Scott's reign at No. 1 could be brief despite rally

By Will GrayMay 23, 2014, 10:54 pm

Thanks to a back-nine rally at Colonial, Adam Scott’s hopes of retaining the No. 1 spot in the world rankings remain alive.

With Henrik Stenson playing well at the BMW PGA Championship, though, Scott's stay at the top coould be brief. One thing is certain: A cross-continental abacus will come in handy this weekend to determine who will hold the top spot Monday morning.

Scott was in danger of missing the cut at the Crowne Plaza Invitational before a trio of back-nine birdies put him on the right side of the number. At T-36 and six shots off the pace after rounds of 71 and 68, he still has some work to do in order to leave Texas with any substantive world ranking points.

Scott was a late addition to the field in Fort Worth after assuming the top spot in the rankings for the first time this week. During his pre-tournament news conference, the Aussie noted that he wanted to tee it up at least once as world No. 1 before potentially getting bumped from his perch – a very real possibility with the top five players in the world currently separated by less than a point.



“I’m going to have to work pretty hard to stay on top, but part of coming here this week was to play as the No. 1 golfer in the world and enjoy it for at least a week, hopefully,” Scott said Wednesday. “From there, we’ll see what happens.”

The “what happens” part is largely influenced by his play this week at Colonial, but he’s also at the mercy of Stenson’s performance at Wentworth – which through 36 holes has been quite good.

The Swede will start the third round in England tied for fifth, five shots behind co-leaders Thomas Bjorn and Shane Lowry. With six time zones separating Stenson and Scott, the scenarios for world No. 1 now begin to sound like a high school geometry proof:

If Scott finishes 53rd or worse at Colonial, Stenson will pass him with a top-29 finish at the BMW. If Scott finishes 40th, Stenson needs to crack the top 17. If Scott moves into the top 20 this weekend, he would relinquish the top spot only if Stenson finished 12th or better at Wentworth, and a top 10 from Scott means Stenson needs to finish in the top six.

Got it?

OWGR divisors add a twist to the various scenarios, since Scott – who took over the top spot without hitting a shot last week – essentially “hurt” his own cause by playing this week at Colonial. If Scott had opted to rest up for the Memorial, Stenson would have needed at least a top-six finish to pass him. Now that he’s added a competitive start, he could be leapfrogged by a lesser result from Stenson.

Should Stenson end Scott’s reign, it would hardly be the first time a player got bumped from the top after only one week. Fred Couples and Ernie Els both saw their first trips to No. 1 end after only seven days, but both eventually regained the top spot. Tom Lehman held the No. 1 ranking for only one week back in April 1997, then gave it back to Greg Norman without ever hitting a competitive shot as the top-ranked player in the world. He never again reached the (mathematical) summit of golf.

Even Tiger Woods saw his first stint at No. 1 end after only one week in June 1997. Of course, he has since occupied the top spot for another 13 years or so.

With Woods sidelined indefinitely, unable to defend the No. 1 ranking he held when he last teed it up, perhaps it’s fitting that the top spot looks like it may turn into a revolving door this summer – in addition to Scott and Stenson, both Matt Kuchar and Bubba Watson are within reach of No. 1, and world No. 6 Jason Day will return to action next week after making only one start since February.

The current landscape is a far cry from 10-12 years ago, an era in which Woods often doubled up his nearest competitor in terms of OWGR points.

“Honestly, from when I turned professional, it seemed quite unrealistic to think about the No. 1 spot for a while,” said Scott, who started playing for checks in 2000. “It was just remarkable golf for such a long period of time. For a while it was really off the radar for me.”

The top spot is now not only on Scott’s radar, but in his back pocket. Whether he keeps it past Sunday will depend on his play over the next 36 holes and on that of Stenson, some 5,000 miles away.

Get your abacus ready.

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.


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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.


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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.


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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”