Monday Scramble: Different roads to Augusta

By Ryan LavnerMarch 20, 2017, 4:00 pm

Marc Leishman celebrates with family, Rory McIlroy keeps trending, Anna Nordqvist goes low, Tiger Woods reports emerge and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

The first Arnold Palmer Invitational without its beloved host went about how you’d expect.

Sam Saunders, Graeme McDowell and Peter Jacobsen were the epitome of class, the frontmen for what Palmer stood for and what this tournament means going forward.

Touches of Palmer were everywhere – players signed a commemorative flag in his office, and there was a 13-foot bronze statue near the first tee, and there was signage with inspirational messages scattered throughout the course, and Palmer’s cart (with two sets of clubs strapped to the back) was positioned near the 16th tee, his favorite spot to watch golf.

Players honored Arnie in different ways, from wearing custom shoes to stitching the colorful umbrella logo to hats, bags and shirts, to taking more time to sign autographs, because that’s what Palmer would have done.

What happens to the Bay Hill tournament is largely up to the players. In Year 1 without Palmer, they stepped up in a big way. 


1. Leishman’s victory at the API was one for the family.

It was for his 5-year-old son, Harvey, who kept pestering his dad about why he never wins.

And it was for his wife, Audrey, who emerged from two years of medical hell almost completely healthy, pregnant for the third time.

Here’s my piece from Sunday night on what the victory meant to the Leishmans

2. Leishman didn’t look like he was part of the picture until the last hour of the tournament. Facing a 50-foot for eagle, the big Aussie readjusted his line after remembering that he’d stroked a similar putt earlier in the week. This one was center cut, and it allowed him to leapfrog the leaders at 11 under.

After a wayward drive on 18, Leishman laid up short of the green. Helping him was that the hole location wasn’t in its traditional Sunday position, tucked over the pond in the back-right corner. He had the entirety of the green in front of him, and he bumped his chip to 3 feet for a solid par to close.

Leishman finished the week first in greens hit in regulation and second in strokes gained-putting – usually a winning combination. 

3. Leishman went from watching the Masters at home to a potential sleeper pick.

At No. 62 in the world, he needed a big week at Bay Hill or this week’s WGC-Match Play to qualify for the year’s first major. His victory at the API secured an invitation, and he improved to 32nd in the world.

Leishman has been hit-or-miss at Augusta throughout his career, with three missed cuts in four appearances, but he also had a chance to win in 2013, when he tied for fourth. His booming drives, sky-high irons and strong putting (he’s ranked second on Tour on the greens) could lead to another shot at the green jacket.   



4. After a rough start to the week, McIlroy made an Arnie-like charge to nearly steal the title.

Making only his third start of the year, McIlroy opened with a 74 and was in danger of missing the cut. He climbed his way back into contention with a third-round 65 (which tied the low round of the week) and then made seven birdies during a final-round 69.

His most spectacular shot was his second shot on the par-5 16th, after another massive drive. He hooded a wedge and hit a hook around a tree, the ball scooting over the green. He nearly holed the pitch shot and walked off with a tap-in birdie.

When he teed off on 18, he was in a share of the lead, but that scenario changed once Leishman eagled 16. McIlroy’s problem on the finishing hole wasn’t the first putt but the approach. With only a wedge into the green from 153 yards, he flared his second shot about 30 feet right of the flag, leaving a must-make putt that was fast and had plenty of break. He raced it 7 feet past and missed the comebacker.

“I gave the putt a run, that’s for sure,” he said. “Too much of a run.”  

5. McIlroy shot 10 under on the weekend and appears as confident as ever with the driver. With most players dialing back because of the firm and fast conditions, the world No. 2 continually pounded the big stick, smoking four drives of at least 360 yards on Sunday. He led the field in driving distance and also ranked first in strokes gained-approaches.

In other words, he’s trending nicely toward Augusta.  

6. Kevin Kisner doesn’t have the highest apex height, launch angle or spin rate, and it cost him Sunday when he couldn’t hold two critical shots on the increasingly firm greens.

Leading by three on the back nine, Kisner came home in 2-over 38 and failed to make a birdie after the seventh hole.

Even more frustrating was that Kisner thought he’d hit good enough shots to win.

On 15 and 16, he looked in prime position to make birdie, but both times his ball ended up in difficult spots from which to make par. He finished a shot behind Leishman.

“That’s just the nature of the beast on Sunday on the PGA Tour,” he said. “The golf course turns and gets very difficult, and you’ve got to be in the right position and I was not in the right position on either hole.”  



7. Muirfield might be back in the Open rota – and likely in line for 2022 – after voting to admit female members for the first time, but the club hasn’t exactly been praised for finally entering the 20th (let alone the 21st) century.

It was revealed that only 80.2 percent of members voted to allow women, which means that, even after a worldwide scolding, and with the specter of never again hosting an Open, one-fifth of the club’s members STILL didn’t want women to become members.

That’s why McIlroy was so outspoken about Muirfield’s exclusionary practices, calling it “obscene” and “ridiculous” and “horrendous” that it even took this long to get with the times.

“We’ll go back there for the Open Championship at some point,” he said, “but I won’t be having many cups of tea with the members afterward.” 

8. The paths to earn a Masters invitation are narrowing. The top 50 in the world at the end of this week’s WGC-Match Play will earn a spot in the year’s first major.

Here is how the bubble looks (* already exempt):

  • 45. Jeunghun Wang
  • 46. Martin Kaymer*
  • 47. Bill Haas*
  • 48. Charley Hoffman*
  • 49. Lee Westwood*
  • 50. Zach Johnson*
  • 51. Byeong-Hun An*
  • 52. Kevin Na*
  • 53. Ross Fisher
  • 54. William McGirt*
  • 55. Chris Wood*

9. Here is your viral video of the week, courtesy of Cody Gribble, who, apparently content with winning one Tour title, whacked a gator on the tail. 

This seems foolish, of course, but Gribble wasn’t concerned in the slightest. “They’re quick, but they’re not that quick,” he said. And then: “If you think that’s crazy, you should meet my father, Bill. He loves all types of animals.” Tournament officials had some fun at Gribble’s expense before the start of his second round:



10. Riding the momentum of a third-round 61, Anna Nordqvist cruised to a two-shot victory Sunday at the Founders Cup over a host of major champions.

It was Nordqvist’s seventh career title, and the first since she lost the U.S. Women’s Open in heartbreaking fashion, when she was penalized two shots for grazing the sand on her takeaway.

Her 25-under total was two shots off the LPGA record.

11. Finishing in a tie for second – again – was Stacy Lewis.

It was her 13th runner-up since her last victory, in summer 2014. She also has 19 top-5s and 29 top-10s in the 63 tournaments during that span.

“Hit a lot of good shots and didn’t quite get rewarded for them,” she said. “I played well. Hard to be too upset.” 

12. In perhaps a preview of what’s to come this spring and summer, about a dozen protesters assembled last week at the LPGA’s Founders Cup event in Phoenix.

Holding signs like “LPGA: Take a Mulligan: Dump Trump,” a group of protesters for UltraViolet, formed to fight sexism and expand women’s rights, assembled at the front entrance of the course Saturday before being asked by security to leave private property.

The U.S. Women’s Open will be staged this July at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey. The event is hosted by the USGA, not the LPGA, a point the women’s tour attempted to drive home again in a statement.

“When it comes to decisions regarding venue, purse, TV, etc.,” the statement read, “those are solely made by the USGA. We respect and support the decisions made by the USGA on this matter.”  



13. Amateur golf enthusiasts were concerned last week when it was revealed that the U.S. Walker Cup team will announce all 10 members at the same time. That’s a departure from previous years, in which the squad was essentially split into two announcements – those who were no-brainers and those who earned their spot with a strong summer push.

The uneasiness about the change stemmed from the fact that those in the mix for a Walker Cup berth might not want to wait around to turn pro if they don’t know for sure that they’ll be on the team.

It’s a non-issue.

Two years ago, the first wave of players was announced two weeks before the U.S. Amateur, after which the rest of the team is finalized. More college kids than ever before are turning pro after the NCAAs in June because they want to take advantage of the maximum seven sponsor exemptions allowed to non-members and try and earn a card or qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals. Turning pro in early August, then, would be pointless. The season is almost over.

And besides, even though the USGA sticks to its arcane policy of secrecy over transparency, nothing will keep captain Spider Miller from giving his studs a heads-up about their standing. (They should be able to figure it out for themselves, anyway.) This new rule keeps everyone playing through the summer – especially at the Western Am, arguably the most grueling test in amateur golf – allows the best chance for players to prove themselves and removes the notion that the final five selections barely made the team.

There are many reasons to question the Walker Cup selection process, but this isn’t one of them. 


With two and a half weeks to go, the will-he-or-won't-he game has begun in earnest. 

Tiger Woods was on "Good Morning America" on Monday to promote his book, for which he's holding a signing in New York City. It's his first public appearance since Feb. 3 in Dubai. He didn’t play Bay Hill. There have been scant updates on his progress. He would appear doubtful to play the Masters; though, he said Monday that he's "trying everything" to play. This is common sense.

A published report confirmed as much, via unnamed sources, who said that Woods “didn’t look good” and would be rushing back to play at Augusta.

Again, common sense, but the report prompted a strong rebuke from Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg, who unwittingly confirmed the original news – that Tiger is doubtful for the Masters.

“We’re not in a situation to even talk about playing in the Masters now,” said Steinberg, while adding that he didn’t want to get into specifics about Woods’ progress.

The Masters begins in 17 days. If they’re not even talking about playing in the Masters now, that's not a good sign.

This week's award winners ... 


(Un)welcome to the Tour, part 1: Steve Stricker. With a two-shot lead with three to play in his PGA Tour Champions debut, Stricker whiffed a 4-footer for par on 16 and then hit a 3-wood, not a driver, into the water on the long finishing hole to lose to Tom Lehman. 

(Un)welcome to the Tour, part 2: Curtis Luck. The reigning U.S. Am champion and top-ranked amateur in the world made his PGA Tour debut at Bay Hill. In his final tuneup for the Masters, the talented Aussie shot rounds of 79-82 and was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Oy. 

Good Vibes: Matt Every at Bay Hill. Mired in a yearlong slump, all Every needed was a return trip to Arnie’s Place, where he won in back-to-back years. His tie for 62nd snapped a streak of 18 consecutive missed cuts. 

Teethless Tour: LPGA. What's gotten into these ladies? Four of the five events this year have been won with a four-round score of 19 under or lower (and the Founders Cup was the third event with a winning score at least 22 under). Birdie-fests are fun, but are they necessary every week? 



Streaking: Bernhard Langer. He now has a Champions record 32 consecutive rounds under par. The longest streak on the PGA Tour is 26; Lydia Ko shares the record on the LPGA, with 30.

Best Club Toss: Emiliano Grillo. Melting down Saturday on the par-5 sixth hole, where he already put two in the drink, Grillo, in one seamless motion, chucked his offending 3-iron into the pond. The 78 knocked him out of contention, but he rebounded with a final-round 68 to tie for seventh.


Not Yet Found His Form: Brooks Koepka. A trendy pick for breakout star in 2017, Koepka has instead gone the other way, fast. His missed cut at Bay Hill (which included a Thursday 78) was his fourth early exit in six starts, and he doesn’t have a finish better than 42nd. Peaking for Augusta, he is not.  

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Henrik Stenson. A popular pick in one-and-done formats, Big Stense shot 75 in the miserably cold conditions Thursday, then rolled up his pants and twice splashed out of a pond en route to a Friday 74 and his first career missed cut at Bay Hill (five consecutive top-15s here). Sigh. 

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

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Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.

The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.

There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.


Playing with the pros

Tiger, DJ and Faxon

Article: Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

Article: After DJ and Tiger, Trump plays golf with Jack

Rory faces criticism

Article: Rory: Round with Trump about respect for presidency

Article: Rory: Round with Trump not a 'political statement'


President at the Presidents Cup


Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

Article: President Trump presents trophy to U.S. team

Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump


Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73


Cart on the green


Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green


Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open


Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

Article: Trump supporters, protesters clash near Women's Open

Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National


Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open


Trump golf properties

Vandalism

Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses

Finances


Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

Reportedly fake TIME covers


Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover


Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up


Pros comment on the president

Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm