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. 

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.