Monday Scramble: Sneds wins again; Furyk falters ... again

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 16, 2015, 4:00 pm

Brandt Snedeker re-emerges as a Masters contender, Jim Furyk falters (again), Tiger Woods steps away and more in this week’s presidential edition of the Monday Scramble: 

OK, officially, Jim Furyk has now failed to close out his last nine 54-hole leads. On a few of those occasions, he has coughed up the lead because of his own poor play. Other times, he was simply beaten by the better player on Sunday. It was clear early that he never stood a chance in a shootout at Pebble Beach. Furyk closed with 74 while the players behind him lit up a defenseless course. 

Furyk’s recent oh-fer not only shines a light on how much scar tissue the 44-year-old has developed in recent years, but also how leading is not always an enviable position. For so many years Tiger Woods (and now, to a lesser extent, Rory McIlroy) made winning look easy. But it’s human nature to want to nurse a lead, to protect it, which is why the pursuers have enjoyed more success recently than the leaders. Since 2010, 57 (!) percent of Tour winners have trailed heading into the final round. Here’s another eye-opening stat: Over the past two seasons, only FIVE of the last 16 players who held a one-shot lead have gone on to win.

So go ahead – hammer Furyk for another blown lead. Just remember he’s far from the only leader to trip up on a Sunday.

1. It’s telling that Brandt Snedeker had 50/1 odds to win the Masters – and he wasn’t even eligible yet. Though he’s not among the obvious favorites for the year’s first major (that distinction belongs to Rory, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Bubba Watson), Sneds’ second win in three years at Pebble locks up a spot at Augusta, and that’s good news for those who plunked down some cash on the player who entered last week at No. 63 in the world. Snedeker has four top-10s at Augusta since 2008, including the what-could-have-been T-6 in ’13, when he shared the 54-hole lead.

2. Snedeker’s performance is predicated on his short game, and last year one of the game’s best putters was only … above average. Unexceptional. He was 27th on Tour in strokes gained-putting, which is good, of course, but not good enough for a player who is short off the tee and occasionally crooked. (He was top 20 in SGP the previous five years, including No. 1 in 2012, his best year on Tour.)

So during the second half of last year, Snedeker benched his Odyssey White Hot putter – a club he had used since 2006. It wasn’t a long split, because he put the flat stick back in his bag at the HSBC last fall and has rolled the rock better ever since. “Sometimes you have to use some harsh words with the putter if it’s not paying attention – leave them in a hot trunk for a while and let them know they can be replaced,” he said. “Luckily, she understood and got back into working form.” 

3. Courtesy of the Golf Channel research department, here’s a by-the-numbers account of Jim Furyk’s winless drought:

  • Days: 1,064
  • Starts: 94
  • Runners-up: 7
  • Top-fives: 16
  • Top-10s: 31
  • Earnings (gulp): $14.5 million

4. So Tiger Woods has taken an indefinite break from the game. It’s the right move – really, the only move after his embarrassing start – but it’s intentionally open-ended and vague. Tiger could return next week at the Honda, or at Bay Hill, or at Augusta, or at his tournament at the end of the year. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

5. But the most interesting sentence in Woods’ statement is this: “Like I’ve said, I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I’m ready, I’ll be back.” That one line will define his comeback.

Let’s say he returns at Bay Hill. That would mean Woods has deemed his game tournament-ready after a full month of work at home. He would sincerely believe that he’s able to compete, maybe even to win. Those are the only conditions in which he would return, remember? … So what happens if his game and scores are still “not acceptable”? What if he misses another cut? What if he puts in the work, thinks and declares that he’s ready, but his game is still MIA? What happens then? Does he take another break? Work even harder? Retire? 

6. Man, you know it’s bad when even the Jacksonville Jaguars’ kicker is cracking jokes at your expense:

Initial reaction: MY GOODNESS, why would you tweak the Twitter trolls like that?! Second reaction: Wait ... kickers have $1.8 million in disposable income?

7. Irony Alert: John Daly and Miguel Angel Jimenez (combined age: 99) led tournaments last week, while gym rat Tiger Woods – arguably the most athletic golfer of all time and the man solely responsible for ushering in the new fit-crazed era on tour – hobbled to the sidelines to nurse injuries that are equal parts physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Weird times.   

8. It was only fitting that Jimenez had a chance to win in the same week that Darren Clarke will likely be named the 2016 Ryder Cup captain. Miggy is a finalist for the job, after all, but his chances have always seemed slim. Though he’s a charismatic personality, the language barrier was a major issue in such a high-profile gig. And besides, why would the 51-year-old want to forfeit two years of his playing career when he’s still very competitive? He’s ranked 45th in the world, and the guy plays part-time on the Champions Tour! Clarke is world No. 461, and tanking. 

9. #TBT: Daly opened with a 7-under 65 at Pebble Beach. It matched his best start to a tournament in 18 years, and the story got even better when he grabbed the solo lead on Day 2. But then he did what John Daly always does, which is play the next 29 holes in 4 over par to miss the cut (or withdraw) for the 103rd time since his last win in 2004. Predictably sad.   

10. Well, that may have been the best weather week EVER on the Monterey Peninsula – which probably made it even more sickening for those of you buried under 4 feet of snow. As if tour types don’t already enjoy envy-inducing lives, here are three of our favorite #humblebrags on social media: 

11. Dustin Johnson: It was like you never left! In only his second start since August, DJ shot all four rounds in the 60s en route to a T-4 finish at Pebble. This does not surprise at all, because 1.) Pebble has become one of his playgrounds over the past several years (two wins, four other top-10s); and 2.) Before his self-imposed leave of absence, Johnson was in the midst of a career year. After an early exit in his debut at Torrey Pines, Johnson has seemingly picked up where he left off and now heads to Riviera, where he has three top-four finishes in the last five years. Look for him to contend once again. 

The Internet can be a bizarre place. The *big* rumor last week was that Tiger flew to Colorado to watch Lindsey Vonn compete at the world championships and then, you know, get married – on Valentine’s Day, no less! (If they haven’t already tied the knot, the same report says it is “imminent.” Good for them.)

Here’s the New York Post, which sent the rumor mill into overdrive:

Woods and Vonn have become a megawatt sports celebrity pairing in recent years, and in Colorado the last two weeks there has been a persistent rumor that their marriage is imminent, perhaps even on Valentine’s Day. The women's slalom is scheduled for Saturday — and Vonn is not expected to enter. 

Vonn laughed off the rumor during a ceremony Saturday night, reportedly telling the crowd, “This is the most important night of my life … and no, not because I married Tiger Woods today!”

Brownie Points award: Mark Hubbard. Not only did he get the propose-behind-the-18th-at-Pebble idea from his new fiancee’s mom. He worked with the tournament staff to go off last on Thursday, so he could pop the question in the gloaming. If his goal was to put golfers all over the globe to shame, well, congratulations.  

Best Secret Keeper award: Adam Scott. Dude got married and had a kid without making a peep. The exceedingly rare silent superstar. Isn’t it wonderful? 

Best Twitter Battle award (Part 1): Justin Thomas vs. Jordan Spieth, the Saga Continues!

Best Twitter Battle award (Part 2): The Twitter accounts for the St. Jude Classic and John Deere Classic had a friendly wager last week: Jordan Spieth and Jake Owen (Team John Deere) vs. Billy Horschel and Colt Ford (Team St. Jude). The team with the worse score has to post on ALL social media platforms that the other’s tee markers are the best on Tour. Spieth’s team finished T-6. Horschel’s missed the 54-hole cut. Oh, we’re waiting, @FesJCMemphis … 

Best Missed Cut Ever award: With an ace on the 14th hole Friday at the Thailand Classic, Panuphol Pittayarat won the keys to a four-story, three-bedroom townhouse valued at $370,000. If he sold the place right now, he could nearly match his career earnings ($397,761). 

Weary Traveler award: Peter Uihlein. Earlier this week the former Oklahoma State star withdrew from the Thailand event because of food poisoning. That follows a run of dehydration in Dubai and a sprained wrist in Malaysia. Come home, young Peter.  

No. 1? Well, maybe someday. Rory is playing too well to drop this year, and he doesn’t figure to back down anytime soon. Assuming Day can stay healthy – that’s always the X factor – he’ll be Rory’s biggest rival moving forward. So, yes, the No. 2 spot is a real possibility, but it’s important to remember that No. 5 Adam Scott hasn’t even started his 2015 season yet. (He’ll do so at Doral.) Once his game kicks into high gear, he’ll be just another obstacle for Day to overcome. If Day can steal another title in the next few weeks, he could push to a career-high ranking.

Hudson Swafford has been mistaken for Harris English, and the comparisons don’t stop with their appearance. Swafford plays a big, brawny game, and though he’s struggled of late, he had three consecutive top 20s to begin the season. Another: It hasn’t happened yet, but Erik Compton, still just 35, seems destined to win at least once in his Tour career. He came close earlier this year at the Humana, sharing the 54-hole lead with a few others, but if can capture his first title, it’ll be one of the best sports stories ever.   

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Koepka (wrist) likely out until the Masters

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 9:08 pm

Defending U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka is expected to miss at least the next two months because of a torn tendon in his left wrist.

Koepka, who suffered a partially torn Extensor Carpi Ulnaris (ECU), is hoping to return in time for the Masters.

In a statement released by his management company, Koepka said that doctors are unsure when the injury occurred but that he first felt discomfort at the Hero World Challenge, where he finished last in the 18-man event. Playing through pain, he also finished last at the Tournament of Champions, after which he underwent a second MRI that revealed the tear.

Koepka is expected to miss the next eight to 12 weeks.

“I am frustrated that I will now not be able to play my intended schedule,” Koepka said. “But I am confident in my doctors and in the treatment they have prescribed, and I look forward to teeing it up at the Masters. … I look forward to a quick and successful recovery.”

Prior to the injury, Koepka won the Dunlop Phoenix and cracked the top 10 in the world ranking. 

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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.

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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.  

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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.”