Monday Scramble: Fowler gritty, popular in victory

By Ryan LavnerMay 11, 2015, 4:00 pm

Rickie Fowler waves to the haters as he drives to the ATM; Sergio Garcia snaps his putter and still nearly wins; Tiger Woods has a good, bad and ugly week at The Players and more in this week's adrenaline-pumping edition of Monday Scramble: 

In most team sports, bulletin-board material lasts only a night or two. In football, snubbed draft picks often have to wait years to get even. 

Not in golf. Fowler let that unflattering player survey marinate for a few days, then he summoned – by far – the most audacious performance of his career to capture The Players on Sunday.

It was the most in-your-face! moment we've seen in years. Rickie said he “laughed” off the results and the overrated label, but don’t think for a minute that it didn’t bother him. One of the kindest and most popular players, called out by his peers for having only one Tour title? That’s a much-needed – and very public – wakeup call.

Given ample opportunity, he didn’t chirp back. And he didn’t gloat. Because that’s not his style. “I think this right here answers anything you need to know” was as close as he’d get to a see-I-told-you-so answer. On a day when we were reminded of all the good things our mothers taught us, Rickie let his actions speak louder than his words with a furious final hour that left all of us shaking our heads. That’s the ultimate response.

1. It’s OK, you can admit it: You too thought Fowler was an underachiever. All of that hype, all of that marketing muscle, all of those high finishes … and just one PGA Tour win to show for it. Compared to his elite peers, he didn’t stack up. That’s not being a hater. That’s looking at the facts and drawing a reasonable conclusion.

Rickie needed a win in the worst way. 

Entering last week's event, he was one of eight under-30 players inside the top 20 in the world. Seven of them had won at least twice in the past 18 months. Six had four or more worldwide titles, and the other, Billy Horschel, had three wins, including the $10 million FedEx Cup. 

Rickie's résumé still might not match the level of his popularity – to be fair, it might take many, many majors, because you'd have to look really hard to find someone who doesn't like the kid – but this was a massive step for a player who was the verge of getting lapped by his contemporaries.   

2. What does clutch look like? Probably something like this:

  • Rickie played Nos. 15-18 (in regulation) in 11 strokes – the fewest in tournament history
  • He pumped back-to-back 330-yard drives on the daunting 18th, including a Sunday-best 336-yarder in the playoff
  • He went 3-for-3 at the island 17th on Sunday – with all three tee shots within 7 feet
  • And he one-putted seven of his last eight holes

"I just hit that button," he said, confirming what many of us suspected: Fowler is one of the few guys on Tour with an extra gear.

3. Since Jordan Spieth missed the cut, is the Rory-Rickie rivalry back on? Can't keep track of all these desperate narratives.

4. Seriously, those who contended that McIlroy and Spieth would just run away and hide from the rest of the world-class players was wishful thinking. The game is too deep for that level of dominance, and we're better off for it.

All along the most likely scenario was Rory as the alpha dog, with studs like Spieth and Rickie and Jason Day and Patrick Reed and Hideki Matsuyama and Brooks Koepka all making life harder for him. If there's something wrong with that, then we don't want to be right. 

5. Sergio Garcia could have – should have? – won The Players in a rout.

His putting was so shaky that he brought three putters to Jacksonville. One wound up in a garbage, split into two pieces, after he snapped it over his knee following a woeful 32-putt performance on Friday that cost him more than four shots on the greens. Another was left back at his rental house.

So the lone surviving flat stick at least gave him a chance on the weekend for another win at Sawgrass. He finished the week first in strokes gained-tee to green and third in greens hit … but it still wasn’t enough to overcome the fact that he missed 16 putts inside 10 feet, including five (!) from inside 5 feet.

“To even have a chance,” he conceded, “it was a big effort.” 

6. "Pathetic" is the only way to describe the golf fans who badgered Garcia during the final round of The Players. The Spaniard’s caddie called for extra security when his group made the turn, and Garcia said that he heard various quips “three or four times” every hole on the back nine, culminating on 17, when he was forced to back off because of the fans.

You don’t have to cheer the guy, but don’t be a fool and jeer him. Golf is better than that. Right?

7. In his first start since a surprising tie for 17th at the Masters, Woods broke par only once and tied for a career-worst 69th at The Players Championship. He described his week as a “mixed bag,” which sounds about right, because it was a combination of some really good moments (18 birdies!) and really bad (five doubles or worse, tying the most he’s had in a week as a pro!). And then there were the shots that weren’t just really bad, but horrible for even the casual player – the pair of tee shots that traveled less than 175 yards, and his shot Thursday on the par-3 eighth, which came up 40 yards short and weakly trickled into a hazard that shouldn't be in play.

Of the 75 players who made the cut, he was nearly last in driving accuracy (72nd, at only 50 percent) and 61st in greens hit (61 percent). Add it all up, and he was 69th in strokes gained-tee to green. After four weeks of work, not much has improved with his long game.

Tiger is in a predicament: He needs to play more tournaments, because that’s the only way he can truly assess his performance, but his game is so fragile at the moment that these low finishes threaten to torpedo whatever confidence he has earned on the range. We’ll see how he looks again in four weeks, but expectations remain very low. 

8. Here’s a scary thought: McIlroy hasn’t had anywhere near his A-game this year, and his worldwide finishes are 2-1-MC-9-11-4-1-8. 

It was another what-could-have-been week at Sawgrass for the world No. 1, who was third in strokes gained-tee to green and first in proximity to the hole but still mustered only 12 birdies. For the week, he was 60th in putting.

If he dials up Dave Stockton – multiple analysts noted that McIlroy was hitting up on his putts – then he could go on a tear soon. 

9. Speaking of putting ... How much longer is Adam Scott going to struggle with the long putter? He’s ranked 192nd (of 202 players) on Tour on the greens. At The Players he was 71st in putting, and in the final round he lost an incredible 6.2 shots on the green. Most ghastly was his three-jack from 3 feet on the ninth hole.

During the offseason he worked exclusively with the conventional-length putter, and he was confident enough to put it in play during his season debut. He abandoned the short stick after a few shaky rounds, but now he’s even worse with his old wand. 

At this point, why not work through his issues with the short putter? His confidence is shot with either method, and the Jan. 1 deadline is only getting closer.  

10. Surprised that Kevin Kisner gave another top-10 player all he could handle in one of the sport’s most pressurized arenas? Don’t be. Kisner certainly wasn’t. 

“Just because it’s a bigger stage doesn’t mean we’re going to suck all of a sudden,” he said, and so it was that a few weeks after pushing Jim Furyk to the brink at the Heritage, Kisner played near-flawless golf for the last 13 holes Sunday and came within a millimeter of becoming the third player to make Sawgrass the site of his first career title. Ultimately, he lost out to the better player, again, but you can be sure no pro wants to play straight-up against him now.

An aside: Only two spots separated No. 123 Kisner and No. 125 Woods on last week’s Official World Golf Ranking. Could their games be any further apart right now?

Rickie stays winning.

We can just picture the commercial now ... Hey, kids: If you have movie-star looks, a good-guy rep, a set of brass ones and a bank account that is $1.8 million richer, you too can have a makeout sesh on the 17th green with your model girlfriend!

This week's award winners ... 

Tweet of the Week: Ian Poulter vs. Ted Bishop, Round 2!

Tempted to say that everything is aligning for the other overrated player to win the U.S. Open ... but we all know that isn’t going to happen. 

It’s All in Your Head: Aaron Baddeley. Since 2003, no player has more water balls on 17 than Badds. He added two more on Friday – bringing his grand total to 13 – as he recorded an 8 on the hole. He has four more water balls than the next closest guy. 

Hitting for the Cycle: Kevin Na. Maybe he should consider moving to the Sunshine State – he top-tenned at Doral, Innisbrook, Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass.

Tour Pros Live Better Than Us: A European Tour event on Mauritius, an island in the Indian Ocean. No one cared about what transpired there, of course, but the view from the players' lounge was pretty spectacular:

Awful Depth Perception: Kevin Na. First, he dropped his club when he thought he rinsed his shot on 17. It wound up 5 feet. Then, on the 13th, he nearly fell over after his tee shot and screamed, “GO!” It came to rest 18 feet away. He should probably see an optometrist.

Most Oblivious: Bubba Watson. Here's Chesson Hadley, who snuck into Bubba's autograph line and scored a signature ... not that Watson noticed ... 

Best Career Amateur in the World: Nathan Smith. This guy is unbelievable. The 36-year-old financial adviser teamed with former Walker Cup teammate Todd White to win the inaugural Four-Ball, his fifth career USGA title. He can book a trip to Royal Lytham.  

Yes, he should play more, because that’s the only way he can honestly evaluate his game, but that’s easy for me to say. He’s the single father with two young kids. He’s the one with the brittle body. He’s the creature of habit who prefers to play only where he’s enjoyed success. A pro for nearly two decades, he knows what works best for him.

From our position, it doesn't seem like teeing it up and getting beaten down will help his confidence. His short game is in decent order, but with so much time dedicated to that area it’s clear that he’s neglected his long game. He’s taking steps, however small, as this looks more and more like a lost year. 

Getty Images

Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.

Getty Images

Rahm manages frustration, two back at CareerBuilder

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 1:21 am

Jon Rahm managed the winds and his frustrations Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge to give himself a chance to win his fourth worldwide title in the last year.

Rahm’s 2-under-par 70 on the PGA West Stadium Course left him two shots off the lead going into the final round.

“I wasn’t really dealing with the wind that much,” Rahm said of his frustrations. “I was dealing with not being as fluid as I was the last two days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The world’s No. 3 ranked player opened with a 62 at La Quinta Country Club on Thursday and followed it up with a 67 on Friday at PGA West. He made six birdies and four bogeys on the Stadium Course on Saturday.

“The first day, everything was outstanding,” Rahm said. “Yesterday, my driver was a little shaky but my irons shots were perfect. Today, my driver was shaky and my irons shots were shaky. On a course like this, it’s punishing, but luckily on the holes where I found the fairway I was able to make birdies.”

Rahm is projected to move to No. 2 in the world rankings with a finish of sixth or better on Sunday.

Getty Images

Cook leads by one entering final round at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:51 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Austin Cook hit a hybrid into the fairway bunker on the par-4 18th on a breezy Saturday afternoon at La Quinta Country Club, then chunked a wedge and raced a chip 20 feet past the hole.

Kip Henley, the longtime PGA Tour caddie who guided Cook to a breakthrough victory at Sea Island in November, stepped in to give the 26-year-old former Arkansas star a quick pep talk.

''Kip said, 'Let's finish this like we did on the first day at the Nicklaus Course.' We made a big par putt on 18 there and he said, 'Let's just do the same thing. Let's get this line right and if you get the line right it's going in.'''

It did, giving Cook an 8-under 64 and a one-stroke lead in the CareerBuilder Challenge going into the final round on the Stadium Course at PGA West. Fellow former Razorback Andrew Landry and Martin Piller were tied for second, and Jon Rahm and Scott Piercy were a another stroke back after a tricky day in wind that didn't get close to the predicted gusts of 40 mph.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

''I know that I wouldn't have wanted to play the Stadium today,'' Cook said. ''I think we got a great draw with the courses that we got to play on the days that we got to play them.''

Cook played the final six holes on the front nine in 6 under with an eagle and four birdies.

''Starting on my fourth hole, I was able to make a birdie and kind of get the ball rolling and it never really stopped rolling,'' Cook said. ''Kip and I were doing really good at seeing the line on the greens.''

After a bogey on 10, he birdied 11, 12 and 15 and parred the final three to get to 19-under 197.

''I think that tonight the nerves, the butterflies, all that will kind of be a little less,'' Cook said. ''I've been in the situation before and I was able to finish the job on Sunday. I think it would be a little different if I didn't play like I did on Sunday at Sea Island.''

He's making his first start in the event.

''I came in from Hawaii on Monday, so I only had two days to prepare for three courses,'' Cook said.

Landry, the second-round leader, had a 70 at the Stadium. Piller, the husband of LPGA tour player Gerina Piller, shot a 67 at La Quinta. Winless on the PGA Tour, they will join Cook in the final threesome.

''Piller's a good guy and we have played a lot together and same with Cookie,'' said Landry, the only player without a bogey after 54 holes. ''Hope the Hogs are going to come out on top.''

Rahm had a 70 at the Stadium to reach 17 under. The third-ranked Rahm beat up the par 5s again, but had four bogeys – three on par 3s. He has played the 12 par 5s in 13 under with an eagle and 11 birdies.

''A little bit of a survival day,'' Rahm said.

The wind was more of a factor on the more exposed and tighter Stadium Course.

''The course is firming up,'' Rahm said. ''I know if we have similar wind to today, if we shoot something under par, you'll be way up there contesting it over the last few holes.''

Piercy had a 66 at the Stadium.

''I controlled my ball really well today,'' he said.

Adam Hadwin had a 67 at La Quinta a year after shooting a third-round 59 on the course. The Canadian was 16 under along with Grayson Murray and Brandon Harkins. Murray had a 67 on the Nicklaus Course, and Harkins shot 68 at the Stadium.

Phil Mickelson missed the cut in his first tournament of the year for the second time in his career, shooting a 74 on the Stadium to finish at 4 under – four strokes from a Sunday tee time. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer was playing for the first time since late October. He also missed the cut in the Phoenix Open in his 2009 opener.

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on the first sponsor exemption the event has given to an amateur, also missed the cut. He had three early straight double bogeys in a 77 on the Stadium that left him 1 over.

John Daly had an 80 at La Quinta. He opened with a triple bogey and had six bogeys – four in a row to start his second nine - and only one birdie. The 51-year-old Daly opened with a 69 on the Nicklaus layout and had a 71 on Friday at the Stadium.

Getty Images

Phil misses CareerBuilder cut for first time in 24 years

By Randall MellJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 am

Phil Mickelson missed the cut Saturday at the CareerBuilder Challenge. It’s a rare occurrence in his Hall of Fame career.

He has played the event 15 times, going back to when it was known as the Bob Hope Classic. He has won it twice.

How rare is his missing the cut there?

The last time he did so, there was no such thing as a DVD, Wi-Fi, iPods, Xbox, DVR capability or YouTube.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour’s Jon Rahm didn’t exist, either.

The last time Mickelson missed a cut in this event was 1994, nine months before Rahm was born.

Mickelson struggled to a 2-over-par 74 in the heavy winds Saturday on the PGA West Stadium Course, missing the 54-hole cut by four shots. He hit just four of 14 fairways, just nine of 18 greens. He took a double bogey at the 15th after requiring two shots to escape the steep-walled bunker on the left side of the green.

Mickelson won’t have to wait long to try to get back in the hunt. He’s scheduled to play the Farmers Insurance Open next week at Torrey Pines in La Jolla, Calif.