Monday Scramble: Back to normal?

By Will GrayMay 29, 2017, 2:30 pm

Kevin Kisner slams the door, Jordan Spieth gets back on track, Tiger Woods offers an update, the efficient machine that is Bernhard Langer rolls right along and more in this week's Memorial Day edition of Monday Scramble: 

With a tantalizing, four-way playoff on the horizon, Kevin Kisner ended things on time at Colonial.

Kisner rolled in a 5-foot par putt to finish one shot ahead of the pack at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, putting the finishing touches on a second PGA Tour win.

Kisner toiled through three different playoff losses during the summer of 2015 before breaking through for his first win at the RSM Classic, and his path to title No. 2 was equally indirect. He has been playing some solid - if under-reported - golf for much of the spring, highlighted by a runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a playoff loss alongside Scott Brown at the Zurich Classic.

Kisner's ability and potential have outpaced his hardware tally for a few years now. Adding a coveted title at one of his favorite venues helps to narrow the gap, but don't be surprised if the wait until win No. 3 is a short one.

1. Among other things, Kisner's win basically locked up his spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team this fall. And that's a good thing.

The American squad at Liberty National is going to feature some fresh blood, with Kisner and Justin Thomas essential locks, Kevin Chappell on his way to a bid and Daniel Berger likely to play his way off the bubble. It's a good thing for American golf to have as many players as possible exposed to the patriotic, high-stakes environment that only team match play can provide.

The wily veterans that have propelled the U.S. to six straight wins in tihe biennial event haven't exactly disappeared, and several familiar names will still make the 12-man squad. But a little experience can go a long way in those arenas, and this year's matches will create a deeper talent pool for next year's Ryder Cup - even if you'll never hear that sentence spoken in Ponte Vedra Beach.

2. It should come as no surprise that Kisner added his name to the Wall of Champions at Colonial Country Club.

This is his third straight top-10 finish in Fort Worth, and it comes on a course that has long favored ball-strikers. Kisner, who entered the week ranked 15th on Tour in strokes gained-tee-to-green, is now up to 10th in the statistic after extending his run to 11 of 13 sub-par rounds at Colonial.

"It's definitely at the top of my list when I set a schedule," Kisner said. "I love the golf course. It reminds me a ton of home. Really precision golf off the tee and into the greens."

From Zach Johnson to Phil Mickelson to Spieth, Colonial has typically been a place where a select few players tend to thrive year after year. Kisner's name can officially be added to the list.

3. Speaking of Spieth, it appears the thoughts of his game collapsing from within can be put to bed.

Last year Spieth used a win at Colonial to steady the ship after giving away a green jacket. This time, a final-round 65 led to a runner-up finish and proof that the golden child still has plenty of chops.

Spieth was coming off back-to-back missed cuts, a run that included a brief putter switch away from the weapon that guided him to each of his 12 career Tour wins. He went back to his trusty Scotty Cameron at Colonial and, despite flirting with the cut line during the second round, showed that his recent struggles are the exception rather than the rule.

"I could look back at the end of the year and this could be the most important round of the year," Spieth said Sunday. "I hope that's the case."

Spieth will cap a run of four straight starts next week at the Memorial. But regardless of how he fares at Jack's Place, woe to those who count him out for Erin Hills.

4. After his runner-up finish at Colonial, Jon Rahm is officially inside the top 10 in the latest world rankings. Expect him to be there for awhile.

Rahm's rapid ascension to a top-10 player comes 11 months after he turned pro, as this time last year he was collecting the Hogan Award as the nation's top collegiate player.

At age 22, he is the fifth-youngest to crack the top 10 since the Official World Golf Ranking was created. Those that beat him to the honor? Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Spieth and Woods.

Rahm is quickly racking up the accolades, but at the same time his game is proving that it's not all hype. The Spaniard is incredibly talented, and the flair with which he stalks a course - especially when in contention - will make him an entertaining player to watch for decades to come.

5. Billy Horschel tied for 34th at Colonial, but he and wife Brittany made a big impact in the wake of his win at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

One day after her husband's first victory in nearly three years, Brittany Horschel took to Twitter to explain that she has battled alcoholism for the last year, including a two-month stint at a treatment center in South Florida.

It was a brave admission in a very public setting, and one that Horschel admitted he wasn't expecting. But it's a step that hopefully helps in her continued recovery, and one that could potentially serve as an example for others waging a similar battle.

It's also another reminder that PGA Tour pros are people first and golfers second. Too often it's easy to get bogged down in stat lines and FedEx projections and lose sight of the fact that players often have bigger issues than just golf at the forefront of their thoughts.

6. Many casual American golf fans may have missed Alex Noren's rapid ascension through the world rankings thanks to four late-season wins last year. But Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship, they got a good glimpse of just what makes Noren one of the top players in the world.

Starting the final round seven shots off the lead, Noren eagled the 18th hole to shoot a course-record 62 and win the European Tour's flagship event by two shots. It was his ninth career European Tour victory, and his fifth since the Scottish Open in July.

Noren's late surge didn't land him a spot on the European team at Hazeltine last fall, and this year he has been somewhat quiet in a handful of PGA Tour starts. But a quarterfinal appearance at the WGC-Dell Match Play was followed by a 10th-place showing at TPC Sawgrass, and now Noren has his hands around one of Europe's most coveted trophies.

The Swede, who was outside the OWGR top 700 as recently as January 2015, has enjoyed a meteoric rise into the game's upper echelon. Don't be surprised if he adds another big notch to his tally this summer, perhaps as soon as next month at Erin Hills.

7. One man who wasn't at Wentworth last week was Rory McIlroy, and now we'll all be left wondering about the Ulsterman's nagging rib injury until he steps foot in Wisconsin.

McIlroy also withdrew from the Memorial, an unsurprising development once his BMW withdrawal statement put the focus squarely on the U.S. Open. But it doesn't help answer any questions about just how healthy McIlroy is, given that he has made just one start since the Masters.

McIlroy had planned an ambitious schedule around Erin Hills, and he still has plenty of important golf yet to play this summer. But the fact that he's not able to suit up for two weeks running shows that an injury he had hoped to kick by March will extend into June - and perhaps beyond.

8. A Branden Grace victory at Wentworth may not have sat well in the locker room given the South African's liberal interpretation of the rule book during his opening round.

Grace avoided a plugged lie in the sand because his feet reached the bunker lining upon digging in, entitling him to a free drop. Staring a likely double bogey in the face, Grace made bogey and ultimately moved to within a shot of the lead after 54 holes.

On one hand, the rule book so rarely benefits the player that Grace should be commended for knowing his options. But the move didn't sit well with Paul McGinley, who raised the astute point that if players simply dig deep enough they might be able to get out of a variety of poor lies.

It didn't help Grace's cause that his incident came on the same day when fellow South African Ernie Els was universally lauded for calling a two-stroke penalty on himself that emphasized the role honesty and integrity play inside the ropes.

10. "I want to say unequivocally that I want to play professional golf again."

Those were the words every Tiger Woods fan wanted to hear, and they were the ones the 14-time major champ penned during his first injury update since undergoing lumbar fusion surgery.

Woods was unusually candid, both with his current plight and the level to which the back pain had impacted him in recent months. But it also highlights the fact that his previous updates - of which there were many - were optimistic if not misleading.

Woods came out of each of his previous three back surgeries with a similar theme: recovery ahead, positive prognosis with an assurance that he'll return to competition. Even in his last start in Dubai, Woods told reporters that he was "feeling pretty good" and his eventual withdrawal was explained away by agent Mark Steinberg as a "back spasm."

Woods' latest diary entry shows that his situation was probably more serious than those comments in Dubai indicated.

It's nice to have what seems to be an open and honest injury update from Woods, and after years of pain it's encouraging to hear him say this latest procedure brought "instant nerve relief." A return to golf remains the goal, for Woods and everyone with ties to the game. But a long road to recovery lies ahead, and ultimately the proof will be in the pudding.

11. According to European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, it looks like the move of the PGA Championship to May is all but a done deal.

Pelley spoke during Golf Channel's second-round coverage at Wentworth and candidly theorized about his options for moving the BMW PGA should the PGA of America move its marquee event.

"If in fact the PGA Championship is moved to May, which I anticipate that it will, we will have to look where is the best fit for the BMW PGA Championship," Pelley said. "But obviously we would do everything around the majors."

Pelley also added earlier in the week that he expects a decision on future PGA dates to be made by the end of August. At this point, the surprise would be if the season's final major remained in its current slot.

Golf can be a frustrating game, even for a two-time major champ.

A fan snapped a photo of Johnson mid-meltdown during the third round at Colonial, with his clubs splayed in a wide radius around the green:

It was a scene you might expect in the 12th fairway at your local muni, but not one that pops up often on the PGA Tour - especially from a player with Johnson's credentials. But golf is, after all, a four-letter word.

"Not my proudest moment yesterday," Johnson tweeted Sunday. "Putter was stuck, yanked it out, many clubs came out, frustrated for sure. Tap in double. Ugh."

This week's award winners ... 

Second Verse, Same as the First: Bernhard Langer. We predicted in this space last week that Langer would add another senior major and he did just that, beating Vijay Singh by a shot to win the Senior PGA and pass Jack Nicklaus with his record ninth over-50 major.

Abacus in Hand: Gary Player, who openly questions Langer's newfound spot atop the senior major leaderboard. Player believes his three Senior Open titles (that came before it was designated a major) should count, giving him nine. He may have a point, but retroactively assigning major victories is a slippery slope.

Pretty Good for Part Time: 50-year-old Steve Stricker, who fired a final-round 63 at Colonial to tie for seventh. Erin Hills will be a much more interesting place next month if the Wisconsin native manages to sneak through sectional qualifying.

Staying at home: President Donald Trump, who opted not to make an appearance at Trump National following a week-long overseas trip to watch his friend, Langer, hoist the hardware on one of his eponymous golf courses.

Returning Home: Ha Na Jang, who is turning in her LPGA card to play full-time in her native Korea. It's an unfortunate loss for LPGA fans, as Jang was among the most colorful players on the circuit but never seemed to shake the freak accident where her luggage collided with In Gee Chun in a Singapore airport last year.

Hanging It Up: Ai Miyazato, who reached world No. 1 during the fall of 2010, will retire at the end of the season after citing a lack of motivation. The 31-year-old didn't win an LPGA major, but she did win nine LPGA titles from 2009-12 including the 2009 Evian before it became a major.

Going Out on Top: Monica Vaughn. The Arizona State senior rallied to win the NCAA individual title, then used her final day of college golf to lead the Sun Devils past Stanford and Northwestern en route to the school's first national title since 2008.

Will He or Won't He?: Maverick McNealy, who won the Hogan Award and days later saw his Stanford career come to a close. He'll likely remain amateur at least through the Walker Cup, but after that it will be fascinating to see if the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world opts out of a career inside the ropes.

Global Performer: Japan's Hideto Tanihara, who proved his run to the semis at the WGC-Dell Match Play was no fluke when he rallied for a T-3 finish at Wentworth. Tanihara overcame an opening-round 76 and earned a spot in The Open in the process.

DFS MVP: Kevin Tway. He may not have a win and certainly doesn't receive much hype, but Tway's recent results speak for themselves: T-3, third, T-5, T-20 and T-18 in his last five starts. Leave him on your fantasy bench at your own peril.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Ryan Palmer. A Colonial membership and a partisan crowd has translated into success for Palmer at this event in the past. This time around, all it meant was a tie for 70th among the 72 that made the cut. Alas.

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Garcia 2 back in weather-delayed Singapore Open

By Associated PressJanuary 20, 2018, 3:06 pm

SINGAPORE - Danthai Boonma and Chapchai Nirat built a two-stroke lead over a chasing pack that includes Sergio Garcia and Ryo Ishikawa midway through the third round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open on Saturday.

The Thai golfers were locked together at 9 under when play was suspended at the Sentosa Golf Club for the third day in a row because of lightning strikes in the area.

Masters champion Garcia and former teen prodigy Ishikawa were among seven players leading the chase at 7 under on a heavily congested leaderboard.

Garcia, one of 78 players who returned to the course just after dawn to complete their second rounds, was on the 10th hole of his third round when the warning siren was sounded to abruptly end play for the day.

''Let's see if we can finish the round, that will be nice,'' he said. ''But I think if I can play 4-under I should have a chance.''

The Spanish golfer credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his first major championship title at Augusta National because of the stifling humidity of southeast Asia and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore in 2017, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the subsequent week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later. He is feeling confident of his chances of success this weekend.

''I felt like I hit the ball OK,'' Garcia said. ''My putting and all went great but my speed hasn't been great on this green so let's see if I can be a little more aggressive on the rounds this weekend.''

Ishikawa moved into a share of the lead at the halfway stage after firing a second round of 5-under 66 that featured eight birdies. He birdied the first two holes of his third round to grab the outright lead but slipped back with a double-bogey at the tricky third hole for the third day in a row. He dropped another shot at the par-5 sixth when he drove into a fairway bunker.

''It was a short night but I had a good sleep and just putted well,'' Ishikawa said. The ''greens are a little quicker than yesterday but I still figured (out) that speed.

Ishikawa was thrust into the spotlight more than a decade ago. In 2007, he became the youngest player to win on any of the major tours in the world. He was a 15-year-old amateur when he won the Munsingwear Open KSB Cup.

He turned pro at 16, first played in the Masters when he was 17 and the Presidents Cup when he was 18. He shot 58 in the final round to win The Crowns in Japan when he was 19.

Now 26, Ishikawa has struggled with injuries and form in recent years. He lost his PGA Tour card and hasn't played in any of the majors since 2015. He has won 15 times as a professional, but has never won outside his homeland of Japan.

Chapchai was able to sleep in and put his feet up on Saturday morning after he completed his second round on Friday.

He bogeyed the third but reeled off three birdies in his next four holes to reach 9-under with the back nine still to play.

Danthai was tied for 12th at the halfway stage but charged into a share of the lead with seven birdies in the first 15 holes of his penultimate round.

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McIlroy (65) one back in Abu Dhabi through 54

By Randall MellJanuary 20, 2018, 1:09 pm

Rory McIlroy moved into position to send a powerful message in his first start of the new year at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Closing out with back-to-back birdies Saturday, McIlroy posted a 7-under-par 65, leaving him poised to announce his return to golf in spectacular fashion after a winless year in 2017.

McIlroy heads into Sunday just a single shot behind the leaders, Thomas Pieters (67) and Ross Fisher (65), who are at 17-under overall at Abu Dhabi Golf Club.

Making his first start after taking three-and-a-half months off to regroup from an injury-riddled year, McIlroy is looking sharp in his bid to win for the first time in 16 months. He chipped in for birdie from 50 feet at the 17th on Saturday and two-putted from 60 feet for another birdie to finish his round.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy took 50 holes before making a bogey in Abu Dhabi. He pushed his tee shot into a greenside bunker at the 15th, where he left a delicate play in the bunker, then barely blasted his third out before holing a 15-footer for bogey.

McIlroy notably opened the tournament playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who started the new year winning the PGA Tour’s Sentry Tournament of Champions in Hawaii in an eight-shot rout just two weeks ago. McIlroy was grouped in the first two rounds with Johnson and Tommy Fleetwood, the European Tour’s Player of the Year last season. McIlroy sits ahead of both of them going into the final round, with Johnson (68) tied for 12th, five shots back, and Fleetwood (67) tied for fourth, two shots back.

Those first two rounds left McIlroy feeling good about his off season work.

“That proves I’m back to full fitness and 100 percent health,” he said going into Saturday. “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now and of, if not the best, drivers of the golf ball, and to be up there with him over the first two days proves to me I’m doing the right things and gives me confidence.”

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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.