Monday Scramble: Spieth picks up another 'Big' win

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Jordan Spieth sheds his Masters malaise with a big win in Texas, Chris Wood receives plenty of perks with his nail-biting victory at the BMW PGA, Ariya Jutanugarn makes LPGA history and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble.

Two weeks ago in this space, the main storyline was about Jason Day separating himself from his closest rivals and burying the “Big 3” narrative. Day did everything he could to establish himself as the alpha male. He walked off the 18th green at TPC Sawgrass with his third victory of the season, and a firm grip on the No. 1 ranking.

Meanwhile, Spieth had missed the cut in his first start since his back-nine collapse at the Masters, and Rory McIlroy recorded another solid finish but was still missing a victory in 2016.

Now?

Day is still the No. 1 player in the world, but … wow, a lot happened while he was chilling at home enjoying a water balloon fight and grooming the next Happy Gilmore.

First, McIlroy captured his “fifth major” with a jaw-dropping back nine at the Irish Open. The tournament host reminded everyone that there are certain shots only the great players can hit down the stretch. See here and here.

And just after we all got done reading the “McIlroy aims for repeat of summer 2014” headlines, Spieth went out and won his first professional title in his home state of Texas, proving that, yes, he’s doing just fine after handing Danny Willett a green jacket Spieth knows should still be in his closet.

As the jam-packed summer schedule gets started in two weeks at the U.S. Open at Oakmont, Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament has been gifted this juicy storyline – the top-3 players in the world are all coming into Muirfield Village fresh off of victories.

Get your popcorn ready.

1. Well, it only took three tournaments for Spieth to move the debate from “What’s wrong with Jordan?” to “U.S. Open favorite?”

Spieth's ball-striking is still not dialed in, but his short game returned just in time to secure his second victory of 2016. First, he ignited his round with a 32-foot par putt on No. 8, and after making his ninth straight par, something clicked at the turn.

Eager to put the Masters questions behind him once and for all, plus erase the bitter taste from a final-round 74 the previous week at the Byron Nelson, Spieth went off (also inspired by a fan's comment).

“There was a little red-ass in me,” Spieth said, “and it came out on the next few holes.”

No. 10: Birdie.
No. 11: Birdie.
No. 12: Birdie.

He hooked his tee shot at the par-3 13th, hit an awful pitch back over the green and did well to get up and down for bogey. But just as the wheels started wobbling again, Spieth buckled down for one of the most satisfying wins of his young career.

No. 16: Birdie from 20 feet.
No. 17: Chip-in birdie.
No. 18: Birdie from 34 feet.

Back-nine 30. Three-shot win. Any questions?

2. Some athletes will say they don’t pay attention to what the media, fellow players or fans say. They’re just focused on their own games, taking it one shot at a time, etc.

However, in this age of 24/7 coverage and social media, that’s pretty much impossible. And with professional golf, all that is standing between players and fans is a thin rope.

So it’s not hard for a fan to heckle a player.

Even with plenty of local support, not everyone was rooting for Spieth to win. Ryan Palmer, a member at Colonial, was in the final group with Spieth and had plenty of fans on his side, too.

And they were not afraid to try and get in Spieth’s head.

“Remember the Masters!”

That’s what Spieth said he heard walking from the ninth green to the 10th tee on Sunday.

Spieth did his best to downplay his Masters collapse when he faced the press for the first time at The Players and said, “I think people have moved on already, at least I thought so until I came in here today.”

Yes, the questions – and heckling – will probably come up again until he wins another green jacket. Until then, Spieth will continue to use it as inspiration.

“I wasn’t sure how long it would take to get over the hurdle of having to come in to every single interview room, having to listen to crowds only talk about what happened a month ago,” Spieth said after winning at Colonial. “It’s very difficult to stay present, stay positive when that’s happening, when those are the only questions. In our third tournament back, to come back and close this one out the way we did is really, really special.”



3. For all of Spieth’s recent struggles, this is where his career is at:

It is unrealistic to think anyone from this generation will catch Tiger’s total PGA Tour wins (79) or majors (14), but when Spieth, McIlroy and Day’s talents are on full display, there are very few comparisons in the game.

Adam Scott after Day’s Players win, his seventh in 17 starts: “That’s Tiger-esque.”

Webb Simpson after watching Spieth’s back-nine heroics at Colonial: “He’s tough to beat. It’s kind of like what we used to see with Tiger.”

4. After his victory at The Players, Day admitted on Golf Channel’s “Live From” set that he drew inspiration from the pre-tournament chatter about his less-than-stellar record at TPC Sawgrass. If he wants to get pumped up for the Memorial, all he has to do is watch Golf Channel this week, and he’ll likely hear plenty of chatter about his less-than-stellar record at Muirfield Village.

He has yet to crack the top 25 in eight career starts at his adopted home course. Yes, an Australian can claim home-field advantage at a golf course in Columbus, Ohio. Day is a member at Muirfield Village (his wife, Elle, is from Ohio). But as his record shows, local knowledge can only take you so far. McIlroy won in Ireland. Spieth won in Texas. Now Day has another chance for a “hometown victory” at the Memorial.

5. With three majors and FedEx Cup Playoffs in the near future, we’ll be seeing plenty of Day, Spieth and McIlroy. So far this season, however, there have been only four events with the top three players in the same field – Doral, Match Play, Masters and Players.

For the record, here is how they finished in each event:

  Jason Day Jordan Spieth Rory McIlroy
Cadillac Championship T-23 T-17 T-3
WGC Match Play Win T-9 4
Masters T-10 T-2 T-10
Players Championship Win MC T-12

6. While Day, Spieth and McIlroy will be the headliners at the Memorial, expect plenty of pre-tournament coverage of Phil Mickelson. Lefty will be making his first start since news broke that he was named in a federal insider trading lawsuit and agreed to pay the Securities and Exchange Commission a more-than $1 million settlement after he allegedly received inside information on Dean Foods stock in 2012 from sports bettor Billy Walters.

Mickelson was not charged with insider trading or any criminal wrongdoing, but as the Wall Street Journal pointed out recently in a long exposé of Mickelson’s gambling history, this is the second time in a year the five-time major champion has been linked to gambling transactions with people who have been criminally charged. There will certainly be no shortage of questions for Mickelson.



7. Another Friday deadline passed without Woods committing to a tournament. With Woods out of the Memorial, where he is a five-time champion, it is very unlikely the 14-time major winner will make his return in two weeks at Oakmont.

He will host the Quicken Loans National the week after the U.S. Open, so that would be a logical starting line for his comeback from back surgery, but don’t be surprised if he’s out even longer after these quotes from David Feherty.

"I am not sure that Tiger will come back, because it is a nerve in his back," Feherty told the Irish Golf Desk. "It's not muscular or skeletal. It's not something you can deal with in a physical way."

And Feherty added, "He is in phenomenal shape - just ripped as usual. But he is not able to make a full pass at it. I saw him a few weeks ago in Houston and he hadn't played in five months and he hit some good shots, and some awfully skanky-looking things."

8. For the second week in a row on the European Tour, the champion had plenty of local support. Last week McIlroy captured the Irish Open, and on Sunday it was Chris Wood’s turn to enjoy a victory in front of friends and family in England.

Well, he got to enjoy it after his round.

Wood fired a 6-under 29 on the front, and he was cruising along on the back nine until bogeys on 16 and 17 shrunk his lead to one stroke standing on the 18th tee. But the 28-year-old Bristol native made a clutch par on the last hole to secure the third – and biggest – win of his career.

''I proved today that it's pretty hard to win a golf tournament,'' Wood said. ''You can't really enjoy it, to be honest.''

Besides a win at the European Tour’s flagship event, Wood can now enjoy several more perks:

  • $930,000 first-place check
  • A spot inside the top 25 in the OWGR
  • European Tour card is secure through 2021
  • For now, he’s among the automatic qualifiers on the European Ryder Cup team


9. The BMW PGA is the European Tour’s flagship event, but it wasn’t a good sign that the news at Wentworth was largely dominated by who wasn’t there and what will be done to improve the event for next year.

A combination of player disdain for the golf course, and a jumbled schedule on both sides of the pond led many top players to skip the event. McIlroy, Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Ernie Els and Justin Rose (injury) were just some of the names absent from Wentworth.

But credit European Tour CEO Keith Pelley for not shying away from the problem. He not only promised to restore the luster to the BMW PGA, but he teased big changes for the European Tour.

"I'm convinced, I'm confident, what Reignwood (the Wentworth owners) has planned will bring this back to the Harry Colt design and the Harry Colt magic that once made this the place where players want to play," he said. "This is a premium event, and will always be a premium event. Our goal is to have a number of premium, world-class events, such as this. We're confident that in our plans over the coming months, we're going to reveal such. What is important is that we have more premium events."

And his plans for the Tour?

“I sure wish I could share some of our plans with you, but they will be revealed in the near future,” Pelley said. “But the two areas that we're focusing on is one, our schedule, not only the 2017 but the 2018 schedule. Our goal is really to make it have far more travel-ease on the players, as well as more playing opportunities for some of our lower-ranked members.”

Stay tuned.



10. Three weeks ago, Ariya Jutanugarn, 20, was still winless on the LPGA tour and struggling to close out tournaments.

Not anymore.

Jutanugarn won her third straight LPGA event at the Volvik Championship, becoming the first player in LPGA history to win her first three titles in consecutive weeks. She was also the first player since Inbee Park in 2013 to win three in a row.

She won’t try to become the first player since Lorena Ochoa in 2008 to win four straight scheduled events. Jutanugarn is taking this week off to get ready for the KPMG Women’s PGA in two weeks.

''I just need rest right now,'' she said.

So what changed for the player who just last month added to her string of collapses with three closing bogeys to lose the ANA Inspiration?

''Last year, I had chance to win a few tournaments, but I didn't know how to play with pressure,'' she said. ''This year, I know how to play under pressure.''

The sample size is small, but through three events on the PGA Tour Champions, John Daly still can’t stay away from the big numbers. At the Senior PGA Championship, Daly made a quintuple-bogey 9 on the par-4 16th in Round 1. Daly missed the cut after rounds of 75-74.

This week's award winners ... 

Drama queens: The men’s NCAA Championship rolls on, and the fellas have a lot to live up to after the women's final last week. The Washington Huskies captured their first national title in dramatic fashion over Stanford thanks to Julianne Alvarez's win on the 20th hole.

But teammate Ying Luo dropped the shot of the tournament by winning her match with a hole-out birdie on 18.

Good luck topping that, guys!

Good job, good effort: Colin Montgomerie couldn't catch Rocco Mediate at the Senior PGA, but Monty had one of the top plays of the week with this fairway bunker shot on Sunday:

Stats incredible: European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke is jumping on the analytics bandwagon and using all kinds of statistical tools to try and gain an edge before the September matches. Clarke knows the duties of a captain have come a long way since he was a player.

“It’s way beyond what I started off in the Ryder Cup in 1997 with Seve (Ballesteros)," Clarke said. "Seve just shouted at you, ‘You’re hitting here! You’re doing this!’ It’s all changed a lot since that.”

Going the extra mile: It happens every week. Player hits ball, ball hits fan, fan gets signed glove.

Tony Finau's drive on No. 11 in the third round struck a fan, and Finau said she was "bleeding from head to toe."

The incident shook him up pretty bad, so Finau decided to do more than just sign a glove. He bought her flowers and chocolate, and then he personally delivered the gifts to her home.

“I felt like I had to,” Finau said. “I just wanted to make sure she was OK, just for my peace of mind.”

Driving machine: James Morrison aced the par-3 14th in the final round of the BMW PGA, and he received an awesome hole-in-one prize – a brand new i8.

He then celebrated in style by taking pictures in his new ride, carrying playing partner Andrew Sullivan onto the green and kissing his wife, Jessica, who was in the gallery.