Monday Scramble: Reed joins prestigious club

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 13, 2015, 3:20 am

Patrick Reed rescued the PGA Tour from a worst-case scenario by delivering a knockout punch on the first playoff hole to win the Hyundai Tournament of Champions. With the Kapalua finale headed into overtime, and the college football championship already underway, Reed’s fourth victory in the past 17 months kept some of the national focus on golf – at least temporarily. 

More on Reed’s brilliance, Walker’s close call and the rest of the week’s happenings in this beat-the-midnight-deadline edition of the Monday Scramble: 


The Takeaway

There’s little room left on the Patrick Reed bandwagon after the 24-year-old’s comeback victory Monday at Kapalua. Ridiculed for months for having the gall to express his inner belief, he’s now viewed as a megastar in this era of parity. He’s aggressive. He’s a closer. He relishes the big moment. That’s the total package. Just a year removed from duking it out in Monday qualifiers, he became a multiple-time winner before rankling some members of the Tour fraternity with his “top-five” comment at Doral. That boast will follow him until he reaches that elite status, but he’s getting closer, rising to No. 14 in the world after his fourth title since August 2013. Perhaps it is Reed – not Jordan Spieth, not Rickie Fowler – who will pose the greatest threat to Rory McIlroy. 


The Scorecard

1. In the past 20 years, there are only four players who earned four or more PGA Tour wins before their 25th birthday:

  • Tiger Woods
  • Sergio Garcia
  • Rory McIlroy 
  • And Patrick Reed, who is 24 years, 5 months. 

2. Jimmy Walker may exude self-confidence and calm on the course, but his last two appearances with a chance to win tell a different story. Last February at Pebble, he had a six-shot lead before closing with 74, making three bogeys in his last seven holes. He hung on to win by one. Here, he had a three-shot lead before playing his last eight holes in 1 over, failing to make birdie on any of the remaining three par 5s (including in the playoff). Walker is among the most consistent players in the game – his 12 top 10s are tied for the most since the start of the 2013-14 season – but it’s apparent the late bloomer is still learning how to win. 

3. Rory McIlroy had a rare swing-and-miss last weekend when he supported Marshawn Lynch’s stiff arm of the media and added that the running back is “paid to play not answer questions.” That was troubling, because the exercise of athletes talking to reporters is part of the job description. Players receive those lofty paychecks because of fan interest, and the media acts as the fans’ representative, offering insights through access. There’s a reason the NFL slapped Lynch with a hefty $100,000 fine – to ensure that he’s not an example for athletes everywhere.

4. No one’s New Year’s Resolution is to pack on pounds, so thankfully Natalie Gulbis is here to help with all of your workout needs:

5. Two of the most fascinating nuggets from Golf Digest writer Jaime Diaz’s deep dive on the Gleneagles Ryder Cup:

• a.) Phil Mickelson found out that Tom Watson had told his fellow playing competitors at the 2013 Greenbrier Classic, “I won’t be afraid to bench one of these prima donnas.” As it turned out, Tiger wasn’t healthy enough to qualify and Phil sat all day Saturday for the first time in his career. Maybe Lefty shouldn’t have been so surprised.  

• b.) After Mickelson informed Watson that he had missed only three fairways in his last five foursomes matches in the Ryder and Presidents Cups – an assertion that seems very unlikely – the captain opted for Phil and partner Keegan Bradley instead of the red-hot Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed on Friday afternoon. When the U.S. team was on the eighth tee, Watson reportedly approached Mickelson and Bradley and woofed, “When are one of you (expletive) going to hit a fairway?”

6. Never again should fans complain that the Rules of Golf is too complicated. Just crack open the NFL rulebook.

7. The Year of Rejoicing was sooo 2014. Here’s Bubba Watson, backing off a shot and snapping at a cellphone-wielding fan at Kapalua: “You got it? Good picture? Got it? Thanks. Hope it looked good.”

8. How does a player with a swing as pure and a short game as sharp as Charl Schwartzel's have only three wins since the 2011 Masters – two in his native South Africa, the other in a limited-field event in Thailand? He seemed a lock for another one Sunday at the South African Open but blew a four-shot lead on the final five holes. Yes, there are plenty of underachievers in golf – Sergio and DJ come to mind – but clearly this is not how we thought Schwartzel’s career would unfold, post-Masters.

9. For years Woods has talked about needing “reps” while rarely deviating from a predictable schedule of favorite Tour stops. Adding Phoenix was a welcome sight, but he needs to go even further in 2015. After a year of injury, inactivity and ineffectiveness, he’d be wise to play as much as possible and get himself back in competitive shape – especially if he’s healthy.

10. Ousted PGA president Ted Bishop tried to make amends by tweeting at Ian Poulter – the target of his infamous “lil girl” remarks – that he selected him in the fourth round of his fantasy draft. Nice try, but everyone knows Poults is a seventh-rounder, at best.  

11. Speaking of fantasy, here are a few guys I’ll have in my lineup this week at the Sony Open: Sang-Moon Bae (four top-six finishes in his last five worldwide starts), Chris Kirk (back-to-back top-five finishes at Waialae), Charles Howell III (top 10s in five of the past six years) and Tim Clark (T-2s in two of his past three starts there). 


The WTH? Moment of the Week

This tan line is VERY disturbing:


Shag Bag

Chris Kirk made all 16 putts he faced inside 15 feet during a course-record-tying 62 on Monday. Jason Day, who also fired a 62, was 16 of 17 from that range. What a slouch. … A sponsorship with Vineyard Vines. A slimmed-down physique. Apparently Jason Dufner isn’t too old to join Auburn’s Phi Gamma Delta fraternity. … The Kordas might rival the Mannings for top athletic family. Petr Korda and Regina Rajchrtova were professional tennis players, with Petr even rising to No. 2 in the world following his 1998 Australian Open title. One of Petr’s daughters, Jessica, is a 21-year-old stud who has already won three LPGA titles. His other daughter, 16-year-old Nelly, captured the prestigious Harder Hall Invitational amateur tournament last week. A pro career seems likely. No surprise there. … Construction on the Olympic Golf Course is finally complete, after a few years of lawsuits, setbacks and headaches. Poor Gil Hanse probably can’t wait until Aug. 22, 2016 – when the Olympics are over.  


The #AskLav Mailbag

Knew that one was coming. Reed’s victory at Kapalua should be further proof that it’s harder than ever to win on the PGA Tour. There were only two top-10 players in the field in Maui, and yet it took a late hole-out (and some help) to seal the W. Consistency has still been an issue in Reed’s young career, but it’s easy to see him factoring in at least a few Big Ones. 

Nerves, mostly. Over the past two rounds, he played his first 28 holes in 11 under par, with no bogeys and 14 one-putts. In his last eight, he was 1 over, with zero birdies and no one-putts. There are some beastly holes coming down the stretch, of course, but there are also some easy birdie opportunities that Walker couldn’t take capitalize on.  

The dangers of drinking and tweeting.  

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.