Monday Scramble: Winning again and back, again

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 6, 2017, 5:30 pm

Hideki Matsuyama has déjà vu, Tiger Woods withdraws, Sergio Garcia looks happy, the Phoenix Open sets a record and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble: 

The big question after Woods announced that he’d begin the year with four starts in five weeks was how his surgically repaired back would hold up after all of the swings, travel and practice with limited recovery time.

Well, we now have our answer. He didn’t even last until round No. 4.

The lower-back spasms that knocked Woods out of the Dubai Desert Classic might in fact be a minor issue; his agent, Mark Steinberg, suggested that next week’s Genesis Open at Riviera is still in play. But what’s more troubling is that he did seemingly everything right over the past 17 months – taking off all of last year, working on his swing, rehabbing – and still wound up on the sidelines. Again.

Another setback has led to more retirement talk, but only Woods knows for sure the state of his body and mind. Now it’s just a matter of how much more he can endure. 


1. All that changed at the Waste Management Phoenix Open was Matsuyama’s challenger. 

A year ago, the Japanese star birdied the 72nd hole and won on the fourth playoff hole to defeat Rickie Fowler. This time, Matsuyama’s birdie putt on the final hole came up an inch short, but he knocked out Webb Simpson with a birdie on – you guessed it – the fourth playoff hole.

Matsuyama's world has changed dramatically over the past 12 months. Up to No. 5 in the world, he has five titles in his past nine worldwide starts. 

“It’s been a good run,” he said. “I’m going to ride it as long as I can.”    

2. It’s ironic that Matsuyama seems to thrive at TPC Scottsdale.

The king of the one-handed follow-through, Matsuyama is often distracted and annoyed by crowd noise. On several occasions last week, he glared at spectators who either (a) snapped photos near the tee box, (b) moved behind him, or (c) yelled something during his deliberate downswing. It comes with the territory at the Phoenix Open – it's the only event on the Tour schedule that players prepare to be harassed on the course. 

Somehow, Matsuyama claimed his second title and finished in the top 4 for the fourth consecutive year. Maybe he's mentally tougher than we give him credit for.


Webb Simpson


3. Welcome back, Webb Simpson.

Down on his game and “lost” on the greens, the former U.S. Open champion said he met with Billy Harmon after the CareerBuilder and straightened out his putting. 

Entering the week, he was 189th in strokes gained-putting, a continuation of his struggles post-anchoring ban. But when his putter is hot, Simpson tends to play well, and on the weekend he shot rounds of 65-64 (including birdies on three of his last four holes Sunday) to join Matsuyama at 17-under 264. He scared the hole on two putts in overtime before bowing out with a par on the fourth extra hole. 

“I have found a method that’s been working,” Simpson said. “I hope it works for a long time. But I know that this game is a fickle game, and things happen.” 

4. Caddie Paul Tesori also deserves credit for an assist.

After all, it was Tesori who noticed that Simpson was swaying away from the ball on his backswing instead of loading onto his right side. 

Simpson needed only 30 balls Friday to see significant improvement, and then he played his last 45 holes in 15 under par.  

5. All of the playoff drama overshadowed Byeong-Hun An’s back-nine collapse.

Staked to a three-shot lead at one point, the former U.S. Amateur champion made several poor decisions and came home in 40. He finished sixth, three shots back. 

“It’s not like it’s the last event of the year or last event for the rest of my life,” he said. “I just can’t wait to come back next year. It will be great.” 



6. With all of the focus on the game’s youth movement, the final round of the Dubai Desert Classic was a throwback, with the final group all 37 or older. Garcia, 37, walked away with the trophy, but in pursuit were Henrik Stenson, 40, and Ian Poulter, 41.

They’ve combined for 35 career European Tour titles. 

7. Jon Rahm might be the future of Spanish golf, but Garcia showed last week that his best golf might still be ahead of him. 

Ranking in the top 3 in the field in total driving and greens in regulation, Garcia won in wire-to-wire fashion in Dubai, holding off Stenson on the final day. Garcia has now won a pro event in 15 different countries. 

8. Happy people play great golf. That's been especially true for Garcia.

Recently engaged, he reflected Sunday on his career that has been filled with plenty of highs and lows. 

“I’ve been very open with you guys,” he said. “When things are going well off the golf course, it’s much easier to feel comfortable on a golf course, because there’s no worries. There’s no worries outside and you can concentrate on what you’re doing out there on the course.”

And right now, there are no worries for Garcia, which is good news entering major season. 

Only Ed Dudley (24) has more major top-10s without a win than Garcia (22). That long-awaited Grand Slam title could cement the Spaniard as one of the greatest players of his generation. 



9. It’s fair to ask: What happened in the seven weeks between Woods’ event in the Bahamas and his start at Torrey Pines?

Did he hit the weight room too hard? Did he suffer a physical setback?

At the Hero, Woods showed off a new lithe frame. His uninhibited swing had speed and freedom. Even longtime critics conceded that there were reasons for optimism. 

At Torrey, the slimmed-down Woods was gone. His arms and chest were noticeably bigger. And, frankly, he walked like he was trying to avoid land mines. Maybe it was the cold morning temperatures, but he swung slowly (6 mph slower than 2013) and tentatively, especially early. 

It wasn’t cold in Dubai, and yet Woods’ swing and gait were labored. He claimed that he wasn’t in pain during a birdie-free 77. It was difficult to believe him. 

10. Another question: Why was Woods even in Dubai? 

He made $34 million last year without playing an official round. Did he really need the reported $2 million appearance fee that badly? He said the reps were important, that he wanted to get his game ready for the Masters. So how would the desert golf in Dubai help him any more than the nearby Phoenix Open?

Much was made of the commercial flight that Woods took from California to Dubai, but he was in a first-class suite, not seat 29E, and didn’t have a layover.

That he even subjected himself to the 16-hour flight was the mistake.

11. If you’ve grown leery of these so-called Tiger Comebacks, there’s a reason. 

Since the beginning of 2014, Woods has now missed the cut or withdrawn in 11 official events. Over that span, he has played on Sunday only nine times. 



12. The USGA said at its annual meeting that the newly proposed Rules of Golf – a few potential changes were leaked last month – will be made public sometime in March, with a six-month comment period to follow. 

The blue blazers have promised that the new rulebook will “fundamentally change the understanding of the rules” and that every rule was “on the table.”

Executive director Mike Davis even stressed the need for technology in today’s times, saying: “How come we can’t have an instance where someone can [take their phone and] say, ‘Siri, I hit my ball into a water hazard. What are my options?”

Probably because the game already takes long enough as it is? 

Steven Bowditch was arrested early Friday morning and charged with extreme DUI. He was reportedly found asleep at the wheel of a white pickup truck and registered a .204% on a breathalyzer test.

Bowditch, 33, could face jail time, a fine and even a PGA Tour suspension.

On Friday night, after shooting 74 at the Phoenix Open, he apologized on Twitter:

This is sad news. Bowditch overcame clinical depression to become a two-time PGA Tour winner. He is a likable character with a self-deprecating sense of humor. 

He has fallen on hard times of late, and since June he has missed 15 of 17 cuts. Here’s hoping Bowditch gets the help he needs.  


Biggest Show on Bermuda: Phoenix. Last week the Wasted Open drew 655,434 fans, the most in tournament history. There has been a push to make tournament golf more fun, with walkup music, nighttime attractions and fan-friendly zones. But it’s no small feat to get 200,000-plus people to roll through the gates on a Saturday.

Smart Take: Dottie Pepper. Weighing in on the state of Tiger’s health, Pepper relayed a story about tennis great Michael Chang. They played golf together toward the end of Pepper’s career, and she asked Chang when he knew it was time to retire. “He told me when he spent more time in rehab than he did getting better at this progression, he knew it was his time. Is it that time for Tiger? I think we’re getting close.” 

Why We Love Phil: Driver from the rough. Asked to explain his bizarre club choice, Mickelson said: “The only play was to pitch out, but that’s not really, you know, what I like to do.”

Welcome Back?: Diana Murphy. Murphy has been re-elected to a second one-year term as USGA president. Based on the comments left on the USGA’s official Twitter account, the news wasn't well-received. 



A Pro Sooner than Later: Curtis Luck. The reigning U.S. Amateur champion signed with IMG and plans to turn pro after the Masters, thus forfeiting exemptions into the second and third majors of the year. The Australian's thinking: He can still qualify for the summer opens on his own. 

Next College Star: Braden Thornberry. A three-time winner this season, the Ole Miss sophomore led from start to finish at the Jones Cup, one of the most loaded fields on the amateur schedule. Better believe Walker Cup captain Spider Miller took notice.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The 23-year-old, who torched the Hawaii swing to become the Hottest Player in Golf, took two weeks off, shot rounds of 69-73, missed the cut by one in Phoenix and surrendered that unofficial HPIG title to Matsuyama. Sigh. 

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.