Monday Scramble: Inbee warrants praise, not Slam

By Ryan LavnerAugust 3, 2015, 3:00 pm

Inbee Park moves another step closer to the real career Grand Slam, Troy Merritt proves that every pro is only one tweak away from a breakthrough, Tiger Woods shows us what he's capable of and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble: 

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan once said that he feared making the Evian Championship the fifth major because he “didn’t want to be the guy who messed with tradition.”

Except that's exactly what he's done. 

It's a shame, but in the wake of Inbee Park’s comeback victory at the Women’s British Open, there has been more discussion about Slam semantics than the world No. 1’s brilliance.

Instead of celebrating the fact that Park became only the seventh player in history to win four different majors, the LPGA felt compelled to send out a 247-word statement explaining why it considers this the career Grand Slam. 

No one is buying it.

By definition, a player must win all of the designated majors to accomplish the feat, and so Park is actually one shy.

By adding a fifth major, the LPGA wanted to “create an incremental opportunity for the women’s game” – or, let's face it, pad the tour’s wallets – but now it also wants to change what constitutes a Slam, creating something called a Super Career Grand Slam, which sounds like it costs $6.49 with a free soft drink.

The tour can’t have it both ways. 

There's little doubt that Park will earn that final piece eventually, perhaps as soon as next month in France. But for now confusion reigns.

It’s a mess, and it’s unfortunate, and it’s clear that Whan’s fears have been realized. This is what happens when you mess with tradition.

1. Sunday at Turnberry, Inbee Park overcame a three-shot deficit, went 7 under par in a 10-hole stretch around the turn and leapfrogged mentee Jin Young Ko down the stretch to capture the elusive Open trophy.

That’s now six (!) wins in her last 14 majors. Put another way: While Inbee is winning the biggest titles in golf at a 42 percent clip, her peers haven’t won more than a single major over that span. She’s overwhelming the competition.

2. Quietly, Inbee has now joined Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb with seven career major titles.

The only players with more: Patty Berg (15), Mickey Wright (13), Louise Suggs (11), Annika Sorenstam (10), Babe Zaharias (10) and Betsy Rawls (8). 

A reminder that Park just turned 27 …

3. Here's a list of the youngest players to reach seven majors. Note where Inbee now ranks among the all-time greats: 

  1. Tiger Woods: 26 years, 3 months, 15 days
  2. Mickey Wright: 26 years, 8 months, 1 days
  3. Inbee Park: 27 years, 0 months, 21 days
  4. Jack Nicklaus: 27 years, 4 months, 29 days

4. South Koreans continue to dominate the LPGA circuit. They occupy three of the top-5 spots in the world ranking (and nine of the top 18). They have won 10 of the last 16 majors. They are six of the top 12 earners on the money list. And there are even more talented Koreans in the pipeline, such as Ko (pictured), who was playing in her first major and finished solo second. 

It’s gotten so dire for the Americans that only one U.S. player (37-year-old Cristie Kerr) broke par at the Women’s British Open.  

5. The biggest problem now for Park? “I don’t know what else to go for,” she said.

Here’s a hint: The Evian begins in 38 days. Karrie Webb is the only player to win five different LPGA majors.

6. Troy Merritt added his name to the list of the most surprising winners of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season.

Entering the Quicken Loans, he had missed his last five cuts and was on the FedEx Cup bubble at No. 123. Then he made small tweaks in his full-swing setup (moving his hands slightly forward at address) and putting (squaring his shoulders), shot 61 in the third round and closed out his first PGA Tour title with a Sunday 67. Stout stuff.

No, it doesn’t rate as big of a stunner as James Hahn at Riviera, or Padraig Harrington at Honda, or David Lingmerth at Memorial, but it underscores the point that even the 180th-ranked player in the world is capable of turning around his game – and winning – in a hurry. 

7. Playing against a weak field on a rain-softened course, Tiger Woods got off to a promising start in his first tournament since a major disappointment. But with the pressure ratcheted up on the weekend, he sprayed shots and endured a frustrating round that left him well off the pace, only to salvage the week with a sharp final day that left many optimistic about his next start. 

Sound familiar?

That was the story of Tiger Woods’ Greenbrier Classic, where he tied for 32nd. And now it also is the story of his Quicken Loans National, where his T-18 finish represented his second-best showing of the season. 

Critics will contend that we should know by now not to overestimate the importance of such a performance. After what was statistically his best ball-striking week in years, Woods traveled to Scotland and looked completely lost at St. Andrews. There’s reason to believe a similar market correction is in order at Whistling Straits, the exposed neo-links where Woods will have to rely more heavily on his uncooperative driver. That said ... 

8. I'm slightly more optimistic, because Woods at RTJ at least showed that he’s capable of playing well enough to contend again. It was an encouraging sign, and frankly, there haven’t been many in the past few years.

Woods needed a week like this desperately, especially after his clunker at the Old Course. He’s preached patience and talked like he’s on the verge of a breakthrough, like it’s as simple as ironing out his spin rates and motor patterns, but there was little to show for it. Now he can point to the fact that six of his last eight non-major rounds have been in the 60s. If he hasn't yet turned the corner, he's at least approaching the curve. 

Saturday’s round provided ample evidence that there is still plenty of work to do, that there is a big difference between playing well for 45 holes and an entire tournament. 

Beginning the day in fifth place, in the most significant round of his "comeback," he made only two birdies and scrambled just to shoot 74 – a score that beat only five players in the field. Sure, there might be a few technical issues at work – many analysts have suggested that he is set up for a fade with a draw downswing that produces a wild two-way miss – but there is a mental hurdle to clear, as well. 

Finally, we can agree with Woods: He's close. How close? Not even he can know for sure.

9. Our senior writer Rex Hoggard, citing “numerous sources,” reported last week that a split between Woods and swing consultant Chris Como was imminent.

Woods was asked about the status of his relationship with Como after his first round.

Reporter: Chris Como is not here this week. Can you address that? Are you two still working together?

Woods: Yeah. Is there a problem? 

Reporter: No. 

Woods: OK. 

About 12 hours later, Como was in Gainesville, Va., and on the range with Woods as he warmed up for his second round, what could be seen as a blatant attempt to silence the rampant rumors.

As noted by Fox Sports’ Robert Lusetich, the exchange brought to mind a similar line of questioning Woods faced at the 2010 Players, when rumors swirled that he and coach Hank Haney had split.

Reporter: I’m just wondering if you could say what your status is with Hank.

Woods: I’m still working with him. 

That was not true, of course. About a week later, Haney announced on his website that he had resigned as Woods’ coach.

Are Woods and Como still working together? Or is it possible that Woods is keeping Como around through the PGA, just so he can avoid the breakup questions before what figures to be a two-month break? We should have more clarity this fall.

10. At No. 185 in the FedEx Cup points list, Woods needs either a big week at the PGA or another tournament start to try and make the playoffs. The latter never seemed like a reasonable option, because he has never played the Wyndham Championship.

Yet Woods himself brought up the possibility of adding Greensboro in an 11th-hour bid to make the postseason. 

“Hopefully I can play next week at Bridgestone if everything goes well this week,” he said, “and then we’ll see about Wyndham after that and hopefully I’ll be in the playoffs and we’ll move from there.” 

If he doesn’t add the Wyndham – keep in mind he hasn’t played 72 holes in back-to-back weeks since fall 2013 – then it looks like Woods will need to finish first or second at Whistling Straits to make the playoffs.

11. Woods is far from the only big name in need of a strong finishing kick. Here are five other notables who are currently outside the top 125 in FedEx Cup points with three regular-season events to go: 

  • No. 127 Luke Donald. After a ragged start to the season, the former world No. 1 has been better of late, with his run of three consecutive top-12s worldwide ending in Canada.   
  • No. 138 Charl Schwartzel. The former Masters champion has had only two bright spots this season: a top-10 at the Match Play and a seventh-place showing at the U.S. Open.
  • No. 159 Graeme McDowell. Struggling at times with his motivation, G-Mac has only one top-30 finish worldwide since the Desert Swing at the start of the year.   
  • No. 165 Martin Kaymer. After missed cuts in the first two majors of the year, he tied for 12th in his most recent start at St. Andrews.
  • No. 176 Ernie Els. The Big Easy has fallen on hard times – he has a career-high eight missed cuts this season. 

12. With a back-nine 39 at RTJ, Bill Haas squandered a golden opportunity to win his second event of the season and, secondarily, accrue some much-needed Presidents Cup points. Even with the ugly finish that sent Haas from a share of first to joint fourth, he still moved from No. 16 to No. 13 on the points list. 

Why is that important? The top 10 players through the Deutsche Bank automatically qualify for the U.S. team. Obviously, Haas wants to play for his father/captain, Jay, and qualifying on his own would help avoid any cries of nepotism if he were chosen as a pick.  

13. Rickie Fowler had two pro titles in his first five full seasons. He was a few shots away Sunday from earning his third W in the past 84 days. Floodgates, people. 

14. Justin Thomas has separated himself from a strong pack of contenders for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Though he’s often unfairly labeled as just “Jordan Spieth’s good friend,” the 22-year-old has made a splash in his first year on the big tour, racking up seven top-10 finishes, including a T-4 at the Quicken Loans. Only Spieth (12), Zach Johnson (8), Hideki Matsuyama (8) and Brandt Snedeker (8) have more top 10s this season.  

By far the most bizarre story of the week involved Billy Hurley and his father, Willard. 

On Tuesday, Hurley entered the press center at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club and made an emotional plea to the media in an attempt to locate his father, who had been missing since July 19. Three days later, while Billy was grinding to make the cut in Virginia, Willard was found in Texas. He told police that he was “fine physically”, was “simply traveling,” and offered no reason for the sudden departure that led his son to make an appeal to the public to help find his dad. 

Even though Willard was found the previous day, the family had not yet heard from Willard as of Saturday.   

"At this point," a police spokesman said, "there’s nothing else we can do."

You know you're from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when ... you eat corn on the cob out of the claret jug. 

Some fans didn't particularly care for this gesture. 

@BilltheBrit1 called it “crass.” @AussieDutchman said that Zach was a “redneck” who was “disrespecting” all of the names on the trophy. @SteveSampson said that it was “as classy as your victory speech. Not very.” Um, sorry, but how is this any worse than drinking that awful Jagermeister out of the jug? 

Heckuva way to close out a win by Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who slashed out of the hay on the 18th hole and nestled his approach to within a few feet to set up the winning birdie in his championship match against Robert Karlsson in the Paul Lawrie Match Play. It is his third career Euro Tour title. 

• Whistling Straits is a tough walk even from the middle of the fairway, so it seems unlikely that Rory McIlroy, recovering from a ruptured ankle ligament, will be able to tee it up next week at the PGA. Still, we should know definitively by the end of the week. He won't let the will-he-or-won't-he drama drag into tournament week. 

The gold star of the week goes to Lizette Salas, who handled a media firestorm at Turnberry with grace and professionalism. Donald Trump hijacked the first round of the Women’s British by helicoptering into town, and Salas, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, found herself in the middle of the political controversy after playing her opening round. 

She took the high road: “Everyone has a right to say what they feel. That’s what is great about living in the United States. I’m happy to be the child of Mexican immigrants, and I’m proud of my heritage.”

• After making an ace in the first round, Rickie bought some cold beverages for the ink-stained wretches in the media tent. And not just any cold beverages, but Bud Light and Coors Light. Cheap, watery beer – he knows the way to sportswriters’ hearts!

Another start brought more injury concerns for one of the LPGA’s most snakebitten players. Michelle Wie, who began the week in a protective boot, withdrew during the second round of the Women’s British when she slipped and aggravated a left ankle injury. An achy hip, knee, ankle, foot – all in a few months’ time. 

To answer your first question: I like the current setup. Every major has its own appeal: The Masters is the most exclusive event in golf; the U.S. Open the most democratic; the Open the most worldly; and the PGA the strongest. The Masters can invite past champions because the field is so limited; it hasn’t had more than 100 players since 1966. 

The topic of exemptions for past WGC winners is an interesting one, especially since it doesn’t seem right that Tiger Woods, an eight-time Bridgestone winner, isn’t in the field this week at Firestone. Inviting past champions of every WGC event gets tricky, though. It’d be fine at events like the Bridgestone, which has the wiggle room with less than 80 qualifiers, but what to do at the 64-man Match Play? Invite past champions, and all of a sudden the field is not only weaker, but it also keeps out deserving players. That wouldn’t fly. Here's a compromise: Since a player already receives a three-year Tour exemption for a WGC win, give him a spot in every non-Match Play WGC for three years, too. 

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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