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Monday Scramble: The kids are all right

By Ryan LavnerOctober 2, 2017, 3:10 pm

The United States destroys the Internationals, the Presidents Cup needs tweaking, Tiger Woods embraces his new role, Rory McIlroy nearly keeps his streak alive and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

So emphatic was the Americans’ performance at the Presidents Cup that it threatened to render the event insignificant.

The final score was 19-11, and it wasn’t even that close.

Save for a sloppy Sunday singles session – predictable, given the U.S. team’s monster lead – the Americans were nearly perfect during the competition at Liberty National.

They continued to build off the momentum they started at Hazeltine. Steve Stricker solidified his bid for the 2020 Ryder Cup captaincy. And old partnerships continued to thrive (Jordan Spieth-Patrick Reed), while new ones emerged (Justin Thomas-Rickie Fowler).

The result was total domination, a four-day showcase that lacked any competitive drama.

Not that the Americans were complaining.

1. Bad news for the Americans’ future Presidents and Ryder Cup opponents: This group looks built to last.

Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed, Brooks Koepka and Daniel Berger all are 33 or younger.

The core of this U.S. team should be a force for the next decade … and Patrick Cantlay, Peter Uihlein, Ollie Schniederjans (and maybe Xander Schauffele) are all in the pipeline.

2. The Internationals needed to win the singles session (7 ½ to 4 ½) just to avoid what would have been the worst loss in Presidents Cup history.

Instead, it wound up as the third-most lopsided result:

• 2000: 21 ½ to 10 ½ (U.S.)

• 1998: 20 ½ to 11 ½ (Internationals)

• 1994/2017: 8-point margin of victory

3. It’s hard to pick an MVP from the American squad; there were several to choose from (click here for U.S. report cards). Dustin Johnson was the only player to appear in all five matches and not suffer a loss, as the world No. 1 went 4-0-1. Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson both went 3-0-1. (Speaking of Lefty: Since he called out 2014 Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson at Gleneagles, he has gone 8-1-3. He welcomed the pressure and scrutiny ... and then delivered.)

Louis Oosthuizen was the only player on the International side that put three points on the board in the losing effort (click here for International report cards). Seven U.S. players earned at least three points.

The biggest disappointments? Captain’s pick Charley Hoffman was the only player on the U.S. side with a losing record (1-2), though both of those narrow losses went down to the final two holes.

Not surprisingly, the International side was littered with guys who failed to show up on the big stage. Captain’s pick Emiliano Grillo, who has struggled mightily during the second half of the season, went 0-3. Adam Hadwin only earned a half point (0-2-1). Marc Leishman, who won one playoff event and nearly took another, went 0-3-2.

4. But the biggest difference between the two teams this year was the performance of their best players. While DJ, Spieth and Thomas went 10-2-3, the Internationals’ top three players threw up a 2-8-4 record. If that trend continues, it won’t matter the format or how many points are available. They're still going to get smoked.

5. PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan has a lot on his plate, but one of his top priorities should be to fix this competition.

Never have there been more calls to overhaul the Presidents Cup, and for good reason. The Americans’ record in the biennial event is now 10-1-1. This is not a good or compelling product.

6. Problem is, the solutions aren’t so simple.

Monahan’s predecessor, Tim Finchem, always resisted tweaking the format, finally reducing the number of available points to 30 before the 2015 matches. It still wasn’t enough. Not only does the event not need to be spread out over four days – the Tour seems obsessed with differentiating the Ryder and Presidents cups – but 30 points clearly still puts the weaker International squad at a disadvantage.

Team USA will argue against any format change, and they should – as currently constructed, the Presidents Cup presents a perfect opportunity to reinforce the concepts of the Ryder Cup committee, try out new partnerships and build momentum for the future. Why should they be penalized for playing better golf?

But after this blowout, and the lack of interest over the weekend, Monahan and Co. will have no choice but to make a change, for the sake of the PGA Tour.

7. Ernie Els, who likely will take over the International team in 2019, said Sunday that the points reduction should go even further in hopes that it will negate some of the Americans’ depth. He also wants his side to take greater ownership, breaking away from the Tour rules in terms of the selection process.

“We just want to feel that we are being treated fairly and that we get something going our way a little bit,” he said. “The future of the cup is important. We want to have it as competitive as we can. … We have to go back to the drawing board.”

8. The belief here is that the format should be blown up completely.

Usually, these types of results are cyclical, but there have now been 12 Presidents Cups. When the event heads to Royal Melbourne in 2019, the Internationals will be 21 years removed from their last victory.

This is not a small sample size. They are unable to make this a close competition.

The Tour should try something totally different. Golf already has one pressure-cooker at the end of a long season, so embrace the exhibition aspect. Introduce a scramble session. Make it a co-ed event. Combine it with the Tour Championship and $10 million payout. Do something different.

9. Tiger Woods returned to public view last week at the Presidents Cup, and two things stood out:

1.) He is not close to returning. Though he looks fit and healthy – he said he has been working out twice a day – Woods still can only hit 60-yard wedge shots, per doctor’s orders. It remains to be seen when – or if – he’ll be given the green light to start hitting full shots, and he acknowledged a scenario in which he might not return to competition: “I don’t know what the future holds for me.”

2.) If he can’t (or doesn’t want to) play again, one thing is clear: He would be an incredible performance coach. He is revered by all of the game’s young stars. He has a brilliant golf mind. And he clearly needs something to occupy his time, as evidenced by his all-in approach to the past two team competitions. Not only would it keep him involved in the game, but it also would assuage his ego and allow him to advise and mentor as he saw fit. He could pick and choose his clients – J-Day, Rickie, JT and P-Reed all seem like a logical starting place – and help them maximize their potential.

Everyone wants Woods to play golf again – he took the game to heights never before seen. But wouldn't it be fun to watch that next phase of his career?

10. The LPGA just can’t get it right.

Two weeks after prematurely shortening the Evian, the fifth major of the year, to 54 holes and making the playoff participates compete in wind, rain and hail, the tour sent the players out into dangerous weather conditions at the New Zealand Open.

Belen Mozo said the players don’t have a say and are “like sheep.” Brittany Lincicome called it a “freaking joke.” Danielle Kang tweeted that she watched fans “get blown over and hit by umbrellas.”

Young Canadian star Brooke Henderson eventually earned her fifth LPGA title, and second this season.

11. Why hello, Rory. Over the weekend at the British Masters, he shot 64-63 and came up three shots shy of first-time winner Paul Dunne, who closed with 61.

McIlroy's 13-under weekend was the lowest finishing stretch of his career.

This week’s Dunhill Links is McIlroy’s final chance to win an event this year. He has won at least one event every year since 2008. 

12. Ah, yes, it was only a matter of time before the rabbit-eared Ian Poulter weighed in on the relaxed rules allowing spectators to take photos and videos of players during competition.

After a quick-fingered fan distracted Poulter during the British Masters, leading to a water ball, the Englishman sounded off on the new tournament trend, telling reporters: “We’ve allowed them all to take pictures and videos and we tell them to put them on silent and it doesn’t work. It just doesn’t work! It doesn’t work! You get distracted on the wrong hole at the wrong time and it’s extremely penal. It’s really f---ing annoying.”

You know you're 47 when ... you nearly crop yourself out of an epic selfie, with former Presidents Clinton, Bush and Obama:

This week's award winners ... 

Bizarro World: Tiger and Phil. Bros.

Break of the Week: Paul Dunne. Trying to hold off McIlroy down the stretch, Dunne’s wedge shot on 11 landed on the back fringe, but his ball sucked back off a sprinkler head, to 3 feet, setting up another birdie.  

Demons Buried?: Anirban Lahiri. The controversial wildcard pick went 1-1-1 for captain Nick Price, but he said emphatically, after a Saturday fourballs win and a halved singles match that, “I’ve well and truly buried the demons from South Korea,” when he missed a 4-footer to tie the overall match. Hmmm … 

Moment of the Week: Jordan Spieth singing. This is amazing.

Hit of the Week: Charley Hoffman. He delivered a bigger blow to an American than anyone on the International side.

Welcome to the Tour, Rook: graduates. With the Tour Championship pushed to a Monday finish, a few dozen players will be rolling into Napa, Calif., will little rest and prep before the season opener. Good luck. 

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Tiger can't commit, goes OB on 16: 'That’s on me'

By Will GrayMarch 18, 2018, 11:05 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Standing on the 16th tee with the leaders in sight and the roars of the crowd still ringing in his ears, Tiger Woods contemplated three different options for his most critical tee shot of the week.

He couldn’t decide on any of them, and as a result deposited his chances of winning the Arnold Palmer Invitational into a backyard adjacent to the fairway.

Woods was only one shot back through 15 holes, but with the leaders well behind him on the course he knew he needed at least a birdie on the par-5 16th to keep pace. Instead, he pulled his tee shot left and out of bounds, leading to an untimely and costly bogey on the easiest hole on the course.

“I was caught,” Woods said. “I couldn’t decide what I was going to do.”

In Woods’ mind, he had three options: “fit” a driver left to right with the shape of the fairway, “bomb it over the top” of the dogleg or just hit a 3-wood “straight away.” He opted for the driver, but after missing right the first three days he sent his ball sailing left.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

“I bailed out and hit a bad shot,” Woods said. “And that’s on me for not committing.”

Woods went on to bogey the next hole, but after a par save on No. 18 he finished the week in a tie for fifth at 10 under for his third straight top-12 finish. Given the sizzling close of Rory McIlroy, an eagle on 16 likely would have still left him looking up at the Ulsterman on the leaderboard.

“Even though I got up there, I just knew I needed to keep making birdies,” Woods said. “Those guys had so many holes behind me, where I just birdied the same holes and so if they made birdie on those holes, I would have to keep going. I got to 16, I figure I’ve got to play the last three holes in 3 under to have a chance and probably force a playoff. And maybe that wouldn’t have been good enough the way Rory is playing back there.”

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McIlroy (64) storms to Arnold Palmer victory

By Nick MentaMarch 18, 2018, 10:48 pm

Rory McIlroy fired a bogey-free, final-round 64, birdied the 72nd hole in Tiger-esque fashion and stormed to a three-shot victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Here’s how Rory ended his winless drought, and how the aforementioned Woods made a Sunday charge before collapsing late:

Leaderboard: McIlroy (-18), Bryson DeChambeau (-15), Justin Rose (-14), Henrik Stenson (-13), Woods (-10), Ryan Moore (-10)

What it means: This is McIlroy’s 14th PGA Tour victory and his first worldwide win since Sept. 25th, 2016. That was the day he walked away from East Lake with both the Tour Championship and the FedExCup. It was also the day Arnold Palmer passed away at the age of 87. With the win, McIlroy reasserts himself as a force following a winless 2017 in which he was plagued by a nagging rib injury. The four-time major winner will make one more start at next week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play and then make his way to Augusta National, where he looks to complete the career Grand Slam.

Round of the day: Two back to start the final round, McIlroy made his eight birdies in bunches. He circled three of his last four holes on the front nine – Nos. 6, 7 and 9 – to make the turn in 3-under 33 and work his way into the mix. Following three pars at 10-12, he caught fire, ripping off five birdies in his final six holes. He took the outright lead at 14, chipped in at 15, and sealed the deal at 18.

Best of the rest: DeChambeau made McIlroy earn it, cutting the lead to just one when he eagled the 16th hole as McIlroy was walking to the final tee. A par at 17 and a bogey at 18 netted him 68 and solo second.

Big disappointment: This is Stenson’s fourth top-five finish at this event in the last six years. The overnight leader by one, he went 71-71 over the weekend and bogeyed 18 to finish fourth.

Biggest disappointment: Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 and a tie for fifth.The eight-time API winner was minus-5 on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par.

Shot of the day: McIlroy’s birdie putt at 18.

Remind you of anything?

Quote of the day: "It means a lot. You know, the last time I won a PGA Tour event was the day Mr. Palmer passed away, so it's a little bit ironic that I come here and win. He set a great example for all of us players to try and follow in his footsteps. If everyone on Tour could handle themselves the way Arnie did, the game of golf would be in a better place. ... To be able to win his event, I wish I walked up that hill and got a handshake from him but I'm so happy to my name on that trophy." - McIlroy

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TT postscript: Masters hype builds after final-round charge

By Tiger TrackerMarch 18, 2018, 10:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Here are some thoughts from walking one last loop alongside Tiger Woods on another steamy afternoon at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

• What might have been. Woods transformed Bay Hill into an absolutely electric atmosphere when he started the back nine with three birdies in four holes to get within a shot of the lead. Dressed in his traditional red and black, it was a second straight Sunday where we were treated to watching him try to catch the leaders down the stretch.

• But the momentum he had built up disappeared with a single tee shot, as Woods pulled his drive on the par-5 16th out of bounds and into someone’s backyard. His chances for a ninth tournament title were effectively ended with one errant swing, as he bogeyed the easiest hole on the course and then bogeyed the next for good measure.

• While the closing stretch was disappointing, it was still another remarkable week for Woods considering where his game stood a month ago. His 3-under 69 in the final round lifted him to 10 under for the week, and he ended up in a tie for fifth. He’s now on the cusp of the top 100 in the world rankings, and he’ll head to the Masters on the heels of three straight top-12 finishes for the first time since 2008.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

• It didn’t take long after his final putt dropped for Augusta National to become a topic of conversation. Woods has played only once since 2014, and he plans to make a return trip before the season’s first major to re-acclimate himself with the course and make sure his yardage book “is still good.”

• Taking the long view on things, Woods was all smiles about his comeback that remains a work in progress. “If you would have asked me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments,” Woods said, “I would have taken that in a heartbeat.”

After going T-2 and T-5 in this latest fortnight, Woods will now have two weeks off before he tees it up for a chance to win his fourth green jacket, his first major since 2008 and his first tournament anywhere since 2013. Can. Not. Wait.

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Highlights: Tiger (69) makes charge, collapses

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 18, 2018, 9:45 pm

Tiger Woods made a vintage Sunday charge at Bay Hill before bogeying two of his final three holes and settling for a final-round 69 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

The eight-time API winner was 5 under on the day and just one off the lead when he sniped his tee shot at the par-5 16th out of bounds to the left. He bogeyed both 16 and 17 before making a scrambling par at 18 to finish the week 10 under par, in a tie for fifth.

"I didn't commit to it," Woods said of his drive at 16, where he attempted to fly his ball over the fairway bunkers, rather than hitting a cut or laying back. "And that's on me for not committing."

Starting five off the lead, Tiger got rolling with with a laced 2-iron and a par at No. 1.

Woods hit the green at the par-3 second but left himself a 50-foot birdie putt and a 6-footer to save par, which he walked in.

A two-putt 4 at the par-5 fourth gave Woods his first birdie of the day and moved him to 8 under for the week. Apparently energized, Tiger pulled driver at the short par-4 fifth and unleashed this violent swing.

A pitch from the thick rough hit a sprinkler head and stopped on the apron, leading to this birdie try, which fortunately hit the pin but unfortunately didn't fall.

Looking to pick up another stroke - or two - at the par-5 sixth, Woods took his drive 317 yards over the water and hit this second shot from 227 yards to 13 feet, leading to another two-putt birdie when his eagle try burned the right edge.

Returning to his trusty 2-iron, Tiger found the fairway at the par-4 eighth and then threw this dart from 176 yards to 6 feet and rolled in his third birdie putt of the day to move to 10 under.

His momentum was slowed by his first bogey of the day at No. 9, the product of an errant drive and its ensuing complications. As a result, Woods made the turn 2 under on his round, 9 under for the week, and still five off the lead, like when he started the day.

But Woods wouldn't wait long to make up for his mistake, immediately responding with another flagged iron and birdie at No. 10.

He continued his assault on Bay Hill's par-5s at the 12th, getting up and down from the sand for a birdie-4 that moved him to 11 under par, just two off the lead.

This roll at 13 giving him his third birdie in four holes, and the charge was officially on, as Woods was suddenly just a shot back.

Just when it looked like Woods was primed for a late run at his 80th PGA Tour victory, Woods stepped to the tee at the par-5 16th, where he had missed wide right three days in a row, and ripped his drive out of bounds into a backyard miles left.

He made 4 on his second ball for a bogey-6 and dropped another shot at the par-3 17th, ending his chances.