Rory McIlroy trends upward, Kevin Kisner knocks down the door, the LPGA's biggest prizes go down to the wire, Tiger Woods lends a helping hand and more in this week's stuffed edition of Monday Scramble:
McIlroy salvaged a frustrating and humbling year with a much-needed walk-off victory in Dubai.
The win was McIlroy’s first since May and couldn’t have come at a better time. After new European Tour CEO Keith Pelley was endlessly criticized for giving McIlroy a free pass into the Final Series, the tour’s biggest star delivered with a near-flawless performance that extended his run of dominance in Dubai.
It's a testament to his extraordinary skill and lofty expectations that even McIlroy conceded recently that this was a “lost” year, despite three earlier worldwide wins. At this stage of his career, his years are measured by how he plays in the majors, and to that end he underwhelmed: With all of the Grand Slam hype at Augusta, he finished a distant fourth; he backdoored a top-10 at the U.S. Open; he missed his title defense at St. Andrews, after the worst-timed kickabout in golf history; and when he finally did return, at the PGA, he wasn’t sharp enough to keep pace with Jason Day and Jordan Spieth.
Overshadowed by those two stars, McIlroy was left to find silver linings and fight for consolation prizes at season's end. What he earned was even better – his first victory in six months, an end-of-season title, and a wave of confidence heading into next year. He even gave his "lost" season an "A" grade.
It was the perfect end to an imperfect season.
1. First-timers won six of the seven fall events. Kisner was the least surprising.
No player has come closer more often than Kisner, who had four runner-up finishes since the beginning of last season, including three playoff losses.
He made sure the p-word wasn’t an option Sunday, going out in 30 to double his three-shot, overnight lead and cruise to a six-shot win – the largest by a first-time winner on Tour since 2010.
“I knew if I kept playing that way,” he said, “I was going to win one sooner or later.”
2. Indeed, in front of friends and family, Kisner erased a lot of bad weekend memories, becoming just the third player in the last two seasons to shoot 64 or better during each of the final two rounds of a Tour win.
The way he was playing, the rest of the field had little chance to keep up – Kisner ranked fourth or better in both strokes gained-tee to green and putting.
3. Even though Kisner (and the rest of the fall winners) didn't receive any Ryder Cup points for his victory, it's easy to picture him on the U.S. team next fall.
Entering his age-32 season, Kisner is all the way up to 17th in the world and possesses a quiet confidence that should work well in match play. He also had the benefit of winning Davis Love III's tournament – the captain saw firsthand what the Kiz is capable of when the heat is on.
“This is just another notch in the confidence and off we go,” he said. “Hopefully the floodgates are open.”
4. The LPGA’s season finale had no shortage of winners:
Cristie Kerr won the tournament.
Lydia Ko won Player of the Year and the $1 million bonus for the second year in a row.
Inbee Park won the scoring title to earn enough points to qualify for the Hall of Fame.
And it all came down to the 72nd hole.
It was just about the best possible finish for the LPGA, which enjoyed another head-turning year, with its top two players combining for 10 wins and five majors in 2015.
5. It was surprising to see Ko so emotional after learning that she'd won the season-long race. Maybe it was because the pressure had been building all season. Or perhaps it was because she didn't have a great day on the course, including a missed 4-footer on the last that she thought might have cost her everything.
"It's probably the most I'll cry on TV, ever," she said.
They're tears of joy now, because she has banked $2.5 million at this event the last two years and, at 18, became the youngest player, male or female, to earn Player of the Year honors.
6. Many still believe that the Player of the Year was Park, who won more majors (2-1) than Ko and also had a better scoring average (remarkably, by only three strokes).
The points system may not have turned out in her favor, but the scoring title was enough to push Park into the Hall of Fame, though she won't be eligible until she logs another year of competition.
When informed that, at age 27, she was the youngest ever to reach the Hall, she laughed and said: "I thought the youngest at everything was Lydia."
7. If there was a sense of optimism surrounding McIlroy in recent months, it was because his driving and ball-striking had returned to his elite, pre-injury levels.
What held him back was his putter.
That part of his game finally clicked in Dubai, where he rolled in 26 birdies and, more importantly, holed a 40-foot bogey putt on the 71st hole that kept him one shot clear of Andy Sullivan.
“I think all aspects of my game are in good shape now,” he said, “and I think if my game is in this shape going into next year, I’d be very happy and feel like I could do very well.”
8. Oh, the confidence is flowing again, and it is a beautiful thing.
After his victory, McIlroy told the BBC: "This is my time to capitalize on my career. The next 10, 15 years is my time. I really can't be doing silly things like playing football in the middle of the season to jeopardize even six months of my career. It's a big chunk where I could make some hay and win a major or two. I won't be making those mistakes again next year."
More motivated than ever after his missed opportunities and the emergence of two other young stars, 2016 is shaping up to be another massive year for McIlroy.
9. Danny Willett caused a stir last week when he complained that McIlroy not only was exempt into the Final Series despite not reaching the 13-tournament requirement, but also that he was allowed to skip the BMW Masters when the rest of the field was trying to accrue as many points as they could for the season finale.
The simple rebuttal? That Willett needed to play better.
Yes, McIlroy received preferential treatment, but the Englishman had ample opportunity to overtake McIlroy, playing in 12 (!) more events this season. He still couldn’t get the job done and finished more than a million points behind.
10. Maybe we shouldn't have been surprised. McIlroy's updated stats at Jumeirah Golf Estates are startling:
- Rounds: 28
- Rounds of par or better: 28
- Score in relation to par: 109 under
- Scoring average: 68.1
- Wins: 2
- Other top-fives: 4
11. The surprise wasn’t that Woods was named as a vice captain for the 2016 Ryder Cup. It was that he was named so soon, with more than 10 months until the event.
If nothing else, it prompts valid questions about Woods' health, where he is in his recovery and whether he has already conceded defeat in 2016.
Many pointed to Love’s announcement and said that it was further proof that golf's ultimate lone wolf has finally come to embrace team competition. Sorry, but this seems more like the actions of a man who is lonely and bored following his third back procedure in 18 months.
That’s not a criticism – having Woods in the team room can only help an American side that (hopefully) is full of youngsters who grew up idolizing the former world No. 1. But it also makes you wonder what Woods is expecting of his own game next year.
12. Woods will be one of FIVE U.S. assistants at Hazeltine. Seriously, how many extra helpers do you need? Now, one vice captain can be sent out with each team match (which makes sense, if you're into handholding) and another is able to roam the grounds, shepherd around the WAGs, find hand warmers or take a nap.
And hey, if the U.S. loses again, it could always challenge the European team to 5-on-5 basketball. Cue the Photoshop of the Week:
Love has only one opening remaining on his staff, which he is presumably leaving for Phil Mickelson if Lefty doesn’t qualify for the team or deserve a pick. We heard Tom Watson is also available.
13. Even with the newly relaxed requirements for European Tour membership, Paul Casey declined to rejoin the tour and will be ineligible for the 2016 Ryder Cup.
That’s a potentially huge loss for Europe, as Casey is experienced in match play and coming off a resurgent season in which he’s soared back inside the top 30 in the world.
But can you blame Casey? He clearly has his priorities in order, deciding to focus on his family and the U.S. tour. And besides, in 2010, he was ranked seventh in the world and still was passed over for a spot on the European team by then-captain Colin Montgomerie. He clearly hasn’t forgotten that snub – nor should he.
14. 'Twas an incredible story that unfolded at the Australian Masters, where 56-year-old Peter Senior captured at least one leg of the Aussie Slam for the fourth consecutive decade.
But there were two even more notable takeaways from Down Under: The disappearing act of Adam Scott, and the standout play of American amateur Bryson DeChambeau.
Start with Scott, who held a share of the 36-hole lead but was blown off the leaderboard during a third-round 77. He returned to form Sunday and finished fifth, but he remains winless this year and showed that his short putter can not yet bail him out on the rare poor ball-striking days.
Then there was DeChambeau, who sure looked like he belonged with the pros, making birdie on three of his last six holes for a 67 and a share of second place. The NCAA and U.S. Amateur champion is also in the field this week at the Australian Open, where he will be reunited with fellow 22-year-old Jordan Spieth.
15. The final Tour event of 2015 provided a happy ending to a rough year for Freddie Jacobson.
With his fifth-place finish at Sea Island, the Junkman satisfied the terms of his major medical extension with six tournaments to spare. He missed the last four months of the season when his 7-year-old son, Max, was diagnosed with a heart defect and required open-heart surgery.
Max is doing great. And now, so is dad, after he earned the $326,111 needed to keep his card.
First, a warning, because you cannot unsee this video. It will linger in the dark places of your mind, the sight of Miguel Angel Jimenez, with a GoPro strapped to his chest, pop-lock-and-dropping it during his provocative stretching routine.
The best part – or one of the few parts when you don't want to look away – is when Rory ambles by on the range and quips: "I'm glad that GoPro isn't somewhere else ..."
Yes, what a relief.
We've all seen Miguel's warm up, but you've never seen it like this! https://t.co/Df8t8QzNTM— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 21, 2015
This week's award winners ...
Adios, Anchorers ... : David Hearn's putter. Hearn kissed his magic wand goodbye Sunday at Sea Island – the final time that anchoring will be legal in a PGA Tour event.
Goodbye old friend pic.twitter.com/mpkH5PkOMw— David Hearn (@HearnDavid) November 22, 2015
... And Goodbye, Ivor: Robison, the legendary first-tee announcer for the European Tour, is stepping away after more than 40 years of holding his bladder.
Dear Ivor Robson, How’s your first day of retirement? We miss you. Regards, The European Tour https://t.co/jYB4iAHVND— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 23, 2015
Comeback of the Week: Ollie Schniederjans. It looked like the hatless wonder was headed toward golf’s no-man land after an opening 76 at Q-School. Then he came back with rounds of 69-70-69, including a birdie on his 71st hole of the tournament, to sneak inside the cut line and advance to the Finals, guaranteeing him at least some status next season.
About Time: Olympic golf course. The Gil Hanse design is finally done, but all of the delays mean there might only be time for a one-day test event before golf makes its controversial return to the Olympic Games next summer.
Preparing for a Bay Hill Three-Peat?: Matt Every. Since his breakthrough at Arnie’s Place in March 2014, he has only four other top-25s, 18 missed cuts and six mid-tournament withdrawals, including five since June. Hasn’t finished better than 72nd since The Players, either. Yowsers.
Not a Football School Anymore: Georgia. With Kisner's victory at Sea Island, former Bulldogs have now won 19 events since the start of the 2010 season – by far the most of any school. Wake Forest is second on that list, with 11.
Sorry, Ma: Graeme McDowell, to Kevin Kisner’s mom. G-Mac sent a tee shot into the crowd that plunked Mama Kiz on the ankle and ricocheted back into play. It helped to lift McDowell to a runner-up finish, so his last two starts of the calendar year were his best of 2015.
"Kevin's gonna be pissed. You did a good job though." -GMac after his ball hit Kisner's mom but found the fairway. pic.twitter.com/9SU1D8Dph2— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) November 22, 2015
Take That, Kids: Cristie Kerr. The 38-year-old's victory at the LPGA season finale was just the third win by a player over the age of 30 this season. Fifty-seven of the last 66 events (86 percent) have been won by those under 30.
Any Eligibility Left?: Mike Small. The head coach at Illinois shot a back-nine 31 in the first stage of Champions Tour Q-School to keep alive his dream of playing next year on the senior circuit.