Monday Scramble: Day completes remarkable journey

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2015, 4:30 pm

Jason Day breaks through, Jordan Spieth never gives up, Tiger Woods prolongs the inevitable, Brooke Henderson's star is born and more in this week's teary-eyed edition of the Monday Scramble.

Jason Day must have been tired of watching his peers celebrate.

The extravagantly talented Aussie avoided becoming the first player in history to lose three consecutive 54-hole leads in a major, rising to the occasion at the PGA with one of the year's most impressive performances. 

It wasn't just that Day set the major scoring record at 20 under par. It was the way in which he won, wailing away on driver, staring down Jordan Spieth, golf's new No. 1 player, and dusting him by three shots. 

Not everyone's path to major glory is smooth, and for a while Day was considered little more than a tantalizing tease, with just one victory in his first six years on Tour. Heck, even he began to wonder whether he had what it took to reach the game's highest level.

Then he won the Match Play. Then he won at Torrey Pines. Then he won in Canada. And now he has won at Whistling Straits, shedding the label of best player without a major. 

"Some people get there quicker than others. Some people make it look easier than others, and I'm just glad that it's finally happened, because it was kind of wearing on me a little bit," he said. "It doesn't help with the media, hearing about it all the time. But I'm glad to take my name off that list and move forward from here." 

1. There were lots of tears on the 72nd green, and not just because Day lifted his major burden. This was the culmination of a remarkable journey in which he grew from a teenage drunk reeling from the death of his father to one of the game’s bona fide superstars. (More on that here.) 

Much of that rise can be credited to the work of his caddie and swing coach, Colin Swatton, who rescued Day when he was a 12-year-old headed down the wrong path.

“It’s just a lot of hard work that I’ve been putting into this game to dedicate myself to have a shot at glory, have a shot at greatness,” Day said. “That’s what we all work toward. It’s a good feeling.”

2. Day’s seven top-5s in the majors since 2011 are tied for the most over that span. And the player he’s tied with, fellow Aussie Adam Scott, just played his final major with an anchored putter. 

3. Day's putting, meanwhile, is an underappreciated aspect of his game. Since 2011, he's never been worse than 30th on Tour in strokes gained-putting. Last week at the PGA, he was an incredible 60-for-62 from inside 10 feet. 

4. The lowest 72-hole scores in relation to par in major-championship history:

  • Jason Day: 20 under, 2015 PGA
  • Tiger Woods: 19 under, 2000 Open
  • Jordan Spieth: 18 under, 2015 Masters
  • Tiger Woods: 18 under, 2006 PGA
  • Tiger Woods: 18 under, 2006 Open
  • Tiger Woods: 18 under, 2000 PGA (won playoff)
  • Tiger Woods: 18 under, 1997 Masters
  • Nick Faldo: 18 under, 1990 Open


5. Random thought: You'd be hard-pressed to find a more appealing Big Three in golf than Jordan, Rory and J-Day.

6. There's a common thread between these three stars: sportsmanship. Last week, Day went out of his way to compliment his fellow playing competitors in a public setting, whether it was Dustin Johnson or Spieth. When it became clear that he would cede his No. 1 ranking to Spieth, McIlroy told us: “I’ll be the first one to congratulate him, because I know the golf you have to play to get to that spot, and it has been impressive this year.” I wrote this Sunday night from Whistling Straits, but it’s worth repeating here: Spieth unabashedly praised Day down the stretch in the final round, raving about an unlikely birdie on 14, giving him a thumbs up for a cozy lag putt on 17 and applauding him on the final green when Day collapsed into his caddie’s arms and his family raced out onto the green to celebrate. 

The game is in a great place, with three eminently likable lads. 

7. Dustin Johnson's final-round 69 at the PGA basically summed up his entire career, with big misses (an opening quad and three bogeys) and loads of promise (six birdies and an eagle). 

8. Johnson may believe that he's "got what it takes" to win multiple majors, but this Grand Slam season has convinced more than a few observers that his time may never come in the game's biggest events. The collapse at Chambers. The weekend retreat at St. Andrews. The baffling stumble at the PGA. At 31, he's only one year younger than Woods when the former world No. 1 captured his last major. In other words, he's no longer a rising talent who is still learning how to win. He's a megastar-in-waiting who is squandering the prime of his athletic career by continuing to fold in the biggest moments.

9. Think DJ had it rough this major season? Consider the case of Justin Rose. He was 14 under par in both the U.S. Open and PGA – and lost by a combined 10 shots! His 34-under-par performance in the majors was the best of any non-winner in the last 30 years, according to the Golf Channel research department.  

10. Speaking of which ... the 2015 major venues served up plenty of low scores. Below is a list of the best cumulative scores, ever, in the majors. Note that four of the top seven players were from this year: 

  • Jordan Spieth (2015): -54
  • Tiger Woods (2000): -53
  • Jason Day (2015): -35
  • Justin Rose (2015): -34
  • Rickie Fowler (2014): -32
  • Dustin Johnson (2015): -29
  • Tiger Woods (2006): -28

Players are getting better, yes, but Augusta, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits all played softer and more forgiving than anticipated. 

11. This should help put Spieth's historic season in perspective: He finished just four shots away from a single-season Grand Slam. In the modern era, only Jack Nicklaus in 1975 (three) has come closer.

12. Just for fun, let's pretend that Spieth's final-round 68 was enough to win the PGA for his third major of the season. The hottest topic in the press tent over the weekend is where that would have placed Spieth's in the pantheon of all-time great major seasons. 

I'd argue that it would have slotted him No. 1, ahead of Tiger Woods' 2000 season.

Spieth's 2015 major campaign would have been better for a few reasons. Start with the fact that he already has the lowest cumulative score to par in the majors, the fewest number of strokes ever and a better "fourth major" finish (T-4 at Open; Woods was fifth at 2000 Masters). 

Anyone who contends that Woods put together the greatest major season in golf history undoubtedly will point first at the most dominant stretch of golf anyone has ever seen – a combined margin of victory of 23 shots, including the 15-stroke romp at the Pebble Beach Open.

Yes, that blows away Spieth – whose spread in his wins was only five shots, a nod to his efficient but not overwhelming game – but keep in mind that Woods swept the season’s final three majors and didn’t have the single-season Slam hanging over his head. His major season began with a fifth-place showing at the Masters, where he finished six behind, and then went on his tear. 

Hey, if nothing else, it would have been a lively debate.  

13. A snapshot of Woods at the majors:

  • 1997-2013: 64 starts, three missed cuts
  • 2014-present: 6 starts, four missed cuts

14. Even a few days later, it still doesn't compute why Woods would choose to tee it up this week at the Wyndham Championship. He hasn't won in two years, and that's the only result that will send him to the FedEx Cup playoffs. He said that his decision is more about "building," but it's unclear to what he is building. If this is his last start of the season – and, let's face it, there's a strong possibility that it is – then Woods isn't expected to play again until Oct. 15, at the Open. In other words, he would be building toward a break, nothing more. Curious.

15. Rory McIlroy may have forfeited his No. 1 ranking, but it's hard to view his PGA return as anything but a resounding success. He shot 7 under on the weekend after knocking off the scoring-skills rust. He didn't report any issues with his injured left ankle. And he averaged a very Rory-like 308 yards off the tee. Not bad for a guy who couldn't walk six weeks ago. 

16. Rory performs his best when he has an edge, when he has something to prove. He wants to be No. 1 in the world, but he also realizes that it was inevitable that the red-hot Spieth would take over the top spot sometime in the next few weeks. It should be just the motivation McIlroy needs to try and end his year on a high note. 

17. How long until Brooke Henderson becomes a top-5 player in the world? The 17-year-old Canadian starlet, whose petition last year to waive the LPGA's age requirement was (embarrassingly) denied by commissioner Mike Whan, won the Portland Classic by a whopping eight strokes on Sunday. Even more impressive considering she was a Monday qualifier for the event. She has already cracked the top 20 in the world – ahead of more heralded players like Michelle Wie, Karrie Webb and Morgan Pressel – in what is just her first year as a pro. At this time last year, she was coming off a loss in the U.S. Women's Amateur finals. 

The carnival act that is John Daly's PGA Tour career made a stop in Sheboygan, Wis., last week. Still allowed to play because of his win at Crooked Stick 24 years ago, Daly fired three shots into Lake Michigan and then his club during another pathetic outburst. 

The worst part? He attempted to explain his petulance by telling reporters, “I’ve always said, ‘You throw a club, it shows you care.’”

Not really. It shows that he has no etiquette or respect for the game.  

A look at this week's award winners ... 

Goodbye … Hello?: Steve Stricker. The 48-year-old semi-retired player may have played his last major at the PGA, but it'd rate as a surprise if this was his last time at Whistling Straits. The Wisconsin native would appear to be a heavy favorite to land the Ryder Cup captaincy when the event heads to the Straits in 2020. Unless, of course, Davis Love III’s bunch gets crushed at Hazeltine and the task force has to blow up the system again. 

What Were You Thinking?: Pete Dye. Building the 18th hole into the setting sun? As if the 500-yard par-4 finisher over a ravine wasn't tough enough in a major.

Rules Official's Best Friend (or not): Bubba Watson. Trying to get relief from an ant hill, Watson snapped at an official and said, "So if someone was allergic to ants, you couldn't care less?" 

The Young King: Jordan Spieth. At 22 years and 21 days, he is the second-youngest world No. 1 of all time. Tiger was 21 years, 5 months, 23 days when he reached the top spot for the first time.  

Best GIF of the Week: Phil Mickelson, riding the Straits Slip 'N Slide: 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.