Monday Scramble: Lowly ranked make big headlines

By Ryan LavnerMay 2, 2016, 7:50 pm

Former world No. 513 Brian Stuard ends a long week, former world No. 1,198 Bobby Wyatt capitalizes on his opportunity, current world No. 508 Tiger Woods remains on the sidelines, and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

With a short birdie on the second playoff hole, Stuard put everyone – players, tournament officials, volunteers, fans, media members, catering staff, valet attendants – out of their misery Monday to win the hard-luck Zurich Classic. 

Unfortunately, the weather-shortened event is bound to go down as one of the most forgettable in recent memory, with more than a dozen hours of delays over five mind-numbing days at a waterlogged TPC course. In the end, Tour officials were fortunate the proceedings didn’t stretch into a sixth day. 

Stuard had four missed cuts and a tie for 55th heading into New Orleans, but he credited a session with Michigan-based swing coach Gary Robinson for his quick turnaround. The 33-year-old is plenty talented – he was top 80 in FedEx Cup points in both 2013 and ’14 – and now he will enjoy job security, his new No. 143 world ranking, $1.2 million in earnings and a spot in his first Masters.

Not even Mother Nature can take that away.  

1. What a funny game we follow. 

Stuard was a below-average putter – ranked 128th in strokes gained-putting – when he grabbed a Odyssey Works Marxman Fang Tank counterbalanced putter from a demo bag on the practice putting green two weeks ago in San Antonio. He stroked a few putts with it and put it in play.

A week later in New Orleans, he went 56 holes without a bogey and rolled in each of his 44 (!) attempts from inside 10 feet to win for the first time on the PGA Tour.

“I wish I knew what the difference was,” he said afterward. “But it was a nice feeling.”

2. Before his weather-shortened title, Stuard was best known as the player who needed to pull a fan from the crowd to caddie for him, Tin Cup style, after his regular looper bailed on him midway through a round in Reno.

“His disrespectfulness for golf and for the other players in his group is wrong,” caddie Michael Lawson said in 2014, according to this local report. “It’s embarrassing.”

His new caddie, Mike Downey, took over later that fall. When I asked him about this story, and if Stuard’s woe-is-me attitude was still a problem, he seemed confused. “Brian? Never,” he said. “OK … a little. He beats himself up to do well. He never goes after me.”

3. The Zurich was a career-changer for 23-year-old Wyatt.

Playing on a sponsor exemption, the former Alabama star entered the week with no status on any major tour and a world ranking of 1,198th. The only three tournaments he’d played this year were on the Sunshine Tour in South Africa, which he accepted simply to remain competitive. 

In the third and final round, Wyatt rebounded from back-to-back bogeys to shoot an 8-under 64. The fourth-place finish sent him to this week’s event at Quail Hollow via the top-10 rule.  

“This is where I mostly want to be,” he said, “and I feel like I can play out here. It’s great to have another opportunity.” 

Wyatt advanced through Canadian Tour Q-School and intends to play that 12-event summer schedule, but only as a "backup plan."

4. No, seriously: This was a career-changer.

Wyatt's earnings in his first eight PGA Tour starts: $36,983.

His paycheck Monday: $336,000. He's also now ranked 431st in the world.

5. After coming up two shots shy of the playoff, Jason Day summed up his feelings thusly: “I just wish it was 72 holes. I’d stay here until the weekend if we could play 72 holes.”

You'd have liked the world No. 1’s chances if the Zurich went an extra day, especially with how the unproven frontrunners were tripping all over themselves trying to get in the house. 

Day closed with 66, but he lamented a number of missed opportunities – not least the way he closed out the first round, when he came back from a five-hour weather delay and bogeyed his last two holes. 

Still, he continued his year-long tear: This was Day's 15th top-15 finish in his last 18 worldwide events. 

6. Byeong-Hun An was told by a few friends that TPC Louisiana was a good fit for his game – wide open, little rough, plenty of birdies available – and that he wouldn’t be wasting one of his precious 12 spots there. 

Good call. 

Though he was ranked 31st in the world, An doesn’t have a PGA Tour card. The Zurich was one of his maximum 12 events allowed to non-members, and the former U.S. Amateur champion said that his goal was to hold dual membership on the PGA and European tours. 

He moved a step closer, with the playoff loss earning him special temporary status (and the ability to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions) on Tour for the rest of the season.

7. Before there was Rickie Fowler and Jordan Spieth, there was Jamie Lovemark, the California-cool 2007 NCAA champion.

A back injury sent his career off the tracks – he underwent a microdiscectomy, the same procedure that Tiger Woods had – but he has shown signs this season of fulfilling all of that promise. His playoff loss was his fifth top-10 in 16 starts.

Good finishes, yes, but there are several missed opportunities mixed in there: The closing 77 at the Frys; the final-round 73 in Palm Springs; the 76 when staked to a share of the 54-hole lead in Houston.   

Lovemark had a one-shot lead on the final hole Monday, but only after a series of gutsy up-and-downs when his ball-striking clearly deserted him. Then came a three-putt from 90 feet, including a how-did-you-leave-that-short? 10-footer for the win. He missed a putt of similar length on the first playoff hole as well, then made a sloppy par on the second extra hole to hand the title to Stuard, who stiffed his approach.

“Sucks not to win,” Lovemark said. “Not too disappointed, just a little bummed. But moving on to next week.”

8. One thought crossed our minds watching the Zurich playoff unfold Monday: Why didn’t they just pop over to the par-3 17th if they’re racing to finish? They probably could have played that hole three times in the amount of time it took to play a long par 5.

No drops. No layups. No long walks to the next shot. 

Shouldn’t the Tour be able to alter the playoff format because of extenuating circumstances? The players are competing against each other. Why does the hole matter?

9. Besides, tournament officials were uncomfortably close to a nightmare scenario.

After 41 players finished 54 holes Monday, the rest of the field had to complete the third round – no matter when it ended. 

Another line of strong storms was bearing down on TPC Louisiana when Stuard holed the winning putt. If that system had arrived a little earlier, the event could have been pushed back to Tuesday. 

If half the field didn't finish three rounds Monday, then the 36-hole results would have been used; Stuard, who was alone at 12 under, still would have been declared the winner.

Only twice in the past 36 years has a PGA Tour event gone to a sixth day: The 2006 Booz Allen Classic and 1980 Tucson Open.  

10. Woods might be “sick and tired of being on the sidelines,” but he won’t make his PGA Tour return this week.

Despite a report that he was targeting a Quail Hollow-Players comeback, Woods didn’t sign up for the Charlotte-area event – and neither he nor his agent, Mark Steinberg, even reached out to the tournament director beforehand. 

During a clinic last week in Las Veags, Woods said he was carrying his drive 290 yards and had “a lot more in the tank.” That still isn’t nearly enough, though, to make a full-fledged return to competition.  

11. Haotong Li made the leap from potential star to European Tour winner Sunday with a sizzling final-round 64 to take the Volvo China Open.

It came at an important time for Li, 20, who vaulted to the top of the Chinese Olympic team rankings. Without a win on a major tour, the Tour player would have struggled to gain ground on Wen-Chong Liang and Ashun Wu because of his limited world-ranking potential.     

This guy has serious game: The 2014 PGA Tour China Order of Merit winner finished seventh at the WGC-HSBC Champions last fall, the best showing ever by a Chinese player in a Tour-sanctioned event. 

Cody Gribble should have won the Tour’s United Leasing and Finance Championship if not for a few course setup issues.

Clinging to a one-shot lead, Gribble hit a hard hook into the hole cut in the middle of the 18th green. His shot landed about 5 feet from the flag, but with his hook spin, the severe slope and the steep bank right of the green, his ball rolled all the way into the water, leading to a bogey. He tied for second.

Slick greens shouldn’t have holes cut that close to a slope, especially if it drops off into a hazard. It was a poor design, and an even worse setup, and hopefully it doesn't eventually cost Gribble his PGA Tour card. 

This week's award winners ... 

Welcome Back: Jim Furyk. Well, at least one top-five all-time money earner will return at Quail Hollow. It’ll be Furyk’s first action since September.  

Youth is Served: LPGA. With Jenny Shin’s victory at the Texas Shootout, all 11 tournaments this year have been won by players 23 or younger. They’re making Jason Day, 28, and Rory McIlroy (27 this week) seem ancient by comparison.  

Better Late Than Never: Rickie Fowler. Despite a quiet week in the Bayou, Fowler birdied four of his last five holes to salvage a top-20 finish. 

If You Have $21.9 Million Sitting Around: Nick Price's South Florida home. It's up for sale, and it’s pretty spectacular.   

#Trending: Texas, Illinois and Stanford. Three of the top four men’s teams in the country notched double-digit wins at their respective conference championships, which would seem to bode well for NCAAs later this month. 

What’s Happened To …?: Brendon Todd. Mike Weir catches a lot of social-media flak, but Todd, the 2014 Nelson winner, has taken a similar nosedive: He’s missed 14 of his last 16 cuts, including nine in a row. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Rose. The defending champion stalled with consecutive rounds of 72, ending a run of five consecutive top-20s. Sigh.

Getty Images

Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

Getty Images

Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

Getty Images

McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

Getty Images

What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x