Monday Scramble: A little old, a little new

By Will GrayJanuary 22, 2017, 11:38 pm

Phil Mickelson returns to action, Tiger Woods draws one step closer to his 2017 debut, Donald Trump brings his clubs to the White House and, oh yeah, there was another 59. All that and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Adam Hadwin joined some exclusive company with his third-round 59 at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and he received plenty of well-wishes as a result. But one day later, the 29-year-old Canadian was unable to convert his eye-popping round into some hardware.

Eight players have now broken 60 during a PGA Tour round, and Hadwin becomes the fourth who didn't win (Jim Furyk did so twice, including after his record-setting 58 last summer). What makes Hadwin's case study more interesting is that he is the only member of the sub-60 club to shoot his score before ever winning on Tour.

Hadwin finished second in Palm Springs, unable to catch a streaking Hudson Swafford down the stretch. It's a career-best finish, and it may spark a breakthrough season. But they don't hand out two-year exemptions for shooting 59, and Hadwin doesn't have any past champion status as a fallback for when the streak runs cold.

There are worse thought associations than "that guy who broke 60," but Hadwin can't afford to rest on his laurels. If he does, he could someday be telling his 59 story on the first tee at Tour Finals.

1. Hadwin's round, including a record-tying 13 birdies, came just one week after Justin Thomas cracked 60 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But before we plot a full-on rebellion against the state of the game and the advancement of equipment, let's take a peek at the schedule.

It doesn't seem like there will be anyone challenging 60 on the revamped North Course at Torrey Pines this week, let alone the beastly South Course where lush rough after recent rains will make par an admirable goal.

2. While Hadwin came up short, Swafford used a trio of late birdies to notch his first career win at age 29. It's another victory for a prolific stable of recent University of Georgia grads, one that includes the likes of Harris English, Russell Henley and Chris Kirk.

It also caps a remarkable run of good-not-great consistency from Swafford. Dating back to The Players Championship, he had made 18 straight cuts but also failed to record a top-10 finish.

Suffice it to say, that top-10 drought is a thing of the past as Swafford will now have plenty of UGA support when he makes his Masters debut this spring.

3. If looking for a player who could have a Swafford-like breakthrough in the next couple weeks, look no further than Charles Howell III. His results since November: T-15, T-7, T-13, T-8, T-12. I hear there's a tournament coming up in his hometown...

4. Tournament officials rejoiced when Mickelson confirmed that he would, in fact, be teeing it up in the California desert despite a pair of sports hernia surgeries in the offseason.

Yes, Lefty was rusty, especially during a third-round 73 during which he shot himself out of contention. But a T-21 finish was more than respectable for a an aging veteran who admitted he was just trying to play his way into shape.

He'll face a much sterner test this week in San Diego, but Mickelson's appearance at CareerBuilder was a no-risk, low-pressure opportunity to make some birdies and build some confidence. In other words, the type of start that a certain 14-time major champ might benefit from.

5. Mickelson also made headlines last week with his debut of the "Jumping Phil" logo on his apparel, an homage to the lasting image from his 2004 Masters triumph and a hint at a project he said he's not yet ready to discuss.

The public relations tactic was vintage Mickelson, but it accomplished the goal of getting people talking. It also showed that while Mickelson remains highly competitive inside the ropes, the soon-to-be 47-year-old continues to bolster the business side of things for when he might someday hang up his clubs.

6. Donald Trump officially ascended to the highest office in the land Friday, and his golf clubs were likely among the items moved into the White House.

While many former presidents have played golf, including Barack Obama, none have been as active in the sport as is Trump, whose course in New Jersey will host the U.S. Women's Open this summer.

Trump's effect on the game while in the Oval Office remains to be seen, and he has a mark of 333 rounds as POTUS (across two terms) to out-play his predecessor. But despite his affinity for the game, one must wonder if some "alternative facts" went into the 2.8 handicap index he sports according to the USGA.

7. The European Tour came out swinging this week with some new Ryder Cup qualification rules. The keys: fewer minimum events next year, more points for tournaments closer to the biennial matches and one more captain's pick at Thomas Bjorn's disposal.

They are moves geared toward fielding the best possible 12-man squad next fall, but they also mark a curious audible for a side that has still won six of the last eight matches.

Top Europeans seemed to enjoy watching the Americans squirm under Task Force pressure over the past two years. Now, after a single defeat on the road, it's somewhat surprising to see the continental side look to re-invent the wheel.

8. Tommy Fleetwood's win in Abu Dhabi was the culmination of an impressive turnaround.

Just over two years ago, Fleetwood was battling to earn the final spot in the year-end OWGR top 50, a prize that would have given him access to all of the 2015 majors. He came up just short, and the spot went to another Englishman - Danny Willett. And, well, you know the rest.

While Willett thrived, Fleetwood nearly tumbled outside the top 200. But he started to turn it around in the fall, and now has the confidence of having beaten a star-studded leaderboard to kick off the new year.

9. Among those vanquished by Fleetwood was Dustin Johnson, who fought jet lag and still finished T-2 in his first tournament appearance.

While the reigning Player of the Year hasn't garnered many headlines, he's not exactly slowing down, either: T-3 in the Bahamas, T-6 in Maui and now a runner-up in the desert. He'll be back in the winner's circle soon enough.

10. Welcome to the latest Tiger Week.

Woods takes center stage in the Golden State, first at media day for the upcoming Genesis Open and then during his 2017 debut at the Farmers Insurance Open.

Woods largely exceeded expectations at last month's Hero World Challenge, but he still finished 15th out of a 17-man field. His next test is much more stern, as the generous fairways of Albany have been replaced with the lush rough of Torrey South.

Slated to play four of the next five weeks, this will mark the start of what is shaping up to be a pivotal stretch in Woods' career as he continues to seek a return to form.

11. Whenever Woods tees it up, the inevitable question follows: What quantifies a good performance?

In the Bahamas, simply suiting up for the full 72 was seen as somewhat of a victory. Having passed that test and having had another six weeks to practice, the next hurdle will be making the cut in a full-field event, with (at least) one round on a punishing track.

Yes, Woods has dominated Torrey South before, but those successes have little bearing on the current state of his game outside of a confidence boost. The birdies will come, especially on the North Course, but he'll do well to avoid the "others" that tended to derail his momentum at Albany.

12. It's been a rough stretch on the course for Steven Bowditch, but that doesn't mean the Aussie lost his sense of humor.

Bowditch finished T-58 in Palm Springs, his first made cut on the PGA Tour since June. Perhaps buoyed by the recent birth of his daughter, Bowditch found some form in the desert and kept the jokes coming all weekend long on Twitter:

Bravo, Bowdo.

Greg Eason is a good player who continues to have a rough go of it in the Caribbean.

Eason was a former college standout, but he was featured in this section a week ago thanks to rounds of 91-95 in the Tour opener in the Bahamas. Winds swirled and scores ballooned, but none moreso than Eason's as he lost 32 of the 36 balls he brought with him.

Now the Englishman is back in the Bahamas, but his second bite at the apple didn't go much better as he made a decuple-bogey 15 on the par-5 18th hole during his opening round Sunday at Abaco:

Tour officials confirmed it is the highest score in Tour history, but credit to Eason for continuing to grind. Here's hoping he rekindles his game once the circuit returns to the States.

This week's award winners ...

New Fan Favorite: Kiradech Aphibarnrat. The Thai sensation finished T-4 in Abu Dhabi, but not before admitting that his ambitious playing schedule was fueled in part by a desire to support his lavish spending on watches and shoes. Oh, and he owns 15 pairs of Yeezys.

What's In The Bag, A La Carte Edition: Swafford. Expect to see more of this in the coming months as more players continue to customize their sticks:

Thanks, But No Thanks: Paul Casey. A new rule beginning in 2018 states that any player who rescinds Euro Tour membership or doesn't play his minimum can't serve as a future captain or vice captain.

It means Casey, who compiled a 3-2-4 individual record from 2004-08 but was ineligible for last year's squad, likely won't don an earpiece anytime soon.

DJ Pelley On The 1s And 2s: Kudos to the European Tour for continuing to push the envelope, this time with music on the range and walk-up tunes in Abu Dhabi. They won't hit with every innovation, but deserve credit for the effort.

Has It Really Been That Long?: Martin Kaymer. A chance for a fourth Abu Dhabi title slipped away Sunday, as his worldwide victory drought continues to date back to his watershed win at the 2014 U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Ace With Style: Apparently the keys to making an ace are 1) playing a yellow ball, 2) wearing the loudest pants you own and 3) looking away immediately after impact:

Next Man Up: This goes to the NCAA, who smartly added a substitution rule for the match-play portion of the national championship. It may favor the bigger schools, but it ensures last year's unfortunate injury situation with Texas' Beau Hossler won't be repeated.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Jamie Lovemark. The perfect mesh of recent form and course history in Palm Springs, Lovemark promptly missed the cut by eight shots. Alas.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.