Monday Scramble: Where do we go from here?

By Ryan LavnerJune 8, 2015, 4:00 pm

David Lingmerth outduels Justin Rose (not a misprint), Tiger Woods comes in last place, Jordan Spieth looks ready to conquer Chambers Bay and fans everywhere welcome back your trusty correspondent in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble: 

We’re about to find out how much fight Tiger Woods has left.

It sure looked like he was fried at the Memorial: His highest score as a pro (85), his first event with six double bogeys or worse, his worst 72-hole total (302).

In his first 18 full seasons on Tour, Woods shot in the 80s only once – an 81 in dreadful conditions during the third round of the 2002 Open Championship. This season, he's done it twice in a 12-round span.

Such a dismal performance prompts two major questions: 

  • Is he on the right track? Sure, swing changes take time, but in the past eight months he clearly has regressed. If he had enough rounds to qualify this year, Woods would rank next-to-last in strokes gained-tee to green (-3.172).
  • Should he shut it down for the rest of the season? His game is in disarray. If he took off two months earlier this year because his game wasn’t up to his standards, how is this situation any different? Slogging through these embarrassments will only undermine whatever confidence he earned on the range.

This process is nothing new to Woods, who is in the midst of his fourth swing change since his rookie year. The difference now is that he’s no longer in the prime of his athletic career, no longer the player with more drive, ambition and talent than the rest of the Tour. It’ll be a fascinating fight until he’s finished. 

1. Steven Bowditch came out of nowhere to win the Nelson. David Lingmerth shook off 27 middling results to capture the Memorial. Sheesh, who’s next in line to prove that past form isn’t always the best indicator for future success? Derek Ernst?

Prior to their wins …

  • Bowditch had 17 consecutive events without a top-10, with nine missed cuts and only $245,000 in earnings over that span. 
  • Lingmerth had 27 consecutive events without a top-10, with nine missed cuts and only $508,000 in earnings this season.

So how did Lingmerth get it done? Well, not surprisingly, he rolled the rock well – he was third in strokes gained-putting; last week Bowditch was first – and he limited his mistakes. On a penal course, the 27-year-old Swede made only two bogeys over his last 25 holes, and didn’t drop a shot over his last 11 Sunday.

2. Lingmerth may have locked up a three-year Tour exemption with his Memorial win – a big deal for a guy who lost his card a year ago – but he STILL had to tee it up in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier on Monday.

So let’s get this straight: Lingmerth topped one of the best fields of the year … and that wasn’t enough to secure a spot in the year’s second major. This doesn't pass the Common Sense Test. When are all of the major organizations going to get on the same page?  

3. So here’s an odd one, courtesy of the Golf Channel research department: Four players this season have held a three-shot lead entering the final round (Justin Rose, Troy Merritt, Ian Poulter and Martin Laird). None have gone on to win. 

4. One of the game’s preeminent ball-strikers, Rose was one of the last players you’d expect to forfeit a three-shot cushion. But he made seven (!) bogeys in 21 holes Sunday – he made three during the previous three rounds combined – and likely considered himself fortunate to even have a chance in the playoff. After all, he dropped shots on two of his first four holes … he bogeyed a par 5 … he made bogey at 14 after he misfired with a wedge and a bonehead fan yelled during his bunker shot … he shanked an approach on 18 … and he still shot even par!

Regardless of how he arrived there, Rose dropped to 3-for-11 with at least a share of the 54-hole lead on Tour. Chalk that up to bad timing for his bad rounds, because this is a guy with no weaknesses in his game. 

5. Found this to be a smart take by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee: “I don’t know that it’s sad; it’s mysterious. Time hasn’t robbed Tiger Woods of his game. He’s done this to himself. He’s traded his genius for the ideas of others.”

OK, so time probably has something to do with it – Woods turns 40 in December and over the years his body has been ravaged by injuries. But Chamblee’s larger point echoes what Big Jack said over the weekend: Tiger first needs to fix himself. 

Because at what point does the heat finally get turned up on consultant Chris Como? He and Woods have been working together for eight months, and with little to show for it, other than a few “worst-ever” performances, an even more erratic driver, a case of the short-game yips (which seemed to resurface at the Memorial) and a two-month hiatus as Woods tried to sort out his myriad issues.

Tiger is saying all the right things – that he’s committed to these changes, that he has to take a step backward to make a giant leap forward – but at some point even he has to doubt this latest overhaul and the direction he is heading. How much more embarrassment can he stomach? 

6. Couldn’t help but chuckle at the suggestion that Tiger’s closing 74 was a sign of progress.

Every pro hits it well when he’s off first and playing as a solo. He wasn’t going to mail it in – the grind, he says, is the fun part – but how can you be overly optimistic about a 2-over-par round with no pressure at a place he's won five times? 

He still made two double bogeys in his last four holes. Heck, over his last two starts, he has recorded ELEVEN doubles or worse. We've never seen him this lost.

7. It’s been 13 years since a player won the first two majors on the calendar. Regardless of what the oddsmakers say, Jordan Spieth should be a heavy favorite to win again at Chambers Bay.

His final-round 65 at Muirfield Village – nearly eight shots better than the field average – was just what he hoped to see in his last tune-up before the Open. He struck the ball purely. Saw a few putts drop. Felt some nerves. Really, he couldn’t have scripted a better Sunday, save for capping off the comeback win.

Spieth has the tidiest short game on the planet, and that (along with patience) will be the most important asset at the little-known, links-style track. Another benefit: Spieth played the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers (though he shot 83 and didn't qualify for match play), and his caddie, Michael Greller, used to loop there in the summer. Even got married on-site.

USGA setup czar Mike Davis said that only players who make a scouting trip to the Pacific Northwest have a realistic shot to win. How about a guy with the bulletproof mentality, the stroke-saving short game, the confidence from his Memorial charge and the caddie with some local knowledge? Yeah, we’ll take our chances that guy.  

8. This may surprise you – OK, it probably does not – but Phil Mickelson likes Chambers. A lot. Can’t wait to play the Open there. Described it as “wonderful.” 

Is this just another example of Lefty’s relentless optimism? Maybe. But he also knows better than anyone that arriving at Chambers with a positive outlook will give him a leg up on a field that has heard nothing but criticism about the new U.S. Open venue.

Hey, it’s also possible that Phil toured the links-style course and discovered that it suits his game rather nicely, with its endless options off the tee and the creativity and imagination required around the greens. His pursuit of the career Grand Slam has taken a backseat, storyline-wise, with Rory’s (relative) struggles and Jordan’s emergence and Tiger’s horror show. But here’s guessing Phil will be squarely in the mix come U.S. Open Sunday. Again.   

9. A poor opening round at last week’s NCAA Championship not only cost Stanford standout Maverick McNealy a chance to win a national title; it also cost him a shot at the lowest scoring average in college golf history. 

McNealy entered NCAAs with a 68.7 scoring average. He missed the 54-hole cut after rounds of 78-72-70 at Concession, and an even bigger disappointment was that his scoring average rose all the way to 69.05. Bill Haas’ 68.93 mark as a member of the 2003-04 Wake Forest team remains the best all time.

McNealy still won the Haskins and Nicklaus awards as the top college Player of the Year. He’s also earned sponsor exemptions into the Greenbrier Classic (July 2-5) and Barbasol Championship (July 16-19).

10. With one final chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the season, Patrick Rodgers needed to finish 62nd or better at the Memorial. It was probably a little more dramatic than he’d prefer, but Rodgers birdied the last two holes to finish in a tie for 40th at Muirfield Village.

Rodgers was already going to be on Tour in 2015-16 by virtue of his position on the money list, but this allows him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season. Look for him (at least) at the St. Jude, Travelers, John Deere and Wyndham. 

Seventy-one players made the cut at the Memorial. That meant Kevin Chappell, alone at 1-under 143, went off first on Saturday. And it meant that Tiger Woods, alone at – gulp – 12-over 228, went off by his lonesome Sunday at Jack’s Place.

Kyle Robertson, the staff photographer for the Columbus Dispatch, snapped this sweet (sad?) shot as Tiger and Joey made their way down the first fairway:

So. Many. Metaphors. 

NBC Sports has secured the rights to televise the Open Championship, beginning in 2017. The partnership begins at Royal Birkdale – where, ironically enough, Johnny Miller won his lone Open title in 1976. 

Jason Dufner has stiff-armed the national media ever since reported in late March that he and wife Amanda had filed for divorce. After moving into contention earlier in the week at the Memorial, he first boycotted the media, then after Day 2 opted to speak with only a Sirius/XM reporter who works for the PGA Tour Radio Network and a few local scribes. Obviously, his personal life is a sensitive topic, but he can answer any of those queries with a simple “no comment” or “I’d prefer to focus on my golf, thanks.” He still has a responsibility to discuss his golf.

• Has anyone gone to Butch Harmon and gotten worse? Suzann Pettersen made the move to Harmon in late December, and after a few injury-plagued events she cashed in Sunday with her first victory since October 2013. Butch Harmon: GOAT. 

Is this a 10-foot hoop? Oh, who knows, but the 6-foot-2-inch Rodgers definitely has some hops.

Getting that kind of levitation in golf slacks was even more impressive. 

Because of a blister on his left forefinger, Woods says he will only practice his putting for the first couple of days this week. Good idea, but he may have trouble simulating Chambers Bay’s wild, undulating fescue greens in his backyard in South Florida. 

• TV cameras caught Leo Rose, Justin and wife Kate’s adorable 6-year-old son, politely clapping when Lingmerth holed his par putt on the first playoff hole. Can’t say I would have done the same at his age. Kid was raised well. 

Mark Calcavecchia ... won ... with ... BACON PANTS. Need we say more?

In the conversation? Of course. A long game like his never goes out of style – that’s why he’s been in the top 21 in each of the last three Opens, including his breakthrough win at Merion. Most concerning for this year’s Open, however, is his scrambling, because that will play such a huge role at Chambers. Rose ranks 155th on Tour in that department, getting it up-and-down just 55 percent of the time. That’s why at Chambers we’d favor guys like Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day (assuming his health is not a major concern), all of whom are ranked inside the top 15 in scrambling. 

As for changing my Twitter avatar … hey, first of all, thanks for noticing, and secondly, I wish I had a better story to tell you, other than I simply got sick of staring at a 2012 version of my face. 

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Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.