Monday Scramble: Paddy rolls, Rory stumbles

By Ryan LavnerMarch 3, 2015, 12:00 am

So the run-up to the Masters began just the way we expected – with the 297th-ranked player in the world winning for the second week in a row. Or not.

More on Padraig Harrington surviving the Watery Grave Classic, Rory McIlroy stumbling in his first domestic start of the year and Lydia Ko making winning look frighteningly easy in this week’s waterlogged edition of the Monday Scramble:

The old guard’s days are numbered. This we know. But Padraig Harrington went head to head with a kid less than half his age Monday and prevailed. While it’s increasingly rare for the old-timers to stand up to the PGA Tour’s influx of talented youngsters, the 43-year-old's hard-fought playoff victory over 21-year-old Daniel Berger was proof that the geezers can still win – but only if they work harder than ever before. 

Granted, not many can keep pace with Harrington on the range – he promised to hit 10,000 balls after a win last winter – but never before has talent alone been so meaningless. Every player on Tour – every under-30 stud – is talented. That’s plainly obvious. Just look at their athletic builds, their technically sound swings. “The standard keeps going up,” said Harrington, which in turn puts more pressure on the aging warriors to play their absolute best, which oftentimes only makes them play worse. 

The Irishman has been a tormented tinkerer all his life, but after his two-major season in 2008, he spent hours and days and weeks and months digging it out of the dirt, trying to get better. More often than not, it still won’t be enough to win, especially once Father Time intervenes. But every once in a while experience rules in a four-round, five-day slugfest. Imagine how rewarding that must feel.

1. Remember that guy? It’d been 2,396 days since he frantically fist-pumped his way to a third major title, and second in a row. That day you could have lost a lot of money predicting he’d go 118 PGA Tour starts between Ws on a major tour. 

Since his win at the 2008 PGA, Harrington lost his mental edge. He developed the putting yips in 2012, particularly unfortunate, because that season he also enjoyed the best ball-striking year of his career. He lost fully exempt status on Tour. He plummeted as low as No. 371 in the world. 

“In 2008, 2009, I was very much in the penthouse,” he said. “I wasn’t quite down to the doghouse, but not far away from it.”

2. Yet he climbed out of abyss, this time because of a sharper mental approach. Yes, he won in December in Indonesia, but he had become “intolerant” of his mental game. His focus waned. His frustration mounted. He found peace on the range Saturday at Riviera, and after another meeting with Dr. Bob Rotella early last week, he teed it up at the Honda with renewed confidence and a fresh slate. A few days later, he became the season’s best early surprise.   

3. Thankfully, the feel-good story was enough to make us overlook the other, less enviable aspects of his game, such as his pace of play, which is so excruciatingly slow that many wondered whether the Honda might actually finish on Tuesday. Then again, we’ve come to expect this kind of, um, methodical approach from Harrington, a man who warms up by taking a few “Happy Gilmore” swings with a giant rubber band around his knees:

4. Now that Lydia Ko has reached double-digit wins, at an unfathomable age of 17, you can’t help but wonder how high she’ll climb. The teen phenom said recently that she’d like to retire at 30 so she can pursue a career in psychology, but if she’s poised to become one of the all-time greats, well, it’s reasonable to think she’ll put those dreams on hold. Because what we’re witnessing here is a once-in-a-lifetime talent:

  • Her 10 pro wins are as many as Michelle Wie and Lexi Thompson – COMBINED. 
  • She’s more than a year faster to 10 pro wins than Jiyai Shin. More than four years faster than Nancy Lopez. More than seven years faster than Annika Sorenstam. 
  • Kathy Whitworth won 88 times on the LPGA circuit, the most all time. Annika finished with 72. Ko already has six on the big tour, so she is well on her way.

So now we wait. We wait to see if she will want something more out of life, like Lorena. To see if she will seek other challenges, like Annika. To see if she will lose her form, like Yani. One thing is for sure: It’ll be fun to watch. 

5. Sometime last year we reached a point of Tiger-Jack fatigue, but last week was a reminder of one of Woods’ records that will never be broken. From 1998 to 2005, he made the cut in a remarkable 142 consecutive events.

Rory McIlroy is only a few months removed from one of the best seasons in recent memory, and he’s playing the best golf of his life, but at the Honda his consecutive cuts-made streak came to an end … at 22. The longest active streak belongs to Adam Scott, with 44. He’d be fortunate to make it through another season without heading home early, let alone another five years. 

6. So consider:

  • In 304 PGA Tour starts as a pro, Woods has a total of 12 missed cuts.
  • In only 88 Tour starts, McIlroy already has 11. And he’s 14 years younger. 

Granted, Woods has six withdrawals since 2010 that would have bumped up his career number, but during his prime his week-in, week-out consistency – and his ability to grind to play the weekend – will endure as one of his most extraordinary attributes.     

7. Rory’s entire game is predicated on how he drives the ball. In wins at the Open, Bridgestone and PGA, he ranked first in driving distance and never was worse than 20th in fairways hit. That combination of power and accuracy bled into the rest of his game, because it led to shorter irons and closer birdie putts, and it’s a big reason why he’s the game’s undisputed No. 1.

Two rounds at the Honda is a small sample size, of course, but there’s a reason why he departed after only two rounds. Not only did he rank 22nd in distance, but he was T-90 in fairways hit (14 of 28). Granted, the Champion Course is a tough driving track, with pinched-in fairways and hazards galore, but it’s clear that McIlroy’s driver – his greatest weapon – didn’t make the 15-minute drive from his home to PGA National. 

8. Automatic qualifiers for the Ryder Cup will be determined after the 2016 Barclays, three of the captain’s picks will be named after the BMW, and the final selection will be made following the Tour Championship. From now on it’ll be known as the Billy Horschel Rule, and it should guarantee that the hottest players are on the U.S. team. It’s a smart decision – a rarity over these past seven months. 

9. To that point: Nothing says the PGA is truly determined to change the culture of losing like creating a six-person committee (which includes Love, Tiger, Phil and three PGA officers) with a combined won-lost record of 38-50-14, including Love’s stints as a captain and assistant.   

10. The PGA is putting a renewed interest in past Ryder Cup experience – even if that experience is negative. Already tabbed as an assistant at Hazeltine is Tom Lehman, who got blown out as a captain in 2006 and was part of the losing effort in 2010. No offense to Lehman, but by requiring that two of the four assistants have experience as a captain, the PGA is potentially robbing the U.S. team of such positive team-room influences as Fred Couples, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, David Toms, Stewart Cink, Chris DiMarco, Mickelson and maybe even Woods, simply because they have not yet been named captain. The belief here is that the more of those guys who are involved, the better. 

11. Here are our favorite scenes from Saturday at PGA National, which at times resembled an aquarium: 

12. So, yes, as you can see, a biblical storm hit PGA National on Saturday. Torrential rain! Frequent lightning! Gale-force winds! It was downright nasty, so naturally everybody shuffled inside the resort at PGA National to seek shelter. Everybody, that is, except the caddies, who aren’t allowed in the clubhouse. That's right: Media members are allowed in the clubhouse, but not the loopers, who are an integral part of the PGA Tour show. Instead, they were forced to wait out the delay in – wait for it – a three-sided METAL structure. 

Indeed, sadly, the caddies have always been viewed by the Tour as second-class citizens, only now there’s a spotlight on the issue with the ongoing lawsuit.

13. Big news last week: New Sports Illustrated swimsuit cover model Hannah Davis swung a golf club for the first time. To commemorate this joyous occasion, SI posed this question on Twitter: 

Oh, please. Just stop it. This is embarrassing. Are you really asking that? Are you really going to make us choose? 

Because, obviously, the answer is E.) All of the above.

Little-known (but very loud) pro Dan Olsen created a stir last weekend by accusing Tiger of failing a drug test, being suspended by the PGA Tour and playing a golf ball that hadn’t been tested. As far as foot-in-mouth moments go, he might as well have shoved a size-18 in his trap. Later, when he recanted his previous comments, he told ESPN: “I’ll be looked at as just some fu----- nobody making accusations about Tiger.”

Hey, at least he got that part right!

This week's award winners ...

Most Unrecognizable: Jason Dufner. Skinny Duf recorded his first top 20 of the new year at the Honda, but that doesn't mean we've fully come to grips with his new look.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Rory McIlroy. Seventy-six percent of Golf Channel Fantasy users selected him in Group 1. We all went down together, my friends.

'You're a Genius!' Fantasy Pick of the Week: Paul Casey. Because, duh, of course we fully expected him to post back-to-back top-fives for the first time since the 2010 playoffs …

Ohhh, So You’re NOT Dead Yet: Phil Mickelson. Yes, he was a different player on Monday morning, with four bogeys (and no birdies) in 9 ½ holes to tumble down the leaderboard. But he showed enough glimpses last week that it wouldn’t completely surprise if he were to steal another Masters.

Pro Move: Ian Poulter. After hitting a cold shank on No. 5 Sunday, Poults put his right hand to his visor and squinted straight ahead, into the sun, waiting for his ball to find the green ... riiiight, as if he couldn't feel that ball rocket off the hosel. 

Did you catch the unintentional dig by Phil Mickelson in the Ryder Cup news conference? This year’s six fall events won’t award Ryder Cup points to the winners, because, in Phil’s words, “if you count money for those last three or four months, you’re giving the bottom half of the Tour a three-month head-start over ultimately the top guys.” Bottom half of the Tour. Captain Davis Love, of course, is the official host of the McGladrey Classic in November. ... With news that the WGC-Match Play is headed to Austin, Texas, beginning in 2016, Arnold Palmer's event at Bay Hill will almost surely take a hit. Adding the WGC to an already crowded late-March schedule means there will be two WGCs and a major in a six-week span. Something has to give, and it'll most likely be the strength of the field in Orlando. ... With the Tour no longer heading to Midland, Texas, only 13 of the 20 regular-season events on the developmental circuit are held in the States. The road to the PGA Tour is not just winding. It is a potentially costly pursuit, too. ... Since earning a trip to outer space, Andy Sullivan has taken his game to another stratosphere. Coincidence? In the 14 starts since the KLM Open last September (when he made that hole-in-one with the cool perk), Sullivan has two wins and five top-fives. In his 76 previous starts, he had only four top-fives.

Poulter, by a wide margin. On two separate occasions during the final round he was staked to at least a two-shot lead. He began the final 18 three shots clear. Then he hit an out-of-nowhere shank on No. 5, the first of five – FIVE! – water balls. He actually did well to shoot 74 and finish T-3, after birdieing the last two holes.

That said, Reed’s collapse was more surprising, at least to this observer. Poulter is many things, but a consistently excellent ball-striker is not one of them. (Just look at his career statistics.) He had played flawless golf for the better part of 3 ½ rounds, and he was bound for a market correction. By contrast, Reed was playing steady and seemed poised to bolster his reputation as a rock-solid closer, especially in a head-to-head, match-play situation. Recent history suggested that he’d rise to the occasion, brush aside Harrington and cruise to the title. Instead, he played the famed Bear Trap in 4 over par when he was tied for the lead, he stumbled to a 73 and he dropped to joint seventh. Shocker.  

See what you’re saying, but don’t forget the first five winners on the PGA Tour this year were ranked inside the top 41 – established players, all of them. With Doral starting this week, and 50 of the world’s best descending on Miami, we should get a better sense of what this year will look like.

We know the game is skewing young – really young. But for the first time we’ll finally have the world’s best players, all in one place. Rory is making only his second Tour start of the year, and Adam Scott is back, and Jason Day and Henrik Stenson and Justin Rose are all at Trump’s Place, too. The PGA Tour season seems like it’s been going on forever, because it has, with 15 (of 43) events already in the books. But the year is really only just beginning.

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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.

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Spieth selected by peers to run for PAC chairman

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 6:43 pm

Jordan Spieth may still be relatively young, but he has gained the confidence of some of the PGA Tour's most seasoned voices.

Spieth is one of two players selected by the current player directors of the Tour's Policy Board to run for Chairman of the Player Advisory Council (PAC). Spieth will face Billy Hurley III in an election that will end Feb. 13, with the leading vote-getter replacing Davis Love III next year on the Policy Board for a three-year term through 2021.

Last year's PAC chairman, Johnson Wagner, replaces Jason Bohn as a player director on the Policy Board beginning this year and running through 2020. Other existing player directors include Charley Hoffman (2017-19), Kevin Streelman (2017-19) and Love (2016-18).

The 16-member PAC advises and consults with the Policy Board and Tour commissioner Jay Monahan on "issues affecting the Tour."

In addition to Spieth and Hurley, other PAC members for 2018 include Daniel Berger, Paul Casey, Stewart Cink, Chesson Hadley, James Hahn, Zach Johnson, Matt Kuchar, Anirban Lahiri, Geoff Ogilvy, Sam Saunders, Chris Stroud, Justin Thomas, Kyle Thompson and Cameron Tringale.