Monday Scramble: Defining and redefining careers

By Will GrayOctober 24, 2016, 4:00 pm

Justin Thomas defends a title, the Hall of Fame creates some more space, Tiger Woods drops the vowels and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

It might be time for Justin Thomas to consider dual citizenship.

One year after notching his first career PGA Tour win halfway around the world, Thomas returned to Malaysia and again left with the trophy. It featured a remarkable final-round performance, as Thomas fired a bogey-free 64 to cruise to victory.

Thomas has been regarded as a player with exceptional promise since he graduated from the Tour, and the signs are clear that his career is progressing at a strong pace. It took him a few tries near the lead to snag a win, but now he has his second and appears likely to add more hardware in short order.

The crop of young players, especially young American players, remains as strong as ever. And Thomas' name deserves to be included in that discussion alongside the likes of Spieth, Reed, Koepka and Berger.

1. Thomas' final-round rally was impressive, but the roots of his victory stretched back to Saturday.

After playing Nos. 10-12 in 4 over par to seemingly fall out of contention, Thomas bounced back to birdie each of his final five holes to close the round. That led to six birdies in his first 10 holes Sunday, and suddenly Thomas was back atop the leaderboard.

"I felt like that was maybe the biggest five holes I've ever played in my life, even more so than last year, because it gave me a chance," he said.

2. It's early in the season, but this is already Thomas' second noteworthy comeback. He opened with a 75 last week in Napa, including two triple bogeys, but bounced back to record a top-10 finish. It's a trend that may be worth monitoring as the season progresses.

3. Thomas didn't get any Ryder Cup points for his win in Kuala Lumpur last year, and he narrowly missed out on a spot at Hazeltine as a result. But take heart, Presidents Cup fans: Thomas does get credit for his victory this time around, significantly increasing the chances that he'll be on the U.S. squad next year at Liberty National.

4. The World Golf Hall of Fame announced its first group of inductees under its revised criteria, allowing five new entrants to gain access early next year.

The Class of 2017 includes Davis Love III, Lorena Ochoa, Meg Mallon and the late Henry Longhurst. But it also will include former world No. 1 Ian Woosnam, correcting an error that became more egregious with each passing year.

The diminutive Welshman won the 1991 Masters and was part of the European "Big Five" that revolutinized the game overseas. That he wasn't already in the WGHOF - a fact that meant he won his first PGA Tour Champions event on a sponsor invite - was regrettable, and it's good to see it's been corrected.

5. Anirban Lahiri seemed poised for an easy win in Malaysia, but his round quickly unraveled and the Indian now must wait a little longer for his first PGA Tour win.

Lahiri carried a four-shot lead into the final round but parked his tee shot on the par-5 third hole in a palm tree. That led to a lost ball and a disastrous quadruple bogey, and Lahiri ultimately tied for third. It was an unfortunate break for the 29-year-old, whose mediocre season has led to him dropping well outside the OWGR top 50.

"It's not like I need additional confidence, but I need validation now," he said. "I need validation in terms of my game. I need to see that happen."

6. Perhaps there is life after anchoring.

One week after former anchorer Brendan Steele notched his first win with a regulation-length putter, Keegan Bradley put together his second straight solid performance, finishing sixth in Malaysia.

Bradley's struggles on the greens and his spiral down the world rankings have gone hand-in-hand in recent months. But he closed with a 66 in Napa, then promptly opened with a 64 in Kuala Lumpur. A turnaround in the strokes gained-putting category could go a long way toward resurrecting his dormant game.

7. Let's use both consonants and vowels as we attempt to discern what TGR means for the world's most famous golfer.

One week after he pulled the rug out from under the Safeway Open, Woods announced a rebranding effort that involved tweaking everything from his website look to his Twitter avatar. There were many more buzzwords than specifics attached to the launch of TGR, but the main takeaway is this: as he approaches his 41st birthday, Woods is investing in his post-golf options at a rapidly increasing pace.

We may see him again in the fiery throes of competition, and we may not. But the head-first launch into TGR indicates that we're much closer to option No. 2 than ever before.

8. Speaking of competition, the question remains over when the longest layoff of Woods' career will come to an end. And the answer is as up in the air as ever.

Woods went on a media tour to promote his rebranding, speaking with both Charlie Rose and Stephen Colbert. It was with Rose that he gave a coy response to the question of whether he'll ever pass Jack Nicklaus' major record, to the point that every golf media outlet put his short response under Zapruder-level scrutiny.

With Colbert, he insisted that he'll play at the Hero World Challenge in six weeks' time. But after the Safeway debacle, his commitment won't seem like a sure thing until his name is announced on the first tee.

9. Between helping out at the Ryder Cup, running a charity event, making the media rounds and promoting a brand overhaul, there doesn't seem to be much time these days for Woods to, you know, practice golf.

If he is going to return in the Bahamas, hopefully he'll find plenty of time in the next month to work on his game that was too "vulnerable" to tee it up in Napa.

10. Bravo, William McGirt, who is staying close to home this week to support the Sanderson Farms Championship in lieu of heading overseas for a cash (and OWGR points) grab in China.

McGirt has played in Mississippi each of the last five years, but thanks in large part to his win at the Memorial he qualified for this week's WGC-HSBC Champions. While he's not allowed to play in the actual Sanderson Farms event, per Tour rules, McGirt will still head to Jackson to play in the pro-am Wednesday before returning home.

It's rare you see players pass on elite events, but props to McGirt for staying true to a tournament, and an area, that has meant a lot to him over the years. I'm not sure every player in his position would make the same choice.

11. Yes, there is a rule prohibiting McGirt from playing this week in Mississippi, and even his pro-am appearance had to be signed off by the Tour. On the surface, the rule makes sense - an elite player shouldn't be allowed to drop down in class to play an opposite-field event during the same week. But McGirt's situation makes you wish there was at least a little wiggle room.

Padrig Harrington

12. There's no rooting in the media center, but it was great to see Padraig Harrington return to the winner's circle at the Portugal Masters - remarkably, his first European Tour win since he left Royal Birkdale with his second straight claret jug in 2008.

Harrington went through a notable valley in his game a few years back, but he exorcised several demons last year with his playoff win at the Honda Classic. That victory bought him some scheduling flexibility, and this time the Irishman relied on a deft short game to hold off defending champ Andy Sullivan.

At age 45, the fire still burns just as bright as it did two decades ago. Likewise, the answers in the interview room remain just as sharp.

13. On the flip side; Another week, another young winner on the LPGA. Minjee Lee, 20, won her second event of the season at the Blue Bay LPGA. Jessica Korda, 23, was second. Ariya Jutanugarn, 20, was third.

Sometimes, you see a snake on a course and pay it no mind. Other times, you head straight for the clubhouse.

This week's award winners ...

Wraparound money still pays the bills: Derek Fathauer followed a T-15 finish in Napa with a T-3 result in Malaysia. Eleven months from now, when you're wondering how he's in the BMW Championship field, this fortnight will be a large part of the answer.

Play it as it lies: Apparently players will be dealing with less-than-ideal greens this week in China, where record heat has zapped the putting surfaces for the WGC-HSBC Champions. It's never good when the phrase "temporary greens" gets tossed around concering a tournament venue.

On the mend: TPC Sawgrass and Harbour Town Golf Links, two tournament courses that appear to have survived the effects of Hurricane Matthew with only minor damage.

Such sweet sorrow: World No. 1 Lydia Ko has amicably split from her caddie of two years, Jason Hamilton. Will be interesting to see who gets what has to be one of the most coveted LPGA bags.

Extra passport stamps: The PGA Tour is heading to South Korea next fall, making the early portion of the wraparound schedule even more crowded. Meanwhile, PGA Tour Champions announced a new event in Japan.

Bad look: The PGA Tour and LPGA are holding tournaments in successive weeks at TPC Kuala Lumpur. There are 36 holes, but not a big enough chipping area?

Every shot counts: Graeme Storm. A bogey on the 72nd hole in Portugal meant Storm missed out on retaining his European Tour card for the 2017 season by exactly 100 Euros. Ouch.

Whatever works: Bryson DeChambeau. Already with more than his fair share of on-course quirks, the former U.S. Amateur champ is reportedly mulling a switch to side-saddled putting. Hey, if it worked for Snead...

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Patrick Reed. The second-highest ranked player in a no-cut event ballooned to a 77 Sunday to finish T-51. Perhaps someone should've told him Rory McIlroy was in the group behind him.

Say cheese: Sometimes, a picture speaks for itself:

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x