Monday Scramble: Deep pools at WGC-Match Play

By Ryan LavnerApril 27, 2015, 6:00 pm

Justin Rose channels his inner Steph Curry, the PGA Tour unveils its new match-play format, Lydia Ko stomps out another would-be challenger, Tiger Woods returns to some semblance of normalcy and more in this week's bracket-busting edition of the Monday Scramble: 

The WGC-Cadillac Match Play is the event that tour types have circled on their calendar since it was announced that the tournament would have a new date, a new site, a new format and even a new selection show for 2015. The only certainty? That no one really knows what to expect this week in San Francisco, other than that the fact that (1) Wednesday is no longer one of the best days in golf, and (2) the biggest stars are guaranteed at least three days at TPC Harding Park. The inherent win-or-go-home drama brought some much-needed urgency to the proceedings, but let's face it: The event could never truly thrive if there was a chance that Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth and Bubba Watson all could be gone by sundown Wednesday.

So this format seems to offer a good alternative: Even with a sleepier-than-usual Wednesday, there’s a potential payoff down the line. First, there is the possibility of at least a few playoffs on Friday, if after group play three of the four players have the same record. (The head-to-head record is used to break a tie between two players.) And then the weekend should produce a few can’t-miss matchups, because the better players should prevail after playing three matches against weaker opponents (on paper, at least). 

The WGC-Match Play has been unkind to favorites in recent years, so we won't even bother offering a prediction. Our only hope is that we don’t get Joost Luiten vs. Tommy Fleetwood in the finals and have to go back to the drawing board.

1. Any discussion of PGA Tour thoroughbreds has to include Justin Rose.

His victory at the Zurich Classic was his seventh on the PGA Tour and his sixth consecutive season with at least one win. Only Dustin Johnson (eight) has a longer streak. 

“I’m actually incredibly grateful and proud of that stat,” Rose said afterward. 

And there's also this: Since 2010, only Rory McIlroy (nine) and Tiger Woods (eight) have more Ws than Rose’s seven. 

2. Rose said he recently drew inspiration from NBA sharpshooter Steph Curry, and why not? Just as Curry fills it up with 3s, Rose has been pouring in birdies from everywhere over the last few weeks. At TPC Louisiana, the classy Englishman went 23 under with no bogeys over his final 66 holes. 

Rose and his caddie, Mark Fulcher, took in the Warriors’ game on Thursday night and saw Curry’s heroics in person. The next day, when Rose’s round had stalled, “Fooch” reminded his man of the analogy – how Curry kept wanting the ball and hoisting up 3s and believing in himself, even when the shots weren’t dropping.

Rose proceeded to bury the next 12-footer he faced and was on his way. 

“That’s what great athletes that you look up to do,” he said. “In the big moments, they want the ball and they make big shots and big putts.” 

Even Rose admitted that the setup last week in New Orleans wasn’t in his “wheelhouse.” He’s made his living on tough, traditional golf courses, places like Merion and Congressional, where par is rewarded. “But you want to become a player that can win on every type of course,” he said afterward, and so now he can take a lot of confidence knowing that he can go low with the best of 'em, too. 

3. Speaking of birdies ... in his last two starts, at the Masters and Zurich, Rose has shot a combined 36 under par while making 49 (!) birdies and destroying the par 5s (20 under). 

4. Breaking down the just-released match-play bracket ... 

Most intriguing group: Group 1. Maybe it's just because it has four very familiar names. Maybe because it has two major champions and two FedEx Cup winners. Whatever the case, it was the first group determined and stood through the selection process as the one to watch.

Three can't-miss matchups in group play: 1. Rory McIlroy vs. BIlly Horschel: Anyone remember their heated battles at the 2007 Walker Cup? We do. 2. Jimmy Walker vs. Ian Poulter: This is Poulter's best chance to win a Tour event each year, but maybe he should be scared of Walker, not the other way around. 3. J.B. Holmes vs. Brooks Koepka: Balls go far.

Star with the toughest path to the finals: Bubba Watson. Louis Oosthuizen wants some Masters payback, Keegan Bradley loves him some match play, and Miguel Angel Jimenez is just awesome.

Star with the easiest path to the finals: Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson make strong cases, but we're going with Jordan Spieth. He faces Lee Westwood, Matt Every and Mikko Ilonen. Westwood is traveling from Indonesia; Ilonen from China; and unless Arnold Palmer hosts this event, Every shouldn't put up much of a challenge.

Wake-me-up-when-it's-over group: Group 16 - Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Na, Joost Luiten and Alexander Levy. What's worse than matches you don't want to watch? Matches you don't want to watch that won't end.

5. Lydia Ko: She giggles on the 18th tee, she jokes with her caddie after stuffing a wedge shot in the playoff ... and then she crushes the spirit of a former teen phenom desperately hoping for her first win in seven years. A lovable assassin. 

6. Morgan Pressel’s return to competitive relevance was a welcome sight at the Swinging Skirts, but we should also hope that we saw the early stages of a budding rivalry between two under-20 studs, Ko and Brooke Henderson.

So far it’s a completely one-sided affair, of course – Ko has seven LPGA titles while Henderson has made only two tour starts as a pro – but it shouldn’t be that way for long.

After all, it was Henderson, the 17-year-old Canadian starlet, who looked like she had the tournament in the bag when she opened up a big lead Saturday. (She played a nervy final round and finished one shot out of a playoff.) Henderson is fiery and aggressive. Ko is stoic and ruthlessly efficient. That week-in, week-out consistency will keep Ko in the winner’s circle more often, but Henderson makes for a perfect foil because of her competitive makeup.

7. Henderson's reward for a third-place finish in San Francisco: a last-minute flight to Irving, Texas ... to Monday qualify for this week’s event. Unlike on the PGA Tour, non-members don’t automatically get into the next tournament with a top-10 finish. This ridiculous rule makes the LPGA even more of a closed shop.

8. OK, so it was always going to be a difficult task with the marathon, hottest-guy-wins finish in NOLA, but Jason Day is now just 1-for-5 when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead. Puzzling, because if you could construct the perfect golfer, he’d look something like the 27-year-old Australian: built like a NFL safety, with a rocket-launching driver, sky-high irons and relentless attitude. So why does he *only* have three wins?

He’s first in the Tour’s all-around ranking, but Day remains prone to the occasional stray ball (176th in accuracy) and missed putt (187th from inside 7 feet). It’s also possible he wants it too much – he gets amped up, he gets in his own way and, before he even has a chance to calm himself down, he has already cost himself the tournament. Despite his nearly 10 years of pro experience, he's still learning how to win.

It’s frustrating to watch, because Day has the potential to be an absolute world-beater.  

9. A record that won't be approached anytime soon: Freddie Jacobson went 542 consecutive holes without a three-putt.

His three-jack Friday at the Zurich was his first since Jan. 23. To put that in perspective: The average PGA Tour player would have 16 three-putts over that span.

10. In one of the least surprising developments of the past week, Tiger Woods announced that he had signed up for next week’s Players Championship. Why couldn’t he have just made that obvious decision Sunday at the Masters? Good question, and there is no clear answer, other than he enjoys staying in the news. TPC Sawgrass is one of the most demanding layouts on the Tour schedule, requiring players to shape shots in both directions and scramble from tricky spots. Woods’ history there isn’t overwhelmingly great – though he’s a two-time winner, he has only one other top-10 in 13 tries – but the tough test should provide a better barometer of where his game is as we enter the second half of the season.

11. Unless Woods turns around his game in a hurry, or adds a few non-traditional events to his schedule, he could be looking at a short competitive season. He’s already booked for The Players, Memorial and U.S. Open. There’s a chance he will return to the Greenbrier before the Open. Then he has the Quicken Loans and PGA. That’d be only seven starts, max. At No. 116 in the world, he is not yet eligible for the WGC-Bridgestone. (Must be top 50 as of Aug. 3). At No. 196, he is not yet eligible for the FedEx Cup playoffs. (Three-and-a-half months to go.) Quite simply, he’ll have to make each and every appearance count if he wants to prolong his season.

12. Lee Westwood nearly coughed up a five-shot lead Sunday, but in the end he improved to 3-0 at the Indonesian Masters. He earned $135,000 for the event, but likely took home countless more, since we're guessing he didn’t fly to Jakarta for a $750K event out of the goodness of his heart.

It was the 42-year-old’s 42nd career title, and he now has won three or more times in six different countries (Germany, England, Japan, South Africa, Sweden). The notable absence: the United States, where, incredibly, he has won only twice.  

13. The PGA Tour’s sponsors sure are getting their money’s worth: A week after RBC man Jim Furyk prevailed in a playoff at the Heritage, Zurich ambassador Rose stormed to victory in soggy New Orleans.

As he waited to see if his 22-under 266 would hold up, Rose had no problem spreading the Zurich gospel. He flexed his left bicep and pointed to the logo on his sleeve. He recreated the Zurich advertisement by posing with two young kids. He snapped selfies with three members of the HMS Lancaster. Worried about a possible playoff? Nah, not this guy.

Rose looooves the Zurich Classic, and not just because he’s compensated handsomely. In his last 15 rounds at TPC Louisiana he is a whopping 60 under par – nearly 20 shots better than the next best on the list. 

14. In only his second start since returning from back surgery, the semi-retired Steve Stricker snapped the longest active streak for consecutive cuts made, with 36. This comes less than a month after then-leader Adam Scott failed to play the weekend in Tampa. Matt Kuchar now holds the Tour lead, with 22. If the trend continues, however, he’ll be doomed sometime in May. 

Nearly 17 million people tuned into the television special in which former Olympic champion Bruce Jenner announced that he’s transitioning genders. Many applauded Jenner for his courage, but as usual Steve Elkington pandered to the lowest common denominator of society by tweeting a disparaging remark about Jenner:

When the backlash (predictably) began, Elkington turned his wrath against a news site that reported his tweet and encouraged his followers to unfollow the account. That his tweet hasn’t yet been deleted shows just how clueless this guy is. Then again, it’s hardly surprising, since it’s been quite a two-year stretch for the former major winner, from his cracks about Pakistanis to a fatal plane crash to his take on gay football player Michael Sam.

Phil Mickelson will miss this week's WGC-Match Play because of "personal issues." He's played the event only once since 2009, usually because it conflicted with his kids' break from school, but this time felt different: Lefty has filmed commercials for the Tour and praised the new format.

Worried that Donald Trump was going to ruin Turnberry, arguably the world’s most scenic links? Fear not. Trump is dumping about $300 million into the renovation, with the biggest changes coming to the most picturesque part of the course, on the ninth and 10th holes. Take a look at this video: The plans look awesome.

One of the hole-in-one prizes at the Volvo China Open was a Volvo EW60C Compact Excavator. It’s an absurd prize that will likely end up on eBay before long, but Mikko Ilonen demonstrated at least one good golf-related use for it.

The women’s Big Ten Championship ended in a tie for the third consecutive year. That's right: No playoff for the overall team champion. Did everyone get a medal, too? 

Can't help but wonder if Rory McIlroy OK'd the junior players to post this arm-wrestling video on social media. Because embarrassing him sure seems like a strange way to repay the guy after he took time out of his busy schedule to give a clinic, answer their questions and even play video games with them:

Was Nick Faldo cheering against Jordan Spieth at the Masters because he didn’t want him to break some of his major records? Jack Nicklaus and many in attendance thought that Faldo was joking when he said that during a fundraising event, but the Columbus Dispatch reporter who attended the luncheon and wrote about the exchange clearly didn’t think so. Sure, Faldo was probably being playful and entertaining, but he likely meant at least some of what he said. It's human nature. Just own it. 

Brendon de Jonge shared the opening-round lead in NOLA, but for the 225th consecutive tournament he failed to get the job done on the weekend. Don’t feel too bad for him. Dude has still banked $10.67 million in his career. 

Time to panic? Paula Creamer shot 82-78 in front of friends and family at the Swinging Skirts and nearly finished DFL. She has one top-15 this season, she’s slipped to 29th in the world, and she has just one win in the last five years. Going up against girls who are younger, hungrier and better in virtually every aspect, the 28-year-old is in danger of becoming an afterthought. 

On Jan. 1, I would have said Sergio Garcia – he's one of the best ball-strikers in the world and has a win and four other top-10s at Sawgrass, including each of the past two years. But he’s been pedestrian, at best, so far. So, now, my short list of contenders …

  • Henrik Stenson. Has been sick for nearly a month with the flu, but he’s putting better than he has in his life and he has a strong record at TPC.
  • Matt Kuchar. The winner in 2013, he showed signs of life at the Heritage after a listless few months. This is one of his favorite tournaments of the year.
  • Jim Furyk. Full of confidence after breaking his winless drought, Furyk is another one of the plodder types that always seem to play well here. No wins in his hometown event, but he was second a year ago and also has three other top-fives. 

Well, he’s 116th now. To crack the top 20, he’d need to win at least a handful of events. It’s hard to make a move in the OWGR. Jimmy Walker has won five times since the start of the 2013-14 season, and he’s still only No. 11. Based on what we’ve seen from Tiger in limited action this season, would you expect him to win a few times? Didn’t think so. Because he’s not eligible for the guaranteed cash-grabs this week in San Francisco or (at least not yet) in Akron, he needs to play well in the majors to rocket up the rankings. He's a good bet for a high finish at St. Andrews, but he could struggle to contend at the other venues this year, especially if he doesn’t get the long-game issues straightened out. At this point, finishing the year inside the top 75 seems like a realistic goal. 

The favorite? Yes, because he’s the best player in the world. But he’s not the overwhelming, can’t-miss pick at any of the next three.

Chambers is such a crapshoot because it’s so unfamiliar to players, but you have to like (1) Spieth, because he has played the course in tournament conditions, at the 2010 U.S. Amateur, and his caddie used to loop there, and (2) Day, because his all-around game is so solid and he embraces the difficult Open conditions.

Rory should contend at St. Andrews because of his atomic driver, and there’s no reason to think he won’t be one of the top dogs at Whistling Straits, along with other studs like Bubba, DJ and Stense.

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.