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Monday Scramble: Just getting started

By Will GrayJanuary 22, 2018, 4:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood dazzles, Jon Rahm outlasts, Phil Mickelson falters, Rory McIlroy starts the year on the right foot and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

He didn't hit a single shot on Sunday, but the biggest winner of the weekend may have been Thomas Bjorn.

That's because the burly Dane watched one potential European Ryder Cup stud after another either lift a trophy or show significant signs of promise.

First it was Sergio Garcia cruising to victory in Singapore, then Tommy Fleetwood's stirring rally in Abu Dhabi. By the time Jon Rahm finished off the CareerBuilder Challenge in the waning daylight, the European skipper likely had a grin plastered from ear to ear.

There will be countless ebbs and flows of momentum before the first shot is struck at Le Golf National, but this week proved once again that the Americans won't be the only ones sporting some serious depth at the biennial matches.


1. The most dazzling display Sunday came from Fleetwood, who successfully defended his title in Abu Dhabi thanks to an absolutely unconscious back nine.

The Englishman was five shots back when he made the turn, but six birdies over his final nine holes turned that deficit into a two-shot win.

It was in Abu Dhabi last year that he sparked a career turnaround, winning the event en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. He turned up once again this year with ample confidence and a new wedding ring, and the results were much the same.

He doesn't have the star power of some of his contemporaries, but it's becoming increasingly clear that Fleetwood can more than hold his own against even the best in the game.

2. Hours before Fleetwood caught fire, it was Garcia rolling to a five-shot win in Singapore to complete the transition from tournament headliner to tournament champion.

Garcia was just days removed from his 38th birthday and making his first start with a full bag of Callaway clubs. But he showed no signs of offseason rust or equipment adjustment while capturing his second worldwide win since slipping into his green jacket.

The Spaniard has certainly enjoyed the fruits of his Masters victory nine months ago, but it's apparent that he has no plans to rest on the laurels of last spring.



3. He didn't leave Abu Dhabi with the trophy, but McIlroy may have found something more lasting: confidence.

It was in his first start last year that McIlroy injured his rib and plummeted into a vicious cycle of attempted rehabs and ill-fated comebacks. This time around, he came out of the gates with a relaxed swagger en route to a tie for third.

As Ryan Lavner wrote, it was an ideal beginning to a big year for McIlroy, who has already offered up the notion that 2018 could be the busiest season of his career as he chases the final leg of the career Grand Slam and a return to golf's upper echelon.

After the first leg of a two-week stay in the Middle East, that plan is off to a promising start.

4. Let's take a moment to marvel at McIlroy's record in Abu Dhabi, where he has done everything but win the tournament.

In his last nine appearances, McIlroy has finished fifth or better eight times. That stretch includes four runner-up results and now two straight T-3 finishes.

There remain two equally remarkable factors to McIlroy's run: the fact that he somehow hasn't managed to lift the trophy (yet), and the lone outlier: a missed cut in 2013 after his celebrated switch to Nike.



5. With darkness rapidly encircling the Coachella Valley, Rahm managed to shake off Andrew Landry and capture his second career PGA Tour victory.

Rahm's 20-foot birdie on the fourth playoff hole proved the difference in Palm Springs, where he entered as the highest-ranked player in the field and supported that status with his stout play.

Rahm barely took his foot off the gas, both across the difficult closing stretch at PGA West and during the playoff when he sent one approach after the next hurtling toward the pin. It's the fourth worldwide win in less than a year for Rahm, who continues to outpace even the rosiest of projections for his burgeoning career.

6. The win moves Rahm past Jordan Spieth to world No. 2, making him the fourth-youngest player to ever reach such heights.

One year ago, the Spaniard was ranked 137th in the world. His win at the Farmers Insurance Open the following week altered his trajectory, and he now finds himself only one rung away from the top of the ladder.

While so much focus has been (deservedly) heaped upon players like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, perhaps it's Rahm who has the best chance to eventually unseat world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. He'll have a chance to chip into that deficit this week as he defends his title at Torrey Pines.



7. Speaking of Torrey Pines, it's officially Farmers Insurance Open week which means that Tiger Woods watch is about to kick off in earnest.

It's something of a tradition to see Woods strolling the fairways of the South Course, where he has won eight times including the 2008 U.S. Open. But this week will bring heightened expectation following Woods' better-than-anticipated return from injury last month at the Hero World Challenge.

Granted, Torrey Pines is a far cry from the forgiving fairways of Albany. But if Woods is able to put together two solid rounds and make the cut, it should be seen as a step in the right direction.

Of course, for all of Woods' success in San Diego, it's also the place where he struggled with chipping yips prior to a withdrawal in 2015 and missed the cut last year in his final official PGA Tour start of the year. So his results this time around might be anyone's guess.

Ken Duke is one of the bona fide nice guys on Tour, and he proved it this weekend in Palm Springs.

Duke is playing off past champion status this season, and he unsuccessfully petitioned tournament officials at the CareerBuilder Challenge for a sponsor invite. With 156 players in the field, Duke was the odd man out at No. 157 and relegated to first alternate status.

He didn't get into the tournament proper, but Duke was willing to step in when Corey Pavin's first Tour start since 2015 ended with a withdrawal after just 17 holes. Because of the tournament's pro-am format, Pavin's amateur partner was left without a pro for the next two rounds.

So in came Duke to play what amounted to a 36-hole pro-am, an effort of good faith to help an event that couldn't find room for him at the start of the week:

It's not often you see a pro compete where his score only counts for his amateur partner. But such was Duke's situation this week, and kudos to him for handling it with class.

This week's award winners ...


Unusually Short Stay: Phil Mickelson. Lefty has become a regular in Palm Springs, but three shaky rounds left him with his first missed cut in this event since 1994 - a few months before Rahm was born.

Nice Job, Kid: Sungjae Im. The 19-year-old Korean joined Jason Day as the only two teenagers to win on the Web.com Tour, as Im shot a final-round 65 to win the season opener in the Bahamas.

A for Effort: Andrew Landry. Landry put up a stellar fight in Palm Springs, holing a birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff and going shot-for-shot with Rahm for nearly an hour. He came up short in his effort to win for the first time, but Landry certainly has plenty of positive takeaways from his week in the desert.



On the Disabled List: Brooks Koepka. The reigning U.S. Open champ is out for the next couple months because of a torn ligament in his wrist, with hopes of returning before the Masters. The diagnosis comes after Koepka finished last at both the Hero World Challenge and Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Still the Bridesmaid: Ross Fisher. The Englishman now has 14 runner-up finishes on the European Tour after he coughed up a late lead to Fleetwood. It's been a resurgent year for Fisher, including nine top-10s and three runner-ups in his last six starts. But he's still looking for his first win in nearly four years.

More Euro Momentum: Not to be outshone by Fleetwood and McIlroy, Matthew Fitzpatrick (T-3) and Thomas Pieters (T-5) both started the year on the right foot in Abu Dhabi. Both men were at Hazeltine two years ago, and expect one (or both) to factor on the team in Paris this fall.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Bill Haas. A two-time winner and the all-time leading money-winner in Palm Springs, Haas never factored and eventually missed the cut. Honorable mention here goes to 2014 champ Patrick Reed who also stayed home on Sunday.

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Watch: Highlights from Tiger's Friday 71 at Honda

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 23, 2018, 8:12 pm

Tiger Woods got caught in the Bear Trap on Friday, but bit back with a late birdie to sign for 1-over 71 on a difficult day at PGA National, where he sits four off the lead heading into the weekend at the Honda Classic.

Woods started at even par in Round 2 and began Friday with a bogey at the par-4 second, before getting that stroke back with a birdie at the par-4 fourth:



Following four consecutive pars, Woods birdied the par-4 ninth to turn in 1-under 34.



At 1 under for the tournament, Woods was tied for 10th place, three off the lead, when he began the back nine at PGA National. He remained there with this enthusiastic par save at the par-4 11th.

Tiger poured in three more pars at was just two off the 3-under pace when he rinsed his tee shot at the par-3 15th, leading to a double bogey. He dropped another shot and fell to 2 over when he three-putted 16.

But he wouldn't leave the Bear Trap at a total loss. At the diabolical par-3 17th, Woods wowed the jam-packed stands with a flagged 5-iron iron and a 12-foot putt for birdie, pulling him back to plus-1 for the week.

Woods would go on to par the closing hole, leaving him in a tie for 14th with two rounds to play.

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Defending champ Fowler misses cut at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 23, 2018, 7:14 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The roles might be reversed this weekend for Rickie Fowler.

Last year, when he won at PGA National, Fowler was greeted behind the 18th green by Justin Thomas, one of his Jupiter neighbors. Thomas had missed the cut in his hometown event but drove back to the tournament to congratulate Fowler on his fourth PGA Tour title.

It’s Fowler who will be on the sidelines this weekend, after missing the Honda Classic cut following rounds of 71-76.  


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


“I haven’t been swinging it great the last month and a half,” he said afterward. “Obviously playing in the wind, it will pick you apart even more.”

After a tie for fourth at Kapalua, Fowler has missed two of his last three cuts. In between, at the Phoenix Open, he coughed up the 54-hole lead and tied for 11th.

Fowler said he’s been struggling with commitment and trust on the course.

“It’s close,” he said. “Just a little bit off, and the wind is going to make it look like you’re a terrible weekend golfer.”

Asked if he’d return the favor for Thomas, if he were to go and win, Fowler smiled and said: “Of course.”  

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 7:00 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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Cut Line: Woods still eyeing Ryder Cup dual role

By Rex HoggardFebruary 23, 2018, 6:57 pm

In this week’s edition, Jack Nicklaus makes the argument, again, for an equipment rollback, Tiger Woods gets halfway to his Ryder Cup goal and Paul Lawrie laments slow play ... in Europe.

Made Cut

Captain’s corner. Last week Tiger Woods coyly figured he could do both, play and be a vice captain for this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team. On Tuesday, he made it halfway to his goal.

U.S. captain Jim Furyk named Woods and Steve Stricker vice captains for this year’s matches, joining Davis Love III on the team golf cart.

Whether Woods will be able to pull off the double-header is now largely up to him and how his most recent comeback from injury progresses, but one way or another Furyk wanted Tiger in his team room.

“What Tiger really has brought to the table for our vice captains is a great knowledge of X's and O's,” Furyk said. “He's done a really good job of pairing players together in foursomes and fourball. When you look at our team room and you look at a lot of the youth that we have in that team room now with the younger players, a lot of them became golf professionals, fell in love with the game of golf because they wanted to emulate Tiger Woods.”

Woods is currently 104th on the U.S. points list, but the qualification process is designed for volatility, with this year’s majors worth twice as many points. With Tiger’s improved play it’s not out of the question that he gets both, a golf cart and a golf bag, for this year’s matches.

#MSDStrong. Every week on Tour players, officials and fans come together to support a charity of some sort, but this week’s Honda Classic has a more personal impact for Nicholas Thompson.

Thompson graduated from nearby Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and last week’s horrific shooting there inspired the former Tour member to work with tournament organizers and find a way to help the victims.

Officials handed out 1,600 maroon ribbons to volunteers to honor the victims; and Thompson and his wife, who is also a Stoneman Douglas graduate, donated another 500 with the letters “MSD” on them for players, wives and caddies.

Thompson also planned to donate 3,100 rubber bracelets in exchange for donations to help the victims and their families.

“I’m not much of a crier, but it was a very, very sad moment,” Thompson told PGATour.com. “To see on TV, the pictures of the school that I went through for four years and the area where it occurred was terrible.”

The Tour makes an impact on communities every week, but some tournaments are more emotional than others.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Golden moment. Jack Nicklaus has never been shy about expressing his thoughts on modern equipment and how far today’s professionals are hitting the golf ball, but this week the Golden Bear revealed just how involved he may be in what is increasingly looking like an equipment rollback of some sort.

During a recent dinner with USGA CEO Mike Davis, Nicklaus discussed the distance debate.

“Mike said, ‘We’re getting there. We’re going to get there. I need your help when we get there.'” Nicklaus said. “I said, ‘That’s fine. I’m happy to help you. I’ve only been yelling at you for 40 years.’ 1977 is the first time I went to the USGA.”

The USGA and R&A are scheduled to release their annual distance report before the end of the month, but after the average driving distance jumped nearly 3 yards last year on Tour – and nearly 7 yards on the Web.com Tour – many within the equipment industry are already bracing for what could be the most profound rollback in decades.

Stay tuned.

Geographically undesirable. Although this will likely be the final year the Tour’s Florida swing is undercut by the WGC-Mexico Championship, which will be played next week, the event’s impact on this year’s fields is clear.

The tee sheet for this week’s Honda Classic, which had become one of the circuit’s deepest stops thanks to an influx of Europeans gearing up for the Masters, includes just three players from the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking, and none from top three. By comparison, only the Sony Open and CareerBuilder Challenge had fewer top players in 2018.

On Monday at a mandatory meeting, players were given a rough outline of the 2018-19 schedule, which features some dramatic changes including the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players shifting back to March, and numerous sources say the Mexico stop will move to the back end of the West Coast swing and be played after the Genesis Open.

That should help fields in the Sunshine State regain some luster, but it does nothing to change the fact that this year’s Florida swing is, well, flat.


Missed Cut

West Coast woes. Of all the highlights from this year’s West Coast swing, a run that included overtime victories for Patton Kizzire (Sony Open), Jon Rahm (CareerBuilder Challenge), Jason Day (Farmers Insurance Open) and Gary Woodland (Waste Management Phoenix Open), it will be what regularly didn’t happen that Cut Line remembers.

J.B. Holmes endured the wrath of social media for taking an eternity - it was actually 4 minutes, 10 seconds - to hit his second shot on the 72nd hole at Torrey Pines, but in fairness to Holmes he’s only a small part of a larger problem.

Without any weather delays, Rounds 1 and 2 were not completed on schedule last week in Los Angeles because of pace of play, and the Tour is even considering a reduction in field size at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open to avoid similar schedule issues.

But all this seems to miss the point. Smaller fields aren’t the answer; rules that recognize and penalize slow play are the only solution.

Tweet of the week: @PaulLawriegolf (Paul Lawrie) “Getting pretty fed up playing with guys who cheat the system by playing as slow as they want until referee comes then hit it on the run to make sure they don't get penalized. As soon as ref [is] gone it’s back to taking forever again. We need a better system.”

It turns out slow play isn’t a uniquely Tour/West Coast issue, as evidenced by the Scot’s tweet on Thursday from the Qatar Masters.