Adam Scott silences the doubters, Sergio Garcia falls short (again), Tiger Woods resurfaces, Ryder Cup hopefuls break bread with Jack and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
Adam Scott was “desperate” for this Honda Classic victory, and for good reason.
He needed this win for his confidence, having gone since May 2014 without a worldwide win. He needed this win for his relevance, having slipped behind the likes of Jordan, Jason, Rory and Rickie, and nearly out of the top 20 in the world. And, yes, he needed this win for his reputation, having endured a barrage of questions about whether he could survive without the long putter.
That his 26th worldwide title arrived only three starts into the new year was a massive bonus.
This putter debate could have lingered all year, his stats dissected every week, until Scott broke through again. Except he nearly won at Riviera two weeks ago, and then he put on a clinic at PGA National, on his way to leaving the field in the dust if not for a quadruple bogey in the third round.
Two strong fields, two major-caliber venues, two top-two finishes – that should tell you all you need to know about the current state of Scott’s game.
Now, he isn't just relevant. He is, once again, a force.
1. The beauty of Scott’s game is that he has never needed to be a great putter. It just couldn’t be a detriment.
Three times in his career he has eclipsed $4 million in earnings in a season: 2006, 2013 and 2014.
His stats those years:
Strokes gained-tee to green: 2nd
Strokes gained-tee to green: 5th
Strokes gained-tee to green: 5th
Granted, it’s a small sample size, but Scott’s stats this year have already fallen in line with his best seasons: Currently, he is second in strokes gained-tee to green and 50th in putting.
"It just reassures me," he said, "that I'm on the right track with the things I'm doing on the greens."
2. His balky putter received the most attention, of course, but there were a few reasons why 2015 was the first year in Scott's career that he didn’t win at least once worldwide.
He was still in the honeymoon phase with his wife. He welcomed a new child, daughter Bo, last February. And his long game wasn’t as sharp as usual – ranked 35th in strokes gained-tee to green, it was, statistically, his worst ball-striking year since ’09.
It appears to be an anomaly.
3. No shot showcased Scott's remarkable ability like this effort, from a fairway bunker on No. 12, a 149-yard 9-iron over a row of palm trees:
4. Even so, there has always been a sense that Scott has underachieved, that a player with his picture-perfect swing should win more tournaments, capture more majors. A fair criticism? Perhaps, but keep in mind that Scott, who turns 36 this summer, now has the most wins under the age of 40:
- Scott: 12
- Rory McIlroy: 11
- Dustin Johnson: 9
- Bubba Watson: 9
- Sergio Garcia: 8
- Geoff Ogilvy: 8
- Brandt Snedeker: 8
5. Falling short during the duel at PGA National was Garcia, who was a runner-up for the (gulp) 15th time in his Tour career.
It was clear early on Sunday that Garcia didn’t have his best stuff: He didn’t make a birdie until the 14th hole, fanned several approach shots and failed to put any pressure on Scott. And yet he still had a chance to win, right up until the 16th hole, when his 7-iron from the middle of the fairway came up woefully short and left of the green, leading to a momentum-killing bogey.
It turned out to be the first of several poor shots coming home, adding another layer of scar tissue despite Garcia's assurances after the round that his game wasn’t “anywhere near” where he wants it. (For the record, he finished the week ranked first in the strokes gained-tee to green statistic. Hmm.)
The high finishes are encouraging, but a player this talented shouldn’t be winless on Tour since August 2012. There is an obvious disconnect there.
6. What will it take for Garcia and Rickie Fowler to land their first major this year?
Maybe a final-day pairing.
Indeed, they play remarkably well together. Since the start of the 2013 PGA, Garcia and Fowler have been in the same group 16 times. Each has shot in the 60s in 10 of those rounds.
In those 16 rounds, Garcia is a combined 34 under par in Fowler's presence, while Rickie is 33 under.
Said Fowler, “We hang out on and off the golf course, good buddies, and we enjoy playing together.”
7. After months of radio silence, Tiger Woods returned to public life in a big way last week.
And to think, this all started because of a few incorrect rumors.
Ten days ago, Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, was asked whether he had an update on his client. It was a reasonable request – after all, the former world No. 1 hadn’t been heard from since his news conference in early December, the Tour was coming to Woods’ hometown for the Honda Classic (a tournament he usually plays, when healthy), and Woods was expected to come out of hibernation because of his duties as a Ryder Cup assistant captain. But Steinberg did not offer an update that day.
Over the weekend, and then again last Monday, social-media reports surfaced that Woods had suffered a setback in his recovery from back surgery and that he couldn’t move well. It didn’t sound good. That prompted a strong denial from Steinberg, and a day later, Woods took the matter into his own hands, sending out a 13-second video of his swing – the latest shot heard 'round the world – with the caption, “Progressing nicely.” The very next day, Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte reported that Woods had actually begun hitting half-speed drivers the previous week – remember, when Steinberg had no update to offer – and that he was further along in his recovery than previously thought.
It was a messy week full of rumors and speculation ... and it ultimately could have been avoided, with a short, simple update.
8. So now that it has been confirmed that Woods is actually closer to returning than retirement, the question everyone wants answered is this: When and where will he come back?
But to hear Woods at the World Challenge, there was a sense that he had learned from past hurried comebacks and wouldn’t rush what likely is his final attempt to play competitively. A few of his confidants – John Cook and Notah Begay III, in particular – have preached patience, as well.
There is a massive difference between hitting 9-irons in a simulator and being ready for Tour-caliber competition, which is why, to this observer, it still would be a surprise if Woods tees it up at all this season. What incentive is there to return this summer unless he is completely, unequivocally, 100 percent healthy?
9. Maybe that final-round flameout wasn’t an aberration for Rory McIlroy.
During two sloppy rounds at PGA National, McIlroy dropped 13 shots and missed his first cut since June. He didn’t speak with reporters after his round Friday, but the world No. 3 tweeted that he was making too many “mental errors.”
At times this year, McIlroy has looked disengaged and suffered maddening lapses of concentration. He only has two more stroke-play events until the Masters, so time is running out to get his game – and his mind – in gear.
10. PGA Tour veteran Jason Bohn is resting comfortably after suffering a major heart attack following the second round of the Honda Classic.
After Tour officials initially said that Bohn, 42, had a minor heart attack, the problem turned out to be much more serious, with Bohn instead requiring a stent to open the artery known as the “widow maker” that was 99 percent blocked.
Bohn told Rosaforte that had the chest pains occurred on the course and not in the scoring area afterward, he wouldn’t have made it and that he received the “ultimate mulligan.”
Here’s wishing Bohn a healthy and speedy recovery. Ask any Tour pro – he’s one of the most well-liked and respected players out there.
11. Lexi Thompson made official Sunday what has been painfully obvious for the past two years: She is the best American in the world.
Thompson leapfrogged Stacy Lewis in the world rankings (to No. 3) and earned her seventh career LPGA title in Thailand, blowing away the field by six shots in a performance that put all of her myriad skills on display. She bashed her way to a 290-yard average off the tee – or about 45 yards more than the tour mean – while rolling in putts with her eyes closed.
If her putter stays hot – granted, that’s a big if, given her history of mediocre putting – then she’ll pose a massive threat to the Lydia-Inbee dynasty.
12. The greatest par-5 in the world is reportedly on the verge of undergoing yet another tweak.
According to Golfweek magazine, Augusta National’s 13th hole could be lengthened as much as 50 yards if a deal to purchase more land behind the tee goes through.
Our initial reaction: Why mess with the perfect risk-reward hole? Alas, it seems a few rocket-launchers have made the tee shot easier than it should be, reducing the hole to a driver-wedge by sending their drives over the left trees.
It's a shame, especially if the added length changes the complexion of the hole and leads to more layups, but this move seemed inevitable, given the times.
Twenty-two Ryder Cup hopefuls gathered for a few hours last week at Jack Nicklaus’ home in Palm Beach Gardens.
While good in theory – Team building! Solidarity! – about the only thing these highly publicized get-togethers accomplish is putting more pressure on the team to perform.
Think about it: If the Americans go through all this trouble, if they start a task force and break bread with the greatest champion of all time and go fishing on Tiger’s yacht … and then STILL lose … where do they go from there? What option haven't they exhausted?
In a way, it was ironic that the dinner was held at Jack’s, for he has always scoffed at the idea of a task force.
“We just have to play a little bit better,” he said Sunday. “I don’t think there’s any real magic in it.”
No wonder the Europeans are sitting back with amusement as the U.S. team talks itself into contention. The Ryder Cup is, above all, a three-day competition that rewards steady nerves and clutch putting. Yet the Americans insist on another year of paralysis by analysis.
News, notes and observations from the past week ...
• It’s reasonable to wonder whether this signals the end of the Adam Scott-Steve Williams arrangement. Scott, who has been working with David Clark since the Presidents Cup, has finished in the top 10 in seven of his last nine starts. As recently as October, Scott said that Williams was likely to work as many as 10 events this year, but why mess with a winning formula?
• Louis Oosthuizen won the European Tour’s Perth International, which is what you’d expect – he was one of only two top-100 players in the field.
• The two players with arguably the best swings in golf won tournaments last week. You know what that means ... Freddie Jacobson, you're next.
• Those who are currently ranked in the top 40 in Ryder Cup points were invited to Dinner at Jack's, which is why players like Andrew Loupe (40), John Huh (34) and Ben Martin (31) posed for the group photo. Also in attendance were two guys who weren’t in the top 40 – Brendan Steele and Keegan Bradley, ranked 41st and 42nd, respectively – which made it all the more curious that local resident Justin Thomas, a winner last fall and No. 45 in the standings, did not receive an invitation. Here’s guessing that by Aug. 28, Thomas is ranked higher than the two players who have combined for zero wins over the last three and a half years. Why alienate one of the Americans' best young studs who figures to be a part of the team for years to come?
• Oh, and by the way: Thomas moved from 45th to 25th in points after his tie for third at the Honda. Here's guessing he doesn't get left out of the next Ryder Cup get-together.
• Among the more head-scratching stats: Rickie Fowler is now 0-for-4 with a 36-hole lead. After going bogey-free through two rounds, he made eight bogeys or worse on the weekend en route to a tie for sixth.
• The best idea of the past week? This, by Web.com Tour player Max Homa:
Once a year the golf media should play a televised round for charity and then field questions from top players in the world— max homa (@maxhoma23) February 23, 2016
No one wants to watch the scribes slap it around for five hours, but the post-round interview sessions could be hilarious:
Can you talk about how crucial that triple bogey was on the final hole?
Was that a strategic decision to hit it in the hazard on 11?
You only needed 34 putts today. What was working so well for you on the greens?
• When you don't want to get mud on your white pants, well, you go Half-Stenson, as Gary Woodland did here:
• Ian Poulter guaranteed that he will make the European Ryder Cup team … which is a bold statement for a guy who doesn’t have a top-10 since May. Barring a miraculous turnaround, he will be relying on a pick for the second consecutive cup. And that doesn't inspire much fear.
• A on-course microphone caught Shane Lowry dropping a few F-bombs on the 15th tee Sunday after rinsing his tee shot. His response was perfect:
So I said a bad word.... Shoot me!— Shane Lowry (@ShaneLowryGolf) February 28, 2016
No, but Camp Ponte Vedra will fine you.