Golf

Jordan Spieth hoping for return of greatness during 2019 U.S. Open

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Jordan Spieth hoping for return of greatness during 2019 U.S. Open

MONTEREY, CA. -- It was not long ago that Jordan Spieth stood where Brooks Koepka now stands. 

After winning the 2015 Masters and U.S. Open in consecutive major starts, Spieth was the toast of the golf world. He owned the sport for two years, and many expected him to go on another major run after his victory at the 2017 British Open at Royal Birkdale. 

But, as often happens in golf, Spieth's game took a dip. First, his magical putting stroke, which had propelled him to those three major titles, left him. He started missing short putts, and eventually, his tee-to-green game started to suffer and his confidence appeared to waver. 

Koepka, meanwhile, has won four of the last eight majors he's played in and has become the hunted at major championships. 

As the 2019 U.S. Open is set to begin at Pebble Beach on Thursday, Spieth is looking to get regain his championship form and rejoin Koepka, Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Dustin Johnson atop the golf world. 

"So watching Brooks and Rory, these guys who have four major championships prior to being 30 years old and looking like they're just going to continue to do so, it's certainly a driving factor for me," Spieth told reporters Tuesday. "There's also a number of under-30 guys who are going to win a number of majors over the coming years, is certainly what it looks like.

"So there's plenty of inspiration to be the one that's trying to win these championships. And I have no trouble, personally, finding that inspiration, nor would I even if the 30-to-40-year-olds are winning. Like I just mentioned, this is our Super Bowl."

After posting a top 10 at the 2019 PGA Championship, Spieth carded an eighth-place finished at the Fort Worth Invitational and he tied for seventh at The Memorial. The 25-year-old feels his game is on the precipice of returning to major-winning form, but it's still not all the way back. 

"It's just been just constant progression, almost equal amounts week to week," Spieth said. "It's not like you just -- it's not like that (indicating) and all of a sudden you're -- it's not mental, in other words. You've got to work on the physical things and get a little more consistent with them and continue -- good news is over the course of the years I've been first in tee to green strokes gained. I've been first in putting strokes gained. I can look back on the swings, how I was consistently swinging the club at those different time frames, how my putting stroke was at that time, and I can start to match it back up. And that's what I've been working on trying to do.

"And the putting stroke has been really, really fluid and nice over the last, I don't know, six months or even more. And the swing has been starting to progress that way over the last month and a half or so. But there's one thing of knowing how to do it. There's another of practicing it and then trusting it on the golf course in tournament play. And those last four weeks were big for me to have -- be able to trust it in tournament play, have those reps under pressure, see where I'm actually at and see what I need to improve on."

Despite the struggles with his game, Spieth has been able to contend at majors with less than his best due to his innate talent and ability to simplify the game. 

The 25-year-old still is searching for consistency, but his near-misses at majors have given him the confidence that something great could be on the horizon. 

"Everybody gets off at some point in their career, and if I can make this kind of -- if this is the last year or so results-wise, off for me, then -- and I can use these kind of blueprints of how I've gotten back as kind of my set places to go to, then things should stay in place a lot easier and not get as far off," Spieth said.

"And that's all I'm looking to do. I mean, there's no -- I felt like I was able to put myself in chances to win tournaments without really having much. So when I get it back, it's just more consistent. I don't shoot 5- or 6-under and then 3-over and 3-over and then 5-under. I shoot 2-under on the bad days and 6-, 7-under on the good days. I'm just looking for more consistency, is really number one. That's the difference in winning and not."

[RELATED: Tiger ready to face familiar U.S. Open test at Pebble Beach]

While Koepka has ascended to the top of the golf world, Spieth has fought his game to try to return to those same lofty heights. 

With his game rounding into form and a great track record at Pebble Beach, the 119th U.S. Open just might serve as Spieth's coming-back party. 

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

Three minor league hitters can help A's regardless of trade deadline moves

On Monday, we detailed three minor league pitchers who could help solidify the A's starting rotation and bullpen for the stretch run. Now we want to focus on position players.

While it's a less significant group, Oakland does feature three talented minor-league infielders who are just about ready to make an impact at the major league level:

Jorge Mateo

The A's No. 4 prospect, according to MLB Pipeline, is having a phenomenal season at Triple-A Las Vegas. Mateo, 24, is slashing .302/.339/.537 with 17 home runs, 25 doubles, 13 triples, 72 RBI, and 20 stolen bases.

Mateo has spent the majority of the year at shortstop but has also started 14 games at second base. Of course, Marcus Semien owns the A's shortstop position, but Mateo might get an opportunity at second base come September, especially if Jurickson Profar and Franklin Barreto continue to struggle.

At the very least, Mateo should serve as a valuable pinch-runner. His speed has always been his best attribute, with MLB Pipeline ranking it as a perfect 80 on the 20-80 scale. That will definitely come in handy during the final month of the season.

Sheldon Neuse

Oakland's ninth-ranked prospect is also having a terrific season in Las Vegas. Neuse, 24, is slashing .321/.387/.543 with 19 home runs, 27 doubles, and 84 RBI. His biggest problem is the position he plays -- third base happens to be occupied in Oakland for the next several years.
 
However, Neuse has moved around the infield a bit this season, starting six games at shortstop and three at second base. He's even played three games in left field. That type of versatility will help Neuse's chances of getting playing time at the big-league level this year, particularly at second base.

Even if Neuse doesn't get many starts, he could provide the A's with a dangerous power bat off the bench in late-inning situations.

[RELATED: Report: A's have called Mets on potential Syndergaard trade]

Sean Murphy

The A's No. 3 prospect is undoubtedly the team's catcher of the future. Murphy is ranked as the fourth-best catcher prospect in all of baseball by MLB Pipeline.

The 24-year-old has missed the majority of the season with a knee injury, but returned to the Las Vegas Aviators last week and went 6-for-12 with four home runs and nine RBI in his first three games back. Overall, Murphy is slashing .349/.422/.640 with six homers and 18 RBI in 22 games this year in Triple-A.

Incredibly, Murphy's hitting is not even his best attribute. His defense is MLB-ready and would rank above average already. Now that his bat is coming alive too, he has a chance to be one of the best catchers in the game.

Murphy will almost certainly take over the A's starting catcher job next season, but he has a chance to make an early impact in September this year as well, especially if Josh Phegley and Chris Herrmann falter.

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Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

Brooks Koepka's bid for U.S. Open history comes up short at Pebble Beach

PEBBLE BEACH -- It was like a scene from an old horror movie. The giant beast rises from the water, prepared to destroy everything in his path. Nothing can stop it.

Such was the scene at Pebble Beach on Sunday. With the late tee times going off, golf's Godzilla emerged on the first tee clad in a blue Nike pullover, a wad of chewing tobacco packed in his lip. 

There Brooks Koepka stood, ready to add Pebble Beach to a list of courses he's eviscerated en route to a major championship. A list that includes Shinnecock Hills, Bethpage Black, Bellerive and Erin Hills. 

Unfazed by the pressure of being four shots back on a U.S. Open Sunday. Unbothered by the enormity of the task of winning three straight U.S. Opens. Koepka stuck his tee in the ground on the first tee, and his unstoppable rampage began. 

He birdied No.1. Then, after losing his tee shot into the hospitality area on No. 2, it appeared Godzilla had met a roadblock.

Once again, Koepka didn't flinch. 

His recovery shot found the deep rough on the lip of the bunker that splits the second hole. But Koepka muscled his third shot out of the spinach to within five feet of the hole. A ho-hum par. 

The beast marched on. 

Birdies at three, four and five brought Koepka to 11-under for the tournament, on the precipice of overtaking leader Gary Woodland. History was within his grasp.

But eventually, someone discovers a way to slay the beast. Sometimes he stops himself. 

After paring six and seven, Koepka bogeyed No. 8. Godzilla can bleed. 

Meanwhile, Woodland kept grinding out pars, never giving Koepka an opening. The four-time major winner would have to make a move on the back nine in order to complete his destruction of another U.S. Open field.

After a birdie at 11, Koepka bogeyed 12 but remained only one shot back of Woodland. 

Koepka struck the ball beautifully all week, but he couldn't get the putts to fall. As he parred his way through the back nine, Godzilla started to stumble, and on 18, when his putt to get to 11-under darted in front of the hole, he fell back into the Pacific Ocean.

His quest for three straight U.S. Opens would come up three strokes shy of Woodland, who birdied 18 to finish at 13 under. Koepka became the first golfer in history to shoot four rounds in the 60s in a U.S. Open and not take home the trophy.

"It doesn't sting," Koepka said after the round. "I played great. Nothing I could do. I gave it my all. I give it my all every time and sometimes, like this week -- it happened at Augusta -- it's not meant to be. I played great. I hit every shot that I wanted to. And sometimes no matter how good your good is it isn't there."

Koepka has become the big-game hunter over the past two years. Arriving at major championships with an icy demeanor and the lone goal of eviscerating the field with his brute strength and unwavering will.

Sometimes the monster gets beat. Woodland was triumphant Sunday, doing what few have been able to do recently and only he has been able to do in the last three U.S. Opens: beat Brooks. 

[RELATED: Woodland achieves Father's Day dream with U.S. Open win]

The U.S. Open leaves Pebble Beach with Koepka's name half carved into the lone tree in the 18th fairway. He was a few rolls of his putter from U.S. Open history.

From achieving it at this iconic venue, where the Pacific Ocean kisses the rocks and time melts away as quickly as the water from the shoreline of Stillwater Cove. 

"Yeah, it's cool. It's an awesome theater," Koepka said of Pebble Beach. "Anytime that you can play in a place that's as beautiful as this, it's pretty neat. You look out to the left and you've got the Pacific and you see all the fans on the right, it's a unique place. All the history behind it and to play a major championship here is quite special. Even you play the AT&T here it's a cool feeling. And it's one I can't wait to get back to."

Gary Woodland won the day. 

But Brooks Koepka, like Godzilla, is bound to return.