Adam Scott keeps on winning, Rory McIlroy runs out of steam, Tiger Woods holds court, Bubba Watson has another close call and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
Adam Scott appears plenty comfortable in the winner's circle.
One week after edging out Sergio Garcia at the Honda Classic, Scott survived a rocky finish to claim his second title in as many weeks, this time at the WGC-Cadillac Championship. The Aussie had gone all of 2015 without a victory, but with two wins under his belt - not to mention a runner-up finish last month at the Northern Trust Open - Scott has stamped his name as one of the Masters favorites.
In one impressive fortnight, Scott has put to bed any question of his post-anchoring viability. Still equipped with one of the sweetest swings on Tour, he now appears back to the form that helped him don a green jacket and took him to No. 1 in the world less than two years ago.
Sure, it wasn't entirely pretty. But few rounds are on the Blue Monster, and when Scott needed to hole a putt coming down the stretch, his stroke never wavered. Eighteen putts faced inside 10 feet during the final round, 18 putts right on target.
Add another trophy to the mantle.
1. Much of the attention surrounding Scott's recent success may center on his putter, but his win in Miami had roots in some terrific iron approach shots. Of the seven birdies he made during the final round, Scott's longest make was only 9 feet - a stark contrast to the scorecard of his closest competitor, Bubba Watson, who was holing putts from Hialeah for much of the afternoon.
With Rory McIlroy wavering in the middle of his round, Scott grabbed the tournament by the throat with a trio of timely approaches:
- 169 yards to 2 feet, 7 inches on No. 11
- 140 yards to 5 feet, 2 inches on No. 12
- 141 yards to 3 feet on No. 14
That trifecta turned a one-shot deficit into a two-shot lead, and Scott would need all the cushion he could afford coming down the stretch.
2. "Ugly and good, all in 18 holes." That's how Scott described his final-round 69, a round that included equal parts blunder and brilliance. There were birdies, sure, but there were also two early double bogeys that seemingly took him out of contention and a bizarre shank from the bunker on No. 16 that nearly cost him the tournament.
Scott's impeccable tee-to-green game has been on full display these last two weeks, but so too has his resiliency. He seemed to have things well in hand at PGA National before a third-round quad brought a half-dozen players back into the mix, and this time he found trouble after watery approaches on Nos. 3 and 5. But just like last week, he kept his composure and battled back.
If the test of a champion is determined by how he handles adversity, consider Scott to have passed with flying colors.
3. Despite a strong round, Scott nearly watched his hopes of winning disappear beneath the surface of the water that guards the 18th green. His approach to the final green was bold - almost too bold - as clinging to a one-shot lead, he hit a cut around a palm tree to a narrow target. But the shot sailed long and left, bounding over the green and toward the lake.
Recalling memories of Fred Couples' famed shot from the 1992 Masters, Scott's ball snagged just enough in the Bermuda rough to stop inside the hazard but short of the water. The subsequent pitch and 6-footer gave him a win by the narrowest of margins.
"When you're that lucky," he said afterward, "you'd better get it up and down."
4. Scott's victory moves him up to No. 6 in the latest world rankings, which means of course that we need to widen the range on "Golf's Big (insert number)." Right?
Perhaps Scott's recent hot streak can demonstrate once and for all that that narrative is played out. If the success of Spieth, McIlroy and Day last summer caused fans to harken back to the halcyon days of Nicklaus, Palmer and Player, that's fine. But let's not continue to move the goalposts, reacting to every victory by adding another seat at the table of golf's elite.
Welcome to 2016, where any number of strong and talented players can win an event against a world-class field, or even two in a row. Sorry that such a landscape doesn't lend itself well to a hashtag.
5. You'll only hear this about 1,392 more times before the Masters, but Watson has finished second at Doral in 2012, 2014 and now 2016. Those first two instances, of course, saw him fitted with a green jacket a few months later.
Whether Watson will make it 3-for-3, adhering like the San Francisco Giants to strong play in even-numbered years, remains to be seen. But his play this week at Doral, coupled with his convincing win last month at Riviera, show that he is peaking just in time to make that trip down Magnolia Lane.
6. While Watson has bombed his way around the rebuilt Blue Monster each of the last three years, it was actually his putter that proved to be his most valuable asset during the final round. Sparked by a 61-foot eagle bomb on No. 8, Watson made more than 158 feet worth of putts Sunday, easily his best putting effort of the week.
The pink driver, fancy footwork and 300-yard bombs of "Bubba Golf" get plenty of attention, and rightfully so. But it's Watson's deft touch on and around the greens that tends to turn his good weeks into great ones.
His short game was on at Riviera. It was on at Doral, especially Sunday. If it remains in shape leading into the Masters, he will be tough to beat.
7. Speaking of tough to beat, what exactly happened to the McIlroy coronation that was scheduled for Sunday?
McIlroy began the day with a three-shot cushion and a strong record as a 54-hole leader. His lead reached four shots early in the fourth round, and it seemed like we could be heading for a Rory Romp the likes of which we have seen before at places like Congressional and Hazeltine.
Instead, McIlroy began to sputter, and ultimately stalled out. There was a sloppy approach on No. 7, a water ball on No. 8, another bogey on No. 9 and all of a sudden McIlroy was in chase mode. By the time he rolled in a birdie on No. 16, his first of the day, the damage was done and the tournament all but lost.
The week as a whole was a bit of a mixed bag for McIlroy, who was seeking momentum after a missed cut at Honda and created headlines with his surprising switch to a cross-handed putting grip. It didn't work at first, then it worked really, really well, and then things kind of fizzled as the tournament slipped away - a similar pattern to his result at the Northern Trust Open.
Give McIlroy an "incomplete" for this week as he continues his quest to gain traction before the Masters.
8. The player who joined McIlroy in third place? That would be Danny Willett, whose record in WGC events since last season goes as follows: T-12, third, T-17, T-3, T-3.
Throw in a T-6 finish at St. Andrews when Willett held the 36-hole lead, and it's clear the Englishman belongs on the world stage. He'll be a name to watch both for the Masters and at the WGC-Dell Match Play before that, depending on when his first-born arrives, and American fans should prepare themselves for the notion that he'll probably go about 4-1 in his Ryder Cup debut later this year at Hazeltine.
9. Lost amid McIlroy's final-round falter was the mutilated scorecard of his playing partner, Dustin Johnson. Johnson began the day three shots off the pace, still with a chance to successfully defend his title, but those chances went up in flames when DJ played Nos. 10-13 in 7 over en route to a 79.
It's just the latest in a string of weekend melts from Johnson, a trend we saw last year at St. Andrews and Firestone but which dates back to Pebble Beach in 2010. When he's on, Johnson is really, really good. But when the going gets rough, things tend to go south in a hurry.
Johnson's mental toughness has been an oft-debated subject, perhaps never more so than in the aftermath of Chambers Bay, but he clearly has the fortitude to win consistently on Tour. Still, there's reason to suspect that if Johnson had mirrored Scott's final-round start of 3 over through five holes, he would've been much more likely to head for the exit than the winner's circle by day's end.
9. Tiger's back! Well not exactly, but Tiger Woods' lengthy press conference at his newly-minted Bluejack National outside Houston was a much more welcome sight than the somber offering he gave at the Hero World Challenge in December.
When Woods will return to competition remains anyone's guess, but the former world No. 1 showed a little spring in his step earlier this week while fielding questions and putting his way around a couple of the shots on the 10-hole short course at Bluejack. Perhaps it's another shining example of "underpromise and overdeliver," but after the way Woods closed out 2015, fans and media alike are left to clamor for any shred of hope he might be able to offer.
This week it came in the form of some toothy grins from a director's chair, accompanied by several vague answers about his health and prognosis that amounted to upbeat shoulder shrugs. Hey, we'll take what we can get.
11. Can we make every week include a celebratory dance from the LPGA's latest sensation, Ha Na Jang? Can she, for instance, start adding Instagram videos of her reaction to a well-cooked dinner?
Jang notched her second win of the year at the HSBC Women's Champions in Singapore, and after a surprising "lasso" move to celebrate her victory at the Coates earlier this season, the Korean stepped up her game by channeling Beyonce with a move from the "Single Ladies" music video.
The reason for her song choice?
"I am single right now, too," she said.
Refreshing and light-hearted candor from a player LPGA fans should keep an eye on, and one whose appeal commissioner Michael Whan would be wise to market to a broader audience.
12. Speaking of Whan, his resurrection of the LPGA took another big step this week when the organization formed a "strategic alliance" with the PGA Tour. While the details of the new, budding partnership have yet to be sorted out, it's still a boon for the women's game to be formally tied to the biggest brand in golf.
Should it someday lead, as some have theorized, to some sort of combined-field event, we could look back at this week as the beginning of a truly significant shift in the game.
It's tough to upstage Tiger at the christening of one of his own golf course designs, but 11-year-old Taylor Crozier managed to do it. Inaugural tee shot at The Playgrounds, a 10-hole short course at Bluejack National, and Crozier promptly cards a 1.
No sweat for a grizzled vet like Taylor, though, who calmly walked back to his bag to replace his club before getting a bearhug from the Big Cat.
News, notes and observations from the past week ...
• Donald Trump is an avid golfer, and he even used part of a campaign speech over the weekend to reference his prowess off the tee (which he measured at 280 yards). It's odd, then, that Trump would use the time following his much-ballyhooed arrival on-site Sunday to interrupt the pre-round routine of some of the tournament leaders, including McIlroy and Johnson, for some light banter.
Certainly a bit of an etiquette faux pas from Trump, as both players likely would've preferred to keep to their strict warm-up schedule. The fact that both went on to implode after chatting with the resort's owner was surely a coincidence. Right?
• It was a rough week for Steven Bowditch, but the Aussie still managed to pocket a cool $48,000 despite failing to break 80 on the Blue Monster. His 37-over total not only left him in last place, but he was 14 shots worse than Kristoffer Broberg in 64th.
Bowditch's scores of 81-80-80-84 left researchers scrambling for the record books of futility, as a pair of 80-plus scores rarely affords a Tour pro a third-round tee time. But the WGCs are no-cut events, which meant the Aussie had two more days to spin his wheels.
With two wins to his credit, Bowditch is no hack and his performance shouldn't be used as a referendum to change the rules of WGC tournaments. Instead, it should serve as a cautionary tale for how big of a punch Trump's place can pack, even against an elite player.
• No one ran the scoring gamut at Doral quite like K.T. Kim. Kim's weekend in Miami included two eagles, three doubles, an 11-hole stretch without a single par and a tidy 10 on No. 10 during the final round. It added up to a tie for 42nd at 6 over for the Korean, but hey - at least he got his money's worth.
• Another strong finish for Phil Mickelson, who ended up alone in fifth place in Miami. Lefty built a three-shot lead at one point early in the week, and while he faded a bit from there it's still another promising result on the heels of his runner-up at Pebble Beach and T-3 finish in Palm Springs. Mickelson will win a tournament before the season finishes. Book it.
• Punters, take note of Smylie Kaufman's T-8 finish after four straight sub-par rounds in his Doral debut. The rookie has more than found his footing after a surprise win in Las Vegas, and he now has four top-25 finishes in seven starts since January along with a spot inside the OWGR top 50. Any list of Masters sleepers would do well to include the former LSU standout.
• A middling week for the world No. 1, as Jordan Spieth finished T-17 but never really factored. He'll head north up I-75 to defend his title in Tampa, where he may feel the pressure of pre-Masters expectations begin to mount should he once again fail to find his groove.
• The latest course architecture seminar was hosted by reigning Rookie of the Year Daniel Berger, who bristled at the Blue Monster scorecard that included the 227-yard fourth hole and the 238-yard 13th:
Why do golf course designers think 250 yard par 3s are good holes? The best part 3s in the world are the shortest. Ex. #7 at pebble beach— Daniel Berger (@DanielBerger59) March 6, 2016
I mean, he's not wrong.
• This week's dose of nightmare fuel comes from Spieth and Justin Thomas, who may or may not be friends and who joked prior to their shared third-round tee time about the loser possibly shaving his head:
Soooo.. Any takers? pic.twitter.com/n8CixuCDV7— Jordan Spieth (@JordanSpieth) March 6, 2016
• A parting shot to the artist formerly known as Doral, which has hosted a PGA Tour event in some form every year since 1962. With Cadillac's title sponsorship - not to mention the presidential aspirations of the resort's owner - leaving things in limbo, that streak may be in jeopardy.
While the course has undergone a pair of noticeable facelifts in recent years, it has been a staple of the circuit for decades and a means by which the Tour could plant its flag in the golf-rich market of South Florida.
As one who used to skip school to watch as Skip Kendall took the 18-hole lead seemingly every year at the old Doral Ryder Open, I'll certainly miss the Blue Monster when (if?) it leaves the schedule.