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Monday Scramble: From thrill to the surreal

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 15, 2018, 5:00 pm

Patton Kizzire survives a marathon playoff, the Sony Open features a bit of everything, Rory McIlroy scares his fans, Thomas Bjorn gets a sneak preview and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

A British survey recently found that golf was the most boring sport to watch on TV.

Uh, not last week.

The never-ending playoff at the Sony Open wasn’t must-see action, but it was a fitting end to a week that was sad and surreal, wild and absurd.

Here’s guessing that at year’s end, most won’t remember that Kizzire prevailed at Waialae. But they will recall Jim “Bones” Mackay dusting off his caddie bib, and Kevin Kisner donning an Alabama jersey to pay off a bet, and a false-alarm missile threat, and a caddie who hit his head and now remains in critical condition, and a televised final round with a skeleton crew.

All in a span of four days.

1. Kizzire became the first multiple winner on Tour this season after defeating James Hahn on the sixth playoff hole. It was the longest overtime period on Tour in more than five years.

After needing 61 starts to earn his first victory last fall at Mayakoba, Kizzire now has two wins in his last four starts.

Kizzire is No. 1 in the FedExCup. With 1,213 points, he’s the equivalent of No. 38 in last season’s standings, making him a virtual lock for the season finale. 

2. Both playoff participants were kicking themselves for missed opportunities.

Kizzire missed an 18-footer in regulation that would have won the title outright.

Hahn, whose previous two Tour titles came in playoffs, had a 6-footer for birdie on the fifth playoff hole. It never had a chance, sliding by on the right side. He also missed putts inside 20 feet on the 72nd hole, first, third and sixth playoff holes.

Hahn began the final round seven shots off the lead but shot 62.

“I played good enough to win,” he said, “but I didn’t.” 

3. Perhaps the biggest surprise was that there were only two guys in the playoff.

Tom Hoge had the overnight lead and appeared in command for much of the final round, but he made a mess of the 16th hole. In between clubs, he yanked his approach shot into the bunker, then couldn’t find the green with his third. He chipped to 12 feet and missed the putt, the double bogey putting him one shot behind. He failed to make his 7-foot birdie on the last to join the playoff.

Hoge hasn’t been able to keep his card his previous three seasons on Tour. “This sets me up a lot better for the rest of the year,” he said, after a career-best third-place showing.  

4. You may have noticed that the final-round broadcast of the Sony was a little different, with a crew in Orlando, not Honolulu, handling the commentary with limited cameras. That’s because the audio and video workers walked out over a labor dispute.

Everyone loses in this unfortunate scenario – especially the fans – but we couldn’t help but chuckle at all of the wannabe TV critics on social media. Golf is, by far, the most difficult sport to cover on television. Being able to piece together limited coverage of the event with a skeleton crew – and only after help from on-course reporter Jerry Foltz, who manned a camera in the 16th tower – was remarkable. 

5. It was another frustrating week on the greens for Jordan Spieth, who preached patience after tying for 18th at the Sony Open.

Spieth, who has been working tirelessly to replicate his setup, posture and freedom from his best putting seasons in 2015-16, said that “it’s just going to take some rounds.”

He never took fewer than 30 putts each round and ranked 58th out of 76 players in strokes gained-putting. He also lost strokes to the field a week ago, ranking 30th out of 34 players. 

His T-18 ended a streak of seven consecutive top-10s, dating to the PGA. 

6. Justin Thomas didn’t defend his Sony title, but he felt as though he could have.

In tying for 14th, JT said his distance control was “atrocious.” And that he hit too many poor wedge shots and putts. Still … “I easily, easily could have won this golf tournament by a pretty good amount of strokes.”

7. That would have been an impressive feat with a temporary caddie.

Thomas teamed up with Mackay for the week at Waialae. Mackay, who spent 25 years on the bag with left-hander Phil Mickelson, joked that his biggest issues were cleaning the correct side of the clubs and standing on the right side of his boss.

It should only be a one-off, with Thomas set to work with putting coach Matt Killen at his next start at the Phoenix Open. He’s hoping that his regular looper, Jimmy Johnson, who is out for at least a month because of a foot injury, should be healthy enough to return after that.  

8. After four months away, Rory McIlroy announced his return to professional golf with a stunning bit of news: He revealed to the Daily Telegraph that he has a heart irregularity, which was caused by a thickening of his left ventricle following a viral infection 18 months ago.

Not to fear, he later clarified: He will need a cardiogram every six months and an MRI each year. “It’s really not that big of a deal and nothing to worry about,” he said.

9. An even bigger takeaway was this quote:

“I needed the reset that I’ve just had. Let’s just say that between now and when I signed off last year, I feel way more optimistic, focused, motivated, purposely. I know exactly what I can do.”

That should be encouraging news, but the time for talk is over. He needs to perform.

If McIlroy doesn’t have a big year, it’s fair to wonder what more it will take. 

10. The captain of last week’s EurAsia Cup, Thomas Bjorn got a preview of what at least part of his European Ryder Cup team will look like come September.

Is he more nervous now?

The heavily favored Europeans trailed after team play before a dominant performance in Sunday singles – they won eight of the first nine matches – to pull out the victory.

Despite a massive talent advantage – Europe had six of the top 20, while Asia had just one of the top 40 – the Europeans trailed by a point after fourballs and foursomes play.

Tommy Fleetwood and Tyrrell Hatton – who are likely to make their Ryder Cup debuts later this year in Paris – went undefeated in this event, while Paul Casey earned two points.

This is the message that everyone in Hawaii received at about 8 a.m. local time Saturday:

Terrifying, right?

It wasn’t reported that the alert was a false alarm for about 10 more minutes, leaving residents and those in Honolulu for the Sony Open to wonder whether they were in imminent danger.

The threat wasn’t real, but sadly the feeling of terror was. Now, more than ever, it feels like something like this actually COULD happen.


This week's award winners ... 

Stud of the Week: Brooke Henderson. She finished seventh in the Diamond Resorts Invitational, but she did so while playing the same tees as the men (6,626 yards, in cold, windy, wet conditions) and beating them 22 of them. Love watching her compete. 

Best Wishes: Cory Gilmer. Blayne Barber’s caddie is in critical condition after falling and hitting his head Friday night in Hawaii. 

All In Good Fun: Justin Thomas and Kevin Kisner. It was a heartbreaking loss for my Dawgs, but Kisner and Thomas did the right thing by taking their bet to the next level. The PGA champion signed the jersey and will auction off the item for Kisner’s foundation. Perhaps not coincidentally, Kisner bogeyed that hole ... 

Refreshing Perspective: John Peterson. The free spirit, playing this season on a major medical extension, isn’t sweating the small stuff. If he doesn’t earn the $375,165 he needs to keep his card, he’ll likely leave pro golf and get into the real-estate business. “Right now, I’d like to keep playing golf. But if I don’t, it’s great. I’ve got a little farm. I’ve got a little boy. I’m in a good spot.” 

When PDA Is Acceptable: Chris Paisley. A final-round 66 earned the 31-year-old Englishman his first European Tour title. Even better, he had his wife, Keri, on the bag for the first time. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Marc Leishman. He shared the halfway lead at Kapalua and was heading to an entirely different track at Waialae, where he’s been solid, with made cuts in all eight appearances. Well, he made the cut again last week, but he failed to get anything going, finishing in a tie for 47th. Sigh. 

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Confident Lincicome lurking after 54 holes at Founders

By Randy SmithMarch 18, 2018, 2:45 am

PHOENIX – Brittany Lincicome is farther back than she wanted to be going into Sunday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she’s in a good place.

She’s keeping the momentum of her season-opening Pure Silk Bahamas Classic victory going this year.

Her confidence is high.

“Last year, I won in the Bahamas, but then I didn't do anything after that,” Lincicome said. “I don't even know if I had a top 10 after my win in the Bahamas. Obviously, this year, I want to be more consistent.”

Lincicome followed up her victory in the Bahamas this year with a tie for seventh in her next start at the Honda LPGA Thailand. And now she’s right back on another leaderboard with the year’s first major championship just two weeks away. She is, by the way, a two-time winner at the ANA Inspiration.

Missy Pederson, Lincicome’s caddie, is helping her player keep that momentum going with more focus on honing in the scoring clubs.

“One of our major goals is being more consistent,” Pederson said. “She’s so talented, a once in a generation talent. I’m just trying to help out in how to best approach every golf course.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Pederson has helped Lincicome identify the clubs they’re likely to attack most with on the particular course they are playing that week, to spend more time working with those clubs in practice. It’s building confidence.

“I know the more greens we hit, and the more chances we give ourselves, the more our chances are to be in contention,” Pederson said. “Britt is not big into stats or details, so I have to figure out how to best consolidate that information, to get us exactly where we need to be.”

Lincicome’s growing comfort with clubs she can attack with is helping her confidence through a round.

“I’ve most noticed consistency in her mental game, being able to handle some of the hiccups that happen over the course of a round,” Pederson said. “Whereas before, something might get under her skin, where she might say, `That’s what always happens,’ now, it’s, `All right, I know I’m good enough to get this back.’ I try to get her in positions to hit the clubs we are really hitting well right now.”

That’s leading to a lot more birdies, fewer bogeys and more appearances on leaderboards in the start to this year.

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Returning Park grabs 54-hole Founders lead

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 2:09 am

PHOENIX – In the long shadows falling across Wildfire Golf Club late Saturday afternoon, Inbee Park conceded she was tempted to walk away from the game last year.

While healing a bad back, she was tempted to put her clubs away for good and look for a second chapter for her life.

But then . . .

“Looking at the girls playing on TV, you think you want to be out there” Park said. “Really, I couldn't make my mind up when I was taking that break, but as soon as I'm back here, I just feel like this is where I belong.”

In just her second start after seven months away from the LPGA, Park is playing like she never left.

She’s atop a leaderboard at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, looking like that’s exactly where she belongs.

With a 9-under-par 63 Saturday, Park seized the lead going into the final round.

At 14 under overall, she’s one shot ahead of Mariajo Uribe (67), two ahead of Ariya Jutanugarn (68) and three ahead of 54-year-old World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies (63) and Chella Choi (66).

Park’s back with a hot putter.

That’s not good news for the rest of the tour. Nobody can demoralize a field with a flat stick like Park. She’s one of the best putters the women’s game has ever seen, and on the front nine Saturday she looked as good as she ever has.

“The front nine was scary,” said her caddie, Brad Beecher, who was on Park’s bag for her long run at world No. 1, her run of three consecutive major championship victories in 2013 and her gold medal victory at the Olympics two years ago.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The front nine was great . . . like 2013,” Park said.

Park started her round on fire, going birdie-birdie-eagle-birdie-birdie. She was 6 under through five holes. She holed a wedge from 98 yards at the third hole, making the turn having taken just 10 putts. Yeah, she said, she was thinking about shooting 59.

“But I'm still really happy with my round today,” she said.

Park isn’t getting ahead of herself, even with this lead. She said her game isn’t quite where she wants it with the ANA Inspiration, the year’s first major championship, just two weeks away, but a victory Sunday should go a long way toward getting her there.

Park is only 29. LPGA pros haven’t forgotten what it was like when she was dominating, when she won 14 times between 2013 and ’15.

They haven’t forgotten how she can come back from long layoffs with an uncanny ability to pick up right where she left off.

Park won the gold medal in Rio de Janeiro in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year in just her second start. She left the tour again in the summer with an aching back.

“I feel like Inbee could take off a whole year or two years and come back and win every week,” said Brittany Lincicome, who is four shots behind Park. “Her game is just so consistent. She doesn't do anything flashy, but her putting is flashy.

“She literally walks them in. It's incredible, like you know it's going in when she hits it. It's not the most orthodox looking stroke, but she can repeat it.”

Park may not play as full a schedule as she has in the past, Beecher said, but he believes she can thrive with limited starts.

“I think it helps her get that fight back, to get that hunger back,” Beecher said. “She knows she can play 15 events a year and still compete. There aren’t a lot of players who can do that.”

Park enjoyed her time away last year, and how it re-energized her.

“When I was taking the long break, I was just thinking, `I can do this life as well,’” Park said. “But I'm glad I came back out here. Obviously, days like today, that's the reason I'm playing golf.”

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Joh on St. Patrick's ace: Go broke buying green beers

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:57 am

PHOENIX – Tiffany Joh was thrilled making a run into contention to win her first LPGA title Saturday at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup, but she comically cracked that her hole-in-one might have been ill-timed.

It came on St. Patrick’s Day.

“This is like the worst holiday to be making a hole-in-one on,” Joh said. “You'll go broke buying everyone green beers.”

Joh aced the fifth hole with a 5-iron from 166 yards on her way to an 8-under-par 64. It left her four shots behind the leader, Inbee Park (63).

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

One of the more colorful players on tour, Joh said she made the most of her hole-in-one celebration with playing partner Jane Park.

“First I ran and tackled Jane, then I high-fived like every single person walking to the green,” Joh said.

Joh may be the LPGA’s resident comedian, but she faced a serious challenge on tour last year.  Fourteen months ago, she had surgery to remove a malignant melanoma. She won the LPGA’s Heather Farr Perseverance Award for the way she handled her comeback.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.