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. 

Getty Images

The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

Getty Images

Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

Getty Images

Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.

Getty Images

Landry stays hot, leads desert shootout at CareerBuilder

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 12:35 am

LA QUINTA, Calif. – Andrew Landry topped the crowded CareerBuilder Challenge leaderboard after another low-scoring day in the sunny Coachella Valley.

Landry shot a 7-under 65 on Thursday on PGA West's Jack Nicklaus Tournament Course to reach 16 under. He opened with a 63 on Thursday at La Quinta Country Club.

''Wind was down again,'' Landry said. ''It's like a dome out here.''

Jon Rahm, the first-round leader after a 62 at La Quinta, was a stroke back. He had two early bogeys in a 67 on the Nicklaus layout.

''It's tough to come back because I feel like I expected myself to go to the range and keep just flushing everything like I did yesterday,'' Rahm said. ''Everything was just a little bit off.''

Jason Kokrak was 14 under after a 67 at Nicklaus. Two-time major champion Zach Johnson was 13 under along with Michael Kim and Martin Piller. Johnson had a 64 at Nicklaus.

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Landry, Rahm, Kokrak and Johnson will finish the rotation Saturday at PGA West's Stadium Course, also the site of the final round.

''You need to hit it a lot more accurate off the tee because being in the fairway is a lot more important,'' Rahm said about the Pete Dye-designed Stadium Course, a layout the former Arizona State player likened to the Dye-designed Karsten course on the school's campus. ''With the small greens, you have water in play. You need to be more precise. Clearly the hardest golf course.''

Landry pointed to the Saturday forecast.

''I think the wind's supposed to be up like 10 to 20 mph or something, so I know that golf course can get a little mean,'' Landry said. ''Especially, those last three or four holes.''

The 30-year-old former Arkansas player had five birdies in a six-hole stretch on the back nine. After winning his second Tour title last year, he had two top-10 finishes in October and November at the start the PGA Tour season.

''We're in a good spot right now,'' Landry said. ''I played two good rounds of golf, bogey-free both times, and it's just nice to be able to hit a lot of good quality shots and get rewarded when you're making good putts.''

Rahm had four birdies and the two bogeys on his first six holes. He short-sided himself in the left bunker on the par-3 12th for his first bogey of the week and three-putted the par-4 14th – pulling a 3-footer and loudly asking ''What?'' – to drop another stroke.

''A couple of those bad swings cost me,'' Rahm said.

The top-ranked player in the field at No. 3 in the world, Rahm made his first par of the day on the par-4 16th and followed with five more before birdieing the par-5 fourth. The 23-year-old Spaniard also birdied the par-5 seventh and par-3 eighth.

''I had close birdie putts over the last four holes and made two of them, so I think that kind of clicked,'' said Rahm, set to defend his title next week at Torrey Pines.

He has played the par 5s in 9 under with an eagle and seven birdies.

Johnson has taken a relaxed approach to the week, cutting his practice to two nine-hole rounds on the Stadium Course.

''I'm not saying that's why I'm playing well, but I took it really chill and the golf courses haven't changed,'' Johnson said. ''La Quinta's still really pure, right out in front of you, as is the Nicklaus.''

Playing partner Phil Mickelson followed his opening 70 at La Quinta with a 68 at Nicklaus to get to 6 under. The 47-year-old Hall of Famer is playing his first tournament of since late October.

''The scores obviously aren't what I want, but it's pretty close and I feel good about my game,'' Mickelson said. ''I feel like this is a great place to start the year and build a foundation for my game. It's easy to identify the strengths and weaknesses. My iron play has been poor relative to the standards that I have. My driving has been above average.''

Charlie Reiter, the Palm Desert High School senior playing on a sponsor exemption, had a 70 at Nicklaus to match Mickelson at 6 under. The Southern California recruit is playing his first PGA Tour event. He tied for 65th in the Australian Open in November in his first start in a professional tournament.