Monday Scramble: Snedeker's toughness stands out

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 1, 2016, 11:00 pm

Brandt Snedeker waits and wins, Torrey Pines becomes a wind chamber, Jordan Spieth completes his fortnight abroad, Ryan Ruffels cashes in and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Sure, Brandt Snedeker needed a lot of help to win the Farmers Insurance Open. 

He needed the cut line to hold at 1 under. He needed treacherous, final-round conditions to keep the leaders in check. He needed a remarkable round to give himself a chance. And then on Monday, when play resumed and the final group had eight holes remaining, he needed the wind to switch directions and limit the number of birdie opportunities coming home. 

“It kind of fell in line perfectly,” he said.

But that doesn’t make this title any less sweet. 

Snedeker isn’t often mentioned as one of the game’s elite players, perhaps because he’s not a basher off the tee, a preeminent ball-striker or a flashy 20-something. But one of his greatest (and most surprising) qualities is his toughness, which helps explain why half of his eight PGA Tour titles have come when he trailed by five or more shots heading into the final round.

This victory – after watching and waiting nearly 24 hours, after having everything fall in line – may have been his most impressive. 

1. Snedeker was giving an interview outside the scoring area Sunday when the horn sounded for the third and final time. He groaned.   

“I want them to be out there going through the misery that I had to go through,” he said. 

At the time, Snedeker’s point was well-taken. Tour officials would only send out players when the conditions were more favorable, which, in theory, would give them a better opportunity to post a score lower than Snedeker’s 6-under 282.

Turns out it was Sneds who got the lucky break. 

On Monday, the wind wasn’t as fierce but it came out of a different, more difficult direction. The last eight holes played predominantly into the wind; three times K.J. Choi hit driver-3 wood into a par 4 and came up short. On Sunday afternoon, that same stretch played downwind or from the left, allowing Snedeker to hit five drives of 300-plus yards. 

In the end, that was the difference between him winning and coming up just short.  

2. The ultimate measure of a great round is how it compares to the field average that day. 

It's worth noting that Snedeker's closing 69 at Torrey Pines was 9.119 strokes better than field average when play was called for the day Sunday. He described it as "playing a British Open on a U.S. Open setup." 

When all 71 players had finished, his round was nearly nine shots better than the field average (77.903).

Viewed another way: 

  • There were two rounds of par or better
  • There were 23 (!) rounds of 80 or worse

"I couldn't do it again," Snedeker said afterward. "I don't know how I did it."

3. For the sake of comparison, these were the top five rounds of 2015 in terms of best score versus the field, according to stats guru Mark Broadie: 

  1. J.B. Holmes, 62 in Round 1 at Doral (11.4 strokes better than the field)
  2. Rory McIlroy, 61 in Round 3 at Quail Hollow (10.2)
  3. Hiroshi Iwata, 63 in Round 2 at Whistling Straits (9.9)
  4. Charley Hoffman, 67 in Round 1 at TPC San Antonio (9.7)
  5. Jordan Spieth, 63 in Round 1 at Augusta National (9.4)

4. Just how nasty was it for players? The final-round scoring average (5.9 strokes over par) was the second-most difficult non-major round on Tour in the past 25 years. 

The only round tougher: The third round of the 1999 AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, which averaged 7.38 strokes over par. 

Tweeted Shane Lowry, who grew up with plenty of wicked weather playing amateur golf in Ireland:

5. The mission, under normal circumstances, was straightforward: Play the last eight holes in even par to win. 

Except Jimmy Walker soon realized it wouldn’t be quite that simple. 

His first tee shot Monday hooked way left, leading to a bogey, and he dropped three more shots coming home while playing into a penal wind. 

“We got out there and all of a sudden the wind started blowing again,” Walker said. “It would have been nice to play the last couple of holes downwind.” 

6. There is no way to sugarcoat this: The final round at Torrey Pines was an unmitigated disaster for Scott Brown.

Tied for the 54-hole lead with K.J. Choi, Brown shot a career-worst, 15-over 87 and plummeted to a T-49 finish. It’s the highest final-round score by a leader in the last 10 years (by five shots!). 

Brown made 11 bogeys and two doubles. Before his par on the last, he had dropped at least one shot on 11 consecutive holes. 

7. What to make of Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson’s early exit at Torrey Pines? Each case should be examined differently. 


Level of concern: Extremely low 

Day’s caddie Colin Swatton said Day had great practice sessions in Palm Springs as he geared up for his title defense. Then he and his family caught the flu. He made two trips to the hospital on Tuesday and picked up a club for the first time in five days an hour before his Thursday tee time. His only worry now: a lack of competitive reps heading into Augusta.


Level of concern: Extremely low 

Because of his sponsorship deal with Farmers, Fowler flew 17 hours across 12 time zones after an impressive victory in Abu Dhabi. Once play started, he was far from the only player who struggled on the bumpy seaside poa annua greens. He’ll be just fine.


Level of concern: Low

Torrey was his first tournament in two months, and he wasn't particularly sharp from tee to green. Then again, he doesn't have a top-20 finish at Torrey in seven tries. Why doesn't he begin his year elsewhere? 


Level of concern: Medium-Low 

His Friday 76 on the North Course came out of nowhere; in 26 prior rounds, he averaged 68.77 and had only one over-par score (73). It continued the strained relationship between Lefty and his hometown event, which he has won three times but not in the past 15 years. The South Course was renovated in 2003 by Rees Jones, who wanted to beef up the course in advance of the U.S. Open; Phil has seriously contended there only once since. Throw in his failed bid to redo the North Course – he was a victim of head-scratching politics – and you get the sense that all of those warm, fuzzy feelings are gone. This week’s Phoenix Open – another event in which Mickelson has enjoyed success – should serve as a more accurate barometer of his uneven game.

8. Jordan Spieth’s first visit to Singapore turned out to be much more extensive than a simple brand-building trip. 

His agent doubled as his caddie. Multiple weather delays led to early mornings and long days. And finally, on Sunday, while lining up a make-or-break 5-footer on the last, the horn blew for the final time. Spieth couldn’t hide his disgust as he walked off the green, knowing that it meant another night in Singapore – and one less night at home, before he continues his busy early-season schedule at Pebble Beach and Riviera. 

Despite earning some extra cash for the trip to Singapore – and it was reported that he received a $1.3 million appearance fee – Spieth admitted that his world tour came at a cost.

"What I've learned," he said, "is that I won't bounce back and forth from the States over here as often as I did. It's just tough." 

At 22, he's already ahead of the learning curve. As usual. 

9. Perhaps, in retrospect, Dustin Johnson’s curious trend of weekend retreats started at the U.S. Open, where he handed the title to Spieth with a three-putt from 12 feet on the 72nd hole.

Is there scar tissue?

  • Because in his next start, at the Open Championship, where he held the halfway lead, he closed with back-to-back rounds of 75.
  • Because in his next start, at the WGC-Bridgestone, where he was tied for second heading into the weekend, he went 75-76 and disappeared.
  • Because at the end of the year, at the World Challenge, where he was four shots behind, he played the weekend in only 1 under and got lapped.
  • And because it happened again last week, at Torrey Pines, where he trailed by one, and then blew up with rounds of 74-80.

DJ’s reputation as a closer is getting even shakier after these bizarre backtracks.  

10. Jim Furyk has finally relented and undergone surgery on his ailing left wrist. It’s an issue that has bothered him since September, though he was optimistic that his wrist would heal without going under the knife. Not so, apparently.

The three-month timetable for a recovery puts Furyk’s appearance at the Masters in jeopardy – he hasn’t missed the year’s first major since 2004 – as well as his title defense at the RBC Heritage, his only victory in the past six years.

Alas, it’s already shaping up as a possible lost year for the soon-to-be 46-year-old. 

11. Branden Grace offered yet another reminder last week that a major breakthrough could be imminent.

Grace, who had top-20s at the final three majors last year, including a tie for fourth at the U.S. Open after sharing the lead on the 70th hole, earned his seventh career European Tour title in Qatar. Only Rory McIlroy, with 12, has more Euro Tour titles under the age of 30. 

The biggest improvement in Grace’s game is his consistency. He missed only two cuts all last year and now has run off six consecutive top-10s worldwide. If he keeps this up, he won’t even be considered a sleeper for the majors. 

12. So it seems Stacy Lewis’ new year is off to a familiar start – with a close call.

Winless in the past 18 months, the top-ranked American in the world tied for second in the Bahamas to record her NINTH runner-up finish since her last victory.

As much as Lewis might try to put a positive spin on another near miss – “I just feel things are in a better place” – it’s a maddening stretch of golf for one of the game's fieriest competitors. 

13. Paula Creamer revealed last week that she has shaken up her team for the first time in more than a decade, hiring Gary Gilchrist to look after her swing. It’s a major change but also a much-needed one, her game having gone stale after winning just once since her breakthrough U.S. Open title in 2010. It remains to be seen whether she still has the talent and drive to keep pace with the world’s best, but at least Creamer is willing to take a risk in hopes that it rejuvenates her game. Her season began with a T-5 in the Bahamas, so maybe her arrow is pointing up again.

Last week, Phil Mickelson was asked an innocent question about Ryan Ruffels, the 17-year-old Australian phenom who was making his pro debut at Torrey Pines.

“You’ve been such an inspiration for younger players,” the reporter started. “Talk about Ryan Ruffels and your relationship with him.”

That’s it. It was a softball question.

Mickelson could have taken the high road. He could have discussed how much talent the kid has. He could have said how excited he was to see his career progression. Instead, he lashed out, because of an article that appeared recently in an Australian newspaper, a cute story in which Ruffels said that he received 2-to-1 odds against Lefty, birdied six of the last seven holes and won $5,000.

That Lefty chastised the young player for embellishing details of the bet – “high school stuff” – was likely less about the wager itself and more because it unintentionally suggested that Phil’s brother, Tim, the head coach at Arizona State, might have committed an NCAA violation. 

Both sides were at fault here, the veteran and rookie:

Mickelson should have handled the situation differently, approaching Ruffels in the locker room to discuss the story instead of publicly shaming the kid and becoming a top headline.

And Ruffels shouldn’t have disclosed the amount to a reporter – that's one of golf’s unwritten rules, though, to be fair, it's also a rule with which he likely was unfamiliar because Ruffels is, well, of high school age.

It's safe to say the kid won't make that mistake again. And by the way, he earned more than $20,000 in his pro debut.

This week's award winners ... 

This Week in PGA Tour Politics: Thomas Pieters' hair. Camp Ponte Vedra's "vender" overcropped the 24-year-old Belgian's moptop, which was apparently too unruly for Tour standards. The Tour did offer a funny kicker, though: "We think he has a great head of hair." 

Not Just a Trick-Shot Artist: Wesley Bryan. Yes, he can hit drives, chips and putts toward normal targets, too. He tied for seventh in the Tour’s season opener. 

Albatross Alert: Jason Gore and Ha Na Jang. Gore’s came on the par-5 18th hole at Torrey Pines, while Jang’s was even more impressive – holing her 3-wood tee shot on the 218-yard eighth hole at the Ocean Club on Paradise Island, the first 1 on a par 4 in LPGA history. Great reaction, too: 

Sent to the DL: Michael Greller. Jordan Spieth's caddie tweaked his ankle while dropping into a bunker at Tiger's tournament in December and reaggravated the injury on the hilly terrain at Kapalua. He was diagnosed with a second-degree ankle sprain, according to Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte, and hopes to return for the Pebble-Riviera double dip. Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, filled in for Greller in Singapore.

Fun with Rankings: Jason Day/Rory McIlroy, Patrick Reed/Branden Grace. No. 2 Day missed the cut at Torrey Pines and fell behind McIlroy, who was idle. Reed withdrew after the third round and moved to No. 9, while Grace won for the seventh time in his European Tour career and remained at No. 11. 

It's Good to Be No. 1: Lydia Ko. The 17-year-old posted last week that Lexus sent her a RC F Sports Coupe, a car valued at $75,000. It's her first vehicle. Mine was a 2002 Nissan 200SX with 75,000 miles that literally imploded three years later. 

Rotten Luck: Ollie Schniederjans' final round. The former No. 1-ranked amateur was inside the top 30 and on pace to pick up some much-needed FedEx Cup points with only two more sponsor exemptions remaining this season. Instead, he played in the worst of the conditions, shot 81 and crashed to T-49. 

Random Thought of the Week: Why did fans even bother to show up Sunday at Torrey? The forecast called for cold temperatures, howling winds and blinding rain, and, yep, that's exactly what happened, along with significant tree damage.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Bill Haas. He had missed only one cut in 11 tries at Torrey Pines, and that was 10 years ago. He had top-20s five of the past seven years, and he was coming off a T-9 in Palm Springs. Sigh. 

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After Further Review: Haas crash strikes a chord

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 19, 2018, 2:39 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the horrifying car crash involving Bill Haas ...

I spent a lot of time this week thinking about Bill Haas. He was the passenger in a car crash that killed a member of his host family. That man, 71-year-old Mark Gibello, was a successful businessman in Pacific Palisades, Calif., and a new friend.

Haas escaped without any major injuries, but he withdrew from the Genesis Open to return home to Greenville, S.C. When he’ll return to the Tour is anyone’s guess. It could be a while, as he grapples with the many emotions after surviving that horrifying crash – seriously, check out the photos – while the man next to him did not.

The entire Haas clan is some of the nicest people you’ll ever meet. Wish them the best in their recovery. – Ryan Lavner

On TIger Woods' missed cut at the Genesis Open ...

After missing the cut at the Genesis Open by more than a few car lengths, Tiger Woods appeared to take his early exit in stride. Perhaps that in and of itself is a form of progress.

Years ago, a second-round 76 with a tattered back-nine scorecard would have elicited a wide range of emotions. But none of them would have been particularly tempered, or optimistic, looking ahead to his next start. At age 42, though, Woods has finally ceded that a win-or-bust mentality is no longer helpful or productive.

The road back from his latest surgery will be a winding one, mixed with both ups and downs. His return at Torrey Pines qualified as the former, while his trunk slam at Riviera certainly served as the latter. There will surely be more of both in the coming weeks and months, and Woods’ ability to stomach the rough patches could prove pivotal for his long-term prognosis. - Will Gray

On the debate over increased driving distance on the PGA Tour ...

The drumbeat is only going to get louder as the game’s best get longer. On Sunday, Bubba Watson pounded his way to his 10th PGA Tour title at the Genesis Open and the average driving distance continues to climb.

Lost in the debate over driving distances and potential fixes, none of which seem to be simple, is a beacon of sanity, Riviera Country Club’s par-4 10th hole. The 10th played just over 300 yards for the week and yet yielded almost as many bogeys (86) as birdies (87) with a 4.053 stroke average.

That ranks the 10th as the 94th toughest par 4 on Tour this season, ahead of behemoths like the 480-yard first at Waialae and 549-yard 17th at Kapalua. Maybe the game doesn’t need new rules that limit how far the golf ball goes, maybe it just needs better-designed golf holes. - Rex Hoggard

On the depth of LPGA talent coming out of South Korea ...

The South Korean pipeline to the LPGA shows no signs of drying up any time soon. Jin Young Ko, 22, won her LPGA debut as a tour member Sunday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, and Hyejin Choi, 18, nearly won the right to claim LPGA membership there. The former world No. 1 amateur who just turned pro finished second playing on a sponsor exemption. Sung Hyun Park, who shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last year, is set to make her 2018 debut this week at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And Inbee Park is set to make her return to the LPGA in two weeks at the HSBC Women’s World Championship after missing most of last year due to injury. The LPGA continues to go through South Korea no matter where this tour goes. - Randall Mell

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Nature calls: Hole-out rescues Bubba's bladder

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 2:20 am

LOS ANGELES – Clinging to a one-stroke lead, Bubba Watson had just teed off on the 14th hole at Riviera Country Club and was searching for a bathroom.

“I asked Cameron [Smith], ‘where's the bathroom?’ He said, ‘On the next tee there's one. Give yourself a couple more shots, then you can go to the bathroom,’” Watson recalled. “I said, ‘So now I'm just going to hole it and go to the bathroom.’”

By the time Watson got to his shot, which had found the bunker left of the green, his caddie Ted Scott had a similar comment.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

“When he went down to hit it I said, ‘You know you haven’t holed one in a long time,’” Scott said.

Watson’s shot landed just short of the hole, bounced once and crashed into the flagstick before dropping into the hole for an unlikely birdie and a two-stroke lead that he would not relinquish on his way to his third victory at the Genesis Open and his 10th PGA Tour title.

“I looked at Teddy [Scott] and said, ‘You called it.’ Then Cameron [who was paired with Watson] came over and said I called it. I’d forgotten he and I had talked about it,” Watson said.

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Bubba Golf takes long road back to winner's circle

By Rex HoggardFebruary 19, 2018, 1:55 am

LOS ANGELES – Bubba’s back.

It’s been just two years since he hoisted a trophy on the PGA Tour, but with a mind that moves as fast as Bubba Watson’s, it must have felt like an eternity.

Since his last victory, which was also a shootout at Riviera Country Club in 2016, Watson was passed over for a captain’s pick at the 2016 Ryder Cup, endured a mystery illness, lost his confidence, his desire and the better part of 40 pounds.

He admits that along that ride he considered retirement and wondered if his best days were behind him.

“I was close [to retirement]. My wife was not close,” he conceded. “My wife basically told me to quit whining and play golf. She's a lot tougher than I am.”

What else could he do? With apologies to his University of Georgia education and a growing portfolio of small businesses, Watson was made to be on the golf course, particularly a golf course like Riviera, which is the canvas that brings out Bubba’s best.

In a game that can too often become a monotonous parade of fairways and greens, Watson is a freewheeling iconoclast who thrives on adversity. Where others only see straight lines and one-dimensional options, Bubba embraces the unconventional and the untried.

For a player who sometimes refers to himself in the third person, it was a perfectly Bubba moment midway through his final round on Sunday at the Genesis Open. Having stumbled out of the 54-hole lead with bogeys at Nos. 3 and 6, Watson pulled his 2-iron tee shot wildly right at the seventh because, “[his playing partners] both went left.”

From an impossible lie in thick rough with his golf ball 2 feet above his feet, Watson’s often-fragile focus zeroed in for one of the week’s most entertaining shots, which landed about 70 feet from the hole and led to a two-putt par.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

“His feel for that kind of stuff, you can’t go to the range and practice that. You can’t,” said Watson’s caddie Ted Scott. “Put a ball 2 feet above your feet and then have to hold the face open and then to swing that easy. That’s why I have the best seat in the house. That’s the essence of Bubba golf.”

There were plenty of highlight moments on Sunday for Watson. There were crucial putts at Nos. 11 (birdie), 12 (par) and 13 (par) to break free of what was becoming an increasingly fluid leaderboard, and his chip-in birdie from a greenside bunker at the 14th hole extended his lead to two strokes.

“It was just a bunker shot, no big deal,” smiled Watson, who closed with a 69 for a two-stroke victory over Kevin Na and Tony Finau.

A player that can often appear handcuffed by the most straightforward of shots was at his best at Riviera, withstanding numerous challenges to win the Genesis Open for his 10th PGA Tour title.

That he did so on a frenzied afternoon that featured four different players moving into, however briefly, at last a share of the lead, Watson never appeared rattled. But, of course, we all know that wasn’t the case.

Watson can become famously uncomfortable on the course and isn’t exactly known for his ability to ignore distractions. But Riviera, where he’s now won three times, is akin to competitive Ritalin for Watson.

“[Watson] feels very comfortable moving the ball, turning it a lot. That allows him to get to a lot of the tucked pins,” said Phil Mickelson, who finished tied for sixth after moving to within one stroke of the lead early in round. “A lot of guys don't feel comfortable doing that and they end up accepting a 15 to 30 footer in the center of the green. He ends up making a lot more birdies than a lot of guys.”

It’s the soul of what Scott calls Bubba Golf, which is in simplest terms the most creative form of the game.

Watson can’t explain exactly what Bubba Golf is, but there was a telling moment earlier this week when Aaron Baddeley offered Watson an impromptu putting lesson, which Bubba said was the worst putting lesson he’d ever gotten.

“He goes, ‘how do you hit a fade?’ I said, ‘I aim it right and think fade.’ How do you hit a draw? I aim it left and think draw,” Watson said. “He said, ‘how do you putt?’ I said, ‘I don't know.’ He said, ‘well, aim it to the right when it breaks to the left, aim it to the left when it breaks to the right,’ exactly how you imagine your golf ball in the fairway or off the tee, however you imagine it, imagine it that way.”

It’s certain that there’s more going on internally, but when he’s playing his best the sum total of Watson’s game can be simply explained – see ball, hit ball. Anything more complicated than that and he runs the risk of losing what makes him so unique and – when the stars align and a course like Riviera or Augusta National, where he’s won twice, asks the right questions – virtually unbeatable.

That’s a long way from the depths of 2017, when he failed to advance past the second playoff event and dropped outside the top 100 in the Official World Golf Ranking. But then, Watson has covered a lot of ground in his career on his way to 10 Tour victories.

“I never thought I could get there,” he said. “Nobody thought that Bubba Watson from Bagdad, Fla., would ever get to 10 wins, let's be honest. Without lessons, head case, hooking the ball, slicing the ball, can't putt, you know? Somehow we're here making fun of it.”

Somehow, through all the adversity and distractions, he found a way to be Bubba again.

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Spieth: 'I feel great about the state of my game'

By Will GrayFebruary 19, 2018, 1:43 am

LOS ANGELES – Jordan Spieth is starting to feel confident again with the putter, which is probably a bad sign for the rest of the PGA Tour.

Spieth struggled on the greens two weeks ago at TPC Scottsdale, but he began to right the ship at Pebble Beach and cracked the top 10 this week at the Genesis Open. Perhaps more important than his final spot on the leaderboard was his standing in the strokes gained putting category – 12th among the field at Riviera Country Club, including a 24-putt performance in the third round.

Spieth closed out the week with a 4-under 67 to finish in a tie for ninth, five shots behind Bubba Watson. But after the round he spoke like a man whose preparation for the season’s first major is once again right on track.

Full-field scores from the Genesis Open

Genesis Open: Articles, photos and videos

“I was kind of, you know, skiing uphill with my putting after Phoenix and the beginning of Pebble week, and really just for a little while now through the new year,” Spieth said. “I just made some tremendous progress. I putted extremely well this week, which is awesome. I feel great about the state of my game going forward, feel like I’m in a great place at this time of the year as we’re starting to head into major season.”

Spieth will take a break next week, and where he next tees it up remains uncertain. He still has not announced a decision about playing or skipping the WGC-Mexico Championship, and he will have until 5 p.m. ET Friday to make a final decision on the no-cut event.

Whether or not he flies down to Mexico City, Spieth’s optimism has officially returned after a brief hiccup on the West Coast swing.

“For where I was starting out Phoenix to where I am and how I feel about my game going forward the rest of the year, there was a lot of progress made,” he said. “Now I’ve just got to figure out what the best schedule is for myself as we head into the Masters.”