Getty Images

Monday Scramble: Win and where

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

Justin Thomas wins again, Sergio Garcia shakes off his Masters hangover, Bernhard Langer eagles the last and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Now with five and a half weeks off, Thomas has plenty of time for reflection.

The most obvious question that will come to his mind: Now how am I going to back up THAT?

Thomas capped the best run of his career with a playoff victory Sunday at the lucrative CJ Cup. Over the past 52 weeks, he has six victories (including his first major), a FedExCup title, a Player of the Year trophy and more than $20 million in the bank.

Of the many goals that Thomas set for himself, both large and small, he met or exceeded almost all of them. Continuing to improve next season will be a challenge, because there isn’t as much ground to cover, but the 24-year-old showed that his ceiling is as high as anyone’s on Tour.

This is a break well deserved.

1. The par-5 18th hole at Nine Bridges will make course-architect snobs break out in hives, but it provided plenty of drama at the CJ Cup.

Both Thomas and Leishman went for the well-protected green in two shots during the playoff.

Leishman was unsuccessful, leading to a bogey but no regrets.

“If you go down,” he said, “you want to go down like that. I’d rather attack and try to take it. I would certainly sleep better at night just doing that.”

Even after seeing his opponent rinse his approach, Thomas didn’t back down, either.

“I didn’t travel all this way to make this a three-shot hole,” he said.

That led to a two-putt birdie and the victory. 

2. If Thomas was low on energy two weeks ago at the CIMB Classic, then he was really running on fumes in South Korea. And his patience was tested all week, when officials cut hole locations in difficult positions on Friday to protect par, and then the wind gusted (and swirled) to 30 mph over the weekend.

It’s a testament to his mental toughness that he was able to overcome a 71st-hole bogey and put away Leishman, who notched his third top-3 finish in his last four starts.

“I’m really tired and fatigued right now,” Thomas said. “I’m excited about getting home.”  

3. Here’s how the top of the world rankings look heading into the final World Golf Championships event of 2017:

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Jordan Spieth
3. Justin Thomas
4. Hideki Matsuyama
5. Jon Rahm

It’s the first time since May 2010 that Americans hold down the top three spots. Back then, it was Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker – an average age of 39.2.

This trio? An average of 27.4. 

4. A reminder that last fall, Thomas was ranked 35th in the world.

So what changed?

Here are some of the areas in which Thomas has seen the most improvement, year over year:

Strokes gained-around the green (108th to 28th), putting (131st to 47th), approaches from 50-125 yards (71st to 1st) and 75-100 yards (156th to 13th).

If Thomas can improve his driving – even with his awesome length, he ranks only 32nd in strokes gained-off the tee – then his six-win 2017 might just be the beginning. 

5. No Ryder Cup points are available this fall, for the second consecutive Ryder Cup.

Though that’s unlikely to affect the status of a star like Thomas, it’s a potentially big deal for someone like Pat Perez, who won the CIMB and followed it up with a tie for fifth at the CJ Cup. 

6. Garcia’s Masters hangover is over, after the Spaniard served as both host and champion at the European Tour event at Valderrama hosted by his foundation.

Since his life-changing victory at Augusta, he managed only one top-10 in 10 PGA Tour starts, and his runner-up at the BMW International Open was his best showing worldwide.

A lot has been going on, of course. Garcia got married. He’s expecting his first child next spring. He adjusted to life as a major champion. And it was announced last week that he and longtime sponsor TaylorMade are parting ways.

Valderrama was the perfect landing spot for another Garcia reboot – he has finished in the top 5 in eight of 13 career appearances there.  

7. Interestingly, this was Garcia’s first three-win season since 2008.

He moved to 14 career titles on the European Tour, one clear of Rory McIlroy for the most among players currently under 40.

8. After wondering whether she would ever win again, Eun-Hee Ji snapped an eight-year winless drought by taking the Swinging Skirts – by six.

Now 31, Ji hadn’t won since the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open.

Perhaps even more interesting was the brief reappearance in Taiwan of local hero Yani Tseng. Mired in a miserable slump, the former world No. 1 hasn’t won anywhere since 2012.

A strong final round briefly vaulted her inside the top 5, but she stumbled down the stretch and eventually tied for 17th – still one of her best results of the year.

“I feel the nerves and I feel the pressure,” she said, “but it was great pressure and good news. I haven’t had that for a while.” 

9. In the least surprising development of the week, Bernhard Langer won the PGA Tour Champions playoff opener, eagling the final hole and creating even more separation from Scott McCarron.

Though the field size is trimmed each week, like the FedExCup playoffs, the cut down from 72 to 54 players barely registered, seeing how those players have no chance to make any noise with Langer, McCarron, Kenny Perry and the rest of the senior stars monopolizing the top of the leaderboard.

Langer is on the verge of taking the money title for the ninth time in the past 10 years. 

It’s why we opined last week that the senior circuit desperately needs a match-play finale to liven up its finishing kick.

10. About the only thing Langer has left to accomplish in senior golf is the record for the most victories all time.

With title No. 35, and his sixth this year, he’s now only 10 back of Hale Irwin’s mark.

Barring an injury, Langer could eclipse that record in 2019, when he’d be 62. Irwin was 61 when he earned his final senior victory.

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are longtime friends. This was established a few years ago, when Thomas joined a Tour on which Spieth had already made his mark.   

Well, for some reason, this storyline is still a thing, even after Thomas finally moved out of Spieth’s considerable shadow, winning the PGA Championship, the FedExCup and Player of the Year.

This was a real question posed to Thomas on Saturday night (emphasis is mine): Jason Day mentioned that he has never seen winds like this before. Are you used to such windy conditions? If you were to give Jordan Spieth any advice playing on this course, what would you say?

Unfortunately, Thomas (and, now, Spieth, to some extent) are used to such ridiculous queries. In his presser, Thomas shrugged it off and talked about the difficult conditions.

Well, the same reporter (we think) went back to the well on Sunday night, after Thomas prevailed in a playoff.

If you were to come back next year, would you convince your good friend Jordan Spieth to come with you?

Not only was that question insulting – as if Thomas’ victory, and presence, wasn’t enough for the reporter – it was absurd.

Thomas handled it perfectly: “I don’t care what he does.”


This week's award winners ... 

See You Next Year: Paula Creamer. The 31-year-old recently underwent surgery on her ailing left wrist, ending her season. Winless since 2014, she faces an uphill climb when she returns to competition.

What a Mess: KLPGA. A pair of players received two-shot penalties after they picked up their ball on what they thought was the green, and it was later determined that four other players had done that, too. Several players threatened to withdraw out of protest, the KLPGA wiped out all scores for the first round, and the head rules official resigned.  

Mission Accomplished: Leona Maguire. Needing to make the cut to earn Symetra Tour status for 2018, the top-ranked amateur in the world cruised at second stage of Q-School. She won’t even attempt to play the finals; she’ll return to Duke for the spring semester and complete her degree.

Presidential Company: Hideki Matsuyama. The world No. 4 is scheduled to play a round with Donald Trump when the president makes his first Asia trip next month, according to Bloomberg.

New Home: Barbasol Championship. Beginning this season, one of the Tour’s opposite-field events is relocating from Alabama to Kentucky. 

What Can't He Do?: Braden Thornberry. During the Ole Miss-Auburn game Saturday night, the reigning NCAA champion was asked to knock in a field goal using one of his irons. This is a lot harder than it looks!

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Tony Finau. His runner-up finish in Napa was his third consecutive top-10. But he just didn’t have it halfway around the world, backing up an opening 67 with three consecutive rounds of par or worse for a tie for 26th. Sigh.  

Getty Images

After Further Review: Woods wisely keeping things in perspective

By Golf Channel DigitalMarch 19, 2018, 3:17 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On Tiger Woods' career comeback ...

Tiger Woods seems to be the only one keeping his comeback in the proper perspective. Asked after his tie for fifth at Bay Hill whether he could ever have envisioned his game being in this shape heading into Augusta, he replied: “If you would have given me this opportunity in December and January, I would have taken it in a heartbeat.” He’s healthy. He’s been in contention. He’s had two realistic chances to win. There’s no box unchecked as he heads to the Masters, and no one, especially not Woods, could have seen that coming a few months ago. – Ryan Lavner

On Tiger carrying momentum into API, Masters ...

Expect Jordan Spieth to leave Austin with the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play trophy next week.

After all, Spieth is seemingly the only top-ranked player who has yet to lift some hardware in the early part of 2018. Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas have all gotten it done, as have Jason Day, Phil Mickelson and most recently Rory McIlroy.

Throw in the sudden resurgence of Tiger Woods, and with two more weeks until the Masters there seem to be more azalea-laden storylines than ever before.

A Spieth victory in Austin would certainly add fuel to that fire, but even if he comes up short the 2015 champ will certainly be a focus of attention in a few short weeks when the golf world descends upon Magnolia Lane with no shortage of players able to point to a recent victory as proof that they’re in prime position to don a green jacket. – Will Gray

Getty Images

Davies not giving up on win, HOF after close call

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 3:06 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies knows the odds are long now, but she won’t let go of that dream of making the LPGA Hall of Fame.

At 54, she was emboldened by her weekend run at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup. She tied for second, five shots behind Inbee Park.

“The more I get up there, I might have a chance of winning again,” Davies said. “I'm not saying I will ever win, but today was close. Maybe one day I can go closer.”

Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, but she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in 2001. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Over her career, she has won 20 LPGA titles, four of them major championships. She was the tour’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996. She probably would have locked up Hall of Fame status if she hadn’t been so loyal to the Ladies European Tour, where she won 45 titles.

Though Davies didn’t win Sunday in Phoenix, there was more than consolation in her run into contention.

“Now people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Getty Images

Davies impresses, but there's no catching Park

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 2:40 am

PHOENIX – Inbee Park won the tournament.

Laura Davies won the day.

It was a fitting script for the Bank of Hope Founders Cup on Sunday, where nostalgia stirs the desert air in such a special way.

Two of the game’s all-time best, LPGA Hall of Famer Inbee Park and World Golf Hall of Famer Laura Davies, put on a show with the tour’s three living founders applauding them in the end.

Park and Davies made an event all about honoring the tour’s past while investing in its future something to savor in the moment. Founders Marilynn Smith, Shirley Spork and Marlene Hagge Vossler cheered them both.

For Park, there was meaningful affirmation in her 18th LPGA title.

In seven months away from the LPGA, healing up a bad back, Park confessed she wondered if she should retire. This was just her second start back. She won feeling no lingering effects from her injury.

“I was trying to figure out if I was still good enough to win,” Park said of her long break back home in South Korea. “This proved to me I can win and play some pain-free golf.”

At 54, Davies kept peeling away the years Sunday, one sweet swing after another. She did so after shaking some serious nerves hitting her first tee shot.

“It’s about as nervous as I’ve ever felt,” Davies said. “I swear I nearly shanked it.”

Davies has won 45 Ladies European Tour events and 20 LPGA titles, but she was almost 17 years removed from her last LPGA title. Still, she reached back to those times when she used to rule the game and chipped in for eagle at the second hole to steady herself.

“It calmed me down, and I really enjoyed the day,” Davies said.

With birdies at the ninth and 10th holes, Davies pulled from three shots down at day’s start to within one of Park, sending a buzz through all the fans who came out to root for the popular Englishwoman.

“People were loving it,” said Tanya Paterson, Davies’ caddie. “We kept hearing, `Laura, we love you.’ It was special for Laura, showing she can still compete.”

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

Davies relished giving all the young players today, who never saw how dominant she once was, some flashes from her great past.

“Yesterday, after I had that 63, a lot of the younger girls came up and said, `Oh, great playing today,”’ Davies said. “It was nice, I suppose, to have that. I still am a decent player, and I actually used to be really good at it. Maybe that did give them a glimpse into what it used to be like.”

She also relished showing certain fans something.

“Now, people might stop asking me when I'm going to retire,” she said.

Davies was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year in 1996, when she won two of her four major championships. She was emboldened by the way she stood up to Sunday pressure again.

In the end, though, there was no catching Park, who continues to amaze with her ability to win coming back from long breaks after injuries.

Park, 29, comes back yet again looking like the player who reigned at world No. 1 for 92 weeks, won three consecutive major championships in 2013 and won the Olympic gold medal two years ago.

“The reason that I am competing and playing is because I want to win and because I want to contend in golf tournaments,” Park said.

After Davies and Marina Alex mounted runs to move within one shot, Park pulled away, closing ferociously. She made four birdies in a row starting at the 12th and won by five shots. Her famed putting stroke heated up, reminding today’s players how nobody can demoralize a field more with a flat stick.

“I just felt like nothing has dropped on the front nine,” Park said. “I was just thinking to myself, `They have to drop at some point.’ And they just started dropping, dropping, dropping.”

Yet again, Park showed her ability to win after long breaks.

In Rio de Janeiro two years ago, Park the Olympic gold medal in her first start back after missing two months because of a ligament injury in her left thumb. She took eight months off after Rio and came back to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship last year, in just her second start upon returning.

“I'm really happy to have a win early in the season,” Park said. “That just takes so much pressure off me.”

And puts it on the rest of the tour if she takes her best form to the year’s first major at the ANA Inspiration in two weeks.



Getty Images

Rose: 'Never' has Rory putted as well as Bay Hill

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 1:20 am

ORLANDO, Fla. – Justin Rose didn’t need to ponder the question for very long.

The last time Rory McIlroy putted that well was, well …?

“Never,” Rose said with a chuckle. “Ryder Cup? He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

And the Englishman did well just to try and keep pace.

After playing his first six holes in 4 over par, Rose battled not just to make the cut but to contend. He closed with consecutive rounds of 67, finishing in solo third, four shots back of McIlroy at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Rose said this weekend was the best he’s struck the ball all year. He just didn’t do enough to overtake McIlroy, who finished the week ranked first in strokes gained-putting and closed with a bogey-free 64.

“Rory just played incredible golf, and it’s great to see world-class players do that,” Rose said. “It’s not great to see him make putts because he was making them against me, but when he is, he’s incredibly hard to beat. So it was fun to watch him play.”