhere near,'' Spieth said on how his record stacks up with Woods. ''I don't think there's any reason to compare. It's awfully early. We're excited about where we're at to start our career. What Tiger has done, I can't imagine ever being done. But it's nice to be in that company. It's fantastic being out here with what we're trying to do, and doing it well.''
It was the fifth time in the last 13 months that Spieth had at least a two-shot lead going into the final round, and he was never seriously challenged. That's not to suggest it felt like a breeze, especially early. His approach shot on No. 1 somehow ended up just out of a steep bunker on the very edge of sand, some 50 yards to the hole. He pitched it onto the green and let the grain take it to 4 feet for a save, and then he holed a 35-foot birdie putt on the next hole.
Spieth called those two holes the toughest because of the Kona wind. He played them in 1 under. He wasted birdie chances on a pair of holes, made another bogey on No. 8 as Reed closed within three, but any tension didn't last long.
''I knew I had to make birdies early to put pressure on him,'' Reed said. ''I got it to within three. The next time I saw a board it was back to five. He's not going to shoot over par, especially the way he's playing now.''
The next questions is how good he can get.
After a week at home in Dallas, he heads to the Middle East for the HSBC Abu Dhabi Golf Championship and Asia for the Singapore Open before resuming his PGA Tour schedule at Pebble Beach and Riviera.
Much like Woods in 2000, and even David Duval in 1999, he sent an early message by winning Kapalua that he wasn't interested in this wave to end.
Round 3 - Jordan Spieth stretches lead to five
January 10, 2016
Jordan Spieth is aware of the scoring record at Kapalua, and that's what he plans to pursue in the final round of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Not because he cares that much about records.
With the standard of golf played Saturday, it might be what it takes to assure another victory for the world's No. 1 player.
Spieth put it all together on the back nine with a 50-foot birdie putt, two chips that showed why he's among the best with a wedge in his hand, and a 3-iron that grazed the cup and set up a 10-foot eagle on the final hole. It added to an 8-under 65 and a five-shot lead over Brooks Koepka.
And his work is not over.
Koepka, playing for only the second time in nearly three months and his first tournament since switching to Nike, failed to birdie the two easiest holes on the Plantation Course and still had a career-best 63. That at least got him in range.
Defending champion Patrick Reed was the only other player within nine shots of the lead. He shot 67 and was six shots behind.
Spieth, who was at 24-under 195, wasn't breathing easy just yet.
''I was looking at the forecast. It's next to nothing on the wind, so you've got to expect Brooks, Patrick to shoot somewhere in the 7-under, 8-under range,'' Spieth said. ''That's what I have to expect out of them tomorrow. And if that's case, I've got to go out there and shoot in the 60s in order to win. And to be honest, with the scoring we've done this week, it frustrates me that I have to shoot 4 to 6 under in order to win this tournament still.
''But that's just the level of golf that's been played.''
And no one has played at his level. Spieth was sharp as ever in the first PGA Tour event of the year, even with the one part of the game he has neglected lately.
Spieth ran off four straight birdies on the front nine to keep his distance. Koepka kept charging, at one point pulled to within one shot with a birdie on the 15th hole. Spieth answered with a 50-foot birdie on No. 12, but it was his short game that saved him.
After a simple chip to 2 feet for birdie on the short par-4 14th, he went over the back of the green on the par-5 15th and faced a tough chip to a back pin. Instead of chipping short and letting it run onto the green and feed down the grain to the hole, he opened his stance and hit a flop shot to 3 feet.
It reminded him of the flop shot he played Saturday at Augusta National, the key shot that kept his big lead in a wire-to-wire victory in the Masters.
His next chip didn't look as dramatic but might have been tougher. After his wedge spun off the green and into the fairway, he faced a chip into the grain and up the slope to a back pin 70 feet away. It came off perfectly to tap-in range.
''I am a bit surprised at my chipping because I have not put much time into my chipping whatsoever in the last month,'' he said. ''I've been more focused on putting and swing that I have been chipping. It's been spectacular this week.''
He was one shot shy of the 54-hole record at Kapalua that Ernie Els set in 2003 on his way to an eight shot win at 31-under par, making him the only player in PGA Tour history to finish a 72-hole event at 30 under or better.
Just over a year ago when Spieth won the Hero World Challenge at Isleworth, he had a seven-shot lead going into the last round and a goal of reaching 20 under for the first time in his career. He won by 10 and finished at 26 under.
The next target: 30 under.
''I think it's a great goal to set, to try and set something to shoot for versus trying to look at behind you at who is coming up,'' he said. ''Trying to get to 30 would be a fantastic number to set for tomorrow. That would be a place I've never been.''
Koepka had a 63 that could have been better if he had handled the par-5 ninth and 18th holes. At least he's still in the game, though he will be chasing a 22-year-old who is riding high.
''He's playing good golf. You've got to catch him,'' Koepka said.
Spieth played Kapalua four times before the official start of tournament week, including two rounds with Brandt Snedeker, who shot a 65 and was nine shots back along with Fabian Gomez of Argentina, who had a 70.
''I tell you what, you can't make a lot of mistakes,'' Snedeker said. ''He just hits so many quality golf shots. And when he doesn't, his short game is so good he doesn't make any bogeys. So it puts a lot of pressure on your to make sure you're on top of your game.''
Koepka had his best score on the PGA Tour and still shaved only two shots of his deficit, though he at least has one more day. Reed remains the only player at Kapalua this week without a bogey, though a 67 left him six shots behind.
''Jordan is definitely not letting up and we're going to have to go out and get it,'' Reed said.
Round 2 - Jordan Spieth moves four shots clear
January 9, 2016
A new year, and everything is falling Jordan Spieth's way.
Spieth chipped in for eagle, make a pair of tough par saves late and ended his round Friday with a 15-foot birdie putt into the grain that stopped on the lip and then dropped into the cup for a 9-under 64. It gave him a four-shot lead in the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
Two rounds into 2016, it already feels a lot like last year.
Spieth is making putts. Spieth is holing chips. Spieth is in the lead.
For all the talk about how he can match what he did last year - two majors, five victories - it might be just as tough to repeat what he has done the opening two rounds. Spieth was at 16-under 130, one short of the 36-hole record at Kapalua set by Ernie Els in 2003.
''Did I see 16 under? Probably not to start the season,'' Spieth said.
Kevin Kisner, coming off a big year of his own with his first victory and four runner-up finishes, missed a couple of short birdie putts and still shot his way around the Plantation Course with ease for an 8-under 65 that earned him a spot in the final group with Spieth on Saturday.
''What's Jordan at? I saw he was at 15,'' Kisner said when he finished. ''He'll probably shoot another 15 (under), so I better get going tomorrow, the way he plays. We'll just make a bunch of birdies and see what happens.''
Birdies have not been in short supply this week with only a moderate breeze and a blazing sun that is making Kapalua pick up some speed. Fabian Gomez of Argentina, one of 14 players making his debut this week, made seven birdies in his round of 66. He joined Kisner and Patrick Reed (69) in the group four shots behind.
Reed didn't make nearly enough birdies to keep pace. Except for the par 5s, he only had two chances inside 20 feet on the back nine.
''I didn't quite hit the ball solid like I needed to and because of that, even though I was hitting a lot of greens, I wasn't hitting it as close as yesterday,'' Reed said. ''But any time you can be 12 under through two rounds, within shouting distance of the lead, you have to take it and just go on to tomorrow.''
Reed fell out of the lead for the first time when Spieth made an 18-foot birdie on No. 8, and then Spieth took over with a chip from 35 feet behind the pin that broke sharply into the pin and disappeared.
But it was the back nine where Spieth built his lead.
Even this early in the year, he felt good enough with his driver to be aggressive on the 13th, and it led to a short wedge he hit to 3 feet. He driver again on the 14th, narrowly clearly a bunker and leaving a pitch just short of the green to 3 feet. And then from a hanging lie on the 15th, he drilled a 3-wood just off the back of the green and rolled the putt down to just over 4 feet for a third straight birdie.
Equally important, however, were the pars.
His worst swing of the week with a 52-degree wedge was fat and smothered, and it left him a long, tough putt across the green to 6 feet. He made that for par, and holed a 7-footer for par on the 17th. The final putt was a bonus.
The putt looked like it would be short all the way, especially into the grain. It paused on the right side of the cup and then gravity took over, and Spieth extended his lead. As much as the three birdies built a cushion, the last three holes also played a big role.
''Those two (par) putts going in probably allowed the one on 18 to go in - that and the nice little cut-out lip on the right side of the hole,'' Spieth said. There's a chance that was three strokes. I go from leading by one to leading by four. And that's huge.''
It matches his largest 36-hole lead since he was up by five halfway through the Masters. Els had a three-shot lead when he set the record at Kapalua at 17 under.
As well as he's playing, Spieth knows he has a long way to go, and he doesn't expect to have the lead when he starts.
Kisner only needed five holes to tie for the lead, making two birdies and a 30-foot eagle on the par-5 fifth hole. He started the back nine with three straight birdies, and the only glitch was failing to birdie the two par 5s on the back nine.
''First tournament of the year, kind of rusty, haven't played in a while,'' Kisner said. ''Seeing where my game is, I'm looking forward to having a chance on the weekend.''
Danny Lee recovered from a bogey-bogey start to shoot 68 and was five shots behind. Rickie Fowler and Steven Bowditch each had 67 and were another shot back.
Jason Day, the No. 2 player in the world competing for the first time in three months, had a 73 and already was 12 shots behind. He would appear to have little chance of getting to No. 1 this week.
Round 1 - Late eagle lifts Patrick Reed in to lead
January 8, 2016
The first round of the new year on the PGA Tour was not an encore for Jordan Spieth - or defending champion Patrick Reed.
Spieth had said earlier in the week that an encore means the show is over, and it sure didn't look that way at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. He opened with seven birdies and no bogeys for a 7-under 66 that left him one shot behind when Reed finished strong and made a 15-foot eagle putt on the 18th hole for a 65.
Reed hasn't won since he rallied to win at Kapalua a year ago, though he hasn't been far off. He ended last year with six top 10s in five countries, and he showed his comfort level on a Plantation Course in gorgeous sunshine and only a stiff breeze that picked up in the middle of the round.
Reed and Spieth both had eagle putts on three of the par 5s.
The difference was Reed converting on the final hole. They were in the last group and part of a five-way tie for the lead when Reed smashed a 3-wood from 309 yards that trickled onto the front of the green and let the grain take it 15 feet below the hole.
''I didn't think I could get it all the way to the green,'' Reed said. ''I thought if I smoked it, I'd get to the front edge and it just happened to ride the wind a little bit and kind of just kept on going. And once it gets on that green, I know it's going to just keep feeding.''
That capped off a finish that took Reed from the middle of the pack to the lead. He was 6 under over the last six holes with that eagle.
Spieth came up some 60 yards short and hit a great shot of his own, a flip wedge that rolled to 4 feet for birdie.
Brandt Snedeker, still battling a head cold, J.B. Holmes and Danny Lee were all at 67, while Fabian Gomez of Argentina was another shot behind.
Jason Day, who has a chance to replace Spieth at No. 1 in the world this week, has not played in three months since the Presidents Cup. And it showed. In ideal scoring conditions, Day didn't make a birdie until the ninth hole and made only two on the back nine for a 70.
Only seven players from the 32-man field of PGA Tour winners last year failed to break par. One of them was Dustin Johnson, a past winner at Kapalua, who had to birdie the 18th for a 73. Johnson had the longest drive on six of the holes, including three of them just short of 400 yards. It didn't help him score.
Smylie Kaufman, one of 14 players making their debut at Kapalua, hit the opening tee shot of 2016 so far left that he played his next shot from the ninth hole. He still made birdie, and wound up with a 70.
Spieth won the Masters and U.S. Open last year, along with three other titles that led to the FedEx Cup and a sweep of all the awards. He wanted this to me a continuation of last year and brought that attitude to the opening tee shot.
''It's another event in the course of my career,'' he said. ''The calendar changed.''
It only took two holes from a familiar look - Spieth walking across the green as a long putt dropped for birdie. He had long two-putt birdies on the par 5s on the front and missed a 15-foot eagle on the 15th that was such a weak attempt that he said even Reed said to him, ''Nice effort.''
They typically do well together, which includes a 2-0-1 record as partners in the Ryder Cup two years ago. Reed picked up his first PGA Tour victory in a playoff over Spieth in 2013 with a shot out of the trees to 3 feet. Spieth got him back last year at Innisbrook with a 30-foot birdie putt on the third playoff hole.
''Whether we want to feed off each other or we want to beat the crap out of each other, we somehow play well together,'' Spieth said.
Reed wasn't converting many chances, with two-putt birdies on the par 5s on the front. His round turned with a 15-foot birdie putt on the 13th. He followed with a pitch to tap-in range on the 14th and 15th holes, and a shot over the gorge to 2 feet on the 17th.
Snedeker has been at Kapalua for a week, playing four times before the official start of tournament week. He was ready to go, and when it counted, he looked sharp.
''I know the golf course pretty well and I think getting over here early, the greens always pose a big problem,'' Snedeker said. ''You get comfortable on greens and be aggressive on putts that you know are fast or slow. You just have to know putts. They're hard to read. So that's kind of the reason I came over to do that.
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