Monday Scramble: Time to celebrate and recuperate

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 21, 2015, 5:30 pm

The Americans stage an incredible comeback at the Solheim Cup, Suzann Pettersen (temporarily) embraces the villain role, Jason Day realizes a lifelong dream, Tiger Woods goes under the knife (again), and the PGA Tour season is finally coming to an end in this week's unsportsmanlike edition of the Monday Scramble:

It’d be tempting to say that the U.S. won this Solheim Cup because of Suzann Pettersen, because the controversy galvanized the Americans and propelled them to greatness.

Sure, the ruthless Norwegian gave the U.S. side all the motivation it could ever want heading into singles. But that added incentive can only go so far.

The Americans took back the cup because of incredibly clutch performances from unlikely heroes. Almost everything fell into place.

After all, they still needed rookie Alison Lee to shake off the bizarre phantom concession and win her match. She did, 3 and 1. 

They still needed Angela Stanford to erase the memories of her 3-13-3 Solheim Cup record and knock off Pettersen, Europe’s emotional leader. She did, 2 and 1.

They still needed Gerina Piller to sink a cold-blooded 8-foot par putt with the cup on the line. She did.

They still needed Paula Creamer, the most debatable captain’s pick, to silence the crowd and defeat Germany’s own Sandra Gal in the anchor match. She did, 4 and 3.

Add it all up, and the U.S. secured 8 ½ of the possible 12 points in the final session and erased a four-point deficit. Nothing controversial about that.

1. The biggest star Sunday at the Solheim Cup wasn't rookie Alison Lee, who handled the shocking turn of events with grace and maturity. No, it was Piller, who buried a must-make 8-footer on the last to keep the U.S. team's hopes alive. 

Piller is a 30-year-old with zero career titles on the LPGA. This star-making performance – on the biggest stage in women's golf – should give her plenty of confidence the next time she's in a pressure spot. Don’t be surprised if a win arrives shortly.

2. Speaking of pressure spots … how about the play of Creamer? Sure, she and teammate Morgan Pressel coughed up a huge lead in their Saturday foursomes match, but she bookended this Solheim Cup with big wins in the opening foursomes session and then again in singles, when she drew one of the toughest assignments, going up against Germany's Gal in the anchor match. 

Creamer hardly resembled the player who had missed her last four cuts entering this week and was suffering a crisis of confidence. Instead of getting benched for two sessions, she authored one of the week’s most unlikely turnarounds.  Respect.   

3. Anything Can Happen in 18-Hole Match Play, Vol. 193: An oft-criticized player with only two top-10s this season, 37-year-old nerves and a dismal match-play record dispatches Europe’s most intimidating player. It’s the only explanation for Stanford's singles victory Sunday.

4. A random thought while watching the action: Why were there so few scoreboards on the course? Seeing the red or blue go up on the board ignites the crowd and stirs the players. Seriously, how did this important aspect get so overlooked by tournament officials?

5. Jason Day’s Scorched Earth Tour continued last week at the BMW. Though he slowed down over the weekend when the world No. 1 ranking came into focus, he still shot 22 under par – boosting his total to 101 under over his last seven starts – and won by six shots. Day joined Woods as the only players since 2006 to finish three events at 20-plus under par.

To put his run in perspective, consider this: Day had three wins in his first 164 starts on the PGA Tour. He now has four Ws in his last six events. 

6. Yet it still doesn’t seem as though Day is getting properly recognized for what he has accomplished this season, perhaps because of Jordan Spieth’s brilliance in the majors.

This much cannot be ignored, however: Day is only the third player in the last 20 years to win five or more events in a PGA Tour season. 

The others? Woods (10 times) and Vijay Singh, who had nine wins in 2004.

7. I asked Day on Sunday night why world No. 1 was such an important goal. His answer was money: “I always had a vision of me standing on top of the earth when I was a kid, and knowing that right now there’s no one on this planet that’s better than me, that’s pretty cool. That out of all the golfers that are in the world playing right now, I’m the best. It’s such a good feeling.” For more on Day's rise to No. 1, check out my column from the BMW.

8. Tiger Woods stunned everyone last week with the ultimate post-5 p.m. Friday news dump: He announced that he had undergone a second back surgery and would miss the remaining three events on his 2015 schedule.

The immediate takeaway is this: It is yet another critical setback for a player who is running out of time. He’ll be 40 the next time he tees it up in competition. His greatest challenge isn’t his under-construction swing, or his brittle body that now has endured two back surgeries, an Achilles’ tendon tear and a knee reconstruction. No, his greatest challenge comes at the top of the leaderboard, with studs like Jason, Jordan, Rory and Rickie all vying for titles. Whether Woods can ever play that kind of golf again was very much in doubt, even before this second procedure. 

9. Of all the issues with the FedEx Cup – volatility, player and fan apathy, convoluted math – an even bigger concern looms if one of the top three players doesn’t win the season-long title this week at East Lake: Credibility.

McIlroy was the best player in 2012, winning four times, including a major and two playoff events. He didn’t win the FedEx Cup. 

Woods was the best player in 2013, winning five events. He didn’t win the FedEx Cup. 

McIlroy was the best player in 2014, winning three times, including two majors. He didn’t win the FedEx Cup. 

Clearly, Day, Spieth and Fowler have been the best players in 2015, combining for 11 PGA Tour titles (including all three playoff events) and three majors.

If those players go home empty, the system will have even less credibility. That’s a nightmare scenario for the Tour.

10. For the seventh time in eight years, the defending FedEx Cup champion did not make it back to East Lake the following season. Billy Horschel became the latest FedEx Cup casualty, finishing 66th in the standings and missing out on the season finale.

Brandt Snedeker, who won in 2012, is the only player who returned the following year. He finished 12th in 2013.

“I think it’s as much coincidence as anything else,” said 2013 champion Henrik Stenson. “There just hasn’t been enough guys playing that great the year after.” 

There has to be something more to it though, no? The most likely explanations are a busier schedule after winning the PGA Tour’s biggest prize and complacency after earning a life-changing amount of money, although Horschel dismissed the letdown theory last week.

“Dealing with everything the FedEx Cup brings had nothing to do with it,” he said. “There was no reason why I didn’t have a better year. I embraced the entire situation. It was just disappointing the past month.”

11. Speaking of streaks … Hunter Mahan’s ironman run in the FedEx Cup playoffs came to an end last week at the BMW. By tying for 32nd at Conway Farms – and 49th in the season-long race – Mahan will miss the Tour Championship for the first time in nine years. He was the only player to qualify for every season finale since the FedEx Cup’s inception in 2007. More on Mahan’s incredible run here.

12. Four players moved inside the top 30 at the BMW Championship and earned a spot in this week’s Tour Championship (and all four majors next year). Harris English was the feel-good story, having lived on the bubble the past three years.

The most heartbreaking? Rookie Justin Thomas. 

With 259 yards left into the par-5 18th, he tried to hit a cut 3-wood off a downslope but caught it fat. His ball trundled into the creek fronting the green, and he walked off with par, not the birdie he needed to advance. 

Still, when he signed his card, Thomas was projected to finish 30th. A SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio reporter even told his parents – who were waiting nervously in the flash area – that he would be safe. They celebrated, only to learn a few minutes later that Kevin Na’s 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole actually bumped Thomas out, to 32nd. 

“Just really upset and disappointed, to be honest,” he would say afterward.

13. Jim Furyk’s status for not only this week’s Tour Championship but also the Oct. 8-11 Presidents Cup is very much in doubt.

Furyk was diagnosed with a bone contusion in his left wrist after withdrawing from the BMW Championship after six holes Thursday. It was the first time in 20 (!) years that he pulled out of a tournament. 

Furyk said he was “very concerned” about his wrist, especially with only two events remaining on his schedule, and would reassess Tuesday whether he is fit enough to play this week.

If he can’t go at East Lake – he is still No. 16 in the standings – then the focus would shift to the Presidents Cup. Captain Jay Haas would be able to select another player if Furyk backs out. 

14. The only problem? None of his options seem too appealing at the moment. 

Brooks Koepka would have been the obvious choice a few weeks ago, but he missed consecutive cuts in the playoffs and tied for 49th at the no-cut BMW.

Some of the other would-be contenders were in even worse shape. Brandt Snedeker was 66th among the 69 players who went all four rounds. Webb Simpson was T-64. Charley Hoffman was T-53. Kevin Kisner was 41st. 

So, if Furyk is unable to play, don't be surprised if J.B. Holmes gets the call-up. The big-hitting Holmes tied for fourth at the BMW – his first top-10 in a stroke-play event since his win in Houston – but even more significant is that he was the next-highest ranked American on the points list. That makes Haas’ decision even easier.

15. Keep this in mind when it comes time for Rookie of the Year voting: Each of the six rookies who have qualified for the Tour Championship in the FedEx Cup era also went on to claim top rookie honors. 

Daniel Berger is the only newcomer to reach East Lake this year, on the strength of a playoff loss at Honda and a runner-up at last week’s BMW. He is now No. 9 in the standings, despite a summer stretch during which he missed seven consecutive cuts. 

The other players who made it to East Lake in their first try and went on to win Rookie of the Year: Brandt Snedeker (2007), Andres Romero (2008), Marc Leishman (2009), Keegan Bradley (2011), John Huh (2012) and Spieth (2013).

Even though he came up short of qualifying for the season finale, expect Thomas to receive plenty of consideration. The 22-year-old Alabama product is popular with his peers and had seven top-10s in 30 starts. Tony Finau, the monster masher off the tee, never seriously challenged for a title this season, but he had five top-10s and posted high finishes at both the U.S. Open and PGA.    

ConcessionGate threatened to overshadow the sterling (and slow) play at the Solheim Cup.

The question isn’t whether any rules were broken on the 17th green Sunday morning – Lee claimed that she heard someone say that her 16-inch par putt was good (likely a voice in the crowd) and Pettersen said that no such concession was given. A mistake was made, and Lee was reckless in scooping up her ball before she was absolutely certain it was conceded. The decision violated the spirit of the rules, however, and Pettersen’s gotcha! attitude on the green, Charley Hull’s emotional reaction when the match was over, and Pettersen’s defiance afterward all gave the impression that this cup was more about ruthlessness than sportsmanship, which was a shame.

After standing her ground and forcing her teammates to stand up for her actions in the post-match news conference, Pettersen finally apologized in a long Instagram post Monday morning. It was too little, too late, of course. The apology reeked of an outside influence – whether it was her public-relations team or captain Carin Koch – and the damage had already been done, not that Pettersen seems overly concerned about destroying relationships with her peers on tour.

It was a regrettable move that won’t soon be forgotten by the Americans.

• U.S. captain Juli Inkster vowed to bring a more business-like feel to the Solheim Cup – no more of that “rah-rah stuff,” like the face paint, temporary tattoos or Hulk Hogan-esque pleas to the crowd. To reinforce the blue-collar, workmanlike attitude, Inkster gave her team … personalized lunch boxes. Europe may have lost this cup, but there’s still something to be said for building a 10-6 lead with an approach that doesn’t include ribbons, manicures or symbolic gifts.

• Rory McIlroy said his putting remains a work in progress after consulting with Dave Stockton after Boston. The temporary fix was to incorporate more knee bend at address, which he hopes will eliminate some of his lower-body movement during the stroke. At the BMW, he was third in strokes gained-tee to green but ranked 48th in putting. His T-4 was his best finish since his win in May at Quail Hollow.

• Henrik Stenson likes the nickname “Mr. September,” and for good reason. He rolled through the playoffs in 2013 en route to winning the FedEx Cup. He’s been superb this postseason as well, posting back-to-back runner-up finishes at the Barclays and Deutsche Bank before a T-10 at the BMW. Now, he heads for only the second time to East Lake, a ball-striker’s paradise that suits his game well. “I’m undefeated when I play there,” he smiled.

• There was no Cinderella story this year in the FedEx Cup Playoffs. Of the eight players who entered the playoffs at Nos. 101-125 in the standings, rookie Zac Blair was the only one who advanced to the BMW. He wound up 59th.

• Reigning NCAA Player of the Year Maverick McNealy on Sunday picked up where he left off last season, earning medalist honors and defending his title at Olympia Fields (which last month hosted the U.S. Amateur). It was the world No. 2’s seventh win in the past 52 weeks. 

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."