Monday Scramble: 10 favorites for Chambers Bay

By Ryan LavnerJune 15, 2015, 11:00 am

Breaking down the favorites for Chambers Bay, Inbee Park's sixth major title, another out-of-nowhere PGA Tour winner, Andrey Pavlov's unmitigated disaster and more in this week's file-before-the-boarding-door-closes edition of the Monday Scramble:

Get ready for the Unknown Open.

After months of criticism and bellyaching about the mysterious links-style course near Puget Sound, the best players on the planet will finally tee it up in what figures to be the most fascinating major of the year. 

Fascinating for a number of reasons: (1) The course is unlike any we’ve ever seen for a U.S. Open, with firm-and-fast fescue turf that will play more like a British links; (2) the early reviews have been so overwhelmingly negative that attitude and patience likely will be just as significant as crisp ball-striking and timely putting; and the players’ pent-up frustration with the USGA – from past setup failures to the anchoring ban to the arrogant claims that only those who arrive early and play often have a chance to win – ensures this is a make-or-break week for Mike Davis and Co. If this Open veers into goofy golf territory – as it did for the stroke-play portion of the 2010 U.S. Amateur, which I covered – Davis risks losing the players' trust forever. 

This intriguing test could be a train wreck – well, hopefully not literally, because there is a noisy train that runs alongside Nos. 15-17 – or an all-time great Open. Whatever happens, it's guaranteed to be a fascinating week. 

1. What the heck is happening lately on the PGA Tour? The favorites to win might as well be the guys who are struggling the most.

The last three winners on the PGA Tour were seven shades of slumping: Steven Bowditch had zero top-10s in last 17 starts. David Lingmerth? None in his last 27.

Hey, at least Fabian Gomez had a top-10 at some point this season … though that was back in October (a span of 15 events). 

Little wonder there's no truly dominant player anymore. Seems anybody – seriously, ANYBODY – can win any given week out here. 

2. One man’s top-10 favorites for the U.S. Open: 

  1. Jordan Spieth: His stellar short game is perfectly suited for a grind-it-out Open, and having caddie Michael Greller (who used to loop at Chambers) on the bag is a huge advantage.
  2. Rickie Fowler: No one will embrace the unique challenges of this Open quite like Fowler, who thrives in linksy conditions. Wouldn’t surprise at all if Rickie copies Martin Kaymer and pulls off the Players-Open double. 
  3. Phil Mickelson: It’s his last best chance to win an Open. Needs to hit more greens and scramble better than he has in the past few years, but this gamer still knows how to summon his best stuff for the biggest events (see: back-to-back runners-up in majors).
  4. Hideki Matsuyama: He’s a threat every time he tees it up, and his plodding, precision game should work well at an event in which the winning score will be somewhere around par. 
  5. Dustin Johnson: His incredible length will allow him to cut corners and attack Chambers’ massive, undulating greens in ways his fellow competitors cannot. Another plus: DJ has shown more on-course maturity and discipline since returning from his leave of absence.
  6. Justin Rose: World-class ball-striker enters this week in great form. Only question mark: He doesn’t have a particularly strong record on firm, fast, linksy layouts. 
  7. Rory McIlroy: When he’s on, he’s untouchable. Here’s hoping his missed cuts overseas were a result of fatigue, nothing more, because this event will be more interesting if he’s a factor.  
  8. Bubba Watson: Has only played five times over the past three months, so his form is a bit of a mystery. So is his mindset. Chambers is all about guessing how the ball will react once it hits the ground; will Bubba unravel with the first bad hop into the hay? 
  9. Henrik Stenson: Not in the greatest form since coming down with the pre-Masters flu bug, but there is no better iron player in the game. Low expectations, big payoff? 
  10. Jason Day: Liked him a lot more before he developed these vertigo-like symptoms. Has struggled in the past on fast layouts, but his talent is undeniable. 

3. Others worth a look in your U.S. Open pools: Jim Furyk, Billy Horschel, Brooks Koepka, Jimmy Walker, Chris Kirk. 

4. Come on, man! Give us some sleepers! Not so fast. Eight of the past 10 major winners were ranked inside the top 20 in the world. No flukes here. 

5. Mike Davis is a smart man. Here’s guessing he learned a thing or two from the 2010 U.S. Amateur. 

The second day of stroke play was a disaster zone. A blast of warm air rolled through the area and made Chambers a baked-out, tricked-up hell for players. Spieth, Koepka, Daniel Berger and Russell Henley – all of whom are now on the PGA Tour – shot in the 80s in their one round of qualifying. When the setup crew mercifully dumped water on the greens and made the hole locations more accessible, it achieved its desired result: a blockbuster final four, with Peter Uihlein, David Chung, Patrick Cantlay and Byeong-Hun An. In the 36-hole final, Uihlein, then the No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, won by a 4-and-2 margin. 

Now, keep in mind that in the five years since a few teeing areas were added and the most treacherous greens have been recontoured, but the point remains: Davis saw Chambers’ potential as a fair, punishing venue that still produced high-quality, entertaining golf. His job now is to not get in the way.  

6. Inbee Park completed an unusual three-peat on Sunday. She won the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship for the third consecutive year, on the third different venue.

Only two players, all time, had accomplished that feat: Patty Berg (1937-39) and Annika Sorenstam (2003-05). Inbee has now won five of the last 12 majors (!).

7. With all of the fawning over the teen phenom, it’s easy to overlook what Park has accomplished this season. She has the lowest scoring average, the most rounds under par and the most top-10s this year. Oh, and she also returned to world No. 1. 

8. So here’s an interesting factoid about Lydia Ko: Her two worst performances of the season have come at the two biggest events. She tied for 51st at the ANA Inspiration, then missed the cut at the Women’s PGA after rounds of 72-76. The 18-year-old star may look relaxed as she laughs off the pressure of being the top-ranked player in the world at the majors, but apparently she’s not as loose once play begins.   

9. It’s time for LPGA commissioner Mike Whan to green-light Brooke Henderson’s age-waiver petition. She recorded another high finish in a major last week at the KPMG Women’s PGA (T-5), giving the 17-year-old Canadian starlet her second top-five and fifth top-25 of the season. Whan said he wants to see Henderson win an event before he waives the under-18 rule, but the fact that she’s routinely beating the best the LPGA has to offer is reason enough. If the Commish doesn't step in, Henderson might have only three events left this season, and that'd be a shame for this supreme talent. Just look at the leaderboard – she’s ready to be a tour member. 

10. Expectations for Tiger at the Open? Basically, what they’ve been for the past six months – he’ll struggle to make the cut, and whether he sticks around for the weekend depends on if he can avoid the blowup holes. If he didn’t fix the two-way miss that plagued him at the Memorial, Woods could get eaten alive at Chambers, even with its forgiving fairways. Another thing to watch: Maybe he was just being careless because he was so far off the lead, but a few of his iffy short-game shots resurfaced at Muirfield Village. That doesn’t bode well for this Open, where there is insanely tight turf and severely sloping greens.

11. Mark Broadie, a Columbia University professor and the Tour’s preeminent numbers guy, unearthed a statistical gem last week in a column for

Attempting to put Tiger’s most dominant run in perspective, Broadie discovered that Woods beat the field – or shot a round better than the average score of the field for that round – a mind-blowing 89 consecutive times from August 1999 through November 2000. That’s nearly three times more than Mark O’Meara (33), the next closest on the list. 

Try to wrap your head around that near-impossible level of consistency. Tiger didn’t take a day off, have a bad round, mail it in. Every single round he shot an above-average score that was better than half of the field. 

It’s been said that Tiger’s consecutive cut-made streak of 142 might never be approached again, and that’s probably true. But this stat – this remarkable day-in, day-out consistency – is even more impressive. 

Andrey Pavlov received a sponsor exemption to play in last week’s Lyoness Open, an awfully generous move considering this was a player who had yet to make the cut in 15 tries on the European and Challenge tours.

It’s hard to see him getting another chance now. 

Pavlov shot a respectable opening 71 in Austria, then ran into a little* trouble on the par-5 first hole. (*OK, a LOT.) Just when you thought the 1,598th-ranked player in the world couldn’t get any worse, he rinsed six shots and recorded a 17, which was the second-highest single-hole score in Euro Tour history. Poor Philippe Porquier’s 20 at the 1978 French Open is still the worst ever. 

This week's award winners ... 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: DJ. Dude was a lock for a high finish last week in Memphis … until he bowed out, citing an illness, after playing his opening nine in 3 over. Maybe he ate some bad ’cue, maybe he wanted to head to Seattle early, maybe he just wanted to spite all of us who took him in Group 1. Whatever. He’ll probably win at Chambers. 

I DON'T NEED THAT STUPID 3-WOOD!: Greg Owen, after rinsing his tee shot on the 11th hole Sunday, decapitated his fairway wood:

You Guys Busy in 2016?: Hunter Stewart (departing Vanderbilt senior) and Robby Shelton (rising Alabama junior) were the only players to sport a 4-0 record at the Palmer Cup, college golf’s equivalent of the Ryder Cup.

Oldie but Goodie: Bernhard Langer. He won another senior major in a rout. His six-shot margin of margin was huge … but not even close to his own record, set at last year’s Senior British Open, where he won by 13. Hale Irwin (12) and Arnold Palmer (11) also had double-digit margins of victory in senior majors.  

Doctor in the House: Colin Montgomerie. Monty spent Sunday morning in a Massachusetts hospital with chest pains, per Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte. Apparently, it was NOT related to Langer stomping the field at the Senior Players, the over-50 set’s 736th major of the year (roughly). Montgomerie was cleared to return, shot 3 under and tied for third. 

Yeah, But Can You Do it When it Counts?: Bubba Watson. This insane putt gives you a pretty good idea of the severity of some of these slopes. Alas, Bubba has a better chance of four-jacking this putt than actually making it during the tournament: 

Hold Your Tongue: Ian Poulter. Who will step up to fill his whiny void

The biggest story early is the course – how will it be set up, how will it hold up, who will embrace it? It’s a massive unknown, which is why we’ve seen so many stars head out there early for scouting trips. 

After that, I’ll be most interested in seeing which star rises to the occasion. We’ve hit a lull in the schedule – after a historic Masters and a thrilling Players, there have been a number of dud winners. So now we wonder ... Will Jordan go back-to-back? Will Rickie build on his important win? Will Rory remind everyone who is No. 1? Check back next week, when we have more answers (maybe).  

How about three? 

  • Could do worse than local boy Ryan Moore. Born and raised a few miles from Chambers Bay, he’s at least played there, which should count for something, though never in the tournament conditions he’ll face this week. (He held a charity event there for a couple of years.) Many would be tempted to dismiss Moore because he bunts it off the tee, but he managed himself just fine at big-boy Augusta National with a T-12 showing. Mixed results of late, but he did start well at the Memorial before settling for a top-20. 
  • Webb Simpson has already won a U.S. Open on the Left Coast, and he’s striking the ball better than at any point in his career. Entering last week he was ranked fourth in the strokes gained-tee to green statistic, and we say “entering last week” because, well, he missed the cut in Memphis. If he can shake in enough putts – he’s an awful 170th on Tour on the greens – he’ll be in contention. 
  • OK, so Charley Hoffman isn’t going to dazzle you, but the guy has played some of the best golf of his career this season. The 38-year-old Californian has seven top-15s this season, and that includes (A) a ninth-place showing at the Masters, and (B) back-to-back top-10s in Texas, his most recent appearances. Hmmm.  
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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.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.

The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.

It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.

The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.

“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”

Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.