Jan
9
2016
Saturday at Kapalua: Catch Jordan if you can!
By Stephanie Wei under PGA Tour

I apologize in advance if this post isn’t as thorough as yesterday’s, but my back is acting up and I need to leave to go see the physio soon, so I’ll do the best I can. I can only type so fast, though, so if I get short on time, then perhaps I’ll finish up afterward because there’s some fun info/quotes from Kapalua today. However, I figure only about five people (including my parents) are going to read this, since it’s Saturday night on the east coast already and everyone is watching football (GO SEAHAWKS!).

Jordan Spieth continues to do Jordan-Spieth-like things. Despite getting off to a somewhat slow start, Spieth ended on a high note, with his second shot on the par-5 18th hitting the flag and nearly going in the hole for a rare albatross. But, instead, his ball bounced off the pin to about three feet, which he made — and “settled” for an eagle to get to 24-under through three rounds of the Hyundai Tournament of Champions.

“Somehow that drive got all the way down (the hill),” said Spieth, referring to the 18th hole. “I haven’t hit a long one on 18 yet until there. Then had a perfect number with a 3-iron. A very similar number that I had on 17. So I just tried to play the exact same shot and they both came off the club face very similar.

“I knew when it was in mid-air that it was going to be the right distance. It was a matter of kind of the bounces it was going to get. And fortunately it went right below the hole.”

Spieth fired an eight-under 65 at Kapalua’s Plantation Course on Saturday, following his efforts of 66-64 in the first two rounds. He expanded on his lead to five shots, heading into the final round of the opening event on the PGA Tour schedule in 2016. Game over. Hand the trophy to Spieth, who finished solo second to Zach Johnson in 2014 in his only other start here. He is seeking his seventh-career win on Tour at the ripe age of 22.

The eagle on the final hole was key for Spieth heading into the fourth round. Having a five-shot lead compared to a three-shot advantage is massive in Spieth’s mind.

“It makes a very big difference,” he sadi. “I asked (my caddie) Michael (Greller) in the fairway before hitting the second shot, what did Brooks end up getting it to? Did he stay at 18 or get to 19. So I knew I was up three. So, in my mind, three and four is significant. So I didn’t even think about eagle. I was thinking we need to really stay down and grind this one out for birdie, give ourselves the easiest chance for birdie we can.

“Tomorrow I was looking at the forecast, it’s next to nothing on the wind, so you got to expect Brooks, Patrick to shoot somewhere in the 7-under, 7, 8-under range. That’s what I have to expect out of them tomorrow. And if that’s the case, I’ve got to go out there and shoot in the 60s in order to win once again.

“And to be honest, with the scoring we have 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.”

Bottom line: You don’t really need to watch the telecast tomorrow, especially if your football team is playing (luckily mine is in early in the morning local time, so it doesn’t interfere with work), but I do recommend tuning in during commercial breaks to check out some sick golf at a cool course.

Despite the wind switching to a different direction on Saturday (from trades to Kona — course was built for the former) and picking up a bit, conditions were still relatively calm at a track that’s known for playing rather blustery. However, just about every player thought scores would be much higher today and that something around four-under would be a solid round. Well, breaking news: These guys are good!

“I thought that 4- or 5-under was going to be a really good score starting the day out with that breeze picking it up and it being the Kona winds,” said Spieth in his post-round presser. “But then I looked at the board and apparently it wasn’t. There was some great golf played today.

“I felt like I — what I was most proud of today wasn’t the birdies as much as it was when it didn’t go my way, we managed to make pars on quite a few holes where I could have made worse. 1, 2, even 9, 8. That was a really good 4 on 8. And then like 16 coming in. That kind of up-and-down on 15 and 16, both of those.

“It just keeps momentum going of the if you hit a poor shot and get it up-and-down. I hit a 52 degree on 1 and 2 to get those ones up-and-down on two of the hardest holes today. Then I let the birdies kind of come to us. A lot of tap-ins and a couple longer putts.”


 

If the forecast tomorrow is correct — as of now, one site predicts 10-15mph — the course will play rather easy (again), which is good news for the field since it’ll be easier for players to go low if Spieth has a mediocre day (likely not happening). Still, it will be tough to catch Spieth. He’s so solid mentally and you really can’t get into too much trouble at this course. Only two players have a plausible chance to strike: Brooks Koepka, who shot a 10-under 63 to get to 19-under, and Patrick Reed, who is at 18-under. They obviously have their work cut out for them and it’s hard to imagine Koepka pulling out another round that low two days in a row.

Spieth has his sights set on reaching 30-under in the final round and perhaps breaking the record of 31-under set by Ernie Els in 2003.

“Luckily between me Brooks and Patrick, we have separated ourselves,” he said. “I think the next closest is at 14. It comes down to us three, I would say, knock on wood. But I’ll have an idea considering we have now had some separation. But I think that shooting to try and get to what am I at, 24? Trying to get to 30 would be a fantastic number to set for tomorrow. That would be a place that I’ve never been.

“I want to say Tiger’s event I maybe got to 26 two years ago, which is the best golf I’ve ever played to par. And I think shooting to try and get to 30 would be something that would be a fantastic goal and one that I should win the tournament if that happens. You never know with the way they’re playing.”


In his pre-tournament press conference, Spieth said he and his swing coach had identified that he needed to work on his wedge game (yeah, what? I know, right? Don’t we all wish our mediocre wedge play was as good as Spieth’s) because that’s what he discovered looking at his stats. However, he did point out that the PGA Tour ShotLink stats don’t include several tourneys, like the Masters and U.S. Open — both of where he put on a short game clinic en route to hoisting the trophies.

This week, Spieth’s short game has looked incredibly sharp — which is key to scoring well at this venue. He’s ranked third in scrambling and first in strokes gained putting. However, he’s a little taken aback with how well he’s chipping because he has yet to really work on it yet, and he noted how important it was that he got up-and-down with a wedge in his hand on nos. 15 and 16.

“I am a bit surprised at my chipping,” said Spieth. “Because I have an not put much time into my chipping whatsoever in the last month. I put a good amount of time in this week, but typically I need more prep to feel through the ground prior to coming to a tournament. It’s part I wanted to rest, whatever it is. I’ve been more focused on putting and swing than have I been chipping. It’s been spectacular this week. I’ve been extremely pleased with it.

“I’ve been around a hundred percent minus number 8 and 9 today, which neither one was a legitimate chance at an up-and-down, considering the lies and what I had. Yeah, a bit surprised.

“15, I threw the ball up in the air because I got behind the green and if it were down grain and just sitting normal, I could have hit the 60 and landed it halfway on the fringe with a little check and ran it down. But it had sat down, sitting a little down in the grass and into the grain. So if I try and hit that lower one that just trundles down, it’s very difficult to actually land that on the correct spot.

“And for me, I would have had to land it on an area about this wide (Indicating) which it’s only eight feet in front of me, so you would think it’s not too bad, but short or long of that spot, it’s going to send it out of birdie range. If I — I had the wind favoring me. It was almost a similar shot in a sense in my mind to Saturday at Augusta, thinking I could throw this up, if it carries onto the green there’s enough wind to hold it from going too far. And if it lands just short, I’ve just got more room for error. If it lands just short it’s still going to bound down and get, no matter what, within six feet. So I was — I felt like it was actually the safer shot given the lie.

“16 was a huge up-and-down. Poor decision on my third. I tried to force a lob wedge in versus just punching a sand wedge knowing that that is so severe right there. It’s a four degree slope maybe, three and a half degree slope. The harder you hit a lob wedge the more it’s going to spin. So that was just a bad decision.

“It was a great 52 degree pitch up the ridge to leave it not only below the hole but without any stress. I told Michael walking off, that was a huge shot for me and let’s go ahead and hit. Let’s put four really solid swings on the ball the next two holes so we don’t have to do anymore of this chipping. And I was a little — I had a bit of it, I had — so that was a really, really nice up-and-down that saved a lot of momentum and a lot of stress in my mind.”


 

I thought this was a great question — shout-out to Alex Miceli for asking it — and Spieth, naturally, gave a top answer, somehow without coming off as arrogant.

Q. Obviously you know what a win means to you. But what do you think a win means to your opposition?
JORDAN SPIETH: I think each time you can close one out it’s in — each time someone’s beaten me in a head to head in a close match, it’s in my head that they have already done that. If I’m in contention with Bubba, I’ll think about being the last time I was in contention with Bubba in the 2014 Masters. And part of you, I guess, if I win tomorrow, there’s just a little extra on, when you’re in contention again, people thinking, okay, he knows how to close, right? He can close the deal. And it just puts a little bit of more pressure to be more aggressive and have to do more than maybe you really have to do.

When Tiger’s in contention, why is his record so phenomenal? Well, sure, he played the best golf and he was the strongest mentally, but everyone else knew that he could do it and maybe tried to do a bit too much and then they’re out of their own sync, out of their own game, because they don’t think their own game has a chance, because it hasn’t had a chance against him. I, in no way, shape, or form am I comparing where I’m at to what he’s done, but I think that any time someone continues to win or close a deal, it just starts to put it in your head that.

If I’m in contention with Rickie now, I know Rickie can close. If I’m in contention with Rickie last year, I think I have a huge advantage, if it’s late last year before he’s — or after the Masters, before the PLAYERS, something like that. Guys who you know have pulled off shots and putts to win just seem like mentally they’re just a little harder to beat.


 

Brooks Koepka was one of the most high-profile players to switch equipment manufacturers in the new year from Titleist to Nike. Well, it appears that it hasn’t taken long for him to adjust to the change in clubs — though he has yet to put the Nike putter in his bag and is still using his old Scotty Cameron (which isn’t unusual early in the year for guys to take some time to make the jump).

Koepka started hot and didn’t really let up, rolling in six straight birdies from holes 3-8. He even left a few shots out there and made par on nos. 9 and 18 (which is a definite birdie hole). He didn’t miss a shot until his second on the last hole, when he hit a terrible shot out to the right and hit some guy with a goofy-looking fur cap.

Regardless, strong effort by Koepka in the third round — it will be a tough act to follow on Sunday.

 

“I know what it feels like to be Jordan Spieth now, I guess, shooting 10-under every round,” he said. “But I played really good. I felt like the way I drove the ball was really good, the iron play, I flagged it all day. It was just a stripe show. That’s the only thing I can say.”

Indeed, it was — I don’t think you could describe it any better.

Koepka knew the course record was 62, so he and his caddie Ricky Elliot set a goal of trying to fire a 61. He came up two short and settled with a 10-under 63, but like I noted already, he left a few out there.

“We had talked about it on the golf course, I think. We knew we were pretty close because my caddie said I had to get it, what 62 is the course record? So we were trying to get 61 but, oh well,” said Koepka, shrugging with a big smile on his face.

Koepka was disappointed with his putting after the second round, so he took some extra time afterwards to get the speed down. He’s an aggressive putter, which isn’t necessarily a good thing always at Kapalua, but it worked out for him today.

“Just hitting nothing but uphill putts and trying to really bank it in the back of the cup,” he said, referring to a practice session Friday evening. “That was the goal today, instead of seeing it dribble in and running three feet by. We haven’t had a 3-footer this week because we have hit it too hard. So I just tried to jam it in the back of the cup and that was it.”

He knows he has his work cut out for him on Sunday if he wants to catch Jordan.

“I would say probably (have to shoot) at least 65, I think is probably reasonable,” said Koepka. “He’s playing good golf, you got to catch him. It’s tough to say. I don’t know if it’s supposed to rain, wind, I haven’t looked at the forecast, but if it’s anything like today you’re probably going to shoot at least 8-under, because you know he’s probably going to shoot 5-under.”

Sunny, barely a breath of wind — ideal for anyone with a lead that’s a proven closer.


Here’s some food for thought…

Someone mentioned this to me and I started thinking about it. Let’s see, I have to be careful with how I word it, but basically, the idea is that you have to play to similar strengths at Kapalua as you do at Augusta National. Hitting from uneven/sidehill lies and chipping are both key to scoring well at both venues. Yes, the two courses are extremely different on the surface and have different types of grass, but apparently, I’m told that the ball reacts somewhat similarly when chipping. You can’t really run the ball at both and you have to throw it up in the air, as the grain grabs it and it checks up and you have to play it off slopes, etc.

I was pleasantly surprised when Koepka mentioned the similarity between Kapalua and Augusta when it came to putting.

“It’s all about putting here,” he said. “The best putters are going to win. They’re so grainy and it kind of like, it reminds me a little bit of Augusta on the greens. You can have six feet and it might break a foot, foot and a half. And it’s all about speed on these greens. That’s kind of what it reminds me of a little bit. Just a little bit slower.”

Great segue into my question and asking him to expand on the comparison/similarity between the two venues (again, what you have to do well).

“You’re not going to find a slopier golf course than this,” said Koepka. “There’s so many awkward little lies, ball above your feet, below your feet and then downhill and then you’re hitting up the hill. Things like that you just don’t find anywhere besides maybe here and Augusta or at least that I’ve played. So that’s — I think it’s a fair comparison.”

Awesome, I feel validated.


 

Last word — I enjoyed this quote from Patrick Reed.

“We have to make it rain, because Jordan’s definitely not letting up and we’re going to have to go out and get it,” said the defending champion.

I just picture Reed tossing a bunch of $100 bills into the air as he says that. Which obviously didn’t happen, but it would have been cool if he did.