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Jordan Spieth coasts to Hero World Challenge win

December 8, 2014

Jordan Spieth had been down this road before.

Three years ago at Isleworth, he was making the turn in the final round when he looked over at the scoreboard on the 18th fairway that showed he had a big lead. So it was eerie when he caught himself doing the same thing Sunday during the final round of the Hero World Challenge.

But there was one big difference.

Back then, Spieth was a freshman at Texas and won by eight shots in the Isleworth Collegiate Invitational for his first college title.

This time, he beat an elite field that included tournament host Tiger Woods, six major champions and 16 of the top 30 players in the world.

And he beat them even worse.

Spieth capped off a big finish to his second season as a pro when he closed with a 6-under 66 and set two tournament records to win by 10 shots over Henrik Stenson. Staked to a seven-shot lead in the final round, he opened with three birdies in four holes and turned the final three hours into a peaceful walk along the lakes and palatial homes of Isleworth.

''It was the most fun I ever had playing nine holes of golf,'' Spieth said.

Spieth had an 11-shot lead after nine holes, ripped a drive over the corner of the bunker and then glanced at the lone leaderboard. And then he made another birdie. He coasted from there and even with a careless double bogey on the back nine, he finished at 26-under 262 to break the tournament record of 266 set by Woods in 2007 and Davis Love III in 2000, both at Sherwood Country Club in California.

The 10-shot victory was the largest margin of the year in golf, and broke the tournament record of seven shots that Woods had in 2007.

''Whether my emotions showed it or not I'm not sure, but inside we were really very pleased with the year and how it came to a close,'' Spieth said. ''This caps off the best golfing year that I've ever had.''

Spieth had set a goal of two wins, and that looked out of reach when he began the last leg of a long journey. He finished one shot out of a playoff in Japan, won the Australian Open by six shots and then turned in another dominant performance.

''The kid is playing great,'' said Keegan Bradley, who had a 70 to tie for third with Patrick Reed (68). ''You have to look at his past three events. He almost won them all. He's a great player. I wouldn't look more into it other than he dominated this week.''

Woods, in his first tournament in four months while recovering from back injuries, stubbed two more chips on the 13th hole for a triple bogey and closed with a 72. He tied for last place in the 18-man field with Hunter Mahan, 26 shots out of the lead.

Woods noted that Spieth closed with a 63 in Australia and flew some 9,000 miles to get to Isleworth.

''He's playing some pretty special golf right now,'' Woods said.

Spieth completes his second full year as a pro by moving into the top 10 in the world ranking at No. 9. The Hero World Challenge is not an official PGA Tour event, so the $1 million prize does not count toward the money list.

He had never had such a big lead going into the final round, and it's tempting to try to protect it. Instead, Spieth set tiny goals and came out swinging. One of those goals was to stretch his lead to 10 shots, and he got there with a hybrid on the par-5 seventh to the left edge of the green that trickled onto the putting surface. Bradley two-putted for birdie to get within eight shots, and then Spieth poured in his putt to go up by 10.

Bradley was headed for the eighth tee, when he reversed course and walked over to Spieth to playfully body-slam him.

''I wanted to go over there and tackle him and break his putter,'' Bradley said. ''No, I love Jordan. I'm happy for him. He was pretty much unbeatable this week.''

Stenson played with Spieth on Saturday, and knew what to expect.

''He was in pretty much full control of every part of his game,'' Stenson said.

Stenson closed with a 69 to entrench himself a little deeper at No. 2 in the world behind Rory McIlroy, who did not play this week.

Jordan Spieth stretches lead to seven

December 7, 2014

Jordan Spieth flew from Japan to Australia to Dallas the last two weeks, took a day off and then came over to Florida for the Hero World Challenge.

His game traveled with him.

One week and half a world away from his six-shot victory in the Australian Open, Spieth was practically flawless Saturday at Isleworth. He opened with three straight birdies and capped his day with a 50-foot birdie putt for a 9-under 63 and a seven-shot lead over Keegan Bradley and Henrik Stenson.

''Felt strong coming off last week,'' Spieth said. ''Job is not done this week, but I'm a believer in my own momentum. I'm going to go out tomorrow with a very similar strategy to today. If the putts go and the breaks go my way, hopefully shoot a round like today. If not, I'm still going to have to shoot under par to win this golf tournament.''

Spieth was at 20-under 196.

He said he has never been 20 under on any course through 54 holes, and he has never finished a tournament that many under par. That gave him a target for Sunday, when he goes after his second straight victory.

Tournament host Tiger Woods was 20 shots behind and in dire need of his antibiotics taking effect. Woods lost his voice overnight and had nausea on the practice range and the golf course. He felt slightly better at the end of his round when he made three straight birdies for a 69.

He remained in last place.

Bradley made four straight birdies around the turn on his way to a 65. He will play in the final group with Spieth.

''I've got to shoot a low one and get some help from Jordan,'' said Bradley, who has not won in more than two years. ''He's such a good player. I don't expect that. I'm going to have to shoot a really low one.''

Stenson, who played in the final group with Spieth on Saturday, recovered from a sluggish start with four birdies over his last eight holes for a 68.

''I don't think anybody is going to catch him tomorrow unless he's having a really bad day,'' Stenson said. ''Seems to be a one-horse race going into Sunday. He's a very solid player and playing solid golf at a very young age.''

Stenson recalls Spieth making a spirited charge at the Swede in the Tour Championship last year. He also is aware that Spieth finished one shot out of a playoff in Japan and won in Sydney against a field that included Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott.

''We're going to see a lot of him in the years to come,'' Stenson said.

Spieth elected to return Saturday morning to complete the rain-delayed second round instead of finishing in darkness. He had clear vision in the morning - not only of his chip to 5 feet to save par, but of Steve Stricker's 50-foot birdie attempt across the green.

Spieth had about the same putt later in the day, only going in the opposite direction of Stricker's putt. That at least gave him an idea of the speed, though he had imagined a 3-foot circle around the hole that he would have accepted to walk off with par.

This turned out even better. The putt dropped for an unlikely birdie, and Spieth raised his putter as it dropped. He was all smiles walking off the green.

''I put my putter up, which usually means it will find a way to lip out,'' Spieth said.

No chance on this day.

He opened with an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 1, got a good bounce with his 7-iron on the par-3 second to about 8 feet, and then made birdie on the par-3 third. After that, his iron play and his short game - always exquisite - were so good that he didn't need to make any big putts.

Wrapping up his second full season as a pro, Spieth gets a new experience on Sunday - playing with a big lead.

''I think I've got to have a number tomorrow to go out and really chase,'' he said. ''I haven't finished in the 20s (under par) before ever in my career, and I think most of the guys that are in this event have somewhere. So that would be a good goal, to go out there and shoot under par. Hopefully, it's good enough.''

Bradley will be chasing with a short putter, as he has done this week ahead of the Jan. 1, 2016, ban on the anchored stroke used for his belly putter. Bradley in the 2011 PGA Championship was the first player to win a major using a belly putter.

''I've had five years and hours and hours of practice that are now taken away from me,'' he said. ''But it's fun to come out here and prove to everybody and myself that it's not a big deal. This is probably the best three days of putting I've had in a couple of years.''

Jordan Spieth leads, Tiger Woods recovers

December 6, 2014

The guy in a red shirt put on quite a show Friday in the Hero World Challenge to get into contention.

That was Patrick Reed - and Tiger Woods watched it all.

Reed, playing alongside Woods at Isleworth, was 8 under through 10 holes and wound up with a 9-under 63 in the second round, which was delayed 90 minutes by heavy rain. Jordan Spieth elected not to finish his round in darkness, mainly because he had a tough chip short of the 18th green and couldn't see the flag from 30 feet away.

Spieth was at 11 under, two shots ahead of Henrik Stenson, who had a 68.

Reed was another shot back, along with Justin Rose.

He became the third player this year to shoot a 63 while playing with Woods.

''I never played with Tiger before, besides a practice round at the British,'' Reed said. ''It was good to finally be able to play with him, especially in competition. It was a lot of fun. We had a good time. I felt like we enjoyed ourselves out there, and luckily I played well.''

Woods was better that his opening 77, except for a sour ending because of another flubbed chip.

Woods was making progress toward his goal of getting back to even par for the tournament. He hit a 5-iron out of the rough to 4 feet for eagle on the par-5 13th, followed with a flip wedge into 3 feet for birdie on the 14th, and he hit another wedge to 5 feet for birdie on the 16th.

But after the rain, Woods had mud on his ball in the fairway and could only smile as it sailed left and long of the green. What followed was another bad chip - that's six already in two rounds - that traveled only about 10 feet. He wound up with a double bogey for a 70. He remained in last place, 14 shots behind Spieth.

''It's not very good,'' Woods said of his short game.

The best golf in the group came from Reed, who grew up trying to pattern his game after Woods, even down to the wardrobe. He always wears black trousers and a red shirt on Sunday, the ensemble Woods has made famous on his way to 79 PGA Tour wins and 14 majors. Every now and then, Reed likes to wear black and red on Friday.

This was a good time for that.

Reed wasn't even sure he would be in the tournament until Jim Furyk withdrew last week. And if there was ever a time to get excited about opening with a 73, this would be the occasion. It meant Reed would be paired with Woods, in the first group out.

Reed opened with three straight birdies. He rolled in a 40-foot eagle putt on the seventh, and he went out in 29 after making a 15-foot birdie putt at No. 9.

After his 7-foot birdie putt at No. 10, Reed even began ''thinking in the 50s,'' though that ended quickly. With a sand wedge from the rough, his ball came back off a hill behind the 12th green with so much steam that Reed begged it to ''hit the microphone.'' That would have been the only thing to keep it from rolling into the water, and it missed. He made bogey.

Rory McIlroy shot a 63 with Woods in the opening round at Dubai this year (Woods shot 68). Spieth played with Woods at Torrey Pines and shot 63 on the North Course (Woods shot a 71).

Woods is playing for the first time since Aug. 9 at the PGA Championship. He took nearly four months off to strengthen his muscle structure, and during the time away, he hired a new swing coach.

His swing looks fine. His short game does not.

And that's why Reed didn't read too much into a seven-shot advantage over Woods in their first pairing.

''He had a couple of loose shots here and there, but he knows what he's doing,'' Reed said. ''When was the last time he played a competitive tournament? It's been awhile.''

That's not the case for Spieth or Stenson.

Spieth won by six shots last week in the Australian Open. Stenson won the World Tour Championship in Dubai the week before.

Stenson had the lead after his sixth birdie at No. 13. But he make bogey on the 15th and 16th and had to settle for a 68.

''You're not winning anything on Friday,'' he said. ''We're still at the races.''

And that's what the final hour resembled - a race.

With the rain delay, it was a push for everyone to finish.

Spieth figured the horn would have sounded when he was on the 16th hole in a regular tournament. They pressed on, but when his approach to the 18th came up just short, caddie Michael Greller talked him out of playing a delicate chip into the grain with a muddy lie.

''It was a good idea to hit that pitch tomorrow,'' Spieth said.

Tiger Woods struggles on return

December 5, 2014

Tiger Woods took on any shot without pain or worry Thursday, a feeling he hasn't had on the golf course in a long time.

As for his short game?

He hadn't seen anything like it in longer than he can remember, and it was shocking.

Woods flubbed four chips. He took two shots to get out of a bunker on the par-5 seventh hole. He didn't have a birdie putt inside 20 feet until the 11th hole. And on the four birdie chances he had inside 10 feet on the back nine, he made only one of them. And that was a tap-in.

In his first competition in nearly four months, Woods wound up with a 5-over 77 at Isleworth, his home course for his first 16 years as a pro. That put him in last place in the 18-man field, 11 shots behind Jordan Spieth, who is coming off a runaway victory last week in the Australian Open.

''One of those days where nothing went my way,'' Woods said.

The score was not nearly as significant as his health in what has been a lost year for Woods because of back problems. He had surgery a week before the Masters that kept him out for three months. He had not played since Aug. 9 at the PGA Championship because of lingering back issues, and the need to build up his muscle structure.

Woods missed the cut at Congressional in June in his first tournament after back surgery. This time, he is coming back from injury and he is working with a new coach. In that respect, the score was not a surprise.

It was the 10th time in 12 rounds that he failed to break par since his first return in June.

Even so, some of the shots were shocking, especially around the green.

On the par-5 17th, he hit his second shot just left of the green, pin-high in a deep collection area. Woods no sooner hit his chip that he angrily swung back-handed toward his divot, knowing what was coming next. The ball didn't come close to reaching the green, and Woods turned his back as the ball rolled back toward his feet.

He compensated on the next shot and sent it well past the hole, and he had to make a 10-footer just to escape with par.

The other two holes where he muffed chips cost him a double bogey at No. 8 and a bogey at the par-5 13th. Two shots out of the bunker on the par-5 seventh led to bogey.

''It is surprising that I could hit chips that poorly,'' he said.

The 77 was his second-highest score of the year. He had a 79 on the South Course at Torrey Pines in January. What kept the day from being a total loss is that Woods reported feeling ''zero pain.''

''I haven't said that in a long time,'' Woods said. ''It's very exciting to step up there and hit the drives I hit - especially on the back nine - and start launching it and feel nothing.''

The opening drive set the tone for the day - and his return.

Woods was about to hit his first shot in nearly four months when he heard a loud click of a camera and backed off. Then, he tugged his 3-wood through the fairway, beyond an iron fence into someone's backyard and presumably into a swimming pool. He had to hit another from the tee and did well to escape with a bogey.

Rust would seem to be an issue, but it certainly wasn't the case for Steve Stricker. He hasn't played since the PGA Championship, either, yet Stricker made five birdies in a bogey-free round of 67 and was one shot behind Spieth, along with Dubai World Tour Championship winner Henrik Stenson, Zach Johnson and Rickie Fowler.

Woods played with Jason Day, who last competed at the Tour Championship three months ago. Day shot a 71. FedEx Cup champion Billy Horschel and Patrick Reed, both at 73, were the only other players over par on a warm, breezy afternoon.

Spieth won by six shots in Australia last week for his second career title. The 21-year-old flew home to Dallas, then came out to Florida the next day. He was feeling sluggish on Wednesday, but there was no sign of jet lag on Thursday. And there is nothing wrong with his game.

He ran off five straight birdies starting at No. 6, and saved his round with a 12-foot par putt on the 18th.

''I'm excited about how last week went and I'm kind of riding the momentum,'' Spieth said. ''I'm going to give it my all these last few days.''

Woods felt as though he hit the ball nicely, though certainly not as close as we would like.

Even when he did hit the green in regulation - only four times in his opening 10 holes - he was never close enough for a reasonable birdie chance. He finally got that on the par-3 11th hole, only to miss a 10-foot putt.

When he hit his stride on the back nine, his putting was off. Woods missed a 3 1/2-foot birdie putt on the 14th, and he never came close on an 8-foot attempt on No. 16.

''Today was weird,'' Woods said. ''I didn't feel like I hit it that bad. My short game was awful. Didn't make anything. ... Bad chips, bad putts and a couple of missed shots on the front nine on the wrong side compounded the problem.''

Scores

1 Jordan Spieth USA 66 67 63 66 -26
2 Henrik Stenson SWE 67 68 68 69 -16
T3 Patrick Reed USA 73 63 69 68 -15
T3 Keegan Bradley USA 72 66 65 70 -15
5 Jason Day AUS 71 67 70 66 -14
T6 Rickie Fowler USA 67 70 72 68 -11
T6 Justin Rose ENG 72 64 70 71 -11
T8 Billy Horschel USA 73 72 67 67 -9
T8 Zach Johnson USA 67 71 72 69 -9
T8 Matt Kuchar USA 69 70 70 70 -9
T11 Bubba Watson USA 69 68 72 71 -8
T11 Graeme McDowell NIR 68 73 68 71 -8
13 Hideki Matsuyama JPN 68 73 71 69 -7
14 Steve Stricker USA 67 73 74 69 -5
15 Jimmy Walker USA 68 69 75 72 -4
16 Chris Kirk USA 70 68 74 73 -3
T17 Tiger Woods USA 77 70 69 72 E
T17 Hunter Mahan USA 71 71 71 75 E




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