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Monday Scramble: Deal with it

By Will GrayOctober 30, 2017, 2:30 pm

Justin Rose rallies, Dustin Johnson collapses, Tiger Woods makes the rounds, a high-schooler gets edged out by a bylaw and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Rose left China with the trophy, but this will be remembered as the one that got away from Johnson.

The world No. 1 started the final round of the WGC-HSBC Champions with a seemingly insurmountable six-shot lead, then spent the afternoon proving why the word "seemingly" has to be interjected into the sentence.

Johnson picked a bad time to have perhaps his worst round of the year, failing to make a single birdie after notching 22 over the first 54 holes. It added up to a two-shot win for Rose, who entered the final round admittedly playing for second place.

A few hours on the paddleboard back home in Florida should help DJ put to bed any lingering regrets about his final-round woes amid blustery conditions, but it was certainly a surprising result for the American fans who went to bed Saturday night expecting to wake up to news of a Johnson coronation.

1. But let's not shortchange Rose, who put up a closing 67 on a difficult day when no one else in the top 10 managed to break 70.

The Englishman was a hard-luck runner-up at the Masters earlier this year, and he appeared to be closing in on his first winless year since 2009. But he remained patient amid Johnson's surprising collapse, and managed to take advantage when the slimmest of opportunities presented itself.

It's his first win since a gold medal was placed around his neck at the Rio Olympics, and his first PGA Tour victory since the 2015 Zurich Classic of New Orleans.

2. As an Englishman born in South Africa who currently resides in the Bahamas, it should come as no surprise that Rose possesses a global resume. He has won tournaments on every continent except Antarctica and has lifted trophies in 10 different countries: China, England, South Africa, Australia, Brazil, Scotland, Hong Kong, Japan, Turkey and the U.S.

3. Rose came from eight shots back to begin the final round, the third largest comeback in Tour history.

The only players to erase larger deficits on the final day? Paul Lawrie, who was 11 shots back at The Open in 1999 and Stewart Cink, who blew past Ted Purdy at the RBC Heritage in 2004 from nine shots off the pace.

4. To put Johnson's stunning demise in perspective, this was just the seventh time in his career that he didn't record at least a single birdie or better, and the first such round since June.

Johnson was in position to become the first player to ever win three WGC events in a calendar year, and he was hoping to extend his active streak of seasons with at least one win to 11. It turns out both will have to wait until at least 2018.

5. Johnson's Sunday melt took a little bit of heat off of Brooks Koepka's rough patch during the third round.

Playing alongside Johnson in the final group and holding a share of the lead, Koepka made a quad on the par-5 eighth hole en route to dropping well off the pace. He ended up alongside Johnson in second place at 12 under.

Earlier in the week, Koepka estimated that he and Johnson had hung out together for 14 of the 21 days following the Presidents Cup, talking about anything but golf. Neither will likely look to dwell on how things ended this week in China.

6. For a guy who hasn't played competitively in months, Tiger Woods sure found a way to be relevant in the news cycle this past week.

First there was the "stinger" social media post, which drove speculation about his possible return to a new high. Then there was an appearance at Game 2 of the World Series in Los Angeles, followed by his guilty plea Friday to reckless driving charges stemming from a May DUI arrest.

That's a full week, and it yielded Woods a solid chunk of the news cycle while many of the game's best played overnight in Asia.

7. Amid all the appearances, the question remains whether or not Woods will decide to tee it up two months from now at the Hero World Challenge.

The tournament made the unconventional move of announcing 16 of its 18 players earlier this month, perhaps paving the way for Woods to take one of two remaining sponsor exemptions should he so choose. It amounts to a far-fetched scenario for anyone who listened to Woods at the Presidents Cup, when he acknowledged the possibility of never again playing competitively.

The themes from Woods and agent Mark Steinberg have been to take it slow following back fusion surgery in April. But with each passing social media swing video, the lure of a return in the controlled environment of the Bahamas may be too tempting to pass up.

8. One person who seems confident about Woods' return is former swing coach Hank Haney.

Haney hasn't worked with Woods since 2010, but the two were together for six major wins. Haney explained on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio that he expects Woods to tee it up at Albany, even though his most recent return to competition lasted only seven rounds before back issues flared up that led to another surgery.

"They're going to toy with everybody, because it's just what they do. But he's playing at the Hero World Challenge," Haney said. "He's not going to wait until February to play again."

9. In an era of 20-somethings dominating the LPGA tour, Cristie Kerr continues to turn back the clock.

Kerr won her 20th career title at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia over the weekend, becoming the first player to win over the age of 40 since Catriona Matthew back in 2011.

She did so with a 35-foot bomb on the final green, and with yet another trophy on her shelf she trails only Annika Sorenstam and Karrie Webb on the LPGA's all-time money list.

"Yes, I'm 40," Kerr told reporters. "And a winner."

And clearly still with plenty left in the tank.

10. Kudos to the USGA for taking the top event in women's golf to one of the most iconic courses in the country.

Pebble Beach will host the 2023 U.S. Women's Open, creating a Northern California double-dip with The Olympic Club hosting in 2021. It'll be the first time the top women in the game play a major on the scenic oceanside layout, and it's about time they were afforded the opportunity.

Pebble will also host the men in 2027, creating a 10-year run of blueblood venues that means a possible return to a course like Chambers Bay or Erin Hills will have to wait until at least 2028.

When is a win not a win?

The riddle was answered this week with the plight of high-schooler Emily Nash, who dusted a field of boys at a regional competition only to be denied both the first-place trophy and a deserving spot at the state tournament.

The Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association dug its heels in while clinging to an arcane bylaw that insists girls can compete in boys' events, but that their scores can only count for the team portion - not the individual race.

The subsequent social media firestorm had pros from both genders weighing in with support for Nash, while LPGA stars crafted a video tribute to Nash under the hashtag #EmilyWon.

It's an unfortunate situation, and one that should have been easily resolved. Hopefully the resulting controversy ensures a similar scenario won't play out in the future.

This week's award winners ... 

In the Winner's Circle: Ryan Armour, who earned his first Tour win at age 41 at the Sanderson Farms Championship. Armour has bounced between the PGA and circuits for a decade and had only one prior top-10 finish since 2008.

Making the Most of It: Scott Strohmeyer. After surviving a pre-qualifier and winning a Monday qualifier with a holed bunker shot, Strohmeyer tied for fourth in his first career Tour start. The top-10 finish earns him a spot this week in Las Vegas.

Taking Notice: Chesson Hadley, who was a runner-up in Mississippi and came away impressed with the aerial display from Strohmeyer over the weekend:

Thanks for Stopping By: Shugo Imahira, who was disqualified from the WGC-HSBC Champions because he apparently saw an incorrect starting time and failed to show up for his 10:35 a.m. start to Round 3. But in the no-cut, limited-field event, he still went home with $43,000 in (unofficial) prize money.

On the Mend: John Daly, who had to abruptly withdraw from the same event after re-injuring his knee in an on-course fall. Hopefully the two-time major champ can come back stronger in 2018, as he remains an asset for the tour.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat: Bernhard Langer, who won a PGA Tour Champions playoff event for the second straight week. We ran out of superlatives long ago for the ageless German, who is now just nine wins shy of Hale Irwin's all-time mark on the over-50 circuit.

Back in the Saddle: Paul Casey, who will reportedly reinstate his European Tour membership for 2018. Suddenly, the European chances of winning back the Ryder Cup next fall at Paris seem decidedly better with the Englishman back in the fold.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. A return to the site of his seven-shot romp from a year ago wasn't enough to snap the Japanese phenom out of his months-long slide, as he tied for 50th and never broke par. Sigh.

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First Look: WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play groups

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 11:30 pm

It's officially match play time.

The WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play kicks off this week in Austin, where 64 of the top players will square off in a combination of round robin play and single elimination. The top 16 players in the field will serve as top seeds in each of the 16 groups this week, while their round-robin opponents were drawn randomly from three different pods Monday night.

Here's a look at the four-player groups that will begin play Wednesday, with the winner from each of the 16 groups advancing to knockout play beginning Saturday:

Group 1: (1) Dustin Johnson, (32) Kevin Kisner, (38) Adam Hadwin, (52) Bernd Wiesberger

Johnson never trailed en route to victory last year, and he'll start with a match against the Austrian. Kisner has missed three of his last four cuts, while Hadwin enters off three straight top-12 finishes.

Group 3: (3) Jon Rahm, (28) Kiradech Aphibarnrat, (43) Chez Reavie, (63) Keegan Bradley

Rahm will start with a match against a former major winner in Bradley, while a match against fellow Arizona State alum Reavie looms the following day. Rounding out the group is Aphibarnrat, who won in Brunei two weeks ago.

Group 4: (4) Jordan Spieth, (19) Patrick Reed, (34) Haotong Li, (49) Charl Schwartzel

All eyes in this group will be on the Spieth-Reed match Friday as the former Ryder Cup teammates square off. But don't sleep on Li, who finished third at The Open in July, or Schwartzel, a former Masters champ.

Group 9: (9) Tommy Fleetwood, (26) Daniel Berger, (33) Kevin Chappell, (58) Ian Poulter

This group kicks off with an all-English battle between Fleetwood and Poulter, while Berger and Chappell were both members of the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup team in the fall.

Group 15: (15) Pat Perez, (24) Gary Woodland, (37) Webb Simpson, (50) Si Woo Kim

Perez and Woodland are already winners this season in Malaysia and Phoenix, respectively, while Simpson finished T-8 in Tampa two weeks ago and Kim will soon defend his Players title at TPC Sawgrass.

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Randall's Rant: Hey, loudmouth, you're not funny

By Randall MellMarch 19, 2018, 10:30 pm

Dear misguided soul:

You know who you are.

You’re “that guy.”

You’re that guy following around Rory McIloy and yelling “Erica” at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

There was something creepy in the nature of your bid to get in McIlroy’s head, in the way you hid in the shadows all day. Bringing a guy’s wife into the fray that way, it’s as funny as heavy breathing on the other end of a phone call.

You’re that guy telling Justin Thomas you hope he hits it in the water at the Honda Classic.

There are a million folks invested in seeing if Thomas can muster all the skills he has honed devoting himself to being the best in the world, and you’re wanting to dictate the tournament’s outcome. Yeah, that’s what we all came out to see, if the angry guy living in his mother’s basement can make a difference in the world. Can’t-miss TV.

You’re that guy who is still screaming “Mashed Potatoes” at the crack of a tee shot or “Get in the Hole” with the stroke of a putt.

Amusing to you, maybe, but as funny as a fart in an elevator to the rest of us.

As a growing fraternity of golf fans, you “guys” need a shirt. It could say, “I’m that guy” on one side and “Phi Kappa Baba Booey” on the other.

I know, from outside of golf, this sounds like a stodgy old geezer screaming “Get off my lawn.” That’s not right, though. It’s more like “Stop puking on my lawn.”

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Because McIlroy is right, in the growing number of incidents players seem to be dealing with now, it’s probably the liquor talking.

The Phoenix Open is golf’s drunken uncle, but he isn’t just visiting on the holiday now. He’s moving in.

What’s a sport to do?

McIlroy suggested limiting liquor sales at tournaments, restricting alcohol consumption to beer.

I don’t know, when the beer’s talking, it sounds a lot like the liquor talking to me, just a different dialect.

From the outside, this push-back from players makes them sound like spoiled country club kids who can’t handle the rough-and-tumble playgrounds outside their prim little bailiwick. This isn’t really about social traditions, though. It’s about competition.

It’s been said here before, and it’s worth repeating, golf isn’t like baseball, basketball or football. Screaming in a player’s backswing isn’t like screaming at a pitcher, free-throw shooter or field-goal kicker. A singular comment breaking the silence in golf is more like a football fan sneaking onto the sidelines and tripping a receiver racing toward the end zone.

Imagine the outrage if that happened in an NFL game.

So, really, what is golf to do?

Equip marshals with tasers? Muzzle folks leaving the beer tent? Prohibit alcohol sales at tournaments?

While the first proposition would make for good TV, it probably wouldn’t be good for growing the sport.

So, it’s a tough question, but golf’s governing bodies should know by now that drunken fans can’t read those “Quiet Please!” signs that marshals wave. There will have to be better enforcement (short of tasers and muzzles).

There’s another thing about all of this, too. Tiger Woods is bringing such a broader fan base to the game again, with his resurgence. Some of today’s younger players, they didn’t experience all that came with his ascendance his first time around. Or they didn’t get the full dose of Tigermania when they were coming up.

This is no knock on Tigermania. It’s great for the game, but there are challenges bringing new fans into the sport and keeping them in the sport.

So if you’re “that guy,” welcome to our lawn, just don’t leave your lunch on it, please.


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How Faxon became 'The Putting Stroke Whisperer'

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 9:39 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – During a charity event a few years ago Brad Faxon was asked what he’s thinking about when he putts. A hush fell across the green as everyone within earshot eagerly awaited the answer.

Imagine having the chance to quiz Leonardo da Vinci about the creative process, or Ben Hogan on the finer points of ball-striking. Arguably the best putter of his generation, if anyone could crack the complicated code of speed, line and pace, it would be Faxon.

Faxon mulled the question for a moment, shrugged and finally said, “Rhythm and tempo.”

If Faxon’s take seems a tad underwhelming, and it did that day to everyone in his group, the genius of his simplicity was on display last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Before arriving at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, losing .1 strokes per round to the field. In fact, he’d missed the cut a week earlier at the Valspar Championship when he needed 58 putts for two days and made just a single attempt over 10 feet.

It’s one of those competitive ironies that having the weekend off turned out to be just what McIlroy needed. He went home to South Florida to work on his game and ran across Faxon at The Bear’s Club.

Although Faxon’s take on the art of putting was probably more involved than it had been a few years earlier, he seemed to have touched on all the right points.

“Freed up my head more than my stroke,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of felt like maybe complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”

Earlier in the week McIlroy had a slightly different take on his putting turnaround at Bay Hill, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting, picking up 10 shots for the week, and rolled in 49 feet of putts over his last five holes to end a victory drought that had stretched back to the 2016 Tour Championship.

“Just playing around with it. Seeing balls go in in the front edge, trying to hit them in the left edge, the right edge, hit them off the back of the cup,” he said on Thursday. “Just trying to get a little bit more feel into it and a little more flow.”

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If that doesn’t exactly sound like an exact science, welcome to the Faxon way. In recent years, he’s become something of F which is no huge surprise considering his status as one of the game’s best on the greens.

Between 1991, the year he won the first of eight Tour titles, through 2005, the year he won his last, Faxon ranked outside the top 20 in putting average just four times, and he led the circuit in that category three of those years. But in recent years he’s come into his own as a putting guru.

“The first clinic I attended that a Tour player gave, it was Hale Irwin, and he talked about rhythm and tempo, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear more than that,” Faxon explained. “I thought there would be more technical stuff. I thought it was the default phrase to take pressure off the player, but the more I’ve learned about teaching the best players in the world don’t have many complicated thoughts.”

Faxon’s career has been nothing short of impressive, his eight Tour titles spanning two decades; but it’s his work with players like McIlroy and Gary Woodland that has inspired him in recent years.

A man who has spent his life studying the nuances of the golf swing and putting stroke has created a teaching philosophy as simple, or complicated depending on the player, as rhythm and tempo.

“He teaches me, which is a good thing. He doesn’t have a philosophy,” Woodland said. “I was around him a lot in 2011, 2010, it’s unbelievable how well he can relay it now. He has video of a million guys putting and he’s one of the best to do it, but he can show you that you don’t have to do it one certain way and that was good for me.”

For Woodland, Faxon keyed in on his background as a college basketball player and compared the putting stroke to how he shoots free-throws. For McIlroy, it was a different sport but the concept remained the same.

“We were talking about other sports where you have to create your own motion, a free-throw shooter, a baseball pitcher, but what related to him was a free-kicker in soccer, he mentioned Wayne Rooney,” Faxon said. “You have to have something to kick start your motion, maybe it’s a trigger, some might use a forward press, or tapping the putter like Steve Stricker, sometimes it’s finding the trigger like that for a player.”

Faxon spent “a good two hours” with McIlroy last weekend at The Bear’s Club, not talking technique or method, but instead tapping into the intuitive nature of what makes someone a good putter. Midway through that session Faxon said he didn’t need to say another word.

The duo ended the session with a putting contest. Putting 30-footers to different holes, the goal was to make five “aces.” Leading the contest 4-2, Faxon couldn’t resist.

“Hey Rory, after you win Bay Hill this week you’ll have to tell the world you lost to Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” Faxon joked.

McIlroy proceeded to hole three of his next four attempts to win the contest. “I’m going to tell everyone I beat Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” McIlroy laughed.

Maybe it’s the way he’s able to so easily simplify an exceedingly complicated game, maybe it’s a resume filled with more clutch putts than one could count. Whatever it is, Faxon is good at teaching. More importantly, he’s having fun and doing something he loves.

“I have a hard time being called a teacher or a coach, it was more of a conversation with Rory, being able to work with someone like Rory is as excited as I’ve ever been in my career,” Faxon said. “It meant much more to me than it did Rory.”

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Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

“I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

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Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

“We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.