Hawk's Nest: Wie long removed from '04 Sony

By John HawkinsJanuary 13, 2014, 3:30 pm

A business trip to Hawaii is a little like vacationing at the DMV, although it’s far more likely you’d rather crunch numbers in the Aloha State than pitch a tent in the driver’s license renewal line. Of all the trips I made halfway across the Pacific Ocean over the years, none left a greater impression than the journey in 2004.

Michelle Wie’s performance in her first PGA Tour event remains the peak moment in a career that has never come close to reaching its expected altitude. To shoot 72-68 and miss the cut by a single stroke at the ’04 Sony Open was universally classified as a colossal success, but a decade later, one can see how it stunted Wie’s growth as a player and led to her becoming the landmark underachiever she is today.

Two victories in 154 starts on the LPGA? Even the snarkiest cynic couldn’t have envisioned such a paltry win total 10 years ago. In five seasons as a full-time LPGA member, Wie’s best finish on the money list was ninth in 2010—her last W came at the Canadian Women’s Open that August. She was 64th on the money list in 2012, 41st with just four top-10s in 26 starts in ’13. (Click here for video of Wie discussing her life on and off the course)

As much as I suspected that it might all go wrong, I could never have imagined that Wie would begin 2014 ranked 61st in the world, having gone 7 ½ years without a top-five finish at a major. Rarely has yesterday’s news sustained such relevance. It’s almost as if the golf gods got fed up with the hyperbolization and glorification of a 14-year-old girl and decided as a committee to do something about it.

Too much + Too soon = Epic swoon. Before we explore why, let’s look at a couple of guys who haven’t been such pronounced busts.

WHEN’S THE LAST time two of America’s best young players took on new swing coaches at the start of a season? Keegan Bradley’s decision to leave Jim McLean, with whom he’d worked since 2009, might have come about, in part, from his friendship with Michael Jordan, who had a pretty good NBA career, at least as a player.

Jordan and Bradley play a lot of golf together – His Airness is said to have encouraged Bradley to work on his mental toughness. But it was the influence of Jason Dufner, another Bradley companion, that led Keegs to longtime instructor Chuck Cook.

Bradley will kick off his 2014 this week at the Humana Challenge, as will Rickie Fowler, who recently enlisted the services of Butch Harmon in an effort to take his game to the next level. Both high-profile players went winless on the PGA Tour in 2013. Fowler ended up 40th on the ’13 money list, 29 spots behind Bradley, who did finish second at the Byron Nelson Championship and T-2 at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

“I’ve been around the game a long time – these things happen,” McLean told me last Saturday. “Keegan finished first in the overall ranking in 2012 and fourth last year, [but] he didn’t win. When he got down here [Miami] in ’09 he only had one side-view mirror on his car, and that was held on by duct tape, so it’s been a great ride.”

McLean was referring to their four-plus years together, not the banged-up automobile. There are a couple of things a veteran golf writer generally avoids analyzing, and a swing-coach change is one of them. The world’s best golfers are constantly striving to get better, and they obviously know what’s best for them from a mechanical standpoint.

That said, there isn’t much anyone can do to improve Bradley’s ball-striking. In 2013, he was the only player to rank among the top 15 in driving distance and top 125 in driving accuracy – Keegs placed 11th and 61st, an exceptionally rare and productive combo. He ranked third in par-5 scoring, 14th in proximity to the hole from 50 to 125 yards. If you’re looking for weaknesses in the guy’s statistical profile, good luck.

His putting numbers weren’t spectacular, but at 49th overall, Bradley certainly holed more putts than a majority of his fellow competitors. If Jordan thinks his boy needs to get tougher between the ears, OK, but I think of Bradley as a very talented young player who has capitalized nicely on his opportunities.

In all three of his victories, someone left the door open, and the big Vermonter ran through it like a blitzing linebacker. I would just be careful, taking advice from someone who used the first pick in an NBA draft on Kwame Brown.

FOWLER, MEANWHILE, HAD been without a swing coach since the death of Barry McDonnell in 2011. More than three years have passed since U.S. Ryder Cup skipper Corey Pavin successfully gambled on Li’l Rickie as a captain’s pick in 2010; Fowler’s heroic rally from 4 down with four holes to play earned a crucial half-point that kept the Yanks in it until the end.

He remains stuck on one victory, however; that coming in a playoff over Rory McIlroy and D.A. Points at Quail Hollow in 2012. It was not the turn-the-corner triumph many thought it would be, and in each of his four full seasons as a pro, Fowler has tended to start the year in better form than he finishes it. To me, that suggests a lack of go-to mechanics – a set of swing principles any player can revert to when things aren’t going well.

I am of the opinion that Harmon is the most effective swing coach on the planet, one of the best ever. His ability to see even the slightest flaw and get it fixed – without compromising the rest of the motion – is uncanny. Butch fixed Greg Norman way back when, and then turned the raw greatness of Tiger Woods into sheer dominance. He tweaked Fred Couples, tightened Phil Mickelson and molded Adam Scott.

The man can do everything from change the oil to rebuild the engine. I remember attending a function held by Cobra maybe 15 years ago, part of which involved a bunch of chopper journalists having their swings dissected by Harmon. One corrupt move after another, Butch dispensed precise advice that worked far more often than it did not.

Alas, the session ended before he got to my swing, which would explain a lot of things.

“We just spent two days together and we’re both really happy with the progress,” Harmon told me last week regarding his work with Fowler. “We’re looking to see improvement each week under the gun and [the Humana] is the first big test.”

As a fan of the game and longtime practice-range loiterer, I’m very bullish on Fowler’s future, both as a successful competitor and commercial commodity. I’ve had a couple of dealings with the kid and really liked him. He got off to a very fast start in his rookie season (2010), which definitely heightened expectations, and when he performed well at the Ryder Cup that fall, the standard of success shot through whatever roof was left on the building.

Since winning in Charlotte 20 months ago, Fowler’s final-round visibility has been defined largely by a pair meltdowns while trying to chase down Tiger Woods – at the 2012 Memorial and 2013 Arnold Palmer Invitational. In terms of career trajectory, he’s in a different place than Bradley, who has won a major (’11 PGA) and a WGC while contending on a regular basis.

Both guys have made potential career-altering decisions in an attempt to improve, and for now, that’s nothing but a positive thing. They say the road to hell is paved with good intentions. So, too, is the walk to the World Golf Hall of Fame. However long that walk may be.

WIE AND I played holes together in January 2003. She beat me by a shot or two, and to this day, I’m still thinking the result might have been different if Butch had given me that pointer at Cobra headquarters several years earlier.

What struck me that day just outside Honolulu was how clingy her parents seemed to be. Not protective, not even omnipresent, but clingy. Like B.J. and Bo Wie didn’t have anything else to do but lurk silently in the immediate background while their just-turned teenager, an only child, began cutting her teeth on the triple-decker sandwich known as fame.

That never really changed – at least it didn’t until it was too late. Michelle constantly sassed her dad, and as the father of 13- and 10-year-old daughters now, I cannot tell you how quickly the interview would have ended if my older kid tried to show me up even once in front of a writer for a national golf magazine.

You look at Tiger when he was that age. He never threw his old man under the bus, never disrespected him publicly and probably didn’t do it more than once or twice privately. Eldrick and Earl Woods were best friends. For the most part, man and boy were equal partners in the pursuit of mega-greatness, each needing the other, as the phenom was quick to recognize the value of his father’s hands-on parenting.

Instead of stepping back, B.J. Wie insisted on serving as his daughter’s caddie in her formative years. This exacerbated the contentiousness of a relationship that didn’t need any additional friction, real or perceived. Players and caddies disagree all the time. Fathers and daughters, however, can’t leave all those disagreements on the golf course. At some point, the resentment follows you home.

For Michelle, golf was always a business, never really a game, but primarily a means to a very lucrative end. She played against men ostensibly to avoid comparisons to other women. She attended Stanford to gain her freedom as much as a five-star education. And because she had such a gorgeous golf swing, she thought she was better than she was. She chose style over substance in a game where substance crushes style every time.

When she graduated from college and it came time to do nothing but play golf, she just couldn’t perform. Michelle had her money. She had her fame. She had nothing left to play for but the love of the game and the exhilaration that comes from competition, but if the game became a chore long ago and you’d rather shop for sandals than compete, you end up with two victories in 154 starts.

You begin the year 61st in the Rolex Rankings, no matter how little sense it makes.

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Honda Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 11:44 pm

The PGA Tour heads back east to kick off the Florida Swing at PGA National. Here are the key stats and information for the Honda Classic. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2-6PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: http://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6PM ET

Purse: $6.6 million ($1,188,000 to the winner)

Course: PGA National, Palm Beach Gardens, Florida (par-70; 7,140 yards)

Defending champion: Rickie Fowler (-12) won by four, picking off his fourth PGA Tour victory.

Notables in the field:

Tiger Woods

• Making his fourth start at the Honda Classic and his first since withdrawing with back spasms in 2014.

• Shot a Sunday 62 in a T-2 finish in 2012, marking his lowest career final-round score on the PGA Tour.

• Coming off a missed cut at last week's Genesis Open, his 17th in his Tour career.

Rickie Fowler

• The defending champion owns the lowest score to par and has recorded the most birdies and eagles in this event since 2012.

• Fowler's last start was at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, where he failed to close a 54-hole lead. Fowler is 1 for 6 with 54-hole leads in his Tour career, with his only successful close coming at last year's Honda.

• On Tour this year, Fowler is first in scrambling from the fringe, second in total scrambling and third in strokes gained around the green. 

Rory McIlroy

• It's been feast or famine for McIlroy at the Honda. He won in 2012, withdrew with a toothache in 2013, finished T-2 in 2014 and missed the cut in 2015 and 2016.

• McIlroy ascended to world No. 1 with his victory at PGA National in 2012, becoming the second youngest player at 22 years old to top the OWGR, behind only Tiger Woods. McIlroy was later edged by a slightly younger 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.

• Since the beginning of 2010, only Dustin Johnson (15) has more PGA Tour victories than Rory McIlroy (13). 

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Randall's Rant: Tiger no longer one with the chaos

By Randall MellFebruary 19, 2018, 9:49 pm

Back in the day, Tiger Woods appeared to relish riding atop the chaos, above the raucous waves of excitement that followed him wherever he went.

Like Kelly Slater surfing epic peaks at Banzai Pipeline ...

Like Chris Sharma dangling atop all the hazards on the cliff face of “The Impossible Climb” at Clark Mountain ...

Hell, like Chuck Yeager ahead of the sonic boom he created breaking the sound barrier in a Bell X-1 over the Mojave Desert in 1947.

It was difficult to tell whether Woods was fueling the bedlam in his duel with Bob May in the 2000 PGA Championship, or if it was fueling him.

Fans scampered in a frenzy you rarely see in golf to get the best look they could at his next shot at Valhalla in that playoff.

Same thing when Woods turned his 15-shot rout into a victory parade in the final round of the U.S. Open at Pebble Beach that same year.

And when Woods improbably chipped in at the 16th at Augusta National to shake every pine tree at the Masters before going on to defeat Chris DiMarco in a playoff in 2005.

Tiger brought a boisterous, turbulent new wave of excitement to the game, unrivaled since Arnie’s Army followed the legend in his heyday.

Woods attracted new fans who did not understand golf’s time-honored traditions. He lured them to the game’s most hallowed grounds. There were challenges with that, though they always seemed more daunting to Woods’ playing partners than to him.

At his best, Tiger seemed to be one with the chaos, able to turn its energy into his energy.

Every Tiger pairing in his prime turned wherever he was into a home game, turned every golf course into his stadium and transformed every opponent into the visiting team.

We heard how hard that was for the Bob Mays, Chris DiMarcos and even the Ernie Els of the world.

That’s what added to the intrigue of Tiger’s return to Riviera last week, and what will make this week at PGA National and the Honda Classic similarly interesting.

Tiger’s back.

Well, the overly exuberant frenzy only he can create is back, but his game isn’t. Not yet. And now we’re hearing how the bedlam is a challenge to more than his playing partners. It’s a challenge to his game, too.

“It cost me a lot of shots over the years,” Woods said at the Genesis Open. “It’s cost me a few tournaments here and there.

“I’ve dealt with it for a very long time.”

Huh? Did Tiger forget the advantage he had playing in a storm? Or are today’s storms different, more unruly, more destructive?

Did having total control of all facets of his game when he was at his best make the bedlam work for him?

Does the focus it requires to find his old magic today make the chaos work against him?

Jack Nicklaus used to say that when he heard players complaining about difficult conditions going into a major, he checked them off his list of competitive threats.

You wonder if Tiger did the same back in the day, when players talked about the challenges that surrounded a pairing with him.

Golf is different than other sports. That has to be acknowledged here.

When you hear mainstream sports fans wonder what is so wrong with a fan yelling in a player’s backswing, you know they don’t understand the game. A singular comment breaking the silence over a player’s shot in golf is like a fan sneaking onto the field in football and tripping a receiver racing up the sideline. It is game-changing chaos.

Is Tiger facing game-changing chaos now?

Or was Riviera’s noise something he just can’t harness in his current state of repair? Is there more pressure on him trying to come back in that environment?

If Rory McIlroy needed a “couple Advil” for the headache the mayhem at the Genesis Open caused him playing with Tiger last week, then May and DiMarco must have needed shots of Demerol.

Then all those guys who lost majors to Tiger in final-round pairings with him must have felt like they endured four-hour migraines.

“It got a little out of hand,” Justin Thomas said of his two days with Tiger at Riviera.

Maybe McIlroy and Thomas were dealing with something boisterously new, more Phoenix Open in its nausea than anything Tiger created when he broke golf out of a niche.

Whatever it is, Tiger’s challenge finding his best will be even more complicated if he’s no longer one with the chaos, if he can no longer turn its energy into his energy.

If that’s the case, he really may be just one of the guys this time around.

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What's in the bag: Genesis Open winner Watson

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 7:02 pm

Bubba Watson won the Genesis Open for a third time in his career. Here's a look inside his bag:

Driver: Ping G400 LST (7.6 degrees), with Grafalloy Bi-Matrix Prototype X shaft

Hybrid: Ping G (19 degrees), with Matrix Altus Hybrid X shaft

Irons: Ping iBlade (2), Ping S55 (4-PW), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

Wedges: Ping Glide 2.0 (52 degrees, 56 degrees, 62 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold Tour Issue X100 shafts

Putter: Ping PLD Anser

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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Monday Scramble: Which way did he go?

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2018, 4:15 pm

Bubba Watson reemerges, Tiger Woods misses the cut, the PGA Tour might have a fan problem, Billy Hurley III loses an election and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Bubba Golf is back, and not a moment too soon for the PGA Tour.

Love him or loathe him – and there are plenty of folks on both side of the aisle – the game is more interesting when Watson is in the mix.

Bubba went AWOL for two years, and entering the back half of his 30s, he thought his golf career might be finished. He got passed over for a Ryder Cup spot in 2016, despite being ranked inside the top 10 in the world. He endured a mysterious illness that caused him to lose 40 pounds on his already slight frame. He surprisingly changed his golf ball (more on that later). And he questioned his desire and motivation to play, until wife Angie gave him a swift kick in his white pants.

Watson was at his best at Riviera, again, shaping shots around the tree-lined fairways and holing just enough putts for a two-shot win.

Where Bubba goes from here – the Masters is less than 50 days away – is anyone’s guess, but the game just got a lot more entertaining.

1. Watson has not disclosed what illness he suffered from last year, and in true Bubba fashion, he grew tired of being asked about it, even though he was the one who brought it up. “I’m not talking about the illness no more, it’s no big deal. I’m here. I’m healthy. There are people that are a lot sicker than me in this world, so the illness is nothing.”

He said that he seriously wondered whether he’d ever win tournaments again. Though he has a number of small businesses to fall back on – a candy shop, a minor-league baseball team, a car dealership – it’s not as satisfying as playing good golf.  

"I was close [to retirement]," he said. "My wife was not close. My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She’s a lot tougher than I am."

2. Though his game was already trending downward, Watson decided to switch his ball at the beginning of 2017. Players change equipment all the time, of course, but none rely on feel and shot shape as much as Watson.

It was a bizarre decision that he hasn’t yet fully explained, and likely never will, but he said in October that he didn’t have a ball deal to begin this new season. He played the Titleist Pro V1x at Riviera.

“Equipment is not the problem,” he said Sunday. “I got down to low-160s in weight. My ball speed, my swing, everything changed.”  

3. As memorable as Bubba’s holed bunker shot on 14 was, this will be the defining moment of his week in LA:

4. Here’s what Watson said in late 2014: “My goal is 10 wins and to make every team event. Those are the biggest goals. And until we reach those goals, I’m going to keep trying. If I get to 10, then I can switch it from there. Or retire.”

Watson on Sunday bristled when asked whether he was possibly going to retire, like he had said – “I don’t know if I was going to retire, let’s don’t start putting words out there” – but the point remains that he now has to change his goals.

And he doesn’t know where to start.

“Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let’s be honest,” he said. “Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can’t putt. Somehow we’re here, making fun of it. So yes, I’ve got to set a new goal.”

After this latest win, and the two-year exemption, he said that he won’t retire for at least two more years, and that he’ll play the Masters “until they kick me out.”

5. The Tiger Woods comeback tour hit a snag last week at Riviera.

The driving issues that hampered Woods at Torrey Pines didn't magically disappear. He was still inconsistent with his iron play. (His 16 greens hit in two rounds were the fewest of his Tour career.) And he wasn’t as sharp around the greens. It added up to 72-76 and an early exit in his first L.A. appearance in more than a decade.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit 36 percent of the fairways and 54 percent of the greens.

That's a problem, because PGA National might be even more difficult, with water on seemingly every hole and 15-mph winds expected. Uh-oh.

6. Woods’ driver remains his biggest problem.

While he’d largely eliminated the left side of the course at Torrey Pines, that wasn’t the case at Riviera.

Putting a new, more “stout” model of shaft in his TaylorMade driver, Woods missed right almost exclusively in the opening round, then had several double crosses left with the big stick on Day 2.

His short game and putting might be vastly improved compared to the horrors of the past few years, but it’ll be hard to compete and then contend if he’s hitting it off the planet. (And many of those off-line drives would find the water at PGA National.)

For the week, he ranked 128th in strokes gained-off the tee, 100th approaching the green, 95th around the green and 65th putting.

7. The news wasn’t all bad, though.

That Woods committed to the Honda Classic, his hometown event, was an encouraging sign. That signals A) he has a desire to play tournaments, and B) he’s physically able to do it.

For the first time in years, we’re finally able to judge Woods on the quality of his play, not his health. 

8. The PGA Tour might be reaching a breaking point in regards to fan behavior.

Players know what they’re signing up for at TPC Scottsdale, but even regular Tour stops are getting more raucous than players and officials would like.

Woods created such a scene over the first two rounds at Riviera that his playing partner, Rory McIlroy, said that he had a splitting headache and that the circus probably costs Woods a half shot each round. Justin Thomas said Saturday that spectators are trying to scream and time their moronic comments perfectly. “It’s completely unacceptable,” he said.

The same thing happened at Torrey Pines, where a fan screamed during Woods’ putting stroke. It happened (a lot) at Phoenix, where a fan twice yelled in Jordan Spieth’s downswing. And it’ll absolutely happen again this week at the Honda Classic, especially at the long, par-3 17th, where tournament organizers have put their most overserved fans almost directly on top of the tee.

It’s only a matter of time before one of these idiots costs a player the tournament.  

9. Bill Haas was involved in a horrifying car crash last week in Los Angeles. The driver of the Ferrari he was traveling in, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was killed, while Haas and the driver of the other vehicle were taken to the hospital.

It was a scary incident, and a sad one for the Haas family. Fortunately, Haas escaped without any major injuries, but the mental toll could be immense.

Wish him the best.  

10. So it looks like it’ll be another drama-filled year for Lydia Ko.

After going winless in 2017 and changing every major aspect of her game, she returned this year with even more changes – a new swing coach, Ted Oh, and caddie, Jonny Scott. She tied for 19th in her season debut.

It’s time to be concerned. She was on pace to be one of the all-time greats, but now – whether because of insecurity or too much parental involvement, who knows – she has changed her entire team. Again.

Ko said she deleted Twitter from her phone not because of the deluge of criticism she has received over the past year. No, more curiously, she said it was because she didn’t use the app that much and it was “taking up [too much] storage on my phone.”

Uhh ... Ko has more than $8.5 million in career earnings, so obviously she could splurge for the 256 GB plan, and the app takes up less storage on a phone than Uber, anyway.

Maybe she’ll get it turned around this year, but we’re not overly optimistic. There’s too much noise upstairs. 

11. Just in time for the run-up to the Masters, Spieth’s putter is starting to heat up.

On tricky greens for the second consecutive week, Spieth had another week with a positive strokes gained-putting statistic – and that’s a marked improvement from the start of the year. He tied for ninth at Riviera.

“I just made some tremendous progress,” he said. “I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

12. Amateur swing coaches popped up everywhere as Patrick Cantlay appeared painfully slow during Sunday’s final round.

On full shots, he shuffles his feet while looking at the target and waggling the clubhead. But over putts, he remains still with his upper body while doing the same dance routine.

While putting on the 16th and 17th holes, he took six and seven looks at the cup, respectively. Perhaps not surprisingly, those putts did not drop. Playing in the final group, he shot 71 and finished three back.

Is there something going on here?

Cantlay’s first-round scoring average (67.67, second on Tour) is almost four shots lower than in his final rounds (71.13, 100th). He has broken 70 only once on Sunday – and that was in Vegas, where he won with a closing 67.  

Cantlay has incredible potential, but this is just one example of smart golf people believing he’d be better suited with a quicker routine:

Billy Hurley III put together one of the most epic campaign ads of all time, but did he release it too late?!

That’s the only reasonable explanation for why Hurley wasn’t elected as the next Player Advisory Council chairman on the PGA Tour.

Hurley’s ad went viral, logging more than 750,000 views on Twitter, but he released it the day before the election. Maybe most Tour players already cast their votes.


Maybe next time, #GoldenMan.

This week's award winners ... 

Peaking For Augusta?: Phil Mickelson. Well, well, well, Phil recorded a third consecutive top-6 finish, the first time he’s done that in 11 years. One massive hurdle remains – putting together four good rounds for his first win in nearly five wins – but he’s absolutely getting closer.

Count Yo’ Money: Kevin Na. With a runner-up at Riviera, the 34-year-old has now crossed $25 million in earnings despite notching just one win in his Tour career.

Changes Coming?: Augusta National’s fifth hole. Site plans were filed last month that show the 445-yard par 4 could be pushed back another 25 to 30 yards, the Augusta Chronicle reported. It’s a short- to mid-iron approach right now, but we’d rather see them address the severe undulations on the green.   

Nice Goin’, Rook: Jin Young Ko. She went wire to wire to win in her first start as an LPGA member, at the Australian Open. She’s just the second to accomplish the feat, joining Beverly Hanson (1951). Of course, the 22-year-old Ko also won last fall, but at the time she wasn’t an official member. The check still cleared, though. 

Stay Hot: Joost Luiten. He made 21 birdies in his last 54 holes to hold off Chris Wood and win the European Tour event in Oman.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Paul Casey. Seemed an easy pick, after a playoff loss at Riviera in 2015 and after recording a tie for eighth at Pebble that was his 12th top-20 in his last 13 starts. Instead, he needed to birdie his final hole to make the cut on the number, then continued to tread water on the weekend, eventually finishing 49th. Sigh.