Monday Scramble: Chasm between McIlroy and Woods

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 2, 2015, 4:00 pm

Thanks to Pete Carroll, at least now someone had a worse stay in Phoenix than Tiger Woods.

This week’s Supersized edition of Monday Scramble: 

In the span of about 48 hours, two thoughts occurred: 1.) With a swing that sound and confidence that high, it’s a wonder Rory McIlroy doesn’t win every week, and 2.) If Tiger’s short-game woes aren’t solved, soon, he could struggle to break Snead’s record, never mind Jack’s. The game’s two biggest stars have never been further apart.

For as bad as Woods looked last week in the desert – the banana balls off the tee, the avert-your-eyes shots around the green – McIlroy appears in total control of his game, with no sign of letting up. And for as lost as Woods looked last week in the desert – genuinely confused about how to play straightforward pitch shots – McIlroy has never appeared more comfortable or confident. Rivalries can’t and won’t exist between the Nos. 1 and No. 56 players in the world, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether the window is closing. Fast. 

1. How otherworldly has Rory been recently? He has seven consecutive top-two finishes on the European Tour, the longest such streak in history. Since the Open began, he is a combined 149 under par in 48 rounds played. That any good? 

2. Of course there are a few rea$on$ why Rory opts to play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – have you stumbled upon his commercial yet? – but it would be incredible to watch Rory, at the peak of his powers, in THIS:

3. The most concerning part of Tiger’s abbreviated week was that he had SIX weeks to prepare. He hit “thousands” of chips during the offseason and was supposedly getting “better,” but it's clear that he has regressed badly.

4. Strange, too, because no one used to sprint out of the gates like Tiger Woods. In his first 15 season openers (through 2010), he had six wins, 12 top-fives and 14 top-10s. Since ... 

  • 2011 Farmers Insurance Open: T-44
  • 2012 Abu Dhabi: T-3
  • 2013 Abu Dhabi: MC
  • 2014 Farmers Insurance Open: MDF
  • 2015 Phoenix Open: MC 

Yes, he dealt with various injuries during that timespan, but this downward trend would seem to suggest that he’s either not practicing as hard as he did during his prime, or he’s practicing the wrong things. 

5. On a positive note, Tiger appears to have his explosiveness back, no small feat for an oft-injured 39-year-old less than 10 months removed from serious back surgery. Through two rounds at the Phoenix Open he led the field in driving distance (by 15 yards), at 327.5 per pop, and his swing speed of 121.46 mph was his fastest since 2008 (124.63). Yet he still missed 18 greens in two days, and was an unfathomable 5-for-18 in scrambling situations.

6. The new world No. 56 likely needs a top-10 at Torrey to move back inside the top 50. If not, Tiger will need a high finish at Honda or he’ll be watching Doral from the couch. (He has won in Miami on four occasions, most recently in ’13.) Chances are he won’t appear at the opposite-field event in Puerto Rico, which would give him just four total starts before Augusta, unless he adds to his projected schedule (Phoenix, Torrey, Honda, Bay Hill).

7. Brooks Koepka’s trophy case is increasingly eclectic, with wins in five countries – Turkey, Italy, Spain (twice), Scotland and, now, the U.S. Still only 24, Koepka traveled the world to learn how to win, and now he’s brimming with confidence and inside the OWGR top 20. One of the greatest compliments a player can receive is being told that his game travels well. Clearly, over the past few years, few players’ games have traveled better than Koepka’s. 

8. The task force was a ridiculous idea, anyway, but how are the U.S. team rosters shaping up now? Just a guess, but the Americans should be all right with Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Koepka holding it down.  

9. Lydia Ko became the youngest No. 1 player, male or female, at 17 years, 9 months and 7 days – more than four years younger than the next-closest on the list. Good thing LPGA commish Mike Whan waved that 18-year-old age requirement for her last year, huh?

10. Ko has six LPGA titles. Incredibly, she’s already bearing down on the career totals of these leading ladies:

  • Paula Creamer (10 wins)
  • Stacy Lewis (11)
  • Inbee Park (12)
  • Suzann Pettersen (14)

That was fast.

11. The return of Robert Allenby wasn’t nearly as hostile as expected. He shot rounds of 70-74 and missed the cut, but he escaped without further injury. More newsworthy was his bizarre pre-tournament news conference, during which he blamed the media for investigating an incident that Allenby himself brought to the media. Essentially, he was snarling, How dare you try to find out what happened during that two-hour gap that even I don’t remember!, which has us thinking that Allenby might be preparing for a new role in “The Hangover 4: Honolulu”:

12. Most NFL fans can agree that the 1983 draft class yielded the best crop of quarterback prospects ever. Someday, golf fans might say the same thing about the high school Class of 2011. Indeed, it’s easy to forget sometimes that Spieth would be a senior in college, but he headlines a superstar class that includes, among others, Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers, Ollie Schniederjans. Daniel Berger, Michael Kim, Cheng-Tsung Pan, Denny McCarthy and Anthony Paolucci. Be afraid, current Tour pros. Be very afraid.

13. Fans who decided to part with their beverages after Tiger made an ace on 16 is one thing. But making it rain beer after someone named Cory Renfrew chipped in for birdie? Have some respect. That’s BEER you’re wasting!

14. In an upcoming book, author Shane Ryan details the turbulent rise of Patrick Reed, depicted as a win-at-all-costs loner who was reportedly so unpopular amongst his teammates at both Georgia and Augusta State that on the eve of the 2011 NCAA Championship, his Jaguars teammates went to the Bulldogs with a message: “We want to win the national title, but we hope you kick the s--- out of Patrick Reed.” That didn’t happen, of course, because Reed went 6-0 in leading the tiny school to back-to-back NCAA titles. Funny … none of these stories leaked while he was helping the team win.

15. The Open Championship is poised to move from the BBC to Sky Sports, beginning in 2017, and some of Europe’s biggest names are peeved about it. Lee Westwood called it a “disgrace.” Graeme McDowell said he “feels bad” for those at home. Even Rory conceded that “it’s a shame.” By ’17 the Open will have had a 61-year relationship with the Beeb, but Sky has deeper pockets. It is also a subscription network, which means fewer people will be able to watch the year’s third major. Lower viewership numbers and no Peter Alliss? Sad. 

We saw some trying to justify that Tiger shanked his bunker shot into the crowd on 16 on purpose, during the WMPO pro-am. Riiiiight

Here is another view:

Knowing what we do now, it’s safe to say that he did NOT intentionally launch that teeth-seeking missile into the crowd. If he did, it was his best shot of the week.

Best Fan Interaction on 16 award: What better way to ingratiate oneself to the notoriously unforgiving fans than by handing out golf balls wrapped with $10 bills? Drink up all of that Coors Light, fellas!

Second-Best Fan Interaction on 16 award Patrick Reed, doing what he does best:

Better Luck Next Year award: Morgan Hoffmann donned a huge orange foam hat on Thursday and Sunday, but he missed the 16th green both times. Oy.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week award: Branden Grace. Coming off a victory, with a pair of titles in his last four starts and no finish outside the top 25 since September the 26-year-old South African was a LOCK for another high finish in Dubai, right? Nope. T-55. Brutal. 

OK, Kid, You’re Cute award: 

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.