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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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.