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Golf This Week: Spieth’s whirlwind ride to PGA Tour

ORLANDO, Fla. — Except for the size and noise level of the crowd, and the significance of the stage, the moment was reminiscent of 17-year-old Justin Rose chipping in on the final hole at Royal Birkdale in 1998 to tie for fourth in the British Open.

This was much more valuable for 19-year-old Jordan Spieth.

He needed a birdie on one of his final two holes in the Tampa Bay Championship to complete an amazing trip through four countries in four weeks and essentially lock up a spot on the PGA Tour for the rest of the year. His ball was in the rough to the right of the 17th green. With a smooth swing, Spieth produced a flop shot that came out pure and rolled into the cup for birdie.

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"That was as loud as it gets," Spieth said. "Hair on the back of your neck stands up."

He followed with a 7-foot par putt on the 18th, a rapid-fire pump of the fists and a tie for seventh that was worth $148,893, pushing his PGA Tour earnings to $521,893 for the year and giving him special temporary membership.

As he sat near his locker at Innisbrook scrolling through text messages, the mention of Rose didn't register immediately. That was a long time ago in his world.

"I was born in 1993, if that helps," he said.

That was the same year another polished talent from Dallas who went to the University of Texas — Justin Leonard — turned pro and did well enough in seven starts to earn a PGA Tour card without ever going to Q-school.

Spieth still has a ways to go. He probably needs another $150,000 or so to secure a full card for next year. He technically would not fall into that group of players who never went to Q-school — Gary Hallberg, Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Leonard, Ryan Moore and Bud Cauley — because Spieth failed to get out of the second stage last year when his putter let him down. He was still an amateur, still a Longhorn.

Spieth has faced a couple of forks in the road since then, and he keeps making the right turn.

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Instead of returning to Texas for the spring season and a chance to repeat as NCAA champions, his heart was set on turning pro, hopeful of getting a mixture of exemptions on the Tour and PGA Tour to see where it would lead.

He started in Panama and tied for fourth, and then tied for seventh in Colombia. With just over $50,000 in two starts, he was about $4,000 short of earning full status on the Tour and wanted to go to Chile to lock that up. But he had already accepted a spot in Puerto Rico on the PGA Tour, and felt compelled to honour it.

"We sat there for 30 minutes trying to figure it out," Spieth said.

He chose Puerto Rico, which turned out to be a great move. Spieth was tied for the lead deep into Sunday afternoon until he couldn't keep up and tied for second, picking up $308,000. The top-10 finish got him into the Tampa Bay Championship, and suddenly his outlook changed.

"I thought my focus was going to be on the Tour for the year, and now my focus is out here," he said. "It's a nice change."

He took care of the rest on Sunday. The special temporary membership means Spieth can take unlimited exemptions the rest of the season, and that should be no trouble. He already is committed to play three times in Texas — the Houston Open, Texas Open and Byron Nelson — and more exemptions are sure to follow.

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Spieth has all the trappings of a future star, though the real measure will be over the course of a year instead of a month. Success at this level is all about consistency and learning how to cope with failure. There's still a long way to go.

But what a start.

"He's a great kid, obviously very mature," Leonard said. "I can't imagine being out there. I don't even know how old he is — 19? I can't imagine being out here at 19 and to do what he's done. He hasn't just driven a couple hundred miles. He's been to three or four different countries this year already. It's pretty remarkable. It's beyond the game and what happens on the golf course. He's handling himself very, very well."

In a much broader context, Spieth is another reminder that there was too much hang-wringing over the change in how to get to the big leagues. Starting this year, no tour cards are awarded at Q-school, only a spot on the Tour. It took away the instant path to the PGA Tour, and the complaint was that it required even the best college players to spend a year in the minor leagues.

But it can be done. Good play goes a long way.

Ben Kohles last year graduated from Virginia, turned pro and won twice in a row on the Tour to assure himself a spot on the PGA Tour. Luke Guthrie finished up at Illinois and did well enough in a partial Tour season to earn his card. He played in the final group at the Honda Classic this year.

Spieth had no status anywhere, but he has finished in the top 10 in four straight weeks and already has earned just over $572,000 this year.

"At the beginning of the year, when you know that you only get seven unrestricted exemptions — first of all, it's hard to get seven tournaments in, let alone make enough money to get your card — to be able to do it in really three events ... I never would have guessed that I would get in this quickly," Spieth said. "I feel in control and I know what it's like to be in contention in a tour event. I just want to get back and get a win now."

He finished too late on Sunday to make his flight home to Dallas. He was still excited Sunday night, so instead of going to bed, he got together with his father, his caddie and his agent for a late-night game of poker. They didn't have poker chips, so they used M&Ms.

Spieth wound up the winner. No taking candy from this baby.



COURSE: Bay Hill Club and Lodge (7,419 yards, par 72).

PURSE: $6.2 million. Winner's share: $1,116,000.

TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday, 3-6 p.m., 8:30-11:30 p.m.; Friday, 12:30-3:30 a.m., 3-6 p.m., 8:30-11:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 12:30-5 p.m., 9:30 p.m.-3 a.m.) and NBC (Saturday-Sunday, 2:30-6 p.m.).

CANADIAN CONTENT: Graham DeLaet, Brad Fritsch, David Hearn, Mike Weir

NOTES: Last year, Tiger Woods won his first PGA Tour victory since a sex scandal at the end of 2009, beating Graeme McDowell by five strokes for his record seventh victory at Bay Hill. With a win this weekend, Woods will tie Sam Snead's record for most wins at a single event (8). ...Woods is coming off a victory two weeks ago at Doral in the WGC-Cadillac Championship and also won at Torrey Pines in January. ...Woods can regain the top spot in the world rankings from Rory McIlroy with a victory. Woods last was No. 1 on Oct. 30, 2010. ... McIlroy has decided to skip the event. ...Scotland's Martin Laird became the first European Tour winner at Bay Hill in 2011. ...FedExCup champ Brandt Snedeker is returning to action after a five-week layoff due to a rib injury. In his first five starts he has a win, two runner-up finishes and a third. ...Ernie Els, who pulled out of last week's event with a hip injury, is also in the field this week. He's a two-time winner at Bay Hill. ...Lee Westwood is making his first Arnold Palmer Invitational start since 2008. His only top-10 finish in 10 previous starts came in 2006. ...The field will feature 13 of the top 20 in the current world rankings and eight of the PGA Tour's 11 winners this season.



COURSE: Aviara Golf Club (6,593 yards, par 72).

PURSE: $1.7 million. Winner's share: $255,000.

TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 6:30-8:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 7-9 p.m.).

CANADIAN CONTENT: Sara-Maude Juneau, Lorie Kane, Maude-Aimee Leblanc, Rebecca Lee-Bentham, Alena Sharp, Stephanie Sherlock, Jessica Shepley (8th alternate)

NOTES: Alena Sharp of Hamilton, Ont., will make her LPGA Tour debut in 2013 after being an alternate in her home event in Phoenix last week. ...Yani Tseng won last year's event, winning by six strokes. It was the last of her 15 LPGA Tour titles to date. After just one event this season, Maude-Aimee Leblanc leads the tour in Average Driving Distance with a total of 294.5. That is almost 12 yards more than the next best player, Daniela Iacobelli. ...Stacy Lewis plays her first event as the new No. 1 ranked player in the world, becoming the second American to top the rankings since Cristie Kerr was No. 1 for five weeks over three stints in 2010. The Texan has won her last two tournaments. ...Michelle Wie has missed the cut in two of her first four events and has yet to finish higher than 45th in the other two. In 12 rounds this year, she has broken 70 only once, closing with a 69 in Singapore. ...The event will once again be played on a new course this year, the third different course in the event's four-year history. After being played at La Costa Resort and Spa in both 2010 and 2012, the tournament moved to Industry Hills Golf Club at Pacific Palms in 2011.



COURSE: Kuala Lumpur Golf and Country Club (6,967 yards, par 72).

PURSE: $2.75 million. Winner's share: $458,330.

TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Thursday, 9 a.m.-1 p.m.; Friday, 9 a.m.-12:30 p.m.; Saturday-Sunday, 9 a.m.-noon).

NOTES: Last year, Louis Oosthuizen won a week after his playoff loss to Bubba Watson in the Masters, beating Scotland's Stephen Gallacher by three strokes. ...World No. 3 Luke Donald is in the field along with Charl Schwartzel, Padraig Harrington, 2011 winner Matteo Manassero and two-time champion Thongchai Jaidee. Jaidee, currently ranked 59th in the world, needs to get into the top 50 by the end of the month in order to qualify for the Masters.  Donald was fourth last week in the PGA Tour's Tampa Bay Championship.



COURSE: Fallen Oak Country Club (7,054 yards, par 72).

PURSE: $1.6 million. Winner's share: $240,000.

TELEVISION: Golf Channel (Friday, 12:30-2:30 p.m.; Saturday, 12:30-2:30 a.m., 5-7 p.m.; Sunday, 3:30-5:30 a.m., 5-7 p.m.; Monday, 3:30-5:30 a.m.).

CANADIAN CONTENT: Jim Rutledge, Rod Spittle

NOTES: Jim Rutledge of Victoria equalled a career-low with a final round 62 last weekend for his first top-10 result of the year. Rutlege is scoring an average of 68 in the final round through three tournaments this year, leaving him tied for second in Tour scoring average. However, he is averaging a score of almost 72 in the first and second rounds. ...Fred Couples won the first of his two 2012 titles last year, birdieing the final hole for a one-stroke victory. This will mark Couples' third start of the year, finishing fourth and second in his previous two starts. ...Rocco Mediate, who won the Allianz Championship in February in his first start on the 50-and-over tour, is in the field.



COURSE: Le Triomphe Country Club (7,006 yards, par 71).

PURSE: $550,000. Winner's share: $99,000.


CANADIAN CONTENT: Adam Hadwin, Roger Sloan, Richard Scott

NOTES: The tournament is the fourth event of the season and first in the United States after stops in Panama, Colombia and Chile. ...Adam Hadwin has missed the cut in each of his first two starts this year. ...Eighteen of the top 25 players on the money list are in the field this week, including the season's first three winners - Kevin Foley, Patrick Cantlay and Kevin Kisner.



COURSE: Atlas Country Club, Guadalajara, Mexico

PURSE: $150,000. Winner's share: $27,000.

CANADIAN CONTENT: Mart Johnston, Andrew Parr, Mike Mezei, Adam Cornelson, Derek Gillespie

NOTES: Derek Gillespie of Oshawa, Ont., was the top Canadian in the season opening Mexican Open, finishing tied for 27th. ...Adam Cornelson of Langley, B.C., was tied for 50th. ...Winnipeg's Matt Johnston and Andrew Parr of London, Ont., both missed the cut.



COURSE: Lake Region Yacht and Country Club, Winter Haven, Fla. (6,184 yds, par 72)

PURSE: $125,000

CANADIAN CONTENT: Izzy Beisiegel, Kirby Dreher, Sue Kim, Lisa Meldrum, Danielle Mills, Samantha Richdale, Seema Sadekar, Ashley Sholer, Nicole Vandermade, Jessica Wallace, Natalie Gleadall (alternate)

NOTES: This is the second event of the season on the LPGA developmental tour. ...Samantah Richdale is coming off a tie for ninth in the season opening event last month.



COURSE: Chattahoochee Golf Course, Gainesville, Ga. (7,004 yds, par 72)

PURSE: $200,000

CANADIAN CONTENT: Stuart Anderson, Marc-Etienne Bussieres, Max Gilbert, Mathieu Gingras, Will Mitchell, Riley Wheeldon

NOTES: Riley Wheeldon picked up his first career win on the NGA Tour last week, becoming the fourth different winner in four events this year. The $30,500 he won puts him in the lead in the the Race for the Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am event exemption and he sits second in the season money standings. The money leader at the halfway point of the season will earn an exemption in the PGA Tour's Reno-Tahoe Open.



COURSE: The Wigwam Golf Resort and Spa - Gold Course, Litchfield Park, AZ (7,430 yds, par 72)

CANADIAN CONTENT: Beon Yeong Lee, Keith Martin, James Love, Kent Eger, Scott Stiles, Tyler Frank, Richard Boychuk, Adrian Kibsey, Gerry Macdonald, Sung Shik Park, Dallas Mengel, Daniel Pow, Kevin Stinson, Craig Gibson


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