Clock ticking on Lyle's comeback to PGA Tour

By Ryan LavnerOctober 16, 2015, 10:23 pm

NAPA, Calif. – The PGA Tour leader in inspiration can’t escape the cold, hard numbers. It doesn’t seem fair. The greetings are a little warmer, and the embraces are a little longer, and the cheers are a little lustier, but once he gets back inside the ropes Jarrod Lyle, the two-time cancer survivor, is judged just like every other player – by the cold, hard numbers on his scorecard.

And after nearly five months away, Lyle’s numbers weren’t good enough this week at the Open. He shot 69-77, a 2-over 146 total that left him well below the cut line. He now has nine more PGA Tour starts to earn $217,680, or else he’s out of a job.

“It’s still, unfortunately, a work in progress,” he said Friday. “I don’t know if there was a bit of rust in there or not, but it doesn’t make it any easier to swallow missing the cut.”

That’s now eight missed cuts in nine starts this calendar year; the only time he played the weekend, at Colonial, he missed the secondary cut and earned $12,350.

His game in shambles, Lyle decided in late May to sit out the rest of the Tour season. At that point, he wasn’t sure if he ever would return.

“A lot of doubt,” he said, “but it was nice just to get away from it. It was giving me gray hairs. It was frustrating me, and I just needed to get away from it and not spend every minute thinking about golf.”

His remarkable comeback put on hold, it gave Lyle and his family time to reflect.

At 17, he was stricken with acute myeloid leukemia and confined to a children’s hospital in Melbourne. Doctors gave him a 20 percent chance of surviving. Open: Articles, photos and videos

It was there that he met one of Australia’s sporting heroes, Robert Allenby, for the first time. Lyle dreamed of becoming a professional golfer, and Allenby offered him hope. They kept in touch for the next few years, and Allenby rode shotgun for many of Lyle’s career milestones, playing a practice round with him before Lyle qualified for the Tour, before he qualified for his first U.S. Open, before he won the Australian Open.

“I don’t think people really realize what he’s gone through,” Allenby said Friday.

In 2012, entering his fifth year on Tour, Lyle learned that the leukemia had returned. The news arrived the same week that his wife, Briony, gave birth to the couple’s first child. Lyle endured multiple rounds of chemotherapy and a bone marrow transplant. He was declared cancer-free in June 2013 and made an emotional return to golf later that year at the Australian Masters.

“There’s two miracles in his life – having a child and also being alive,” Allenby said. “That’s why golf, to him, is not the be-all and end-all. It’s definitely his passion, so that’s why he wants to play and pursuit it with all of us.”

Lyle didn’t play again in the States until July 2014, when he tied for 11th in a Tour event, but he has fallen on hard times since. He ended the year with three consecutive missed cuts on that circuit, and now has cashed a check in only seven of 10 starts this season on the big tour.

So he stepped away. Lyle worked on a few projects at home. He spent time with his wife and young daughter. He watched his favorite Australian rules football team. He paid closer attention to his fitness, shedding 20 pounds with a more rigorous workout schedule and diet.

Allenby checked in with frequent text messages, just like he has for the past two decades.

“When he took that leave,” Allenby said, “I was like, OK, maybe that’s a good thing. He knows where he is mentally and physically. If he was feeling good, he would have stayed, I’m sure, but obviously he wasn’t feeling great and his health was a bit of a concern for him.”

It’s easy to second-guess now. Maybe Lyle rushed his return at the start of the year. Maybe the week-in, week-out toil of a touring pro was too much, too soon for his body, for his mind.

“I thought I was ready,” he said, “but I could have sat back for another 12 months and thought I was ready, too. The more I sat at home, the less I’d want to come over.”

What brought Lyle back to the game was his competitiveness. That part has never waned. He started playing three or four times a week at his local club, but he couldn’t get a true read on his game while playing with 20-handicappers.

So Lyle returned here this week at the Frys, eager and ready for another, likely final, try.

“I’ve said all along that I want to give it one last chance,” he said. “I’ve been given one last chance to play golf. If I unfortunately lose my status and lose my job, then I can’t sit back in years to come and say that I didn’t try hard enough.

“I’m giving it everything I’ve got to stay out here, but I guess in the long run, at the end of those 20 events I’ve played, if I miss every cut or I haven’t made enough money, then reality might set in and maybe I’m not good enough anymore. It’s always in the back of your mind that maybe I’m not good enough.”

And then Thursday happened.

The opening-hole birdie. The hole-out for eagle on the 16th hole. The 3-under 69 that put him in a tie for 29th, in line for a much-needed paycheck.

“It still gives you that glimmer of hope that there’s still some game left in the body,” he said. His late-afternoon play was the highlight of another otherwise sleepy opener at Silverado. Problem was, he had a tee time some 13 hours later, the second group off at 7:30 a.m. local – and that’s a big ask for a player with already low energy levels.

Sure enough, he looked like a different player Friday. He opened with a bogey. He dropped two other shots. He made a triple on the par-4 third (his 12th of the day), when his tee shot kicked out of bounds after an unlucky bounce off a tree.

Playing in the group ahead, Allenby occasionally turned around and watched his mate’s progress.

“A few lazy shots,” he said, “and it could just be fatigue. And that can happen. He probably put a lot coming into this tournament. He had a good round yesterday; he’s pretty excited. And then to try and come out early this morning, it’s very difficult for anyone, really, but even more so for him.”

To his credit, Lyle didn’t blame his second-round 77 on fatigue: “Just one of those days things didn’t go my way,” he said.

Instead, he lamented a poor setup with his wedges that seemingly always left him stuck between 100 and 130 yards, unable to create enough spin on three-quarter shots into Silverado’s rock-hard greens.

“He needs to get his swagger back,” said Lyle’s caddie, Darren Woolard. “He’s been out of the mix. He needs to start believing that he belongs. He showed me a lot today.”

But the cold, hard numbers show that the clock is ticking on his comeback. Nine events remain, and the goal remains the same: $217,680. He hopes to Monday-qualify for next week’s stop in Vegas. If he misses out, his next (and only) other Tour start the rest of the year will come in the opposite-field event in Mississippi.

Why not tee it up at Mayakoba, he was asked, because he has a stellar record there, with three top-10s in his last four tries?

“It’s bad juju down there,” he said, a sad reminder that his past is never too far behind.

The Mexico event is where he found out that the cancer had returned, in 2012.

“I work in weird ways,” he said, “and I don’t want to go to a place where I’ve got nothing but bad memories.”

Who knows if this will work out, if the numbers will turn in his favor, if this is his last attempt. He has beaten long odds before.

“I still want to do it – it’s always been my dream,” he said. “I guess at some point if it’s not working out the way I want it to, I think the decision for me would be pretty easy to walk away and be happy. But there’s always that glimmer of hope that I keep in my back pocket everywhere I go, like maybe next week will be the week.”

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.