Monday Scramble: Plenty of drama at FedEx finale

By Ryan Reiterman September 18, 2016, 3:00 pm

The storylines are plentiful at the Tour Championship, In Gee Chun marches into the history books, Beef becomes a PGA Tour member and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble.

There will be a lot more on the line this week at East Lake than a FedEx Cup trophy and $10 million.

First, Dustin Johnson will have a chance to settle the Player of the Year debate with a win and/or the FedEx Cup title. Johnson appears to have the edge over world No. 1 Jason Day with a U.S. Open win, a WGC title at Firestone and a playoff win at the BMW. Plus, Johnson leads the Tour with 14 top-10s and the lowest scoring average.

Day, however, could tilt the argument toward his side with a win at the Tour Championship. He has three titles of his own, including a wire-to-wire win at The Players.

And then there will be plenty of drama after the FedEx Cup champion is crowned. Davis Love III will announce his final pick on NBC during halftime of Sunday Night Football.

World No. 7 Bubba Watson is (probably) the favorite, but Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Ryan Moore all have strong cases to make the U.S. team.

From a muddy picture, we'll finally find some clarity Sunday night.


1. In Gee Chun took the phrase “winning in style” to a whole new level Sunday at the Evian. First, she won her second major title by four strokes, joining fellow countrywoman Se Ri Pak as the only players to make their first two LPGA wins majors. Second, Chun finished 21 under par, breaking the record for the lowest 72-hole total in a men’s or woman’s major championship. She beat the women’s record by two strokes and topped Day (2015 PGA) and Henrik Stenson (2016 Open Championship) by one stroke.

Chun also continued the streak of South Korean women winning at least one major title to an impressive six years. South Koreans have also won 11 of the last 22 majors, and Inbee Park has a gold medal, too.

2. Chun can not only rest easy with a new trophy to add to her collection, but Sunday also allows her to completely move on from a bizarre incident earlier this season. In March, Ha Na Jang’s father lost control of his luggage on an escalator at the Singapore airport and his suitcase struck Chun. She admitted Sunday the incident had more of an impact on her than she initially let on. Chun missed a month with injuries to her back and pelvis, and the media attention the incident brought on Jang and Chun caused them both a lot of stress.

“It was an inner struggle,” Chun said Sunday. “I just had to keep it quiet inside, but I had to go through all those hard times, not being able to mention anything about my injury and my hurt and pain.”

3. For the second weekend in a row, an emerging star earned a PGA Tour card. Last week, Bryson DeChambeau won the first Web.com Tour Finals event in a playoff over Andres Gonzales. And on Sunday, Andrew “Beef” Johnston finished fourth to earn his card for the 2016-17 season. Johnston has become one of the breakout stars of the year after he said he was planning on getting “hammered” after winning the Spanish Open. He did. And then he tied for eighth at the Open. Beef has earned scores of fans along the way.

And now along with DeChambeau and Gonzales (half man, half amazing), PGA Tour fans will have three new players to root for next year who not only have colorful personalities, but also plenty of game.



4. Maybe it’s a perfect storm of fun personalities, but the Web.com Finals has been surprisingly entertaining this year. Like a lot of golf fans, I do miss the old Q-School, but there is no doubt the four-event series is a better product for TV. It may not be as intense as Q-School, but there is something on the line every weekend at a Web.com event, and that wasn't always used to be the case.

5. European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke had to love what he saw at the Italian Open. Masters champion Danny Willett finished second and pushed winner Francesco Molinari the whole way. Outside a third-place finish at the BMW PGA, Willett hasn’t been in contention much since his win at Augusta. But a T-12 at the European Masters and a runner-up in Italy has Willett trending in the right direction ahead of Hazeltine.

6. Molinari’s win likely won’t be remembered as one of the better finishes of 2016, but it should be. There is always something compelling about watching someone try to win their national open. And with Willett applying the pressure, Molinari nearly folded. But he hit a spectacular recovery shot on 18, punching an iron around a tree and splitting two bunkers to reach the green in regulation. Molinari’s reaction after he holed the winning putt said it all about how much this victory meant.

7. Day’s health will once again be under the microscope this week. He withdrew during the final round of the BMW as a precautionary measure after experiencing back pain.

He also dealt with back pain at the WGC Match Play, when he was able to play through it and win. But this is certainly a troubling sign for a guy who is only 28 years old. Day doesn’t go half-speed on any shot, and it appears those violent swings are already catching up.

8. Something that should ease the pain is the new contract Day reportedly signed with Nike. Day will continue to use TaylorMade equipment, but he will be wearing a Nike swoosh. Nike announced last month is was getting out of the equipment business, but it would still focus on making apparel. By signing Day, Nike is making a statement that while it may not be designing drivers, it will still have a big presence in the game.

9. It’s time to do something I rarely do – disagree with Jack Nicklaus. Nicklaus repeated his opinion this week that we’re making too big a deal about the Ryder Cup, and we should focus more on the spirit of the event and not who wins and loses.

Maybe the Golden Bear was right. Maybe the task force was overkill (OK, it was), but I think the teams have struck the right balance between fierce competition and sportsmanship. Yes, there will likely be some prickly moments between the teams next week, but by the end of the night there will also likely be some glorious social media posts after the two sides get together to celebrate another great Ryder Cup.

10. While Watson, Thomas, Berger and Moore are just a few of the names Love has to choose from Sunday night, don’t rule out Jim Furyk. Mr. 58 and the U.S. vice-captain was practicing over the weekend with the American squad at Hazeltine, according to Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte.

Love told Furyk not to put his clubs away after he failed to qualify for the last two playoff events, so he’s definitely still a contender for the final spot. But on a team with only one rookie, it seems logical Love would look to inject some youth on the U.S. team.

Golf’s version of Bigfoot was spotted not once but twice last week … Yes, it’s Anthony Kim!

The three-time Tour winner showed up Monday at a charity event in Plano, Texas, for former pro basketball player Nancy Lieberman and was seen again on Friday at an event for his alma mater, Oklahoma.

Kim has been battling injuries and recovering from surgeries for the better part of four years. In an interview last year, he didn't rule out a potential return to the PGA Tour. So here’s hoping this isn’t the last we’ll see of the former Ryder Cup star.

This week's award winners ... 

Best Way to Start Your Round: Jamie McLeary resumed his second round at the Italian Open on Saturday morning at the par-3 10th, and it only took one swing for him to have a very nice day. McLeary made a hole-in-one and won a brand new Mercedes. It just so happens his daughter has been asking for a convertible. Boom, done.

You’re Joking, Right? When asked how he would celebrate securing his PGA Tour card, Johnston smiled and said he might have “a few sodas.” He could only keep a semi-straight face for so long before saying, “Nah, there's going to be a few beers, man!''

Trash-Talking Advice From FLOTUS: Steph Curry admitted he lost a match to President Barack Obama, and the NBA star said the Commander-in-Chief’s trash talking got under his skin. Fortunately, Curry got some advice on "The Ellen DeGeneres Show” from First Lady Michelle Obama, who was co-hosting during Curry’s appearance.

The key, she said, was to go after the president’s ears by saying, "the shadow from your ears is really messing up my putt."

No, Beef, Don’t Do It!

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.