Monday Scramble: Wild, crazy times in the golf world

RSS

One of the biggest events of the year is going down this week in Phoenix – and yeah, the Super Bowl is in town, too. Regardless of who wins in the desert, it promises to be the Greatest Show on Turf. We’ll get to that madhouse, plus more from Humana, Dustin Johnson’s imminent return and Robert Allenby’s self-inflicted mess in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble: 

Every win should be treasured.

Within minutes of Branden Grace capturing his eighth career title (by the age of 26), the Twittersphere blew up: Yeah, but what has he done in the States? The answer: Not much, at least not yet, but that doesn’t diminish his accomplishment. Perhaps we’ve been spoiled by the dominant success of Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, because in the first month of the new year we’ve already watched proud champions Charl Schwartzel (South Africa), Martin Kaymer (Abu Dhabi) and Jimmy Walker (Kapalua) remember just how difficult it is to win on the global stage.

Which brings us to Bill Haas, a nice player but a guy occasionally criticized for not doing more with his incredible natural ability. No, Haas has never had a top-10 in a major, but here's the thing: He’s grateful to have these six wins, knowing that he plays on the best tour in the world against the best players in what often amounts to a weekly putting contest. “If I could only win one a year for the rest of my career, I would be completely happy,” he said. Sounds like a player who cherishes his time in the winner's circle, and for good reason.

1. Esteemed colleague Rex Hoggard has already wadded through the murkiness that is the Robert Allenby story. When the police release their report, it’s clear that Allenby will most certainly regret this quote in the days following the incident: “It’s such a shame that people are focusing on whether the story is true.”

2. Fortunately, the only robbery we noticed in Hawaii last week was Miguel Angel Jimenez’s continued fleecing of the Champions Tour. He’s now batting .667 on the over-50 circuit, and he’ll be a force for as long as he cares to enter tournaments. We hear those $309,000 paychecks can buy a lot of Rioja.   

3. Speaking of the old-timers ... how good is Bernhard Langer? The ageless wonder made a 10 (!) on the par-5 seventh hole in the first round. He dropped only one more shot the rest of the tournament, recorded 13 birdies and an eagle, and finished joint fifth. Luke, your thoughts, please … 

4. What do Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus, Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo, Raymond Floyd and Johnny Miller have in common? None won more than once after turning the big 4-5. Phil Mickelson, coming off his worst year as a pro, turns 45 in June. 

5. That said, Phil tied for 24th in his season debut and showed signs of life after a listless 71 in the opening round. Predictably, there were a few rusty shots and lapses of concentration, but his swing looked good and he appears about 15-20 pounds lighter. It’s worth noting that Phil hasn’t fared well in the desert over the past few years, using the event more as a spring training start. We’ll have a better idea as to the state of his game at Torrey Pines, his third consecutive start.  

6. Players are prohibited from tossing freebies into the stands on 16 at TPC Scottsdale this week, but they ARE allowed to make a direct handoff. With that in mind, here are four items Tiger should personally deliver to the front-row spectators, if he’s keeping a sense of humor:

  • Chiclets
  • Dave Pelz instructional short-game DVD
  • A pair of dad jeans, preferably from Costco
  • A cassette of Luke’s 1997 hit single “Raise the Roof”

7. On Aug. 1, 2014, the PGA Tour issued a statement saying that Dustin Johnson was NOT facing a six-month suspension for failing a third drug test. On Feb. 5, 2015, Dustin Johnson will return to the PGA Tour. Time elapsed: 6 months, 5 days. A coincidence, surely.

8. For a player who has shied away from the spotlight in recent years, Johnson was on quite a p.r. blitz last week. The SI puff piece. The painfully awkward ESPN sit-down. Multiple 1-on-1 phone interviews, including with GolfChannel.com. Read each piece and familiar narratives appear: Wakeup calls. Redemption. Personal growth. Watch the ESPN interview, however, and it’s clear that Johnson has not completely accepted responsibility for whatever “personal challenges” he faced, saying that “I’m not really here today to talk about that” when pressed about whether he has ever used cocaine. P.R. 101: Total honesty is almost always the best strategy. 

9. After Lee Westwood saved an elderly man from drowning in Barbados, this image is forever seared into our minds: 

10. Much was made of Justin Thomas’ incredible lash at the ball, and it's easy to see why. He’s only 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, but he rips through impact with Young Tiger ferocity. Thomas told me his swing speed has maxed out at 119 mph, which would rank him about eighth on Tour – behind Charlie Beljan, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson, Jhonattan Vegas, Brooks Koepka and Andrew Loupe, all of whom are monsters, physically. The player most similar to Thomas in terms of build and swing speed: Charles Howell III.  

11. Win rates for players who were third or better through 36 holes of a PGA Tour event (via Golf Channel research department): 

  • Tiger Woods: 62.7 percent (52 of 83)
  • Rory McIlroy: 43.8 percent (7 of 16)
  • Phil Mickelson: 35.3 percent (24 of 68)
  • Matt Kuchar: 8 percent (2 of 25)

If Kooch were a baseball closer, he’d be searching for employment or floundering in Double-A. He has won seven times, finished in the top-10 in 70 events and banked more than $31 million, but that’s a troubling conversion rate.

12. The last time Rory McIlroy dealt with an off-course distraction at a tournament, he won the BMW PGA. (Sorry, Caroline.) Now, with his court case against his former management team looming next week, the world No. 1 will make his second European Tour appearance of the season in Dubai. The potentially sensitive situation hasn’t deterred oddsmakers, though. Rory is installed as a 3/1 favorite. 

13. Here are a few guys I’ll have in my fantasy lineups this week: Bubba Watson (three consecutive top-10s at TPC Scottsdale; should have won last year), Hideki Matsuyama (T-4 here last year; top-15s in three of his last four events), Brendan Steele (three top-6 finishes in a row here; coming off a T-2 at Humana) and Justin Thomas (back-to-back top-10s to begin 2015). 

With so many questions still unanswered about what actually happened in Honolulu, Robert Allenby will not just subject himself to 500,000 unruly fans this week in Phoenix – he’ll also hold a formal news conference! Who is advising this guy, Kris Jenner?

The biggest storyline heading into Sunday’s action was two-time heart-transplant recipient Erik Compton. At last year’s U.S. Open, he said he hoped his T-2 finish would now force fans to view him as a great golfer, not just a man playing the PGA Tour on his third heart. We're getting there, slowly, but it remains a backstory too remarkable to ignore. 

The 35-year-old Compton has to take dozens of medications each day so his body doesn’t go into a sparring match with his donated heart. Surges of adrenaline make it difficult for him to grip the club under pressure. He warmed up for only 15 minutes Sunday in an attempt to conserve energy. All of that was working against him - there were built-in excuses - but in the aftermath of a disappointing final round at Humana, Compton didn’t hold back. He described his day as “pretty pathetic.” He wasn’t interested in consolation prizes, silver linings or feel-good stories. He didn’t care about holding a share of his first 54-hole lead on Tour, a meaningless statistic, he said, because, “If I looked at statistics, I wouldn’t be standing here.” It took many of us by surprise, but it was refreshing. Who knows how many more chances he’ll get to nab that elusive Tour title. But if he does convert, if he does calm his nerves and put together one magical Sunday, it would not just be one of the greatest stories ever in golf, but in all of sports.

Jason Dufner changed his diet out of necessity. He hasn’t felt good for the past few years, and he wouldn’t have been able to continue playing golf in his old body. So, during the offseason, he shed 20 pounds, stuck to a strict workout regimen and cut out sugars, alcohol and soda. He looks great, even if his golf didn’t. He somehow opened with 76 and missed the 54-hole cut in his season debut at the Humana. ... The USGA will once again require that at least two mid-amateurs make the 2015 U.S. Walker Cup team. (I’ve made my thoughts on that rule abundantly clear.) It’s now a safe bet that one of those two spots will go to Scott Harvey, the 36-year-old reigning Mid-Am champ who won the South American Amateur last weekend. … Humana is no longer the title sponsor of the Palm Springs-area event, but fear not: Tournament officials already have a handshake agreement with a new sponsor. An official announcement is expected “soon,” according to the tournament director. … It may have taken longer than anticipated, but Byeong-Hun An is finally coming into his own. An, who six years ago became the youngest winner of the U.S. Amateur (age 17), finished fifth in Qatar, his second consecutive top 15 to begin 2015. He is a full-fledged European Tour member this year.