Monday Scramble: Mixed emotions

By Mercer BaggsJune 26, 2017, 5:00 pm

Jordan Spieth wins in dramatic fashion, Phil Mickelson discusses his split from Jim Mackay and Rory McIlroy – maybe, perhaps, probably not – finds a suitable putter in this edition of Monday Scramble.

How one swing can change the narrative. By sinking his bunker shot on the first playoff hole at the Travelers Championship, Jordan Spieth revived Tiger Woods comparisons and reminded people of how much he’s accomplished in a short period of time.

But, boy, that Sunday evening news conference could have been much different.

A shaky putter, the inability to pull away from a field that wasn’t pressuring you, dumping a sand wedge in the bunker on the 72nd hole, that drive on the 73rd. You wouldn’t need to pick one, because they all would have been topics of conversation.

Instead, the focus is on Spieth’s “clutch gene” and Tiger-esque dramatics. And well it should be. Those other issues may rear their heads down the line, but for now, Spieth did what was necessary to win and did it with flair.

1. There’s plenty to dive into with Spieth’s win, but let’s start with the best part: The bunker hole-out. Spieth not only produced the shot, but he gave it the reaction it deserved. And give CBS credit for delivering the multiple angles. Here are a few:

2. We’re jaded. It’s not our fault; it’s Tiger’s. But stop and think about what Spieth has done before the age of 24, in a very competitive generation:

  • 10 PGA Tour wins
  • 2 major titles
  • 25th on the all-time money list (over $30 million, officially)

3. You have to take the good with the bad, it’s a fact of life. Spieth – like Tiger – is emotional. He’s going to seem petulant at times and he’s going to give you goose bumps at others. That’s who he is and it’s much better than someone who is stuck in the middle. It’s also worked out pretty well for him.

4. So, should Spieth be more apprehensive than elated? The guy above thinks there is cause for concern. So does the guy below:

When Rickie Fowler stumbled home but still won the Honda Classic in March, many wondered the same thing. He’s since earned three top-5 finishes and contended in the Masters and U.S. Open. But, in both, he struggled on Sunday. Hopefully Spieth’s in position after 54 holes of The Open to put his game to the test.

5. What he said:

6. “Jordan does Jordan things.” No one knows that better than Spieth’s contemporaries. Take this tweet, for example, sent out a few minutes before prediction came to fruition:

Credit to Daniel Berger for the way in which he handled defeat. He’s now 10th on the money list, 18th in the world and fourth on the Presidents Cup list

7. Rory McIlroy’s closing 64 wasn’t good enough to sneak into the top 10 at the Travelers, but it could be the start of something big. Using his third different putter of the week, McIlroy made seven birdies to only one bogey. And while he still took 30 putts, it should also be noted that he hit 12 of 14 fairways and 17 of 18 greens in regulation on Sunday. McIlroy is off this week but playing the Irish Open and Scottish Open, ahead of The Open at Birkdale. That gives him a few more rounds to settle on a putter before the season’s third major.

8. Phil Mickelson and Jim Mackay announced the dissolution of their work marriage this past week. Men cried. Women wailed. A nation mourned. And we all questioned, why? Was it something we did? Is it irrevocable? If they can’t make it together forever, who among us has a chance?

Overkill? A smidge. But this story had the proper mix for an emotional cocktail: surprise, nostalgia, intrigue. And golf Twitter – accustomed to languishing in the weekly doldrums – drank it up like Fireball from a major trophy.

There were 140-character hot takes and thousand-word retrospectives. So many opinions to share – they must be heard! – and since everyone follows everyone else, we saw them all. What’s the lesson to be learned from the Phil-Bones split? That all good things must come to an end? No. It’s pare down your social media following. You’re not going to miss anything.

9. There remains the question, why? Was it a single back-breaking straw? A boss’s desire for something fresh in a fading career? A pair of bad knees that just couldn’t take it anymore? Mickelson was on “Morning Drive” on Monday and made it seem like it wasn’t a health issue for Bones, who had double knee replacement late last year. “We just could tell that it was time,” Mickelson said. “We just needed a little bit of change in environment to do something different.” Even if Mickelson and Mackay never provide full disclosure, golf Twitter will speculate until we form our own truth.

10. Anything Ariya can do, Ryu can do better? Two weeks after Ariya Jutanugarn won on the LPGA to vault to world No. 1, So Yeon Ryu did the same at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. Ryu held on to defeat Ariya’s sister, Moriya, and Amy Yang by two. It’s her second victory of the year. In case you forgot, she won the ANA Inspiration in a playoff over Lexi Thompson.

(Warning: external links contain adult language)

Trump driving across the greens is such a Trump power move it hurts @foreplaypod (credit mikenfrank on twitter)

A post shared by Barstool Sports (@barstoolsports) on

There is a scene in “Blazing Saddles” in which Harriett Johnson reads aloud – very aloud – a letter from the Rock Ridge collective to Gov. William J. Lepetomane. The particulars are different, but, in relation to President Donald Trump driving his cart across a green, the kicker is the same.

This isn’t political. It’s a simple matter of courtesy and etiquette. Anyone who drives a golf cart over a putting surface, whether they vote blue or red, whether they are black, white or orange, whether they are the leader of the free world, whether they own the course or not, they are the same people who wear sunglasses inside.

This week's award winners ... 

Cool runnings: Mr. Cool, Fred Couples, closed in 66 to win the American Family Insurance Championship. It's the 57-year-old's 13th career win on the PGA Tour Champions. Tournament host Steve Stricker tied for third.

Get better, Tiger: Tiger Woods announced last Monday that he was "currently receiving professional help to manage my medications and the ways that I deal with back pain and a sleep disorder." He will not be on hand for this week's Quicken Loans National, which benefits his foundaiton.

That guy from Tiger's ace?: Yep, that's him. Omar Uresti, who couldn't properly high-five Tiger Woods after he made a hole-in-one in Phoenix in 1997, won the PGA Professional Championship, which didn't go over well with all.

Must be the new blood in office: The PGA Tour announced that it will begin, starting next season, blood testing and public disclosure of suspensions for recreational drug violations. Welcome to the 21st century.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. There was reason for optimism, after he tied for third last year in Hartford, but Thomas ran out of gas and missed the cut (73-72) after his record-setting U.S. Open performance. Sigh. 

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.