Monday Scramble: Good Day, shaky Rory at Bay Hill


Jason Day goes wire-to-wire, Rory McIlroy struggles to find his groove, Henrik Stenson has another close call and golf's most noticeable intern shines. All that and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

"Masters favorite wins golf tournament."

That's been the standing headline for weeks on the PGA Tour, and it once again held for the Arnold Palmer Invitational. This time the player in question happened to be Day.

Day battled back from a wobbly final round to seal a wire-to-wire victory, and in the process stamped his name as just the latest star who will take a trophy with him down Magnolia Lane in a few weeks' time.

First Bubba Watson, then Adam Scott and last week it was former Masters champ Charl Schwartzel in the winner's circle. The big names are playing some of their best golf, and it's just in time for the event that everyone has circled on their calendar.

1. Day bombed his way around Bay Hill for the first three days, but the part of his game that delivered when it counted was his short game.

The Aussie started the final round with a chip-in birdie on No. 2 to extend his lead, then closed out Kevin Chappell with a sublime up-and-down from the bunker on No. 18.

"I holed a lot of shots out this week," he said. "Moreso than I've ever done in my career."

He also holed plenty on the greens. While he's thought of as a power player, Day actually led the field in strokes gained-putting at Bay Hill and needed only 100 putts. He's also second in SGP on Tour this season, all while averaging over 300 yards per drive.

It's a potent combination for nearly any venue, but one in north Georgia especially comes to mind.

2. Day pulled off an improbable feat Sunday: he got a leg up on Tiger Woods at Bay Hill. Woods has eight API titles, but none of his wins were in wire-to-wire fashion. Day took it home the whole way, and while playing from ahead was clearly taxing over the weekend, Day proved once again – as he did at the PGA Championship and BMW Championship last summer - that he has the goods.

He also now has a nugget with which to rib Woods.

"I never knew that, and I will text him that tonight," Day said.

3. That text chain with Woods became a common thread over the weekend in Orlando, as Day was candid about the tips and advice he has received from the 14-time major champ.

It speaks to Day's cerebral nature, as well as the time and attention he devotes to the mental side of the game. But it also highlights the fact that at age 28, Day is among a group of players who viewed Woods first as a hero, then as a peer.

Day was nine when Woods won his first Masters, and he was 13 when Woods completed the "Tiger Slam." Players closer to Woods in age might recoil at the thought of hitting up the former star for pearls of wisdom, but Day clearly has no such hesitation – and he seems to be reaping the benefits as a result.

4. McIlroy came to Bay Hill hoping to iron out any inconsistencies in his game. That plan, uh, did not pan out.

McIlroy was all over the board this past week, carding rounds of 75-67-75-65. He started by hooking his first tee shot out of bounds, closed with a 59-foot birdie bomb and had plenty of peaks and valleys in between.

The glaring concern for McIlroy with the Masters looming, though, is the penchant for big numbers. McIlroy had only two bogeys all week, but his six double bogeys – including four over the weekend – were a career-high on the PGA Tour.

"It's more mental," he said. "I'm beating myself up over mistakes that I'm making on the course, then I'm not letting myself get over it so that it sort of lingers there for the next few holes."

McIlroy gets points for his candor, but his telling self-assessment could be a bit of a red flag for the Masters. No place compounds mistakes quite like Augusta National – a fact that McIlroy himself knows all too well.

5. Of course, McIlroy wasn't the only big name making big numbers at Bay Hill. Adam Scott won despite doubles and quads at Doral and PGA National, but his luck ran out in his quest to win three straight thanks in large part to the closing hole.

Scott found the water with his approach each of the last two rounds on No. 18, leading to a third-round triple and a closing double. While he finished a respectable T-12, he would've been T-3 if he simply turned those into a pair of pars.

6. Henrik Stenson played his way into contention for the fourth straight year at Bay Hill, and for the fourth straight year he left without the trophy.

Stenson said this year's T-3 finish, which saw his title hopes doomed with a watery approach to No. 16, didn't sting as much as last year when he coughed up a late lead to Matt Every. But still, if a win's a win, the opposite is true as well.

With so many big names winning tournaments, Stenson's relative drought – his last win came at the 2014 DP World Tour Championship in Dubai – seems even more noticeable, especially after five runner-ups last year.

6. Much was made this week about a perceived lack of field strength at Bay Hill, especially among American players. While five of the top eight in the world teed it up in Orlando, Brandt Snedeker (No. 17) and Zach Johnson (No. 20) were the highest-ranking Americans in the field.

But here's the deal – you can't have it both ways. You can't assign perceived importance to four majors, plus four WGCs, plus the FedEx Cup Playoffs, plus The Players ... and then question why a player doesn't show at a given Tour stop, even one that honors a living legend.

You also can't spend weeks (justifiably) questioning Jordan Spieth's ambitious playing schedule, then raise an eyebrow when the world No. 1 finally takes a week off.

Schedules are difficult to set under the best of circumstances, but the grind that awaits this summer as golf makes room for the Olympics is far from ideal. Let's hold off on raking players over the coals for taking a breather.

7. You have to feel for Tim Hart. The Aussie stood on the 18th tee Sunday at the Queensland PGA needing a par to shoot a 58 and win the tournament. Instead, he yanked his tee shot out of bounds, made a triple bogey for a 61 and ultimately lost in a playoff.

As it turns out, Hart channeled Jesper Parnevik at the 1994 Open Championship by not looking at a leaderboard - with similarly disastrous results.

"If I'd known I was three or four shots in front," he said, "maybe the 2-iron comes out."

Hart displayed some commendable perspective in the aftermath of his meltdown, adding that if he was offered a spot in a playoff after starting the final round in 20th, he would've taken it. But chances at a sub-60 round present themselves only so often.

8. Two-time Masters champ Jose Maria Olazabal announced last week that he will miss the Masters next month. Combined with Jim Furyk's wrist injury, this means that the projected Masters field is 90 names deep – the same as it was on Jan. 1.

The only two players to earn their tickets in 2016 are Pebble Beach champ Vaughn Taylor and Paul Chaplet, who won the Latin American Amateur. Every other PGA Tour winner was already qualified for the season's first major.

A few players at this week's WGC-Dell Match Play could crash the party by cracking the top 50 in the world ranking, but after that there's only one golden ticket left for the winner of next week's Shell Houston Open.

9. While the big names take on Austin Country Club this week, the rest of the PGA Tour will head to the Caribbean for the Puerto Rico Open. While the field is largely dotted with players chasing the two-year exemption that goes to the winner, two big names stick out.

Ian Poulter is first alternate at the Match Play, but if he doesn't get in by the tournament's Wednesday start, he said he'll fly to Puerto Rico. It would be the end of an era for Poulter, who has played every WGC-Match Play since 2004 but is now 67th in the world.

The other notable is a former world No. 1, Luke Donald. Donald missed the cut at Bay Hill, has yet to crack the top 20 in nine PGA Tour starts this season and is improbably down to No. 92 in the latest rankings.

It's a coup for the good folks in Puerto Rico to have Donald and potentially Poulter in the field, but it's also a sobering reminder of how fast things can change in this game.

10. A cool scene broke out at the Hero Indian Open, where S.S.P. Chawrasia finally captured his country's biggest event.

Helped in part by an improbable escape from the shrubs (above), Chawrasia erased the pain of four prior runner-up finishes, including a playoff loss last year, to win by two shots. Chawrasia may not be a household name – the S.S.P. stands for Shiv Shankar Prasad, by the way – but American fans would do well to learn it.

Chawrasia was already in line for an Olympic berth, but this win moves him inside the OWGR top 150 and virtually guarantees that he will represent India in Rio along with Anirban Lahiri, who finished T-2.

In one of the week's more bizarre storylines, a man who heckled Poulter at Valspar – and bragged about it – ultimately lost his job after Poulter's above tweet created some backlash.

The lesson, as always, when it comes to social media: use caution when trolling, but for goodness sake make sure you don't have a reference to your employer in your handle. Which reminds me, I might have to go back and make some edits from the archives...

This week's award winners ... 

Going (seriously) low: Sei Young Kim torched the field at the LPGA Founders Cup, shooting 27 under for the week to tie Annika Sorenstam's all-time LPGA scoring record. Anytime you get your name next to Annika's in the record books you're doing something right, and it shows once again that the South Korean Olympic battle will be one of the most intriguing races to play out this summer.

Snapchat savage: API runner-up Kevin Chappell had been in a bit of a slump until the final round last week in Tampa. Playing by himself, he Snapchatted his way through the round and "had a blast."

"I have like 10 followers on Snapchat," he said. "It was hilarious. We were having fun with it."

Whether the suits in Ponte Vedra find it "hilarious" that he was using the social media app during a competitive round, though, remains to be seen. But his bounceback at Bay Hill shows that inspiration can come from nearly anywhere.

Not just a trick shot artist: The Bryan brothers have made their mark in golf through various trick-shot videos (and an appearance on Big Break), but they may soon be heading to the PGA Tour. With his brother on the bag, Wesley Bryan took the title at the Louisiana Open, taking a big step toward a spot in the big leagues next season.

Congrats, intern: Bryson DeChambeau's self-described "internship" is drawing to a close, and he capped it in style with a final-round 66 playing alongside Rory McIlroy at Bay Hill.

It was a far cry from the 78 he shot earlier this year in Abu Dhabi when the two were paired, and his short game drew praise from McIlroy. DeChambeau is expected to turn pro after the Masters, and cracked a grin when asked how comfortable he feels on the big stage.

"Pretty darn comfortable," he said. Sure seems that way.

Grab an abacus: Day's win drew him within 0.374 points of Spieth atop the world rankings. That means that after weeks of having Spieth safely atop the standings, it's time to start breaking out the bevy of hypothetical scenarios and finish combinations that could vault Day back to world No. 1 all of it just in time for the most unpredictable event of the year.

Theoretical brackets: The format changes for the WGC-Match Play are in their second year, and while they could still produce some tasty matchups, the old format would have seen McIlroy take on Graeme McDowell in the first round. Oh, and we would have been one withdrawal away from a Spieth-Poulter opening-round tilt. Ah, what might have been.