Monday Scramble: Golf's future is now

By Ryan LavnerMarch 16, 2015, 3:00 pm

Jordan Spieth exacts his Wyndham revenge, the 54-hole leader bungles another opportunity and Tiger Woods remains MIA for another big tournament.

All that and more in a Monday Scramble that is sheer and utter madness: 

It’s only March, and already this year our sport has been dominated by talk of police reports and task forces, lawsuits and suspensions, indefinite leaves and deactivated glutes. Those topics are a drama queen’s dream – and, yes, pageview boosters – but it’s a shame that it has potentially overshadowed some exquisite play on Tour.

For the better part of three months we have been witness to nonstop, highlight-reel performances: From Patrick Reed’s rally at Kapalua, to Jason Day’s hard-fought title at Torrey, to Brandt Snedeker's near-flawless run at Pebble, to Dustin Johnson’s power display at Doral, some of the best players in the world have produced some of their best golf at crunch time. Looking back, though, do you remember those moments? Or do you most easily recall the stories of Robert Allenby having a night out that he can’t remember, and Reed being accused of cheating during qualifying rounds in college, and a little-known journeyman pro blabbing that Tiger flunked a drug test?

Alas, it’s probably the latter, which is why the star-making performance of Jordan Spieth on Sunday was such a welcome reprieve, a much-needed bump for a sport that has seen more than its share of unflattering headlines of late. The Valspar was the tournament of the year so far, played on arguably the most underrated track on Tour. What a delight.

Viewership is down overall, and that’s to be expected in a post-Tiger world, but you could make the case that the golf has never been stronger. Hopefully, that's what is remembered at the end of the year.

1. Golf crosses the mainstream when a dominant, transcendent, once-in-a-generation superstar leads the way, a charismatic player who can draw in even the most casual viewer. No current player, not even Rory McIlroy, has the ability to lift the game to Tiger-like heights, and that’s OK. Just as appealing is a compelling rivalry, especially with the Tiger-vs.-Phil subplot all but gone. Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed have established the foundation for a long-lasting rivalry, for they are the cornerstones of American golf for the next decade. They are the rare athletes who care more about trophies than cash, even though they are piling up both at a staggering rate. 

With his second PGA Tour title, Spieth now joins an exclusive list of men who won multiple times before the age of 22, but instead of forecasting what this might mean for the Masters, or for his season, or for his career, simply bask in the current golf climate: A youth movement that is not just arriving, but here, with eight of the top 20 in the world age 27 or younger, and a budding rivalry, Spieth vs. Reed, with two guys trying to climb over each other to reach Rory’s throne. We can all get excited about that. 

2. As mentioned above, prior to Sunday, there were only three players since 1940 who had multiple PGA Tour wins before the age of 22:

  • Tiger Woods (6)
  • Sergio Garcia (3)
  • And, OF COURSE, Robert Gamez (2)

A reminder: Jordan Spieth doesn’t turn 22 until July 27. 

3. Since Spieth joined the Tour in 2013, he has been inside the top five nine times heading into the final round. (Only Matt Kuchar, with 12, has more.) Spieth hadn’t converted any of those previous nine opportunities into a victory, which prompted a predictable chorus of he-can’t-close! comments. His play down the stretch at Innisbrook should silence those skeptics: The bold tee shot on 13; the bomb for birdie on 14; the gutsy sand save on 16; the world-class flop shot from right of the green on 17; the cold-blooded 12-foot par putt on 18; and the 30-foot walk-off on the third extra hole. Dude is a gamer.

4. Ryan Moore led by three shots with six holes to play. Following a recent trend, that still wasn’t enough. 

The 54-hole leader or co-leaders have failed to win the last eight events on the PGA Tour. What’s worse, the last TEN leaders or co-leaders have failed to break par on the final day. Add Moore’s name to that list. Pumping his grip with Sergio-like frequency, Moore closed with a 1-over 72 Sunday that included bogeys on three of his last six holes, including two of the last three. This has become something of a habit for Moore, who has now played his last three final rounds 9 over par. Oy. 

5. Patrick Reed must thrive on chaos. How else to explain it? After deciding to reopen old wounds by challenging publicized allegations that he cheated and stole from teammates in college, Reed got better every day in Tampa before closing with 66, including the macho 30-footer on 18 in regulation. All of the turmoil and doubt and whispers only make him better, apparently as they also did at Augusta State, where despite a contentious relationship with his teammates he helped lead the squad to back-to-back NCAA titles. Can you imagine playing elite-level golf with all of this mess swirling around? Reed can. He looks like he embraces it.    

6. With apologies to James Hahn and Padraig Harrington, Sean O’Hair nearly became the most unlikely winner of the past … well … month. Still only 32 (!), the former junior prodigy has fallen on hard times, losing his game, his relationship with his overbearing father and his playing privileges on the PGA Tour. He played Tampa on a sponsor exemption, a reminder of his win there in 2008. Instead of playing tentatively – or what you’d expect from a father of four who needed the big check and who hadn’t been in this position in years – he came home in 31, played the second playoff hole flawlessly and nearly stole the title against two players ranked inside the top 15 in the world. His story offers hope for any golfer who has reached the abyss. 

7. Interesting that Woods waited until about 150 minutes before the 5 p.m. Friday deadline to announce that he’s not ready to play this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. It’s the biggest news yet in an indefinite break that is now entering its sixth week, and the no-go can be viewed two ways:

  • a.) Tiger is so lost that he doesn’t think he can contend at a place where he’s won eight times and enjoys a vast amount of institutional knowledge even after five weeks of work
  • b.) Woods waiting so long is a promising sign, an indication that he was seriously considering playing and decided that he just wasn’t ready at the moment

OK, or maybe he simply enjoys prolonging the drama.

8. The belief here is that the truth is closest to option B. That’s why, as I wrote in this space Feb. 23, Tiger should seriously consider adding the Houston Open, if he’s ready. It makes a lot of sense: 1.) The Golf Club of Houston is set up to simulate the conditions players will face the following week at Augusta National; 2.) If he happens to play well, he could carry that momentum into the next week's major; and 3.) He might already be in the area, with a media preview for his first U.S. golf-course design, Bluejack National, set for Wednesday of SHO tournament week. The invitation did not indicate whether Woods would appear, and the Houston Open tournament director told that he has not had any communication with Woods’ camp as of March 13, but the scheduling is intriguing nonetheless.

9. Notah Begay III, who knows Woods better than just about anyone on the planet, said that the former world No. 1 was “improving” but that he just wasn’t 100 percent yet. And therein lies the rub: By taking an indefinite break and declaring that he won’t return until his game is up to his standards, Woods has backed himself into a corner. What happens if he puts in all this time and energy, fully believes that he’s ready to win and makes a triumphant return … and then still chops it up? At that point, you can’t help but wonder: Is it over? 

10. Because think about it: Most players in Woods’ predicament would prefer to play their way back into tournament shape – and they could, because they wouldn’t have to deal with the intense media scrutiny and spotlight. Alas, Woods hasn’t been able to play with any semblance of anonymity since he was a middle-schooler, which is what makes his potential return even more problematic. If he tries to play his way back into tournament shape in front of the entire sports world, and then struggles, it’ll only lead to more doubt and pressure and tension. Rarely in sports is there a 39-year-old comeback story. 

11. Adam Scott’s switch to the conventional putter was deemed a rousing success after two rounds at Doral; he’d shot rounds of 70-68 and was squarely in the hunt at the World Golf Championships event. Even better, he’d missed only twice inside 10 feet and seemed to vanquish questions about whether he’d still be competitive without the broomhandle putter. 

Yet his putter held him back over the weekend at Trump’s Place, and then it was even more uncooperative in Tampa, the biggest reason why he snapped a streak of 45 consecutive cuts made. Since that auspicious start in Miami, Scott has missed 17 times inside 10 feet and is only five of 13 from the 4-to-8-foot range. Over his last four rounds, he has lost an eye-opening 7.9 strokes to the field on the greens.

12. There’s been some chatter that Scott should go back to his old putter, at least through the Masters, but it’s not like he was lighting it up from that range with the long wand, either; from 2011-13, he was outside the top 100 on Tour from inside 10 feet. With the Jan. 1 ban looming, he has no other alternatives. He needs to remain committed to one method and hope that his exemplary ball-striking masks whatever weaknesses exist.  

Normally, this section is reserved for John Daly’s various on-course exploits, but his riff on the not-so-random PGA Tour drug-testing policy struck a chord. Long John called testing a “big joke” and “bulls---”, and publicly challenged PGA Tour chief of operations Andy Pazder and commissioner Tim Finchem to “get off your a-- and get it right,” which will undoubtedly lead to another fine in a career full of them.

Not surprisingly, word of Daly’s remarks spread quickly last week. A few players, including former colleague Steve Flesch, shared personal tales of how they’d get tested after the same event every year or after returning from injury – which doesn’t exactly sound random. Of Daly’s many rants over the years, this one actually seemed spot-on. 

This week's award winners ... 

Woah! Out of Nowhere: Derek Ernst. Despite a Sunday 75 he still managed to record only the second top-25 of his career. (The first was his stunning win two years ago in Charlotte.) He entered last week without a top-50 finish this season and a putting rank that was outside the top 200. Let's face it: Even his loved ones were surprised by this.

Blown Fantasy Pick(s) of the Week: Man, just about everyone! Adam Scott. Jim Furyk. Luke Donald. MC, T-40 and T-53, respectively. Bummer. 

Oh, What Could Have Been … : The University of Texas. The Longhorns have a very good men's golf team. They're ranked fourth nationally, but they’re probably the second-best team in the country, if not the outright No. 1. And it's crazy to think they could be even stronger: That Spieth fella would be a senior this year. 

Home-Country Advantage: South Africans. Apparently there’s no place like home? Of the last 19 European Tour events played in South Africa, 13 have been won by the South Africans, including the most recent champion, George Coetzee at the Tshwane Open. 

Most Unlikely Friends: NBA player J.R. Smith and Bubba Watson. Seriously. Check it out. (And another.)

Mr. Point-Misser: Ian Poulter. As Spieth crossed the $10 million mark in career earnings, and matched Poulter's number of career PGA Tour victories, one of the most abrasive personalities in all of sports tweeted this: 

Gee, can't imagine why he was heckled by fans in Tampa.

Until I change my mind tomorrow, take these to the bank: 

1. Bubba Watson

2. Jason Day

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Jordan Spieth

5. Adam Scott

6. Patrick Reed

7. Jimmy Walker

8. Dustin Johnson

9. Henrik Stenson

10. Matt Kuchar

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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.