Monday Scramble: Everything about Doral was big

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Dustin Johnson takes a big step toward realizing his awesome potential, a new Masters favorite emerges, Rory McIlroy says goodbye (twice!) to his 3-iron and much more in this week’s Trumped-up edition of the Monday Scramble:

Can a 30-year-old with nine wins be considered an underachiever? Few have been better in this post-hydrant era of parity, but by his own admission Dustin Johnson has been a good-but-not-great player – a supremely talented athletic marvel who has occasionally been undone by his own lack of discipline, both on the course and off. Thanks to a Golf.com report we have a better idea about the “personal challenges” that ended his 2014 season, but if the PGA Tour won’t disclose player discipline, then it’s hard to fault DJ for not being totally forthcoming. 

Instead, what’s most important is what he does after this wakeup call: Will he hit the snooze button as he has done in years’ past, padding his victory total but ultimately failing to crash the major party? Or will he strive to maximize his potential, to commit the necessary time and energy in order to transition from a natural talent to a transcendent one?

One comeback win at Doral won’t answer those questions, of course. But if his return to competition is any indication (three top-fives in his last four starts), then Johnson is America’s best long-term prospect; he’s hungry and he’s motivated by his past failures. For the rest of the game’s elite, that’s a terrifying prospect.

1. Much has changed since 2008. The rise and fall of Tiger. The emergence of a new king. The fearless breed of young stars. One constant has been the play of Johnson, who has now won in each and every season since '08, his first full year on Tour after playing collegiately at Coastal Carolina. Only Woods, who won in 14 consecutive years from 1996-2009, had a longer streak straight out of school. 

2. Question: Since 2008, how many players have more PGA Tour wins than DJ’s nine?

Answer: Two – Tiger (18) and Phil (10).

That's it.

3. Players kvetching about course setup is about as original as pleated khakis, but last week the complaints seemed to grow in volume about a course that has largely been stripped of any drama.

Whether The Donald is good for golf is a column for another day – the $325 price tag to play an ordinary South Florida course should be revealing enough – but what’s not in dispute at this moment is that the Doral facelift has been more re-doh! than redo. Look, the resort itself is stunning, but the Blue Monster – the main attraction – is excessively penal and not a whole lot of fun, from the absurd length of some holes to the ubiquitous hazards to the slopes and runoffs that send even well-placed shots to a watery grave. (See J.B. Holmes, Friday, first green.) It’s little wonder Scott Vail, the caddie for Brandt Snedeker, tapped out this tweet after they left the premises: "Goodbye Dump International..what a terrible golf course!! #Bombersdelight"

4. It’s easy to imagine Trump seething at the sight of a 10-under 62 hung on one of his crown jewels. To his own detriment he equates a world-class championship course with one that teeters on unfair and pushes players to the breaking point, which is a troubling mentality for one of the game’s most powerful movers and shakers.

After all, J.B. Holmes’ 10-under 62 in the opening round was not just the best round we’ll likely see all year, but one of the best of the past decade. It was a career day. His first-round score was 11.4 shots better than the field average on the par-72 layout. Since 2004 only Jim Furyk had a greater disparity (12.1), and that was when he shot 59 at the '13 BMW.

Rare is the round that elicits complete wonder and awe from tour types, but that’s exactly what we saw last week:

5. Yet Holmes played the next 54 holes in 2 over par. Even his remarkable round couldn’t obscure the fact that the art of shotmaking has taken a backseat to speed and power. Yes, Doral favored the big boppers long before the redo, but it’s even more skewed now, with the bombers flying all of the trouble – the trees, the cross bunkers, the hazards – and leaving themselves only a wedge to the green. Not surprisingly, the top three names on the leaderboard (DJ, Holmes, Bubba) were Nos. 1, 3 and 2, respectively, in driving distance for the week … just a year after P-Reed, Bubba and DJ were near the top of the ’board while finishing top five in driving distance. An inviting layout for the Zach Johnsons and Jim Furyks of the world, it is not. Well, not anymore.

6. To illustrate just how far the public perception of Doral has dropped, consider that before DJ's monster drive on 18, the two most indelible clips from the week weren’t shots hit during competition. No, they were Rory’s spirited club fling into the pond on 8, and then, a day later, a diver’s televised retrieval

7. Funny, because Rory’s hasty heave prompted much less furor than when, say, another world No. 1 dropkicked an iron on the 16th hole at Augusta (image via Augusta Chronicle). Maybe it had to do with Tiger Woods breaching decorum in one of golf’s cathedrals. Or maybe it’s because Rory doesn’t have a laundry list of prior bad acts, save for the time he intentionally bent a club at Merion and when he walked off at the Honda two years ago. Or maybe it’s because McIlroy has built up so much goodwill with the press and public that his helicopter toss can be chalked up as a moment of insecurity, one that is bad form but in the end understandable, given the immense scrutiny under which he plays.  

Hey, anyone who has played the game has at some point used a club as a javelin. (Mea culpa: I once chucked a wedge so hard against my stand bag that it completely wiped out the plastic legs, like a bowler rolling a strike.) But fortunately for us, a cameraman doesn’t trail our every move. 

8. Besides, it was hard not to chuckle because McIlroy’s 3-iron form was so flawless: He loaded into his right side, created lots of torque and fired into a full finish. Indeed, that move was markedly better than the one he put on the actual shot moments earlier, but watching the replay (over and over again), it became obvious why it appeared so natural – his action had been honed over the past few years. Note the similarities:  

9. At least Rory was reunited (however briefly) with that 3-iron, thanks to the diver and, of course, Trump. Amazing. Somehow that guy never misses a photo-op.

10. As for McIlroy's, you know, golf game, perhaps it's encouraging that he still mustered a top-10 with what appeared to be his C-game. Six rounds in Florida have yet to produce either a sub-70 score or a reason to believe that he'll soon capture his third major in a row. There's no need to panic, of course, but Rors has only one more start before the Masters. At this point, getting into contention at Bay Hill would seem like a must.

11. Not that you're asking, but here is one man's list of the top-five Masters favorites: 

  1. Bubba Watson: His creativity works as well at Augusta as the green jackets, azaleas and egg salad sandwiches.
  2. Adam Scott: Maybe he should have ditched the long putter sooner. Early returns with the conventional putter are good, which should only help him improve on his strong record there (four consecutive top-15s)
  3. Jason Day: Already a winner this year, he has an uncanny ability to play his best in the biggest events. He’s poised to pick off a major this year, so why not at the place where he already has a pair of top-threes?
  4. Rory McIlroy: As much as his big, brawny game is tailor-made for Augusta, the pressure he’ll face next month will be suffocating and unlike anything he’s ever experienced.
  5. Patrick Reed: Sure, his all-around game makes him a desirable pick, but it’s his ability to scramble that separates him from the rest of the contenders.

12. Not only did Inbee Park go wire-to-wire to win the HSBC Women’s Champions, but she also stared down the Nos. 1 and 3-ranked players in the world on the final day to capture the title. The message was loud and clear to anyone who watched – she isn’t going anywhere.

13. It’s hard to fathom, but Park has missed only seven greens in her last 92 holes played – that’s not a misprint – and went all four rounds in Singapore without a single bogey. That’s right, she didn’t drop a single shot during the 72-hole tournament. (For context, consider that the feat hasn’t been accomplished on the PGA Tour since Lee Trevino in 1974.) Like Lydia Ko, Park’s game is so ruthlessly efficient that it can be boring to watch. There’s nothing dull about flawless golf, though.

14. Well, it's safe to say we now have the answer to the question, "How Will a 17-Year-Old Respond to Being Ranked No. 1 in the World?" Ko's finishes since ascending to the top spot: 7-1-1-2. And she is under par in each of her 20 rounds this season. It’s the antithesis of Martin Kaymer’s reign at the top.

15. After recording his best career finish on the PGA Tour, Sam Saunders struck the proper tone. Sure, he was disappointed that he didn’t win – his 8-foot birdie putt on the first playoff hole leaked right of the cup. But for a player who had missed the cut or withdrawn in each of his last seven events, who is still trying to be known as more than “Arnie’s grandson,” Saunders’ playoff loss at the Puerto Rico Open was encouraging. Plus, the symmetry was impossible to ignore: Had he been able to seal the deal, Saunders would have won in his 32nd career PGA Tour start. His famous grandpa won in his 30th try.

Over the past two decades, your correspondent has admittedly spent an unhealthy amount of time watching reruns of “Happy Gilmore.” Imagine our delight, then, when we saw Sandler and Bob Barker continue their battle royale in this short clip on Comedy Central. The brawl is even more spectacular than the original, and not just because it involves the dumping of a full bedpan on Sandler’s head. Be warned: There is a bit of foul language:

This week’s award winners … 

Most In Need of a Mulligan: Tim Finchem. The PGA Tour commish made a stunning admission by saying that he “whiffed” when he signed off on the PGA’s request to not award Ryder Cup points to the fall events. “I didn’t really think through that particular change,” he said, which is an incredible acknowledgement, seeing how just a few years ago he proposed for those tournaments to receive full FedEx Cup points (and thus an invitation to the Masters). That he wants to reverse course now means only one thing: The sponsors of those five events made their feelings known.

That Was Sooo 2013: Anchoring. So much for these guys needing to make hay while they can. Every anchorer worth a darn – Adam Scott, Keegan Bradley and Webb Simpson, most notably – has already transitioned to the conventional putter. For more than a year these guys talked about sticking with the belly or the broom until it was pried out of their hands. Now, anchoring looks like it’ll be a non-issue (at least at the pro level) come Jan. 1.  

(Apparently) the Easiest Par 3 on the Planet: The 240-yard (!) fourth at Doral, which during the third round surrendered aces from JB and DJ in a span of 24 minutes.

Most Under the Radar: Marcel Siem. Seems Rory wasn't the only dude to dispose of a club; the ponytailed German also flushed a piece of equipment on No. 8. What, no uproar? 

Wanted for Robbery: Thomas Bjorn. He had enough after eight-and-a-half holes Thursday, which was fine, because he still walked away with 42 grand. For those keeping score at home, that’s about $10,000 less than – gulp – the median household income in the U.S. But, hey, the important thing here is that Bjorn received no FedEx Cup points … right?