Monday Scramble: Young man's - and woman's - game

By Ryan LavnerOctober 26, 2015, 3:00 pm

PGA Tour rookies are batting 1.000, Kevin Na suffers another narrow defeat, Patton Kizzire doesn't check the leaderboard, Lydia Ko rolls to double-digit wins and more in this week's high-rolling edition of Monday Scramble:

The PGA Tour season might seem like it never ends, but that’s apparently a good thing for the rookies.

Smylie Kaufman became the latest first-timer to win on Tour, following Emiliano Grillo’s lead with a closing 61 and one-shot victory in Vegas over six players, including hard-luck loser Na. 

Kaufman, Grillo and the rest of the Tour graduating class had a whopping eight days to get ready for this season, following the Tour Championship on Oct. 4. 

Look, the wraparound schedule certainly has its drawbacks – fan and player apathy, weak fields, better viewing options, etc. – but one of the (few) benefits is that it allows rookies to continue the good form that propelled them into the top 25 on the developmental circuit. The Shriners winner and two other players who tied for second were playing the earlier this month.

Four years ago, those who graduated from Q-School or earned their card would have had more than a month to think about life as a Tour member. And then, when the new season arrived, it wasn’t guaranteed that they’d be able to get into some of the West Coast fields.

That isn't the case anymore. These guys are in form, hungry and ready to capitalize on their opportunities. 

The Tour’s never-ending schedule may dilute the overall product, but after Grillo and Kaufman’s early-season victories, you won’t hear the rookies complaining anytime soon. 

1. Kaufman had to wait nearly two-and-a-half hours to find out whether he would win in only his fifth career PGA Tour start.

The 23-year-old LSU product began the final round in a tie for 28th, but he played his last 11 holes in 9 under and posted 16-under 268. It proved to be enough, barely. 

Kaufman's closing 61 is the lowest finish by a PGA Tour winner since Tommy Gainey’s final-round 60 at the 2012 McGladrey. 

2. This is the first time since 1960 – when the PGA Tour began keeping these statistics – that rookies won the first two events of a new season. Last year, only one newcomer (Nick Taylor) won on Tour. 

It's also the first time since 2011 (Charl Schwartzel, Brendan Steele) that rookies won in back-to-back weeks, though Schwartzel wouldn't have been considered a rookie under the current rules.

3. Fans probably get tired of hearing on-course reporters ask players some variation of “Were you leaderboard-watching out there?” in post-round interviews. Rarely does it provide an illuminating answer.

Yet rookie Patton Kizzire conceded Sunday that he had no idea that he was within a shot of the lead on the 72nd hole and needed to birdie the 444-yard finisher.

“I was just trying to keep my head down,” he said afterward.

It’s a tired cliché, one that undoubtedly pleases sports psychologists who stress process over results, but Kizzire’s strategy makes absolutely no sense in this situation. How do you NOT know where you stand on the last hole of the tournament? Yeah, yeah, don’t worry about things you can’t control … but this was something Kizzire could control, because he needed a birdie, because he needed to take enough club to ensure that he got all the way back to the hole location on 18.

Kizzire came up woefully short with his approach and made par. He came up short of Kaufman, too.  

4. After a playoff loss at the Open, after coming up short in another big spot, Kevin Na said of his increasing runner-up finishes: “You know what? It’s coming. It’s coming.”

He’s still waiting.

Na drained a long birdie putt on 16 to tie the lead, but he gave back the shot with a sloppy chip from short of the par-3 17th.

Last week, Na seemed to blame a dropkicked driver-off-the-deck shot on an uneven lie and the impending darkness. This time, he said his ball on 17 was “sitting up too good, on like a piece of grass that was stuck up.” 

Whatever the case, Na failed to make his 15-foot birdie putt on the last despite getting a perfect read from Jimmy Walker, and he dropped to 1-for-301 in his PGA Tour career, with EIGHT career runners-up.

Yes, it’s coming, probably, but the scar tissue continues to pile up.   

5. At 18 years, 6 months and 1 day, Lydia Ko became the youngest player in LPGA history to reach 10 wins, shattering Nancy Lopez’s record by nearly three-and-a-half years.

If it hasn’t yet sunk in how good Ko is, consider this: Her 10 LPGA wins are as many as America's sweetheart Paula Creamer has amassed in 11 years as a pro, and one fewer than “star” Stacy Lewis.

6. Ko leads the LPGA in earnings, Race to CME Globe points, scoring average, Rolex Player of the Year points and top-10s.

There are four more events for Inbee Park to close the gap. 

7. A “long and tedious” recovery is the last thing fans want to hear when it comes to Tiger Woods’ latest surgical procedure.

But Woods’ first public comments since his surprising Sept. 16 back surgery reinforced the idea that he is determined not to rush this comeback, which could very well be his last at age 40.

More than a month after surgery, Woods hasn’t even begun rehabilitation. For the sake of comparison, in 2014, after his first microdiscectomy, he returned to competition less than three months later. He later admitted it was too soon.

Only Woods knows how his body is feeling, but it’d be a surprise to see him before the Masters. 

8. Two weeks ago, at the Frys, Justin Rose had a golden chance to win against a group of inexperienced chasers, but he made three bogeys in a six-hole span on the back nine and ultimately tied for sixth.

His scorecard was much cleaner at the Hong Kong Open.

He dropped only three shots all week, including one on the 72nd hole that still gave him a one-shot victory over Lucas Bjerregaard. Consistently excellent, Rose now has eight Euro Tour titles.

The Englishman jumped a spot in the world rankings, to No. 6. He has finished 16th or better in nine of his last 10 worldwide starts and is 90 under par during that span. 

9. Playing for his card, Bjerregaard’s solo second was enough to push him inside the top 60 in the Race to Dubai standings, which locked after last week’s event. Only the top 60 are eligible for the four-tournament Final Series. Rory McIlroy leads the race, and Rose moved to No. 4 after his win.

The last man in? That would be Ryder Cupper Stephen Gallacher (remember him?), who was 60th with 509,033 points.

10. Ian Poulter tied for 29th in Hong Kong, but the start was more important than the result.

After getting bumped out of the top 50 in the world – and no longer qualifying for the WGC-HSBC Champions – Poulter was one tournament shy of retaining European Tour membership. Why was that important? Because only tour members are eligible for the Ryder Cup. Poulter, of course, has proven himself to be one of America’s worst nightmares, going 12-4-2 in the biennial matches.

Enter Rich Beem, who was scheduled to play the Hong Kong event on a sponsor exemption. He graciously forfeited his spot – and spent the week as an analyst for Sky Sports – so Poulter could play, reach 13 Euro Tour starts and remain in contention for a Ryder Cup spot next fall.

One other parallel between the two players: Beem won his lone major, the 2002 PGA, at Hazeltine. That’s where the ’16 Ryder Cup will be held. 

11. Players traveling to Malaysia for this week’s CIMB Classic had more to worry about than the long flight or lost clubs.

The PGA Tour sent an email last week warning players of a recent typhoid outbreak and poor air quality in Kuala Lumpur.

Throw in the warm temperatures and oppressive humidity, and it’s remarkable there hasn't been a flood of WDs. 

12. Nothing screams amateurism like the newly crowned U.S. Mid-Amateur champion getting more than $25,000 in donations so he can prepare for the Masters.

That’s exactly what Sammy Schmitz, a 35-year-old regional director for a health-care company, did last week, when his wife set up a GoFundMe page that in three days had more than $25K in donations.

The USGA says it has no issue with Schmitz’s campaign, so long as the state or regional golf association is involved in the administration of the funds. But it’s easy to envision the blue blazers grimacing at the thought of Schmitz’s many upcoming golf excursions in warmer locales than River Falls, Wis. 

13. The USGA and R&A announced a handful of changes Monday that – surprise, surprise – added a dose of common sense to the rulebook.

A change to Rule 18-2b means that a player may no longer be deemed to have caused a golf ball to move after address. Even more of a no-brainer was adding a limited exception to Rule 6-6d, with a player no longer being disqualifying for taking a lower score on a hole if he failed to include penalty strokes he was not aware of when he signed his card. 

This is a step in the right direction for a sport that too often is criticized for its arcane rules. 

Is Jacques Kruyswijk visiting with his doctor today? Wouldn't doubt it, because he is, after all, the poor sap who took one to the groin while trying to play a recovery shot during a Sunshine Tour event:

This week's award winners ... 

Um, What Was That?!: Jimmy Walker. On a day when the average score was 69.3, and the eventual winner shot 61, Walker stumbled home with a 78 to plummet 47 spots on the Shriners leaderboard, to T-50. Perhaps it was just a matter of time, because he hit only 23 of 56 fairways (41 percent) for the week.

Underrated Starter: Jason Bohn. He's one of only three players (Kaufman, Na) who recorded top-10s in each of the first two events. Even better news: In Vegas, he didn't chunk a wedge shot to cost himself a shot to win. His 40-footer to force a playoff burned the edge.

What Would You Like for Christmas?: Ben Evans, to Brooks Koepka (presumably). Gassed after playing 13 events in 16 weeks, Koepka forfeited his spot in the European Tour's Race to Dubai. That meant everyone moved up a spot in the standings, including Evans, who slid to No. 110 – the cutoff to keep his card for the 2015-16 season. Huge.

News From 2014: Royal Portrush will host the 2019 Open Championship. This was first reported in summer 2014 and finally confirmed last week. Can't wait. 

Why You Shouldn't Steal Golf Clubs: This goon.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x