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updated: 9/13/2017 7:00 PM

Rozner: Spieth, Thomas still battling, still buds

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  • Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.comJordan Spieth practices hitting out of a sand trap on the 15th hole during a practice round Tuesday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest.

    Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.comJordan Spieth practices hitting out of a sand trap on the 15th hole during a practice round Tuesday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest.

  • Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.comJustin Thomas hits out of a sand trap on the 15th hole Tuesday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, with Jordan Spieth, left, and Jon Rahm behind him.

    Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.comJustin Thomas hits out of a sand trap on the 15th hole Tuesday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest, with Jordan Spieth, left, and Jon Rahm behind him.

  • Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.comJordan Spieth discusses the path of his putt on the 16th hole during a BMW Championship practice round Tuesday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest.

    Gilbert R. Boucher II/gboucher@dailyherald.comJordan Spieth discusses the path of his putt on the 16th hole during a BMW Championship practice round Tuesday at Conway Farms Golf Club in Lake Forest.

 
 

Jordan Spieth had already made birdie on 16 at Conway Farms, but his work was hardly finished.

Sure, the money game was still in doubt as Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm and Wes Bryan battled to the end, but a practice round offers many opportunities.

Players frequently drop several balls on a green and putt to the various hole locations they foresee in the days ahead, and they usually hit out of bunkers they believe might come into play over the weekend.

Spieth and caddie Michael Greller also talk on every fairway about where the miss is for a given hole while discussing wind direction for the week.

What was particularly striking, however, was watching close friends Spieth and Thomas chipping from a thick rough, short and right of 16 green.

They're desire to see the other win -- if they can't -- has been well documented, and the pictures of each waiting for the other to finish a major behind the 18th are now the stuff of legend.

But the way they broke down this particular wedge from the rough almost made it seem as if they were on the same team. They were, essentially, handing the enemy ammunition.

And, yet, when they tee off in the same group together at 10:33 a.m. Thursday in Lake Forest with Dustin Johnson, they will still be trying to win the BMW Championship with an eye on that $10 million prize at the conclusion of the FedEx Cup Playoffs in Atlanta next week.

"A lot of times we have practice rounds with guys we are close with, that we would feel comfortable doing something like that with," Thomas said Wednesday of his exchange with Spieth. "You watch our practice rounds when we're really out there grinding.

"We're all chipping and putting from the same spots because we know where we're probably going to miss it -- if we do miss.

"But there's been times where I've played with Phil (Mickelson), with (Jason Dufner), with Rickie (Fowler), with Jordan, where they are a little bit better at a shot than I am, and I'm curious.

"I want to get better at it. I'll ask them to watch me hit some shots or vice versa. For the most part, we're trying to get a feel for how it's going to come out."

Make no mistake about their motivation when they play together, which will happen at least two days this week and perhaps three or four. They intend to win. But Spieth and Thomas are not bitter rivals and it's a different kind of thinking from a different generation of athletes who often take vacations together.

"I promise you when we're out there and (Thomas has) a 6-footer to win the tournament and I'm standing right there on the green, I'm not rooting for him to make it," Spieth said with typical candor. "I'm rooting for him to miss it so we can go to a playoff and I can beat him. That's just how it works as a competitor.

"When you aren't the one that pulls it off and one of the people that you're very close to can, then it's cool, really cool for us (on) the highest stage at what we do for a living.

"We're friends off the golf course. When we're on the golf course, we're still friends, but playing against each other."

Spieth, Thomas and Johnson are the top three in the playoff standings, and any of them can still win the FedEx, but Player of the Year is also on the line.

Thomas would seem to have a big lead right now with a major and 5 wins, though Spieth with a major and 3 wins could still make a big statement the next two weeks.

And a second-shot course like Conway would seem to be perfect for Spieth, who finished runner-up in the first two playoff events, first behind Johnson and then behind Thomas.

"I can't call it a bad thing (to finish second), but if I finish runner-up this week -- unless one of two other people won -- I will have accomplished the goal of being No. 1 going into East Lake," Spieth said. "I'm looking to play well.

"I took a few days off and it goes back to trying to maintain strength. There were certainly years -- two of the four years -- I played East Lake I was tired by the time I reached there.

"It's a matter of conserving as much energy as possible, limit the reps on the range, focus on the short game and next week approach it like a major."

First is the BMW, and if it's Spieth and Thomas down the stretch on Sunday, no one should be surprised.

And if one tops the other, rest assured there will be hugs -- not hate -- when it's over.

brozner@dailyherald.com

• Hear Barry Rozner on WSCR 670-AM and follow him @BarryRozner on Twitter.

BMW Championship

What: Top 70 players in the third of four tournaments in the PGA Tour Playoffs for the FedEx Cup.

When: Thursday- Sunday at Conway Farms in Lake Forest

Tickets: bmwchampionshipusa.com

TV: Thursday-Friday, 2-6 p.m. Golf Channel. Saturday, noon-2 p.m. GC, 2-5 p.m. NBC. Sunday, 11 a.m.-1 p.m. GC, 1-5 p.m. NBC.

Transportation, parking: Spectators can be dropped off at 911 Telegraph Road, Lake Forest, with shuttle to entrance.

Public parking: Free shuttle from Six Flags Great America, 1 Great America Parkway in Gurnee. Use north entrance on Grand Avenue.

Metra: Free shuttles from both Lake Forest Metra stations.

Schedule:

Thursday-Friday: Gates open at 8 a.m. for Rd. 1 and Rd. 2

Saturday-Sunday: Gates open at 6:30 a.m. for Rd. 3 and Rd. 4

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