PGA Championship notebook: Spieth seeing positive signs
May 15, 2019
By Sean Martin, PGATOUR.COM
- Jordan Spieth has made his last five cuts and finished in the top 30 in four of those events. (Christian Petersen/Getty Images)
FARMINGDALE, N.Y. – Jordan Spieth can complete the career Grand Slam this week. Snapping out of his slump is his first priority.
Spieth doesn’t have a top-20 this season. The former FedExCup champion ranks 150th in this season’s standings. He has seen positive signs, though.
“I’m going for as much consistency as possible. I’ve shot some low rounds, but piecing together four has been difficult this season,” Spieth said Wednesday. “It’s gotten more progressively consistent through the year, and out here you need that kind of consistency.
“If I can continue to make the amount of birdies I’ve been making and then just limit the mistakes a little bit, then I should be right in it.”
The driver has been the main culprit. He ranks 202nd (out of 214 players) in Strokes Gained: Off-the-Tee. The occasional big miss or “foul ball” has hurt him. He’s 86th in driving accuracy and 143rd in average distance from the edge of the fairway, which measures how far a player is from the short grass when he misses his mark. Being short and crooked is a dangerous combination, especially at a long Bethpage Black layout that is lined by deep rough.
Spieth’s trouble started last season after he got into a poor address position that led to subconscious changes to his swing. He’s trying to get his swing back to where it was in 2017, when he won The Open Championship.
“It’s just a difficult move for me right now, and it just takes a little bit of time to … get the timing right,” he said. “I can kind of do what I’m trying to do, but to consistently time it is just going to take a little bit of time.”
Spieth has made his last five cuts and finished in the top 30 in four of those events. His T21 at the Masters is his best finish this season. He finished T29 at last week’s AT&T Byron Nelson.
While he’ll need to hit fairways to succeed this week, there is one facet of Bethpage Black that could suit Spieth’s game.
“The greens … aren’t extremely diabolical. There’s a couple that are tricky, but for the most part they’re just gentle slopes and they’re so pure that somebody can get really hot with the putter this week,” said Spieth, who ranks 28th in Strokes Gained: Putting this season. “But if you’re not hitting fairways, that’s getting really hot making par putts.”
Francesco Molinari is playing with Tiger Woods again in a major. It’s become a common occurrence. They were in the same pairing when Molinari prevailed at Carnoustie. The result was different when they were in the final group of last month’s Masters. Molinari held the 54-hole lead at Augusta National, but shot 74 after hitting his tee shot into the water at No. 12.
Losing the Masters can be a crushing experience, but Molinari said he was more concerned with the physical recovery than the emotional ramifications of the loss. He said Wednesday that he was taking antibiotics during the Masters after catching a bug from his kids. He finally ran out of energy during the final round, which was part of the reason for his struggles on the second nine.
“It was a big effort to do what I did, and probably on Sunday, when the adrenaline kind of went down, I felt how much I was spending energy-wise during those days,” Molinari said. “I’ve obviously analyzed what happened at Augusta with the people around me, but it was pretty quick and straightforward.”
The fifth-place finish at Augusta National was Molinari’s third consecutive top-six in major championships. He’s finished T2 and T6 in the past two PGAs, as well. He also won this season’s Arnold Palmer Invitational presented by Mastercard and ranks 15th in the FedExCup standings.
Stricker's major moment
Steve Stricker was a late arrival to the PGA Championship, but it was worth the wait. He was wrapping up his first major championship Monday.
Stricker won PGA TOUR Champions’ Regions Tradition in Alabama, shooting 4-under 68 at Greystone Golf & Country Club to complete a six-shot victory. He received a hero’s send-off to the airport, where he caught a flight to New York that landed Monday evening.
“If you’ve ever seen Nick Saban come into Birmingham, it’s four squad cars, multiple police escort, and I was able to get one of those to the airport,” Stricker said. “I felt pretty special leaving.”
The 52-year-old took Tuesday off to regain his energy after earning his fourth victory on PGA TOUR Champions. He is seventh in this season’s Charles Schwab Cup standings.
“I was a little bit tired yesterday,” Stricker said. “I putted for about an hour-and-a-half, and I had intentions of going out there but just never got motivated enough to do it.”
He planned to play a nine-hole practice round with Spieth, then to walk the other nine with his putter and a wedge to get accustomed to the shots around the greens.
“I’ve played here enough,” said Stricker, who finished in the top-25 in both U.S. Opens here despite his lack of length off the tee. “The course is right in front of you, and it’s going to come down to executing the shots and hitting them. So I’m going to try to conserve as much energy as I can going forward.”
Rose reaching new heights with driver
It’s no secret that the long ball is an important to success on the PGA TOUR. Molinari showed the benefits of increased length last year. A 20-yard distance gain led to a career year that included his first major, first PGA TOUR win and first TOUR Championship appearance.
Justin Rose underwent a similar transformation earlier in his career. It was a transformation that he dubbed “Project 300.” It led to his first FedExCup title and helped him reach No. 1 in the world for the first time.
“I felt like to compete on TOUR and be one of the best players in the world you had to fly the ball 300 yards in the air. That seemed to be just a nice round number, obviously, but that was kind of I felt the metric that would kind of open up a few golf courses for me. It would make a difference,” said Rose, who is 11th in this season’s FedExCup standings. “We've been able to achieve that through technique and through fitness and various other obviously factors.”
That work will pay off this week on a 7,459-yard course that will play even longer because of the cool and wet conditions. The length of the Black Course will eliminate a large portion of the field.
“A golf course like this, I think if you look at it, I could be proved wrong, but I would say this is the kind of golf course where maybe you're looking at the field not necessarily as 156 but maybe looking at 30, 40 guys that maybe can win this tournament based on the length,” Rose said. “Driving the golf ball and distance will be a really big advantage this week.”
Rose finished third in his last start, at the Wells Fargo Championship. That was his first start since a surprising missed cut at the Masters.
“I felt like at Augusta I did so much work in the run-up and early in the week that I felt like on Tuesday my game peaked, and then it sort of dropped off after that,” Rose said. “Major championship golf is all about playing well on the weekend. So for me it was about what do I need to do to draft into it and feel good for the weekend more than trying to get ready for Thursday.”