Monday Scramble: It's Rory ... and everyone else

By Ryan LavnerMay 18, 2015, 4:00 pm

Rory McIlroy blows away another good field, Patrick Rodgers dazzles in a spot start, Adam Scott frowns on the Olympics and more in this week's rivalry-free edition of Monday Scramble: 

One of the more remarkable aspects of Rory McIlroy’s 2015 season is that he rang up two wins and a slew of other high finishes without what appeared like his best stuff. In some ways, it was Tiger-like, the way he’d grind it out and get the most out of each round, but it still left us wanting more.  

Well, this past week was Rory in full flight. Hungry. Confident. Dialed in. And it was a much-needed reminder that at his best, he’s in a class all his own. 

As much as the public craves a rivalry that could galvanize the sport, there isn’t one. Yet. Sure, there is a long list of promising foils – guys like Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka, and further down the line Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers and Daniel Berger – but it was clear at Quail Hollow that this is very much Rory’s world. His A-game is peerless. 

1. How thorough was Rory’s dismantling of the Quail Hollow field? Pick your favorite stat:

  • Twenty-seven birdies (tournament record)
  • 54- and 72-hole scoring record
  • First to win the event multiple times
  • Course-record 61 in Round 3
  • Seven-stroke margin of victory (yep, another record)

2. McIlroy is in the midst of a whirlwind stretch of five consecutive tournaments in three countries across eight time zones. His record so far: win-eighth-win.

He now returns to Wentworth, the site of where this remarkable run began 52 weeks ago. That's when he announced that he had split from Caroline Wozniacki, then shot 66 in the final round of the BMW PGA and won what was the first of four titles in 2014, including two majors.

For years McIlroy was labeled a brilliant but streaky player. Not anymore. In his last 24 worldwide events, he has seven wins, 13 top-5s, 16 top-10s and 20 top-20s … and just a pair of missed cuts. 

3. And remember: McIlroy didn’t even plan to play Charlotte at the start of the year.

When he filled out his schedule, he thought five in a row would be too much to handle. But after glancing at the FedEx Cup standings following the Masters, McIlroy noticed he was outside the top 100. He made the decision in mid-April to return to Quail Hollow, where he earned his first Tour title in 2010. 

“I said, ‘I need to play a little bit more,’” he recalled Sunday. “I feel like I’m playing well.” 

Good decision.

4. In this space last week, we typed these words:

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

And so last Wednesday, for the first time in more than a year, the world No. 1 worked with Stockton, albeit briefly. The fix was simple – keep his head down longer through impact – and it required less than three minutes of practice. 

For the week, McIlroy was 21st in strokes gained-putting and seventh in putts per GIR. Fast learner, it seems. 

5. For a guy who stands only 5-foot-10, McIlroy sure can send it. Case in point: During that Saturday 61 at Quail Hollow, he hit no more than 9-iron on 15 (!) holes … even though the course was stretched to 7,562 yards for the third round. "It just sets up perfectly for me," he said.

Here’s the fascinating chart (via J Held on Twitter): 

But here's the question moving forward: What’s in store for the '17 PGA? An 8,000-yard track? Shin-high rough? Because Rory would still be a monster favorite then, too.

6. The best illustration of Rory’s dominance:

See that little red speck off in the distance? Yep, that's his drive, after he obliterated the 514-yard hole that was playing to a 4.41 scoring average. Rory hit driver-gap wedge to 3 feet, like a boss. For the week he averaged 321.1 yards per pop – or a whopping 24 yards longer than the field average. 

7. From DJ to J.B., from Jimmy to J-Rose, from Rory to Rickie, the list of recent PGA Tour winners is awfully impressive. Think about this: Ten of the last 11 winners on the PGA Tour were ranked inside the top 20 in the world at the time of their victory. 

8. Patrick Rodgers had his coming-out party on a national level at Quail Hollow, but this observer can’t help but wonder how his 2015 would have looked had he not suffered an oblique injury late last summer.

Rodgers, who left Stanford after three years and a record-tying 11 wins, pulled an oblique muscle while playing in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship, then had to withdraw from the first leg of the Tour Finals. He had only one top-10 in the four-event series and was sent to toil in the minor leagues for a year. In his second start of the year, in Colombia, he closed with 65 and prevailed in a playoff. 

This was his sixth PGA Tour start of the season, but only his third this calendar year. His T-2 finish in Charlotte, which included a double bogey-bogey finish, nearly earned him special temporary status on Tour, meaning he could receive an unlimited number of sponsor exemptions. Alas, he wound up nine FedEx Cup points short. All he needs now is a top-60 at Colonial, Nelson or Memorial to lock it up. 

Good news, because it's not too late to challenge Berger and roommate Thomas for Rookie of the Year honors.

9. So Adam Scott isn't really interested in playing in the 2016 Olympic “exhibition.” Problem is, he’s a virtual lock to be on the two-man Australian team. With about 16 months left in qualifying, only No. 49 John Senden, No. 56 Marc Leishman and No. 65 Matt Jones have a chance to overtake Scott. Even if he has temporarily forgotten how to putt – his MC at Quail Hollow was his sixth consecutive finish outside the top 35 – Scott still won’t drop that far in the world rankings (currently 11th). And, just a guess here, but sitting out the Olympics because he doesn’t want to deal with the scheduling headache likely won’t go over well Down Under.

10. Rising star Alison Lee had to forfeit her spot in a U.S. Women's Open local qualifier when the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship went into a Monday finish.

Lee wound up bogeying the last hole and finishing a career-best third (worth about $86,000), but all was not lost: The USGA granted her an exemption into a California qualifier on Tuesday.

That right there is the look of a man who didn’t just miss out on a chance to shoot 59, but a man who left his putt short. SHORT! To be fair, Roland Thatcher's 15-foot birdie putt at the Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am looked like it was motoring toward the hole with good pace, but then it slowed up dramatically and took a sharp left-hand turn in front of the cup.

If you gun it past the hole and miss the 3-foot comebacker, hey, you know what? At least you gave it a run. 

Even Thatcher said that he was “ashamed” he didn’t give his putt more juice. Who knows if he'll get another opportunity to join the 59 Club?

Phil Mickelson’s T-4 finish at Quail Hollow was his first top-10 in a PGA Tour non-major since the 2013 Barclays. It’s just what he was hoping to see in the run-up to Chambers Bay, a quirky track that will place an emphasis on short game and creativity. In other words, it’s right in Phil’s wheelhouse.

The quote of the week belongs to Rory McIlroy. When the world No. 1 was asked about USGA setup czar Mike Davis’ statement that players would need 10 practice rounds at Chambers or they had no chance: “What’s Mike Davis’ handicap?”

Rory’s plan is to play a couple of practice rounds before the Open to get a feel for the unusual links-style course along the Puget Sound. Then he offered this: “You can do all the preparation you want. But if you don’t go out there and execute the shots, all that preparation doesn’t mean anything.” 

• Looking back, it's probably a good thing Keegan Bradley decided not to come to blows with Miguel Angel Jimenez at the Match Play. Tough to land a punch on a guy this elusive:

Don’t have even the faintest idea who Adrian Otaegui is, or how to pronounce his surname, but here’s what we do know: This dude has the best ’burns in golf. 

The Atlanta Braves are in desperate need of a slugger, as they rank near the bottom of the National League standings in home runs hit. The only solution: Chris Kirk!

Love these questions. Long-term, would rank them like this: 

  1. Jordan Spieth: Always been a winner. Though his short game might not always stay this otherworldly good, he has an insatiable desire to win. He’ll find a way.   
  2. Patrick Reed: Has all the tools to be an absolute-world beater. Just needs to find more consistency. 
  3. Patrick Rodgers: A prolific winner at every level, this numbers-freak knows how to get the most out of his game. Dude’s surgical.
  4. Rickie Fowler: In some respects we’re still waiting to see what’s next. And the big question for the future: Will he remain as motivated as the others? 
  5. Justin Thomas: Still learning how to finish off rounds and tournaments, but that’s simply from wanting it too much. When he figures it out, he’ll go on a tear. 

Would list the favorites as Texas, Florida State and Illinois, in that order. The Longhorns have the most momentum, with six of their seven victories coming in the spring. The Seminoles won five times in Florida and, obviously, don't have to travel far with the NCAAs outside Tampa. The Illini have the most championship experience, having reached match play each of the past two years, but like Texas, you wonder how their two freshmen starters will hold up in the cauldron of head-to-head match play. 

Individually, is it asking too much for a Maverick McNealy-vs.-Jon Rahm showdown? Throw in Washington's Cheng-Tsung Pan, and all three Hogan Award finalists won their respective regional last week. Should be an epic event. 

Underrated? Sheesh, I hope not. Rory has three more wins than any other player since 2010 (Tiger). Maybe he’s not getting all of the attention that he so richly deserves – that Woods guy still moves the needle pretty significantly – but it’s impossible to ignore how dominant McIlroy has been in the past 52 weeks.  

Why? These guys have proven successful at an early age, so our expectations for them have accelerated, as well. It seems more unlikely than ever that we’ll see another late bloomer like Walker, who didn’t cash in until his 188th PGA Tour start and age-34 season. These players are coming out of college and golf’s minor leagues hungry, fearless and ready to scrap.  

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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. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

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Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – 

Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.