Marc Leishman celebrates with family, Rory McIlroy keeps trending, Anna Nordqvist goes low, Tiger Woods reports emerge and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
The first Arnold Palmer Invitational without its beloved host went about how you’d expect.
Sam Saunders, Graeme McDowell and Peter Jacobsen were the epitome of class, the frontmen for what Palmer stood for and what this tournament means going forward.
Touches of Palmer were everywhere – players signed a commemorative flag in his office, and there was a 13-foot bronze statue near the first tee, and there was signage with inspirational messages scattered throughout the course, and Palmer’s cart (with two sets of clubs strapped to the back) was positioned near the 16th tee, his favorite spot to watch golf.
Players honored Arnie in different ways, from wearing custom shoes to stitching the colorful umbrella logo to hats, bags and shirts, to taking more time to sign autographs, because that’s what Palmer would have done.
What happens to the Bay Hill tournament is largely up to the players. In Year 1 without Palmer, they stepped up in a big way.
1. Leishman’s victory at the API was one for the family.
It was for his 5-year-old son, Harvey, who kept pestering his dad about why he never wins.
And it was for his wife, Audrey, who emerged from two years of medical hell almost completely healthy, pregnant for the third time.
2. Leishman didn’t look like he was part of the picture until the last hour of the tournament. Facing a 50-foot for eagle, the big Aussie readjusted his line after remembering that he’d stroked a similar putt earlier in the week. This one was center cut, and it allowed him to leapfrog the leaders at 11 under.
After a wayward drive on 18, Leishman laid up short of the green. Helping him was that the hole location wasn’t in its traditional Sunday position, tucked over the pond in the back-right corner. He had the entirety of the green in front of him, and he bumped his chip to 3 feet for a solid par to close.
Leishman finished the week first in greens hit in regulation and second in strokes gained-putting – usually a winning combination.
3. Leishman went from watching the Masters at home to a potential sleeper pick.
At No. 62 in the world, he needed a big week at Bay Hill or this week’s WGC-Match Play to qualify for the year’s first major. His victory at the API secured an invitation, and he improved to 32nd in the world.
Leishman has been hit-or-miss at Augusta throughout his career, with three missed cuts in four appearances, but he also had a chance to win in 2013, when he tied for fourth. His booming drives, sky-high irons and strong putting (he’s ranked second on Tour on the greens) could lead to another shot at the green jacket.
4. After a rough start to the week, McIlroy made an Arnie-like charge to nearly steal the title.
Making only his third start of the year, McIlroy opened with a 74 and was in danger of missing the cut. He climbed his way back into contention with a third-round 65 (which tied the low round of the week) and then made seven birdies during a final-round 69.
His most spectacular shot was his second shot on the par-5 16th, after another massive drive. He hooded a wedge and hit a hook around a tree, the ball scooting over the green. He nearly holed the pitch shot and walked off with a tap-in birdie.
When he teed off on 18, he was in a share of the lead, but that scenario changed once Leishman eagled 16. McIlroy’s problem on the finishing hole wasn’t the first putt but the approach. With only a wedge into the green from 153 yards, he flared his second shot about 30 feet right of the flag, leaving a must-make putt that was fast and had plenty of break. He raced it 7 feet past and missed the comebacker.
“I gave the putt a run, that’s for sure,” he said. “Too much of a run.”
5. McIlroy shot 10 under on the weekend and appears as confident as ever with the driver. With most players dialing back because of the firm and fast conditions, the world No. 2 continually pounded the big stick, smoking four drives of at least 360 yards on Sunday. He led the field in driving distance and also ranked first in strokes gained-approaches.
In other words, he’s trending nicely toward Augusta.
6. Kevin Kisner doesn’t have the highest apex height, launch angle or spin rate, and it cost him Sunday when he couldn’t hold two critical shots on the increasingly firm greens.
Leading by three on the back nine, Kisner came home in 2-over 38 and failed to make a birdie after the seventh hole.
Even more frustrating was that Kisner thought he’d hit good enough shots to win.
On 15 and 16, he looked in prime position to make birdie, but both times his ball ended up in difficult spots from which to make par. He finished a shot behind Leishman.
“That’s just the nature of the beast on Sunday on the PGA Tour,” he said. “The golf course turns and gets very difficult, and you’ve got to be in the right position and I was not in the right position on either hole.”
7. Muirfield might be back in the Open rota – and likely in line for 2022 – after voting to admit female members for the first time, but the club hasn’t exactly been praised for finally entering the 20th (let alone the 21st) century.
It was revealed that only 80.2 percent of members voted to allow women, which means that, even after a worldwide scolding, and with the specter of never again hosting an Open, one-fifth of the club’s members STILL didn’t want women to become members.
That’s why McIlroy was so outspoken about Muirfield’s exclusionary practices, calling it “obscene” and “ridiculous” and “horrendous” that it even took this long to get with the times.
“We’ll go back there for the Open Championship at some point,” he said, “but I won’t be having many cups of tea with the members afterward.”
8. The paths to earn a Masters invitation are narrowing. The top 50 in the world at the end of this week’s WGC-Match Play will earn a spot in the year’s first major.
Here is how the bubble looks (* already exempt):
- 45. Jeunghun Wang
- 46. Martin Kaymer*
- 47. Bill Haas*
- 48. Charley Hoffman*
- 49. Lee Westwood*
- 50. Zach Johnson*
- 51. Byeong-Hun An*
- 52. Kevin Na*
- 53. Ross Fisher
- 54. William McGirt*
- 55. Chris Wood*
9. Here is your viral video of the week, courtesy of Cody Gribble, who, apparently content with winning one Tour title, whacked a gator on the tail.
Don't try this at home.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) March 16, 2017
This seems foolish, of course, but Gribble wasn’t concerned in the slightest. “They’re quick, but they’re not that quick,” he said. And then: “If you think that’s crazy, you should meet my father, Bill. He loves all types of animals.” Tournament officials had some fun at Gribble’s expense before the start of his second round:
Nice surprise in my locker today after my round! Thanks Sam & Mr. Saunders...great time at Bay Hill. Awesome fans, hope to see ya next year. pic.twitter.com/UVAFTFp6kf— Cody Gribble (@CodyGribble) March 17, 2017
10. Riding the momentum of a third-round 61, Anna Nordqvist cruised to a two-shot victory Sunday at the Founders Cup over a host of major champions.
It was Nordqvist’s seventh career title, and the first since she lost the U.S. Women’s Open in heartbreaking fashion, when she was penalized two shots for grazing the sand on her takeaway.
Her 25-under total was two shots off the LPGA record.
11. Finishing in a tie for second – again – was Stacy Lewis.
It was her 13th runner-up since her last victory, in summer 2014. She also has 19 top-5s and 29 top-10s in the 63 tournaments during that span.
“Hit a lot of good shots and didn’t quite get rewarded for them,” she said. “I played well. Hard to be too upset.”
12. In perhaps a preview of what’s to come this spring and summer, about a dozen protesters assembled last week at the LPGA’s Founders Cup event in Phoenix.
Holding signs like “LPGA: Take a Mulligan: Dump Trump,” a group of protesters for UltraViolet, formed to fight sexism and expand women’s rights, assembled at the front entrance of the course Saturday before being asked by security to leave private property.
The U.S. Women’s Open will be staged this July at Trump Bedminster in New Jersey. The event is hosted by the USGA, not the LPGA, a point the women’s tour attempted to drive home again in a statement.
“When it comes to decisions regarding venue, purse, TV, etc.,” the statement read, “those are solely made by the USGA. We respect and support the decisions made by the USGA on this matter.”
13. Amateur golf enthusiasts were concerned last week when it was revealed that the U.S. Walker Cup team will announce all 10 members at the same time. That’s a departure from previous years, in which the squad was essentially split into two announcements – those who were no-brainers and those who earned their spot with a strong summer push.
The uneasiness about the change stemmed from the fact that those in the mix for a Walker Cup berth might not want to wait around to turn pro if they don’t know for sure that they’ll be on the team.
It’s a non-issue.
Two years ago, the first wave of players was announced two weeks before the U.S. Amateur, after which the rest of the team is finalized. More college kids than ever before are turning pro after the NCAAs in June because they want to take advantage of the maximum seven sponsor exemptions allowed to non-members and try and earn a card or qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals. Turning pro in early August, then, would be pointless. The season is almost over.
And besides, even though the USGA sticks to its arcane policy of secrecy over transparency, nothing will keep captain Spider Miller from giving his studs a heads-up about their standing. (They should be able to figure it out for themselves, anyway.) This new rule keeps everyone playing through the summer – especially at the Western Am, arguably the most grueling test in amateur golf – allows the best chance for players to prove themselves and removes the notion that the final five selections barely made the team.
There are many reasons to question the Walker Cup selection process, but this isn’t one of them.
With two and a half weeks to go, the will-he-or-won't-he game has begun in earnest.
Tiger Woods was on "Good Morning America" on Monday to promote his book, for which he's holding a signing in New York City. It's his first public appearance since Feb. 3 in Dubai. He didn’t play Bay Hill. There have been scant updates on his progress. He would appear doubtful to play the Masters; though, he said Monday that he's "trying everything" to play. This is common sense.
A published report confirmed as much, via unnamed sources, who said that Woods “didn’t look good” and would be rushing back to play at Augusta.
Again, common sense, but the report prompted a strong rebuke from Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg, who unwittingly confirmed the original news – that Tiger is doubtful for the Masters.
“We’re not in a situation to even talk about playing in the Masters now,” said Steinberg, while adding that he didn’t want to get into specifics about Woods’ progress.
The Masters begins in 17 days. If they’re not even talking about playing in the Masters now, that's not a good sign.
This week's award winners ...
(Un)welcome to the Tour, part 1: Steve Stricker. With a two-shot lead with three to play in his PGA Tour Champions debut, Stricker whiffed a 4-footer for par on 16 and then hit a 3-wood, not a driver, into the water on the long finishing hole to lose to Tom Lehman.
(Un)welcome to the Tour, part 2: Curtis Luck. The reigning U.S. Am champion and top-ranked amateur in the world made his PGA Tour debut at Bay Hill. In his final tuneup for the Masters, the talented Aussie shot rounds of 79-82 and was disqualified for signing an incorrect scorecard. Oy.
Good Vibes: Matt Every at Bay Hill. Mired in a yearlong slump, all Every needed was a return trip to Arnie’s Place, where he won in back-to-back years. His tie for 62nd snapped a streak of 18 consecutive missed cuts.
Teethless Tour: LPGA. What's gotten into these ladies? Four of the five events this year have been won with a four-round score of 19 under or lower (and the Founders Cup was the third event with a winning score at least 22 under). Birdie-fests are fun, but are they necessary every week?
Streaking: Bernhard Langer. He now has a Champions record 32 consecutive rounds under par. The longest streak on the PGA Tour is 26; Lydia Ko shares the record on the LPGA, with 30.
Best Club Toss: Emiliano Grillo. Melting down Saturday on the par-5 sixth hole, where he already put two in the drink, Grillo, in one seamless motion, chucked his offending 3-iron into the pond. The 78 knocked him out of contention, but he rebounded with a final-round 68 to tie for seventh.
Not Yet Found His Form: Brooks Koepka. A trendy pick for breakout star in 2017, Koepka has instead gone the other way, fast. His missed cut at Bay Hill (which included a Thursday 78) was his fourth early exit in six starts, and he doesn’t have a finish better than 42nd. Peaking for Augusta, he is not.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Henrik Stenson. A popular pick in one-and-done formats, Big Stense shot 75 in the miserably cold conditions Thursday, then rolled up his pants and twice splashed out of a pond en route to a Friday 74 and his first career missed cut at Bay Hill (five consecutive top-15s here). Sigh.