Fabian Gomez rallies for a stunning victory, Brandt Snedeker comes up just short for the second week in a row, Jordan Spieth and Phil Mickelson both make headlines without hitting a shot and golfer facial hair comes under scrutiny. All that and more in this week's Aloha edition of Monday Scramble:
Consistency is overrated.
Perhaps taking a page from the book of all-or-nothing countryman Angel Cabrera, Gomez came out of nowhere Sunday to contend at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Seven birdies in a row during the final round can create that type of unexpected opportunity.
Months removed from his maiden PGA Tour victory – and with little form in the interim to suggest a return to the winner's circle was imminent – Gomez made the most of his chance. The Argentine closed with two birdies to cap off a final-round 62, then outlasted Snedeker on the second hole of a sudden-death playoff.
When Gomez emerged last summer to win the FedEx St. Jude Classic in convincing fashion, it was seen as a deserving win but one against a relatively weak field, with many of the game's best resting for the U.S. Open the following week. While this Sony field didn't boast a top-10 player, Gomez did have to pass guys like Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner before getting a crack at Snedeker in overtime. If anything, it shows that his win in Memphis was no fluke, and he is now up to a career-best No. 55 in the world rankings.
As Gomez's finish in Hawaii showed, you don't need a ton of bites at the proverbial apple if you're able to take care of business with the few chances you are afforded.
1. Just how unexpected was Gomez's victory? Well, consider the fact that last week's T-6 finish at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions was his first top-10 finish since that breakthrough win in Memphis. He followed that victory with the following record in his subsequent seven starts: MC, MC, MC, MC, T-67, MC, T-71. Here's hoping the hangover is a little bit shorter this time around.
2. With a bevy of younger winners emerging in recent months on the PGA Tour, fans may have grown accustomed to 18th-hole celebrations that include players embracing their young children. (Great photo op, right?) Well when Gomez clinched his victory Sunday, the first family member to greet him was his 11-year-old daughter, Melina.
It served as a stark reminder that Gomez, 37, has been at this for a while. He turned pro in 2001, and was playing on the Web.com Tour just 16 months ago. Now with two victories under his belt, his PGA Tour schedule is set through the 2017-18 season.
Is it great to see rising stars likey Smylie Kaufman and Justin Thomas get their hands on the hardware at a young age? Sure. But it's equally rewarding to see a grinder like Gomez reap some of the benefits from decades of hard work and perseverance.
3. With the victory, Gomez becomes just the fourth player from Argentina with multiple PGA Tour wins. Here's a look at the full list, which includes a pair of major champions:
- Roberto De Vicenzo: eight wins (including 1968 Open Championship)
- Cabrera: three wins (2007 U.S. Open, 2009 Masters and 2014 Greenbrier Classic)
- Jose Coceres: two wins (2001 RBC Heritage and 2001 Walt Disney World Golf Classic)
- Gomez: two wins (2015 FedEx St. Jude Classic and 2016 Sony Open)
4. Not on that previous list (yet) is Emiliano Grillo, who captured the season-opening Frys.com Open. This win by Gomez basically locks up those two men to represent Argentina this summer when golf returns to the Olympics, where both could be intriguing players to watch while teeing it up in neighboring Brazil.
5. Victory celebrations can often include some tears, but usually the emotions come from the player - not the caddie. Roles were reversed at Waialae, though, as Gomez remained stoic while his caddie, Coco Monteros, broke down on the 18th green. Interviews with Gomez after the win shed light on the situation, as Monteros' father had died just a few weeks prior. The pair had dedicated their collective effort in the final round to his memory, and the in the moment Monteros was overcome with emotion.
"We knew we would have a chance, and we were proud to be able to do it for him," Gomez said.
6. Another close call for Snedeker, who followed a T-3 finish in Maui with a playoff loss in Honolulu. Sneds was surprisingly undone by a normally trusty putter, unable to find the proper pace on a few key putts coming down the stretch, and he probably wishes he could have a mulligan on the club choice off the tee of the second playoff hole.
"Just kind of never really got comfortable with the speed of the greens for some reason," Snedeker said. "I don't know why."
Overall, though, it's still a strong start to the new year for Snedeker, who is up to No. 24 in the world. After all, it was less than a year ago that he was well outside the OWGR top 50 and without an invite into most of the majors and WGC events - neither of which are an issue this year.
7. Zac Blair missed a 10-foot putt to join the playoff with Gomez and Snedeker, but the solo third was still a career-best result for the 25-year-old. His ascension through the ranks is the stuff dreams are made of in Ponte Vedra Beach: after brief stints on PGA Tour Canada and PGA Tour LatinoAmerica, Blair made it through the Web.com Tour Finals two years ago and has been in the big leagues ever since.
His path to success may be a bit meandering, but it's one that Tour officials can point to as a shining example of the opportunities they had hoped to create in this post-Q-School world.
8. Kisner is out to prove that his banner year and RSM Classic victory were no fluke.
In a stretch that bridges across the holiday season, Kisner has now gone four straight events in which he has entered the weekend in the thick of contention, and in three of those tournaments he has played in Sunday's final group. That includes his breakthrough win at Sea Island, and while Kisner is likely disappointed with an even-par final round that left him tied for fifth at Waialae, he is now up to No. 14 in the world and padded his lead atop the FedEx Cup standings.
9. It's good to be Jordan Spieth, even during an off week.
Days after Spieth cruised to victory at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, a Golf Digest report indicated that Spieth had overtaken Tiger Woods as the top earner in golf for 2015, amassing more than $53 million in on-course and endorsement earnings last year.
That proclamation was then followed by a multi-year partnership with Coca-Cola, putting Spieth on a par with the likes of LeBron James in the eyes of one of the country's most iconic brands. Get ready for that mug to appear on plenty of Coke six-packs in the weeks and months leading up to the Rio Olympics.
10. It appears that the Europeans have, in fact, realized that this is a Ryder Cup year. Led by Darren Clarke, who will captain the team at Hazeltine in October, Team Europe drummed their Asian counterparts en route to an 18 1/2 to 5 1/2 rout at the second annual EurAsia Cup.
That steamroll was led by Clarke's two captain's picks, Lee Westwood and Ian Poulter, both of whom displayed their veteran leadership and match-play savvy while also going undefeated.
But perhaps more importantly, it was invaluable experience for up-and-comers like Andy Sullivan, Danny Willett and Matthew Fitzpatrick, all of whom now have a taste of what it's like to win for the Continent. All three of those names could factor for spots on Clarke's roster this fall, and all appear poised to take the baton for English golf from the likes of Westwood, Poulter and Luke Donald at some point in the not-too-distant future.
11. There was plenty of Phil Mickelson discussion in the news this week, especially considering Lefty remained many miles away from Waialae. There was discussion over a recent practice round with newly-minted pro Ryan Ruffels that may or may not have included some side action, and we saw Mickelson rock the casual look as he oversaw progress at Mickelson National outside Calgary.
The most telling development, however, was Mickelson's candid comments that he is both optimistic and "nervous" about the start of a new season. At age 45, Mickelson hasn't played since the Presidents Cup in October, hasn't won since the 2013 Open Championship and now embarks on a pivotal season under the guidance of a new swing coach in Andrew Getson. It all gets started this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.
12. Two-time defending champ Jimmy Walker salvaged a T-13 finish at Sony thanks in large part to a back-nine 30 on Sunday, but he never really contended for the three-peat. Walker has now opened the new year with a pair of top-15 finishes, but it's not the form we have been used to seeing from the American over the last two-plus seasons.
While Walker cracked the top 10 in the world rankings after his win at last year's Valero Texas Open, he has now slipped to No. 25 and hasn't had a realistic chance to win coming down the stretch since a T-2 finish at the AT&T Byron Nelson Championship in May.
13. Ryan Lavner with the recap of Paul Chaplet's win at the Latin America Amateur Championship, a surprising victory that brought with it an invite to the Masters for the 16-year-old from Costa Rica.
Pete Dye's Teeth of the Dog course took its toll on the field all week, but Chaplet emerged with the coveted golden ticket to Augusta National. Television viewers, on the other hand, left with plenty of reasons to add the scenic layout set along the rocky shores of the Dominican Republic to any golf-related bucket list.
14. Here we go. In the first full-field event since the anchoring ban became official, social media stirred during the close of play in Honolulu when Blair used a 3-wood from around the green and touched his shirt with the butt end of the club during his stroke. Did he anchor? Did he not?
The answer was no, as any anchoring violation is tied to the player's intent. But as Randall Mell pointed out this is the first – but hardly the last – time questions will abound about the A-word. The USGA's myopic ruling opened Pandora's box on this one, and we won't see the end of it anytime soon.
Are the facial hair police coming to a tournament near you?
Boo Weekley and Graham DeLaet have both been known to sport pretty full beards inside the ropes, but both appear to have misplaced their shaving kits over the brief off-season. The result is a pair of bushy efforts that make you wonder if the calendar still says Movember:
According to a Golfweek report, Weekley's facial hair has even caught the attention of Tour officials, who may soon ask him to trim it down. While the three-time winner insisted that he doesn't plan to break out the shears anytime soon, it could be an interesting situation to monitor in the coming weeks and months as he progresses toward full-on Duck Dynasty status.
As for DeLaet, maybe the extra-thick beard should be here to stay. The Canadian rallied from an opening 73 to finish T-7 in Hawaii, his best result since a fourth-place showing at the Travelers Championship in June and just his fourth top-10 finish since August 2014.
This week’s award winners …
Quote of the Week: "Oh my gosh, that is so good." - Blair as his approach to the 72nd hole was mid-air, a 266-yard 3-wood that rolled to within 10 feet of the hole. While he failed to convert the subsequent eagle putt that would have given him a chance at the win, Blair still gets points for both pulling off a great shot when he needed it and for providing some stellar mid-swing commentary.
Too Much Time Off Can Be Detrimental to One's Health: It looks like former Ryder Cup hero Jamie Donaldson could be on the disabled list for a little while after the Welshman tweeted a picture of his recently-injured hand following a chainsaw encounter. I'm still waiting for the first time the phrase "chainsaw encounter" is used to describe something that ends well:
So folks in my time off decided to have a fight with a chainsaw and lost! Oops!! C u in Dubai pic.twitter.com/uyVFfnsULL— Jamie Donaldson (@DonaldsonJamie) January 18, 2016
The Old Guard Strikes: It was a pretty good week in Honolulu for some of the game's elder statesmen. Vijay Singh, 52, opened with a 63 and briefly flirted with becoming the oldest winner in PGA Tour history. At age 59, Fred Funk became the oldest player in Sony tournament history to make the cut while 49-year-old Jerry Kelly quietly notched a T-9 finish for his third straight top-10 at Waialae.
Away with the Anchors: Perhaps there is hope yet for recovering anchorers in this new era, as Tim Clark posted a solid T-13 finish in Hawaii in his first start since shelving his trusty broomstick putter. It was a nice week for the South African, who had been one of the most outspoken opponents of the anchoring ban since its announcement. The results for other ex-anchorers, though, were not as rosy: David Hearn failed to back up an opening 65 en route to an MDF finish, while Carl Pettersson missed the cut. Meanwhile Adam Scott, who at No. 11 was the highest-ranked player in the field, failed to shoot lower than 68 in any single round and finished a mediocre T-56.
Ridiculous Stat of the Week: Let's hear it for new year's resolutions. Snedeker ended 2015 by playing his final six competitive rounds in 19 over par, highlighted (lowlighted?) by an 84 at the Australian PGA. He has since opened 2016 by playing his first eight competitive rounds in 41 under.
Random Thought of the Week: Greg Norman is out as the lead golf analyst for Fox Sports. It seems like only a few days ago that someone used this space to advocate for a full-time U.S. commentary gig for Butch Harmon ...