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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Monty grabs lead entering final round in season-opener

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 4:00 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Colin Montgomerie shot a second straight 7-under 65 to take a two-shot lead into the final round of the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 54-year-old Scot, a six-time winner on the over-50 tour, didn't miss a fairway on Friday and made five birdies on the back nine to reach 14 under at Hualalai.

Montgomerie has made 17 birdies through 36 holes and said he will have to continue cashing in on his opportunities.

''We know that I've got to score something similar to what I've done – 66, 67, something like that, at least,'' Montgomerie said. ''You know the competition out here is so strong that if you do play away from the pins, you'll get run over. It's tough, but hey, it's great.''

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

First-round co-leaders Gene Sauers and Jerry Kelly each shot 68 and were 12 under.

''I hit the ball really well. You know, all the putts that dropped yesterday didn't drop today,'' Kelly said. ''I was just short and burning edges. It was good putting again. They just didn't go in.''

David Toms was three shots back after a 66. Woody Austin, Mark Calcavecchia and Doug Garwood each shot 67 and were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was six shots back after a 67.

The limited-field tournament on Hawaii's Big Island includes last season's winners, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

''We've enjoyed ourselves thoroughly here,'' Montgomerie said. ''It's just a dramatic spot, isn't it? If you don't like this, well, I'm sorry, take a good look in the mirror, you know?''

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The missing link: Advice from successful tour pros

By Phil BlackmarJanuary 20, 2018, 1:24 am

Today’s topic is significant in that it underscores the direction golf is headed, a direction that has me a little concerned.

Now, more than ever, it has become the norm for PGA Tour players to put together a team to assist in all aspects of their career. These teams can typically include the player’s swing coach, mental coach, manager, workout specialist, dietician, physical therapist, short-game guru, doctor, accountant, nanny and wife. Though it often concerns me the player may be missing out when others are making decisions for them, that is not the topic.

I want to talk about what most players seem to be inexplicably leaving off their teams.

One of the things that separates great players from the rest of the pack – other than talent – is the great player’s ability to routinely stay comfortable and play with focus and clarity in all situations. Though innate to many, this skill is trainable and can be learned. Don’t get too excited, the details of such a plan are too long and more suited for a book than the short confines of this article.

So, if that aspect of the game is so important, where is the representative on the player’s team who has stood on the 18th tee with everything on the line? Where is the representative on the team who has experienced, over and over, what the player will be experiencing? In other words, where is the successful former tour player on the team?

You look to tennis and many players have such a person on their team. These teacher/mentors include the likes of Boris Becker, Ivan Lendl, Jimmy Connors and Brad Gilbert. Why is it not the norm in golf?

Sure, a few players have sought out the advice of Jack Nicklaus, but he’s not part of a team. The teaching ranks also include some former players like Butch Harmon and a few others. But how many teams include a player who has contended in a major, let alone won one or more?

I’m not here to argue the value and knowledge of all the other coaches who make up a player’s team. But how can the value of a successful tour professional be overlooked? If I’m going to ask someone what I should do in various situations on the course, I would prefer to include the experienced knowledge of players who have been there themselves.

This leads me to the second part of today’s message. Is there a need for the professional players to mix with professional teachers to deliver the best and most comprehensive teaching philosophy to average players? I feel there is.

Most lessons are concerned with changing the student’s swing. Often, this is done with little regard for how it feels to the student because the teacher believes the information is correct and more important than the “feels” of the student. “Stick with it until it’s comfortable” is often the message. This directive methodology was put on Twitter for public consumption a short time back:

On the other hand, the professional player is an expert at making a score and understands the intangible side of the game. The intangible side says: “Mechanics cannot stand alone in making a good player.” The intangible side understands “people feel things differently”; ask Jim Furyk to swing like Dustin Johnson, or vice versa. This means something that looks good to us may not feel right to someone else.

The intangible side lets us know that mechanics and feels must walk together in order for the player to succeed. From Ben Hogan’s book:

“What I have learned I have learned by laborious trial and error, watching a good player do something that looked right to me, stumbling across something that felt right to me, experimenting with that something to see if it helped or hindered, adopting it if it helped, refining it sometimes, discarding it if it didn’t help, sometimes discarding it later if it proved undependable in competition, experimenting continually with new ideas and old ideas and all manner of variations until I arrived at a set of fundamentals that appeared to me to be right because they accomplished a very definite purpose, a set of fundamentals which proved to me they were right because they stood up and produced under all kinds of pressure.”

Hogan beautifully described the learning process that could develop the swings of great players like DJ, Furyk, Lee Trevino, Jordan Spieth, Nicklaus, etc.

Bob Toski is still teaching. Steve Elkington is helping to bring us the insight of Jackie Burke. Hal Sutton has a beautiful teaching facility outside of Houston. And so on. Just like mechanics and feels, it’s not either-or – the best message comes from both teachers and players.

Lately, it seems the scale has swung more to one side; let us not forget the value of insights brought to us by the players who have best mastered the game.

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Woods, Rahm, Rickie, J-Day headline Torrey field

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 20, 2018, 12:47 am

Tiger Woods is set to make his 2018 debut.

Woods is still part of the final field list for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, the headliner of a tournament that includes defending champion Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day.

In all, 12 of the top 26 players in the world are teeing it up at Torrey Pines.

Though Woods has won eight times at Torrey Pines, he hasn’t broken 71 in his past seven rounds there and hasn’t played all four rounds since 2013, when he won. Last year he missed the cut after rounds of 76-72, then lasted just one round in Dubai before he withdrew with back spasms.

After a fourth back surgery, Woods didn’t return to competition until last month’s Hero World Challenge, where he tied for ninth. 

Woods has committed to play both the Farmers Insurance Open and next month's Genesis Open at Riviera, which benefits his foundation. 

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Even on 'off' day, Rahm shoots 67 at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 20, 2018, 12:36 am

Jon Rahm didn’t strike the ball as purely Friday as he did during his opening round at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

He still managed a 5-under 67 that put him just one shot off the lead heading into the weekend.

“I expected myself to go to the range (this morning) and keep flushing everything like I did yesterday,” said Rahm, who shot a career-low 62 at La Quinta on Thursday. “Everything was just a little bit off. It was just one of those days.”

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

After going bogey-free on Thursday, Rahm mixed four birdies and two bogeys over his opening six holes. He managed to settle down around the turn, then made two birdies on his final three holes to move within one shot of Andrew Landry (65).

Rahm has missed only five greens through two rounds and sits at 15-under 129. 

The 23-year-old Spaniard won in Dubai to end the year and opened 2018 with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. He needs a top-6 finish or better this week to supplant Jordan Spieth as the No. 2 player in the world.