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Monday Scramble: Inbee warrants praise, not Slam

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Inbee Park moves another step closer to the real career Grand Slam, Troy Merritt proves that every pro is only one tweak away from a breakthrough, Tiger Woods shows us what he's capable of and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble: 

LPGA commissioner Mike Whan once said that he feared making the Evian Championship the fifth major because he “didn’t want to be the guy who messed with tradition.”

Except that's exactly what he's done. 

It's a shame, but in the wake of Inbee Park’s comeback victory at the Women’s British Open, there has been more discussion about Slam semantics than the world No. 1’s brilliance.

Instead of celebrating the fact that Park became only the seventh player in history to win four different majors, the LPGA felt compelled to send out a 247-word statement explaining why it considers this the career Grand Slam. 

No one is buying it.

By definition, a player must win all of the designated majors to accomplish the feat, and so Park is actually one shy.

By adding a fifth major, the LPGA wanted to “create an incremental opportunity for the women’s game” – or, let's face it, pad the tour’s wallets – but now it also wants to change what constitutes a Slam, creating something called a Super Career Grand Slam, which sounds like it costs $6.49 with a free soft drink.

The tour can’t have it both ways. 

There's little doubt that Park will earn that final piece eventually, perhaps as soon as next month in France. But for now confusion reigns.

It’s a mess, and it’s unfortunate, and it’s clear that Whan’s fears have been realized. This is what happens when you mess with tradition.

1. Sunday at Turnberry, Inbee Park overcame a three-shot deficit, went 7 under par in a 10-hole stretch around the turn and leapfrogged mentee Jin Young Ko down the stretch to capture the elusive Open trophy.

That’s now six (!) wins in her last 14 majors. Put another way: While Inbee is winning the biggest titles in golf at a 42 percent clip, her peers haven’t won more than a single major over that span. She’s overwhelming the competition.

2. Quietly, Inbee has now joined Juli Inkster and Karrie Webb with seven career major titles.

The only players with more: Patty Berg (15), Mickey Wright (13), Louise Suggs (11), Annika Sorenstam (10), Babe Zaharias (10) and Betsy Rawls (8). 

A reminder that Park just turned 27 …

3. Here's a list of the youngest players to reach seven majors. Note where Inbee now ranks among the all-time greats: 

  1. Tiger Woods: 26 years, 3 months, 15 days
  2. Mickey Wright: 26 years, 8 months, 1 days
  3. Inbee Park: 27 years, 0 months, 21 days
  4. Jack Nicklaus: 27 years, 4 months, 29 days

4. South Koreans continue to dominate the LPGA circuit. They occupy three of the top-5 spots in the world ranking (and nine of the top 18). They have won 10 of the last 16 majors. They are six of the top 12 earners on the money list. And there are even more talented Koreans in the pipeline, such as Ko (pictured), who was playing in her first major and finished solo second. 

It’s gotten so dire for the Americans that only one U.S. player (37-year-old Cristie Kerr) broke par at the Women’s British Open.  

5. The biggest problem now for Park? “I don’t know what else to go for,” she said.

Here’s a hint: The Evian begins in 38 days. Karrie Webb is the only player to win five different LPGA majors.

6. Troy Merritt added his name to the list of the most surprising winners of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season.

Entering the Quicken Loans, he had missed his last five cuts and was on the FedEx Cup bubble at No. 123. Then he made small tweaks in his full-swing setup (moving his hands slightly forward at address) and putting (squaring his shoulders), shot 61 in the third round and closed out his first PGA Tour title with a Sunday 67. Stout stuff.

No, it doesn’t rate as big of a stunner as James Hahn at Riviera, or Padraig Harrington at Honda, or David Lingmerth at Memorial, but it underscores the point that even the 180th-ranked player in the world is capable of turning around his game – and winning – in a hurry. 

7. Playing against a weak field on a rain-softened course, Tiger Woods got off to a promising start in his first tournament since a major disappointment. But with the pressure ratcheted up on the weekend, he sprayed shots and endured a frustrating round that left him well off the pace, only to salvage the week with a sharp final day that left many optimistic about his next start. 

Sound familiar?

That was the story of Tiger Woods’ Greenbrier Classic, where he tied for 32nd. And now it also is the story of his Quicken Loans National, where his T-18 finish represented his second-best showing of the season. 

Critics will contend that we should know by now not to overestimate the importance of such a performance. After what was statistically his best ball-striking week in years, Woods traveled to Scotland and looked completely lost at St. Andrews. There’s reason to believe a similar market correction is in order at Whistling Straits, the exposed neo-links where Woods will have to rely more heavily on his uncooperative driver. That said ... 

8. I'm slightly more optimistic, because Woods at RTJ at least showed that he’s capable of playing well enough to contend again. It was an encouraging sign, and frankly, there haven’t been many in the past few years.

Woods needed a week like this desperately, especially after his clunker at the Old Course. He’s preached patience and talked like he’s on the verge of a breakthrough, like it’s as simple as ironing out his spin rates and motor patterns, but there was little to show for it. Now he can point to the fact that six of his last eight non-major rounds have been in the 60s. If he hasn't yet turned the corner, he's at least approaching the curve. 

Saturday’s round provided ample evidence that there is still plenty of work to do, that there is a big difference between playing well for 45 holes and an entire tournament. 

Beginning the day in fifth place, in the most significant round of his "comeback," he made only two birdies and scrambled just to shoot 74 – a score that beat only five players in the field. Sure, there might be a few technical issues at work – many analysts have suggested that he is set up for a fade with a draw downswing that produces a wild two-way miss – but there is a mental hurdle to clear, as well. 

Finally, we can agree with Woods: He's close. How close? Not even he can know for sure.

9. Our senior writer Rex Hoggard, citing “numerous sources,” reported last week that a split between Woods and swing consultant Chris Como was imminent.

Woods was asked about the status of his relationship with Como after his first round.

Reporter: Chris Como is not here this week. Can you address that? Are you two still working together?

Woods: Yeah. Is there a problem? 

Reporter: No. 

Woods: OK. 

About 12 hours later, Como was in Gainesville, Va., and on the range with Woods as he warmed up for his second round, what could be seen as a blatant attempt to silence the rampant rumors.

As noted by Fox Sports’ Robert Lusetich, the exchange brought to mind a similar line of questioning Woods faced at the 2010 Players, when rumors swirled that he and coach Hank Haney had split.

Reporter: I’m just wondering if you could say what your status is with Hank.

Woods: I’m still working with him. 

That was not true, of course. About a week later, Haney announced on his website that he had resigned as Woods’ coach.

Are Woods and Como still working together? Or is it possible that Woods is keeping Como around through the PGA, just so he can avoid the breakup questions before what figures to be a two-month break? We should have more clarity this fall.

10. At No. 185 in the FedEx Cup points list, Woods needs either a big week at the PGA or another tournament start to try and make the playoffs. The latter never seemed like a reasonable option, because he has never played the Wyndham Championship.

Yet Woods himself brought up the possibility of adding Greensboro in an 11th-hour bid to make the postseason. 

“Hopefully I can play next week at Bridgestone if everything goes well this week,” he said, “and then we’ll see about Wyndham after that and hopefully I’ll be in the playoffs and we’ll move from there.” 

If he doesn’t add the Wyndham – keep in mind he hasn’t played 72 holes in back-to-back weeks since fall 2013 – then it looks like Woods will need to finish first or second at Whistling Straits to make the playoffs.

11. Woods is far from the only big name in need of a strong finishing kick. Here are five other notables who are currently outside the top 125 in FedEx Cup points with three regular-season events to go: 

  • No. 127 Luke Donald. After a ragged start to the season, the former world No. 1 has been better of late, with his run of three consecutive top-12s worldwide ending in Canada.   
  • No. 138 Charl Schwartzel. The former Masters champion has had only two bright spots this season: a top-10 at the Match Play and a seventh-place showing at the U.S. Open.
  • No. 159 Graeme McDowell. Struggling at times with his motivation, G-Mac has only one top-30 finish worldwide since the Desert Swing at the start of the year.   
  • No. 165 Martin Kaymer. After missed cuts in the first two majors of the year, he tied for 12th in his most recent start at St. Andrews.
  • No. 176 Ernie Els. The Big Easy has fallen on hard times – he has a career-high eight missed cuts this season. 

12. With a back-nine 39 at RTJ, Bill Haas squandered a golden opportunity to win his second event of the season and, secondarily, accrue some much-needed Presidents Cup points. Even with the ugly finish that sent Haas from a share of first to joint fourth, he still moved from No. 16 to No. 13 on the points list. 

Why is that important? The top 10 players through the Deutsche Bank automatically qualify for the U.S. team. Obviously, Haas wants to play for his father/captain, Jay, and qualifying on his own would help avoid any cries of nepotism if he were chosen as a pick.  

13. Rickie Fowler had two pro titles in his first five full seasons. He was a few shots away Sunday from earning his third W in the past 84 days. Floodgates, people. 

14. Justin Thomas has separated himself from a strong pack of contenders for PGA Tour Rookie of the Year. Though he’s often unfairly labeled as just “Jordan Spieth’s good friend,” the 22-year-old has made a splash in his first year on the big tour, racking up seven top-10 finishes, including a T-4 at the Quicken Loans. Only Spieth (12), Zach Johnson (8), Hideki Matsuyama (8) and Brandt Snedeker (8) have more top 10s this season.  

By far the most bizarre story of the week involved Billy Hurley and his father, Willard. 

On Tuesday, Hurley entered the press center at Robert Trent Jones Golf Club and made an emotional plea to the media in an attempt to locate his father, who had been missing since July 19. Three days later, while Billy was grinding to make the cut in Virginia, Willard was found in Texas. He told police that he was “fine physically”, was “simply traveling,” and offered no reason for the sudden departure that led his son to make an appeal to the public to help find his dad. 

Even though Willard was found the previous day, the family had not yet heard from Willard as of Saturday.   

"At this point," a police spokesman said, "there’s nothing else we can do."

You know you're from Cedar Rapids, Iowa, when ... you eat corn on the cob out of the claret jug. 

Some fans didn't particularly care for this gesture. 

@BilltheBrit1 called it “crass.” @AussieDutchman said that Zach was a “redneck” who was “disrespecting” all of the names on the trophy. @SteveSampson said that it was “as classy as your victory speech. Not very.” Um, sorry, but how is this any worse than drinking that awful Jagermeister out of the jug? 

Heckuva way to close out a win by Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who slashed out of the hay on the 18th hole and nestled his approach to within a few feet to set up the winning birdie in his championship match against Robert Karlsson in the Paul Lawrie Match Play. It is his third career Euro Tour title. 

• Whistling Straits is a tough walk even from the middle of the fairway, so it seems unlikely that Rory McIlroy, recovering from a ruptured ankle ligament, will be able to tee it up next week at the PGA. Still, we should know definitively by the end of the week. He won't let the will-he-or-won't-he drama drag into tournament week. 

The gold star of the week goes to Lizette Salas, who handled a media firestorm at Turnberry with grace and professionalism. Donald Trump hijacked the first round of the Women’s British by helicoptering into town, and Salas, the daughter of Mexican immigrants, found herself in the middle of the political controversy after playing her opening round. 

She took the high road: “Everyone has a right to say what they feel. That’s what is great about living in the United States. I’m happy to be the child of Mexican immigrants, and I’m proud of my heritage.”

• After making an ace in the first round, Rickie bought some cold beverages for the ink-stained wretches in the media tent. And not just any cold beverages, but Bud Light and Coors Light. Cheap, watery beer – he knows the way to sportswriters’ hearts!

Another start brought more injury concerns for one of the LPGA’s most snakebitten players. Michelle Wie, who began the week in a protective boot, withdrew during the second round of the Women’s British when she slipped and aggravated a left ankle injury. An achy hip, knee, ankle, foot – all in a few months’ time. 

To answer your first question: I like the current setup. Every major has its own appeal: The Masters is the most exclusive event in golf; the U.S. Open the most democratic; the Open the most worldly; and the PGA the strongest. The Masters can invite past champions because the field is so limited; it hasn’t had more than 100 players since 1966. 

The topic of exemptions for past WGC winners is an interesting one, especially since it doesn’t seem right that Tiger Woods, an eight-time Bridgestone winner, isn’t in the field this week at Firestone. Inviting past champions of every WGC event gets tricky, though. It’d be fine at events like the Bridgestone, which has the wiggle room with less than 80 qualifiers, but what to do at the 64-man Match Play? Invite past champions, and all of a sudden the field is not only weaker, but it also keeps out deserving players. That wouldn’t fly. Here's a compromise: Since a player already receives a three-year Tour exemption for a WGC win, give him a spot in every non-Match Play WGC for three years, too.