Palm Harbor, Fla. — Jordan Spieth feels as though he has been playing catch-up all year.
Spieth had a memorable offseason when he proposed (successfully) to longtime girlfriend Annie Verret. What suffered were his preparations for a new year after a bout with mononucleosis. He lost weight. More importantly, he lost time.
That’s one reason he was on the fence about his schedule leading up to the Masters. Spieth didn’t firmly decide to play in the Mexico Championship until the last minute, and that briefly made him rethink whether to play the Valspar Championship, which he won three years ago.
Ultimately, he did both.
“I was trying to figure out what was the best strategy to be as rested and prepared for Augusta,” Spieth said. “I just wasn’t sure. I haven’t had a whole lot of rest.”
His December can be understated, much like the time it took Dustin Johnson to fully recover from his back injury before the Masters last year.
Spieth is playing his sixth tournament of the year at the Valspar Championship, but part of him feels like it’s January. All because of December, when he said he had only four one-hour practice sessions.
“I probably lost a full month, month-and-a-half out of it,” Spieth said. “The problem was in that time coming back, the basic stuff after you take a couple of weeks off … is the time you figure out all the basics: the ball position, the alignment issues. And then I was starting to have those problems, especially in the short game, while I was having to play tournaments. And so it adds to that frustration level.”
It hasn’t been a total flop. Spieth has had only two rounds over par, in the opening round of Kapalua and Phoenix. While he missed the cut in Phoenix, his worst other finish was a tie for 20th at Pebble Beach.
After the Valspar Championship, he is off next week before Match Play, the Houston Open and the Masters.
Sad Haas plays on
Bill Haas returns to golf this week knowing the Valspar Championship will be unlike any of the previous 347 times he has played on the PGA Tour.
The deep bruise on his left leg and the soreness in his right ankle have subsided. Still tender are memories of a friend, Mark Gibello, who was killed Feb. 13 on a winding road outside Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles when his Ferrari clipped another car and slammed into a pole.
Haas was the passenger.
“There’s not many templates to go by on something like this,” Haas said in his first interview since the accident. “I was in a state of shock, disbelief. It was a tragic event, traumatic. I’m still unsure how to handle it. I keep going back to focusing on the Gibello family.”
He described the Gibellos as mutual friends he planned to stay with during the Genesis Open.
Haas and Gibello played golf the previous weekend at Los Angeles Country Club, where Gibello was a member and played a role in the club hosting the Walker Cup last year. Gibello was a close friend of Bill Harmon, the swing coach who works with Haas.
“It didn’t take me long to realize how much his family loved him, how nice he was to me and my family,” Haas said.
His wife, Julie, has kept in touch with Gibello’s wife. The funeral service in Santa Monica, California, was last Friday, the same day the final field was set for the Valspar Championship.
The 35-year-old Haas returns with a greater appreciation of life and a level of support he never realized he had.
His golf bag remained in the Riviera locker room for the rest of the Genesis Open until it was shipped home to him in South Carolina. Haas hasn’t practiced much. He played golf Sunday in Greenville and planned to leave Monday night for the Valspar Championship in Palm Harbor, Florida.
“The amount of love and support and outreach I got from my peers and friends has been amazing,” he said. “At the same time, a friend of mine is not here anymore. … There’s just no real way to explain life, why it happens and how it happens. You can’t take tomorrow for granted. You have to enjoy today and prepare for tomorrow. All that said, I still feel like I have to go compete. I can’t just say golf doesn’t matter. That’s what I do. I think that’s what Mark would want.
Haas is a six-time winner on the PGA Tour, though he has gone three years since his last victory.
Tiger Woods is playing the Valspar Championship for the first time, meaning there are nine events on the PGA Tour schedule (excluding the opposite-field events) he has never played.
One of them only began this year, the CJ Cup in South Korea.
Two others in the fall have only been around for about a decade: the OHL Classic in Mayakoba began in 2007, and the RSM Classic in Sea Island dates to 2010.
Woods has never played the week before the Masters (Houston Open) or U.S. Open (St. Jude Classic). He has never played the Travelers Championship, which is one week after the U.S. Open. Woods has played the week after the U.S. Open three times — never particularly well – in the Buick Classic.
The other events are the Zurich Classic in New Orleans, the Sony Open in Honolulu, and the CareerBuilder Challenge in the California desert.
Site: Palm Harbor, Fla.
Course: Innisbrook Resort (Copperhead Course). Yardage: 7,340. Par: 71.
Purse: $6.5 million. Winner’s share: $1,170,000.
Television: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 1-3 p.m. (Golf Channel), 3-6 p.m. (NBC Sports).
Defending champion: Adam Hadwin.
Last week: Phil Mickelson won the Mexico Championship for his third World Golf Championships title.
FedEx Cup leader: Justin Thomas.
Notes: Tiger Woods makes his debut in the Valspar Championship as he tries to ready his game for the Masters. It is his third tournament in the last four weeks.
Site: Newport Beach, Calif.
Course: Newport Beach CC. Yardage: 6,584. Par: 71.
Purse: $1.8 million. Winner’s share: $270,000.
Television: Friday, 6-8 p.m. (Golf Channel); Saturday-Sunday, 5:30-8 p.m. (Golf Channel).
Defending champion: Jay Haas in 2016.
Last week: Steve Stricker won the Cologuard Classic.