Monday Scramble: G-Mac prevails; Races to be won


Graeme McDowell ends his transitional year on a high note, Russell Knox runs out of gas, the LPGA draws up the perfect season finale, two high-profile caddies trade in their bags for microphones and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Graeme McDowell’s resurgent performance in Mexico was a much-needed reminder of how often life can intervene. 

Contrary to popular belief, those PGA Tour players on our TV screens are not robots. They, too, are humans. And so McDowell, like so many others, has struggled with productivity and desire and motivation following the birth of his first child. He didn’t have the same itch to go practice, to play, to improve. It happens.

His game suffered. His world ranking tumbled. He started to wonder whether he still had the game to win tournaments, to be a major champion, to play on Ryder Cup teams.

McDowell has a strong team around him, and after he realized that what he was experiencing was normal, that it was human, he went back to work with a fresh perspective.

“I’ve been dreaming of this day,” he said after winning in a playoff against Russell Knox and Jason Bohn, “and I said to myself: I’m going to appreciate this when it came.” 

The Mayakoba victory comes with many perks: an invitation to the Masters, a mention from European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke and a two-year security blanket on Tour, in case life intervenes again.

“It’s been a rough year,” McDowell said, “but for all the right reasons.” 

1. Graeme McDowell may have gone 31 months between PGA Tour titles, but apparently he never lost his clutch gene.

His highlight reel is a lengthy one. 

In 2010, he holed a 20-footer on the last to force a playoff with Tiger Woods at the World Challenge, then made a longer birdie putt on the first extra hole. That capped a year in which he won his first major and holed the clinching putt in the Ryder Cup. In 2013, he erased a four-shot deficit on the final day and defeated Webb Simpson in a playoff at the Heritage. And last year, G-Mac went 3-0 at the Ryder Cup, including a come-from-behind singles victory against Jordan Spieth

So no, that kind of clutchness doesn’t just disappear.

Which brings us to Monday, when McDowell sank an 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to post 18 under, then nearly holed his 205-yard approach on the first playoff hole. All he had left was 2 1/2 feet for the win.

“As good a 5-iron as I can hit,” he said.  

2. How miserable has G-Mac’s 2015 been? His victory at Mayakoba was his first top-10 since January, a span of 24 events. 

3. One of McDowell’s keys to victory came from an unlikely source. Greg Norman sent McDowell a text on the eve of the final round telling him to complete his backswing, because he had gotten "short" and "quick." McDowell then reminded himself of that swing tip when he struck one of the best iron shots of his decorated career.

“That was nice to get a little positive reinforcement,” he said. 

4. Knox’s overly ambitious schedule may have caught up with him at the worst possible time.

“Running on fumes” after playing five consecutive events this fall (including a 10,000-mile trip from Shanghai to Playa del Carmen, Mexico), Knox had a one-shot lead on the 18th hole Monday when he hooked his tee shot into a fairway bunker. With nearly 200 yards to the flag, and a steep lip to clear, Knox couldn’t advance the ball to the green. Worse, he failed to get up and down from a straightforward spot short of the green. In the playoff, he missed the green with an 8-iron and made par.

Though Knox said he didn’t expect to be in contention so soon after his maiden victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, he said: “I was right there. I should have got it done.”

The last player to win his first two tournaments in consecutive starts? Camilo Villegas, who went back-to-back at the 2008 BMW Championship and Tour Championship

5. The only two wins of Bohn’s career have come five years apart. He almost kept the streak alive at Mayakoba, where he missed a 25-foot birdie on the first playoff hole. 

Since his last victory, at the 2010 Zurich Classic, Bohn has recorded seven runner-up finishes. He already has two this season, after a close call in Las Vegas, and now has top-3 finishes in three of his four fall starts. 

It's official: Bohn has joined Kevin Na in professional golf’s torture chamber.   

6. There weren’t many doubts to begin with, but there should be no question now whether No. 1-ranked amateur Jon Rahm is ready for the pros.

The Arizona State senior has four starts on the PGA Tour. He has made three cuts and finished in the top 10 twice – a T-5 at the Phoenix Open earlier this year, and now a T-10 at Mayakoba. 

This high finish was particularly impressive, for Rahm began his final round with back-to-back double bogeys. He rebounded with six birdies and remained steady in wild weather Monday morning. 

After earning the McCormack Medal as the world’s top-ranked amateur, Rahm has exemptions into the 2016 U.S. Open and Open Championship - provided he remains an amateur. Expect to see the big hitter turn pro after Oakmont, and make an immediate impact.  

7. Much has been made recently of the international players who are gassed having to traverse back and forth across the Atlantic to fulfill the obligations of dual membership.

Patrick Reed doesn’t seem to mind.

Even at the end of a long season, Reed has posted three consecutive top-10s in Asia, including a playoff loss at last week’s BMW Masters. The busy fall stretch has moved Reed into the top 15 in the season-long Race to Dubai – and back inside the top 15 in the world.

8. That Reed is even still a European Tour member was up for discussion this past week.

According to the tour’s website, Reed has played 12 events this season – one short of the tour requirement, which he will fulfill this week in Dubai – but only 11 tournaments are listed. 

The missing event? Interestingly enough, it's the Presidents Cup, which counts toward the membership total even though European-born players can’t compete on the International squad.

9. Speaking of which … new European Tour CEO Keith Pelley is expected to announce this week changes to both the circuit’s Final Series and its membership policies.

The Final Series will be reduced from four events to three, with the WGC-HSBC Champions falling out of the rotation. That makes sense, because the limited field for the World Golf Championships event kept out many of the European Tour’s deserving players, including Victor Dubuisson, who won the Finals opener. 

The tour will also announce that the number of required events will drop from 13 (including majors and WGCs) to five events, excluding majors and WGCs. A big deal? Not for the top international players, such as Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, who will still have to book five trips across the Atlantic. But it should make a difference for fringe stars like Luke Donald and Ian Poulter, who might not qualify for some of golf’s biggest events.  

10. The top six players in the Race to Dubai standings have a chance to win the season-long prize.

Here is how they can win the title:

  • Rory McIlroy wins if … he finishes ahead of Danny Willett. 
  • Willett wins if … he finishes ahead of McIlroy.
  • Justin Rose wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (eighth or worse if Rose is second).
  • Shane Lowry wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (ninth or worse if Lowry is second).
  • Louis Oosthuizen wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (12th or worse if Oosthuizen is second). 
  • Branden Grace wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (43rd or worse if Grace is second). 
  • Byeong-Hun An wins if … he wins and McIlroy and Willett finish 29th or worse. 

11. Seems Sergio Garcia has no use for playoff systems this year. 

After skipping the first two events in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Spaniard will play only half of the European Tour’s Final Series after he confirmed that he will not be a part of the 60-man field this week in Dubai. 

Garcia was 27th in the standings, after a T-11 finish at the BMW Masters, but he will not play in the Euro Tour’s season finale. No reason was given for his withdrawal, but it’s the second time in the past three years that he has opted out of the final event. 

12. Inbee Park just made this week’s CME Group Tour Championship a whole lot more interesting. 

With a closing 64 at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Park tied Lydia Ko for the most wins this season (five) and inched to within three points of the teen phenom for Player of the Year honors. It was a remarkable performance, especially since Park recently shelved the clubs for eight days because of a painful cyst in her left hand. 

Almost all of the attention will be on the top two stars, who are in form and primed for a Sunday showdown in Naples. But there is more at stake at the Tour Championship: The top nine on the points list have a mathematical chance to win the $1 million bonus for capturing the season-long Race to the CME Globe, while the top three (Ko, Park and Stacy Lewis) control their own destiny with a win. 

13. With Ko deciding to sit out last week's event in Mexico because of exhaustion, Park has now pulled ahead in the race for the lowest scoring average. Park has a 69.433 average – .016 better than Ko.

14. Let's face it: Not much about this fall series has produced must-see TV, but it’ll be great fun to listen to longtime caddies Jim “Bones” Mackay and John Wood as they serve as on-course reporters during Golf Channel’s telecast of the RSM Classic. (Hey, I’m nothing if not a company man.)

These loopers should bring a new perspective that will be a refreshing contrast to the clichés spouted by many of the ex-players in the booth. That Mackay and Wood just so happen to be two of the most cerebral and articulate people in the game is an added bonus for viewers. 

Can’t trust those hotel shuttles.

Four players competing in last week's Lorena Ochoa Invitational were spared disqualification after the LPGA invoked a rarely used rule and pushed back the players’ tee times because of “exceptional circumstances.” 

The reason? 

Traffic jams in Mexico City, which turned what should have been a 15-minute shuttle ride from the hotel into a two-hour, 15-minute nightmare.

Citing Decision 6-3a/1.5 – which allows tour officials discretion during “exceptional circumstances beyond the players’ control” – the tee times for the final three groups were delayed 53 minutes to accommodate the late-arriving players. 

Hey, who knows, a similar situation may arise this week in Naples. Beware the snowbirds.

This week's award winners ... 

Like Father, Like Son: Dru Love. The son of Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III will make his PGA Tour debut this week at the RSM Classic, where he received a sponsor exemption but still had to play his way into the field.

Friends of Spieth: Kramer Hickok and Alex Moon. Spieth's former roomates and college teammates each shot 66 in the final round of Tour Q-School to advance to final stage and secure at least some status next year on the developmental circuit. 

Overtime Rules: The PGA Tour. The last time that the Tour had consecutive unscheduled Monday finishes? All the way back in 2005, when The Players and BellSouth Classic each went an extra day.

Goodbye, Top 50: Lee Westwood. The Englishman, who reached world No. 1 only four years ago, has fallen out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since '07. He has played every Masters since '05, but that streak is now in jeopardy. 

Back to School: Hunter Stewart. He top-tenned at Mayakoba and earned a spot in this week's RSM Classic field. Only problem? He can't play. He has a date at Q-School's second stage. 

The Machine: Henrik Stenson, who missed only seven fairways all week en route to a T-3 finish at the BMW Masters. A good sign as he heads to Dubai, where has a 66.9 scoring average the past two years there (both wins).