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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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.