Monday Scramble: Big win, big loss and big questions

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Only a bizarre week for front-runners – Jimmy Walker Torches Waialae! Martin Kaymer Self-Immolates in Abu Dhabi! The Packers' Super Bowl Hopes Go Up in Smoke When They Pull a Kaymer! – could supplant a PED suspension and an abduction as the week's top stories. All that and more in this week's fiery edition of the Monday Scramble: 


The Takeaway

Winning is hard, but Kaymer needn’t look far for solace. Just six days ago, Walker lost his stroke on the back nine at Kapalua, got caught by a red-hot Patrick Reed and then lost in a playoff, a defeat so crushing that it left his wife in tears. A week later, Walker shot 62-63 on the weekend at the Sony. He set the tournament record for largest margin of victory (nine). And he stepped forward as the second-best American in the world, behind Bubba Watson. 

The bounce back isn’t unprecedented – Kyle Stanley accomplished the feat in 2012 – but it underscores just how far Walker has come in the past few years. It’s telling that Walker has improved each and every season on Tour, from 125th in earnings in 2009 to 48th in 2012 to fourth in 2013-14. Every week, it seems, his golf IQ rises.

The simplest explanation for Walker's recent surge is that he's more confident and more comfortable, that he’s able to shake off the disappointments because he knows there’s plenty more good golf to come. Even the best players in the world can develop scar tissue and flame out in spectacular fashion, but the final round in Abu Dhabi was particularly shocking given Kaymer's reputation as one of the game's best closers. After this all-time collapse (up by 10 with 14 to play!), we'll soon find out whether he possesses those same gritty attributes as Walker.


The Scorecard

1. Jimmy Walker and Hawaii, a match made in scoring heaven: 

  • 61 under par in his last three PGA Tour events in the state
  • 13 consecutive rounds in the 60s at Waialae CC, and 18 of his last 19
  • His scoring average over his last nine rounds there: 64.88
  • He shot 125 (!) last weekend

2. His face bloodied, scraped, scratched and swollen, Robert Allenby wasn’t exaggerating when he said he felt like he was starring in the next “Taken” movie. Scary stuff, and the incident immediately brought to mind Chris Couch’s story from the 2006 Zurich Classic, where he alleged that he was abducted and robbed in New Orleans days before winning the tournament. There is likely much more to this story – the police haven’t yet released details about the investigation, and already there are conflicting accounts – but for now it serves as a cautionary tale.

3. Before his closing 71 at the Sony, Matt Kuchar had recorded a birdie in 255 consecutive Tour rounds – a span of more than 60 events. In the final group with Walker, and on a course that produced 14 scores of 63 or better last week, Kooch must have felt like he was going 35 mph during a NASCAR race.

4. Serious question: Can a player drive a golf ball any better than this?

5. Bhavik Patel joined Doug Barron in the PGA Tour’s Hall of Infamy last week when he was suspended for the use of PEDs ... except we don’t know which substance triggered the positive test. For a circuit with a transparency problem – hello, player misconduct! – the continued secrecy doesn’t help its image. Forgive our naiveté, but isn’t the point of a drug-testing policy to provide clarity and accountability? 

6. From the Golf Channel Research Department: 

  • Jimmy Walker’s earnings in his first 187 PGA Tour starts: $7.29 million
  • Jimmy Walker’s earnings in his last 32 PGA Tour starts: $7.79 million

7. The newest Masters invitee doesn’t have a sub-70 score in 12 college golf rounds this season, has no wins and only a pair of top-fives in 3 ½ years, and is ranked No. 293 in the country.

8. Where did this Rory-Rickie rivalry talk start? The world No. 1 has twice as many majors (four) as Rickie has pro titles (two). Push this narrative all you want, but that’s an awfully lopsided tale of the tape. They are not rivals, not yet anyway. 

9. Well, Webb Simpson definitely can’t return to his old belly putter now – it is in two pieces, snapped in half so he wouldn’t be tempted to use it again. It looked like a genius move after opening 62-67 at the Sony, but he lost more than 2.7 strokes to the field on the greens during both weekend rounds and finished 52nd in that category (not to mention T-13 on the leaderboard). So, before declaring that the anchoring brigade will be fine without the belly bump, consider these recent U-turns:

  • Keegan Bradley, Part 1: He had a hot opening round at the Memorial, but stumbled to a T-37 weekend. Less than a month later, the long putter was back in the bag.
  • Keegan Bradley, Part 2: He rode the conventional putter to a T-3 at the 18-man Hero World Challenge and declared afterward that it was “one of the biggest tournaments of my career” and “probably the best I’ve putted all year.” Whether he sticks with it for the rest of 2015 remains to be seen.
  • Ernie Els declared that he would retire the belly putter after the 2013 Masters, only to go back and forth for the next two years because of inconsistency.
  • Adam Scott practiced with a non-anchored putter at the 2012 Australian Open, only to put the broomstick in play for the tournament.   

So it seems that old habits die hard. Anybody have some extra super glue for Webb's belly putter … you know, just in case?

10. Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course, selected to host the 2016 Latin America Amateur, is ranked annually as not just the best course in the Caribbean, but among the top 20 in the world. Needless to say, this will be on our tournament wish list for next year:

11. Maybe Henrik Stenson should open his year somewhere else. The last four years he’s started in Abu Dhabi, he has three missed cuts and another finish outside the top 40.

12. The Tour continued to follow the NFL’s no-fun-league mantra by banning players and caddies from tossing items into the 16th-hole grandstands in Phoenix. All in the name of fan safety, we get that, but nothing will tick off drunk, unruly fans like taking away their freebies. 


The WTH? Moment of the Week

Matt Kuchar doesn’t tuck his glove into his back pants pocket. No, he HOOKS IT AROUND HIS BELT: 


Take a Bow 

The week’s honor roll … 

Best Tweet award: When Rory makes his first-ever 1 in competition:  

Please Put Down the Phone award: Is Lee Westwood 14 or 41? Last week alone he posted 22 photos and videos on Instagram, everything from his workouts (why?!) to his hungover beach day to his crooked beauty shots. Twenty-two times! That’s more than Kim Kardashian. Unfollowed.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week award: Zach Johnson. A closing 73 dropped him from a disappointing selection to an all-out disaster. Tied for 64th among the 70 players who made the cut.

Best Supporting Actor award: Tiger Woods, in a ghoulish mask, supporting Lindsey Vonn in Italy:

Remember the Name award: Guan Tianlang made the cut last week in Abu Dhabi, a third-round 78 dooming his week and sending him to a 70th-place finish. But he wasn’t even the most promising high-schooler in the field – that honor belongs to Renato Paratore, the 18-year-old Italian who made his third cut in as many tries.

Best Dance Moves award: 

Duh.

Jimenez made a hole-in-one, three birdies, three bogeys and a double – so many colors! – during an opening-round 72 in Abu Dhabi.

Smartest Person in the Room award: USGA executive director Mike Davis. The format for the 2016 Olympics might be lame – 60 men or women, 72 holes stroke play – but Davis hinted that the International Golf Federation would look at tweaks to the 2020 Games (and, hopefully, beyond) by implementing match play or a team format. Unfortunately, golf’s status in the Olympics will be reviewed in 2017, so the first impression better be a good one.   


The #AskLav Mailbag

I’ll take Phil – he’s hungry, focused, and supposedly in the best shape of his life. We’ve heard this type of optimism from the Mickelson camp before, but even Lefty must know that this is a make-or-break year. He’s 45 this June, he’s coming off one of the worst years of his career, and he’s well aware that it’s only getting harder to win on the PGA Tour. There are so many question marks surrounding Tiger – his health, his swing, his short game – that I want to see him make a few starts before forecasting his 2015 season. Phil is the safer bet.