Monday Scramble: It's Rory ... and everyone else


Rory McIlroy blows away another good field, Patrick Rodgers dazzles in a spot start, Adam Scott frowns on the Olympics and more in this week's rivalry-free edition of Monday Scramble: 

One of the more remarkable aspects of Rory McIlroy’s 2015 season is that he rang up two wins and a slew of other high finishes without what appeared like his best stuff. In some ways, it was Tiger-like, the way he’d grind it out and get the most out of each round, but it still left us wanting more.  

Well, this past week was Rory in full flight. Hungry. Confident. Dialed in. And it was a much-needed reminder that at his best, he’s in a class all his own. 

As much as the public craves a rivalry that could galvanize the sport, there isn’t one. Yet. Sure, there is a long list of promising foils – guys like Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka, and further down the line Justin Thomas and Patrick Rodgers and Daniel Berger – but it was clear at Quail Hollow that this is very much Rory’s world. His A-game is peerless. 

1. How thorough was Rory’s dismantling of the Quail Hollow field? Pick your favorite stat:

  • Twenty-seven birdies (tournament record)
  • 54- and 72-hole scoring record
  • First to win the event multiple times
  • Course-record 61 in Round 3
  • Seven-stroke margin of victory (yep, another record)

2. McIlroy is in the midst of a whirlwind stretch of five consecutive tournaments in three countries across eight time zones. His record so far: win-eighth-win.

He now returns to Wentworth, the site of where this remarkable run began 52 weeks ago. That's when he announced that he had split from Caroline Wozniacki, then shot 66 in the final round of the BMW PGA and won what was the first of four titles in 2014, including two majors.

For years McIlroy was labeled a brilliant but streaky player. Not anymore. In his last 24 worldwide events, he has seven wins, 13 top-5s, 16 top-10s and 20 top-20s … and just a pair of missed cuts. 

3. And remember: McIlroy didn’t even plan to play Charlotte at the start of the year.

When he filled out his schedule, he thought five in a row would be too much to handle. But after glancing at the FedEx Cup standings following the Masters, McIlroy noticed he was outside the top 100. He made the decision in mid-April to return to Quail Hollow, where he earned his first Tour title in 2010. 

“I said, ‘I need to play a little bit more,’” he recalled Sunday. “I feel like I’m playing well.” 

Good decision.

4. In this space last week, we typed these words:

If (Rory) dials up Dave Stockton – multiple analysts noted that McIlroy was hitting up on his putts – then he could go on a tear soon. 

And so last Wednesday, for the first time in more than a year, the world No. 1 worked with Stockton, albeit briefly. The fix was simple – keep his head down longer through impact – and it required less than three minutes of practice. 

For the week, McIlroy was 21st in strokes gained-putting and seventh in putts per GIR. Fast learner, it seems. 

5. For a guy who stands only 5-foot-10, McIlroy sure can send it. Case in point: During that Saturday 61 at Quail Hollow, he hit no more than 9-iron on 15 (!) holes … even though the course was stretched to 7,562 yards for the third round. "It just sets up perfectly for me," he said.

Here’s the fascinating chart (via J Held on Twitter): 

But here's the question moving forward: What’s in store for the '17 PGA? An 8,000-yard track? Shin-high rough? Because Rory would still be a monster favorite then, too.

6. The best illustration of Rory’s dominance:

See that little red speck off in the distance? Yep, that's his drive, after he obliterated the 514-yard hole that was playing to a 4.41 scoring average. Rory hit driver-gap wedge to 3 feet, like a boss. For the week he averaged 321.1 yards per pop – or a whopping 24 yards longer than the field average. 

7. From DJ to J.B., from Jimmy to J-Rose, from Rory to Rickie, the list of recent PGA Tour winners is awfully impressive. Think about this: Ten of the last 11 winners on the PGA Tour were ranked inside the top 20 in the world at the time of their victory. 

8. Patrick Rodgers had his coming-out party on a national level at Quail Hollow, but this observer can’t help but wonder how his 2015 would have looked had he not suffered an oblique injury late last summer.

Rodgers, who left Stanford after three years and a record-tying 11 wins, pulled an oblique muscle while playing in the PGA Tour’s Wyndham Championship, then had to withdraw from the first leg of the Tour Finals. He had only one top-10 in the four-event series and was sent to toil in the minor leagues for a year. In his second start of the year, in Colombia, he closed with 65 and prevailed in a playoff. 

This was his sixth PGA Tour start of the season, but only his third this calendar year. His T-2 finish in Charlotte, which included a double bogey-bogey finish, nearly earned him special temporary status on Tour, meaning he could receive an unlimited number of sponsor exemptions. Alas, he wound up nine FedEx Cup points short. All he needs now is a top-60 at Colonial, Nelson or Memorial to lock it up. 

Good news, because it's not too late to challenge Berger and roommate Thomas for Rookie of the Year honors.

9. So Adam Scott isn't really interested in playing in the 2016 Olympic “exhibition.” Problem is, he’s a virtual lock to be on the two-man Australian team. With about 16 months left in qualifying, only No. 49 John Senden, No. 56 Marc Leishman and No. 65 Matt Jones have a chance to overtake Scott. Even if he has temporarily forgotten how to putt – his MC at Quail Hollow was his sixth consecutive finish outside the top 35 – Scott still won’t drop that far in the world rankings (currently 11th). And, just a guess here, but sitting out the Olympics because he doesn’t want to deal with the scheduling headache likely won’t go over well Down Under.

10. Rising star Alison Lee had to forfeit her spot in a U.S. Women's Open local qualifier when the LPGA’s Kingsmill Championship went into a Monday finish.

Lee wound up bogeying the last hole and finishing a career-best third (worth about $86,000), but all was not lost: The USGA granted her an exemption into a California qualifier on Tuesday.

That right there is the look of a man who didn’t just miss out on a chance to shoot 59, but a man who left his putt short. SHORT! To be fair, Roland Thatcher's 15-foot birdie putt at the Tour's BMW Charity Pro-Am looked like it was motoring toward the hole with good pace, but then it slowed up dramatically and took a sharp left-hand turn in front of the cup.

If you gun it past the hole and miss the 3-foot comebacker, hey, you know what? At least you gave it a run. 

Even Thatcher said that he was “ashamed” he didn’t give his putt more juice. Who knows if he'll get another opportunity to join the 59 Club?

Phil Mickelson’s T-4 finish at Quail Hollow was his first top-10 in a PGA Tour non-major since the 2013 Barclays. It’s just what he was hoping to see in the run-up to Chambers Bay, a quirky track that will place an emphasis on short game and creativity. In other words, it’s right in Phil’s wheelhouse.

The quote of the week belongs to Rory McIlroy. When the world No. 1 was asked about USGA setup czar Mike Davis’ statement that players would need 10 practice rounds at Chambers or they had no chance: “What’s Mike Davis’ handicap?”

Rory’s plan is to play a couple of practice rounds before the Open to get a feel for the unusual links-style course along the Puget Sound. Then he offered this: “You can do all the preparation you want. But if you don’t go out there and execute the shots, all that preparation doesn’t mean anything.” 

• Looking back, it's probably a good thing Keegan Bradley decided not to come to blows with Miguel Angel Jimenez at the Match Play. Tough to land a punch on a guy this elusive:

Don’t have even the faintest idea who Adrian Otaegui is, or how to pronounce his surname, but here’s what we do know: This dude has the best ’burns in golf. 

The Atlanta Braves are in desperate need of a slugger, as they rank near the bottom of the National League standings in home runs hit. The only solution: Chris Kirk!

Love these questions. Long-term, would rank them like this: 

  1. Jordan Spieth: Always been a winner. Though his short game might not always stay this otherworldly good, he has an insatiable desire to win. He’ll find a way.   
  2. Patrick Reed: Has all the tools to be an absolute-world beater. Just needs to find more consistency. 
  3. Patrick Rodgers: A prolific winner at every level, this numbers-freak knows how to get the most out of his game. Dude’s surgical.
  4. Rickie Fowler: In some respects we’re still waiting to see what’s next. And the big question for the future: Will he remain as motivated as the others? 
  5. Justin Thomas: Still learning how to finish off rounds and tournaments, but that’s simply from wanting it too much. When he figures it out, he’ll go on a tear. 

Would list the favorites as Texas, Florida State and Illinois, in that order. The Longhorns have the most momentum, with six of their seven victories coming in the spring. The Seminoles won five times in Florida and, obviously, don't have to travel far with the NCAAs outside Tampa. The Illini have the most championship experience, having reached match play each of the past two years, but like Texas, you wonder how their two freshmen starters will hold up in the cauldron of head-to-head match play. 

Individually, is it asking too much for a Maverick McNealy-vs.-Jon Rahm showdown? Throw in Washington's Cheng-Tsung Pan, and all three Hogan Award finalists won their respective regional last week. Should be an epic event. 

Underrated? Sheesh, I hope not. Rory has three more wins than any other player since 2010 (Tiger). Maybe he’s not getting all of the attention that he so richly deserves – that Woods guy still moves the needle pretty significantly – but it’s impossible to ignore how dominant McIlroy has been in the past 52 weeks.  

Why? These guys have proven successful at an early age, so our expectations for them have accelerated, as well. It seems more unlikely than ever that we’ll see another late bloomer like Walker, who didn’t cash in until his 188th PGA Tour start and age-34 season. These players are coming out of college and golf’s minor leagues hungry, fearless and ready to scrap.