Monday Scramble: Tiger nears return; Bro-hamas!

By Ryan LavnerApril 25, 2016, 3:00 pm

Charley Hoffman shakes off the Sunday blues, Tiger Woods hurtles toward a return, a few top players skip the Olympics, #SB2K16 changes Golf Snapchat forever and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

It seems Woods is further along in his recovery than originally thought. 

It was just over a month ago that your correspondent saw Woods at his course opening in Houston. He moved gingerly and said repeatedly that he had no idea when he would return to competition. At that point, he appeared likely to sit out the rest of the year, that he would pace himself.


Now, he’s blasting drivers and stinging 2-irons and appearing at a junior clinic to show off all of his hard work. Now, it’d be a surprise if he didn’t tee it up in the next month, which is what Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reported Friday – that "all indications" are Woods will return at next week’s Quail Hollow Championship and The Players the following week. Even confidante Notah Begay III said that Woods was on the “back half” of his rehabilitation and that he'd come back sooner rather than later.   

Only Woods knows his body, of course, but this would be a miraculous recovery from where he was just about six weeks ago. He can’t afford another setback, not after three back surgeries, and this return would seem premature. Again. 

1. Of the 201 qualifiers, Hoffman had a better final-round scoring average than exactly one player on the PGA Tour entering last week's Valero Texas Open.

On eight previous Sundays, he had averaged 74.75 and was a combined 26 over par, with only one under-par round (a meaningless 70 in Phoenix that gave him a tie for 51st). Other than that, he had three rounds of 75 – including last week, when he had a chance to win at the Heritage – as well as an 80 during the wind-swept finale at Torrey Pines. 

“It’s been hard,” Hoffman said of his final-round struggles. “Being in contention every Sunday and not closing the door is not me.”

In fact, in two of his three prior victories, he had closed with a 66 in Mexico and, most memorably, fired a sizzling 62 in Boston. And so Sunday in San Antonio, he steadied himself after a few stumbles – and, yes, it wasn't always pretty, for he missed a good look on 15, sailed his tee shot long and left on 16, chunked a wedge on 17 and hit a shaky sand shot on 18 – but in the end, he birdied three of the last eight holes, including a 9-footer on the last, to shoot 69 and edge Patrick Reed by one.

Now, he's ranked 196th in final-round scoring.

2. By the way, on the celebration scale of Dufner to Tiger, who knew The Hoff would rank closer to the GOAT of fist-pumpers? This was terrific:

3. Just go ahead and pencil Hoffman into the 2017 Texas Open in your one-and-done fantasy league. He now has seven consecutive top-13 finishes at TPC San Antonio, and since 2010 he's 43 under par there – 29 shots better than any other player during that span. 

4. No one has been more consistent this season than Reed – his eight top-10s are tops on Tour – but he’ll remember the Texas Open as the tournament that got away.

No, he never held the lead coming down the stretch, but he made par from the middle of the par-5 14th fairway and then missed a pair of 8-foot birdie putts on 16 and 17. Reed put a lot of pressure on a player who had plenty of Sunday scar tissue, but ultimately he couldn’t nail down his first title of the season.

“I’m still first loser,” he said afterward. “I’m tired of finishing in second and top-five and top-10. I need to close out tournaments and get Ws.” 

5. Three marquee names have dropped out of the Olympics in the past week, causing even more debate about whether (1) golf should even be in the Summer Games, and (2) why world-class athletes are passing on the opportunity to represent their country at the biggest spectacle in sports.

Vijay Singh, Adam Scott and Louis Oosthuizen all cited the hectic summer schedule as one of the biggest reasons why they won’t make the trip to Rio – and that’s the shame in all of this, because golf’s biggest decision-makers had seven years (!) to get it right and clearly did not. During the heart of the season, there are four huge tournaments in a seven-week stretch, followed by the Olympics, followed by the FedEx Cup playoffs. It’s madness.

Though the belief here is that the top players are being shortsighted and that all (or at least most) will buy in once the pageantry of the Olympics begins, it’s hard to fault Scott and Oosthuizen for choosing a major over a medal.

They shouldn’t have had to choose in the first place.

6. Last week, Jack Nicklaus, Gary Player and Johnny Miller criticized the threesome who have opted to skip the Olympics, with the Golden Bear saying that it was a “shame for the game of golf.” 

Respected opinions, all of them, but they also don’t have to play this summer. The stars do. 

7. What happened in Baker's Bay definitely didn’t stay there, not with Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas Snapchatting all of their shenanigans from the greatest spring break trip ever* 

(*the greatest one that was documented on Snapchat by professional golfers) 

Sorry, but it’s not an exaggeration to say that we enjoyed watching these clips of golf's frat brothers more than any tournament action this past week, at least until the final half hour Sunday. It was a hoot to see all of these guys acting their age for a change, having fun, enjoying a life with which we are completely unfamiliar. They played golf shirtless and shoeless. They imitated golf announcers. They even found a dog!

That Rory McIlroy chimed in with this tweet made #SB2K16 even more legendary. (McIlroy, by the way, seemed to be enjoying himself, as well.) Thanks for the entertainment, lads.

8. Couldn’t help but chuckle when an email from the PGA Tour popped into the inbox last week, with a headline that read: DECHAMBEAU’S HOT START COULD LEAD TO WEB.COM TOUR FINALS APPEARANCE. 

Here’s guessing that the recently minted pro isn’t thinking about that.

Even with a missed cut last week at the Valero Texas Open – essentially a free start, thanks to his top-10 the previous week in Hilton Head – DeChambeau is already in great shape to earn special temporary status and then make a run at earning his card via the top 125. Running on fumes after a whirlwind few weeks, the 22-year-old was uncharacteristically wayward with his ball-striking, leading to rounds of 74-73 in calm conditions. He’ll take this week off, then head to Charlotte for the Quail Hollow, his second of seven sponsor exemptions this season.  

9. After a red-hot start to the new year, Phil Mickelson has cooled of late, with a second consecutive missed cut coming last week at TPC San Antonio.

The biggest reason? His short game. 

Over his last two starts, Lefty is taking one and a half more putts per round; getting up-and-down 15 percent less; and converting about 20 percent fewer of his sand-save opportunities. 

As a result, his Tour-leading scoring average of 69.3 over his first eight starts has ballooned to 74.8 over his last two appearances.  

10. Ricky Barnes will have to wait a bit longer for his first PGA Tour title. He failed to convert a 54-hole lead in San Antonio, stumbling to a 74 on the final day and finishing in a tie for fourth.

Only 18 active players have more career starts without a victory than Barnes, who is now 0-for-222. 

11. The Lydia-Inbee rivalry that was supposed to dominate the 2016 LPGA season has yet to materialize. 

Ko has done her part, winning twice, but now Park is slated to miss even more time because of a thumb injury. Park, who already missed a month earlier this year because of a back injury, expects to return sometime in late May. 

It’s been a frustrating year – she has only a pair of top-10s in seven starts. 

12. That’s victory No. 2 on the Tour for Wesley Bryan, one half of the famous trick-shot team, and this one came with a cool twist.

It started like this: 

Coleman, who handles the social media for Callaway Golf, made good on his promise, documented the experience on Bryan’s bag (here and here, with a full recap here), and, well, had a front-row seat to the 26-year-old’s four-shot romp in Mexico. (Last month, I wrote about Wesley Bryan here.) 

A follow-up to last week's item ... 

New Georgia Tech basketball coach Josh Pastner posted this tweet, mere days after saying "any of my assistant coaches, if they’re golfers, not working for me":

Wow, that's quite an about-face!

Maybe his public relations staff wanted to have a word. Maybe he realized the error of his ways. Or maybe he's just a huge hypocrite. Stay tuned next week.

This week's award winners ... 

Can’t Imagine This Happens Very Often: The Pillers. Martin (PGA Tour) and wife Gerina (LPGA) each had a good chance to win on their respective tour Sunday. Martin staked himself to a two-shot lead before a double bogey on the 13th hole. Gerina moved within a shot of the lead in brutal conditions at Lake Merced before a double on 11. Martin tied for fourth, while Gerina shared third. Good stuff. 

Don’t Publicize Your Mischief, Vol. 1893: Kevin Kisner. After a Vice Sports video made the rounds showing Kisner and a bunch of buddies betting, drinking beer and racing golf carts at Palmetto, he said on Twitter that he’s been suspended from the Aiken, S.C., club, along with the other members who appeared in the video. “Pretty comical,” he tweeted. 

True to his Word: Andrew "Beef" Johnston. Indeed, he got hammered after his first European Tour title.

Big Coup: European Tour. McIlroy announced Monday that he will skip the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational in favor of the French Open. Even more fallout from the Olympics and the summer scheduling nightmare. Read more here

Not Coming Wiesy: Michelle Wie. She pulled out of the Swinging Skirts because of neck spasms after going 11 over through 15 holes Sunday. It was her fourth missed cut or withdrawal this year.

This Shot was Hit by a Professional Golfer: Hoffman. Though he didn't reach the fairway with his tee shot, at least give him credit for making par. And, you know, winning.

That’s How You Close: Illinois. Trailing by eight heading into the final round of the Big Ten Championship, the Ilini shot a school-record, 24-under 264, didn't count a 4-under 68, recorded the best score of the day by 19 and rolled to another conference title – by 13!

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Jimmy Walker. Defending champion, home game, great track record, solid scoring average this season … and then rounds of 75-77. Sigh.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x