Monday Scramble: To those who wait, and wait


Adam Hadwin hangs on, Patrick Cantlay impresses, a good field (really) honors Arnie and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

After a five-week stretch of proven PGA Tour winners, Hadwin’s breakthrough Sunday at the Valspar Championship was a reminder that the Tour landscape is getting more crowded than ever with a wave of fresh, ambitious talent.

There has always been a sense that it was just a matter of time before the Canadian captured a trophy, but the depth on Tour is such that Hadwin still needed to pay his dues, logging consistent if unspectacular results over the past two seasons.

His iron play improved, and his confidence grew, and the third-round 59 earlier this year in the California desert was proof that he was on the verge of a victory. Two months later, he cashed in.

By all accounts, Hadwin just might be the best player among this Canadian contingent, a winner at every level, a kid who is highly confident in his abilities and driven to maximize his potential.

1. Hadwin’s key shot Sunday came on the par-3 13th hole, when he lipped in a 53-footer to stay two shots clear after a hard-charging Cantlay stuffed his tee shot to 5 feet.

Hadwin wasn’t particularly sharp down the stretch, and he nearly gave away the tournament with a wiped 3-wood into the pond on 16, but he played a deft shot with a bladed wedge from behind the 18th green to win by one.

“Who knows where we would have been on 16 had that putt not gone in,” he said.

2. A fun storyline after the victory: Hadwin now has to reschedule his honeymoon.

He is getting married to his fiancée, Jessica Kippenberger, on March 24, which is also the third round of pool play at the WGC-Match Play. (He will skip the event, of course.) They were set to depart for a 10-day trip to French Polynesia two days after the wedding. That is now on hold, because Hadwin has a Masters to prepare for.

“Sorry, babe,” he said. 

3. Three Canadians (Mike Weir, Mackenzie Hughes, Hadwin) have qualified for this year’s Masters, the best showing by the Canucks since 1968.

“Golf in Canada is in good hands,” Graham DeLaet said Sunday. “This is huge to grow the game there, getting two wins in one year.”

Hadwin said that one of his first texts after winning would be to Weir, the 2003 Masters champion, to begin picking his brain on how to approach Augusta National. 

“I hope he’s OK with answering a bunch of questions,” Hadwin said, “because I’ll certainly take any advice I can get.” 

4. About the only person who wasn’t surprised that Cantlay had a chance to win in only his second tournament in the past 28 months was Cantlay himself. It’s where he belongs.

Derailed by injuries and a tragedy in his personal life, the 24-year-old former amateur star has disappeared from pro golf, tumbling all the way to No. 1,419 in the world.

But by design, he didn’t rush his comeback, and he returned last month at Pebble Beach with intentions to perform well right away.

That’s why he said Sunday that he wasn’t even concerned about satisfying the requirements of his major medical extension – he knew he’d do it, easily.

“It didn’t really feel like a burden to begin with,” he said.

And so his runner-up finish was enough to secure his card for the rest of the season, just like he expected.

“It doesn’t really feel like much consolation at the moment,” he said. “I didn’t finish the deal.”

5. And, yes, he had a chance. After racking up five birdies in a six-hole span, and after Hadwin blocked his tee shot into the pond on 16 and made double, Cantlay was tied with two holes to play.

He burned the edge with his 25-footer on 17, then hit one of his worst approach shots of the day – a weak fade into the bunker short and right of the green. Bunker play was the only part of his game that looked rusty at Innisbrook, and he didn’t play a good shot there, either, splashing out short, 15 feet away. He missed the par putt and lost by one.

For the week, he was just 1 of 6 in sand saves, including missed up-and-downs on 15 and 18.

“Shouldn’t hit it in bunkers to begin with,” he said. 

6. The race for the WGC-Match Play didn’t turn out to be much of a factor last week in Tampa. The Valspar was the last opportunity for players to move inside the top 64, but that bubble was expanded to at least 68, with Henrik Stenson, Adam Scott, Justin Rose and, now, Hadwin announcing they won’t play.

The only player to move inside the number was Jason Dufner, who jumped from No. 70 to No. 65 after tying for 11th. Tony Finau’s closing 64 and solo fifth was only enough to push him from No. 77 to No. 70. He could have been even better, but the big hitter didn’t birdie the par-5 14th and left his birdie putt on 18 an inch short.

There’s still a chance that Finau could play in the Match Play, if more players drop out. (Rickie Fowler is among those who are still uncertain about whether to play.) Si Woo Kim, Finau, Charley Hoffman and Wes Bryan are next in line.

Finau would still have somewhere to play next week, however – he is the defending champion at the Puerto Rico Open, the opposite-field event.

“Win-win situation,” he said Sunday. 

7. There’s been plenty of focus on who won’t be there, but a strong field has assembled for this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, the first since the icon’s death last fall. In fact, according to world-ranking projections, the event's strength of field will be its second-highest in the past decade (2013). 

In all, five of the top nine in the world, and 14 of the top 25, will be at Bay Hill. Those missing include world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson, Scott and Justin Thomas. 

Still not as strong as some players and talking heads would have liked, especially in the first year after Palmer’s passing, but it’s about as good as could have been expected. Blame the Tour schedule, not the players, for why some won't be at Bay Hill. 

Two weeks earlier was a WGC event in Mexico. Next week there’ll be another WGC event, the Match Play in Austin. Houston always draws a decent field by imitating the conditions players will face at Augusta. Something has to give, with the Masters on the horizon.

Looking ahead, the scheduling crunch will only intensify if The Players returns to March, which could happen as early as the 2019-20 season. 

8. One of the most interesting tidbits from Jay Monahan’s first-person piece in Golf Digest was this: He has no interest in speeding up play on the PGA Tour.

And this observer couldn’t agree more.

Why do we, as fans, care if the world’s best players, competing for a $1 million first-place prize, take four hours to complete a round of golf? Fans on-site are never going to complain about staying on the course all day, and TV viewers only see the action when players are ready to play anyway. What’s the big deal?

“I don’t see a problem with rounds on our tour taking four hours, 45 minutes, because it’s been consistent around that number for a long time,” Monahan writes. “What drives the small amount of criticism is the impulse in the modern world to do everything faster than we did it last year. So am I going to push for faster rounds? As it stands, no.”

9. The waiting game continues for Tiger Woods, and an end doesn’t appear in sight anytime soon.

Woods won’t play this week at Bay Hill, which only casts further doubt about his status for the Masters in four weeks. He said in a statement that his treatments are “continuing and going well” … but that’s the opposite of what Steve Stricker said two days earlier, that Woods, with whom he has spoken, isn’t “doing that well right now physically.”

At this point, it’d be a massive surprise if Woods played at Augusta. It’d be the third time in the past four years that he’s missed the year’s first major. 

10. Bryson DeChambeau put himself in contention for the first time this season before playing the last four holes of his third round in 4 over par. He eventually finished in a season-best tie for 27th.

Another week brought another change for DeChambeau, who has desperately tried to find a solution for his putting woes. Last week he adopted the Matt Kuchar-style method, with a 44-inch putter pinned against his left forearm.

There was some question earlier in the week whether his method was illegal, because the putter was affixed above his elbow joint, but DeChambeau said he was cleared by on-site Tour officials.

11. No one had as busy of a week as Keith Mitchell.

The player attended a media event in Kansas City, flew to Baltimore for a funeral and then headed to Florida for a Monday qualifier for the Valspar. He had only one outfit and needed to borrow a pair of shoes. He still earned one of the spots, parlaying that into a tie for 11th in his Tour debut. 

That's the best result by a Monday qualifier all season.

12. Charl Schwartzel avoided a serious injury to post a top-6 finish in his title defense at Innisbrook.

The South African was playing the first hole of his Wednesday pro-am when his playing partner’s shot ricocheted off a tree and made a beeline for his groin. Fortunately, he protected himself just in time, but the ball left his wrist swollen and he later withdrew from the pro-am.

“A bit of a fluke,” he said. “Really bad luck.”

His act threatens to grow old, but for now Andrew “Beef” Johnston is still a fun character and a refreshing change of pace.

Even though Beef wasn’t in the field at last week’s Valspar Championship, he found himself hard at work – for Sky Sports.

In this clip, posted by Henrik Stenson, Beef interviews the world No. 5 before the final round.

Stay for the NSFW F-bomb at the end. The actual exchange was even longer, as Beef went on a profane rant after messing up the final part of the interview. 

This week's award winners ... 

Hypocritical Statement of the Week: “Variable distance” golf ball. Just a few weeks after trotting out the laughable research that driving-distance growth has been negligible over the past decade, the USGA’s Mike Davis pushed the idea of a golf ball that will only fly 80 percent as far. Um, if distance hasn’t gotten out of control, what’s the need? 

Match Over: Players skipping WGC-Match Play. The round-robin format was a turnoff for a lot of players, but the timing just doesn’t work, two weeks before the Masters. In a few years, once the schedule gets redone, it needs to find a new home on the schedule. 

Home Game: SSP Chawrasia. The 38-year-old left little doubt who would win the Indian Open, dominating his national championship en route to a seven-shot victory. 

Tweet of the Week: Bud Cauley. He tied for 58th. Little wonder why.

Blame Feherty: Flop-shot fail. Bringing Phil Mickelson onto “Feherty” apparently prompted a few kids to try Phil’s famous flop-over-another-dude’s-head shot. Except this one didn’t turn out as well. 

Not a lot of people trust me anymore

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Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. Coming off a good week in Mexico, and at one of his favorite tournaments of the year, Thomas instead got sick, fired a second-round 74 and missed his third cut in his past five starts. Sigh.