Monday Scramble: Home sweeter for McIlroy than Spieth

By Will GrayMay 23, 2016, 4:20 pm

Rory McIlroy wins his national Open, Sergio Garcia returns to the PGA Tour winner's circle, Jordan Spieth remains erratic, Phil Mickelson writes a check and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Well, that was emphatic.

McIlroy could only sit idly by in recent months as Jason Day racked up trophy after trophy en route to the top spot in the world rankings. McIlroy was contending, sure, but his top-10s and top-15s often came without a serious chance for victory in the final round.

That trend changed in a hurry at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, where McIlroy dazzled fans by winning his national Open, simultaneously reminding us all that he's one of the best in the business when his game is on.

It was already a big week for McIlroy, whose eponymous foundation sponsored the event for the second straight year. But needing to find something down the stretch to distance himself from Russell Knox, McIlroy uncorked a pair of fairway-wood bombs that few players can author.

From 271 yards and 253 yards, McIlroy first found the green, then knocked an approach within a few feet for a tap-in eagle on the final hole.

They're shots we've seen him hoist at places like Kiawah, Valhalla and Hoylake. They're also shots that will make the season's second major even more tantalizing should he be able to reproduce them at Oakmont.

Day remains No. 1, and rightfully so, but when McIlroy reaches his potential as he did during those closing holes, it's hard to see many weaknesses in his game.

1. The timing of the win could not be any better for McIlroy, who like many top-ranked players is gearing up for a hectic summer. McIlroy won the season-ender in Dubai in November, but it's been more than a year since his last PGA Tour victory and last week he was overshadowed by Day's wire-to-wire win.

But with many big events on the horizon, there's a good chance McIlroy is only just beginning. On multiple occasions - including last May - the Ulsterman has turned one win into two (or three) within a few weeks' time.

2. Last year, McIlroy pledged to donate all of his Irish Open winnings to his charitable foundation, and he promptly missed the cut at Royal County Down.

This time around, things went a little more according to plan, as McIlroy will hand over 666,660 euros - about $750,000 - to charity.

It's a noble gesture, but it's also an indication of just how important this event is to McIlroy, who badly wanted to make up for last year's early exit.

"I don't really get emotional when I win, but I was holding back tears there," McIlroy said. "To play like that and finish like that, with all of my family and friends watching, was just so special."

3. Mid-day Sunday, it appeared all of the stars were aligning. One week after Day took home the PGA Tour's flagship event, McIlroy won in front of partisan crowds and Spieth appeared ready to do the same back home in Texas.

But for Spieth, a game that had been held together with chewing gum and bobby pins couldn't survive the crucible of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

The dreaded two-way miss, the one Spieth alluded to throughout the week, reared its ugly head early and often. Spieth was never able to get his ball-striking on track, and his trusty putter failed to bail him out. Despite hearty support from the partisan crowds, he trailed by five shots by the time he made the turn, ultimately finishing T-18.

"It was an off round," Spieth said. "Just didn't really get anything going and kind of stinks, you know, given I had a chance here at a hometown event."

If anything, Spieth's stagger toward the finish line both here and in Augusta show how special - and rare - his 2015 form was.

4. If Spieth's week could be summed up in one word, it would be "frustrated." He spoke both at TPC Sawgrass and before the Nelson began about trying to relax, have more fun and return to an easy-going nature inside the ropes.

But his performance this week was chock full of on-course strife as he said he was some variation of frustrated after each competitive round.

Talking to the ball, dramatic post-shot reactions, the "me vs. we" debate with caddie Michael Greller. They all came off as endearing idiosyncrasies last year when all the putts were falling, but in recent weeks as Spieth has struggled to get his season back on track, they appear to be only fueling his fire of frustration.

It's a trend he'll likely take another shot at reversing this week, as he heads across the Metroplex for more fun at Colonial.

5. While Spieth didn't leave Dallas with a new trophy, as the photo above indicates, Garcia did. The Spaniard captured the Nelson title in a playoff over Brooks Koepka that was over before it started.

Garcia's ninth PGA Tour win in 301 starts tied Seve Ballesteros for the most ever by a Spaniard, and it also continued his affinity with the Lone Star State.

A third of Garcia's U.S. hardware has come in Texas, as his first win was at Colonial in 2001 and he also won the Nelson in 2004, when the tournament's namesake handed him the trophy.

6. While Garcia's victory was well-earned after a closing 68,  it begs the question - why doesn't he win more, especially in the States?

After all, Garcia has played at least 15 events every year since 2000. And while he racked up six wins in a four-year span from 2001-05, this is his first win since 2012 and just his second PGA Tour title since his breakthrough victory at the 2008 Players.

Garcia is a global player with a stockpile of trophies outside the U.S., but he has not won here at the rate of similarly elite players over the past decade.

Whatever the reason, it certainly hasn't been from a lack of effort - or chances. Garcia, for his part, took a philosophical approach after the playoff.

"I guess nowadays I realize that obviously winning is amazing, it's great, it's unbelievable, but it's not the only thing in the world," he said. "When I'm out there I'm trying my hardest, but if it doesn't come out, you know, I try to take it as the best way possible. Some weeks are better than others."

7. Garcia's gain was Koepka's loss, as the American surrendered a three-shot lead down the stretch and promptly rinsed his first shot in the sudden-death playoff.

Koepka's burly game seems ideally suited for TPC Four Seasons, but like Spieth, he professed to be scraping it around over the weekend. A lack of control showed up at the worst possible time for Koepka, who bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 before making a mess of the only hole of overtime.

While golf fans were treated to a display early in the morning as McIlroy grabbed the proceedings by the throat at the K Club, the Nelson turned into a pillow fight down the stretch as players faltering near the lead far outweighed those making a run up the standings.

Count Koepka among that former group after he failed to notch a single back-nine birdie. Although the 26-year-old will surely contend again somewhere soon, three-shot leads don't come around during the final round that often.

8. McIlroy and Garcia shining, combined with the ball-striking struggles of both Spieth and Koepka, again highlighted the fact that top Americans haven't been keeping pace with their European counterparts in recent weeks as the Ryder Cup looms.

In fact, the last American to win a PGA Tour event while ranked inside the OWGR top 50 remains Bubba Watson - who won the Northern Trust Open way back on Feb. 21.

9. Phil Mickelson made national headlines last week without hitting a shot, as his name was tied to a federal case on insider trading.

This was the culmination of a two-year investigation by the SEC, and while Mickelson's attorney said his client was "vindicated" that no criminal charges were brought against him, Mickelson will have to write a check for a little more than $1 million - the profits, plus interest, from a quesitonable 2012 stock transaction.

Given the choice, Mickelson would've probably written the check months ago in order to make the situation disappear. But now he'll have to deal with the scrutiny from being linked to such a case - and perhaps some extra scrutiny from the Tour after the SEC filing detailed that he owed money to a noted sports gambler, Billy Walters, at the time that Walters supplied MIckelson with the stock tip in question.

10. Mickelson was also tied to another high-profile story last week, as he might be the last Champion Golfer of the Year to be crowned at Muirfield for some time. Mickelson won there in 2013, but the Honourary Company of Edinburgh Golfers voted Thursday not to allow the club's first female members through the doors.

That's certainly their prerogative as a private institution, but it's a choice that prompted the R&A to quickly pull the course from its Open Championship rota. Hopefully, at some point in the near future, the club can be dragged into the 21st century and the claret jug can once again be handed out on its famed links.

One ball in the water from close range? Fine. Chalk it up to a stiff back and no warm-up.

But two, and then three in a row?

In the span of a couple minutes, Tiger Woods turned media day at the Quicken Loans National into a bit of a sideshow, unable to flip a wedge 80-some yards across a pond.

And while there are some fervent truthers who insist he rinsed those shots on purpose as part of some sort of long-range public relations scheme, the far more likely scenario for Woods is that the equity created with recent public appearances at Sage Valley and Bluejack National quickly unraveled.

Woods' cryptic comments about his prognosis certainly didn't help his cause, and calls for a return to action next week at Memorial, followed by the U.S. Open, have grown rather faint.

Instead, we're left to wonder whether we'll see Woods compete at all this season.

This week's award winners ... 

The beat rolls on: Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin. That's the entire list of players with more PGA Tour Champions majors than Bernhard Langer after the German cruised to another victory at the Regions Tradition, his sixth major on the over-50 circuit. Memo to Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and others: there is, in fact, life after anchoring.

No island in sight: Russell Knox nearly took home the title in Ireland, one week after he was pantsed on national television by the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. While the Scot came up a couple shots short, he still earned his second worldwide runner-up in his last three starts. It won't be long before he has his hands on another trophy.

Twice as nice: What better way to follow your maiden victory than by winning the your next start? That's what Ariya Jutanugarn did, chasing her first LPGA win with another at the Kingsmill Championship. At 21, she continued the incredible youth movement this year on the LPGA, which has yet to crown a winner who was born before 1992.

Tears of joy: After a birdie on the 72nd hole in Ireland, journeyman Matthew Southgate hugged his caddie, then broke down in tears. It made for an emotional scene as the moment overtook Southgate, a survivor of testicular cancer who, after a fourth-place showing at the K Club, clinched his European Tour card for next season. It also showed the magnitude of the battle many players wage, far from the spotlight, simply to maintain their status.

At least there will still be plenty of flags: McIlroy's triumph in Ireland will make his absence this week from the BMW PGA Championship all the more noticeable. With Justin Rose missing the European Tour's flagship event because of a bad back and Ian Poulter opting for Colonial instead of Wentworth, the tournament could be in for one of its weakest fields in years.

Check, please: With his team facing a sudden-death playoff for a spot in the NCAAs, former U.S. Amateur champ Gunn Yang jarred a 7-iron from 218 yards for an albatross on the first extra hole. That's one way to help your team punch its ticket to Eugene.

Put down the mic: Esteemed commentator Peter Alliss supported the result of the vote against female members at Muirfield, saying, "If somebody wants to join, well, you'd better get married to somebody who's a member." It's the latest in a series of questionable remarks from Alliss, 85, who has been the voice of golf for generations on the BBC but who could benefit from a bit more forward thinking.

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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda fired eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record at the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand

Korda, who is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda, leads fellow American Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.

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McIlroy, Scott have forgettable finish at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 22, 2018, 11:03 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rory McIlroy and the rest of his group had a forgettable end to their rounds Thursday at the Honda Classic.

McIlroy was even par for the day and looking for one final birdie to end his opening round. Only two players had reached the par-5 finishing hole, but McIlroy tried to hold a 3-wood up against the wind from 268 yards away. It found the water, leading to a double bogey and a round of 2-over 72.  

“It was the right shot,” McIlroy said. “I just didn’t execute it the right way.”

He wasn’t the only player to struggle coming home.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Adam Scott, who won here in 2016, found the water on both par 3s in the Bear Trap, Nos. 15 and 17. He made double on 15, then triple on 17, after his shot from the drop area went long, then he failed to get up and down. He shot 73, spoiling a solid round.

The third player in the group, Padraig Harrington, made a mess of the 16th hole, taking a triple.

The group played the last four holes in a combined 10 over.