The worst shots can be easier to recall than the good ones
By DOUG FERGUSON
PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. (AP) As powerful as positive thinking can be at the highest level of golf, even the best have a tendency to recall the worst.
Justin Thomas didn't hesitate when asked for the worst shot he ever hit. It also was fairly recent.
"The first shot I hit in the playoffs last year," Thomas said. "That was the worst shot I ever hit in my life, hands down."
In his first appearance since winning the PGA Championship, he hit a duck-hook that barely went more than 200 yards when it clanged out of the trees and into the fairway. Most players had a wedge to the green at Glen Oaks. Thomas had to smoke a 2-iron and somehow managed to make par.
That was televised. Still fresh in his mind was a shot from college when Alabama played at Isleworth.
"I get the chunks sometimes," Thomas said. "I hit a drive in college, a drop-kick off the toe on No. 8. I'll never forget it. I was talking to one of our assistant coaches. I was trying to decide if I could carry it 305 to 310 yards over a bunker because we had a helping wind. I took a huge divot. It landed like 15 yards in front of me and rolled down the hill. The coach looked over at me and was laughing. I said, `Coach, did that cover the bunker?'"
Dustin Johnson also went back to college.
"For some reason ... I won the tournament, but we were at Duke in college. It was the Duke Invitational," Johnson said. "I was in the right side of the fairway at No. 1 after making the turn, and I hoseled a 5-iron into the trees."
Does he remember his good shots as easily?
"Probably not," Johnson said. "But I've hit a lot of good ones."
Jordan Spieth didn't have to think hard when asked his worst shot of last year. He had a five-shot lead at the Northern Trust last year when he hit 8-iron into the water on the par-3 sixth. He wound up losing in a playoff to Johnson.
Was it a bad shot or bad timing? It only missed clearing the water by about a foot.
"It was a situation where I hit a club that was way too aggressive when I could have taken more and just faded it in," Spieth said. "When I look back at last year, if I want one mulligan, that was my mulligan from last year."
So the tee shot on the 13th hole at Royal Birkdale, so far right that he took a penalty drop on the practice range, maybe wasn't all that bad. Spieth laughed at the memory, pointing out (again) that there was water on the face of his driver, and it hit a spectator that sent it even farther to the right.
"It wasn't THAT bad," he said.
He said he had forgotten about the tee shot at the British Open when asked for his worst shot of last year, and then explained why.
"I'll never take back a shot at a tournament I won," he said.
GOLF AND HOOPS: The issue is not new with CBS broadcasts of the PGA Tour during the West Coast Swing, but it was brought to the surface Saturday when the Kentucky-Missouri basketball game stretched deep into the start of the third round at the Phoenix Open.
Golf fans could have streamed the action live on CBS' website. But if TV was their only option, they had to wait.
What helped on Sunday was that when another basketball game went longer than two hours, CBS allowed Golf Channel to simulcast the final round. That lasted just over six minutes until the game ended.
There has been a little progress.
CBS for years had a 30-minute gap from when Golf Channel ended its weekend coverage and CBS took over. That was to allow time to switch announcers and graphics. This year, the gap has been shortened to 15 minutes.
Also, CBS pushed back its Saturday coverage of the PGA Tour on the West Coast one hour so that it comes on from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. EST, instead of 3 p.m. to 6 p.m. That should have allowed for more leeway, except that the network also added an extra NCAA basketball game. And while there was a clock malfunction during the second basketball game that made it last even longer, it's becoming clear with close games and timeouts that college games rarely fit into a two-hour window.
The solution going forward might be for CBS, even though it streams the golf live, to allow Golf Channel to simulcast tournament coverage until basketball is over.
That might not be an option this weekend, however. Golf Channel's coverage Saturday from Pebble ends at 3:30 p.m., and then it goes to a PGA Tour Champions event.
MASTERS FIELD: Austin Cook earned a spot in the Masters by winning the final PGA Tour event of 2017. In the five PGA Tour events to start the new year, no one has been added to the field at Augusta National because all the winners already were exempt.
That leaves the field at 81 players.
At this rate, this could be the smallest field at the Masters in some two decades.
There's plenty of golf left - eight PGA Tour events that offer an invitation to the winner. Players also have until March 25 to get into the top 50 in the world. From this week's ranking, only two players - Satoshi Kodaira (37) and Dylan Frittelli (47) are not already exempt.
The next highest-ranked player not in the field is Cameron Smith at No. 57.
THE BATTLE FOR NO. 1: Dustin Johnson is two weeks away from rare territory in the world ranking.
Since the ranking began in 1986, only four players have gone an entire year at No. 1 - Greg Norman, Nick Faldo, Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy. Woods twice held the top spot for more than five consecutive years.
Johnson reached No. 1 after winning at Riviera, where he defends his title next week.
Jon Rahm is the only one who can stop him. Rahm had a chance to reach No. 1 by winning at Torrey Pines two weeks ago, and he was in position until a 75-77 weekend. He could not have reached No. 1 last week in Phoenix (where he tied for 11th), but he has a mathematical chance if he were to win at Pebble Beach.
Johnson doesn't seem concerned, perhaps because he doesn't seem concerned about anything. He won at Kapalua and tied for ninth at Abu Dhabi. He has not played the last two weeks, and now is playing three of the next four.
"If I keep playing well and keep winning then, no, I'm going to stay No. 1," Johnson said. "If I don't play well, there's a lot of really good players that are playing really well right now. So it's going to be tough for me to keep it. But if I keep playing like I am and how I should, then, yeah, I'll be there at the end of the year."
DIVOTS: Michael Jordan has selected Bobby Weed Golf Design for the private golf course he is building in Hobe Sound, Florida, called Grove XXIII. The golf course is scheduled to be ready in 2019. ... Former PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem is in the field this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. ... Mark Newell was elected to a one-year term as USGA president at the annual meeting last weekend in Miami. He succeeds Diana Murphy. ... The Canadian Golf Hall of Fame inductees for 2018 are LPGA player Gail Graham and the late A.V. Macan, a golf course architect.
STAT OF THE WEEK: The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am has at least one major champion from every year starting with 2000 through 2017.
FINAL WORD: "It's time to move on. Nobody cares this week - I can guarantee you - that I won last week." - Phoenix Open winner Gary Woodland.
Updated February 6, 2018