Monday Scramble: Scott survives; Monster mashes McIlroy

By Will GrayMarch 7, 2016, 5:00 pm

Adam Scott keeps on winning, Rory McIlroy runs out of steam, Tiger Woods holds court, Bubba Watson has another close call and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Adam Scott appears plenty comfortable in the winner's circle.

One week after edging out Sergio Garcia at the Honda Classic, Scott survived a rocky finish to claim his second title in as many weeks, this time at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. The Aussie had gone all of 2015 without a victory, but with two wins under his belt - not to mention a runner-up finish last month at the Northern Trust Open - Scott has stamped his name as one of the Masters favorites.

In one impressive fortnight, Scott has put to bed any question of his post-anchoring viability. Still equipped with one of the sweetest swings on Tour, he now appears back to the form that helped him don a green jacket and took him to No. 1 in the world less than two years ago.

Sure, it wasn't entirely pretty. But few rounds are on the Blue Monster, and when Scott needed to hole a putt coming down the stretch, his stroke never wavered. Eighteen putts faced inside 10 feet during the final round, 18 putts right on target.

Add another trophy to the mantle.


1. Much of the attention surrounding Scott's recent success may center on his putter, but his win in Miami had roots in some terrific iron approach shots. Of the seven birdies he made during the final round, Scott's longest make was only 9 feet - a stark contrast to the scorecard of his closest competitor, Bubba Watson, who was holing putts from Hialeah for much of the afternoon.

With Rory McIlroy wavering in the middle of his round, Scott grabbed the tournament by the throat with a trio of timely approaches:

  • 169 yards to 2 feet, 7 inches on No. 11
  • 140 yards to 5 feet, 2 inches on No. 12
  • 141 yards to 3 feet on No. 14

That trifecta turned a one-shot deficit into a two-shot lead, and Scott would need all the cushion he could afford coming down the stretch.

2. "Ugly and good, all in 18 holes." That's how Scott described his final-round 69, a round that included equal parts blunder and brilliance. There were birdies, sure, but there were also two early double bogeys that seemingly took him out of contention and a bizarre shank from the bunker on No. 16 that nearly cost him the tournament.

Scott's impeccable tee-to-green game has been on full display these last two weeks, but so too has his resiliency. He seemed to have things well in hand at PGA National before a third-round quad brought a half-dozen players back into the mix, and this time he found trouble after watery approaches on Nos. 3 and 5. But just like last week, he kept his composure and battled back.

If the test of a champion is determined by how he handles adversity, consider Scott to have passed with flying colors.

3. Despite a strong round, Scott nearly watched his hopes of winning disappear beneath the surface of the water that guards the 18th green. His approach to the final green was bold - almost too bold - as clinging to a one-shot lead, he hit a cut around a palm tree to a narrow target. But the shot sailed long and left, bounding over the green and toward the lake.

Recalling memories of Fred Couples' famed shot from the 1992 Masters, Scott's ball snagged just enough in the Bermuda rough to stop inside the hazard but short of the water. The subsequent pitch and 6-footer gave him a win by the narrowest of margins.

"When you're that lucky," he said afterward, "you'd better get it up and down."

4. Scott's victory moves him up to No. 6 in the latest world rankings, which means of course that we need to widen the range on "Golf's Big (insert number)." Right?

Perhaps Scott's recent hot streak can demonstrate once and for all that that narrative is played out. If the success of Spieth, McIlroy and Day last summer caused fans to harken back to the halcyon days of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player, that's fine. But let's not continue to move the goalposts, reacting to every victory by adding another seat at the table of golf's elite.

Welcome to 2016, where any number of strong and talented players can win an event against a world-class field, or even two in a row. Sorry that such a landscape doesn't lend itself well to a hashtag.



5. You'll only hear this about 1,392 more times before the Masters, but Watson has finished second at Doral in 2012, 2014 and now 2016. Those first two instances, of course, saw him fitted with a green jacket a few months later.

Whether Watson will make it 3-for-3, adhering like the San Francisco Giants to strong play in even-numbered years, remains to be seen. But his play this week at Doral, coupled with his convincing win last month at Riviera, show that he is peaking just in time to make that trip down Magnolia Lane.

6. While Watson has bombed his way around the rebuilt Blue Monster each of the last three years, it was actually his putter that proved to be his most valuable asset during the final round. Sparked by a 61-foot eagle bomb on No. 8, Watson made more than 158 feet worth of putts Sunday, easily his best putting effort of the week.

The pink driver, fancy footwork and 300-yard bombs of "Bubba Golf" get plenty of attention, and rightfully so. But it's Watson's deft touch on and around the greens that tends to turn his good weeks into great ones.

His short game was on at Riviera. It was on at Doral, especially Sunday. If it remains in shape leading into the Masters, he will be tough to beat.



7. Speaking of tough to beat, what exactly happened to the McIlroy coronation that was scheduled for Sunday?

McIlroy began the day with a three-shot cushion and a strong record as a 54-hole leader. His lead reached four shots early in the fourth round, and it seemed like we could be heading for a Rory Romp the likes of which we have seen before at places like Congressional and Hazeltine.

Instead, McIlroy began to sputter, and ultimately stalled out. There was a sloppy approach on No. 7, a water ball on No. 8, another bogey on No. 9 and all of a sudden McIlroy was in chase mode. By the time he rolled in a birdie on No. 16, his first of the day, the damage was done and the tournament all but lost.

The week as a whole was a bit of a mixed bag for McIlroy, who was seeking momentum after a missed cut at Honda and created headlines with his surprising switch to a cross-handed putting grip. It didn't work at first, then it worked really, really well, and then things kind of fizzled as the tournament slipped away - a similar pattern to his result at the Northern Trust Open.

Give McIlroy an "incomplete" for this week as he continues his quest to gain traction before the Masters.

8. The player who joined McIlroy in third place? That would be Danny Willett, whose record in WGC events since last season goes as follows: T-12, third, T-17, T-3, T-3.

Throw in a T-6 finish at St. Andrews when Willett held the 36-hole lead, and it's clear the Englishman belongs on the world stage. He'll be a name to watch both for the Masters and at the WGC-Dell Match Play before that, depending on when his first-born arrives, and American fans should prepare themselves for the notion that he'll probably go about 4-1 in his Ryder Cup debut later this year at Hazeltine.

9. Lost amid McIlroy's final-round falter was the mutilated scorecard of his playing partner, Dustin Johnson. Johnson began the day three shots off the pace, still with a chance to successfully defend his title, but those chances went up in flames when DJ played Nos. 10-13 in 7 over en route to a 79.

It's just the latest in a string of weekend melts from Johnson, a trend we saw last year at St. Andrews and Firestone but which dates back to Pebble Beach in 2010. When he's on, Johnson is really, really good. But when the going gets rough, things tend to go south in a hurry.

Johnson's mental toughness has been an oft-debated subject, perhaps never more so than in the aftermath of Chambers Bay, but he clearly has the fortitude to win consistently on Tour. Still, there's reason to suspect that if Johnson had mirrored Scott's final-round start of 3 over through five holes, he would've been much more likely to head for the exit than the winner's circle by day's end.



9. Tiger's back! Well not exactly, but Tiger Woods' lengthy press conference at his newly-minted Bluejack National outside Houston was a much more welcome sight than the somber offering he gave at the Hero World Challenge in December.

When Woods will return to competition remains anyone's guess, but the former world No. 1 showed a little spring in his step earlier this week while fielding questions and putting his way around a couple of the shots on the 10-hole short course at Bluejack. Perhaps it's another shining example of "underpromise and overdeliver," but after the way Woods closed out 2015, fans and media alike are left to clamor for any shred of hope he might be able to offer.

This week it came in the form of some toothy grins from a director's chair, accompanied by several vague answers about his health and prognosis that amounted to upbeat shoulder shrugs. Hey, we'll take what we can get.



11. Can we make every week include a celebratory dance from the LPGA's latest sensation, Ha Na Jang? Can she, for instance, start adding Instagram videos of her reaction to a well-cooked dinner?

Jang notched her second win of the year at the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore, and after a surprising "lasso" move to celebrate her victory at the Coates earlier this season, the Korean stepped up her game by channeling Beyonce with a move from the "Single Ladies" music video.

The reason for her song choice?

"I am single right now, too," she said.

Refreshing and light-hearted candor from a player LPGA fans should keep an eye on, and one whose appeal commissioner Michael Whan would be wise to market to a broader audience.

12. Speaking of Whan, his resurrection of the LPGA took another big step this week when the organization formed a "strategic alliance" with the PGA Tour. While the details of the new, budding partnership have yet to be sorted out, it's still a boon for the women's game to be formally tied to the biggest brand in golf.

Should it someday lead, as some have theorized, to some sort of combined-field event, we could look back at this week as the beginning of a truly significant shift in the game.

It's tough to upstage Tiger at the christening of one of his own golf course designs, but 11-year-old Taylor Crozier managed to do it. Inaugural tee shot at The Playgrounds, a 10-hole short course at Bluejack National, and Crozier promptly cards a 1.

No sweat for a grizzled vet like Taylor, though, who calmly walked back to his bag to replace his club before getting a bearhug from the Big Cat.

News, notes and observations from the past week ... 


Donald Trump is an avid golfer, and he even used part of a campaign speech over the weekend to reference his prowess off the tee (which he measured at 280 yards). It's odd, then, that Trump would use the time following his much-ballyhooed arrival on-site Sunday to interrupt the pre-round routine of some of the tournament leaders, including McIlroy and Johnson, for some light banter.

Certainly a bit of an etiquette faux pas from Trump, as both players likely would've preferred to keep to their strict warm-up schedule. The fact that both went on to implode after chatting with the resort's owner was surely a coincidence. Right?

It was a rough week for Steven Bowditch, but the Aussie still managed to pocket a cool $48,000 despite failing to break 80 on the Blue Monster. His 37-over total not only left him in last place, but he was 14 shots worse than Kristoffer Broberg in 64th.

Bowditch's scores of 81-80-80-84 left researchers scrambling for the record books of futility, as a pair of 80-plus scores rarely affords a Tour pro a third-round tee time. But the WGCs are no-cut events, which meant the Aussie had two more days to spin his wheels.

With two wins to his credit, Bowditch is no hack and his performance shouldn't be used as a referendum to change the rules of WGC tournaments. Instead, it should serve as a cautionary tale for how big of a punch Trump's place can pack, even against an elite player.

No one ran the scoring gamut at Doral quite like K.T. Kim. Kim's weekend in Miami included two eagles, three doubles, an 11-hole stretch without a single par and a tidy 10 on No. 10 during the final round. It added up to a tie for 42nd at 6 over for the Korean, but hey - at least he got his money's worth.



Another strong finish for Phil Mickelson, who ended up alone in fifth place in Miami. Lefty built a three-shot lead at one point early in the week, and while he faded a bit from there it's still another promising result on the heels of his runner-up at Pebble Beach and T-3 finish in Palm Springs. Mickelson will win a tournament before the season finishes. Book it.

Punters, take note of Smylie Kaufman's T-8 finish after four straight sub-par rounds in his Doral debut. The rookie has more than found his footing after a surprise win in Las Vegas, and he now has four top-25 finishes in seven starts since January along with a spot inside the OWGR top 50. Any list of Masters sleepers would do well to include the former LSU standout.

A middling week for the world No. 1, as Jordan Spieth finished T-17 but never really factored. He'll head north up I-75 to defend his title in Tampa, where he may feel the pressure of pre-Masters expectations begin to mount should he once again fail to find his groove.

The latest course architecture seminar was hosted by reigning Rookie of the Year Daniel Berger, who bristled at the Blue Monster scorecard that included the 227-yard fourth hole and the 238-yard 13th:

I mean, he's not wrong.

This week's dose of nightmare fuel comes from Spieth and Justin Thomas, who may or may not be friends and who joked prior to their shared third-round tee time about the loser possibly shaving his head:


 

 


A parting shot to the artist formerly known as Doral, which has hosted a PGA Tour event in some form every year since 1962. With Cadillac's title sponsorship - not to mention the presidential aspirations of the resort's owner - leaving things in limbo, that streak may be in jeopardy.

While the course has undergone a pair of noticeable facelifts in recent years, it has been a staple of the circuit for decades and a means by which the Tour could plant its flag in the golf-rich market of South Florida.

As one who used to skip school to watch as Skip Kendall took the 18-hole lead seemingly every year at the old Doral Ryder Open, I'll certainly miss the Blue Monster when (if?) it leaves the schedule.

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Stock Watch: Strange grumpy; Tiger Time again?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 23, 2018, 1:00 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): This should put his whirlwind 17 months in the proper context: Rahm (38) has earned four worldwide titles in 25 fewer starts – or a full season quicker – than Jordan Spieth (63). This kid is special.

Tommy Fleetwood (+7%): Putting on a stripe show in windy conditions, the Englishman defended his title in Abu Dhabi (thanks to a back-nine 30) and capped a 52-week period in which he won three times, contended in majors and WGCs, and soared inside the top 15 in the world.

Sergio (+3%): Some wholesale equipment changes require months of adjustments. In Garcia’s case, it didn’t even take one start, as the new Callaway staffer dusted the field by five shots in Singapore.

Rory (+2%): Sure, it was a deflating Sunday finish, as he shot his worst round of the week and got whipped by Fleetwood, but big picture he looked refreshed and built some momentum for the rest of his pre-Masters slate. That’s progress.

Ken Duke (+1%): Looking ahead to the senior circuit, Duke, 48, still needs a place to play for the next few years. Hopefully a few sponsors saw what happened in Palm Springs, because his decision to sub in for an injured Corey Pavin for the second and third rounds – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard – was as selfless as it gets.


FALLING

Austin Cook (-1%): The 54-hole leader in the desert, he closed with 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. Oy.

Phil (-2%): All of that pre-tournament optimism was tempered by the reality of his first missed cut to start the new year since 2009. Now ranked 45th in the world, his position inside the top 50 – a spot he’s occupied every week since November 1993 – is now in jeopardy.

Careful What You Wish For (-3%): Today’s young players might (foolishly) wish they could have faced Woods in his prime, but they’ll at least get a sense this week of the spectacle he creates. Playing his first Tour event in a year, and following an encouraging warmup in the Bahamas, his mere presence at Torrey is sure to leave everyone else to grind in obscurity.

Curtis Strange (-5%): The two-time U.S. Open champ took exception with the chummy nature of the CareerBuilder playoff, with Rahm and Andrew Landry chatting between shots. “Are you kidding me?” Strange tweeted. “Talking at all?” The quality of golf was superb, so clearly they didn’t need to give each other the silent treatment to summon their best.

Brooks Koepka (-8%): A bummer, the 27-year-old heading to the DL just as he was starting to come into his own. The partially torn tendon in his left wrist is expected to knock him out of action until the Masters, but who knows how long it’ll take him to return to game shape.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:

Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft

Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts

Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red

Ball: TaylorMade TP5x

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.

While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.

As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.

Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.

And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.

And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.

McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.

The Ryder Cup topped his list.

Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.

When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.

“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”



McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.

Or similar assertions from TV analysts.

“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”

European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.

And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.

The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.

Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.

And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.

Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.

The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.

The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.

More bulletin board material, too.

Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.