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 Golf.com 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? 

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 3, Tiger Woods

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:45 pm

After returning to competition at the Hero World Challenge in December 2016, Woods started the new year with an ambitious slate of tournament starts as he eyed his first full season since 2013. But he made it only three rounds, looking rusty en route to a missed cut at Torrey Pines before withdrawing abruptly in Dubai.

The “spasms” that led to that withdrawal turned out to be something far more serious, as Woods underwent his fourth and most invasive back surgery in April, a lumbar fusion. It brought with it an extensive rehabilitation, and at the Presidents Cup in September Woods humored the prospect that he might never again play competitive golf.

At Liberty National he also faced some scrutiny for an off-course incident from months prior. In May he was arrested for suspicion of DUI, an incident that produced a startling roadside video of an intoxicated Woods struggling to follow instructions from the arresting officer after driving erratically.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


While he was not drinking at the time, Woods was found to have a mix of several prescription medications in his system, including multiple painkillers. He checked himself into a private drug treatment program in July to address his dependency issues, and in October he pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of reckless driving.

But the incident was barely a memory when Woods again made a return to competition in the Bahamas at the tournament he hosts. This time around he exceeded nearly every expectation, twice shooting 4-under 68 while tying for ninth among the 18-man field. Having re-tooled his swing following fusion surgery, Woods appeared relaxed, happy and healthy while briefly taking the lead during the tournament’s second round.

What lies ahead for Woods in 2018 remains uncertain, as the stop-and-start nature of this past season serves as a cautionary tale. But after a harrowing arrest and another serious surgery, he seems once again focused on his game, intent on chasing down a new crop of elite talent, some of whom are barely more than half his age.

Woods' initial comeback short-lived, leads to another back surgery

Article: Woods undergoes "successful" fourth back surgery

Article: Woods (back spasm) withdraws from Dubai

Article: Players disappointed Woods withdraws from Dubai

Really, again: Tiger undergoes fourth back surgery

Begay on Tiger: Future is 'extremely uncertain'


Woods arrested for DUI, enters diversion program after getting "professional help"

Article: Woods arrested for DUI in May

Article: Police say Woods had 5 drugs in system when arrested

Article: DUI affidavit states Tiger asleep in parked car

Dashcam video released of Tiger's DUI arrest

Begay, Rolfing: Tiger's arrest needs to be wakeup call

Photos: Tiger Woods' car during DUI arrest

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Photos: Tiger Woods in court for DUI hearing

Article: Tiger gets 'professional help' for prescription meds

Tiger Woods at his 2017 DUI court hearing.

Article: Woods pleads in court guilty to reckless driving


Woods goes from unsure of his pro golf future to resuming full golf activities

Article: Doctor clears Woods for full golf activity six months after back surgery

Article: Tiger doesn't know what future holds

Article: Woods back to making full swings

Woods admits he might never return to competition

Making progress: Breaking down Tiger's driver swing


Woods returns to competition for first time since February at Hero World Challenge

Article: Hero comeback a success for healthy Woods

Article: Woods discusses his back: 'No issues at all, none'

Tiger Tracker: Woods finished T-9 in return to competition

Chamblee: 'I was wrong' about some of my Woods skepticism

Tiger, if you were hurting, would you tell us? 'Yeah, I'd tell you'


Woods out and about in 2017

Article: Video, images of Tiger's round with Trump

Article: Woods posts photo as 'Mac Daddy Santa'

Article: Tiger at U.S. Open sitting in Nadal's box

Article: Shirtless Tiger holds up a massive lobster

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 12:30 pm
Getty Images

NBC Sports' Coverage of LPGA Tour in 2017 Most-Viewed Season Ever for NBC Sports

By Golf Channel Public RelationsDecember 13, 2017, 8:45 pm

NBC Sports’ LPGA Tour Coverage Ties 2013 for Most-Watched Year Since 2011

NBC and Golf Channel Boast Top-6 Most-Watched Women’s Golf Telecasts in 2017

Beginning with the dramatic playoff finish at the Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic in January and concluding with Lexi Thompson winning the $1 million Race to the CME Globe, nearly 22 million viewers tuned in to LPGA Tour coverage across Golf Channel and NBC in 2017. This makes 2017 the most-viewed LPGA Tour season across NBC Sports since Golf Channel joined the NBC Sports Group in 2011. Additionally, 2017 tied 2013 as the LPGA Tour’s most-watched year across NBC Sports since 2011. Coverage drew an average of 221,000 viewers per telecast in 2017 (+24% vs. 2016), according to data released by The Nielsen Company.

NBC SPORTS GROUP CLAIMS TOP-6 MOST-WATCHED WOMEN’S GOLF TELECASTS IN ‘17

For the first time ever in televised women’s golf, Sunday’s final round of the RICOH Women’s British Open (Sunday, Aug. 6, 2017, 1.1 million viewers) delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast of the year. NBC’s Saturday (Day 2) coverage of the Solheim Cup in August placed second with 968,000 viewers, followed by Sunday’s Solheim Cup coverage on NBC with 946,000 viewers. Golf Channel’s live coverage of Sunday’s final day of the Solheim Cup drew 795,000 viewers, the most-watched women’s golf event on cable in eight years.

Rank

Network

Event

Day

Avg. Viewers P2+

1

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Sunday

1,100,526

2

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Saturday

968,202

3

NBC

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

946,387

4

NBC

KPMG WOMEN'S PGA CHAMPIONSHIP

Sunday

839,983

5

NBC

RICOH WOMEN'S BRITISH OPEN

Saturday

808,578

6

GOLF

SOLHEIM CUP

Sunday

795,000

ADDITIONAL VIEWERSHIP MILESTONES FOR WOMEN’S GOLF IN 2017

  • ANA Inspiration - The LPGA’s first major championship delivered thefifth most-watched LPGA final round in Golf Channel history with 551,000 viewers when So Yeon Ryu defeated Lexi Thompson in a playoff following Thompson being assessed a four-stroke penalty earlier in the final round.
  • KPMG Women’s PGA Championship – The LPGA’s second major was seen by 6.6 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the largest audience for the event on record (2006-17). Sunday’s final round on NBC, which saw Danielle Kang win her first LPGA Tour event over defending champion Brooke Henderson, also was the most-watched telecast in the event’s history with 840,000 average viewers.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – NBC’s Sunday coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open delivered the most-watched and highest-rated women’s golf telecast in 2017 (.78 U.S. HH rating, 1.1 million viewers). In total, 7 million unique viewers tuned in to coverage across Golf Channel and NBC, the most-watched RICOH Women’s British Open in the past 10 years and the most-watched among the five women’s major championships in 2017.
  • Solheim Cup – Seen by a total audience of 7.3 million viewers across Golf Channel and NBC, the Solheim Cup posted the largest total audience for women’s golf since the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open on ESPN/NBC. Golf Channel’s live coverage of the final day drew 795,000 average viewers, becoming the most-watched women’s golf telecast on cable in the last eight years, since the final day of the 2009 Solheim Cup.

GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL POSTS RECORD STREAMING CONSUMPTION

Golf Channel Digital posted record numbers of LPGA streaming consumption with 11.9 million live minutes streamed across LPGA Tour telecasts in 2017 (+563% vs. 2016).

  • Solheim Cup – Three-day coverage of the Solheim Cup saw 6.3 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports’ Digital platforms, trailing only the 2016 Rio Olympics (9 million) as the most-ever for a women’s golf event airing on Golf Channel / NBC.
  • RICOH Women’s British Open – Four-day coverage of the RICOH Women’s British Open saw 2 million minutes streamed, +773% vs. 2016.

NBC Sports Group combined to air 31 LPGA Tour events in 2017 and a total of 420 hours of coverage, the most in LPGA history. The exclusive cable home to the LPGA Tour, Golf Channel aired coverage of four of five women’s major championships in 2017, with three majors also airing on NBC: the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, RICOH Women’s British Open and The Evian Championship. The biennial Solheim Cup also returned to network television for the first time in 15 years with weekend coverage on NBC.

Source: Nielsen 2017 Live+Same Day DVR vs. prior available data. Persons 2+ avg 000’s and/or Persons 2+ reach w/six-minute qualifier. Digital Metrics from Adobe Reports & Analytics. Details available.

Hensby takes full responsibility for violation

By Rex HoggardDecember 13, 2017, 5:28 pm

The PGA Tour’s Anti-Doping Program manual covers 48 pages of details, from the pressing to the mundane, but for Mark Hensby the key section of the policy could be found on Page 5.

“The collector may allow you to delay reporting to the testing area for unavoidable obligations; however, you will be monitored from the time of notification until completion of the sample collection process,” the policy reads. “A failure to report to the testing area by the required time is the same as a doping violation under the program.”

Hensby, a 46-year-old former Tour winner from Australia, didn’t read that section, or any other part of the manual. In fact, he said he hasn’t received the circuit’s anti-doping manual in years. Not that he uses that as an excuse.

To be clear, Hensby doesn’t blame his anti-doping plight on anyone else.

“At the end of the day it’s my responsibility. I take full responsibility,” he told GolfChannel.com.

Like Doug Barron, Scott Stallings and even Vijay Singh before him, Hensby ran afoul of the Tour’s anti-doping policy because, essentially, of a clerical error. There were no failed tests, no in-depth investigations, no seedy entourages who sent Hensby down a dark road of performance-enhancing drug use.

Just a simple misunderstanding combined with bad timing.

Hensby, who last played a full season on Tour in 2003, had just completed the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship when he was approached by a member of the Tour’s anti-doping testing staff. He was angry about his play and had just used the restroom on the 17th hole and, he admits, was in no mood to wait around to take the urine test.

“Once I said, ‘Can I take it in the morning,’ [the Tour’s anti-doping official] said, ‘We can’t hold you here,’” Hensby recalled. “I just left.”

Not one but two officials called Hensby that night to ask why he’d declined to take the test, and he said he was even advised to return to the Country Club of Jackson (Miss.) to take the test, which is curious because the policy doesn’t allow for such gaps between notification of a test and the actual testing.

According to the policy, a player is considered in violation of the program if he leaves the presence of the doping control officers without providing the required sample.

A Tour official declined to comment on the matter citing the circuit’s policy not to comment on doping violations beyond the initial disclosure.

A week later, Hensby was informed he was in violation of the Tour’s policy and although he submitted a letter to the commissioner explaining the reasons for his failure to take the test he was told he would be suspended from playing in any Tour-sanctioned events (including events on the Web.com Tour) for a year.

“I understand now what the consequences are, but you know I’ve been banned for a performance-enhancing drug violation, and I don’t take performance-enhancing drugs,” Hensby said.

Hensby isn’t challenging his suspension nor did he have any interest in criticizing the Tour’s policy, instead his message two days after the circuit announced the suspension was focused on his fellow Tour members.

“I think the players need to read that manual really, really well. There are things I wasn’t aware of and I think other players weren’t aware of either,” he said. “You have to read the manual.”

It was a similar message Stallings offered following his 90-day suspension in 2015 after he turned himself in for using DHEA, an anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour.

“This whole thing was a unique situation that could have been dealt with differently, but I made a mistake and I owned up to it,” Stallings said at the time.

Barron’s 2009 suspension, which was for a year, also could have been avoided after he tested positive for supplemental testosterone and a beta-blocker, both of which were prescribed by a doctor for what were by many accounts legitimate health issues.

And Singh’s case, well that chapter is still pending in the New York Supreme Court, but the essential element of the Fijian’s violation was based on his admitted use of deer-antler spray, which contained a compound called IGF-1. Although IGF-1 is a banned substance, the World Anti-Doping Agency has ruled that the use of deer-antler spray is not a violation if an athlete doesn’t fail a drug test. Singh never failed a test.

The Tour’s anti-doping history is littered with cases that could have been avoided, cases that should have been avoided. Despite the circuit’s best educational efforts, it’s been these relatively innocent violations that have defined the program.

In retrospect, Hensby knows he should have taken the test. He said he had nothing to hide, but anger got the best of him.

“To be honest, it would have been hard, the way I was feeling that day, I know I’m a hothead at times, but I would have probably stayed [had he known the consequences],” he admitted. “You’ve got to understand that if you have too much water you can’t get a test either and then you have to stay even longer.”

Hensby said before his run in with the anti-doping small print he wasn’t sure what his professional future would be, but his suspension has given him perspective and a unique motivation.

“I was talking to my wife last night, I have a little boy, it’s been a long month,” said Hensby after dropping his son, Caden, off at school. “I think I have a little more drive now and when I come back. I wasn’t going to play anymore, but when I do come back I am going to be motivated.”

He’s also going to be informed when it comes to the Tour’s anti-doping policy, and he hopes his follow professionals take a similar interest.