Monday Scramble: Chasm between McIlroy and Woods

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Thanks to Pete Carroll, at least now someone had a worse stay in Phoenix than Tiger Woods.

This week’s Supersized edition of Monday Scramble: 

In the span of about 48 hours, two thoughts occurred: 1.) With a swing that sound and confidence that high, it’s a wonder Rory McIlroy doesn’t win every week, and 2.) If Tiger’s short-game woes aren’t solved, soon, he could struggle to break Snead’s record, never mind Jack’s. The game’s two biggest stars have never been further apart.

For as bad as Woods looked last week in the desert – the banana balls off the tee, the avert-your-eyes shots around the green – McIlroy appears in total control of his game, with no sign of letting up. And for as lost as Woods looked last week in the desert – genuinely confused about how to play straightforward pitch shots – McIlroy has never appeared more comfortable or confident. Rivalries can’t and won’t exist between the Nos. 1 and No. 56 players in the world, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether the window is closing. Fast. 

1. How otherworldly has Rory been recently? He has seven consecutive top-two finishes on the European Tour, the longest such streak in history. Since the Open began, he is a combined 149 under par in 48 rounds played. That any good? 

2. Of course there are a few rea$on$ why Rory opts to play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – have you stumbled upon his commercial yet? – but it would be incredible to watch Rory, at the peak of his powers, in THIS:

3. The most concerning part of Tiger’s abbreviated week was that he had SIX weeks to prepare. He hit “thousands” of chips during the offseason and was supposedly getting “better,” but it's clear that he has regressed badly.

4. Strange, too, because no one used to sprint out of the gates like Tiger Woods. In his first 15 season openers (through 2010), he had six wins, 12 top-fives and 14 top-10s. Since ... 

  • 2011 Farmers Insurance Open: T-44
  • 2012 Abu Dhabi: T-3
  • 2013 Abu Dhabi: MC
  • 2014 Farmers Insurance Open: MDF
  • 2015 Phoenix Open: MC 

Yes, he dealt with various injuries during that timespan, but this downward trend would seem to suggest that he’s either not practicing as hard as he did during his prime, or he’s practicing the wrong things. 

5. On a positive note, Tiger appears to have his explosiveness back, no small feat for an oft-injured 39-year-old less than 10 months removed from serious back surgery. Through two rounds at the Phoenix Open he led the field in driving distance (by 15 yards), at 327.5 per pop, and his swing speed of 121.46 mph was his fastest since 2008 (124.63). Yet he still missed 18 greens in two days, and was an unfathomable 5-for-18 in scrambling situations.

6. The new world No. 56 likely needs a top-10 at Torrey to move back inside the top 50. If not, Tiger will need a high finish at Honda or he’ll be watching Doral from the couch. (He has won in Miami on four occasions, most recently in ’13.) Chances are he won’t appear at the opposite-field event in Puerto Rico, which would give him just four total starts before Augusta, unless he adds to his projected schedule (Phoenix, Torrey, Honda, Bay Hill).

7. Brooks Koepka’s trophy case is increasingly eclectic, with wins in five countries – Turkey, Italy, Spain (twice), Scotland and, now, the U.S. Still only 24, Koepka traveled the world to learn how to win, and now he’s brimming with confidence and inside the OWGR top 20. One of the greatest compliments a player can receive is being told that his game travels well. Clearly, over the past few years, few players’ games have traveled better than Koepka’s. 

8. The task force was a ridiculous idea, anyway, but how are the U.S. team rosters shaping up now? Just a guess, but the Americans should be all right with Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Koepka holding it down.  

9. Lydia Ko became the youngest No. 1 player, male or female, at 17 years, 9 months and 7 days – more than four years younger than the next-closest on the list. Good thing LPGA commish Mike Whan waved that 18-year-old age requirement for her last year, huh?

10. Ko has six LPGA titles. Incredibly, she’s already bearing down on the career totals of these leading ladies:

  • Paula Creamer (10 wins)
  • Stacy Lewis (11)
  • Inbee Park (12)
  • Suzann Pettersen (14)

That was fast.

11. The return of Robert Allenby wasn’t nearly as hostile as expected. He shot rounds of 70-74 and missed the cut, but he escaped without further injury. More newsworthy was his bizarre pre-tournament news conference, during which he blamed the media for investigating an incident that Allenby himself brought to the media. Essentially, he was snarling, How dare you try to find out what happened during that two-hour gap that even I don’t remember!, which has us thinking that Allenby might be preparing for a new role in “The Hangover 4: Honolulu”:

12. Most NFL fans can agree that the 1983 draft class yielded the best crop of quarterback prospects ever. Someday, golf fans might say the same thing about the high school Class of 2011. Indeed, it’s easy to forget sometimes that Spieth would be a senior in college, but he headlines a superstar class that includes, among others, Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers, Ollie Schniederjans. Daniel Berger, Michael Kim, Cheng-Tsung Pan, Denny McCarthy and Anthony Paolucci. Be afraid, current Tour pros. Be very afraid.

13. Fans who decided to part with their beverages after Tiger made an ace on 16 is one thing. But making it rain beer after someone named Cory Renfrew chipped in for birdie? Have some respect. That’s BEER you’re wasting!

14. In an upcoming book, author Shane Ryan details the turbulent rise of Patrick Reed, depicted as a win-at-all-costs loner who was reportedly so unpopular amongst his teammates at both Georgia and Augusta State that on the eve of the 2011 NCAA Championship, his Jaguars teammates went to the Bulldogs with a message: “We want to win the national title, but we hope you kick the s--- out of Patrick Reed.” That didn’t happen, of course, because Reed went 6-0 in leading the tiny school to back-to-back NCAA titles. Funny … none of these stories leaked while he was helping the team win.

15. The Open Championship is poised to move from the BBC to Sky Sports, beginning in 2017, and some of Europe’s biggest names are peeved about it. Lee Westwood called it a “disgrace.” Graeme McDowell said he “feels bad” for those at home. Even Rory conceded that “it’s a shame.” By ’17 the Open will have had a 61-year relationship with the Beeb, but Sky has deeper pockets. It is also a subscription network, which means fewer people will be able to watch the year’s third major. Lower viewership numbers and no Peter Alliss? Sad. 

We saw some trying to justify that Tiger shanked his bunker shot into the crowd on 16 on purpose, during the WMPO pro-am. Riiiiight

Here is another view:

Knowing what we do now, it’s safe to say that he did NOT intentionally launch that teeth-seeking missile into the crowd. If he did, it was his best shot of the week.

Best Fan Interaction on 16 award: What better way to ingratiate oneself to the notoriously unforgiving fans than by handing out golf balls wrapped with $10 bills? Drink up all of that Coors Light, fellas!

Second-Best Fan Interaction on 16 award Patrick Reed, doing what he does best:

Better Luck Next Year award: Morgan Hoffmann donned a huge orange foam hat on Thursday and Sunday, but he missed the 16th green both times. Oy.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week award: Branden Grace. Coming off a victory, with a pair of titles in his last four starts and no finish outside the top 25 since September the 26-year-old South African was a LOCK for another high finish in Dubai, right? Nope. T-55. Brutal. 

OK, Kid, You’re Cute award: