Monday Scramble: McIlroy fit; Lowry scrambles to win

By Ryan LavnerAugust 10, 2015, 4:00 pm

Shane Lowry makes a few great escapes, Rory McIlroy returns to action, Jim Furyk coughs up another 54-hole lead and the best players in the world are reminded that "THIS IS MAJOR" in this week's cheesy edition of the Monday Scramble: 

Even before he posted workout videos and spoke in emoji, before he played two practice rounds at Whistling Straits and declared his injured left ankle a “non-issue,” there were many smart people who thought Rory McIlroy would be making a mistake by trying to return for the PGA Championship.

They said he’d be rushing back, that he wouldn’t be 100 percent, that he’d be a victim of his own hubris. They said that it’d be too much too soon, that there would be more risk than reward, that he’d overcompensate and develop bad habits. 

"Save your season, Rory!" they cried. "No, no … save your career!"

Is he making a mistake? Maybe, but right now he deserves the benefit of the doubt. Only he knows how he's feeling, how much discomfort he can handle.

He’s probably not at full strength, and he’ll likely be sore by Sunday night after walking 25-plus miles at one of the hilliest major venues, but if he and his team believe he’s healthy enough to give it a go at the year’s final major, then why not try?

If there was a high probability of re-injury – the most likely scenario is a shot from a downhill lie, with all of the weight on his front foot – then he’d take this week off. His trainer is Steve McGregor, who has worked previously for the Manchester City soccer club and also the New York Knicks. Think this is the first severely sprained ankle he has seen? 

The expectation here is that McIlroy will be fine physically, but that he’ll struggle to score at the PGA – it’ll be 53 days between competitive shots. 

A little rust is easier to fix than a bum ankle.

1. Shane Lowry had not one but two potential candidates Sunday for Shot of the Year – and both came on the back nine, when the pressure was at its most intense.

First came a power wedge shot on 10, after a wild hook off the tee trapped him deep in the woods. He caught a break, receiving a free drop on an upslope because of the 11th tee signage, and he lashed out of the thick rough, his ball soaring over the trees and nestling within 2 feet of the cup.

After the scramblin' man made clutch par saves on Nos. 14 and 17, he went upstairs again for his second shot on 18, when he was clinging to a one-shot lead, when a ricochet off the trees could have led to a big number. His ball somehow sneaked through the branches and came to rest 10 feet away. 

“I couldn’t believe I was seeing the ball coming down from there, coming down on the green,” he said.

Lowry buried the birdie putt to cap a flawless 66 and become the first non-Tour member to win a WGC event since Martin Kaymer in 2011. 

2. One of the best measures of a player’s popularity is the reaction when he wins. Tweets from Lowry's fellow pros poured in after he captured the Bridgestone on Sunday, but the celebration from those at his home club (Esker Hills in Ireland) was even better: 

3. Lowry has just one win since 2012, and a spotty record recently if not for top-10s at the BMW PGA and U.S. Open, but he’s already rocketed up to No. 19 in the world – just one spot behind Patrick Reed, who has four wins in the past 24 months, and ahead of Phoenix Open winner Brooks Koepka, two-time major champion Martin Kaymer and FedEx Cup champ Billy Horschel. Surprising.

4. Jim Furyk had a four-shot lead at the halfway point of the Bridgestone Invitational. It was not an unfamiliar position for the 17-time Tour winner, of course, but over the past few years, whenever he had a lead, he faced an uncomfortable line of questioning:

So ... are you going to close out THIS one?

Granted, the narrative has shifted somewhat thanks to his come-from-behind victory in Hilton Head, his first title since 2010. Furyk even said last week that it was “a refreshing conversation to sit here and talk.”

Two days later, though, he added to what is one of the more amazing stats in golf: He is now 0-for-his-last-10 when holding at least a share of the 54-hole lead. 

To hear Furyk afterward, he was surprised to even have a chance to win.

“If we go back to a lot of the interviews I was doing Thursday and Friday, I was saying I was missing too many fairways, made too many poor swings. I really never did figure it out,” he said. “I was covering up with putts early in the week. And under the gun, it got a little worse on the weekend. We’ve got some work to do.” 

Not all losses are created equal – Lowry closed with a bogey-free 66 – but it's clear Furyk still hasn’t vanquished all of his final-round demons. 

5. It’s worth noting that Furyk’s counterpart on Sunday, Justin Rose, hasn’t fared much better as a frontrunner. His closing 72 (and eventual T-3 finish) dropped his career mark to 3-for-11 when sharing the third-round lead on Tour. 

6. Does the Bridgestone help predict major success?

  • The last three years, the PGA winner finished in the top-5 the week prior at Firestone. 
  • Going back even further, over the last nine editions, the eventual PGA champ hasn’t finished worse than 22nd at the final WGC event of the season. 

So, if history holds, that would rule out (among others): Sergio Garcia, Zach Johnson, Hideki Matsuyama, Adam Scott, Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Kaymer, Dustin Johnson and Jimmy Walker. Yikes. 

7. Here are one man’s favorites for the PGA Championship:

  1. Bubba Watson: His smash-mouth game and the Straits' big ballpark are a perfect fit, as evidenced by his 2010 playoff loss. His major record this year is a concern, but back-to-back runners-up should give him a little extra fire this week. 
  2. Jason Day: In great form and brimming with confidence. The difference now is that, after his macho finish in Canada, he knows he can get the job done down the stretch.
  3. Rickie Fowler: Ditto for this stud, who could stamp a breakout year with a breakthrough major.  
  4. Henrik Stenson: Under the radar, per usual, but he’s coming off a T-6 at Firestone and he’s a proven late-season performer, finishing in the top six in four of the past five PGAs he’s played.
  5. D. Johnson: Would have listed him No. 1 before his lackluster weekend (75-76) at the Bridgestone, a continuation of his troubling finish at the Open (75-75). If he were to win, it’d be a redemption story for the ages. 

8. Bubba led the field in driving distance at Firestone, averaging (gulp) 331.3 yards per pop, the highest total since the PGA Tour began keeping the statistic in 2003.

Keep blaming those belly putters, though. 

9. Jordan Spieth prefers to play the week before a major.

Why? “I can kind of find out the tendencies, good and bad, that are in my game at the time when the pressure is on,” he said.

Clearly, it works for him.

Here is how he has fared in his 2015 major tuneups:

  • Shell Houston Open: T-2 (lost in playoff); Masters: 1st 
  • Memorial: T-3; U.S. Open: 1st
  • John Deere Classic: 1st; Open Championship: T-4 
  • WGC-Bridgestone Invitational: T-10; PGA: ?

10. Some perspective: When the PGA was last held at Whistling Straits, in 2010, Spieth was a rising high-school senior who didn’t even reach match play at the Western Amateur.

11. Spieth toured the Straits for the first time before heading to Firestone, and said that the successful players this week will have to be “very special” from tee to green. If he wants to become the first player to win all three American majors in the same year, he’ll definitely have to be sharper than he was in Akron.

He hit only 52 percent of the greens at Firestone (38 of 72), a product of a driver that was uncharacteristically wild. Spieth was much better Sunday, finding 10 fairways (four more than any other round), and not surprisingly so was his score: 66, which was good enough for a backdoor top-10. 

Driving will be a major point of emphasis when he arrives at the PGA, because medium-length hitters need to be in the short grass to have any chance to attack. 

12. Dustin Johnson won’t have a chance to ground his club again down the right side of the 18th hole at Whistling Straits – that area has been covered by a spectator grandstand. 

Trying to explain what happened on the 72nd hole back in 2010, DJ said that he thought his ball had come to rest on a trampled piece of dirt and that it never crossed his mind that he was in a bunker.

“Maybe I should have looked at the rule sheet a little harder,” he admitted afterward.

Hey, DJ: You’re in luck! 

The notice to competitors was sent out on social media Sunday, so that (hopefully) there are no misunderstandings this time. 

Interestingly, only four words of the letter have been amended from 2010 (in bold):  

All areas of the course that were designed and built as bunkers, filled with sand, will be played as bunkers (hazards), whether or not they have been raked. This will mean that many bunkers positioned outside of the ropes, as well as some areas of bunkers inside the ropes, close to the rope line, will likely include numerous footprints, heel prints, trash and tire tracks during the play of the Championship. Such irregularities of surface are a part of the game and no free relief will be available from these conditions. All bunkers inside the ropes will be raked each morning prior to play as normal. 

13. When it comes to Tiger Woods, what’s the major number?

Assuming he doesn’t snap a seven-year drought in the majors or finish second at Whistling Straits, he’ll be outside the cut line for the FedEx Cup Playoffs. He said that he’ll decide whether to play the Wyndham based on how he plays at the PGA, but he’ll have to get an early sense of how he is going to finish – that decision has to come no later than 30 minutes after he finishes his second round. 

Woods is currently 185th in the standings, at 147 points. That leaves him 275 points behind the current bubble boy, Vijay Singh, who has 422. 

More points are available at majors, but to be safe, let’s say that Woods needs 325 points to crack the top 125. If he finishes 10th at the PGA – he doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour in two years, remember – then he would still need a top-2 finish at Wyndham. If he is fifth at Whistling Straits, a solo third in Greensboro might still leave him on the outside looking in.

The question: Would he really want to face a win-to-get-in scenario in Greensboro, knowing the potential embarrassment of coming up short against a weak field? Stay tuned Friday. 

14. File this under “because golf”: 

• Troy Merritt shot 138 on the weekend at the Quicken Loans National, including a third-round 61, and won his first tournament on the PGA Tour. 

Three days later, he shot his first Tour round in the 80s, the start of a 22-over 302 week, and he finished last among the 77 starters at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. 

• Eight days ago, Steven Bowditch shot 83 during the final round of the Quicken Loans – five strokes higher than the next-worst score that day. He made $13,000 and some change. 

Saturday at Firestone, he shot 63 to climb up the leaderboard, and he finished T-12 to match his third-best finish in 27 starts. He earned $126,000. 

Andres Romero doesn’t have a fighting chance to make the playoffs.

Battling to keep his card, Romero became so frustrated after back-to-back bogeys at the Barracuda Championship that he punched a sign and – wait for it – broke his hand. Could be tough to form an interlocking grip with a cast on his right paw.

Romero, No. 157 in the FedEx Cup standings, ended up withdrawing from the opposite-field event, but not before he putted a ball off the tee on the last four holes and took double bogey – the highest possible score in the modified Stableford format, and the proper punishment for such petulance.  

In a Facebook post, he apologized to the tournament, the fans and his sponsors for a “big mistake,” and said that his heart was “broken” after throwing away all of his hard work. 

A knockout blow, indeed.

This week's award winners ... 

You Had One Job: 18th-green announcer. Reading from a tee sheet as the players walked up 18, he somehow mangled the tournament winner’s name, calling him “Shawn” Lowry. 

Rest in Peace: Louise Suggs. One of the most influential LPGA players of all time, the Hall of Famer won 11 majors and served as the tour’s president three times. She was 91. 

Math wizard: Kyle Reifers. An eagle is worth five points in the modified Stableford format. So making three eagles in the last six holes is very, very good. Reifers’ record-breaking 22-point total in Reno helped get him into a playoff, where he lost to good-guy journeyman J.J. Henry (who, of course, eagled 18 to win).

Mr. Consistency: Jordan Spieth. Only five of his last 51 rounds have been over par. That streak began March 8. Absurd.

Future Olympian: Matt Kuchar. Oh, he probably won’t end up making the U.S. Olympic golf team, but he’s worth a tryout for the USA Table Tennis squad, no?:

Maybe NOT a Future Olympian: Adam Scott. After the PGA Tour trotted out Henrik Stenson, Byeong-Hun An and Kuchar as the faces of their one-year-to-go countdown, Scott once again made clear that he has little interest in all things Olympics, calling the event a “fun exhibition.” Scott added that “it’s absolutely a possibility” that he will skip the event, because it is not a “priority.” It’ll be interesting to see if Scott changes his tune, or if many other elite players follow suit and let someone else get a crack at a gold medal.

Clean, Old Fashioned Hate: Kisner vs. Hadley (with Harman and Peterson cameos!). In the interest of full disclosure, I’m a proud UGA alum, but this innocuous tweet by Hadley, a former Tech standout, touched off quite a bit of Twitter fun. Dawgs on Top. 

A couple of theories: Because it's hard to win; because the pursuers have less pressure and can take more chances; and because Tiger Woods spoiled us, because he tricked us into believing that anyone with a 54-hole lead should go on to win. It's just not that simple. If nothing else, the dismal closing records of some of the game's best players should help us appreciate Woods more, because he was so proficient in that position (53 of 57, including 42-2 when holding the outright lead). 

The biggest story would be Spieth, because he'd become the first player to capture all three U.S. majors in the same season, and he'd join Hogan and Woods as the only guys with three majors in a year. Then Rory. (An aside: I heard somewhere that a Rory win would rank right up there with Tiger at Torrey in '08. I thought the talking head was kidding, that there was no way he would say something so ludicrous. Sadly, he was not.) Then DJ. Johnson's story is the most likely, especially if he can turn around his recent weekend woes. As I wrote up top, however, I think we'll see a winner with the surname Watson, Fowler, Day or Stenson.

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Romo rallies to win American Century Championship

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:42 am

SOUTH LAKE TAHOE, Nev. - Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo rallied from four points back to win his first American Century Championship at Lake Tahoe on Sunday.

Romo, who retired after the 2016 NFL season and is now an NFL analyst, had 27 points on the day to beat three-time defending champion Mark Mulder and San Jose Sharks captain Joe Pavelski, the the leader after the first two rounds.

''It's a special win,'' said Romo, who had finished second three times in seven previous trips to the annual celebrity golf tournament at Edgewood Tahoe Golf Course. ''It feels like you're playing a tournament back home here. The day felt good for a lot of reasons.''

Romo tapped in for par, worth one point, on the 18th hole to finish with 71 points, three ahead of Mulder, the former major league pitcher. He then caught a flight to Berlin, Wis., where he was to compete in a 36-hole U.S. Amateur qualifying tournament on Monday.

The American Century Championship uses a modified Stableford scoring system which rewards points for eagles (six), birdies (three) and pars (one) and deducts points (two) for double bogeys or worse. Bogeys are worth zero points.

Pavelski had a 7-foot eagle putt on the par-5 18th that could have tied Romo, but it slid by. He finished with 66 points, tied for third with Ray Allen, who will be inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Sept. 7.

Full-field scores from the American Century Championship

''It feels like nothing went in for me today,'' Pavelski said. ''But I couldn't ask for more than to have that putt to tie on the last hole.''

Romo plays as an amateur, so his $125,000 first-place check from the $600,000 purse will go to local charities and the Stowers Institute for Medical Research, the primary charitable arm of title sponsor American Century Investments.

Rounding out the top five were Trent Dilfer, a Super Bowl-winning quarterback with the Baltimore Ravens in 2001, and former tennis player Mardy Fish. Each had 62 points.

Golden State Warriors guard Steph Curry, who fell out of contention with a mediocre round Saturday, jumped into Lake Tahoe amidst much fanfare after losing a bet to his father, Dell. The elder Curry jumped into the lake last year, so he negotiated a 20-point handicap and won by two points.

Other notable players in the 92-player field included John Smoltz, the MLB hall of Fame pitcher who two weeks ago competed in the U.S. Senior Open and finished 10th here with 53 points; Steph Curry, who finished tied for 11th with retired Marine and wounded war hero Andrew Bachelder (50); actor Jack Wagner (16th, 47 points); Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers (tied for 18th, 44 points); actor Ray Romano (tied for 71st, minus-26 points); comedian Larry the Cable Guy (tied for 77th, minus-33 points); and former NBA great Charles Barkley, who finished alone in last with minus-93 points.

The tournament drew 57,097 fans for the week, setting an attendance record for the fourth straight year.

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Singh tops Maggert in playoff for first senior major

By Associated PressJuly 16, 2018, 12:10 am

HIGHLAND PARK, Ill. - Vijay Singh birdied the second playoff hole to beat Jeff Maggert and win the Constellation Senior Players Championship on Sunday.

Singh knocked in a putt from about 2 feet after a nearly perfect approach on the 18th hole at Exmoor Country Club, giving an understated fist pump as the ball fell in. That gave him his first major title on the PGA Tour Champions to go with victories at the Masters and two PGA Championships.

Singh (67) and Maggert (68) finished at 20-under 268. Brandt Jobe (66) was two strokes behind, while Jerry Kelly (64) and defending champion Scott McCarron (71) finished at 17 under.

Maggert had chances to win in regulation and on the first playoff hole.

He bogeyed the par-4 16th to fall into a tie with Singh at 20 under and missed potential winning birdie putts at the end of regulation and on the first playoff hole.

His 15-footer on the 72nd hole rolled wide, forcing the playoff, and a downhill 12-footer on the same green went just past the edge.

Full-field scores from the Constellation Energy Senior Players

The 55-year-old Singh made some neat par saves to get into the playoff.

His tee shot on 17 landed near the trees to the right of the fairway, and his approach on 18 wound up in a bunker. But the big Fijian blasted to within a few feet to match Maggert's par.

McCarron - tied with Maggert and Bart Bryant for the lead through three rounds - was trying to join Arnold Palmer and Bernhard Langer as the only back-to-back winners of this major. He came back from a six-shot deficit to win at Caves Valley near Baltimore last year and got off to a good start on Sunday.

He birdied the first two holes to reach 18 under. But bogeys on the par-4 seventh and ninth holes knocked him off the lead. His tee shot on No. 7 rolled into a hole at the base of a tree and forced him to take an unplayable lie.

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Davies a fitting winner of inaugural USGA championship

By Randall MellJuly 15, 2018, 11:26 pm

Laura Davies confessed she did not sleep well on a five-shot lead Saturday night at the U.S. Senior Women’s Open.

It’s all you needed to know about what this inaugural event meant to the women who were part of the history being made at Chicago Golf Club.

The week was more than a parade of memories the game’s greats created playing in the USGA’s long-awaited showcase for women ages 50 and beyond.

The week was more than nostalgic. 

It was a chance to make another meaningful mark on the game.

In the end, Davies relished seeing the mark she made in her runaway, 10-shot victory. She could see it in the familiar etchings on the trophy she hoisted.

“I get my name on it first,” Davies said. “This championship will be played for many years, and there will only be one first winner. Obviously, quite a proud moment for me to win that.”

Really, all 120 players in the field made their marks at Chicago Golf Club. They were all pioneers of sorts this past week.

“It was very emotional seeing the USGA signs, because I've had such a long history, since my teens, playing in USGA championships,” said Amy Alcott, whose Hall of Fame career included the 1980 U.S. Women’s Open title. “I thought the week just came off beautifully. The USGA did a great job. It was just so classy how everything was done, this inaugural event, and how was it presented.”

Davies was thankful for what the USGA added to the women’s game, and she wasn’t alone. Gratefulness was the theme of the week.

Full-field scores from the U.S. Senior Women’s Open

The men have been competing in the U.S. Senior Open since 1980, and now the women have their equal opportunity to do the same.

“It was just great to be a part of the first,” three-time U.S. Women’s Open winner Hollis Stacy said. “The USGA did a great job of having it at such a great golf course. It's just been very memorable.”

Trish Johnson, who is English, like Davies, finished third, 12 shots back, but she left with a heart overflowing.

“Magnificent,” said Johnson, a three-time LPGA and 19-time LET winner. “Honestly, it's one of the best, most enjoyable weeks I've ever played in in any tournament anywhere.”

She played in the final group with Davies and runner-up Juli Inkster.

“Even this morning, just waiting to come out here, I thought, `God, not often do I actually think how lucky I am to do what I do,’” Johnson said.

At 54, Davies still plays the LPGA and LET regularly. She has now won 85 titles around the world, 20 of them LPGA titles, four of them majors, 45 of them LET titles.

With every swing this past week, she peeled back the years, turned back the clock, made fans and peers remember what she means to the women’s game.

This wasn’t the first time Davies made her mark in a USGA event. When she won the U.S. Women’s Open in 1987, she became just the second player from Europe to win the title, the first in 20 years. She opened a new door for internationals. The following year, Sweden’s Liselotte Neumann won the title.

“A lot of young Europeans and Asians decided that it wasn't just an American sport,” Davies said. “At that stage, it had been dominated, wholeheartedly, by all the names we all love, Lopez, Bradley, Daniel, Sheehan.”

Davies gave the rest of the world her name to love, her path to follow.

“It certainly made a lot of foreign girls think that they could take the Americans on,” Davies said.

In golf, it’s long been held that you can judge the stature of an event by the names on the trophy. Davies helps gives the inaugural U.S. Senior Women’s Open the monumental start it deserved.

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Suwannapura beats Lincicome in playoff for first win

By Associated PressJuly 15, 2018, 10:49 pm

SYLVANIA, Ohio - Thidapa Suwannapura's main focus going into the Marathon Classic was trying to put together four solid rounds that would help her keep her LPGA card.

She doesn't have to worry about that any longer.

Suwannapura picked up her first win on Sunday, closing with a 6-under 65 and birdieing the first playoff hole to defeat Brittany Lincicome at Highland Meadows.

In the playoff, Suwannapura converted a short birdie putt after Lincicome hit her second shot into a water hazard and scrambled for par.

''I never expect it was going to be today at all. I've just been struggling the whole year,'' said Suwannapura, whose previous best finish was seventh at the 2014 Kingsmill Championship. ''Finally all my work I've been doing has come out and shown up today. After I knocked that last putt in, it just felt like a dream come true.''

With the win, the 25-year-old Thai player has an exemption through the 2020 season. She is also the sixth first-time winner on tour this year

Suwannapura picked up three strokes over her final two holes, making eagle on the par-5 17th and closing with a birdie on the par-5 18th to finish at 14-under 270. She then had to wait for the final seven groups to finish.

''I did not think or expect that 14 would be good enough, because I know there were two par 5s coming in on 17 and 18, and it's a good opportunity for players to make birdie,'' Suwannapura said. ''I was just chilling in the clubhouse, you know, being silly and stuff, trying to relax, and see what they're doing. Now, like, 'Oh, I have to go warm up and try to win the tournament.'''

Full-field scores from the Marathon Classic

Lincicome shot 67. She had a chance to win in regulation, but her birdie putt from about 10 feet did a nearly 360-degree turn around the edge of the cup and stayed out.

Despite having eight career victories, including this season's opener in the Bahamas, the 32-year-old Lincicome said she was extremely nervous standing over that putt.

''I was shaking so bad. I had to take so many deep breaths. So it's kind of cool to have those nerves, but learning how to play through them after 12 years of being a pro ... 14 years of being a pro, I still haven't figured it out, so that's a little disappointing,'' she said. ''(The putt) caught a lot of the hole, so I feel like I hit a pretty good putt for how nervous I was. I really haven't seen one that aggressive in a long time, so that was just unfortunate, really.''

Next up for the big-hitting Lincicome: a start against the men at the PGA Tour's Barbasol Championship in Kentucky. She will become the first woman since 2004 to play in a PGA Tour event.

Third-round leader Brooke Henderson led by two shots after six holes, but struggled the rest of the way. Back-to-back bogeys on the 14th and 15th holes dropped her out of the lead. The 20-year-old Canadian finished with a 2-under 69, one shot out of the playoff.

''Sometimes golf is weird. Sometimes it just doesn't go your way, and that was kind of me the last four holes,'' said Henderson, who lost for only the second time in six occasions she has led after 54 holes.

Besides the tour exemption, Suwannapura's win came with another bonus. She was one of five players to earn a spot in the Women's British Open at Royal Lytham & St. Annes.

The top five players not already exempt earned spots. The other qualifiers were Daniela Darquea, Celine Herbin, Mina Harigae and Mel Reid.