Monday Scramble: Breakthroughs and a missing tooth

By Ryan LavnerOctober 31, 2016, 2:20 pm

Hideki Matsuyama blows out a strong field, an old adage dies, a lefty joins Lefty, Grayson Murray goes toothless and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Surging toward the top of the world rankings, the only step left for Matsuyama to take is to win a major.

The Japanese star whipped an elite field at the WGC-HSBC Champions for his third PGA Tour title, and his 10th victory overall. He turns 25 in February.

The talent never has been a question; he ranks among the best ball-strikers on the planet. As usual, it comes down to his putter, and Matsuyama was on fire in Shanghai, rolling in 29 birdies for the week. 

Matsuyama will eventually join Y.E. Yang as the only Asians to win a men’s major. Don't be surprised if he breaks through next year.

1. Here is the list of players who have won a WGC event by at least seven shots: 

  • Tiger Woods
  • Tiger Woods
  • Tiger Woods
  • Tiger Woods
  • … and, now, Matsuyama

2. Strokes-gained statistics weren’t available in Shanghai, but Matsuyama led the field in putts per green in regulation, averaging 1.54 putts. 

“I’ve probably never putted better than I have this week,” he said after shooting 23-under 265, one stroke off the tournament record. 

Last season, Matsuyama ranked 103rd in strokes gained-putting and was 131st inside 10 feet. If he can shore up that part of his game – any Tour player is capable of a lights-out performance, after all – then he’ll be a consistent force. 

3. Matsuyama is all the way up to No. 6 in the world ranking, after four consecutive top-5 finishes worldwide. Last week he became the first player since Jumbo Ozaki in 1998 to crack the top 10.  

4. Cody Gribble won the Sanderson Farms in just his second start as a PGA Tour member.

Gribble has an interesting backstory. He was part of Texas’ 2012 NCAA Championship team (along with former roommate Jordan Spieth) and finished 27th on last year’s money list, narrowly missing his card. 

He missed 15 (!) cuts this year – and one of his close calls made our WTH? section in May – but he wound up 19th in the Finals standings after the season finale was canceled because of Hurricane Matthew. He tied for eighth earlier this month at the season-opening Safeway.

5. Did you know: At age 26, Gribble is the youngest left-hander to win on Tour since another lefty, THE lefty. Phil Mickelson, won as a 20-year-old amateur in 1991. 

6. Revealing data here from Mark Broadie, who crunched the ShotLink numbers and determined that seven of the top 15 money earners last season had negative strokes gained-putting statistics, while none had a negative strokes gained-approach (iron shots).

Why does this matter? Because the old adage of “Drive for Show, Putt for Dough” no longer applies, at least not at the elite Tour level. The long game is king.

7. An event that was supposed to include a bevy of stars now is in desperate need of some good news.

At this week's Turkish Airlines Open, there will be no Tiger Woods. No Rory McIlroy. No Henrik Stenson or Patrick Reed, either. 

McIlroy led a spate of withdrawals over the weekend. He didn’t care to elaborate on his decision Sunday, telling reporters that the reason was “obvious.”

That’s presumably a reference to the terrorist bombings that have occurred there in the past 18 months, including one last week in the parking lot of the Antalya Trade and Industry Chamber that left a dozen people injured.

McIlroy’s chances of repeating as the Race to Dubai champion may have taken a hit, but the leader, Stenson, also pulled out. No. 2 Danny Willett, who was 75th out of 78 players at the HSBC, is still scheduled to play. 

8. With the season-long FedEx Cup race already over, here’s a look at the Race to Dubai standings with three events to go. The finale is the Nov. 17-20 DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.

  1. 1. Stenson: 3,843,284 points
  2. 2. Willett: 3,581,897
  3. 3. McIlroy: 2,824,149
  4. 4. Alex Noren: 2,318,604
  5. 5. Tyrrell Hatton: 2,242,985

“If I have somewhat of a chance going into Dubai, that’s great,” McIlroy said. “But if not, I think over the course of the season, they have had big wins and played well. They are two major champions, so I’m OK with that.” 

Grayson Murray distinguished himself with his sterling play last season on the Tour, finishing first in scoring average, birdie average, all-around ranking and the Finals money list. 

His appearance turned heads, too. 

Apparently, Murray popped out a front tooth in May when he bit into a piece of chicken. (Oddly enough, this exact thing once happened to this scribe, too, while covering a high school basketball game.) As he explained to's Adam Stanley, Murray actually yanked out his tooth in the car when it was “kind of hanging there.” 

“I didn’t have a tooth for a few weeks, then had a flipper made for me,” he said. “But I talked with a lisp and I didn’t like it. So I’m rocking the no-tooth.”

Murray supposedly had a dentist appointment two weeks ago, but he showed up at the Tour’s opposite-field event in Mississippi with the massive gap in his teeth. His (no-)toothy grin got even more exposure when he led at the halfway mark. 

“I look at myself in interviews, and I look like a hillbilly,” he said. “I rock it well, and I’m not concerned about it.” 

Um, perhaps he should be? 

This week's award winners ... 

Olympic Bump: Shanshan Feng. She hasn’t finished outside the top 4 since taking bronze in Rio, culminating with her victory at the Sime Darby. 

Of Course It’s an Ace: Matt Kuchar. Because of a ridiculous technicality that a Cadillac would only be handed out for a hole-in-one longer than 200 yards – as if it's any easier – Kooch walked off a 193-yard tee box Saturday with “one of the saddest holes-in-one I’ve ever had.” 

One of These Rounds is Not Like the Other One: Adam Scott. His scores at the HSBC: 69-80-64-66. It added up to a T-14 finish. 

Welcome Back: Paula Creamer. Thanks in large part to a third-round 64 in Malaysia, she posted her first top-10 finish in 16 starts. 

One Way to Return from an Injury Hiatus: John Peterson. After missing 11 months with a left-hand injury, Peterson dove off a cliff during a bachelor party, posting the footage (and the aftermath) on social media. 

Let’s Go Back to College: Cypress Point Classic. Beginning Monday, eight men’s college teams will compete in a two-day, Ryder Cup-style event at Cypress Point. Ugh, not fair. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Dustin Johnson. The newly minted Player of the Year, who had a 66.89 scoring average in his last nine rounds there, was DFL through two rounds and scrambled just to post a T-35. Sigh. 

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.