Monday Scramble: Day pulls away from McIlroy, Spieth

By Ryan LavnerMay 16, 2016, 3:30 pm

Jason Day's dominance continues, Jordan Spieth returns, Kevin Chappell crashes the Ryder Cup party, TPC Sawgrass' setup goes over the edge and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Is it too early to bury the Big 3 narrative?

With his seventh win since late July, Day now has five more victories over that span than any other player. He is separating himself. More than that, his cakewalk victory at The Players Championship highlighted his advantages over his top rivals.

The best driver in the game, Day overpowers courses and now has overwhelmed Jordan Spieth in each of their past two head-to-head duels on big stages; in two rounds at Sawgrass, Day outscored him by 14 shots. And Day has a massive edge over Rory McIlroy in the short-game department. Whereas McIlroy repeatedly missed opportunities to salvage a round with his chipping and putting, Day led the field in scrambling and bounced back from mistakes with momentum-saving birdies. 

For years, McIlroy was thought to possess the most firepower of any player because of his eight-shot romps in the majors, and that may be true. But if he doesn’t access his potential on a consistent basis, like Day, then it’s simply a tease. 

Day's potential, meanwhile, seems limitless, as he's shown an ability to win on different courses and is playing with a ton of confidence. How much higher he ascends is simply a matter of health and motivation, and neither poses much of a threat right now. 


1. An accomplishment this impressive begs for the proper context.

Day’s eight titles over the past three seasons are more than any other player. He has three wire-to-wire wins since last fall. He is the undisputed best player on the planet, and the gap between Nos. 1 and 2 in the world ranking is so large that Spieth could sweep both Texas events and still not reclaim the top spot. 

Since last July, Day has won at a 41-percent clip (7 of 17).

“That’s Tiger-esque,” Adam Scott said.

Yes, Day’s dominance feels underappreciated, especially in this age of parity and depth. But keep this in mind, too: Woods had seven SEASONS of at least a 30-percent win rate, and in 2006 he won seven tournaments in a row

2. Most revealing about the state of Day’s game right now is that he joined Woods, Johnny Miller and Tom Watson as the only players since 1970 to go wire-to-wire twice in a season. This was Day’s third wire-to-wire victory since last September (a stat that doesn't include his Match Play title, where he played the 18th hole only once in seven matches).

Why is it so impressive? Because not only did Day race out to an early lead, but he also kept his foot down, withstood challenges from his pursuers, slept on the lead each night and overcame his own stumbles to win each time. That’s the sign of a player who is strong from tee to green, supremely confident and comfortable in what is a most uncomfortable position.  

3. After beginning his career 1-for-7 with a 54-hole lead, Day has now converted his last five opportunities. And there was little doubt about this one: He didn't record a bogey on the back nine all week.



4. TPC Sawgrass wasn’t a great fit for Day’s game – it rewards accuracy, not power, and the Australian said earlier in the week that he’s never felt comfortable there because it takes driver out of his hands on several holes. (Which is why he had only one top-10 in five previous trips.)

And yet Day adapted his brawny game, dialing back when he needed to, going full throttle when the situation presented itself. In the end, he was tops in driving distance and ranked inside the top 10 in putting, scrambling and sand saves.

“He’s a freak of nature,” Chappell said. “Not only does he hit it farther than everyone, but he also has the best short game.” 

5. His nuclear 2-iron helped tremendously, but no shot last week was bigger than Day's 6-foot bogey putt on No. 9 Sunday, after three flubbed chip shots out of the tricky Bermuda rough. 

“If I walk away with a double bogey there," Day said, "I let everyone in the field back in, and that gives them a boost of energy, a boost of momentum their way to really say, ‘Oh, OK. We’re back in this tournament now. He’s not playing well, and obviously he’s thinking about trying to win.’”

Instead, well, Spieth said it best:  

6. Even last Tuesday, two days before the event began, Day said one of his primary motivations for winning The Players was that it could someday push him into the Hall of Fame. 

Talk about a long-term plan: He still has 22 more years until induction.

All three of the game’s big stars – Day, Spieth and McIlroy – are destined for enshrinement, but it was Day who singled out The Players as the one he wanted to win because of the Hall connection. The current criteria calls for least 15 wins on the major tours and/or two victories at the four majors and The Players. Day can now check that box, after his win last summer at the PGA. 

“I’m hoping that this doesn’t just get me over into the Hall of Fame,” Day said. “I’m hoping that I kind of smash that out of the water and I don’t really need to think about it, and once I’m on the ballet, I hope I have the majority and am able to get into it.”



7. On paper, it looked like another solid week for McIlroy – his fourth consecutive top-15 finish at TPC Sawgrass. 

In reality, it was another week of close, but not close enough for one of the game’s stars.

Despite long-game statistics that were off the charts, McIlroy’s wedge game was a mess and his putting again left him too far behind to seriously contend. He missed a whopping 16 times inside 10 feet. Over the last two rounds, he lost nearly four and a half shots to the field on the greens. For the week, he ranked 68th of the 76 players who made the cut.

“Everything is just not clicking,” he said, “and hopefully as the summer approaches, everything can start to click and I can go on a run, because I really don’t feel like it’s too far away.”  

8. Spieth missed the cut at The Players in his first start since the Masters, not that there was any connection.

At Augusta, it was Spieth’s magical short game and putter that covered up four days of shaky ball-striking. He didn’t put as much emphasis on that part of his game over the past four weeks, and it showed, especially on a Pete Dye course where players were going to miss a lot of greens and face difficult putts.

Ranked 123rd in putting Thursday and 92nd in the second round, it was Spieth’s worst performance on the greens all year – and it couldn’t have been timed worse, coming off his Masters collapse and playing alongside the world No. 1, who was holing just about everything.

“It’s tough when you’re getting shellacked by 15 shots in the same group,” Spieth said. “When someone is birdieing almost every single hole, every other hole, you start to wonder why in the world you aren’t making any of them.”

This was just an off-week on the greens, nothing more. A home game this week in Dallas might be just what he needs.

9. Spieth wasn’t the only big name to miss the cut. Defending champion Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Patrick Reed were among the players who headed home early. What do they all have in common? They’re expected to be on the U.S. Ryder Cup team.

Hopefuls Brandt Snedeker, Charley Hoffman, Kevin Kisner, Chris Kirk, Jimmy Walker, J.B. Holmes, Smylie Kaufman and Tony Finau all missed the cut, too.



10. Golf’s richest tournament usually has a few winners. 

Chappell earned the $1.13 million consolation prize, as well as valuable world-ranking points that propelled him inside the top 50 (to No. 33) and earned him spots in both summer Opens. Another big bonus: He rose from 26th to 10th in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings. 

It was Chappell's third runner-up finish this season (and second to Day), a run reminiscent of Kevin Kisner's 2015 season. He eventually broke through last fall, and Chappell will soon, too.

It was also ideal timing for Justin Thomas’ closing 65, his best score since his win in Malaysia last November. The $504,000 payday, and tie for third, pushed him inside the top 30 in the world. 

11. And here we thought Brandt Snedeker’s final-round 69 at wind-swept Torrey Pines would hold up as the round of the year.

It barely lasted three months. 

Along came – surprise! – Ken Duke, whose third-round 65 at TPC Sawgrass was a whopping 10.59 strokes better than the field average, the best mark in tournament history. 

Duke’s remarkable score still doesn’t rank in the top 10 of best rounds against the field since 1983 – Jim Furyk’s 59 at the 2013 BMW tops the list, at 12.1 strokes gained – but it drew plenty of praise from his peers. 

“That’s the best round of golf ever, probably,” Russell Knox said. 

Added Day: “What course was Ken Duke playing today? Can anyone tell me? Was he playing across the road? I think that should be the course record. It was just an absolute joke.” 

12. This reaction by Will Wilcox has to rank near the top of all-time hole-in-one celebrations.

It was the first ace on Sawgrass’ watery 17th in 6,300 attempts, or since Miguel Angel Jimenez in 2002. That’s hard to believe, isn’t it? Many hole locations on the island green have a slope or backboard that funnel balls closer, yet it took more than 14 years for another hole-in-one.


Golf-course setups that are pushed to the brink will eventually go too far, which is what happened at TPC Sawgrass. 

Double-cut and double-rolled after two rounds of play, the greens Saturday were unplayable – players estimated that they were running about 16 or 17 on the Stimpmeter (when the goal was 13).

The Tour staff blamed a “perfect storm” of low humidity and high winds, but there was more to the problem. In an attempt to challenge today’s players and to overcompensate for modern equipment that has overmatched today’s courses, fairways have been narrowed, rough has been lengthened and greens have been taken to the limit with extreme speeds and crazy hole locations. Last year at Chambers Bay was a prime example: What should have been a fun test of creativity and skill turned into a laugher when the USGA burned out the greens the weekend before the tournament and they never recovered, damaging the course’s reputation and creating some of the worst surfaces the pros had ever putted on. 

During the first two rounds of The Players – when Day set a 36-hole mark and there were record-low scores – the scoring average was 71.07 and there were a combined 122 three-putts among the 144 players in the field. 

In the third round alone, there were only six rounds under par, with a 75.59 average and a Shinnecockian 149 three-putts (or worse, much worse).

It's an unenviable position, dancing that fine line, but to have this kind of bloodbath at the flagship event – at the event for the players – was a black eye for the Tour.

This week's award winners ... 


What Could Have Been ... : Russell Knox. He needed nine strokes to play the par-3 17th in the third round, although he took the whole episode in stride, calling it an “epic fail.” A day later, he made a bogey and described it as a “career-defining moment.” Alas, had he made par on the hole Saturday, he would have tied for second ...

Good College Players, Even Better Pros: Alabama. Turns out the group of players that reached the NCAA finals in 2012 and won back-to-back titles in 2013-14 make pretty good pros, too. Justin Thomas won on Tour last fall, Bobby Wyatt nearly stole the title in New Orleans, and now, Trey Mullinax captured the Web.com Tour’s Rex Hospital Open and clinched his Tour card for next season.

Different Vibe Next Year: Day's finish at The Players. Something tells us that the highlights of Day's efficient, stress-free, undramatic victory won't be replayed ad nauseam for the next 52 weeks.

No Fluke: Daniel Berger. Quietly, the 2015 Rookie of the Year has cobbled together an impressive sophomore campaign, with six consecutive top-20s in stroke-play events. Berger and Hideki Matsuyama are the only players to post top-10s in both the Masters and The Players.

Maybe This Will Help?: Steven Bowditch at the Nelson. The defending champion has missed the cut or finished last (sometimes both!) in his last seven starts. If nothing else, it should be an enlightening pre-tournament news conference.

What Are Little Brothers For?: Dustin Johnson. After Johnson mishandled his ball and watched it tumble into the water surrounding the 17th green, he had two options: Retrieve the ball or incur a two-shot penalty. Enter brother/caddie Austin, who jumped into the pond (with his shoes on) and came up with the ball. “It was going to be a penalty,” Dustin said, “so there was no doubt that he was going in.” 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Sergio Garcia. In decent shape through two rounds, he threw up a 77-75 on the weekend to sink to a tie for 54th, snapping a streak of three consecutive top-10s. Sigh.

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PGA Tour suspends Hensby for anti-doping violation

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 8:02 pm

Mark Hensby has been suspended for one year by the PGA Tour for violating the Tour’s anti-doping policy by failing to provide a sample after notification.

The Tour made the announcement Monday, reporting that Hensby will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

The statement reads:

The PGA Tour announced today that Mark Hensby has violated the Tour Anti-Doping Policy for failing to provide a drug testing sample after notification and has been suspended for a period of one year. He will be eligible to return on Oct. 26, 2018.

Hensby, 46, won the John Deere Classic in 2004. He played the Web.com Tour this past year, playing just 14 events. He finished 142nd on the money list. He once ranked among the top 30 in the Official World Golf Ranking but ranks No. 1,623 today.

The Sunshine Tour recently suspended player Etienne Bond for one year for failing a drug test. Players previously suspended by the PGA Tour for violating the anti-doping policy include Scott Stallings and Doug Barron.

The PGA Tour implemented revisions to its anti-doping program with the start of the 2017-18 season. The revisions include blood testing and the supplementation of the Tour’s prohibited list to include all of the substances and methods on the World Anti-Doping Agency prohibited list. As part of this season’s revisions, the Tour announced it would also begin reporting suspensions due to recreational drug use.

The Tour said it would not issue further comment on Hensby's suspension.

Good time to hang up on viewer call-ins

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 7:40 pm

Golf announced the most massive layoff in the industry’s history on Monday morning.

Armchair referees around the world were given their pink slips.

It’s a glorious jettisoning of unsolicited help.

Goodbye and good riddance.

The USGA and R&A’s announcement of a new set of protocols Monday will end the practice of viewer call-ins and emails in the reporting of rules infractions.

“What we have heard from players and committees is ‘Let’s leave the rules and administration of the event to the players and those responsible for running the tournament,’” said Thomas Pagel, the USGA’s senior director of rules and amateur status.

Amen.

The protocols, formed by a working group that included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and the PGA of America, also establish the use of rules officials to monitor the televised broadcasts of events.

Additionally, the protocols will eliminate the two-shot penalty when a player signs an incorrect scorecard because the player was unaware of a violation.



Yes, I can hear you folks saying armchair rules officials help make sure every meaningful infraction comes to light. I hear you saying they make the game better, more honest, by helping reduce the possibility somebody violates the rules to win.

But at what cost?

The chaos and mayhem armchair referees create can ruin the spirit of fair play every bit as much as an unreported violation. The chaos and mayhem armchair rules officials create can be as much a threat to fair play as the violations themselves.

The Rules of Golf are devised to protect the integrity of the game, but perfectly good rules can be undermined by the manner and timeliness of their enforcement.

We have seen the intervention of armchair referees go beyond the ruin of fair play in how a tournament should be conducted. We have seen it threaten the credibility of the game in the eyes of fans who can’t fathom the stupidity of a sport that cannot separate common-sense enforcement from absolute devotion to the letter of the law.

In other sports, video review’s timely use helps officials get it right. In golf, video review too often makes it feel like the sport is getting it wrong, because timeliness matters in the spirit of fair play, because the retroactive nature of some punishments are as egregious as the violations themselves.  

We saw that with Lexi Thompson at the ANA Inspiration this year.

Yes, she deserved a two-shot penalty for improperly marking her ball, but she didn’t deserve the two-shot penalty for signing an incorrect scorecard. She had no idea she was signing an incorrect scorecard.

We nearly saw the ruin of the U.S. Open at Oakmont last year, with Dustin Johnson’s victory clouded by the timing of a video review that left us all uncertain if the tournament was playing out under an incorrect scoreboard.

“What these protocols are put in place for, really, is to make sure there are measures to identify the facts as soon as possible, in real time, so if there is an issue to be dealt with, that it can be handled quickly and decisively,” Pagel said.

Amen again.

We have pounded the USGA for making the game more complicated and less enjoyable than it ought to be, for creating controversy where common sense should prevail, so let’s applaud executive director Mike Davis, as well as the R&A, for putting common sense in play.

Yes, this isn’t a perfect answer to handling rules violations.

There are trap doors in the protocols that we are bound to see the game stumble into, because the game is so complex, but this is more than a good faith effort to make the game better.

This is good governance.

And compared to the glacial pace of major rules change of the past, this is swift.

This is the USGA and R&A leading a charge.

We’re seeing that with the radical modernization of the Rules of Golf scheduled to take effect in 2019. We saw it with the release of Decision 34/3-10 three weeks after Thompson’s loss at the ANA, with the decision limiting video review to “reasonable judgment” and “naked eye” standards. We’re hearing it with Davis’ recent comments about the “horrible” impact distance is having on the game, leading us to wonder if the USGA is in some way gearing up to take on the golf ball.

Yes, the new video review protocols aren’t a panacea. Rules officials will still miss violations that should have been caught. There will be questions about level playing fields, about the fairness of stars getting more video review scrutiny than the rank and file. There will be questions about whether viewer complaints were relayed to rules officials.

Golf, they say, isn’t a game of perfect, and neither is rules enforcement, though these protocols make too much sense to be pilloried. They should be applauded. They should solve a lot more problems than they create.

Lexi 'applaud's USGA, R&A for rules change

By Randall MellDecember 11, 2017, 5:15 pm

Lexi Thompson’s pain may prove to be the rest of golf’s gain.

David Rickman, the R&A’s executive director of governance, acknowledged on Golf Channel’s "Morning Drive" Monday that the new protocols that will eliminate the use of TV viewer call-ins and emails to apply penalties was hastened by the controversy following Thompson’s four-shot penalty at the ANA Inspiration in early April. The new protocols also set up rules officials to monitor TV broadcasts beginning next year.

“Clearly, that case has been something of a focus point for us,” Rickman said.

Thompson reacted to the new protocols in an Instagram post.

“I applaud the USGA and the R&A for their willingness to revise the Rules of Golf to address certain unfortunate situations that have arisen several times in the game of golf,” Thompson wrote. “In my case, I am thankful no one else will have to deal with an outcome such as mine in the future.”

Thompson was penalized two shots for improperly returning her ball to its mark on a green during Saturday’s round after a viewer emailed LPGA officials during Sunday’s broadcast. She was penalized two more shots for signing an incorrect scorecard for her Saturday round. Thompson ultimately lost in a playoff to So Yeon Ryu.

The new protocols will also eliminate the additional two-shot penalty a player receives for failing to include a penalty when a player was unaware of the penalty.

Shortly after the ANA Inspiration, the USGA and R&A led the formation of a video review working group, which included the PGA Tour, LPGA, European Tour, Ladies European Tour and PGA of America.

Also, just three weeks after Thompson was hit with the four-shot penalty, the USGA and R&A released a new Rules of Golf decision decision (34-3/10) limiting video evidence in two ways:

1. If an infraction can’t be seen with the naked eye, there’s no penalty, even if video shows otherwise.

2. If a tournament committee determines that a player does “all that can be reasonably expected to make an accurate estimation or measurement” in determining a line or position to play from or to spot a ball, then there will be no penalty even if video replay later shows that to be wrong.

While the USGA and R&A said the new decision wasn’t based on Thompson’s ANA incident, LPGA players immediately began calling it the “Lexi Rule.”

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PGA Tour, LPGA react to video review rules changes

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 11, 2017, 1:32 pm

The USGA and R&A announced on Monday updates to the Rules of Golf, including no longer accepting call-ins relating to violations. The PGA Tour and LPGA, which were both part of a working group of entities who voted on the changes, issued the following statements:

PGA Tour:

The PGA Tour has worked closely with the USGA and R&A on this issue in recent years, and today's announcement is another positive step to ensure the Rules of Golf align with how the game is presented and viewed globally. The PGA Tour will adopt the new Local Rule beginning January 1, 2018 and evolve our protocols for reviewing video evidence as outlined.

LPGA:

We are encouraged by the willingness of the governing bodies to fully vet the issues and implement real change at a pace much quicker than the sport has seen previously. These new adaptations, coupled with changes announced earlier this year, are true and meaningful advances for the game. The LPGA plans to adopt fully the protocols and new Local Rule as outlined.