Monday Scramble: Big break, gimme a break

By Ryan LavnerNovember 7, 2016, 4:40 pm

Phil Mickelson undergoes surgery, Rod Pampling beats the odds, Danny Willett needs a break, yelling "Fore!" apparently isn't cool and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

You wouldn’t have blamed Pampling for looking ahead to his days on the senior circuit.

He was 47. His world ranking was north of 450. He hadn’t won in a decade.

In the last three years, he had spent two seasons on the Tour, competing against fearless 20-somethings who are destined to disrupt the PGA Tour, and then needed to go through the four-event Finals this fall just to earn his card.

But now? Now he narrowly missed shooting 59. Now he held off Ryder Cup star Brooks Koepka. And now he scored the most satisfying victory of his journeyman career, earning exempt status through August 2019. 

The best part? He’ll turn 50 a month later. 

1. If you’re wondering how Pampling could have possibly beaten Koepka and Co. at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open, look no further than his statistics for the week.

First in strokes gained-tee to green. First in strokes gained-around the green. Second in strokes gained-approach the green. 

In other words, he put on a ball-striking clinic.  

2. Even though he hadn’t won since March 2006, Pampling still knew when it was his time. His 32-footer on 18 was tracking toward the hole Sunday, and he didn’t even bother waiting to see if it would drop.

He knew it was in, raising his right fist with the ball still a few feet away.

“Sometimes you amaze yourself at what you can do under the gun, which hadn’t been for a long time,” he said. 

3. Most remarkably, Pampling wasn’t even supposed to be in the field at the Shriners. 

It was a clerical error by the PGA Tour, remember, that bumped the field from 132 to 144, and Pampling was one of the beneficiaries.

None of the other late entries finished better than 31st.

4. Mickelson underwent surgery last month to repair a sports hernia, his spokesman confirmed Sunday night.

It’s unclear how long the 46-year-old will be out of action, but the typical recovery time is 4-to-6 weeks. He usually doesn’t start his season until the Palm Springs event in late January.

Mickelson has never publicly mentioned being bothered by the soft-tissue injury. The reason? It was essentially an “outie belly button,” he told Golf Channel insider Tim Rosaforte, and it caused him no discomfort.

“It was no big deal, nor did it affect me when I played,” he told Rosaforte. “I pushed it back in every minute or so. I couldn’t work out as intensely as I wanted to. That’s all. It didn’t hurt or affect me. It was just annoying.” 

5. A 10-foot par save on the 71st hole proved significant for Aaron Wise.

The reigning NCAA champion, who blistered the Mackenzie Tour (Canada) to earn his card for 2017, made the clutch putt on the 17th hole Sunday to tie for 10th at the Shriners, earning a spot at this week’s stop in Mexico via the top-10 rule.

Wise, still just 20, entered the third round three shots off the lead, and the final round just four back. With his athletic, slender frame and speed, he reminds of a young Charles Howell III.

“My game can translate out here,” he said, “and I know it can. It’s just a matter of me getting comfortable enough and being able to shoot the scores I know I can.” 

6. That was a well-timed 61 for Francesco Molinari, who backdoored a top-4 finish in Vegas. 

Molinari said he was jetlagged after making the long trip from Shanghai, but his career-low round Sunday obviously boosted his spirits. In his last three starts worldwide, he is 52 under par.

7. Seven months after winning the Masters, Danny Willett said this on Sunday: “I don’t really want to be out there playing golf.”

Candid stuff, but it has been a rough go for the Englishman ever since he overtook Jordan Spieth at Augusta. He has only a pair of top-10s worldwide, he had an awful Ryder Cup debut and now he’s coming off a tie for 68th in the European Tour's Final Series opener. 

The good news for Willett? He’s still second in the season-long Race to Dubai standings, putting him in line for a big bonus if he can hold it together for the final two events. Unfortunately for him, that’s not a guarantee right now. 

8. Keith Pelley should prepare himself for some criticism after he told The Telegraph that he would grant Patrick Reed a “chief executive exemption” to keep him as a full-time member of the European Tour. 

It's curious timing for this stance, after he failed to budge on the tour status of world No. 12 Paul Casey, who declined to take up membership (and thus was ineligible for the Ryder Cup, where the Euros badly needed him).

Reed has played three regular stops on the European Tour this year, and the new rule requires five starts. It’s possible that he plays this week in South Africa – Pelley says an invitation has been extended – but more likely is that Reed spends another week at home before heading over to Dubai for the season finale. Reed would play only four of the necessary five events and therefore need Pelley’s exemption. 

It’s a dangerous precedent for Pelley, who already was accused of playing favorites with McIlroy last fall. 

9. If only Shanshan Feng had played like this in the summer. 

With back-to-back victories on the LPGA, she has now finished in the top 4 in her past seven starts. She’s all the way up to No. 6 in the world.

This win was closer than it should have been, with a three-shot lead on the 72nd hole. Feng apparently looked at a leaderboard on the 17th green and promptly made a mess of the home hole, winning by only one shot over Ha Na Jang. No matter. 

10. Only two events remain on the LPGA schedule, so it’s a really bad time for Lydia Ko to endure one of the few rough patches of her brilliant career. 

A tie for 43rd at the Japan Classic was her third finish outside the top 40 in her last five starts (all outside the top 10).

Ariya Jutanugarn had a chance to lock up Player of the Year honors with a victory Sunday, but she stumbled to a closing 74 and a tie for 10th. That leaves the door open, slightly, for Ko. 

11. Monday should be a momentous day in the life of Monahan, as he is expected to be named the new commissioner of the PGA Tour when the policy board meets later today.

Moving forward, it’ll be fascinating to watch how Monahan differs from his predecessor, if at all.

Among the items we'd like to see addressed (and improved) some time during his tenure:

  • More transparency with issues like personal conduct, drug testing and slow play
  • Take a leadership role in helping to simplify the rules
  • More collaboration with the European and LPGA tours
  • Build on the strength-of-schedule rule to improve the have-not events

12. Bernhard Langer has cleared Joe Durant by nearly $1.2 million in earnings this year on the PGA Tour Champions, but he might soon find out that the best player all year doesn’t always win the season-long prize. (Just ask Dustin Johnson.) 

Langer is leading the Charles Schwab Cup heading into the Tour Championship, but a new wrinkle this year could see a different champion crowned.

It's just like the PGA Tour’s season-long race: Every player at the Tour Championship has a mathematical chance to win the Charles Schwab Cup, but those inside the top 5 – Langer, Scott McCarron, Colin Montgomerie, Durant and Miguel Angel Jimenez – in points control their own destiny (yeah, we went there) with a victory in Scottsdale. 

It’s slightly disheartening that the European Tour needed to send out a notice to its players last week, reminding them of the repercussions if they don’t yell “fore!” after an errant shot at a tournament.

This should be obvious, of course. Fans tightly pack each hole, oftentimes only a few paces off the edge of the fairway, and refusing to yell presents a clear danger for the spectators.

Marshals apparently have complained to the tour that its players aren’t complying with this regulation. Thus this friendly reminder, that failure to do yell will result in “a player being disciplined.” 

This week's award winners ... 

This Kid is Awesome: Tommy Morrissey. Born with just one arm, the 5-year-old has become a social-media phenomenon after showing off his big game. His latest feat was winning a U.S. Kids event to earn a spot at the World Championships at Pinehurst. 

One Man’s Trash is Another Man’s …: Graeme Storm. When Reed failed to meet the requirements of his European Tour membership, that meant another player, No. 111 on the money list, kept his card for another year. 

Shoutout to the Coach: Alex Murray. He’s the guy who helped bring Pampling back from the competitive graveyard. These days, he’s probably better known as the swing instructor for the world’s No. 1-ranked amateur, Maverick McNealy.  

Ultimate Housewarming Gift: Justin Thomas. As a proud kegerator owner, this makes me smile. 

Stick to Other Sports: Snoop Dogg. He says golf is “garbage” without Tiger Woods. But here’s a guess that he likely wasn’t paying attention to the Zurich Classic in the first place … 

Guys, Just Have a Protein Shake: Rafa Cabrera Bello and Adam Scott. The sad thing is, every girl in the world would still want to make out after this “meal.” 

Offseason Can’t Come Quick Enough: Jimmy Walker. Sure, he broke through at the PGA last July, but not much has gone right since. His last three starts have been big whiffs – a 28th-place showing (out of 30) at the Tour Championship, a tie for 77th at HSBC and now a missed cut in Vegas, where he beat only two players. 

Best Exchange of the Week: James Hahn and a SiriusXM reporter. As usual, Hahn delivers the goods when in the interview area: 

Question: What are some of the things you like to do when you’re here, away from the course?

Answer: It’s a family station, so I’m going to keep it a little PG. I like to go out and play bingo. Keno, that’s kind of my game. But just, whatever, if you’re older than 21, you know of know whatever happens in Vegas, stays in Vegas. 

Here's a New One: The 16th hole in Turkey. OK, yes, we've hit it up on a rooftop before, but never have we started a hole there.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Ryo Ishikawa. The runner-up in Vegas in 2013, he had been on fire lately, with five consecutive top-10s worldwide. Alas, that form didn’t carry over to the desert, where he shot rounds of 70 and failed to play the weekend. Sigh. 

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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.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm