Getty Images

DJ motivated to keep No. 1 ranking

By Rex HoggardFebruary 14, 2018, 10:03 pm

LOS ANGELES – On Tuesday, Dustin Johnson joined an exclusive club.

He didn’t add to his growing trophy collection. In fact, he actually dropped a surprising decision at Pebble Beach on Sunday after taking a share of the lead into the final round, but we’ll circle back around to that.

On Tuesday, DJ became just the fifth player to hold the top spot in the Official World Golf Ranking for a full calendar year, joining the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Greg Norman and Nick Faldo.

To keep things in context, the ranking has been around only since 1986, but it’s an impressive accomplishment nonetheless considering the parity in golf at the moment. Not that Johnson sounded as if he was spending much time relishing his tenure at the top.

“On Mondays usually," he said when asked how often he checked the ranking. "That's about it, though. Just to see what's going on. I still don't really understand them, but I could read ‘[No.] 1.’”

Like most things with DJ, compartmentalization is often confused for indifference.

Johnson pays more attention to the mathematical formula than he lets on, even if, like most of us, he doesn’t perfectly understand the countless computations.

“He likes it, being world No. 1, and he’s adamant about keeping it,” said Johnson’s swing coach, Butch Harmon.

In recent weeks Johnson’s status atop the world heap has been challenged by Jon Rahm, who could have ascended to the top spot at either the Farmers Insurance Open or last week at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am depending on DJ’s finish despite the Spaniard not playing last week.


Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos


Although he often comes across as aloof when he talks publicly about the ranking, there was an edge to Johnson's voice Wednesday as he prepared for this week’s Genesis Open.

It was Johnson’s five-stroke victory last year at Riviera Country Club that elevated him to the top of the mountain and started a torrid run that only an untimely spill on the eve of the Masters ended.

“It's nice. It's been a tough year,” Johnson said. “Obviously starting here I was playing really, really well, and then the injury at Augusta kind of derailed me a little bit.”

Johnson won his next two starts, both World Golf Championship events, after the Genesis Open, and arrived at the year’s first major the consensus favorite before falling in his rental house and injuring his back.

It took about a year for Johnson to feel fully healthy again and he opened this year with another commanding performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight strokes.

Although last week’s runner-up showing at Pebble Beach, where he closed with an even-par 72 to tie for second place, was surprising considering his status as a front-runner, it was also an interesting indication of the state of his game.

“Last week I didn't feel like I had my best stuff, but I still was there in contention with a chance to win on Sunday, which shows me that my game is definitely getting back to where it was,” Johnson said. “It feels better today than it did last week, so that's really good.”

Actually, Harmon said Johnson’s game was closer to 70 percent last week, particularly his driving which is always a gauge of how he’s playing.

But he’s close. Close to being back at his best and to the level where he was when he scorched the PGA Tour last spring.

“It’s pretty close, .5,” he said to compare where his game is now to 12 months ago. “I feel just as good as I did last year.”

Harmon took a slightly more detailed approach.

“It was a little better at this point last year. He’s been skiing and last week he was a little off and just needs to fine tune some things,” Harmon said. “But I can see him having the same momentum [as he did last year].”

And that might be the biggest difference between DJ 2017 and the current model. While all of the tumblers were falling perfectly into place at this point last year, this time around seems a little more calculated.

Even last week when he lost to Ted Potter Jr., who was plying his trade on the Web.com Tour 12 months ago, was an encouraging sign.

But most of all he’s motivated. He’s motivated to ride another wave of momentum down Magnolia Lane, motivated to stay healthy and, yes, absolutely motivated to maintain the top spot in the world ranking.

“It's definitely difficult to stay No. 1,” Johnson said. “The guys out here are very, very good and there's a lot of very talented players. But for me, I use it as motivation to keep working harder and to keep doing the things that I'm doing.”

Getty Images

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.

Shame.

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. 

Getty Images

Stoneman Douglas tragedy weighs heavily on golf teams

By Tim RosaforteFebruary 19, 2018, 4:00 pm

Amanda Okulanis was on the Sawgrass side of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School campus on Thursday, away from the 1200 building that largely housed ninth-graders and where most of her 17 classmates were killed in a mass shooting in Parkland, Fla.

For Okulanis, who could hear the shots while evacuating, the survivor’s remorse has already kicked in.

“It could have been anyone of us,” said Okulanis, the captain and No. 1 player on the Stoneman Douglas girls’ golf team. “It was just timing and where you were.”

Okulanis, 18, works part time in outside operations at Heron Bay GC and is a pro shop attendant at TPC Eagle Trace, not far away from Parkland in Coral Springs. She just returned from her second funeral on Sunday afternoon when we spoke. Among those who were in the wrong place at the wrong time was Cara Loughran, the 14-year-old daughter of Eagle Trace superintendent Damien Loughran. Cara’s brother, Liam, survived.

“Both of the funerals I sat through today, both of their families spoke over and over again about their smiles and how they were the most amazing kids with unlimited potential,” Okulanis said. “And how they brought such happiness to this world.”


Amanda Okulanis (center) and the Marjory Stoneman Douglas girls' golf team.


As a Bright Futures Scholarship recipient, Okulanis will be attending the University of Central Florida in the fall and play club golf. She wants to become a CPA and work as a CFO for a large corporation or professional sports team.

“She was a natural born leader,” said Devin Schaller, the girls’ golf coach at Stoneman Douglas. “We had a young team and as the season went on she grew as a person and it really showed. She was the glue we needed.”

Schaller, who teaches U.S. and world history, was evacuating students in the midst of the shooting, but was able to send out a group text. All his girls checked in, but some had been in Building 12, where most of the killings took place.

“We’re all trying to be cohesive and moving forward in unison with one another,” said Schaller. “It’s just such a horribly unique experience.”

The boys’ golf coach at Stoneman Douglas had his own horrific experience. In addition to coaching golf and softball, Brian Staubley works as a security officer at SDH and was just outside the door where the shooter was reloading. He was ordered back just before another round of gunfire. He lost two friends and colleagues in the shooting.

Among those Staubley led to safety in the school’s auditorium was Evan Kuperman, a 16-year-old sophomore on his fall team. Kuperman’s older sister was in the 1200 building and wasn’t responding to texts or calls for an hour after the shooting. She survived. You can imagine the impact that's had on his life and his family's.

“My son, he’s been effected, like all the kids have been effected,’’ said his father, Craig.



Kuperman (pictured above) started playing golf at 13. In short time, he has advanced past the local level in the Drive, Chip and Putt competition, has won U.S. Kids tournaments and represented the Junior Golf Association in Broward County in state events. He also competes on the South Florida PGA Challenge and Championship tours.

Thinking it would be therapy, Evan Kuperman went to the range at Parkland to hit balls on Friday.

He signed up for a Gold Coast junior event in Miami on Sunday, put his clubs in his high school bag, and wore the team shirt in competition. Unable to concentrate, he withdrew after nine holes.

On his Twitter feed, @Evankup13, Kuperman has tweeted with the hashtag #DouglasStrong. Motivated by Parkland recently named the safest city in Florida, he has not been shy about retweeting gun control messages.

“It’s something no kid should go through,” he told me Monday morning. “There’s a Mahatma Gandhi quote when you walk into the front gates of the school that says, ‘Be the change you wish to see this world.’ It’s stuck to a lot of us.”

Getty Images

Watson back in top 40 after OWGR free fall

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Bubba Watson ended his free fall in the Official World Golf Ranking with a two-shot victory Sunday at the Genesis Open.

Watson, a fixture in the top 10 in the world as recently as 13 months ago, had dropped all the way to 117th after a 2017 season in which he struggled with poor form, illness and desire.

After his third career win at Riviera, he is up to 40th.

Kevin Na rose from 95th to 65th after tying for second in Los Angeles, while Tony Finau jumped from 41st to 33rd.

Tiger Woods actually improved in the world ranking, from No. 550 to No. 544, despite a missed cut at the Genesis Open.

On the European Tour, Joost Luiten surged from 90th to 68th after his victory in Oman.

The top 10 in the world remained unchanged as the PGA Tour heads into the Florida swing: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day, Brooks Koepka and Rory McIlroy.

Getty Images

Bubba catapults, Phil creeps up in Ryder Cup standings

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 1:21 pm

Bubba Watson was an assistant on the 2016 Ryder Cup team. He doesn’t want to be driving a cart in Paris.

Watson, thanks to his victory in the Genesis Open, jumped from 60th to 10th in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings. The top eight after the PGA Championship qualify automatically for this year’s edition at Le Golf National in France.

Phil Mickelson moved up one spot to 11th after tying for sixth at Riviera Country Club.

Players will receive one point per dollar earned in regular events this year, with 1.5 points per dollar in majors and two points per dollar for winning a major. Here's a look at the current U.S. standings:

1. Dustin Johnson

2. Brooks Koepka

3. Justin Thomas

4. Jordan Spieth

5. Matt Kuchar

6. Brian Harman

7. Gary Woodland

8. Rickie Fowler

---

9. Chez Reavie

10. Bubba Watson

11. Phil Mickelson

12. Patrick Reed


On the European side, the top four players from the Ryder Cup points list will be joined by the top four qualifiers from the world points list, with captain Thomas Bjorn making four additional selections. Here's a look at the current top names:

Ryder Cup Points

1. Justin Rose

2. Tyrrell Hatton

3. Ross Fisher

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick

World Points

1. Jon Rahm

2. Tommy Fleetwood

3. Sergio Garcia

4. Rory McIlroy