Monday Scramble: Big win for Fowler; Big call for Haas


(Editor’s Note: U.S. Presidents Cup captain Jay Haas selected Phil Mickelson and Bill Haas on Monday night, while Nick Price named Sangmoon Bae and Steven Bowditch to the International team. The article below was published Monday morning, before the announcements.)

Rickie Fowler has gone from overrated to somewhere between underrated and properly rated, Jordan Spieth has gone from No. 1 to No. 2 to No. 1 and will soon go back to No. 2, and Tiger Woods has gone from the face of the game to a guy who gets casually dismissed by a girl on Twitter and maybe even a Presidents Cup captain. All that and more in a Tuesday edition of the Monday Scramble:

Rory McIlroy was the new Tiger Woods. It was around this time that Rickie Fowler-Rory McIlroy was going to be the big rivalry for the next decade. Then Jordan Spieth decided to win six times in eight months, including two majors. Then it was Jordan vs. Rory. Then Jason Day won the PGA and The Barclays and established a Big 3 that didn’t include Fowler. Then Fowler won for the third time in four months. This all happened in a little more than a year.

This seems like the moment we agree to stop trying to define this era altogether, at least for now. There’s no real contest to get this pinned down today, no one gets a prize for being right, and we’re all just grasping at straws. That's clear.

One year ago, when McIlroy tapped in in the dark, would you have believed he could win three more times worldwide and that he wouldn’t be No. 1 by the end of the PGA the following year? How about that two guys, once you count Day, would have been able pass him just 55 weeks later?

If anything, if we have to define it, this is the era, maybe the gift, left to us by Woods, who inspired a generation of talent to take the place he occupied largely by himself. Whether he expected to surrender his mantle so soon is a different story.

But that general outlook seems good enough for now. This way, when some other wunderkind shows up, wins 19 straight majors and shoots 53 on a Sunday at Oakmont, we won’t have to break out the erasers.

1. Let’s hear it for Fowler, the 26-year-old who was voted most overrated by his peers in an anonymous poll earlier this year. Since then he’s won three times. He’s joined Phil Mickelson as the only two players to win The Players and a playoff event in the same year. He’s twice moved to No. 5 in the Official World Golf Ranking. He lives in a world in which three of the four guys ahead of him have hoarded five of the last six majors and combined for 19 worldwide wins in the last two years. Nonetheless, he’s one of the most popular players on Tour and a walking Puma billboard. Fowler said it best Monday night: "Since being called overrated I've won three times, so thanks for the poll, I guess."

2. The odd thing about Rickie is that he entered Monday with a final-round scoring average of 70.62, tied for 91st on Tour. And yet, he’s come from behind in each of his three Tour wins. He played the final six holes of regulation at The Players 6 under. He charged from three back with eight to play on Monday and rattled the hole and possibly Stenson with a 40-foot birdie bomb. He’s not a guy who appears afraid of the moment, as Randall Mell details here. That’s good, because we’ve seen that McIlroy, Spieth and Day aren’t either.

3. Maybe that’s why we’re holding those three guys in such high esteem. They’ve proven they can close, something Henrik Stenson and plenty of other guys have had a problem with this season. For the second time this year, Stenson entered the final round with a one stroke lead and finished runner-up. Consecutive three-putts cost him down the stretch at Bay Hill and an ill-timed swim at 16 got him in Boston. Nine times a player has held a 54-hole one-shot lead on Tour this season. In every case, that player has failed to win.

4. Especially disappointing for Stenson is the kind of company he would have joined with a win. He would have tied Woods as the only players to win three playoff events and the same playoff event multiple times. True, Vijay Singh has won The Barclays four times and the Deutsche twice, just not twice in the FedEx era.

5. This may seem a bit silly considering he didn’t play the weekend, but Spieth just took back the world No. 1 ranking from McIlroy. McIlroy needed a top-10 finish at the Deutsche to stay No. 1. But because of how the world ranking is calculated, Spieth will ascend to No. 1 this week and then give the top spot right back to McIlroy next week, as both players sit inactive during the postseason bye week. Why is this the case? Math.

6. Next week will mark the first time since 1997 that the No. 1 spot has changed hands in four consecutive weeks.

August 23: Jordan Spieth
August 30: Rory McIlroy
September 7: Jordan Spieth
Septemeber 13: Rory McIlroy

Here’s how that list looked in ’97:

June 7: Greg Norman
June 14: Tiger Woods
June 21: Ernie Els
June 28: Greg Norman

7. So let’s not get too bent out of shape about Spieth moving up after missing the weekend or McIlroy passing him while they both sit. It’s not unprecedented and it’s not without explanation. It’s a two-year rolling window. There’s weighting involved. The Earth moves around the sun and the calendar progresses. The Official World Golf Ranking is a snapshot of the golf world. It’s not as if McIlroy, Spieth or anyone else gets to start handing down executive orders. Anchored putters won’t be legal one week and illegal the next. Well, at least not for this reason.

8. As for Spieth, he won his first two majors this year. He reached world No. 1 for the first time. Saturday was another first – the first time he’s missed back-to-back cuts in his career. Here’s his own diagnosis:

“I had really bad self-talk this week, something I haven't experienced in quite a while,” Spieth said before exiting TPC Boston. “Maybe heightened by just everything that's happened this year, and just being so used to being in contention, that not only was I out of it, but I was also outside the cut line. And maybe it just heightened my self-talk. I need to walk with some cockiness in my step these next two tournaments.”

That quote highlights the misunderstanding of Spieth’s alleged unflappability. The kid is plenty flappable, but his anger tends to be constructive, not destructive. Spieth coming into the Deutsche was fourth on Tour in the bounce-back category, following 28.3 percent of his bogeys with a birdie. In completely mind-blowing fashion, he was trending right around the 50 percent mark in major play this season. When he’s at his best, he’s quite literally seeing red after a bogey, so long as he’s looking a scoreboard. The difference these last two weeks is that the birdies aren’t coming, so the frustration keeps mounting.

9. Presidents Cup captains Jay Haas and Nick Price will round out their teams this evening with two captain’s picks. The picks will be made live on Golf Channel at 5 p.m. ET. Here are the rosters as we already know them.

For the United States:

PlayerPrior appearancesRecordPosition to start season
Jordan Spieth20132-2-07
Bubba Watson20113-2-02
Jimmy Walker2013 1
Zach Johnson2007, 2009, 20137-6-04
Jim Furyk1998, 2000-03-05-07-09-1120-10-133
Rickie Fowler  11
Dustin Johnson20111-3-19
Patrick Reed  12
Matt Kuchar 2011, 2013 4-5-16
Chris Kirk  5

And for the Internationals:

PlayerCountryPrior appearancesRecordPosition to start season
Jason DayAustralia2011, 20134-4-22
Louis Oosthuizen South Africa 2013 1-3-1 5
Adam Scott    Australia2003-05-07-09-11-1312-15-31
Hideki MatsuyamaJapan20131-3-13
Branden GraceSouth Africa20130-4-030
Marc LeishmanAustralia20132-2-07
Anirban LahiriIndia  20
Charl SchwartzelSouth Africa2011. 20135-4-14
Thongchai JaideeThailand  6
Danny LeeNew Zealand  84

10. If Haas wants to go ahead and pick his son, who can blame him? It’s not like Bill is a pick from out of nowhere. He’s not 111th on the list; he’s 11th. Maybe Bill will be motivated, want to dispel any notions of nepotism, and pull more than his weight in South Korea. Maybe he’ll be so worried about justifying his dad’s pick that he’ll buckle under the pressure. There’s only one way to know for sure. Being a captain is all about knowing what strings to pull and when. Considering Jay is the one responsible instilling all those strings in Bill, he probably knows what to do with them. Funny enough, the whole Haas family is going on vacation next week. “Whether or not I’m picked, we’re all going to have a good time,” Bill said Monday.

11. Here’s another guy who thinks Jay should go with Bill:

That’s Jay’s decision whittled down to its most relatable level. And after what Palmer has gone through the last few weeks following the death of his own father, that’s some especially poignant insight.

12. Phil Mickelson has been a fixture of American team golf since 1994. He’s played on the last 20 consecutive U.S. Ryder and Presidents Cup squads. Heading into tonight’s selection show, he’s 30th on the U.S. points list, meaning there’s theoretically 19 guys who merit a look before he does for a captain’s pick. Naturally, Phil’s been doing a little angling.

"I know with all the young guys on the team, [captain Jay Haas] would very much like to have me on it," Mickelson said Friday. "Jim Furyk is really the only guy who's been on a lot of these teams to keep things good in the team room."

With that in mind, and with his competitive career not over but certainly winding down, is Mickelson’s future as something of a permanent captain, often an assistant but other times running the show? He’s been in these locker rooms for two decades. He was the one at first trying to pick up the pieces at Gleneagles before taking a sledgehammer to Tom Watson’s captaincy. He, more than anyone, was the impetus for the Ryder Cup task force. And he’s the one arranging mid-week money games with kids like Spieth, Fowler and Justin Thomas, among others. The younger crowd grew up idolizing Tiger Woods, but they’re hanging out with Uncle Phil. He’s obviously a bit older than the names just mentioned, but look at Keegan Bradley. He’d run through a wall if Phil told him to do it.

13. Speaking of which:

I’m genuinely happy about this. My favorite part of last year’s Ryder Cup selection show was Keegan’s repeated name-dropping of Jillian in his interview. This is a mild exaggeration:

I was out with Jillian the other night, Jillian and I were out, and I said to Jillian, I said, 'Jillian ...'

Everyone should be that excited about his or her significant other. Congrats, Keegs, on the engagement and advancing to Conway Farms.

14. Back to the captain’s picks … there’s a Tiger-shaped elephant in the room. Last year, Woods had to recuse himself from consideration for a captain's pick, and until he did so, the conversation about what Watson would do with him was constant. This year, he's hardly being mentioned, and this time he's healthy. Only two times since 1997 has a U.S. team teed it up without Tiger ('08 Ryder, '14 Ryder), and both times Woods made the call not to play himself. If he is left off this team, it will be the first time in his career someone else made that decision for him. To be clear, it's not as though he's done much of anything to warrant making this team on his own merit. He's 122nd on the points list. But it's worth discussing for the same reason we dissect every shot he hits, even on the practice range. It's Tiger. 

15. Hey, it is Tiger!

What's the percentage chance Tiger flies to South Korea the week of the Presidents Cup, says it's for a pre-planned vacation, says it's a coincidence, and starts taking selfies with the International team out of spite? 

16. And finally, happy early birthday, Arnold Palmer! The King turns 86 on Thursday. Should you be inclined, we posted a series of articles on Arnie’s life and career in honor of his 85th last year. Click here.

One day after collapsing on the golf course and being rushed to the hospital with a collapsed lung, John Daly was back on the golf course - smoking. As he put it: "They thought I had a heart attack," he said. "But I only smoke two packs of cigarettes a day, not three, so I'll be alright." Two days later, he was belting out “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” at a charity event. In a perfect world, this is just the beginning of some kind of meta performance art undertaking that transitions to him masquerading as Belinda Carlisle and culminates with a full reading of The Divine Comedy at a Waffle House.

This week’s award winners …

Champ-ion golfer of the week: To Fowler, who bought the assembled media champagne and drank some himself: 

This comes a little more than a month after he made a walk-off ace at the Quicken Loans and bought beer:

I aspire to be there when he wins his first major and takes us all on vacation.

Best timing: To Will McGirt, who started the week 88th on the points list and was on the wrong side of the bubble with two holes to play Monday. He cracked the top 70 and qualified for the BMW Championship thanks to this eagle at the par-4 17th.

Mean Girl: To Twitter user @maddietod, who brings this edition of the Monday Scramble full circle: