Monday Scramble: Everything about Doral was big

By Ryan LavnerMarch 9, 2015, 3:00 pm

Dustin Johnson takes a big step toward realizing his awesome potential, a new Masters favorite emerges, Rory McIlroy says goodbye (twice!) to his 3-iron and much more in this week’s Trumped-up edition of the Monday Scramble:

Can a 30-year-old with nine wins be considered an underachiever? Few have been better in this post-hydrant era of parity, but by his own admission Dustin Johnson has been a good-but-not-great player – a supremely talented athletic marvel who has occasionally been undone by his own lack of discipline, both on the course and off. Thanks to a report we have a better idea about the “personal challenges” that ended his 2014 season, but if the PGA Tour won’t disclose player discipline, then it’s hard to fault DJ for not being totally forthcoming. 

Instead, what’s most important is what he does after this wakeup call: Will he hit the snooze button as he has done in years’ past, padding his victory total but ultimately failing to crash the major party? Or will he strive to maximize his potential, to commit the necessary time and energy in order to transition from a natural talent to a transcendent one?

One comeback win at Doral won’t answer those questions, of course. But if his return to competition is any indication (three top-fives in his last four starts), then Johnson is America’s best long-term prospect; he’s hungry and he’s motivated by his past failures. For the rest of the game’s elite, that’s a terrifying prospect.

1. Much has changed since 2008. The rise and fall of Tiger. The emergence of a new king. The fearless breed of young stars. One constant has been the play of Johnson, who has now won in each and every season since '08, his first full year on Tour after playing collegiately at Coastal Carolina. Only Woods, who won in 14 consecutive years from 1996-2009, had a longer streak straight out of school. 

2. Question: Since 2008, how many players have more PGA Tour wins than DJ’s nine?

Answer: Two – Tiger (18) and Phil (10).

That's it.

3. Players kvetching about course setup is about as original as pleated khakis, but last week the complaints seemed to grow in volume about a course that has largely been stripped of any drama.

Whether The Donald is good for golf is a column for another day – the $325 price tag to play an ordinary South Florida course should be revealing enough – but what’s not in dispute at this moment is that the Doral facelift has been more re-doh! than redo. Look, the resort itself is stunning, but the Blue Monster – the main attraction – is excessively penal and not a whole lot of fun, from the absurd length of some holes to the ubiquitous hazards to the slopes and runoffs that send even well-placed shots to a watery grave. (See J.B. Holmes, Friday, first green.) It’s little wonder Scott Vail, the caddie for Brandt Snedeker, tapped out this tweet after they left the premises: "Goodbye Dump International..what a terrible golf course!! #Bombersdelight"

4. It’s easy to imagine Trump seething at the sight of a 10-under 62 hung on one of his crown jewels. To his own detriment he equates a world-class championship course with one that teeters on unfair and pushes players to the breaking point, which is a troubling mentality for one of the game’s most powerful movers and shakers.

After all, J.B. Holmes’ 10-under 62 in the opening round was not just the best round we’ll likely see all year, but one of the best of the past decade. It was a career day. His first-round score was 11.4 shots better than the field average on the par-72 layout. Since 2004 only Jim Furyk had a greater disparity (12.1), and that was when he shot 59 at the '13 BMW.

Rare is the round that elicits complete wonder and awe from tour types, but that’s exactly what we saw last week:

5. Yet Holmes played the next 54 holes in 2 over par. Even his remarkable round couldn’t obscure the fact that the art of shotmaking has taken a backseat to speed and power. Yes, Doral favored the big boppers long before the redo, but it’s even more skewed now, with the bombers flying all of the trouble – the trees, the cross bunkers, the hazards – and leaving themselves only a wedge to the green. Not surprisingly, the top three names on the leaderboard (DJ, Holmes, Bubba) were Nos. 1, 3 and 2, respectively, in driving distance for the week … just a year after P-Reed, Bubba and DJ were near the top of the ’board while finishing top five in driving distance. An inviting layout for the Zach Johnsons and Jim Furyks of the world, it is not. Well, not anymore.

6. To illustrate just how far the public perception of Doral has dropped, consider that before DJ's monster drive on 18, the two most indelible clips from the week weren’t shots hit during competition. No, they were Rory’s spirited club fling into the pond on 8, and then, a day later, a diver’s televised retrieval

7. Funny, because Rory’s hasty heave prompted much less furor than when, say, another world No. 1 dropkicked an iron on the 16th hole at Augusta (image via Augusta Chronicle). Maybe it had to do with Tiger Woods breaching decorum in one of golf’s cathedrals. Or maybe it’s because Rory doesn’t have a laundry list of prior bad acts, save for the time he intentionally bent a club at Merion and when he walked off at the Honda two years ago. Or maybe it’s because McIlroy has built up so much goodwill with the press and public that his helicopter toss can be chalked up as a moment of insecurity, one that is bad form but in the end understandable, given the immense scrutiny under which he plays.  

Hey, anyone who has played the game has at some point used a club as a javelin. (Mea culpa: I once chucked a wedge so hard against my stand bag that it completely wiped out the plastic legs, like a bowler rolling a strike.) But fortunately for us, a cameraman doesn’t trail our every move. 

8. Besides, it was hard not to chuckle because McIlroy’s 3-iron form was so flawless: He loaded into his right side, created lots of torque and fired into a full finish. Indeed, that move was markedly better than the one he put on the actual shot moments earlier, but watching the replay (over and over again), it became obvious why it appeared so natural – his action had been honed over the past few years. Note the similarities:  

9. At least Rory was reunited (however briefly) with that 3-iron, thanks to the diver and, of course, Trump. Amazing. Somehow that guy never misses a photo-op.

10. As for McIlroy's, you know, golf game, perhaps it's encouraging that he still mustered a top-10 with what appeared to be his C-game. Six rounds in Florida have yet to produce either a sub-70 score or a reason to believe that he'll soon capture his third major in a row. There's no need to panic, of course, but Rors has only one more start before the Masters. At this point, getting into contention at Bay Hill would seem like a must.

11. Not that you're asking, but here is one man's list of the top-five Masters favorites: 

  1. Bubba Watson: His creativity works as well at Augusta as the green jackets, azaleas and egg salad sandwiches.
  2. Adam Scott: Maybe he should have ditched the long putter sooner. Early returns with the conventional putter are good, which should only help him improve on his strong record there (four consecutive top-15s)
  3. Jason Day: Already a winner this year, he has an uncanny ability to play his best in the biggest events. He’s poised to pick off a major this year, so why not at the place where he already has a pair of top-threes?
  4. Rory McIlroy: As much as his big, brawny game is tailor-made for Augusta, the pressure he’ll face next month will be suffocating and unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
  5. Patrick Reed: Sure, his all-around game makes him a desirable pick, but it’s his ability to scramble that separates him from the rest of the contenders.

12. Not only did Inbee Park go wire-to-wire to win the HSBC Women’s Champions, but she also stared down the Nos. 1 and 3-ranked players in the world on the final day to capture the title. The message was loud and clear to anyone who watched – she isn’t going anywhere.

13. It’s hard to fathom, but Park has missed only seven greens in her last 92 holes played – that’s not a misprint – and went all four rounds in Singapore without a single bogey. That’s right, she didn’t drop a single shot during the 72-hole tournament. (For context, consider that the feat hasn’t been accomplished on the PGA Tour since Lee Trevino in 1974.) Like Lydia Ko, Park’s game is so ruthlessly efficient that it can be boring to watch. There’s nothing dull about flawless golf, though.

14. Well, it's safe to say we now have the answer to the question, "How Will a 17-Year-Old Respond to Being Ranked No. 1 in the World?" Ko's finishes since ascending to the top spot: 7-1-1-2. And she is under par in each of her 20 rounds this season. It’s the antithesis of Martin Kaymer’s reign at the top.

15. After recording his best career finish on the PGA Tour, Sam Saunders struck the proper tone. Sure, he was disappointed that he didn’t win – his 8-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole leaked right of the cup. But for a player who had missed the cut or withdrawn in each of his last seven events, who is still trying to be known as more than “Arnie’s grandson,” Saunders’ playoff loss at the Puerto Rico Open was encouraging. Plus, the symmetry was impossible to ignore: Had he been able to seal the deal, Saunders would have won in his 32nd career PGA Tour start. His famous grandpa won in his 30th try.

Over the past two decades, your correspondent has admittedly spent an unhealthy amount of time watching reruns of “Happy Gilmore.” Imagine our delight, then, when we saw Sandler and Bob Barker continue their battle royale in this short clip on Comedy Central. The brawl is even more spectacular than the original, and not just because it involves the dumping of a full bedpan on Sandler’s head. Be warned: There is a bit of foul language:

This week’s award winners … 

Most In Need of a Mulligan: Tim Finchem. The PGA Tour commish made a stunning admission by saying that he “whiffed” when he signed off on the PGA’s request to not award Ryder Cup points to the fall events. “I didn’t really think through that particular change,” he said, which is an incredible acknowledgement, seeing how just a few years ago he proposed for those tournaments to receive full FedEx Cup points (and thus an invitation to the Masters). That he wants to reverse course now means only one thing: The sponsors of those five events made their feelings known.

That Was Sooo 2013: Anchoring. So much for these guys needing to make hay while they can. Every anchorer worth a darn – Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, most notably – has already transitioned to the conventional putter. For more than a year these guys talked about sticking with the belly or the broom until it was pried out of their hands. Now, anchoring looks like it’ll be a non-issue (at least at the pro level) come Jan. 1.  

(Apparently) the Easiest Par 3 on the Planet: The 240-yard (!) fourth at Doral, which during the third round surrendered aces from JB and DJ in a span of 24 minutes.

Most Under the Radar: Marcel Siem. Seems Rory wasn't the only dude to dispose of a club; the ponytailed German also flushed a piece of equipment on No. 8. What, no uproar? 

Wanted for Robbery: Thomas Bjorn. He had enough after eight-and-a-half holes Thursday, which was fine, because he still walked away with 42 grand. For those keeping score at home, that’s about $10,000 less than – gulp – the median household income in the U.S. But, hey, the important thing here is that Bjorn received no FedEx Cup points … right? 

Getty Images

Cut Line: Color Rory unafraid of the Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardJanuary 19, 2018, 7:09 pm

In this week’s edition, Rory McIlroy gets things rolling with some early Ryder Cup banter, Dustin Johnson changes his tune on a possible golf ball roll-back, and the PGA Tour rolls ahead with integrity training.

Made Cut

Paris or bust. Rory McIlroy, who made his 2018 debut this week on the European Tour, can be one of the game’s most affable athletes. He can also be pointed, particularly when discussing the Ryder Cup.

Asked this week in Abu Dhabi about the U.S. team, which won the last Ryder Cup and appears to be rejuvenated by a collection of new players, McIlroy didn’t disappoint.

“If you look at Hazeltine and how they set the course up – big, wide fairways, no rough, pins in the middle of greens – it wasn’t set up for the way the Europeans like to play,” McIlroy said. “I think Paris will be a completely different kettle of fish, so different.”

McIlroy has come by his confidence honestly, having won three of the four Ryder Cups he’s played, so it’s understandable if he doesn't feel like an underdog heaidng to Paris.

“The Americans have obviously been buoyant about their chances, but it’s never as easy as that,” he said. “The Ryder Cup is always close. It always comes down to a few key moments, and it will be no different in Paris. I think we’ll have a great team and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”

September can’t get here quick enough.

Mr. Spieth goes to Ponte Vedra Beach. The Tour announced this year’s player advisory council, the 16-member group that works with the circuit’s policy board to govern.

There were no real surprises to the PAC, but news that Jordan Spieth had been selected to run for council chair is interesting. Spieth, who is running against Billy Hurley III and would ascend to the policy board next year if he wins the election, served on the PAC last year and would make a fine addition to the policy board, but it is somewhat out of character for a marquee player.

In recent years, top players like Spieth have largely avoided the distractions that come with the PAC and policy board. Of course, we’ve also learned in recent years that Spieth is not your typical superstar.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

On second thought. In December at the Hero World Challenge, Dustin Johnson was asked about a possible golf ball roll-back, which has become an increasingly popular notion in recent years.

“I don't mind seeing every other professional sport. They play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball,” he said in the Bahamas. “I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage.”

The world No. 1 appeared to dial back that take this week in Abu Dhabi, telling BBC Sport, “It's not like we are dominating golf courses. When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy?”

Maybe it didn’t feel that way, but DJ’s eight-stroke romp two weeks ago at the Sentry Tournament of Champions certainly looked pretty easy.

Long odds. I had a chance to watch the Tour’s 15-minute integrity training video that players have been required view and came away with a mixture of confusion and concern.

The majority of the video, which includes a Q&A element, focuses on how to avoid match fixing. Although the circuit has made it clear there is no indication of current match fixing, it’s obviously something to keep an eye on.

The other element that’s worth pointing out is that although the Tour may be taking the new program seriously, some players are not.

“My agent watched [the training video] for me,” said one Tour pro last week at the Sony Open.

Missed Cut

Groundhog Day. To be fair, no one expected Patton Kizzire and James Hahn to need six playoff holes to decide last week’s Sony Open, but the episode does show why variety is the spice of life.

After finishing 72 holes tied at 17 under, Kizzire and Hahn played the 18th hole again and again and again and again. In total, the duo played the par-5 closing hole at Waialae Country Club five times (including in regulation play) on Sunday.

It’s worth noting that the playoff finally ended with Kizzire’s par at the sixth extra hole, which was the par-3 17th. Waialae’s 18th is a fine golf hole, but in this case familiarity really did breed contempt.

Tweet of the week:

It was a common theme last Saturday on Oahu after an island-wide text alert was issued warning of an inbound ballistic missile and advising citizens to “seek immediate shelter.”

The alert turned out to be a mistake, someone pushed the wrong button during a shift change, but for many, like Peterson, it was a serious lesson in perspective.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

Getty Images

Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”