Monday Scramble: Green with envy

By Ryan LavnerApril 17, 2017, 3:00 pm

Wesley Bryan wins in his home state, Ian Poulter has a make-or-break week, Lydia Ko fires another caddie, the bros hit the Bahamas and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Bryan’s life story is a movie waiting to be made – his improbable rise from struggling mini-tour player, to popular trick-shot artist with millions of YouTube hits, to dominant Tour Player of the Year, and now to PGA Tour winner, after his hard-fought victory at the RBC Heritage.

There were no tricks to his win Sunday, closing with a 4-under 67 to erase a four-shot deficit entering the final round.

It’s a life-changing title for the 27-year-old, who now has earned his way into all of the big events, including next year’s Masters – the rarest of home games for the current Augusta, Ga., resident.

Bryan went to the Masters this past year, eating pimento cheese and egg salad sandwiches, and following one of his pals, Russell Henley, during the opening round.


“I can call it my home golf course for the next 51 weeks,” he said. 

Just another chapter in his incredible journey. 

1. The circuit is often marketed as the gateway to the PGA Tour, but not often is it such a direct route to the winner’s circle.

In fact, Bryan became just the third reigning Player of the Year to win the following season on Tour.  

The others were Zach Johnson (2004) and Stewart Cink (1997).  

2. Is there a worse spot than the 54-hole leader at Hilton Head?

The last six winners there all have come from behind – by three or more shots, too. It’s the only Tour event to hold that distinction. 

3. Bryan also became the first Tour winner to quote Ron Burgundy in his post-round news conference.

When asked to explain how his life has flipped upside down over the past 15 months, he said: “I don’t know. Will Ferrell said it best: ‘That escalated quickly.’ Honestly, I’ve got no idea. It’s still kind of surreal.” 

4. Sure, Luke Donald needed a good finish, regardless of the tournament. But at some point it has to be frustrating to come so close, so often to winning at Harbour Town.

The Englishman shot 68 in the final round to finish second there for the fifth time. It was his record seventh top-3 overall.

And he's still looking for his first win there.

“I just keep trying,” he said. “Obviously it’s a place I feel comfortable and I like and I’ve had a lot of success. I’ve got to just keep pounding away, and hopefully I’ll get there.” 

5. Ian Poulter was one of the most animated players on the course Sunday, and he had no chance to win. That’s because he was fighting for his card.

Last week at Hilton Head and this week in San Antonio, he needed to earn $144,669 or 117.75 FedEx Cup points to satisfy the requirements of his major medical extension.

He came up about $30,000 shy, which means he’ll need to make the cut – and make up the difference – this week at TPC San Antonio, which is one of the hardest courses on Tour. He tied for 37th in his only appearance there, in 2013.

“I’m a little hot under the collar right now,” he said. “I’m not disappointed I didn’t get the job done today in terms of finishing where I need to finish, but that today could have been a victory and I let it slip.”

Poulter shot 73 and finished five back. 

6. What was it that sent Jason Dufner reeling at the Heritage?

No doubt, his putter was the biggest culprit – no one was worse Sunday, as he lost a whopping 3.59 strokes to the field on the greens, took 34 swipes and sank only 35 feet worth of putts.

Dufner tumbled from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 11th.

Others would argue it was karma. Video surfaced of Dufner, after making bogey on the fifth hole, rudely dropping his putter by the hole that his caddie was forced to scoop up. He got skewered on social media, and he went 5 over for his next 10 holes. Coincidence, we think not. 

7. One of the few things that didn’t go right for Paul Dunne last week at the European Tour’s Trophe Hassan II was the arrival of his luggage. It didn't make it until Saturday night.

That led Dunne to go shopping in Rabat.

“I have to apologize to my sponsors,” he said, “that I’m wearing random clothes which I bought in a shop because I lost my suitcase and it’s being found as we speak. I’ve had none of my own clothes this week; I had to buy them in the shops.”

Dunne, who played college golf at Alabama-Birmingham, rose to fame at the 2015 Open at St. Andrews, where he shared the 54-hole lead, the first amateur in that spot since 1927.

Dunne hadn’t enjoyed much pro success (just two top-10s) until traveling to Morocco. He lost the playoff to Edoardo Molinari, after the Italian birdied 17, made eagle on 18 and then won the title with a par on the first extra hole. It was Molinari's first Euro Tour victory in seven years.

8. The Zurich Classic won’t offer world-ranking points this year, but that hasn’t deterred some of the world’s best from teeing it up in what should be a fun format.

Switching this year to a two-man team competition that will feature both foursomes and fourball matches – the first on Tour since 1981 – has brought together seven of the top 10 players in the world.

The latest to commit was Jordan Spieth, who will partner with fellow Texan and close friend Ryan Palmer. Some of the other teams include: Jason Day-Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson, Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley, Bubba Watson-J.B. Holmes, Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay and Daniel Berger-Thomas Pieters.

The novelty may wear off after a year or two, but it just goes to show how today’s players appreciate outside-the-box thinking, even without world-ranking points on offer. 

9. Cristie Kerr played her last 52 holes without a bogey to overtake leader Su-Yeon Jang and capture the Lotte Championship.

Kerr closed with rounds of 62-66 and broke the tournament record at 20-under 268. It was the 39-year-old’s 19th career LPGA title.

It is the second victory of the year for the Americans (Brittany Lincicome, Pure Silk Bahamas). That matched their output from all of last year.

10. In danger of losing her world No. 1 ranking, Lydia Ko responded by finishing in a tie for second in Hawaii. It was her best finish of the season.

So Yeon Ryu could have overtaken Ko with a victory and if Ko finished fifth or worse.

Though she held on to the top ranking for at least the next two weeks, Ko is in the midst of a 16-event winless drought, the longest of her career.

In 16 starts since the Women’s British, she has only seven top-10s; No. 3 Ariya Jutanugarn, meanwhile, has 14 top-10s in 18 appearances during that span. 

11. And perhaps that was enough to lead Ko to make more changes. After the Lotte, she fired another caddie, this time Gary Matthews, after only nine events. She has developed a rather unflattering reputation ... 

While the #SB2K17 crew reconvened in Baker’s Bay for another week of sun and fun, all your trusty correspondent did last week was drive seven hours home from Augusta, Ga.; head to the doctor for a yearly checkup; complete a few hours of yard work; wait five hours for a plumber; and then clean the entire house before and after Easter brunch.

Yep, these guys win. Again. 

This week's award winners ... 

Still Some Beef: Sergio Garcia and Padraig Harrington. It was interesting to see how Sergio was depicted – first as the ultimate sportsman after his thrilling playoff victory at Augusta, then as the petulant “sore loser” that Harrington saw a decade earlier. Garcia's transformation has been remarkable – and much-needed. 

Hit It Hard: Ollie Schniederjans. The hatless wonder had another chance to win Sunday, and it appears his go-to shot under pressure is to hit it hard. Really hard. On the last two holes, he smoked a pitching wedge 180 and 184 yards. Unfortunately for him, he needed more club on 17, with his tee shot expiring in the bunker short and leading to a bogey. 

Golf Quote of the Year: Bryan, describing what it felt like once he got to the 17th tee with the lead: “Honestly, I just threw up a little bit in my mouth. And I was like, Shoot, I guess this is what nervous feels like.” 

Undecided: Maverick McNealy. The world No. 1 amateur and newly named Hogan Award winner – given to the graduating senior who excels on and off the course – said last week that he is still no closer to making a decision on whether to turn pro or remain an amateur after college. The guess here is that he’ll give the pro ranks a try, if only to see how good he can be, but the next few months will be telling. He'll remain an amateur at least through the Walker Cup in September.

All Good Things …: Bernhard Langer. His second-round 73 Saturday at TPC Sugarloaf snapped his record streak of 36 consecutive rounds of par or better on the PGA Tour Champions. Fittingly, he bounced back the next day with a 65, the best round of the day, to finish second. Because of course he did. 

Best wishes: Bruce Lietzke. The 13-time Tour winner will undergo surgery today to remove a brain tumor. 

Four Weeks Too Late: Dustin Johnson. The world No. 1, who withdrew from the Masters after a freak back injury, committed to return at the Wells Fargo in early May. He’ll be looking for his fourth consecutive victory. 

Good Advice for Next Time: John Peterson. Note to self: Take a week off after a bender. 

No Need To Tell Us About …: Your round at Augusta. Unless it leads to a larger discussion, like this, there is no need for media members to offer a blow-by-blow of their embarrassing 100-plus score the day after the Masters. 

When You Have Your Own Spring Break Getaway: Gary Player. Well done, sir. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Jim Furyk. He owns one of the best records at Harbour Town, and he appeared in good shape after an opening 68. Then he inexplicably sank to a 74 in easy morning conditions to miss the cut by a shot. Sigh. 

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)