Monday Scramble: Phil and Davis find redemption

By Will GrayOctober 3, 2016, 5:00 pm

The U.S. wins back the trophy, Patrick Reed and Rory McIlroy square off in a duel for the ages, Phil Mickelson gets his redemption and more in this week's Ryder Cup edition of the Monday Scramble.

Long live the task force.

After two years of meetings and committees, dinners and pep talks, the U.S. finally has its most coveted trophy back in its possession.

Granted, it didn't come without a few bumps in the road, and it certainly wasn't as easy as the 17-11 score will make it seem years from now. But this is a results-oriented business, and the sea of red that washed over the scoreboard Sunday at Hazeltine absolved any curious decisions made along the way.

Debates over captains' picks and lineup decisions have come and gone, as has the question of whether the entire process would lead to paralysis by analysis for the Americans. The U.S. never trailed during this Ryder Cup, and just as the Euros began to make things interesting, the home team stole back the momentum the only way you can in match play: by making putt after putt after putt.

Simple, right?

The U.S. got its hardware, Davis Love III got his sought-after redemption and fans the world over got treated to one of the best spectacles in sports, let alone golf.

1. Since he came out on top in the singles match heard 'round the world, top billing here deservedly goes to Patrick Reed.

The man who quieted crowds at Gleneagles raised his game to unprecedented heights, and in so doing became the emotional backbone of the American team.

His match with Rory McIlroy was an instant classic, as both men landed one haymaker after the other. But just as Reed carried Spieth down the stretch of their final team match, he managed to dig just deep enough to topple Europe's top player on Sunday, quelling any notion of a Medinah repeat.

Reed's career mark is now 6-1-2, which somehow falls short of describing his impact on each of the last two U.S. teams. Reed seems like a Ryder Cup mainstay for years to come, and the U.S. appears to have found their fiery answer to Ian Poulter.

2. But seriously - that match. In a week filled with theatrics and heroics, the Reed vs. McIlroy finale was one that fans on both sides were pining for, and it somehow lived up to the hype.

McIlroy's outburst after his long bomb on No. 8 became one of the moments of the week, and yet it was rendered moot moments later when Reed poured in yet another birdie right on top of him:

The emotions were at an all-time high, and the exchange illustrated just how much the event means to both players. But their ability to laugh and congratulate each other in between epic shots showed that both players were keenly aware of the exhibition portion of the event - which made the entire scene that much better.

3. The memory of Arnold Palmer was never too far from the proceedings at Hazeltine.

From the pins players wore to the tributes paid to Palmer during the opening ceremony and before the matches, Palmer's presence was felt throughout the week. He was a player who embraced both the competitive fire and sportsmanship of the matches, and the signature wall on-site where fans were able to share memories evolved into a heartfelt memorial.

Palmer's bag from the 1975 matches that he captained at Laurel Valley was on the first tee Friday, and the U.S. just happened to sweep the first session - a feat they last accomplished in 1975. And when it was all said and done, every U.S. player won at least one match, a telling bit of teamwork that the U.S. hadn't pulled off since, you guessed it, 1975.

Palmer continue to be missed, but it was fitting that the golf world was able to use its biggest stage to honor the King.

4. The only players without a loss this week: Brandt Snedeker (3-0-0) and Rafael Cabrera-Bello (2-0-1). Just like we all expected.

5. Jordan Spieth had a solid week (2-2-1), but largely took a backseat to Reed during their many hours together. He also lost his singles' match to Henrik Stenson, improbably dropping his record in singles play in both the Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup to 0-4.

Needless to say, that's a drought he'll hope to end next year at Liberty National.

6. Reed may have shown the most emotion, but make no mistake: this week belonged to Phil Mickelson.

Mickelson slapped a target on his back two years ago at Gleneagles, and again stole some early headlines at Hazletine with his oddly-timed comments about 2004 skipper Hal Sutton. But when it was time to deliver, Mickelson transformed a shaky tee-to-green game into a 2-1-1 record, including a historic performance Sunday.

Sunday's match with Sergio Garcia was an all-timer, as the two combined for 19 birdies, including 10 from Mickelson to go along with a closing leap that harkened back to his maiden major win 12 years ago.

At age 46, Mickelson was a de facto playing captain throughout the week, both with his influence in the room and willingness to take heat from the media. His participation in both sessions Saturday raised a few eyebrows, but after Medinah and Gleneagles, Lefty was going to err this time on the side of playing too much golf, if anything.

It was a stirring performance, and one that makes a future Mickelson captaincy all the more tantalizing.

"Phil deserved this as much as Davis," said Brandt Snedeker. "He needed to get that monkey off his back. Phil shouldered a lot this week. He realized how this turned out would reflect on him 100 percent."

7. No one really knew what to expect from a Tiger vice captaincy. But by the looks of things, a good time was had by all.

Woods was quite visible throughout the week at Hazeltine, offering support to players and scouting various matches. He was apparently instrumental in the Spieth/Reed combo earning another start during Saturday's fourball session, and he was right there celebrating alongside the rest of the team, one champagne bottle at a time.

The focus for Woods will quickly shift to his return to competition, but this week at Hazeltine showed that a Woods captaincy, likely a few years down the line, seems very much in the cards.

"Yeah, I would love to do it," Woods said. "I would be honored to do it in the future, if asked. But from the player standpoint of it, I like playing in it."

8. Consider this a "Hello World" week for Thomas Pieters, albeit in defeat.

The lanky Belgian won an NCAA individual title at Illinois in 2012, and he has prospered on the European Tour. But he was still relatively unknown to many American golf fans, a status he quickly corrected by going 4-1 this week at Hazeltine.

Pieters set a record for most points from a European rookie, and American fans can expect him to rekindle his formidable pairing with McIlroy in two years in Paris.

9. European skipper Darren Clarke should get credit for sticking with Pieters after a shaky opener, and clearly his selection of Pieters worked out well. His other two picks, which at the time seemed far from controversial, proved less than productive.

Martin Kaymer rescued his game from the ashes to sink the winning putt four years ago at Medinah, but he had no such tricks up his sleeve this week. The German was all over the place at Hazeltine, going 0-3 across the first two days before eking out a singles' win over Matt Kuchar after the cup had been decided.

Lee Westwood's week was somehow even worse.

Westwood's opening loss alongside Pieters in foursomes looked even worse when the Belgian reeled off four straight subsequent wins. He gave away a critical half-point with a short miss Saturday at a time when the Europeans needed every morsel of momentum, and he watched Ryan Moore clinch the winning point against him in singles.

Westwood has had a distinguished Ryder Cup career, and his friendship with Clarke made his pick a foregone conclusion. But the inability of Westwood and Kaymer to deliver much of anything is a big reason why Europe went home trophy-less.

10. The emotional impact of McIlroy's performance will likely fade as we move on from Hazeltine, and that's a shame.

Had the Europeans won, he would have certainly received the lion's share of praise that instead went to players like Reed and Mickelson. The Ulsterman took his game into a new stratosphere this week, building upon the momentum of a FedEx Cup title to become the unquestioned emotional leader for the visiting squad.

American fans kept trying to get under McIlroy's skin, with each attempt less effective than the last. In fact, as he sang along to songs designed to throw him off his game, McIlroy appeared to use the gallery efforts as fuel to his fire, and he admitted as much after his matches on Saturday.

"The more they shouted, the better we played," McIlroy said. "So I hope they shout at us all day (Sunday)."

It was a remarkable scene, and it capped an impressive turnaround over the last month as McIlroy has transformed a disappointing season into something a bit more palatable. What's more, he was able to put the bitter taste of defeat behind him quickly, congratulating American players and encouraging them to celebrate.

By embracing equal parts competitive fire and sportsmanship, McIlroy became the Ryder Cup model citizen that future players should hope to emulate.

11. Conjecture time! Let's start kicking around some possible future captaincy matchups, shall we?

  • 2018 (Le Golf National, Paris): Steve Stricker vs. Thomas Bjorn
  • 2020 (Whistling Straits): Fred Couples vs. Lee Westwood
  • 2022 (Rome): JIm Furyk vs. Padraig Harrington
  • 2024 (Bethpage Black): Phil Mickelson vs. Ian Poulter

12. Boorish fan behavior became a talking point early in the week (see below), but sadly for all parties involved, it continued to be a storyline throughout the event.

Record crowds and electric atmospheres gave way to unruly shouting and jeering during the latter portions of marathon sessions on Friday and Saturday. It was one of the few regrettable aspects of the entire week, but blame for the situation lies squarely at the feet of the PGA of America.

Listen, you can't have it both ways. You can't have a pre-dawn running of the bulls as spectator gates open, and spend the lead-up to the event talking about how everything will be bigger and louder than ever before, and not expect the festivities to reach a tipping point. A liquid breakfast makes for a great first-tee atmosphere at 7 a.m., but the drinks start to add up in a hurry by the time the afternoon matches reach their climax 11 hours later.

The PGA put alerts on the video monitors Sunday that amounted to, "if you see something, say something." But by then, the genie was out of the bottle, and the negative impact of the small-yet-emboldened minority was already felt.

If the PGA truly wants to improve the situation, they'll do one of two things: either employ active fan monitors that go beyond volunteer marshalls who were woefully outnumbered, or vastly limit alcohol consumption during the tournament.

But the PGA is in business to make money, and this is their quadrennial opportunity to cash in. So don't expect the situation to improve much by the time we gather again at Whistling Straits in 2020.

Danny Willett would probably like a mulligan. For the entire week.

The Masters champ came in with high hopes in his maiden Ryder Cup appearance, but things took a disastrous turn when his brother excoriated American golf fans in an op-ed and Willett and Clarke were left to backpedal before a shot was even struck.

It hardly came as a surprise that the volatile crowds were especially harsh toward the Englishman, who ultimately went 0-3 after twice being drummed by Brooks Koepka. Willett described his week with a single colorful, four-letter word, then doubled down via Twitter in the wee hours of the morning:

Willett didn't participate in the FedEx Cup Playoffs this year, and how much he'll play in the U.S. remains to be seen. While he'll likely enjoy a safe haven from fan abuse within the confines of Augusta National, he may not have the same level of protection at other U.S. venues moving foward.

This week's award winners ... 

He Said What?: Justin Rose. After losing his singles' match to Rickie Fowler, Rose criticized the course setup as "incredibly weak." It's an understandable assessment coming from a U.S. Open champ who prefers it when par is a target score, but it was still a little ironic considering his 1-under total Sunday would have lost to all 12 Americans.

Rough Go, By Jove: Team England. At least Rose put up a couple points, which was more than could be said for his fellow countrymen. Chris Wood went 1-1 in his first appearance, while the other three English rookies (Willett, Andy Sullivan and Matt Fitzpatrick) all failed to earn a single point. Throw in Westwood's futility, and the six English players combined to go 3-14 at Hazeltine, including 0-6 on Sunday.

Obligatory: No real award to hand out here, but we can't do a post-Hazeltine Scramble without including what was undoubtedly the best picture of the week. It's tough out there being Rickie Fowler.

Augusta National on Line 1: Bubba Watson described his week as vice captain as "the greatest thing I've ever done in golf." Clearly an emotional high for the southpaw, but I think a few assistants, both past and present, would probably turn in their cart keys for one, let alone two, green jackets.

Tape-delay victory: Love had a strong captaincy at Medinah that was maligned by a Sunday collapse largely out of his control. But when it came time to choose a new leader for 2016, the players that cost Love a victory four years ago rallied behind him once again. Together they all delivered, and Love has now filled the biggest hole on his resume.

Start the Countdown: Only 725 days until the 2018 Ryder Cup kicks off in Paris. Start looking into flights.

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."

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Rahm (62) shoots career low round at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 10:33 pm

After a banner year in 2017, Jon Rahm found a way to add yet another accolade to his growing list of accomplishments during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Rahm got off to a fast start at La Quinta Country Club, playing his first seven holes in 6 under en route to a 10-under 62. The score marked his career low on the PGA Tour by two shots and gave him an early lead in an event that utilizes a three-course rotation.

La Quinta was the site of Adam Hadwin's 59 during last year's event, and Rahm knew full well that a quick start opened the door to a memorably low score.

"Any time you have that going for you, you get thoughts come in your head, 60, maybe 59," Rahm told reporters. "I knew that if I kept playing good I was going to have more birdie opportunities, and I tried not to get ahead of myself and I was able to do it."

Rahm birdied his first two holes before an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole sparked him to an outward 30. He added four more birdies on the inward half without dropping a shot.

The Spaniard is the highest-ranked player in the field this week, and while many players opted for a two-week stint in Hawaii he instead came home for some practice after opening the new year with a runner-up finish at the Sentry Tournament of Champions. That decision appears to have paid some early dividends as Rahm gets set to defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Low scores were plentiful on all three courses during the opening round, and Rahm remained pleased with his effort even though he fell short of matching Hadwin's sub-60 score from a year ago.

"That's golf. You're not going to make every single putt, you're not going to hit every shot perfect," he said. "Overall, you've got to look at the bigger picture. I birdied the last hole, had a couple of great sand saves coming in, shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for."