Monday Scramble: Era of Tiger and Phil fading fast

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 9, 2015, 4:00 pm

In this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble, we discuss how Jason Day bolstered his reputation as the most hard-nosed player in golf, when Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson will exit stage left, and why the dreaded y-word was all anybody could talk about at Torrey Pines. Ready, set … activate your glutes:  

If it’s not here already, a time will come soon when golf fans tire of the Tiger & Phil Show. How many more WDs must they see before they realize Woods will never reach 19? How many more short putts must Mickelson miss before it’s clear that his best days are behind him?

Last season marked the first time since the mid-’90s that neither star won a tournament, and this year has been even more disastrous. Tiger looks yippy with both his full swing and short game, while Phil says his main focus is to peak for the four majors – an unrealistic pursuit, given his 18-plus weeks of uninspired play. If were lucky, theyll still win the occasional event.

Sad as it might be, an era has slammed shut. This is not an unexpected development, of course, for these aging warriors have dazzled us for the past two decades. Might they still conjure up one or two magical runs in a major? Oh, we can hope. But it’s obvious – painfully so – that the Show now features an entirely new cast of characters. Better get to know ’em. 

1. Last October, in a weekly mailbag, we were asked by a loyal reader to predict the 2015 major champions. Our selection for the U.S. Open: Jason Day. There is no player who embraces the rough-and-tumble test that the Open presents quite like Day, and it’s reflected in his record (three top-five finishes in four appearances). 

Torrey Pines played like a U.S. Open last weekend, with its brutal length, firm greens and hide-your-shoes rough. It was the first tournament since Congressional with a single-digit winning score. And sure enough, Day emerged victorious in San Diego. Why? “I like tough courses that force you to be stressed,” he said afterward. “A lot of people when they feel fear they run away from it. I just said, ‘Enough.’ Instead of feeling the fear and running away from it, I’ve got to run toward it and try and face it.”

2. Granted, it wasn’t always this simple. In the 2013 Masters, remember, Day held a one-shot lead with three holes to play. It was in that moment, standing on the 16th tee, that his mind wandered to what it would be like to become the first Australian to win the Masters. Oops. He promptly bogeyed Nos. 16 and 17 and watched another Aussie, Adam Scott, slip into the green jacket. “The only way to learn from your experience is actually getting in the hunt, experiencing the loss and trying to improve and get better,” he says now. Those tough lessons paid off in San Diego, as he captured his second career stroke-play title on Tour, and first since ’10. 

3. From the Enjoy It While You Can department: 2015 has been dominated by the higher-ranked (aka better) players. Consider the world ranking of the first five PGA Tour winners of the calendar year:

  • Patrick Reed (23) 
  • Jimmy Walker (17)
  • Bill Haas (41)
  • Brooks Koepka (33)
  • Jason Day (8)

4. Last week your correspondent dove deep on the yips – what they are, where they come from, what (if anything) can be done to cure them. The original basis for the story was Woods’ hard-to-watch short game, but after seeing Lucas Glover putt it appears he’s in even more dire need of an intervention. The 2009 U.S. Open champion ranked last on Tour last year in strokes gained-putting (and third-to-last in 2013), and his flinching stroke was on full display in the final round at Torrey Pines. The man doesn’t just need a putting coach. He needs an exorcism. Which reminds us ... 

5. When talking about Tiger, mainstream media types and players (both current and former) invariably will say something along the lines of: Well, he’ll figure it out. He’s still Tiger Woods. Maybe they firmly believe that, or maybe they just don’t want to create a headline. But here’s the reality: Over his last nine PGA Tour starts, Woods has finished: MDF-WD-T25-MC-69-WD-MC-MC-WD. That’s not an aberration. That’s a trend.

6. The most overlooked part of Tiger’s decline is what’s happening to his world ranking. Let’s say he plays only Honda and Bay Hill before the Masters. If he misses the cut in both of those events – and let’s face it, the way he’s playing, it’s not all that unlikely – he will be outside the top 100 in the world by the time he drives down Magnolia Lane. This is important, because 1.) It puts his participation in the World Golf Championship events in jeopardy, from Doral to the Match Play to Firestone; and 2.) He might need to win twice just to crack the top 50. Does he appear anywhere close to being able to accomplish that feat, especially while playing his usual top-tier schedule? (Short answer: No.) 

7. Count swing-coach-to-the-stars Butch Harmon among those who think that Woods’ issues stem from the fact that he’s swinging too hard. “He’s in warp speed,” Harmon told Sky Sports last week. “It’s unbelievable how hard he goes.”

8. When he returned to competition at the World Challenge, Woods crowed about how he had his “explosiveness” back. That may in fact be true, because in his first start of 2015, he posted a swing speed of 121 mph, his highest since ’08. But two events into his year – heck, 2 ½ rounds into his year – he had already broken down, this time because of a stop-and-start delay that caused tightness in his back. Try as he might to keep up with the Brooks Koepkas of the world, it’s glaringly obvious that the incredible torque he puts on his brittle body is doing more harm than good. 

9. The only players with more PGA Tour titles than Billy Casper (51) are all on a one-name basis: Snead, Tiger, Jack, Hogan, Arnie, Nelson. RIP, Billy, the most underappreciated player in the game’s long history.

10. Casper’s three major wins came at a time when the sport was dominated by the Big Three – Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player. Even more impressive: From 1956-71, he won at least once in a remarkable 16 consecutive years. Consider that the longest active streak is Dustin Johnson, with eight.

11. Brilliant move by Hunter Mahan to withdraw before the start of the Farmers Insurance Open with his second child was due any day. With his luck, he would have been leading at the halfway mark.

12. Well, at least the Shot of the Year award is locked up. Check back Dec. 31 for the rest of the top 10:

13. Speaking of Mr. Green … after that hole-in-one albatross in the Victorian Open pro-am, the 43-year-old left-hander not only went out and won the tournament proper – so did his fiancée, Marianne Skarpnord, who won on the women’s side. “I really think it’s fascinating that we’ve both done it,” he said. No argument here.

14. Even with a Sunday 75, Lee Westwood's T-5 finish in Malaysia was enough to push him to the top of the career earnings list on the European Tour, with 30,566,013 euros. It took him an entire career to reach that spot, 22 years. In this era of inflated purses, Rory McIlroy is already fourth on the all-time list, at 24.3 million euros. 

15. Gee, it sure wasn’t hard to tell when some players teed it up on the easier North Course last week:

  • Pat Perez: 75-65-77-83
  • Zack Sucher: 78-65-79-76
  • Kyle Stanley: 76-67-76-75
  • Cameron Tringale: 66-76-75-78

This about sums up the week (h/t @CanadianOpen, and others): 

See what 21-year-old Justin Thomas has done in early 2015, with three consecutive top-20s and multiple opportunities to win? That’s Patrick Rodgers, in 2016. The reigning NCAA Player of the Year needed only two Tour events to notch his first W. He's coming, soon. … The USGA formally announced last weekend the creation of the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, which will begin in 2018. President Tom O’Toole said that “simply, the timing is right,” and that interest in the event has “steadily increased” since the organization began looking into the event’s viability in the ’90s. That’s fine, but whether fans actually tune in for three-plus hours remain to be seen. … Lydia Ko’s reign at world No. 1 was threatened in her very first week. Something tells us the top spot will change hands plenty this year, so here ends the week-to-week status updates. 

Not optimistic. Lefty looks completely lost on the greens – he’s poor with his speed, he’s not hitting his lines, he’s tinkering with grips. Unless he makes a last-minute U-turn and adds Riviera, he’s taking two weeks off before heading to PGA National, where last year he missed the cut. Even Phil conceded this won’t be a quick fix: “If you putt bad for a few weeks, it’s going to take not only fundamental change, but it will take some good low rounds and some hot putting streaks to get the confidence back, too.” Yikes.

Scrolling through Twitter last night, there was plenty of criticism directed at the long-hitting Holmes. I don’t get it. He made the right call. From 235 yards he was in between clubs and on a downhill lie. He couldn’t land short, because of the pond, nor could he have gone deep, because getting the ball up-and-down from the gnarly rough behind the green was no easy task. (Just ask Jason Day, who was mere inches from drowning his playoff hopes.) Laying up was Holmes’ best opportunity to make 4, even if it didn’t work out. 

We’ve all been there – and it’s hard to watch. Glover thought he’d stumbled upon a solution earlier this year at the Humana, when he widened his stance and started to feel as though he was hitting his putts, not stroking them. But it was clear from his final-round 77 – and multiple yippy episodes – that it was only a temporary fix and much work remains. A shame too, because he was in position for his first top 10 since 2011.  

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

Getty Images

PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.


We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.

Getty Images

Sharma closes on Monday, wins Joburg Open

By Associated PressDecember 11, 2017, 12:43 pm

JOHANNESBURG – Shubhankar Sharma won his first European Tour title by a shooting 3-under 69 Monday in the final round of the weather-delayed Joburg Open.

The 21-year-old Indian resumed his round on the eighth green after play was halted early Sunday afternoon because of storms. He parred that hole, birdied No. 9 and made par on every hole on the back nine.

Full-field scores from the Joburg Open

Sharma finished at 23-under 264, three strokes ahead of the pack, and qualified for next year's British Open, too.

''I actually wasn't going to come here about a week ago ... so I'm really happy that I came,'' said Sharma, who shot 61 in the second round. ''I don't think I'm ever going forget my first time in South Africa.''

Erik van Rooyen (66) was second, three strokes ahead of Shaun Norris (65) and Tapio Pulkkanen (68).

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 12:30 pm