Monday Scramble: Do it on the Daly

By Ryan LavnerMay 8, 2017, 4:00 pm

John Daly ends a decade-long drought, Brian Harman stops Dustin Johnson, the European Tour rolls out GolfSixes and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble: 

It’s not often that what happens on the senior circuit overshadows the PGA Tour, but never before has the PGA Tour Champions counted Daly as a winner.

His victory Sunday at the Insperity Invitational (his first official win since 2004) was the best-case scenario for a tour in dire need of a spark.  

Bernhard Langer’s dominance is incredible. The influx of newcomers is intriguing. But there was no player on that circuit capable of galvanizing fans young and old like Daly.

Will his breakthrough result in a ratings spike for the senior tour? Probably not. But he can help bring more awareness to the level of play among the 50-and-older set, and he’ll be an even bigger gate attraction in each city they visit. 

It's a win for everyone involved.

1. Despite arriving last year with much fanfare, Daly hasn’t dominated the PGA Tour Champions like many thought he could. In fact, his victory was his first top-10 in 22 career starts.

The reason?

Daly says it’s because he was still learning the courses, so he couldn’t be as aggressive as normal. And he doesn’t do tentative very well.

“I’m not surprised at all,” he said. “These guys can play.”

2. Daly looked like he’d gone 13 years without a victory as he was coming down the stretch.

After building a three-shot lead midway through the final round, Daly’s advantage began to dwindle as he made bogeys on the 16th and 17th holes, bringing Tommy Armour III back into the mix. Daly dropped his third consecutive shot on 18, the most difficult hole on the course, but not before he kissed Arnold Palmer’s umbrella logo painted on the grass. He won by one.  

It was the first time he’d held a lead heading into the final round since the 2005 AmEx Championship at Harding Park.

“Some guys come out here and win right off the bat, get the monkey off their back,” Daly said. “But now I can say I’m a champion on the Champions Tour, which is really cool, and hopefully I can keep this confidence going.” 

3. Was there a more fitting victory celebration than JD getting showered with booze? This is a legitimate contender for GIF of the Year: 

4. Leave it to the 5-foot-7-inch Harman to end the mighty DJ’s three-event winning streak.

With bold play down the stretch, including a pitching wedge to 4 feet on 17 and a go-for-broke 3-wood on 18, Harman pushed one shot ahead to win for the second time on Tour and the first since 2014.

Often overlooked because of his diminutive stature, the left-hander has been solid this season, with eight top-25s this calendar year. In his most recent stroke-play event, at Harbour Town, he tied for ninth.

“[Title] No. 1, you can make all these excuses: 'Oh, is that the only one that’s going to happen?'” Harman said. “But No. 2 feels really good.”

5. After one of his longest drives of the week, Harman had a decision on 18 whether to hit 3-wood, 5-wood or lay up from 271 yards.

He chose 3-wood and flew the green, leaving a delicate chip back toward the water. (He admitted afterward that he should have hit 5-wood instead.) With a few overhanging limbs, he couldn’t hit the high, floating pitch shot that he needed to, so he played safe, leaving himself a 28-foot putt for birdie that would move him one shot ahead of Johnson and Pat Perez, who were already in the house at 9-under 279.

Harman sank the putt.

“I did my best there and it didn’t turn out very good,” he said of the chip, “but I guess it was right where it was supposed to be.”  

6. DJ was so rusty after a month off because of a back injury that he shot 10 under on the weekend and missed the playoff by one.

Yeah, he’s still the best in the world, and at this point, it's not particularly close. Over the past 20 years, only Tiger Woods has had a wider margin between Nos. 1 and 2 in the world ranking.

Johnson’s second-round 75 snapped a streak of 13 consecutive rounds of par or better. He made the cut on the number and figured to be out of the picture. Then he fired back-to-back rounds of 67, including a 72nd-hole birdie that gave him the clubhouse lead.

It wasn’t enough to join Woods (three times) as the only players in the past 60 years to win four tournaments in a row, but DJ is now 589-3 over his last five events. It was the first time he had lost since Pebble Beach.

Even better news?

“Physically, I’m really good,” he said. “Everything’s 100 percent, feeling great. I can swing at it no problem.” 

7. During what has been a strange, inconsistent year for the game’s biggest stars, the only player who has been as consistently excellent as DJ is Jon Rahm, who now has five top-10s in his last six starts.

The 22-year-old Spaniard had the lead to himself on the back nine, but he played his last six holes in 1 over par to fall off the pace. Rahm needed an eagle on 18 to force a playoff, but he flushed his 5-wood 276 yards over the green, leaving a difficult pitch that he had to hole. He made par.

“I knew I had to do it,” he said, “but I didn’t get it done this week. I’m just happy again I had a chance to win.” 

8. It was a final day to forget for the final group of Patrick Reed and Alex Noren.

They combined to go 8 over par Sunday, as both players dropped out of the top 10.

Reed’s plummet was particularly surprising, given his prior closing record (3-for-4) and steely reputation. He played his last eight holes in 4 over par, growing increasingly frustrated with his driving (just five of 14 fairways) and iron play (eight greens).

“Maybe a couple more loose shots today,” Reed said, “but at the end of the day I made absolutely no putts. You can’t have 32 putts on Sunday and think you’re going to win a golf tournament.” 

9. A week after the PGA Tour hosted its first team event in 36 years, the European Tour put on an tournament complete with six-hole matches, music, pyrotechnics, dry ice, long-drive and closest-to-the-pin contests, rowdy crowds, shot clocks and a $1.1 million purse.

Indeed, by all accounts, the inaugural GolfSixes event was a big hit across the pond.

Players, as they were in New Orleans, seemed energized by the change in format, a departure from the doldrums of 72-hole stroke play. They played the unique greensomes format, in which each player hits a tee shot, a ball is chosen, and the partners play alternate shot until the hole is completed.

Denmark won the final over Australia.

“We will always maintain the integrity of the game,” European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said, “but at the same time, we’ve got to be entertaining. We’ve got to stretch beyond the norm, and I think that’s what we’ve done. Once you get the balance right, then you’re on to something special and something we can build on in the future.” 

10. One of the most appealing aspects of the GolfSixes format was the introduction of a 40-second shot clock. Digital clocks were displayed at the green, fairway and tee, and players and their caddies were responsible for getting the shot away before time ran out.  

The only player who was assessed a one-shot penalty for slow play was, perhaps not surprisingly, an American: Paul Peterson, whose mistake cost the U.S. team a chance to advance to the knockout rounds.

11. It might have looked like a mild upset on paper, but Sei Young Kim’s 1-up victory over Ariya Jutanugarn in the finals of the Lorena Ochoa Match Play wasn’t a surprise considering her level of play.

Kim, who moved to No. 8 in the world, trailed for just four of the 95 holes she played at Club de Golf Mexico. She jumped all over the world No. 2, taking a 3-up lead out of the gates after a birdie-eagle-birdie start.

Even with a shaky finish (an out-of-bounds tee shot on No. 17), Kim was able to hang on when Jutanugarn missed her 10-foot birdie putt on the closing hole.

“I never had such a hard win like today,” said Kim, who has now won six times since 2015. “I am happy that I was able to win and hold this trophy.” 

12. TPC Sawgrass is already one of the most penal courses on the planet.

Making this week even more interesting are a few changes, namely that the 12th is now a drivable par 4 with water down the left. A pond has also been added between the sixth and seventh holes.

How players will attack these holes will be a big topic of conversation early this week.  

Willy Wilcox was so poor on the greens last week that he joked on Twitter he was going to try putting with his eyes closed.

He would have been better off, because he instead chose to switch putters mid-round (the second round resumed Saturday morning). That's a no-no.

Wilcox was assessed a four-shot penalty … except he thought it was an automatic disqualification, so he withdrew from the tournament. He would have been six shots off the cut line anyway, but it was a bizarre end to a bad week. 

This week's award winners ... 

Still Not Connecting with the Common Man: Ian Poulter. The Englishman was mocked for asking his Instagram followers how they mark their practice balls, as if any of us hackers actually (1) have Pro V1 practice balls, or (2) concern ourselves with such inanity.

Now Off Twitter: Dottie Pepper. The CBS Sports analyst logged off the social-media site after being swarmed by Internet trolls who relentlessly ripped her for a condescending interview with Zurich co-leader Scott Brown, whom Pepper mistakenly said did not have a PGA Tour title. “Tired of the idiots,” she told SB Nation. 

Still Got It: Lorena Ochoa and Annika Sorenstam. Competing together in the Hall of Fame exhibition match, Ochoa and Sorenstam, two of the best players of the past two decades, combined to shoot 5 under par and defeat Se Ri Pak and Juli Inkster by four shots. 

#Trending: Kevin Tway. The son of the former PGA champion has very quietly posted three consecutive top-5 finishes on Tour. 

All But 2 of the Top 50: The Players field. One of the deepest tournaments in golf will feature 48 of the top 50 players in the world. The only guys who won’t tee it up are Belgian Thomas Pieters and Brandt Snedeker, who injured his hand at the Masters and doesn’t want to jeopardize his status for next month’s U.S. Open.

Verbal Commitment: Baby Fitz. Matt Fitzpatrick’s younger brother, Alex, has committed to play college golf at Wake Forest, a top-10 program, in the fall of 2018. His older brother stayed only a semester at Northwestern before turning pro. “Hopefully last longer than my brother,” Alex tweeted. 

Fashion Statement of the Week: Rickie Fowler. His outfit at the Kentucky Derby was, in a word, bold. But then again, your trusty scribe used to wear a velour track suit in the winters, so who are we to judge?

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Webb Simpson. The unofficial ambassador at Eagle Point, he was supposed to have invaluable course knowledge that would propel him into contention … or to rounds of 73-75 and a missed cut. Sigh. 

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Korda happy to finally be free of jaw pain

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 2:43 am

PHOENIX – Jessica Korda isn’t as surprised as everyone else that she is playing so well, so quickly, upon her return from a complex and painful offseason surgery.

She is inspired finally getting to play without recurring headaches.

“I’d been in pain for three years,” she said after posting a 4-under-par 68 Friday to move two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Korda had her upper jaw broken in three places and her low jaw broken in two places in December in a procedure that fixed the alignment of her jaw.

Korda, 25, said the headaches caused by her overbite even affected her personality.

“Affects your moods,” Korda said. “I think I was pretty snappy back then as well.”

She was pretty pleased Friday to give herself a weekend chance at her sixth LPGA title, her second in her last three starts. She won the Honda LPGA Thailand three weeks ago in her first start after returning from surgery.

“I'm much happier now,” Korda said. “Much calmer.”

Even if she still can’t eat the things she would really like to eat. She’s still recuperating. She said the lower part of her face remains numb, and it’s painful to chew crunchy things.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“Chips are totally out of question,” Korda said.

She can eat most things she likes, but she has to cut them into tiny pieces. She can’t wait to be able to eat a steak.

“They broke my palate, so I can't feel anything, even heat,” Korda said. “So that's a bit difficult, because I can't feel any heat on my lip or palate. I don't know how hot things are going in until they hit my throat.”

Korda has 27 screws in her skull holding the realignment together. She needed her family to feed her, bathe her and dress her while she recovered. The procedure changed the way she looks.

While Korda’s ordeal and all that went into her recovery has helped fans relate to her, she said it’s the desire to move on that motivates her.

“Because I was so drugged up, I don't remember a lot of it,” Korda said. “I try to forget a lot of it. I don't think of it like I went through a lot. I just think of it as I'm pain-free. So, yeah, people are like, `Oh, you're so brave, you overcame this and that.’ For me, I'm just going forward.”

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Finally adapted to short putter, Martin near lead

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:54 am

PHOENIX – Mo Martin loved her long putter.

In fact, she named her “Mona.”

For 10 years, Martin didn’t putt with anything else. She grew up with long putters, from the time she started playing when she was 5.

While Martin won the Ricoh Women’s British Open in 2014, about nine months after giving up Mona for a short putter, she said it’s taken until today to feel totally comfortable with one.

And that has her excited about this year.

Well, that and having a healthy back again.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“I've had a feeling that this year was going to be a good one,” Martin said. “My game is in a special place.”

Martin was beaming after a 6-under-par 66 Friday moved her two shots off the lead at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Just a beautiful day,” Martin said. “I was able to play my game, make my putts.”

Martin hit all 14 fairways in the second round, hit 15 greens in regulation and took just 27 putts. After struggling with nagging back pain last year, she’s pain free again.

She’s happy to “just to get back to a place now where my ball striking is where it has been the last few years.”

Martin, by the way, says Mona remains preserved in a special place, “a shrine” in her home.

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Clanton rides hole-out eagle to lead at Founders

By Associated PressMarch 17, 2018, 1:47 am

PHOENIX - Cydney Clanton holed out from the fairway for eagle on the par-4 13th and closed with a birdie Friday to take the second-round lead in the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

Clanton shot a 5-under 67, playing the back nine at Desert Ridge in 5-under 31 to reach 9-under 135.

Clanton's wedge on the 13th flew into the cup on the first bounce. She also birdied the par-5 11th and 15th and the par-4 18th. The 28-year-old former Auburn player is winless on the LPGA.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Ariya Jutanugarn, Marina Alex, Karine Icher and Mariajo Uribe were a stroke back on a calmer day after wind made scoring more difficult Thursday.

Jessica Korda and Mo Martin were 7 under, and Michelle Wie topped the group at 6 under.

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Ko's struggles continue with Founders MC

By Randall MellMarch 17, 2018, 1:26 am

PHOENIX – Lydia Ko loves the Bank of Hope Founders Cup and its celebration of the game’s pioneers, and that made missing the cut Friday sting a little more.

With a 1-over-par 73 following Thursday’s 74, Ko missed the cut by four shots.

After tying for 10th at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in her last start, Ko looked to be turning a corner in her quest to find her best form again, but she heads to next week’s Kia Classic with more work to do.

“I just have to stay patient,” Ko said. “I just have to keep my head high.”

It was just the fifth missed cut in Ko’s 120 career LPGA starts, but her fourth in her last 26 starts.

Ko’s ball striking has been erratic this year, but her putting has been carrying her. She said her putting let her down Friday.

“It seemed like I couldn’t hole a single putt,” she said. “When I missed greens, I just wasn’t getting up and down. When I got a birdie opportunity, I wasn’t able to hole it.”

Ko came to Phoenix ranked 112th in driving distance, 121st in driving accuracy and 83rd in greens in regulation. She was sixth in putting average.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Cristie Kerr saw the struggle playing two rounds with Ko.

“Her game’s not in good shape,” Kerr said. “She seemed a little lost.”

Ko, 20, made those sweeping changes last year, starting 2017 with a new coach (Gary Gilchrist), a new caddie (Peter Godfrey) and new equipment (PXG). She made more changes at this year’s start, with another new coach (Ted Oh) and new caddie (Jonnie Scott).

Ko doesn’t have to look further than Michelle Wie to see how a player’s game can totally turn around.

“It always takes time to get used to things,” Ko said. “By the end of last year, I was playing solid. I’m hoping it won’t take as much time this year.”

Ko had Oh fly to Asia to work with her in her two starts before the Founders Cup, with their work showing up in her play at the HSBC in Singapore. She said she would be talking to Oh again before heading to the Kia Classic next week and then the ANA Inspiration. She has won both of those events and will be looking to pull some good vibes from that.

“This is my favorite stretch of events,” she said. “And I love the Founders Cup, how it celebrates all the generations that have walked through women’s golf. And I love the West Coast swing. Hopefully, I’ll make more putts next week.”

Ko, whose run of 85 consecutive weeks at Rolex world No. 1 ended last summer, slipped to No. 12 this week.