Monday Scramble: Winners from Rory to Ko to Kisner

By Ryan LavnerNovember 23, 2015, 6:15 pm

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.

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. 

... 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.

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. 

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.

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DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.