Monday Scramble: Fireworks at the finish

By Will GrayAugust 21, 2017, 3:45 pm

Iowa shines in the Solheim spotlight, the Americans easily keep the cup, the season's final event on the PGA Tour provides plenty of drama and the U.S. Amateur goes down to the wire with an all-time finish. All that and more in this edition of Monday Scramble:


If birdies and hole-outs by the truckload are your thing, this was a week to remember.

From the antics of "the Brittanys" at the Solheim Cup to the card-saving theatrics of the Wyndham Championship and Doc Redman's memorable rally to capture the U.S. Amateur, this was an instance where tournaments and status were not lost. They were actively won, gains taken by players who boldly attacked and were rewarded accordingly.

It's not going to be the case everytime. Just last week at Quail Hollow we saw a course where par was a good score, and often times trophies are decided by untimely three-putts rather than makes from across the green.

Part of the allure of golf is that the delineation between dreamer and achiever can often seem faint. Amateurs can sit at home watching pros struggle with certain situations and nudge their buddy with a hint of "been there, done that."

But Sunday, across the country, some of the best men and women in professional and amateur golf reminded all of us just how good they can be when the stakes are at their highest. And they did so by pulling off shots the rest of us know little about.


1. There was no concession drama, no epic Sunday comeback. But the Solheim Cup was still the best spectacle in golf this week, and by a pretty wide margin.

Lofty expectations were assigned well before the two teams set foot on Des Moines Country Club, and the course - and area - lived up to the hype. From first-tee antics to dancing captains, fans in costumes to players walking in putts, the scene was electric.

Iowa doesn't have a pro sports team, and the Hawkeye football team isn't expected to turn heads this fall. But Des Moines had this one circled for a while, and they delivered in a big way. It's another storied chapter in the history of an event whose scope on the global golf landscape continues to grow.

2. Juli Inkster had a Hall of Fame playing career, but she somehow seems even more comfortable patrolling the fairways as a captain.

Two years after rescuing her team from a third straight loss in Germany, Inkster pressed all the right buttons. She ably deflected any pressure her team may have faced as favorites defending the trophy on home turf. She was fierce when she needed to be fierce, and loose when the moment called for it.

Management of the pod system went off without a hitch, as did her handling of rookies Angel Yin and Austin Ernst and the scrutinized inclusion of Paula Creamer.

After a dominating performance and a second straight win, Inkster should be afforded the captaincy for as long as she wants it.

3. The final margin was five points, but this year's Solheim should be remembered for two matches.

The Saturday fourball between Brittany Lang-Brittany Lincicome and Carlota Ciganda-Mel Reid was the stuff they write movies about. Six straight birdies from Lincicome, a hole-out eagle from Lang, and a dogged Euro pair who still pushed the match to the last hole.

The two teams combined to shoot 22 under, which seemed impressive until Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist met in Sunday's singles. Nordqvist was the MVP for Annika Sorenstam's shorthanded squad, and she played like it early on until Thompson caught fire. In a seven-hole span, she made four birdies and two eagles to flip the match on its head.

It ended in a draw, a fitting conclusion to the best match of the day that recalled memories of the duel between Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson last year at Hazeltine.



4. Henrik Stenson went to the Wyndham Championship on a whim, and he left with his first win in the U.S. in nearly four years.

Stenson added the Greensboro stop to make sure he'd play at least 15 events in order to keep his PGA Tour status and avoid a pitfall that has cost Martin Kaymer some time and will put Danny Willett into a penalty box next season. What the Swede found was an old-school layout where he could leave driver at home and still thrive.

The first win after a major can sometimes prove to be an interesting hurdle. Stenson has played plenty of good golf since lifting the claret jug at Royal Troon, but he he was still without a victory until Sunday. With four tied for the lead down the stretch, Stenson turned on the heat with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, including a 27-footer on the penultimate hole to (nearly) put things on ice.

Miles from Sedgefield, Phil Mickelson probably cracked a knowing grin.

5. The only man that appeared able to go toe-to-toe with Stenson was Ollie Schniederjans, yet another member of the storied Class of 2011 who undoubtedly will win soon on the PGA Tour.

Schniederjans sticks out as the only guy in most tournament fields without a hat, but his game got plenty of attention in the final round - especially when he hit a torpedo of a driving iron off the 18th tee that seemingly never left the ground but still trundled 341 yards downhill.

The former Georgia Tech standout now has five top-10 finishes this season and enters the playoffs with a great chance to reach the Tour Championship. Don't be surprised if he picks up a trophy on his way to East Lake.

6. The annual bubble watch at Wyndham certainly didn't lack any drama this year.

While four players cracked the top 125 in the season's final event, it was the manner in which they made their climbs that was noteworthy. Martin Flores essentially needed an ace on the 70th hole, and he got it. Rory Sabbatini came to the same green a few minutes later and holed a putt from Winston-Salem.

Even J.J. Henry had a hand in the theatrics, stuffing his final approach to 6 feet for a birdie that edged him past Zac Blair for coveted spot No. 125 by a single point.

More often than not, we'll see players crumble under the pressure of a 72-hole crucible where they know that every poor shot or a missed cut could cost them a job next year. Credit to this year's party crashers for thriving amid difficult circumstances.



7. Rory McIlroy will be in the field this week at Glen Oaks, which is a somewhat surprising turn of events given his comments at Quail Hollow.

McIlroy has clearly been frustrated by his inability to shake a rib injury that has already sidelined him twice this year. After closing out the season's final major he didn't rule out the possibility that he might shelve it for the whole year. Instead, he'll return to begin defense of his FedExCup title, with friend Harry Diamond still on the bag, after consulting with doctors in Northern Ireland.

This won't be a year to write home about for McIlroy, and a few good rounds in New York or Boston likely won't change that as his stated focus last week was on Augusta in April - not Atlanta in September. At this point, any efforts that aren't pointed toward hitting the ground running in 2018 might not be the best use of his time.

8. Even with McIlroy's inclusion, the 125-man field for The Northern Trust (formerly The Barclays, and not to be confused with the Northern Trust Open, which is now the Genesis Open ... got all that?) has been trimmed to 120.

Adam Scott was an an expected absence with the birth of his second child, while Sergio Garcia skipping a postseason event is nothing new. Brandt Snedeker ended his season last week, while No. 115 Dominic Bozzelli's is effectively over with his withdrawal. No. 85 Scott Piercy, who hasn't played since June, will also be absent at Glen Oaks.



9. There may not have been a seven-figure check on the line, but the theatrics Redman showed in mounting a last-gasp comeback to win the U.S. Amateur at Riviera were nonetheless riveting.

Down two with two holes to play, the rising sophomore calmly rolled in a 60-foot eagle putt on No. 17, stuffed his approach to the famed 18th, rolled in that putt to force overtime and then nearly drove the green on the tricky par-4 10th. How many Tour pros would kill for that series of shots each February?

Poor Doug Ghim seemed shell-shocked, and rightfully so. There was little he could have done to prevent the Redman onslaught, as a man who needed to survive a 13-for-8 playoff on the 10th hole Wednesday just to make the match-play portion of the tournament etched his name on the Havermeyer Trophy four days later.

10. A thrilling comeback means Redman will basically be able to plan a PGA Tour schedule around his classes at Clemson next year. Should he remain an amateur, he can expect to receive spots in each of the first three majors of 2018, plus invites to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament and Quicken Loans National. He'll also have a leg up on snagging a "Champions' Choice" sponsor invite to Colonial.

Not bad for a guy who still won't be able to legally drink next spring in the Crow's Nest.

11. Let's pause for a moment to reflect on Ghim, who played a masterful match through 34 holes and then was undone by a single tee shot in overtime. This is the second time the Texas senior has carred a 1-up lead into the 36th hole of a USGA final, and both times he's come up short.

Ghim is a talented prospect, and he landed a spot (alongside Redman) on the Walker Cup despite the loss. At least he can take additional comfort in knowing that as runner-up he'll still receive invites to the Masters and U.S. Open next year.


Schniederjans nearly took down Stenson with one hand tied behind his back. Sort of.

While making his charge up the leaderboard at Sedgefield over the weekend, Schniederjans drew some funny looks over how he executed from short range. On close putts, he would take his right hand off the club entirely at impact, essentially implementing a one-handed follow-through.

It may look unconventional, but it certainly didn't hold him back down the stretch. It's also not the craziest thing we've seen a PGA Tour pro attempt with putter in hand.

Captain knows best: Creamer and Catriona Matthew both filled in admirably this week as injury replacements, each going 3-1 for their teams. Inkster especially took some flak for naming Creamer to replace Jessica Korda, but the choice was ultimately vindicated - just as it was two years ago in Germany.

Too much to overcome: The Euros were already facing an uphill battle before losing Suzann Pettersen to injury. Pettersen was at the center of the storm back in '15, and while she embraced her role as assitant, her on-course fire would've been helpful - especially as Sorenstam's squad fought to find its footing early in the week.

Family first: With two weeks left in the Web.com Tour season, Martin Piller sat at No. 26 on the money list with the top 25 getting PGA Tour cards. But rather than tee it up in Knoxville, he opted to go to Iowa to support wife Gerina at the Solheim Cup. He'll head into the season finale in Portland at No. 27, about $12,000 behind No. 25 Beau Hossler as he seeks a promotion.

Even major winners tremble: Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 U.S. Open winner who entered the Wyndham No. 125 on the points list and saved his card with a T-16 finish: "There's a level of tension and stress in your body that's on a different level when you're in that position."

See you in Columbus: Familiar names facing a trip to Web.com Tour Finals after missing out on the FedExCup top 125: Sam Saunders, Ryan Palmer, Ricky Barnes, Johnson Wagner, Ben Crane, Retief Goosen and Boo Weekley.

To the victor go the spoils: Notables who finished outside the top 125 but will remain exempt next year thanks to recent wins on Tour: Shane Lowry, Billy Hurley III, Graeme McDowell, Smylie Kaufman, Greg Chalmers and Matt Every.

Decent rotation: After finishing up at one of the best courses on Tour in Riviera, the U.S. Amateur will shift to Pebble Beach next year, followed by Pinehurst No. 2 in 2019 and Bandon Dunes in 2020. Not too shabby.

Too much secret ballot: Ryan Lavner's stance on the subject is worth your time, but the USGA's insistence on using a super-secret formula to pick the Walker Cup team is one of the biggest head-scratchers from an organization that has produced a few in recent memory. Until the policy changes, they'll come under fire for it every two years - and rightfully so.

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The Tiger comeback just got real on Friday

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 1:11 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Slow play was a big storyline on the PGA Tour’s West Coast swing, but not so much anymore.

Not with Tiger Woods speeding things up Friday at the Honda Classic.

Not with Woods thumping the gas pedal around PGA National’s Champion Course, suddenly looking as if he is racing way ahead of schedule in his return to the game.

The narrative wondrously started to turn here.

It turned from wondering at week’s start if Woods could make the cut here, after missing it last week at the Genesis Open. His game was too wild for Riviera, where a second-round 76 left him looking lost with the Masters just six weeks away.

It turned in head-spinning fashion Friday with Woods climbing the leaderboard in tough conditions to get himself into weekend contention with a 1-over-par 71.

He is just four shots off the lead.

“I’d be shocked if he’s not there Sunday with a chance to win,” said Brandt Snedeker, who played alongside Woods in the first two rounds. “He’s close to playing some really, really good golf.”

Just a few short months ago, so many of us were wondering if Woods was close to washed up.

“He’s only going to improve,” Snedeker said. “The more time he has, as the weather gets warmer, he’ll feel better and be able to practice more.”

Snedeker has had a front-row seat for this speedy Tiger turnaround. He played the third round with Woods at the Farmers Insurance Open last month. That was Woods’ first PGA Tour start in a year.


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How much improvement did Snedeker see from that Torrey Pines experience?

“It was kind of what I expected – significantly improved,” Snedeker said. “His iron game is way better. His driver is way better. I don’t’ see it going backward from here.”

This was the hope packed into Friday’s new narrative.

“I’m right there in the ballgame,” Woods said. “I really played well today. I played well all day today.”

Tiger sent a jolt through PGA National when his name hit the top 10 of the leaderboard. He didn’t do it with a charge. He did it battling a brutish course in wintry, blustery winds, on “scratchy” and “dicey” greens that made par a good score.

When Woods holed a 25-foot putt at the ninth to move into red numbers at 1 under overall and within three shots of the lead, a roar shook across the Champion Course.

“It got a little loud, which was cool to see,” Snedeker said. “It’s great to have that energy and vibe back.”

Woods sent fans scampering to get into position, blasting a 361-yard drive at the 10th, cutting the corner. He had them buzzing when he stuck his approach to 9 feet for another birdie chance to get within two of the lead.

“I thought if he makes it, this place will go nuts, and he could get it going like he used to,” Snedeker said.

Woods missed, but with the leaders falling back to him on this grueling day, he stuck his approach at the 12th to 10 feet to give himself a chance to move within a shot of the lead.

It’s another putt that could have turned PGA National upside down, but Woods missed that.

“It really is hard to make birdies,” he said. “At least I found it hard. It was hard to get the ball close, even if the ball is in the fairway, it's still very difficult to get the ball close, with the wind blowing as hard as it is. It’s hard to make putts out here.”

Patton Kizzire, a two-time PGA Tour winner who won just last month at the Sony Open, could attest to how tough the test at Honda has become. He played alongside Woods this week for the first time in his career. He shot 78 Friday and missed the cut.

Kizzire had a close-up look at what suddenly seems possible for Woods again.

“He’s figuring it out,” Kizzire said. “He hit some nice shots and rolled in some nice putts. It was pretty impressive.”

Woods could not hide his excitement in getting himself in the weekend hunt, but his expectations remain tempered in this comeback. He knows the daily referendums his game is subject to, how we can all make the highs too high and the lows too low.

“We’ve got a long way to go,” Woods said.

Woods lost a tee shot in a bush at the second hole and made bogey. He hit his tee shot in the water at the 15th and made double bogey. He three-putted the 16th to make bogey. He knows this course can derail a player’s plans in a hurry, but he knows his game is quickly coming around.

“I’m right there where I can win a golf tournament,” Woods said. “Four back on this golf course with 36 holes to go, I mean, anybody can win this golf tournament right now. It’s wide open.’”

Woods hit his shot of the day at the 17th to right his game after the struggles at the 15th and 16th. He did so in front of the Goslings Bear Trap Party Pavilion, cutting a 5-iron to 12 feet. It was the hardest hole on the course Friday, with nearly one of every three players rinsing a shot in the water there. Woods made birdie there to ignite an explosion of cheers.  He got a standing ovation.

“I was telling you guys, I love Riviera, I just don't play well there,” Woods said. “So here we are, we're back at a golf course I know and I play well here.”

So here we are, on the precipice of something special again?

Woods seems in a hurry to find out.

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List, Lovemark lead; Tiger four back at Honda

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 12:41 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Even with a tee shot into the water for another double bogey, Tiger Woods could see the big picture in the Honda Classic.

He was four shots out of the lead going into the weekend.

Luke List delivered a round not many others found possible in such difficult conditions Friday, a 4-under 66 that gave him a share of the lead with Jamie Lovemark (69). They were at 3-under 137, the highest score to lead at the halfway point of the Honda Classic since it moved to PGA National in 2007.

So bunched were the scores that Woods was four shots out of the lead and four shots from last place among the 76 players who made the cut at 5-over 145. More importantly, he only had 13 players in front of him.

''This is a difficult golf course right now,'' Woods said. ''Making pars is a good thing. I've done that, and I'm right there with a chance.''

And he has plenty of company.


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Tommy Fleetwood, who won the Race to Dubai on the European Tour last year, scratched out a 68 and was one shot out of the lead along with Webb Simpson (72), Russell Henley (70) and Rory Sabbatini (69).

Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger each shot 72 and were in a large group at 139. They were among only 10 players remaining under par.

Fleetwood laughed when asked the last time he was at 2 under after 36 holes and only one shot out of the lead.

''Maybe some junior event,'' he said. ''It's good, though. These are the toughest test in golf. Generally, one of the best players prevail at the end of weeks like this. Weeks like this challenge you to the ultimate level. Whether you shoot two 80s or you lead after two rounds, you can see what you need to do and see where your game is. Because this is as hard as it's ever going to get for you.''

The difficulty was primarily from the wind, which blew just as hard in the morning when List shot his 66 as it did in the afternoon. More aggravating to the players are the greens, which are old and bare, firm and crusty. It's a recipe for not making many putts.

Defending champion Rickie Fowler had six bogeys on his front nine and shot 77 to miss the cut.

''It's unfortunate that the greens have changed this much in a year,'' Fowler said. ''They typically get slick and quick on the weekend because they dry out, but at least there's some sort of surface. But like I said, everyone's playing the same greens.''

It looked as though List was playing a different course when he went out with a bogey-free 32 on the back nine, added a pair of birdies on the front nine and then dropped his only shot when he caught an awkward lie in the bunker on the par-3 seventh.

''It's very relentless,'' List said. ''There's not really too many easy holes, but if you hit fairways and go from there, you can make a few birdies out there.''

List and Lovemark, both Californians, have never won on the PGA Tour. This is the third time List has had at least a share of the 36-hole lead, most recently in South Korea at the CJ Cup, where he shot 76-72 on the weekend.

''It's kind of irrelevant because there's going to be 30 guys within a couple shots of the lead,'' List said. ''It's going to be that type of week.''

He was exaggerating – there were 11 players within three shots of the lead.

And there was another guy four shots behind.

Woods brought big energy to a Friday afternoon that already was hopping before he overcame a sluggish start and holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 9 to make the turn at 1 under for his round, and leaving him two shots out of the lead. Everyone knew it just from listening to the roars.

Woods had his chances, twice missing birdie putts from inside 10 feet at Nos. 10 and 12, sandwiched around a 12-foot par save. His round appeared to come undone when he found the water on the 15th and made double bogey for the second straight day.

Then, he hit out of a fairway bunker, over the water and onto the green at the dangerous 16th hole and faced a 65-foot putt. He misread the speed and the line, so badly that it was similar to a car driving from Chicago to Denver and winding up in Phoenix. A bogey dropped him to 2 over.

The big moment was the 17th hole, 184 waters into the wind and over water. That's where Rory McIlroy made triple bogey earlier in the day that ruined his otherwise solid round of 72, leaving him seven behind. Making it even tougher for Woods is the Brandt Snedeker hit 5-iron before him to about 6 feet. Woods got to the tee and the wind died, meaning 5-iron was too much and 6-iron wouldn't clear the water.

He went with the 5-iron.

''I started that thing pretty far left and hit a pretty big cut in there because I had just too much stick,'' Wood said.

It landed 12 feet below the hole for a birdie putt.

Thomas made 17 pars and a double bogey when he three-putted from 6 feet on No. 16. He felt the same way as Woods.

''I'm in a good spot – really good spot – going into this week,'' Thomas said.

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Woods to play with Dufner (12:10 p.m.) in third round

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 12:10 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods will play alongside Jason Dufner in the third round of the Honda Classic.

Woods and Dufner, both at 1-over 141, four shots back, will tee off at 12:10 p.m. ET Saturday at PGA National. They’re in the 10th-to-last group.


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Co-leaders Luke List and Jamie Lovemark will go at 1:40 p.m.

Some of the other late pairings include Justin Thomas and Daniel Berger, who will be playing together for the third consecutive day, at 1 p.m.; Louis Oosthuizen and Thomas Pieters (1:10 p.m.); and Webb Simpson and Russell Henley, in the penultimate group at 1:30 p.m.

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Woods doesn't mind 'fun' but brutal 17th hole

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 23, 2018, 11:55 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods doesn’t mind the boisterous crowd that surrounds the par-3 17th hole at PGA National.

And why should he?

When the wind died down Friday afternoon, Woods played a “big ol’ cut” with a 5-iron that dropped 12 feet from the cup. He made the putt – one of just nine birdies on the day – and when he walked off the green, the fans gave him a standing ovation.

The scene is expected to be even more raucous Saturday at the Honda Classic, especially with Woods in contention.

There is a Goslings Bear Trap tent just to the right of the tee. The hole has become a hot topic in recent years, after a few players complained that the noise from the nearby crowd was distracting as they tried to play a wind-blown, 190-yard shot over water.


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Woods was asked his thoughts on the party setup after finishing his second-round 71.

“As long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, we’re fine,” he said. “They can be raucous. They are having a great time. It’s fun. They are having a blast, and hopefully we can execute golf shots, but as long as they don’t yell in our golf swings, everything’s cool.”

After the recent Waste Management Phoenix Open, a few players told Woods that fans were trying to time their screams with the players’ downswings.

“There’s really no reason to do that,” Woods said. “I think that most of the people there at 17 are golfers, and they understand how hard a golf shot that is. So they are being respectful, but obviously libations are flowing.”

The 17th played as the most difficult hole on the course Friday, with a 3.74 scoring average and a combined score to par of 104 over. More than a quarter of the tee shots found the water.