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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Awards season: Handing out the 2017 Rexys

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2017, 7:00 pm

After careful consideration and an exhaustive review of 2017 we present The Rexys, a wildly incomplete and arbitrary line up following one of the most eventful years in golf.

 There will be omissions – just keep your calls, concerns and even e-mails to yourself. We appreciate your patronage, but not your feedback.

It’s Not You, It’s Me Award. You know the deal: You can’t be a part of two until you’re a better one; but on this front it’s really just a desire to find a better two.

It was a tough year for caddies, and not just any caddies. In June, Phil Mickelson split with longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. Both player and caddie cited the need for “change,” but the move reverberated throughout the game.

“The fairytale is over,” mused one caddie when told of the high-profile split.

In the wake of the Lefty/Bones break, Rory McIlroy split with his caddie J.P Fitzgerald, and Jason Day replaced looper/swing coach Colin Swatton on his bag. It all proves yet again that there are only two kinds of caddies, those who have been fired and those who are about to be fired.

Run for the Rose Cup. Sergio Garcia got the green jacket, a lifetime exemption to the game’s most coveted member-member and a long-awaited major, but Justin Rose took home the slightly less prestigious “Rose Cup.”

Following a frenzied afternoon at Augusta National in April, Rose lost to Garcia on the first playoff hole, but he won so much more with his honesty and class.

“You're going to win majors and you're going to lose majors, but you've got to be willing to lose them,” Rose figured following the final round. “You've got to put yourself out there. You've got to hit the top of the leaderboard. There's a lot of pressure out there and if you're not willing to enjoy it, then you're not ready to win these tournaments. I loved it out there.”

Few have made losing look so dignified and fewer still are as easy to root for.

Half-Empty Cup. It was the perfect setting, with sweeping views of the Manhattan skyline and the promise of the Tristate masses descending on this fall’s Presidents Cup.

If only all those rowdy New Yorkers had something to cheer.

For the sixth time in the last seven matches, the U.S. team rolled to a victory of at least three points. This particular edition was even in danger of ending on Saturday afternoon thanks to a particularly dominant performance by a young American squad led by Steve Stricker.

Officials spoke of the purity of the competition and the attention the ’17 cup generated, but however you spin the 19-11 rout, this cup is half empty.

Enigma Award. The actual hardware is simply an oversized question mark and was sent directly to Tiger Woods’ South Florida compound following the most curious of seasons.

While it’s become customary in recent years to consider the uncertain path that awaits the 14-time major winner, this most recent calendar brought an entirely new collection of questions following fusion surgery on his lower back in April, his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day and, finally, a glimmer of hope born from his tie for ninth at the Hero World Challenge earlier this month.

When will he play again? Can he compete against the current generation of world-beaters? Can his body withstand the rigors of a full PGA Tour schedule? Should Jim Furyk make him a captain’s pick now or wait to see if he should be driving a vice captain’s golf cart instead?

Little is certain when it comes to Woods, and the over-sized question mark goes to ... the guy in red and black.

After Further Review Chalice. In April, Lexi Thompson endured a heartbreaking loss at the ANA Inspiration, the byproduct of a surreal ruling that arrived a day late via a viewer e-mail and cost the would-be winner a major championship.

The entire event was so unsavory that the USGA and R&A made not one but two alterations to the rules and created a “working group” to avoid similar snafus in the future.

That working group – it turns out the U.S. Ryder Cup team has some sort of copyright on “task force” – initially issued a decision that introduced a “reasonable judgment” and a “naked eye” standard to video reviews, and last week the rule makers kept the changes coming.

The new protocols on video review will now include an official to monitor tournament broadcasts and ended the practice of allowing fans to call in, or in this case e-mail, possible infractions to officials. The USGA and R&A also eliminated the two-stroke penalty for players who sign incorrect scorecards when the player is unaware of the penalty.

While all this might be a step in the right direction, it does nothing to change Thompson’s fate. The AFR Chalice won’t change the harsh reality, but at least it will serve as a reminder of how she helped altered the rulemaking landscape.

Nothing Runs Like a Deere Award. Nothing gets fans fired up like officials turning fields of fescue rough into hay on the eve of a major championship, and the USGA’s decision to do some 11th-hour trimming at Erin Hills in June certainly caught many by surprise.

Officials said the nip/tuck on four holes was in reaction to a particularly foreboding forecast that never materialized, and the maintenance drew the ire of some players.

“We have 60 yards from left line to right line,” Rory McIlroy said. “You’ve got 156 of the best players in the world here; if we can’t hit it within that avenue, you might as well pack your bags and go home.”

The record low scoring at the U.S. Open – winner Brooks Koepka finished with a 16-under total – didn’t help ease the fervor and had some questioning whether the softer side of the USGA has gone a bit too far?

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Podcast: Daly takes big pride in 'Little John'

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 14, 2017, 5:28 pm

John Daly is a two-time major champion, but the newest trophy in his household belongs to someone else.

That’s because Daly’s son, 14-year-old Little John “LJ” Daly, rallied to capture an IJGT junior golf event over the weekend. The younger Daly birdied the first extra hole to win a five-person playoff at Harbour Town Golf Links, site of the PGA Tour’s RBC Heritage.

Daly recently sat down for a Golf Channel podcast to describe what it’s like to cheer for his son and PNC Father-Son Challenge partner, share the unique challenge presented by the upcoming Diamond Resorts Invitational and reflect on some of the notable highs of a career that has now spanned more than 25 years.

Sneds starts slowly in Masters invite bid

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 4:22 pm

Brandt Snedeker flew halfway around the world in search of a Masters invite, but after one round of the Indonesian Masters it appears he'll likely return home empty-handed.

Snedeker made only two birdies during his opening round in Indonesia, shooting an even-par 72 that left him in a tie for 77th and 10 shots behind leader Justin Rose. This is the final OWGR-rated event of 2017, and as a result it has drawn several notable entrants, including Snedeker, who hope to crack the top 50 in the world rankings by year's end to secure a trip to Augusta National.

Full-field scores from the Indonesian Masters

Snedeker started the year ranked No. 28, but after missing five months because of injury he entered the week ranked No. 51 and is projected to slip even further by the end of the month. As a result, he likely needs a top-3 finish in order to secure a return to the Masters, which he has missed only once since 2007.

World No. 55 Dylan Frittelli also struggled, shooting a 4-over 76 in the opening round, while No. 56 Kiradech Aphibarnrat is tied for 14th at 4 under. Yusaku Miyazato, currently 58th in the world, is tied for ninth and five shots behind Rose.

Should Snedeker and the other hopefuls fail to crack the top 50 by the end of the year, two paths to the Masters remain: win a full-point event on the PGA Tour in early 2018 or be inside the top 50 in the world rankings when the final cutoff is made on March 25.

Nathaniel Crosby at the 1983 Bing Crosby Pro-Am at Pebble Beach. Getty Images

Crosby selected as 2019 U.S. Walker Cup captain

By Will GrayDecember 14, 2017, 3:19 pm

The USGA announced that former U.S. Amateur champ Nathaniel Crosby will serve as the American captain for the 2019 Walker Cup, which will be played at Royal Liverpool Golf Club in Hoylake, England.

Crosby, 56, is the son of entertainment icon and golf enthusiast Bing Crosby. He won the 1981 U.S. Amateur at The Olympic Club as a teenager and earned low amateur honors at the 1982 U.S. Open at Pebble Beach. He also played in the 1983 Walker Cup, coincidentally held at Royal Liverpool, before embarking on a brief career in professional golf, with his amateur status reinstated in 1994.

"I am thrilled and overwhelmed to be chosen captain of the next USA Walker Cup team," Crosby said in a statement. "Many of my closest friends are former captains who will hopefully take the time to share their approaches in an effort to help me with my new responsibilities."

Crosby takes over the captaincy from John "Spider" Miller, who led the U.S. squad both in 2015 and earlier this year, when the Americans cruised to a 19-7 victory at Los Angeles Country Club.

Crosby is a Florida resident and member at Seminole Golf Club, which will host the 2021 matches. While it remains to be seen if he'll be asked back as captain in 2021, each of the last six American captains have led a team on both home and foreign soil.

Started in 1922, the Walker Cup is a 10-man, amateur match play competition pitting the U.S. against Great Britain and Ireland. The U.S. team holds a 37-9 all-time lead in the biennial matches but has not won in Europe since 2007.