Monday Scramble: Captains, you're on the tee

By Ryan LavnerAugust 29, 2016, 4:00 pm

Patrick Reed picks a good time to win, Rickie Fowler picks a bad time to lose (twice), the Ryder Cup picture comes into focus, Ariya Jutanugarn proves she's the best female player and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

The U.S. Ryder Cup picture became a bit clearer on Sunday when Patrick Reed picked up two wins and Rickie Fowler had a stunning back-nine meltdown at Bethpage Black. 

Reed was already a virtual lock for the team, after his consistent play this season and inspired performance at Gleneagles, but nailing down his first win in nearly 20 months gave captain Davis Love III more freedom with his picks.

One of those spots is likely to go to Fowler, which means the next three weeks are essentially an audition for players such as Bubba Watson, Matt Kuchar, Jim Furyk, J.B. Holmes, Justin Thomas and a Hot Hand to be Identified Later.

Now we'll see who shines on the big stage.  

1. Reed has been one of the most consistent players on the PGA Tour this season. He had eight top-10s entering the playoffs, and he’d been 22nd or better in his last six starts.

The only thing missing, of course, was a trophy. He was winless since a victory at the 2015 Tournament of Champions, a limited-field event that kicks off the new year. 

“Top-10ing is great for making a living,” he said. “But at the end of the day, every time we play golf tournament, we don’t settle for top-10s. We’re going out there to try to get a W and try to get hardware and try to get a trophy.” 

2. And so now that Reed has picked up win No. 5 of his career, it elevated him into some elite company.

According to the Golf Channel research department, these are the three youngest players to reach five (or more) PGA Tour wins in the last decade:

  • Jordan Spieth (21)
  • Rory McIlroy (23)
  • Reed (26)

3. Though Reed’s timing was impeccable, it couldn’t have been much worse for Fowler.

He’s been quiet ever since he lost the Phoenix Open playoff on Super Bowl Sunday. His swing got off track, and his putter went cold. But he entered the final round of The Barclays on the verge of playing his way onto the Ryder Cup team, one shot clear of Reed and in need of a solo top-3 finish to automatically qualify. 

Fowler dropped just one shot during a near-flawless first 64 holes at Bethpage Black, but he made three bogeys and a double on the last eight holes. He plummeted all the way into a three-way tie for seventh. Now, he’ll require a captain’s pick, which he should receive, barring injury or alien abduction.

Still, he was smarting afterward. “It will hurt,” he said, “but it’s only going to make it better for next week. I’ll be in a good spot.” 

But it made us think ... 

4. Fowler’s historic finish at The Players seems like a long time ago, no? His reputation as a stone-cold closer has taken a major hit in 2016.

First there was the playoff loss to Matsuyama in Phoenix, where he made a poor club choice off the tee, got an unlucky bounce and found the water. Then there was the Wells Fargo Championship, where he shot 74 after holding the 54-hole lead. 

And then came the final round of The Barclays, where he closed with 74 and finished T-7.

Fowler is now 0-for-4 with at least a share of the 54-hole lead on Tour. His final-round scores in those events: 73, 74, 74, 74. Oy. 

5. Fowler's Sunday collapse made for an emotional Sunday afternoon for Zach Johnson.

When he finished his round, with Fowler still tied for the lead, Johnson was almost assuredly going to be bumped from the eighth and final automatic qualifying spot. He talked afterward of being in a spot that wasn’t “ideal” and that he’s “just got to play better” over the next few weeks. 

Then Fowler shot a back-nine 39.   

Johnson, who has amassed a 6-6-2 record in four Ryder Cups, grabbed the last spot. He was No. 3 in points as recently as July 4, but it's been a struggle of late, with only a pair of top-10s in his past 13 starts. 

Though his precision game wouldn’t seem an ideal fit for brawny Hazeltine, it’s worth remembering that he tied for 10th when the PGA was last held there, in 2009.  

6. This was supposed to be a new-look U.S. team at Hazeltine, but so far only one rookie (Brooks Koepka) has played his way onto the team.

Love should put the best, most deserving players on the team, of course, but he won’t be able to fall back on the “leadership” rationale when making his picks. The Americans already have plenty of it, from veterans like Phil Mickelson and Johnson, and even from a youngster like Jordan Spieth, who is playing his fourth international team competition at age 23.

That’s why we’d like to see Love infuse some new blood onto the team, assuming they show some form over the next few weeks: Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger, Billy Horschel, Gary Woodland, Tony Finau, Kevin Kisner. Somebody different, because you know exactly what you’re getting from a Matt Kuchar-type – a 4-5-2 record. Yawn. 

If Love goes for the same ol’ players, then he shouldn’t be surprised if he returns with the same ol’ result. 

7. If you think Love has three tough picks to make Sept. 12, how about what European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke faces on Tuesday? 

Unlike the American skipper, who has another few weeks to sort out his wildcard selections, Clarke must fill out the rest of his 12-man roster tomorrow. His decision got decidedly more difficult over the weekend, when Thomas Pieters won for the third time in the past year. 

It’s widely assumed that Clarke will take Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer, who will bring veteran leadership and decent form to a team that already has five rookies. (There's also been some chatter across the pond that Clarke will choose Luke Donald, which would be a truly bizarre decision. Yes, he'd be a good foursomes partner for Sergio Garcia, but his runner-up at the Wyndham was his first top-25 since April. There are MUCH better options at Clarke's disposal. Such as ...)

Russell Knox – ranked 20th in the world – was thought to be the leading contender for the final spot, after winning twice this PGA Tour season and edging Pieters by .04 points in the standings, but he’s a short hitter who could struggle in the cold at brawny Hazeltine. Last week was also a worst-case scenario for Knox: He played poorly at The Barclays, where he tied for 60th at another big ballpark, and then Pieters played the first two rounds alongside Clarke (which included an opening 62) and then made three birdies in a row to polish off a closing 65 to win the Made in Denmark.

It’s the big-hitting Pieters’ first victory of the year, but his third in the past 12 months. That's the most of any player over that span. He’s also one of the hottest players on the planet, after finishing fourth at the Olympics, second last week at the Czech Masters and then summoning a winning performance when he needed it most.

“He’s got plenty of good players to pick from,” Pieters said after his win, “so if he doesn’t pick me, then so be it and I’ll work my butt off to get there in the next one.” 

It'd be a tough break for Knox, no doubt, but the best option for Clarke is to take Westwood, Kaymer and Pieters. 

8. For the second time in the past two months, Henrik Stenson withdrew from an event because of a knee injury. It’s the same knee that required arthroscopic surgery during the offseason.

Stenson also withdrew from the U.S. Open but returned the following week at a European Tour event in Germany, where he won for the first time in more than a year and kick-started this epic run.

The Barclays WD was reportedly precautionary and he was scheduled for an MRI last week. Fortunately for Stenson, he’ll get an extra day of rest, with the Deutsche Bank Championship beginning on Friday.

It's terrible timing for the Swede, who was playing some of the best golf of his life, with the Open title, a deep run at the PGA and a silver medal at the Olympics. He’s developed a reputation as golf’s Mr. September, given his track record in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, but that mark is now in jeopardy.

9. In his first start since hitting rock bottom with his putter, Rory McIlroy wasn’t much better at The Barclays.

He missed five putts inside 5 feet and finished the week 77th out of the 79 players who made the cut.

And so, it appears, the fix won’t be as simple as changing from his Nike blade to a Scotty Cameron mallet. McIlroy has lost all confidence on the greens, and until he regains it, somehow, 2016 will continue to be a massive disappointment. 

10. Ariya Jutanugarn – the Best Female Golfer in the World – won for the tour-best fifth time Sunday, and it’s reasonable to assume this is just the beginning of a dominant career.

All five of Jutanugarn’s wins have come since May 8. And to think, she was in position to win the LPGA’s first major of the year, but stumbled down the stretch. That was the common theme for the talented Thai, at least until late this spring.

Lydia Ko might hold the No. 1 ranking, but Jutanugarn has shown over the past few months that she has a much higher ceiling. She averages 266 yards off the tee while mostly hitting 3-woods and 2-irons. She hasn't used a driver since May. Ko, meanwhile, is ranked 118th in distance, and she does most of her damage with iron play and putting. 

If Jutanugarn can figure out how to keep her driver on the map, she'd be unbeatable.

11. There’s always far too much attention on the top-100 bubble at the first playoff event, but five guys played their way into this week’s Deutsche Bank Championship – and for one, at least, well beyond.

Sean O’Hair’s tie for second at Bethpage Black jumped him 93 spots in the standings, from 108th to 15th. He’s safe for the next two events, and could stay inside the top 30 for the Tour Championship with continued good play. He’s only made it to East Lake once, in 2009, when he finished third in the cup.

The other four movers were Sung Kang (who tied a tournament-course record with a Sunday 64), John Huh, Tyrone Van Aswegen and Derek Fathauer.

Dropping out of the postseason were Shane Lowry (who skipped the first event to play in Europe), Peter Malnati, Robert Streb, Lucas Glover and Jonas Blixt. Somehow, the playoffs will survive without them. 

12. The first of 25 PGA Tour cards were handed out Sunday in Portland, and there will be some familiar names teeing it up in the big leagues next season.

Here’s a brief skinny on some of the notable names: 

  • Wesley Bryan: money winner after a three-win season earned him an instant promotion.
  • Ollie Schniederjans: Former No. 1-ranked amateur and high school class of 2011 star. He should be one of the favorites for 2016-17 Rookie of the Year.
  • Trey Mullinax: Part of the Sea Island mafia and a member of Alabama’s back-to-back NCAA title-winning teams from a few years ago.
  • Cheng-Tsung Pan: Arguably the best player to come from a Washington program that has produced a number of studs over the past few years. NCAA runner-up in 2015 had six top-10s in his lone season in the minors. 
  • Brandon Hagy: Five top-10s and should immediately vault into the top 5 on Tour in driving distance.
  • Max Homa: The sweet-swinging 2013 NCAA champion (and entertaining dude) won once to grab the 23rd card on offer.

Twenty-five more cards will be available at the Tour Finals, which begin next week. 

Earlier this week, the PGA Tour's official account hosted a Twitter takeover with Zach Johnson. One of his fans asked about the rough at Bethpage Black, and Johnson attempted to describe that it was very, very penal – you know, difficult and punishing. 

Instead, he wrote this:

The tweet was quickly deleted and corrected, but not before it was screen-shotted for posterity. Since Johnson finished in a tie for 48th, hey, maybe the rough was penile, too. 

This week's award winners ... 

If This Doesn't Excite You, We Can't Be Friends: The Ryder Cup is coming. And as Clarke approached the 18th hole in Denmark, a pep rally broke out:

Random Thought of the Week: If the fans at Bethpage were this belligerent for the opening playoff event, what kind of debauchery is going to unfold at the 2024 Ryder Cup there? Starting to think a European player might get tackled. Or there'll be vomiting on a tee box. It's going to be chaotic.

Rio Bump: The Olympic sweep. Reed, Pieters and Jutanugarn – Olympians, all of them – won on their respective tours Sunday. So much for the supposed summer-schedule burnout. 

Tweet of the Week: Colt Knost. No matter your politics, this is just good Twitter:

He's Going to Slow Down Eventually, Right?: Bernhard Langer. A day after turning 59, he tied Lee Trevino for second all-time on the Champions Tour wins list, with 29. 

Is the LPGA Heading to Vegas Anytime Soon?: Ayako Uehara. She made holes-in-one on consecutive days in Canada, just the fourth player in LPGA history to accomplish the feat … and yet we are, still without a single ace. 

How to Earn a New Nickname: Patrick "The Hammer" Reed, after this gavel malfunction at the New York Stock Exchange:

Biggest Letdown: Tom Lewis. Sure, he blew a golden opportunity to shoot the first sub-60 score in European Tour history, as he was 12 under through 13 holes and made three bogeys coming in. Even more of a bummer than "settling" for 62 was the rest of his week: He didn’t break 70 the last three rounds and tied for 26th.

Don’t Play, Bad Things Happen: Ian Poulter. Sidelined since June because of a foot injury, he has now dropped to 101st in the world ranking. It’s the first time that the Englishman has been outside the top 100 in more than 13 years (May 2003). 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. Came into New York rolling with consecutive top-4s on difficult courses, but once again, his putter let him down in a big way. He lost 3.75 (!) shots on the greens in the second round, missing the cut by a shot. Sigh. 

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry