Monday Scramble: Sneds wins again; Furyk falters ... again

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Brandt Snedeker re-emerges as a Masters contender, Jim Furyk falters (again), Tiger Woods steps away and more in this week’s presidential edition of the Monday Scramble: 

OK, officially, Jim Furyk has now failed to close out his last nine 54-hole leads. On a few of those occasions, he has coughed up the lead because of his own poor play. Other times, he was simply beaten by the better player on Sunday. It was clear early that he never stood a chance in a shootout at Pebble Beach. Furyk closed with 74 while the players behind him lit up a defenseless course. 

Furyk’s recent oh-fer not only shines a light on how much scar tissue the 44-year-old has developed in recent years, but also how leading is not always an enviable position. For so many years Tiger Woods (and now, to a lesser extent, Rory McIlroy) made winning look easy. But it’s human nature to want to nurse a lead, to protect it, which is why the pursuers have enjoyed more success recently than the leaders. Since 2010, 57 (!) percent of Tour winners have trailed heading into the final round. Here’s another eye-opening stat: Over the past two seasons, only FIVE of the last 16 players who held a one-shot lead have gone on to win.

So go ahead – hammer Furyk for another blown lead. Just remember he’s far from the only leader to trip up on a Sunday.

1. It’s telling that Brandt Snedeker had 50/1 odds to win the Masters – and he wasn’t even eligible yet. Though he’s not among the obvious favorites for the year’s first major (that distinction belongs to Rory, Adam Scott, Jason Day and Bubba Watson), Sneds’ second win in three years at Pebble locks up a spot at Augusta, and that’s good news for those who plunked down some cash on the player who entered last week at No. 63 in the world. Snedeker has four top-10s at Augusta since 2008, including the what-could-have-been T-6 in ’13, when he shared the 54-hole lead.

2. Snedeker’s performance is predicated on his short game, and last year one of the game’s best putters was only … above average. Unexceptional. He was 27th on Tour in strokes gained-putting, which is good, of course, but not good enough for a player who is short off the tee and occasionally crooked. (He was top 20 in SGP the previous five years, including No. 1 in 2012, his best year on Tour.)

So during the second half of last year, Snedeker benched his Odyssey White Hot putter – a club he had used since 2006. It wasn’t a long split, because he put the flat stick back in his bag at the HSBC last fall and has rolled the rock better ever since. “Sometimes you have to use some harsh words with the putter if it’s not paying attention – leave them in a hot trunk for a while and let them know they can be replaced,” he said. “Luckily, she understood and got back into working form.” 

3. Courtesy of the Golf Channel research department, here’s a by-the-numbers account of Jim Furyk’s winless drought:

  • Days: 1,064
  • Starts: 94
  • Runners-up: 7
  • Top-fives: 16
  • Top-10s: 31
  • Earnings (gulp): $14.5 million

4. So Tiger Woods has taken an indefinite break from the game. It’s the right move – really, the only move after his embarrassing start – but it’s intentionally open-ended and vague. Tiger could return next week at the Honda, or at Bay Hill, or at Augusta, or at his tournament at the end of the year. At this point, it’s anyone’s guess.

5. But the most interesting sentence in Woods’ statement is this: “Like I’ve said, I enter a tournament to compete at the highest level, and when I think I’m ready, I’ll be back.” That one line will define his comeback.

Let’s say he returns at Bay Hill. That would mean Woods has deemed his game tournament-ready after a full month of work at home. He would sincerely believe that he’s able to compete, maybe even to win. Those are the only conditions in which he would return, remember? … So what happens if his game and scores are still “not acceptable”? What if he misses another cut? What if he puts in the work, thinks and declares that he’s ready, but his game is still MIA? What happens then? Does he take another break? Work even harder? Retire? 

6. Man, you know it’s bad when even the Jacksonville Jaguars’ kicker is cracking jokes at your expense:

Initial reaction: MY GOODNESS, why would you tweak the Twitter trolls like that?! Second reaction: Wait ... kickers have $1.8 million in disposable income?

7. Irony Alert: John Daly and Miguel Angel Jimenez (combined age: 99) led tournaments last week, while gym rat Tiger Woods – arguably the most athletic golfer of all time and the man solely responsible for ushering in the new fit-crazed era on tour – hobbled to the sidelines to nurse injuries that are equal parts physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Weird times.   

8. It was only fitting that Jimenez had a chance to win in the same week that Darren Clarke will likely be named the 2016 Ryder Cup captain. Miggy is a finalist for the job, after all, but his chances have always seemed slim. Though he’s a charismatic personality, the language barrier was a major issue in such a high-profile gig. And besides, why would the 51-year-old want to forfeit two years of his playing career when he’s still very competitive? He’s ranked 45th in the world, and the guy plays part-time on the Champions Tour! Clarke is world No. 461, and tanking. 

9. #TBT: Daly opened with a 7-under 65 at Pebble Beach. It matched his best start to a tournament in 18 years, and the story got even better when he grabbed the solo lead on Day 2. But then he did what John Daly always does, which is play the next 29 holes in 4 over par to miss the cut (or withdraw) for the 103rd time since his last win in 2004. Predictably sad.   

10. Well, that may have been the best weather week EVER on the Monterey Peninsula – which probably made it even more sickening for those of you buried under 4 feet of snow. As if tour types don’t already enjoy envy-inducing lives, here are three of our favorite #humblebrags on social media: 

11. Dustin Johnson: It was like you never left! In only his second start since August, DJ shot all four rounds in the 60s en route to a T-4 finish at Pebble. This does not surprise at all, because 1.) Pebble has become one of his playgrounds over the past several years (two wins, four other top-10s); and 2.) Before his self-imposed leave of absence, Johnson was in the midst of a career year. After an early exit in his debut at Torrey Pines, Johnson has seemingly picked up where he left off and now heads to Riviera, where he has three top-four finishes in the last five years. Look for him to contend once again. 

The Internet can be a bizarre place. The *big* rumor last week was that Tiger flew to Colorado to watch Lindsey Vonn compete at the world championships and then, you know, get married – on Valentine’s Day, no less! (If they haven’t already tied the knot, the same report says it is “imminent.” Good for them.)

Here’s the New York Post, which sent the rumor mill into overdrive:

Woods and Vonn have become a megawatt sports celebrity pairing in recent years, and in Colorado the last two weeks there has been a persistent rumor that their marriage is imminent, perhaps even on Valentine’s Day. The women's slalom is scheduled for Saturday — and Vonn is not expected to enter. 

Vonn laughed off the rumor during a ceremony Saturday night, reportedly telling the crowd, “This is the most important night of my life … and no, not because I married Tiger Woods today!”

Brownie Points award: Mark Hubbard. Not only did he get the propose-behind-the-18th-at-Pebble idea from his new fiancee’s mom. He worked with the tournament staff to go off last on Thursday, so he could pop the question in the gloaming. If his goal was to put golfers all over the globe to shame, well, congratulations.  

Best Secret Keeper award: Adam Scott. Dude got married and had a kid without making a peep. The exceedingly rare silent superstar. Isn’t it wonderful? 

Best Twitter Battle award (Part 1): Justin Thomas vs. Jordan Spieth, the Saga Continues!

Best Twitter Battle award (Part 2): The Twitter accounts for the St. Jude Classic and John Deere Classic had a friendly wager last week: Jordan Spieth and Jake Owen (Team John Deere) vs. Billy Horschel and Colt Ford (Team St. Jude). The team with the worse score has to post on ALL social media platforms that the other’s tee markers are the best on Tour. Spieth’s team finished T-6. Horschel’s missed the 54-hole cut. Oh, we’re waiting, @FesJCMemphis … 

Best Missed Cut Ever award: With an ace on the 14th hole Friday at the Thailand Classic, Panuphol Pittayarat won the keys to a four-story, three-bedroom townhouse valued at $370,000. If he sold the place right now, he could nearly match his career earnings ($397,761). 

Weary Traveler award: Peter Uihlein. Earlier this week the former Oklahoma State star withdrew from the Thailand event because of food poisoning. That follows a run of dehydration in Dubai and a sprained wrist in Malaysia. Come home, young Peter.  

No. 1? Well, maybe someday. Rory is playing too well to drop this year, and he doesn’t figure to back down anytime soon. Assuming Day can stay healthy – that’s always the X factor – he’ll be Rory’s biggest rival moving forward. So, yes, the No. 2 spot is a real possibility, but it’s important to remember that No. 5 Adam Scott hasn’t even started his 2015 season yet. (He’ll do so at Doral.) Once his game kicks into high gear, he’ll be just another obstacle for Day to overcome. If Day can steal another title in the next few weeks, he could push to a career-high ranking.

Hudson Swafford has been mistaken for Harris English, and the comparisons don’t stop with their appearance. Swafford plays a big, brawny game, and though he’s struggled of late, he had three consecutive top 20s to begin the season. Another: It hasn’t happened yet, but Erik Compton, still just 35, seems destined to win at least once in his Tour career. He came close earlier this year at the Humana, sharing the 54-hole lead with a few others, but if can capture his first title, it’ll be one of the best sports stories ever.