Monday Scramble: McGirt hangs with, out-plays big-timers

By Ryan LavnerJune 6, 2016, 4:00 pm

Will McGirt's journey ends in victory, Rory McIlroy switches grips, Ian Poulter trades in spikes for a radio and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

A week that began with talk of a rejuvenated Big 3 (three wins in a row!) ended with a career-altering performance from McGirt. 

The 36-year-old journeyman had played in just one major since turning pro a dozen years ago, but now he’s booked for three of the next four Grand Slam events, including the 2017 Masters. The trip was well-earned, after McGirt went bogey-free over his last 22 holes, including a pair of gritty par saves in overtime, to beat Jon Curran at the Memorial.

The outliers get all of the attention, the guys who jump from college straight to the pros, but it's worth remembering the Tour is made up mostly of members whose path to the Tour was anything but linear.

This was McGirt's 165th start on Tour. Before reaching the big leagues, he toiled on six different mini-tours, teeing it up almost every day each week. His last win came on something called the Tarheel Tour, in 2007, with a first-place check of $16,000. 

“I’m crazy,” he said. “We’re all nuts. We play this game. We chase a little ball around the grass and do it 18 times. We’re all nuts.

“But I kept doing it because my ultimate dream was to get on the PGA Tour and try to win on the PGA Tour. The other thing was I didn’t know what else I was going to do.” 

1. The only major McGirt has played in is the 2012 PGA, which came the week after a runner-up finish in Canada.

It was on the putting green at the PGA that McGirt bumped into Tiger Woods, who offered some advice on how to better handle final rounds. For starters, he told McGirt to look at leaderboards, to know exactly where he stood and what he needed to do.

"It was more of a 'here's what you need to do and you're an idiot for not doing it'" type of thing, McGirt said.

And so, when asked Sunday night how often he looked at the boards, McGirt replied: "I looked at it all day. Every single one I passed, I looked at." 

Lesson learned.

2. Some playoff losses are easier to accept than others.

Curran made bogey on the second playoff hole to lose to McGirt, but while walking off the green he was greeted by Jack Nicklaus, the greatest champion in golf history, but also a man who had 58 runner-up finishes in his career.

“He told me I’m going to win a lot of tournaments,” Curran said with a smile afterward, “which is pretty cool.” 

3. Dustin Johnson launched some of the most awe-inspiring drives you’ll ever see at Muirfield Village, yet he could only muster a third-place finish, one shot out of the playoff. He made four bogeys on the back nine Sunday, including a pair on the par 3s, when he had only a short iron into the green.

If he can tighten up his short game, he should be on the short list of favorites for the Oakmont Open.

On a somewhat related note: On the last two holes, DJ sent two wind-aided drives that totaled 749 yards. But yeah, OK, governing bodies, driving distance is not on the rise

4. Two weeks after snapping a yearlong winless drought, McIlroy showed up at Jack’s Place with a new (well, old) putting grip.

After switching to the cross-handed style at Doral, McIlroy ended the three-month experiment and reverted to the conventional grip. The timing was peculiar, given that he had just won the Irish Open and the year's second major was coming up, but the proof was in the numbers: It just wasn’t working. When he won in Ireland, he took 127 putts. Clearly, he had won in spite of his putting.

Entering the Memorial, he was No. 122 in strokes gained-putting on Tour. He finished the week ranked second, after pouring in 410 feet worth of putts. (Jordan Spieth, by way of contrast, made just 304 feet.)  

It was McIlroy’s eighth top-10 in 12 starts this year. 

5. Longtime readers of this column probably noticed (or not) that I took a two-week hiatus to cover the women’s and men’s NCAA Championships. It’s an event that seems to get better each year.

Washington won the women’s title, after an incredible short-game display in match play, and the men’s championship went into sudden death, with host Oregon dog-piling on the 10th green after the Ducks birdied the third extra hole to outlast an undermanned Texas team in an instant classic. Needless to say, Sulman Raza shouldn’t have trouble getting a drink in Eugene anytime soon.

6. One of the issues that arose late in the men’s championship was the health of Beau Hossler, who injured his shoulder during the semifinals. He said that his left shoulder “popped out” during his follow-through, and he didn’t recover in time to help the Longhorns in the final match. (His status is still uncertain, as he dropped out of Monday's U.S. Open sectional qualifier.) 

Casual fans struggled to grasp why Texas wasn’t allowed to replace its injured star, especially on the biggest stage of the year. Allowing substitutes has been one of the college game’s hot-button issues, with some coaches still opposed to the idea because there are budgetary concerns and it would only further separate the haves and have-nots. But shining a light on an unfair situation at the national championship should help expedite the timeline of a rule change. In a few years, it might become known as the Beau Hossler Rule.

Make no mistake, change is coming sooner than later. (I wrote about the no-sub rule at length here.) With so much at stake – a national title, a coach’s legacy, a player’s pro future – there has to be a better alternative than forfeiting the match and a crucial point on the first tee

7. Get this: 536,000 people tuned in for the conclusion of the Oregon-Texas final. To put that in perspective, that's slightly more than the viewership for Thursday's opening round of the Memorial. How riveting were this year's NCAAs? Even the clubhouse chef was into it:

8. This week, in How the Zika Virus Issue May Affect the Best Golfers in the World …

After researching the issue with medical professionals, McIlroy is back on board for the Olympics, saying that getting infected isn’t “the end of the world. It takes six months to pass through your system, and you’re fine.”

Except that part is still very much unknown, which is why Jason Day, after initially saying that it’d be a great honor to play in the Olympics, left open the possibility that he’d miss out on the Summer Games. 

Day, who has two children with wife Ellie and hopes to have more, said that he’s “a little wary about it” and must make a “smart, educated decision whether to go or not” based on his family. 

The world No. 1's absence would be a massive blow for the Olympics, but you can't blame him in this case.

9. After 54 years, Doral will not host a PGA Tour event next year. The Tour is instead moving the World Golf Championships event away from the Miami resort – and Donald Trump – and instead heading to Mexico with a new seven-year deal.

Commissioner Tim Finchem insisted that the move was more about finding a title sponsor willing to pony up and less about the polarizing presidential nominee – “I hope they have kidnapping insurance,” Trump snarked – but the timing of the announcement couldn’t have been worse. The news not only upstaged the Memorial, where Nicklaus was honoring Johnny Miller, but it also started a public spat with a man who soon could become president of the United States. Not smart.

10. How will players respond to the Tour’s new WGC? That’ll be one of the biggest storylines to watch in early 2017.

Though the revamped Doral fell out of favor with many players (particularly the short- to medium-length knockers), the event slid nicely into the Florida swing schedule, after the Honda in Palm Beach Gardens and before the Valspar in Palm Harbor. No host venue has been named for the WGC event, but it remains to be seen whether a glamorous destination like Cabo will be enough to lure all of the big names at a time of year when Masters prep takes precedence. 

11. Matt Fitzpatrick is now a virtual lock for the European Ryder Cup squad after earning his second European Tour title Sunday at the Nordea Masters.

It’s been written in this space multiple times that the 21-year-old Fitzpatrick just might be the European equivalent of Spieth, with a stout résumé, an affable personality and a spiffy short game. At the U.S. Amateur victory in 2013, Fitzpatrick was described as Luke Donald, but with a better long game. Donald, a former world No. 1, has done OK for himself.

Oh, and speaking of the Ryder Cup ... 

12. Ian Poulter, a non-factor much of the past few years, has decided to rest an arthritic joint in his right foot. The injury will cost him the next four months, which means that he is likely to miss the Ryder Cup in late September, if he were even a viable candidate at that point.

Poulter has an 12-4-2 record in the biennial matches, but he is now 40 years old, he hasn’t won since 2012 and he is coming off a 0-1-2 performance at Gleneagles that dented his bulletproof reputation. The Englishman has already been picked to torment the Americans in a different way – as the European team's fourth vice captain.

With Woods in the other team room, things could get testy.

13. Graham DeLaet announced last week that he was stepping away from the PGA Tour to deal with what he described as “incredible anxiety” while chipping and pitching. It sure sounds like the yips.

DeLaet should be commended for his honesty, especially when a few of his peers hid behind complicated swing jargon like release patterns and entry points.

Interestingly, the Canadian has been playing pretty well of late, notching three top-15s in his past seven starts. In his most recent round, he shot 65 at the Nelson.

Around the greens, though, he has been dreadful – ranking 186th in scrambling and 178th in sand-save percentage. Overall, he is 188th in strokes gained-around the green, losing nearly 0.4 shots to the field. 

Look, your intrepid correspondent isn’t frightened by much – not insects, not heights, not crowded rooms, not savage discussion boards. But this alligator in Palmetto, Fla., is downright terrifying, a beast that is more dinosaur than crocodile. It’s the stuff nightmares are made of. 

Apparently, people have been traveling from far and near to check out the massive gator at Buffalo Creek Golf Course, with no intention to actually play golf. If the club wanted to take full advantage of the situation, they’d sell $20 passes for those who wanted to sit and wait out the gator, with the disclaimer that he might eat you and your entire family whole. 

This week's award winners ... 

One for the Old-Timers: Anna Nordqvist. The 28-year-old’s win at the ShopRite LPGA Classic was the first this year by a player who wasn’t 23 or younger. 

FORE!-head: Phil Mickelson. Last week, Lefty drilled a ShotLink volunteer with a tee shot, his ball caroming off the poor guy’s noggin so hard that it wound up all the way across the fairway, into the rough. “If your head was a touch softer,” Mickelson told the man, as he handed him a signed glove, “I’d be in the fairway.” You might remember at the Colonial, when Tony Finau pelted a spectator, he gave the fan flowers and chocolate.

Welcome Back: Keegan Bradley. Maybe it was seeing his buddy, Curran, near the top of the leaderboard that led to his first top-10 of the year at the Memorial. Whatever the case, it was a badly needed week for a guy who had plummeted to No. 122 in the world.  

Changing His Name to Coca-Cola?: Steven “Pepsi” Hale. Keegan’s longtime caddie will work for newly minted pro (and Georgia product) Lee McCoy for the rest of the year, beginning at this week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis.   

Must Not Have Read the Survey: Bubba Watson. You might recall that Watson was tabbed by his peers last year as the player they're least likely to help in a parking-lot fight. And yet there was Bubba, defending Rickie Fowler against a boneheaded heckler. 

When You Don’t Want to be in the Featured Pairing: Justin Thomas. Grouped with McIlroy and – all together now – good friend Jordan Spieth for the first two rounds, Thomas threw up rounds of 77-78 and was one shot out of DFL.

Here Come the Newbies: John Deere Classic. If you want alternative programming to the Olympics, you can find the next generation of stars teeing it up that week at the John Deere Classic. Tournament officials there always give out spots to the game’s brightest up-and-comers, and this year is no different – Aaron Wise, Beau Hossler, Jon Rahm, Charlie Danielson and the previously mentioned McCoy have received exemptions into this year’s event. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. Five consecutive top-10s, and he was returning to a ball-striker's paradise, the site of his breakthrough victory … and so, of course, he shot rounds of 74-73 and missed the cut, his first early exit since January. Sigh. 

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Teenager Im wins season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.

11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.

1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.