Monday Scramble: New Big Three vying for No. 1

By Ryan LavnerAugust 31, 2015, 4:00 pm

Jason Day obliterates another top field, the No. 1 spot goes up for grabs, Sergio Garcia tests the FedEx Cup points system, Presidents Cup qualifying comes to a close and more in this week’s Bahston edition of the Monday Scramble: 

Well, that escalated quickly.

In seven short months, Jason Day shed the label of golf’s greatest underachiever, became a major champion and now this week has a chance to achieve one of his two lifelong goals: become world No. 1. 

Day possesses a rare combination of skills – the power of Rory McIlroy, the precision of Adam Scott, the finesse of Jordan Spieth and the determination of Tiger Woods.

He’s been so dialed in over the past few months, so dominant in three of his past four starts, that it prompts an interesting question: When they’re at their absolute best, who wins: Rory, Jordan or Jason? It’s always wise to favor the big hitters, of course, but it’d be fun to find out ... perhaps in 219 days, at Augusta, where all three players have a decent track record. 

With only one speed – fast, very fast – it’s clear that the only thing that can hold Day back now is his injury history, a list of maladies as long as an NFL running back’s. Last week’s pro-am WD because of a tweaked back was just another reminder of his painful past, but five days later it was rendered a mere footnote to another commanding performance. 

McIlroy last summer. Spieth this spring and summer. And now Day in the early fall. What a joy to watch an elite talent in full flight. 

1. It’s safe to say Day has gotten comfortable closing out tournaments.

  • In his first seven full seasons on the PGA Tour, he managed only two wins. 
  • In his last seven months? Four wins.

In his last five starts alone, he is (gulp) 73 under par.

“Ever since (the Open) I just felt a lot more calm on the golf course,” he said. “I felt like it was my time. Mentally, I just felt like, You paid your dues. Now it’s time to go out and win tournaments.”  

2. Some players will flip on cruise control after winning a major. (See Watson, Bubba, 2012.)

Not Day.

With his six-shot romp at The Barclays, he became only the second player since 2000 to win his next start following his first major victory. The other? Martin Kaymer, who did the PGA-KLM double dip in 2010. 

3. Day shot 125 (63-62) on the weekend at Plainfield, a wildly impressive showing considering the course's sloping greens and hack-out rough. The next-best score over the final two rounds? Dustin Johnson … at 132.

The Aussie’s torrid finish marked the third time in the past 30 years that a winner closed with back-to-back rounds of 63 or better, joining Jimmy Walker (2015 Sony) and John Cook (1997 Humana).

4. Which is better:

  • Player A’s résumé: 22 events, 4 wins (two majors), 4 runners-up, 14 top-10s, 17 top-25s, 3 missed cuts, worst major result T-4, $10.39 million, 68.819 stroke average
  • Player B’s résumé: 17 events, 4 wins (one major), 0 runners-up, 9 top-10s, 12 top-25s, 2 missed cuts, worst major result T-28, $7.5 million, 69.280 stroke average

Obviously, it's Player A ... aka Jordan Spieth. 

Unless Day (Player B) wins another event, it's silly to even debate whether he has done enough to challenge Spieth for Player of the Year honors. But if Day wins another tournament (his fifth) and then takes the FedEx Cup, well, then it's at least a topic of conversation. 

Even Day concedes it’s a long shot. When asked Sunday about his Player of the Year vote, he said: “Right now it’s Jordan Spieth … but another win or two and maybe my name will be in the mix.” 

5. The joys of a two-year system with rolling windows and divisors and average points: McIlroy returned to No. 1 in the world last week without teeing it up.

This weekly battle for the top spot has the potential to become a tiresome storyline. This week in Boston, for instance, Rory might need a top-10 finish just to have a chance to retain his No. 1 ranking.

Heck, even Day has an opportunity to climb to the top, if he wins the Deutsche Bank and the other two players finish third or worse. 

Spieth put it best last week when he said of the No. 1 ranking: “It’s great once you reach it, but it’s not something that I’m going to live or die on each week.”  

Besides, does it really matter who is No. 1 over a two-year period? Golf has a neo-Big Three with Rory, Jordan and Jason … and it’s going to be glorious to watch over the next decade.   

6. Was Spieth's rare missed cut at The Barclays cause for concern? 

Here's what he said after shooting 74-73, his worst start in a non-major as a pro: “I’m definitely searching for answers. I don’t know exactly what I’m going to do from here as far as how I get prepared for next week, but I have some time to figure it out.” 

Maybe this shouldn't have been all that surprising. 

He admittedly was gassed after his runner-up at the PGA. He said Plainfield didn't fit his eye. And he was breaking in a new set of irons (Titleist 716 AP2), which helps explain why he didn’t hit more than 11 greens per round and lost more than six shots to the field in the Tour’s strokes gained-tee to green statistic.  

The last time Spieth missed a cut, at The Players in May, he bounced back with a T-2 finish at Colonial. He has fond memories of TPC Boston, firing a final-round 62 there in 2013 to convince captain Fred Couples to pick him for the Presidents Cup team.

7. Among the players whose season ended last week at The Barclays: Padraig Harrington, Adam Scott, Charl Schwartzel, Lee Westwood, Graham DeLaet, Retief Goosen, Vijay Singh. 

Sorry, but the only postseason cut of any import is the BMW ---> Tour Championship.  

8. Longing for another FedEx Cup makeover? Cheer lustily for Sergio Garcia.

The Spaniard will sit out his second playoff event this week in Boston and figures to drop outside the top 50 when he returns to competition at the BMW. A win there, though, and he’d still be in position to – all together now – control his own destiny at East Lake and walk away with the $10 million bonus. That wouldn't (and shouldn't) sit well with Camp Ponte Vedra, which trumpets the Cup as a season-long competition, but it’s further proof that the FedEx Cup isn’t a true “playoffs” but rather is just pole positioning for the free-for-all finale. 

9. This is the last week to qualify for the Presidents Cup team.

If the squads were finalized today, the last four in on the American and International side would be: Patrick Reed, Rickie Fowler, Matt Kuchar and Chris Kirk; and Anirban Lahiri, Charl Schwartzel, Thongchai Jaidee and Danny Lee. If any of those players dropped out of the top 10 this week, they’d be a no-brainer choice for a captain’s pick. (Perhaps with the exception of Kirk, who missed the cut last week in his return from a broken hand.)

The last four out: Bill Haas, J.B. Holmes, Billy Horschel and Brandt Snedeker; and Ben An, Steven Bowditch, John Senden and George Coetzee. 

The decision is especially tough for U.S. captain Jay Haas. Ideally, his son, Bill, would qualify on his own, but at No. 11 in the points standings no one could dispute him burning a pick. Two players further down the list who are worth consideration: Robert Streb, who has nine top-10s and a win this season, and Brooks Koepka, who finished in the top 20 in the last three majors and will be a fixture on U.S. teams for years to come. 

You can bet several players will be disappointed come Sept. 8. 

10. Thomas Pieters, who starred at Illinois and captured the 2012 NCAA title, won his first European Tour event on Sunday at the Czech Masters. He has struggled to string together good weeks – this year’s Desert Swing is the only time he’s had back-to-back top-10s in his career – but the 23-year-old Belgian has all of the necessary physical tools to be a stud on the PGA Tour someday. Don’t forget the NCAA field he beat that year at Riviera included Spieth, Justin Thomas, Koepka, Patrick Rodgers and Daniel Berger. As Illini coach Mike Small tweeted Sunday, “We knew it was just a matter of time!” 

11. One of the best stories to come out of the Tour regular-season finale was Harold Varner, who earned the last of the 25 available cards (by less than $1,000). 

Varner, a 25-year-old who played at East Carolina, was one of the first players I profiled while at Golfweek magazine.

His story is worth following. 

Unable to travel to many national junior tournaments because of financial constraints, he paid $100 each summer to play unlimited golf at a municipal course in North Carolina. The turning point in his career came when he worked as a running carts at Gaston Country Club, which allowed him access to the practice facilities and eventually led to his introduction to swing coach Bruce Sudderth. Still, he wasn’t highly recruited – in fact, one of the few scholarship offers he received was from East Carolina. There was still so much to learn, and so many tournaments to win and then lose, but when he swaggered into his head coach’s office, back in 2008, he boldly proclaimed that his only goal was to play the PGA Tour. Well, he’s here now.  

Don’t feel too bad for Peter Malnati. Sure, he removed his shoes, rolled up his pant legs, climbed down into a pond to play a shot, advanced the ball maybe a foot (to his right), sprayed mud all over his clothes, offered one of the year’s best reactions – “All of that … for THAT?!” – missed the cut and wound up with an embarrassing viral clip on social media. But he’s still No. 4 on the Tour money list. Dude got his card and doesn’t have to sweat out this four-event series like the rest of his penny-pinching brethren.   

This week's award winners ... 

Most Popular Man in Edison, N.J., Bars: Brian Harman. On Sunday, he became the third player in PGA Tour history (and the first since 2006) to record a pair of holes-in-one in the same round. The odds of that? About 1 in 67 million. 

What, Me Worry?: John Daly. Less than 24 hours after being rushed to the hospital because of what his agent says was a collapsed lung, Long John was back on the golf course in Mississippi and doing his usual thing, smoking cigarettes and taking a few big cuts. Yep, he's going to outlive all of us.

Best Tee Markers in Golf: European Tour's Czech Masters. Sadly, they weren't full:

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Brooks Koepka. Eight consecutive top-25s … three top-10s in a row … plenty to play for with the Presidents Cup looming … and a missed cut at Plainfield.

“The Future is Playing Now”?: Dicky Pride. The 46-year-old journeyman just won on the Tour, the PGA Tour’s developmental circuit, outdueling guys like Tim Herron (45), Shane Bertsch (45) and Tommy Gainey (40).

Obnoxious: PGA Tour signage. Located on the 18th hole at Plainfield, this sign was so ridiculous that I had to look it up on Getty just to make sure it wasn't a TV trick, like the yellow first-down line. Nope. It's real. And absurd.

Why The Heck Not?: Phil Mickelson. Did he really need to try the backward, over-the-head flop shot with his ball laying near the back lip of a bunker? Hey, who knows, but the fact that he (1) nearly pulled it off, and (2) still got up and down for par made the whole ordeal worthwhile. 

Butterfingers: Matt Fitzpatrick. The 20-year-old Englishman wasn't going to have a career in pro football anyway, not with his 5-foot-10-inch, 130 (maybe)-pound frame. But especially not after he got his putter caught in his shirt and nearly fumbled his way to a penalty:

A bit radical, yes, and it’d never fly with the Tour, which is striving to crown a season-long champion, but at least your method would achieve the desired goal of a real “playoff.” 

Spieth missed the cut at The Barclays. If he’s done after one event – and after leading the points race for the better part of the year – then it’s a lose-lose scenario for everybody, especially the Tour. 

One of the (many) problems is that there is no deterrent for skipping events. I don’t blame Sergio for missing the first two stops – he’s playing within the rules, and if he plays well he still has a chance to win the Cup. 

Players who miss cuts in the postseason aren’t punished, either. Remember Jim Furyk? He got DQ’d from The Barclays in 2010 and still won it all. Horschel missed the cut in the opener last year and still held the hardware at East Lake.

The entire FedEx Cup concept can be boiled down to one idea: Peak in Atlanta. 

Great question. I don’t feel strongly about this, but I’d give Rory a slight edge over Spieth.

When he’s on, he’s still the most talented of the trio and capable of blowing away a field, but Spieth has proven to be so consistent on a week-in-week-out basis (Barclays notwithstanding) that he’s bound to nab a few more majors over the next dozen. Day is on an unbelievable heater, and he's obviously a world-class player, but it remains to be seen whether he can sustain this type of excellence for an entire season or two.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.