Monday Scramble: Follow the leaders

By Will GrayMay 22, 2017, 3:00 pm

Billy Horschel gets back in the winner's circle, Rory McIlroy heads back to the disabled list, Jordan Spieth abandons his trusty putter, Phil Mickelson beefs up his travel itinerary and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble: 

What a difference a week makes.

As The Players Championship wrapped up in his hometown, Horschel found himself dressed in street clothes and trying to put out a social media fire.

His club toss toward caddie Josh Cassell en route to a missed cut was deemed disrespectful by many, and Horschel offered to "clear the air" in a two-minute video on Twitter while Si Woo Kim cruised to victory.

Fast forward a few days and it was Horschel and Cassell celebrating on the 18th green at the AT&T Byron Nelson as the pair captured their first win together, and Horschel's first title since winning the season-long title in 2014.

Horschel wears his emotions on his sleeve when inside the ropes. It's a tendency that can sometimes raise eyebrows, but it's also one that kept him in the mix down the stretch against a formidable opponent.

Sure, it was a rather anticlimactic conclusion as Jason Day booted a short par putt. But lifting a trophy on Sunday afternoon is always better than digging through one's mentions.

1. The key to Horschel's resurgence in Irving can be found on the greens.

While he endured back-to-back three-putts on Nos. 12 and 13 to fall off the pace, Horschel dropped a 60-foot birdie on the very next hole - the longest make of his PGA Tour career and a shot that kept his victory hopes afloat.

It was a big chunk of the 453 feet worth of putts he made for the week, as he finished second among the field in putting after ranking 72nd entering the event.

This was the second playoff this season that ended on a short miss for Horschel: a three-putt ended his chances at the RSM Classic in November, while this time his opponent's miscue gave him the title.

2. While he missed out on his first win in more than a year - and fell victim to the classic "no three-putts this week" TV graphic jinx in overtime - Day showed that his world-class game has not deserted him.

The Aussie spent the weekend bombing drives around Las Colinas, and appeared to author the shot of the tournament with his chip-in birdie on No. 15. He ultimately needed one more birdie, and the runner-up was just Day's second top-10 finish since September.

As Dustin Johnson has entered a new stratosphere in recent months, it's been easy to lose sight of the elite level of his closest pursuers. But when he's on his game, Day's very much still got it - even if the trophy eluded him this time.

3. It was nearly a three-way playoff in Texas after James Hahn came inches from authoring one of the craziest shots in recent memory.

Hahn looked like an also-ran when he stood over his 122-yard approach on the final hole. But the ball landed just past the hole, spun back and lipped out for what would have been a tying eagle.

Instead, Hahn was left with an easy birdie, a solo third-place finish and a spot on the what-could-have-been highlight reel.

"I was looking at the green contour just before I hit it, and I knew it broke left," Hahn said. "When you're 120 yards out and it lips out, it's hard to be mad about it."

4. For all the theorizing that recent success can translate into future results, consider the run-up that Horschel and Hahn both had entering this week.

Horschel had missed four straight cuts and hadn't cracked the top 10 since the Honda Classic, while Hahn had missed two of his last three cuts and had seven straight results outside the top 40.

So don't beat yourself up if you left one (or both) off your fantasy lineups.

5. With the summer season about to heat up, Rory McIlroy is back on the disabled list. It's a troubling development, to say the least.

McIlroy has played in only six events this year, and it seems his health status has been hanging over his head for nearly every one. He was less than 100 percent two weeks ago at TPC Sawgrass, and now the rib injury that sidelined him in February has led to his withdrawal from this week's BMW PGA Championship.

McIlroy was expected to kick off a busy stretch of four events in five weeks at Wentworth, but now that's off the table. His statement focusing on the U.S. Open means his status for next week's Memorial Tournament is far from a sure thing.

If a conservative treatment plan is what's best to ensure McIlroy has a chance at the remaining three majors, especially the PGA Championship at one of his favorite venues, so be it. But we're inching closer toward a lost season for one of the world's best.

6. He didn't contend over the weekend, but Dustin Johnson still left Texas with a T-13 finish.

It was Johnson's third top-15 result in as many weeks, and perhaps more importantly it capped a three-week stretch without an injury flare-up or setback.

While the world No. 2 still can't shake his lingering ailment, the world No. 1 has clearly shown that the back injury that cost him a shot at the Masters is a thing of the past. Let the countdown to Erin Hills continue.

7. It was an unexpectedly early exit from the Nelson for hometown hero Spieth.

Spieth sprayed two balls out of bounds en route to a quadruple bogey on his 16th hole Friday and ultimately missed the cut by a shot in an event where his likeness was plastered around the course.

Spieth hasn't had much success at TPC Four Seasons, with his best result coming when he was a 16-year-old amateur. Still, the missed cut was his first here and came as a bit of a shock, especially on the heels of his trunk slam at The Players Championship.

But it's not all bad for Spieth: this week he defends at Colonial, and the last time he missed back-to-back cuts he bounced back to win the Tour Championship and season-long title two weeks later.

8. While Spieth's errant drives on No. 16 largely contributed to his missed cut, his decision to switch to a mallet putter at the start of the week certainly raised eyebrows.

What was even more surprising, though, was Spieth's continued efforts to downplay the switch.

"It's really not that big of a deal," Spieth said. "Guys switch putters every single week. It's nothing new. Just a new look for the time being."

That may be true, but it's a much bigger deal when you have risen to world No. 1 in large part on the greens and have used the same putter for each of your 12 professional wins. Spieth was uncomfortable on the greens at TPC Sawgrass, and the switch to a new weapon didn't yield the expected results in Dallas.

It'll be interesting to see what he has in the bag when he turns up at Colonial, but the putter choice is very much a story - whether Spieth likes it or not.

9. Don't be surprised if Bud Cauley nabs a breakthrough win sooner rather than later.

Cauley's last four starts: T-9 at RBC Heritage, T-10 at Valero Texas Open, T-5 at the Zurich Classic alongside Justin Thomas and T-5 at the Nelson.

Cauley was seen as a rising star when he first turned pro, but that ascent was hampered by injury. Now healthy, Cauley has shown that he is more than ready to contend with the big boys.

10. Golf fans can expect to see plenty of Phil Mickelson over the next month.

Mickelson made a flurry of tournament commitments last week, and now will play each of the next four events starting this week at Colonial and ending with the U.S. Open.

Lefty will turn 47 the day of the second round at Erin Hills, and it's certainly an unorthodox approach to end a four-week stretch with arguably the biggest event on his calendar. It's even more curious given that Mickelson eschewed practice rounds at TPC Sawgrass in an effort to conserve energy for the weekend.

Should Mickelson fail to contend in his bid to round out the career Grand Slam, his decision to add starts at a few extra starts leading into the season's second major may come under fire.

11. It won't give her the major title that the Mark Heard 'Round the World took away, but Lexi Thompson did well to bounce back and return to the winner's circle at the Kingsmill Championship.

Thompson shot 65 three times during the 72-hole event, won by five shots and eclipsed the tournament scoring mark previously held by Annika Sorenstam.

Much like the 2016 Masters dogged Jordan Spieth, the ANA Inspiration will remain an uncomfortable talking point for Thompson in the months to come. But with wins like that, she can help shift narrative away from ball marks and back to birdies.

The men's NCAA regional in Baton Rouge, La., gave us what will clearly be a finalist for WTH? Moment of the Year.

Jacksonville's David Wicks accidentally dropped his ball into a greenside hazard before putting out, and in order to avoid a penalty for failing to finish the hole with the same ball, he stripped down and dove into the lake in search of his ball.

He came up empty, and ultimately added two strokes to his score. But on the plus side, he avoided any gators lurking in the muddy water, and the Dolphins still advanced out of the regional.

A similar situation played out a few years ago at TPC Sawgrass, but Wicks had no caddie or trainer to send into the water in search of his lost ball.

On the surface, the rule as written is logical. But Wick's situation is the latest example that sometimes, the rule book could use a dose of common sense.

This week's award winners ... 

Slump Busters: Mike Weir and Brendon Todd. Weir made his first cut since November 2014 at the European Tour's Rocco Forte Open, while Todd had a final-round tee time for the first time in 26 starts in Dallas on the three-year anniversary of his lone PGA Tour win.

Back from the Abyss: Alvaro Quiros, who won a playoff in Sicily for his first win in six years. Quiros reached as high as No. 21 in the world in 2011 and played in every major from 2009-12, but he entered last week's event ranked No. 703 in the world and hadn't cracked the top 10 anywhere in more than a year.

Good Riddance: TPC Four Seasons at Las Colinas. After 35 years at one of the more wholly unremarkable venues on Tour, the Nelson will shift to just-opened Trinity Forest in 2018. Expect the novelty of a new venue to give the field strength a short-term boost.

We're Hitting From Where?: The NCAA introduced an artificial tee during the opening round of the women's team championship at Rich Harvest Farms. Given tough weather conditions, the alternative was reportedly a tee where many players would have struggled to carry a hazard off the tee. Perhaps that's true, but this was still a bad look as players struggled to get a tee in the ground.

Pot Meet Kettle: USGA chief executive Mike Davis, who Wednesday declared the "arms race" for ever-faster greens bad for the game of golf. The point is a good one, but it's a little rich coming from the organization that has made its mark for more than 20 years by annually pushing course conditions to the brink - and sometimes beyond.

Sunday Swoon: Sergio Garcia. After shooting himself out of contention with a final-round 78 on the Stadium Course, Garcia fired a third-round 64 at the Nelson only to balloon to a 74 on Sunday and fall off the pace. It's not a trend yet, but something to keep an eye on as the Spaniard prepares for Erin Hills.

Not a Fan: Alice Dye, who gave Golf Channel's Matt Ginella her reaction to the newly-revamped 12th hole at TPC Sawgrass. "It's an awkward hole," she said. "It doesn't fit the course. (Pete) OK'd it, but it's not a Pete Dye design."

Death, Taxes and ...: Bernhard Langer crushing the PGA Tour Champions. Langer won the first major of the year by five shots for his record-tying eighth major on the over-50 circuit. Check back next week when he inevitably snags major No. 9 at the Senior PGA.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Brooks Koepka. After losing a playoff last year and coming in hot this year, Koepka was in the mix at the halfway point only to shoot 70-74 over the weekend to plummet into a tie for 50th. Another One & Done pick down the drain.

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''