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 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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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, four shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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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.