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Monday Scramble: What else can you do?

By Ryan LavnerAugust 28, 2017, 3:40 pm

Dustin Johnson reminds us who's No. 1, Jordan Spieth surrenders a big lead, playoff fever hits the PGA and tours, and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Spieth’s reaction as he walked up to the 18th green said it all.

He turned and smiled at his caddie, Michael Greller. He slightly shrugged his shoulders.

How do you possibly beat THAT?

In one of the best finishes of the PGA Tour season, Johnson took an unfathomable line off the tee en route to a 341-yard drive, then flipped a lob wedge to 4 feet for a birdie, a playoff victory at The Northern Trust and his fourth title of the season.

This was the DJ of the spring, when he looked and was unbeatable, when everyone else was playing for second place, when he entered the Masters as the prohibitive favorite. That’ll be the biggest what-if of the year – what if he didn’t fall on the stairs and injure his back on the eve of the year's first major? – but there still is time to cap his most dominant season yet.

This was a heck of a start. 

1. After swirling in an 18-footer for par on the 72nd hole (following a smart layup), Johnson felt the breeze at his back and hammered his tee shot over the lake, with a 310-yard carry.

Spieth regretted that he didn’t take a more aggressive line off the tee, leaving him a 7-iron as opposed to Johnson’s wedge.

Here’s the disparity on ShotLink:

Said Spieth: “At that point, I have to try and make par the best I can, and I’m just hoping. I’m at such a disadvantage.”  

2. This was Johnson’s first victory since he ran off three in a row in March, and he said earlier this week that he came into the playoffs under the radar.

“I was struggling a little bit,” he said.

Two good practice sessions got him back on track, and on Sunday night, with the trophy by his side, he declared: “I feel about as good as I did before Augusta.”

That's bad news for the rest of the field.

3. Much is made of Johnson’s prodigious length (and for good reason), but it was his grittiness, wedge play and clutch putting that earned him the victory at Glen Oaks.

DJ led the field in scrambling, getting up-and-down 13 times in 16 chances.

None were better than his saves on the last two holes.

On the par-3 17th, he flared his tee shot into the greenside bunker, splashed out to 3 feet and saved par. On the 18th hole in regulation, Johnson drew a terrible lie in the rough. He thought about muscling his approach shot toward the green, hoping to catch one of the greenside bunkers, but instead chose to lay up to 90 yards and rely on his much-improved wedge play. He sank the slippery 18-footer – his ball catching the right edge, spinning around the cup and dropping in the back door – to force a playoff.

His power took over from there.

“This is the most excited I’ve been on a golf course in a while,” he said. “That was the first time that I really had to work hard for my win.” 

4. Maybe we should have seen this one coming from Spieth, golf’s most volatile closer.

Though he had cruised to a stress-free win earlier this year at Pebble Beach, his last two opportunities were rife with drama.

First was the Travelers, where he needed a long putt late on the back nine and then a holed bunker shot in the playoff. Then came The Open, where he lost his three-shot lead in four holes and made one of the most remarkable bogeys in major-championship history before going on his torrid run.

And on Sunday, he had another final round that was more stressful than he wanted.

Spieth built a five-shot lead after five holes but was tied as he walked off the 10th green. He once again showed a flair for the dramatic – holding birdie putts on 13 and 14, sinking a crucial 18-footer for par on 17 and expertly lagging a 75-footer on 18 – but he couldn’t match Johnson’s birdie in the playoff.

“It’s very difficult holding a lead on a difficult golf course when the guy you’re playing with goes bogey-free and doesn’t even really sniff a bogey and shoots 4 under,” Spieth said. “Hats off to DJ.” 

It was only Spieth's second lost 54-hole lead in his last 11 attempts, and his first with a multi-shot lead.

5. It would take a spirited playoff run to garner the votes, but Johnson reentered the Player of the Year conversation with his fourth victory.

Justin Thomas is still the frontrunner for the award, and Spieth missed a golden opportunity to overtake him.

DJ’s four wins matches Thomas for the most on Tour this season. He has two WGC titles but – this will hurt him in the POY race – no top-10s in majors after injuring his back. He’ll likely have to win at least one more playoff event, and the FedExCup, to sway some of his peers. 

6. Only three players moved inside the top 100 bubble at the Northern Trust. That’s the fewest since 2007.

One was Bubba Watson, who tied for 10th and punched his ticket to Boston for the 11th consecutive year.

The others were David Lingmerth, who started at No. 103, and Harold Varner III, who continued his hot streak, qualifying for a playoff event for the second consecutive week.

Among the players whose season is now over: Jimmy Walker, Luke Donald, Steve Stricker, Geoff Ogilvy and Harris English.  

7. Rory McIlroy made a curious decision last week when he announced that not only would he play the PGA Tour’s postseason, but he would also tee it up at the European Tour’s Dunhill Links before shutting it down for the rest of the year to rest his injured rib.

How did he reach that decision? He believes that he still can win – he has won at least once every year since 2008 – and shouldn’t do any more damage to his ribs.

But there still is some risk involved. He risks aggravating his injury further and delaying his recovery. He risks developing bad swing habits because he’s overcompensating.

Currently 43rd in the points standings, McIlroy isn't a lock for the Tour Championship.

8. If you don’t think Rickie Fowler’s play while in contention is concerning, consider that he is now 0-for-6 with at least a share of the 36-hole lead on Tour.

His latest disappointment was hard to fathom. Paired with Spieth in the third round, Fowler was 10 shots worse than his playing partner. Only four players had a worse score than Fowler’s third-round 74. He eventually tied for 20th.

9. Can we stop this narrative that Phil Mickelson’s cup streak is in jeopardy? He’s going to be on the team.

The 47-year-old has played in every international team competition since 1994, and a combination of factors will ensure that he plays on his 23rd consecutive U.S. team next month at Liberty National.

Captain Steve Stricker has already said that it’s up to Mickelson (who is No. 18 on the points list) if he wants a spot on the team. Translation: He isn’t the captain to end Lefty’s streak.

Even though he hasn’t played well since the first week of June (he tied for 54th at Glen Oaks and had another birdie-free round), and even though he has appeared lost at times without his trusty sidekick Jim “Bones” Mackay, Mickelson has shown an ability to rise to the occasion and become a productive member of Team USA. He also has a strong track record at this week's venue, TPC Boston.

Most working in his favor: He doesn’t have much competition. Ahead of him on the points list are Kevin Chappell, Brian Harman, Jason Dufner, Gary Woodland, Brandt Snedeker (injured), Brendan Steele and Ryan Moore.

That group isn’t scaring anyone. Four of those players have never made a U.S. team, and with the influx of young talent, the Americans could use a veteran presence like Lefty in the team room.

Next week, barring some late surprise, expect Chappell and Mickelson to get the call.

10. The Tour’s regular-season finale produced its usual share of heartbreak, even if no players cracked the top 25 during the final week of qualifying.

No player suffered more than Keith Mitchell, the former Georgia standout who entered the week at No. 36 on the money list.

Playing in the final group with the most nerves of his career, Mitchell needed a birdie on one of the last two holes to move inside the top 25. He left his birdie putt on the lip on the 71st hole, then was told – incorrectly – that he needed an eagle on the par-5 finishing hole. He pulled his approach shot into a collection area left of the green, and he hit a mediocre chip to 15 feet. Thinking that he’d already squandered his chance to earn his Tour card, Mitchell missed his birdie try wide right, despite getting a free read from his playing partner.

“I hate it ended how it did,” he said afterward. “It’s really, really, really disappointing, and it’s really going to hurt, because I relied on information that I shouldn’t have. I felt like I played amazing.”

Among the players who have already locked up their Tour cards for next season heading into the Tour Finals: money leader Brice Garnett, Stephan Jaeger, Andrew Yun, Aaron Wise and Beau Hossler. Roberto Diaz grabbed the 25th and final card – by more than $6,000 over Mitchell. 

11. Billy Payne announced his retirement this week as the chairman of Augusta National and the Masters. He will step down in mid-October and be replaced by Fred Ridley.

It’s not an overstatement that Payne was arguably the most transformative leader in Augusta National’s history: He admitted the club’s first female members, OK’d incredible improvements to the grounds and spearheaded several grow-the-game initiatives, including the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship and amateur qualifiers in Latin America and Asia. His legacy will continue to grow. 

12. A couple of LPGA-related thoughts from the past week:

  • Sung Hyun Park could become the first player since Nancy Lopez to win both the LPGA’s player and rookie of the year awards. Park earned her second title of 2017 with a final-round 64 at the Canadian Open. She has essentially locked up the top rookie award, but she is now second in the Player of the Year race. 

  • A wildly disappointing year from Lydia Ko got even worse last week, when she missed the cut at the Canadian Open, where she had won two of the previous four years. Still winless, the 20-year-old has taken a massive step backward this year – and she only has herself to blame, after changing swing coaches, equipment and caddies.

  • Can Michelle Wie catch a break? The LPGA’s most star-crossed star, who was six shots back in Ottawa, withdrew before the final round to undergo an emergency appendectomy.  

In one of the most bizarre scenes of the year, Lucas Glover crumpled to the turf after his right foot slid out from under him while he played the 18th hole Saturday at The Northern Trust. He stayed on the ground for nearly 10 minutes, allowing the group behind to play through, and he used his club as a cane to finish the hole.

It sure looked like he’d suffered a major injury in a freak accident and would need surgery and 12 months of rehab … except all he had was a slight knee strain. He played Sunday without pain and tied for 40th.

Clearly, Glover was embarrassed by his dramatic performance on 18. On Saturday night, he wrote a lengthy apology on Twitter, saying that he hated to think his “scene” affected his playing partner, Grayson Murray, and the group behind, David Lingmerth and Charley Hoffman.

Glad he’s OK, and his heartfelt apology was the right (and classy) thing to do.   

This week's award winners ... 

Rock Star of the Week: Brooke Henderson. Playing in front of some of the largest galleries that longtime observers had ever seen on the LPGA, the young and mega-talented Canadian put on a show at her home open, dazzling with a third-round 63 and tying for 12th. With apologies to Adam Hadwin and Graham DeLaet, Brooke might be the country's biggest star.

How Not to Play the 72nd Hole: David Horsey. Trailing by one at the European Tour’s Made in Denmark event, Horsey snap-hooked his tee shot on the final hole and lost his ball, then sent his reload into the water for a triple. He lost to American Julian Suri. 

Our Long National Nightmare is Over: Maverick McNealy. The former Stanford star, who has wavered for the past few years about whether he wanted to turn pro or enter the business world, like his billionaire father, finally decided that he’ll join the play-for-pay ranks after the Walker Cup. More here

So You Want to Try and Make it on Tour?: Monday qualifiers. Of the 95 spots filled by Monday qualifiers this past season, the average score was 65.88. A whopping 73 percent went on to miss the cut, with no top 10s. It makes what Patrick Reed did in 2012 – when he Monday-qualified for six events – all the more remarkable.

Great News: Jarrod Lyle. In the hospital again for a third bout with leukemia, the affable Australian announced that his cancer is now in remission. Keep fighting, pal. 

Decision to Make: Joaquin Niemann. The recipient of the McCormack Medal as the world’s top amateur, the 18-year-old Chilean is now exempt into both summer opens in 2018. But he told two weeks ago that he would play Tour Q-School in the fall and likely turn pro at the beginning of the year. 

Your Home for College Golf: Golf Channel. The men's and women's NCAA Championship will be on our air for at least another 10 years, it was announced Monday. Speaking of which ...

Preseason No. 1: Oklahoma State. The hosts for the '18 NCAAs were named the No. 1 team in the preseason men's college golf polls. No surprise there.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. Leading the FedEx Cup, and with five consecutive top-10s worldwide, Matsuyama was out of sorts early with an opening 74, but he still appeared on the verge of making the cut until a 3-foot miss on his 36th hole. Sigh. 

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.