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Monday Scramble: Win-win for Thomas, Lewis

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 5, 2017, 3:00 pm

Justin Thomas wins a PGA Tour-best fifth title, Presidents Cup teams take shape, Stacy Lewis breaks her winless drought for Houston and more in this week's edition of the Monday (Tuesday?) Scramble:

The number of contenders for the PGA Tour Player of the Year award is narrowing.

Justin Thomas moved one step closer with a 63-66 finishing kick at the Dell Technologies Championship to win for the fifth time this season.

Tour players vote for the award, so it’s a bit of a guessing game, but common sense suggests that Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson will need to win the final two events of the season to steal Player of the Year from Thomas (though even that might not be enough).

A playoff victory was an important résumé-booster for Thomas, who already had a major, a 59, three other Tour titles and a record-breaking 63 at the U.S. Open.

The Year of JT continues. 


1. Maybe he didn’t have a run at the Grand Slam like Spieth in 2015, but Thomas is putting together one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory.

With this victory, he is now just the fourth player since 1960 to win five times, including a major, during a PGA Tour season. The others? Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods (twice) and Spieth.  

Spieth capped his memorable year in 2015 with a FedExCup title. Thomas is now No. 2 in the standings.  

2. How to win on the PGA Tour?

It’ll look a lot like Justin Thomas’ week at TPC Boston. In every facet of the game, he put on a clinic, finishing in the top 11 in strokes gained-off the tee, approach the green, around the green and putting. He missed 21 greens … and got up and down for par 20 times. 

3. The FedExCup has its faults, but there’s little doubt that the playoffs bring the best out of today’s stars.

Check out the caliber of players who have won the last 10 playoff events: Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Spieth, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Thomas.

Stout. 

4. Another week, another runner-up finish for Spieth.

After going out in 30, he carded three bogeys in the final seven holes and came up three shots short. But given his starting position, and his torrid start, this second-place showing was easier to stomach than the playoff opener at the Northern Trust, where he squandered a five-shot lead over Dustin Johnson.

“I’m not going to be as down on myself as I was last week,” he said. “I’m pleased with the way I finished off. [The putts] just didn’t quite go in.”  

And if there’s any consolation, he moved to No. 1 in the points standings, 27 points ahead of Thomas. Woods is the only player to win multiple cups. 

5. Like Spieth, the back nine featured plenty of surprises for Marc Leishman, too.

Out in 30, he moved two shots in front but bogeyed the first three holes on the back nine. He lost two more shots coming home, on 17 and 18, to come home in 40 and drop into solo third.

Those two miscues were worth $350,000 – and potentially much more in FedExCup bonuses. 

“It’s a disappointing end to the week,” he said, “but I can take a lot of positives out of it.” 



6. The rosters for the upcoming Presidents Cup are nearly set.

Three players on the U.S. side qualified for their first team competition: Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner and Kevin Chappell.

Another would-be first-timer, Charley Hoffman, got bumped from the 10th and final qualifying spot, but based on how close he came (he was clipped by less than a point) and his form this season, he’s a good bet for one of Steve Stricker’s captain’s picks.

The other? That is almost surely Phil Mickelson, especially after Lefty, who said he saw a doctor about his recent inability to focus, tied for sixth in Boston. This would be his 23rd consecutive team appearance.

Though it’d be nice to see Stricker go outside the box with these picks – Brian Harman would be a tough out, Tony Finau is perfect for fourballs, and Patrick Cantlay has been terrific in limited action this year – chances are he takes Hoffman and Mickelson.

7. How about the Internationals?

Adam Hadwin secured the 10th and final spot, but captain Nick Price has fewer appealing options than Stricker.

Much fewer.

Hideto Tanihara and Emiliano Grillo, Nos. 11 and 12 in points, respectively, have combined for one top-10 since May.

Haotong Li finished third in The Open, after a stellar final round, but he backed it up with consecutive missed cuts. Anirban Lahiri’s runner-up at Memorial was his only top-10 in a Tour event this year.  

No matter whom Price selects, the visitors will be a massive underdog at Liberty National.    

8. Among the players whose season ended last week in Boston, after failing to crack the top 70 in points:

  • Adam Scott
  • Bubba Watson (set for more than a four-month layoff)
  • Harold Varner III
  • Patrick Rodgers
  • Chris Stroud

The only players to move from outside to inside the top 70 in Boston were Rafa Cabrera Bello, Emiliano Grillo and Stewart Cink.

9. What seemed like a curious decision hasn’t paid off for McIlroy. Not yet, anyway.

Battling a nagging rib injury, McIlroy was a non-factor at the playoff opener, then missed the cut in his title defense at TPC Boston.

Afterward, he admitted: “I’m sort of waiting for the season to end and that’s reflected in the way I’m playing.”

His PGA Tour season could end in two weeks. At No. 51 in the standings, he needs a good performance at the BMW to return to the Tour Championship. 



10. And here we thought I.K. Kim would own the LPGA’s feel-good story of the year, winning the Women’s British Open five years after her short miss.

Sunday in Portland, Houstonian Stacy Lewis snapped a three-year winless drought and donated all of her $195,000 check to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

There is no cheering in the press tent, but it was hard not to pull for Lewis down the stretch. Not only was there the charitable angle – that was the kind of selfless gesture that has endeared Lewis to fans over the past couple of years. But there was the competitive part, too. No one has come closer more often over the past few years than Lewis, a former world No. 1 who has endured 12 runner-up finishes since her last victory, in June 2014.

Even she admitted afterward that she needed to relearn how to win.

“I’m excited to get the monkey off my back and know I can do it,” she said. “I can hit the shots when I need to, hole the putts when I need to. It’s nice to see yourself do that again.” 

11. Lewis got even more good news after her victory.

Two of Lewis’ sponsors stepped up in a big way, with KPMG matching Lewis’ donation and Marathon Petroleum kicking in another $1 million.

Lewis, who has lived in the Houston area since age 11, said her family’s home was spared from the disaster. 



12. Peter Uihlein is heading home.

The former American amateur star, who headed to Europe to travel the world and hone his game, earned his PGA Tour card in his first try, winning the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, the first event in the Web.com Tour Finals.

At No. 89 in the world, Uihlein was the highest-ranked player in the field in Columbus. It took him six years – longer than Brooks Koepka – but like his South Florida pal, Uihlein showed that there’s more than one way to secure a Tour card.

"Obviously it's an unconventional route," Uihlein said, "but it’s something I would do over in a second, absolutely."


Tip of the cap, Kelly Kraft, because this is actually really hard to do – rinsing two shots, taking another penalty and three-putting from 5 ½ feet for a septuple-bogey 12. And most of the damage came from inside 160 yards!

Kraft was 10 over for the day when he eventually withdrew during the first round at TPC Boston, citing a foot injury that has bothered him for the past month. The WD ended his season.

Kraft will return next month at the season-opening Safeway Open. 

This week's award winners ... 


Commence Masters Watch 2018!: Tiger Woods. With his tweet last week that he’s been given the green light to start hitting pitch shots, yeah, you’re going to read a lot about his progress in the months leading up to the year’s first major.  

Why You Shouldn’t Break Your Putter on Anything But the 18th Hole: Sergio Garcia. After slamming his putter into a sprinkler head on the fourth hole, the Masters champion was left to putt with three clubs for the rest of the round (driver, fairway wood, 3-iron). Not surprisingly, he shot 4 over. 



Go Ahead and Try This One Again: TPC Boston’s par-4 12th. With a scoring average of 4.343, it played as the hardest hole all week. Architect Gil Hanse defended his work, which he should, but if players are going down an adjacent fairway to approach the green, well, it’s just not a good hole. 

Another of Justin Thomas’ Good Buddies: Tom Lovelady. Thomas’ current roommate and former teammate at Alabama is headed to the Tour after making birdie on the last and tying for third in the Web.com Tour Finals opener.  

Also Heading to the Big Leagues: Celine Boutier. A former Player of the Year at Duke, the 23-year-old won on the Symetra Tour for the second time this season to lock up an LPGA card for next year. 

Best Move of the Week: NBC cameraman. Zeroed in on Leishman in the hazard short of 18 green, the camera guy somehow got out of the way of this errant pitch. 


That’s How You Start a Season: Oklahoma State. The preseason No. 1 Cowboys shot 52 under (!) at Pebble Beach, with Hayden Wood and Texas Tech’s Hurly Long sharing medalist honors at 19 under (!), as Long shot a second-round 61 (!). 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Rory. The all-time earnings leader at TPC Boston, and the Tour’s leader in strokes gained-off the tee, he struggled with a two-way miss for two rounds and flamed out with a surprising missed cut. Sigh. 

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”