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Jordan Spieth wins Australian Open by six shots

November 28, 2014

Jordan Spieth played the best round of an already impressive career with an 8-under 63 on Sunday to win the Australian Open by six strokes, making his first trip Down Under a successful one.

Spieth's 72-hole total of 13-under 271 on the tough, windy Australian Golf Club made him the first American to win the Australian Open since Brad Faxon in 1993, when the 21-year-old Spieth was four months old.

''It's the best round I have ever played, especially considering the conditions,'' Spieth said. ''It was just kind of one of those rounds when you're in the zone and you're not sure what you're at. It's nice that it came on a Sunday.''

Spieth birdied four holes on the front nine - three of them in a row - to lead by three strokes after nine holes, then made light of the challenging, windy conditions by adding four more on the back nine, never threatening to lose his lead.

''You don't want any kind of crack in the door to be open and I felt like we kept it shut from the front nine on,'' Spieth said.

Spieth's score was a record for the revamped Jack Nicklaus-designed layout which was being played as a par 71 for the first time. On Friday, Jamie Lovemark of the United States shot 65.

Adam Scott shot 71 and finished fifth, nine strokes behind. Defending champion Rory McIlroy, who shot 76 on Saturday, finished with a 72 and was 2-over, 15 strokes behind Spieth.

Three Australians who finished closest to Spieth earned trips to next July's British Open. The Australian Open is the first qualifying tournament for the 2015 Open Championship and offers three spots to the top finishers not already exempt.

Rod Pampling shot 68 to finish second, while former two-time Australian Open champion Greg Chalmers (71) and Brett Rumford (70) were third and fourth, respectively. All three will play at St. Andrews next year.

Gusty northeasterly breezes played havoc all week with scores, and only eight players finished under par.

Chalmers and Spieth were tied for the lead at 6-under after four holes, but Spieth birdied the par-5 fifth where Chalmers made bogey for a two-shot swing. The American also birdied the sixth and seventh holes, made a fine par save on the ninth, then did the same on the 10th from about five feet, pumping his fist as he edged closer to the title and the Stonehaven Cup trophy.

It was Spieth's first win of 2014, and second of his pro career - he won on the John Deere Classic in a playoff on the PGA Tour in 2013. Although he hadn't won this year, he was runner-up in the Masters and had eight top-10 finishes in 24 PGA tournaments.

He was reminded that last year's Australian Open win by McIlroy was his only victory that year, and the Northern Irishman went on to win two majors and have an outstanding 2014.

''If I had the follow-up year that Rory had this year, I'd be pleased this time next year,'' Spieth said.

McIlroy's 76 all but ended the defense of the title he memorably won in 2014 with a birdie on the last hole to deny Scott the Australian Triple Crown.

''It's been tough all weekend,'' McIlroy said. ''I was trying to get something going but with the pin positions and the wind, it was just very hard to get the ball close to the hole. It just wasn't meant to be this year.''

There were tributes around the golf course Saturday and Sunday for Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died Thursday after being hit by a ball during a match at the nearby Sydney Cricket Ground.

The number 63 was used in many of them, as that was the number of runs Hughes had scored before he was fatally injured. Spieth provided the final reminder - and an unintentional tribute - by finishing with a round of 63.

Three share Australian Open lead

November 28, 2014

American Jordan Spieth was one of few players to master a wind-swept course at the Australian Open on Saturday, shooting a 2-under 69 to move into a three-way share of the lead.

Adam Scott stayed close while defending champion Rory McIlroy dropped five shots in two holes and shot 76.

Spieth, second-round leader Greg Chalmers (71) and fellow Australian Brett Rumford (69) had three-round totals of 5-under 208 on a tough Australian Golf Club course and its swirling, unpredictable winds.

Only eight players were under par.

''They're baked (the greens), they're very shiny, they've firmed up significantly and then with this wind, there were putts that were lightning fast,'' Spieth said. ''I almost prefer it, wind and a very difficult golf course, I feel like plays into my hands.''

Scott shot 69 and was tied for fourth, a stroke behind the leading trio, along with Australian veteran Rod Pampling (69).

McIlroy, who had a triple bogey on the ninth hole and a double-bogey on 10, was six strokes from the lead, tied for 14th.

He was tied for the lead at 4-under and even on the day when he hit his tee shot on the par-4 ninth into waist-high rough. After failing to advance it and burying it in matting used to control weeds, he took a penalty drop, sliced that and finally got on the green in 5, where he two-putted for 7.

The Northern Irishman and world No. 1 then hit his approach on 10 into woodchips, failed to advance it back to the grass on his next shot, and two-putted for a six.

''I hit a wayward tee shot into what I thought was a decent-enough lie that I could advance the ball,'' McIlroy said. ''But I didn't realize what I was standing on is not like dirt or earth. It was more like carpet. So the ball went underneath the carpet. Had it been a normal surface it would have been all right, but down there it was impossible.''

''I need a fast start tomorrow to have a chance,'' he said. ''I still feel like I can shoot a good one.''

Scott said the wind was affecting the players' setup and shots.

''It really came up around the turn and blew hard on the back nine,'' Scott said. ''It's really tough with the way it's blowing, you are trying to stay as stable as you can. It's certainly presented a pretty tough challenge this week.''

Rumford said the course was on the ''razor's edge'' of toughness but said that is to be expected for a national championship.

''You feel as though you're pedaling a million miles an hour going nowhere, seemingly,'' said Rumford.

The round of the day was a 67 by Australian Daniel Nisbet, who teed off in the first group Saturday morning before the wind picked up.

Greg Chalmers leads Australian Open

November 27, 2014

Two-time former champion Greg Chalmers took a one-stroke lead Friday at the Australian Open after a 5-under 66, while marquee attractions Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott weren't far behind on a tough day for scoring.

Chalmers had seven birdies in his second round to move to 5-under 137 after 36 holes.

Defending champion McIlroy played in difficult afternoon conditions at The Australian Golf Club and he persevered for an up-and-down 69 to be in a group tied for second.

Scott and American Jordan Spieth played together in calmer morning conditions and Spieth (72) was in a group tied for sixth, two behind. Scott, who moved from potential cut to contention with a 66, was three strokes behind.

After two rounds, there were only 16 players under par.

The group of four tied with McIlroy included American Conrad Shindler, who shot 68. Last year, Schindler donated all his $15,000 prize money from his first win as a pro on a U.S. developmental circuit to a relief fund for victims of tornadoes in Oklahoma.

Chalmers, who won the Australian Open in 1998 and 2011, said the swirling winds Friday made club selection difficult.

''It seemed to move around a little bit and change direction,'' Chalmers said. ''Sometimes you think you should be downwind and because you've turned in a certain direction you're actually into the wind. I think I changed clubs two or three times on shots.''

McIlroy only had only one par on the back nine - the 10th. The others, from the 11th, went birdie, bogey, bogey, eagle, birdie, bogey, birdie, birdie. He also birdied the ninth with about a 70-foot putt, but also plunked balls in the water on two holes for bogeys.

''I felt like I had an opportunity today to maybe shoot a good one and put a little bit of space between myself and the rest of the field, but it didn't really pan out that way,'' McIlroy said.

Spieth had to call for a rules official on the par-3 fourth hole when a marshal stood on his ball, but neglected to tell him when he got to the green.

Members of the gallery informed Spieth, and after he took a drop, the American fluffed his chip and missed his putt for par. On the way to the next hole, he angrily flung his ball into a creek.

His round ended well with birdies on his last two holes, but that wasn't enough to make it feel like a good day for Spieth.

''It was a struggle, big-time struggle,'' Spieth said. ''I wasn't hitting it well. If I wasn't putting well I may have shot 45 on the back nine.''

Scott, starting on the 10th tee Friday, made quick amends for his opening-round 74 which left him in 82nd place and in danger of missing the cut. He eagled the par-5 14th and had two birdies to make the turn in 32, then birdied the par-4 sixth coming home.

''Yesterday I got off to a bad start, and I didn't scramble well when I had to and it started to get away from me,'' Scott said. ''Today a couple of good shots coming up 14 and I made an eagle and momentum is on your side.''

Scott said the reason scoring has been difficult is the mostly contoured greens at The Australian.

''I think the greens were certainly testing us, getting to understand the slopes on the greens and especially around the edges,'' Scott said. ''So getting it very close to the hole is not that easy. I think the greens have to be the defense because there is no rough.''

Players on Friday wore black ribbons on their hats or shirts in memory of cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died Thursday two days after being hit in the head by a ball during a match at the nearby Sydney Cricket Ground.

Rory McIlroy starts Australian Open defence with 69

November 27, 2014

Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott weren't paired together for the first two rounds of the Australian Open because organizers wanted to split their marquee players among morning and afternoon groups for the spectators and television.

After Thursday's opening round, they're also at opposite ends of the scoreboard.

McIlroy teed off in overcast conditions early Thursday and finished with a 2-under 69 just as Scott was beginning his round - and not very well at that.

Scott's tee shot on the first went into the woods and he made double-bogey as he shot 74 at The Australian Golf Club.

The Northern Irishman was two strokes behind first-round leader American Jordan Spieth (67). Scott was in 82nd place and will need a good round Friday to make the cut.

''I made the worst of my worst shots and didn't convert the good ones early,'' Scott said. ''I have to play three really great days now and it seems that's what I'm doing week after week. But I'll claw my way back into it tomorrow morning.''

Australians Aron Price and Scott Gardiner, who had a hole-in-one on Thursday, were tied for second with 68s, with McIlroy in a group of seven tied for fourth.

Spieth, playing in Scott's group, said he initially expected a rough day.

''When we came out this morning, it was misty and the wind was blowing hard,'' said Spieth. ''I knew that it was going to play difficult but once the conditions started to clear for us; there was certainly a score out there.''

Spieth said he was impressed with Scott's calm demeanor despite the Australian's difficulties Thursday.

''When you know he is having a bad day, a great champion like he is, to see how positive he remains on each shot,'' Spieth said.

Geoff Ogilvy, playing with McIlroy, shot 40 on the front nine, his second, including two double-bogeys, and had a 74.

McIlroy said the morning conditions were ''pretty tricky.''

''It was tough to get the ball close to the pins with the wind and these greens being quite firm as well,'' McIlroy said. ''I thought anything under par today was a decent score and it was nice to birdie the last and shoot something in the 60s. It puts me right there for going into tomorrow.''

McIlroy flew into Sydney on Monday night from Dubai, where he finished tied for second at the season-ending World Tour Championship and admitted he was still a bit jet-lagged.

''It was a 4:30 wake-up call this morning, so it was an early start, so I just want to rest this afternoon and make sure I'm fresh for tomorrow,'' he said.

Gardiner went from one extreme to the other over his first two holes.

He double-bogeyed the 10th to start his round, then immediately got the two strokes back with a hole-in-one on the par-3, 172-meter 11th.

Gardiner used the contour of the hole, landing his shot off the putting surface and watching it roll off the fringe and across the green into the hole, winning a new car in the process.

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