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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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.

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Hot Seat: Rory jumps into the fire early

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 2:11 pm

The world’s top tours head to desert regions this week, perfect locales for The Hot Seat, the gauge upon which we measure the level of heat the game’s top personalities are facing ...

Sahara sizzle: Rory McIlroy

McIlroy won’t have to look far to see how his form measures up to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

McIlroy will make his 2018 debut with Johnson in his face, literally.

McIlroy will be grouped with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood in the first two rounds.

Players like to downplay pairings early in a tournament, but it’s hard to believe McIlroy and Johnson won’t be trying to send each other messages in this European Tour event in the United Arab Emirates. That’s the alpha-dog nature of world-class players looking to protect their turf, or in the case of McIlroy, take back his turf.

“When you are at the elite level, you are always trying to send a message,” Trevor Immelman said about pairings during Tiger Woods’ return at the Hero World Challenge last month.

And that was an offseason event.

“They want to show this guy, ‘This is what I got,’” Immelman said.

As early season matchups go, Abu Dhabi is a heavyweight pairing that ought to be fun.

So there will be no easing into the new year for McIlroy after taking off the last three months to regroup from the stubborn rib injury that plagued him last season. He is coming off a winless year, and he will be doing so alongside a guy who just won the first PGA Tour event of 2018 in an eight-shot rout. Johnson’s victory in Hawaii two weeks ago was his fifth since McIlroy last won.

“Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place, and that was because of where I was physically,” McIlroy said of 2017. “I feel prepared now. I feel ready, and I feel ready to challenge. I feel really good about where I’m at with my health. I’ve put all that behind me, which has been great.”

Sonoran Smolder: Phil Mickelson

Mickelson will turn 48 this summer.

His world ranking is sliding, down to No. 43 now, which is the lowest he has ranked in 24 years.

It’s been more than four years since he last won, making him 0 for his last 92 starts.

There’s motivation in all of that for Mickelson. He makes his 2018 debut at the CareerBuilder Challenge in the Palm Springs area this week talking like a man on a renewed mission.

There’s a Ryder Cup team to make this season, which would be his 12th straight, and there’s a career Grand Slam to claim, with the U.S. Open returning to Shinnecock Hills, where Mickelson finished second in ’04.

While Mickelson may not feel old, there are so many young stars standing in his way that it’s hard not to be constantly reminded that time isn’t on his side in these events anymore.

There has only been one player in the history of the game to win a major championship who was older than Mickelson is right now. Julius Boros won the PGA Championship when he was 48 back in 1968.

Campaign fever: Jordan Spieth

Spieth’s respect in the game’s ranks extends outside the ropes.

He was just selected to run for the PGA Tour Player Advisory Council’s chairman position. He is facing Billy Hurley III in an election to see who will succeed Davis Love III on the Tour’s Policy Board next year.

Spieth, just 24, has already made Time Magazine’s list of the “100 Most Influential People.” He made that back in 2016, with the magazine writing that “he exemplifies everything that’s great about sports.” Sounds like a campaign slogan.

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CareerBuilder Challenge: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 1:10 pm

The PGA Tour shifts from Hawaii to Southern California for the second full-field event of the year. Here are the key stats and information for the CareerBuilder Challenge. Click here for full-field tee times.

How to watch (all rounds on Golf Channel):

Thursday, Rd. 1: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Sunday, Rd. 4: 3-7PM ET; live stream:

Purse: $5.9 million ($1,062,000 to winner)

Courses: PGA West, Stadium Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,113); PGA West, Nicklaus Tournament Course, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,159); La Quinta Country Club, La Quinta, Calif. (72-7,060) NOTE: All three courses will be used for the first three rounds but only the Stadium Course will be used for the final round.

Defending champion: Hudson Swafford (-20) - defeated Adam Hadwin by one stroke to earn his first PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Phil Mickelson

* This is his first start of 2018. It's the fourth consecutive year he has made this event the first one on his yearly calendar.

* For the second year in a row he will serve as the tournament's official ambassador.

* He has won this event twice - in 2002 and 2004.

* This will be his 97th worldwide start since his most recent win, The Open in 2013.

Jon Rahm

* Ranked No. 3 in the world, he finished runner-up in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

* In 37 worldwide starts as a pro, he has 14 top-5 finishes.

* Last year he finished T-34 in this event.

Adam Hadwin

* Last year in the third round, he shot 59 at La Quinta Country Club. It was the ninth - and still most recent - sub-60 round on Tour.

* In his only start of 2018, the Canadian finished 32nd in the Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Brian Harman

* Only player on the PGA Tour with five top-10 finishes this season.

* Ranks fifth in greens in regulation this season.

* Finished third in the Sentry Tournament of Champions and T-4 in the Sony Open in Hawaii.

Brandt Snedeker

* Making only his third worldwide start since last June at the Travelers Championship. He has been recovering from a chest injury.

* This is his first start since he withdrew from the Indonesian Masters in December because of heat exhaustion.

* Hasn't played in this event since missing the cut in 2015.

Patrick Reed

* Earned his first career victory in this event in 2014, shooting three consecutive rounds of 63.

* This is his first start of 2018.

* Last season finished seventh in strokes gained: putting, the best ranking of his career.

(Stats provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit.)