Monday Scramble: History to history in the making

By Ryan LavnerAugust 8, 2016, 6:00 pm

Jim Furyk shoots golf's (new) magic number, Russell Knox takes another title, Wesley Bryan earns a brief promotion, Nike closes up shop and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

In an era where distance is king, the owner of the best score in PGA Tour history is not a guy who can pound the ball into another zip code.

Just the opposite, in fact.

Jim Furyk is a 46-year-old with a surgically repaired wrist, a loopy backswing, a dink-and-dunk approach ... and he is the only player to shoot in the 50s twice on Tour.

Nothing in Furyk’s career has been aesthetically pleasing – not his swing, not his U.S. Open victory, certainly not his Ryder Cup record – but even after all of these years he possesses an uncanny ability to grind, to keep plugging along, to get the ball in the hole.

His success underscores the power of sound course management.

1. With a clutch par save on the 72nd hole, Knox became the fifth multiple winner this season, joining Jason Day, Jordan Spieth, Dustin Johnson and Adam Scott.

The win doesn’t automatically qualify the Scotsman for the Ryder Cup – he received no points for his WGC-HSBC title last fall, because he wasn’t a European Tour member – but he should be a lock for a captain’s pick. If the fall had counted toward his total, he'd be No. 4 on the World Points list.

Even Knox conceded: "It's put Darren Clarke in a very difficult position not to pick me."

With veteran Lee Westwood also likely to receive a wildcard selection, Clarke will have to decide between the likes of Shane Lowry, Martin Kaymer and Graeme McDowell to fill out his roster. His three picks are due Aug. 29.  

2. Knox had one of the year's best celebrations, flinging his cap after the winning putt dropped. "I felt like the Incredible Hulk when it went in," he said afterward. "I could have ripped my shirt off."

Look at the zip on this fastball. Single-A teams have to be salivating at the thought of adding the 5-foot-10 right-hander to their rotation.

3. Furyk had barely signed off on his record round when the conversation shifted to where his round ranked all time. But it might not even be the best sub-60 score.

On Sunday, he hit every green and missed just one fairway (even though it didn’t hurt him – he stuck his approach from the right rough inside 3 feet). He made five putts longer than 14 feet, including the 23-footer on 16 that put him in line for the 58. And he gained more than 10.66 strokes on the field.

That last part is important, because it shows how unlikely the crazy-low round was. 

From a strokes-gained perspective, Al Geiberger’s 59 remains the best: He beat the field average by 13.6 strokes that day.

Furyk’s own 59, at the 2013 BMW, was second-best (12.09), while David Duval’s closing 59 in 1999 ranked third (10.68). 

Of the six players who have shot golf’s (old) magic number, only Geiberger, Duval and Chip Beck posted that score on a par-72 course; Furyk’s 58 was on the par-70 TPC River Highlands. 

Is it easier to break 60 on a par 72 than a par 70, because there are two more par 5s on which to score? You'd think so, but history says it’s equally as difficult.  

4. How will Furyk’s historic round affect his Ryder Cup chances?

Even before the 58 he clearly had caught the attention of Davis Love III, who reasoned at his PGA news conference that Furyk would be “top five or six” in points had he not sat out much of the season because of a wrist injury. Overall, his name was mentioned seven times in the presser.

Love seemed to be looking for any reason to pick Furyk, who has veteran savvy, sure, but also the most losses (20) of any player in Ryder Cup history.

Then this happened.

5. And so Love’s decision just got a lot more difficult. 

He said that the four American Olympians will receive credit on his unofficial points list, but frankly, results on the big tour should matter more.

Kuchar deserves a pick, because of his form this season (nine top-10s). Reed deserves a pick, because of his phenomenal match-play record. And Daniel Berger should at least receive strong consideration, even though he blew the Travelers on Sunday. He has a win this summer and the kind of brash, fearless attitude the Americans desperately need. 

That leaves Love to decide between Rickie Fowler (well-liked, but disappointing year), Bubba Watson (big hitter, but nothing of note since Riviera) and, surely, a Billy Horschel-type PWGHL (player who gets hot later). 

Depending on how the fall shakes out, it’s possible, maybe even likely, that the Americans will leave at least one player home who is ranked inside the OWGR top 10.

6. Here's a look at where Rickie, Bubba and Co. will be teeing off over the first two rounds in Rio.

7. Berger, meanwhile, couldn’t have picked a worse time for his closing 74 at the Travelers. 

Staked to a three-shot lead, the 23-year-old was on the verge of his second victory in as many months. Instead, he didn't make a birdie until the 14th hole and wasn't a factor down the stretch.

There are only three events for Berger to jump inside the top 8 in the Ryder Cup standings, or else he'll have to rely on a pick. This was a golden opportunity to accrue some points. 

8. Just going to leave this here, because it’s the most astounding stat of a wild day at TPC River Highlands (click here for my wrap of Furyk's round): 

9. If he wanted to (and here's thinking he does not), Mike “Fluff” Cowan could write a heckuva book about his career. The legendary caddie has now had a front-row seat to some of the most incredible moments in the game’s long history: Tiger Woods’ 12-shot romp at the 1997 Masters; the miracle comeback at the ’99 Ryder Cup; and now Furyk’s 59 and 58. 

10. It’s early August, and already there is no shortage of contenders for Round of the Year. Here is how we’d rank the top 5 rounds of 2016:

  1. Henrik Stenson, 63, The Open
  2. Jim Furyk, 58, Travelers
  3. Ken Duke, 65, The Players
  4. Brandt Snedeker, 69, Farmers
  5. Phil Mickelson, 65, The Open

11. It’ll turn out to be a two-week bump to the big leagues, but Bryan became the 11th player to win three times in a Tour season and earn an automatic promotion to the PGA Tour. 

Wesley’s latest victory came in a playoff at the Digital Ally Open. It’s been a meteoric rise for the one-time trick-shot artist, who will have a full Tour card waiting for him next season.

Carlos Ortiz last earned the promotion in 2014. It’s unfortunate timing for Bryan, with only two regular-season events remaining on the PGA Tour schedule. 

12. In a move that stunned the golf industry, Nike announced last week that it would stop producing equipment and instead focus on apparel and footwear. Even staffers like Brooks Koepka, Tony Finau and Patrick Rodgers seemed shocked by the news. Tiger Woods suggested in a tweet that he’d only had a few days’ notice.

The big question now, of course, is what happens to those donning the Swoosh.

Koepka and Finau, both of whom were courted by PXG before signing with Nike, said they will play out the season with their current equipment. Why change what’s working? 

Woods could mix and match his bag. McIlroy may return to Titleist. Whatever happens, it figures to be the wildest free-agency period in golf history.

Speaking of which ...

Hey, we appreciate a good Twitter trolling as much as anyone, but there was something about these tweets that didn’t sit well here. 

Sure, there’s a time and a place to jump in, to crack wise about the upcoming signing frenzy, but mere hours after Nike announced that it was getting out of the equipment space – and thus laying off HUNDREDS of employees – did not seem like that time. 

This week's award winners ... 

Unintentional Humblebrag: Furyk, when asked about how low he could go: “If I had never shot 59 before, I would’ve been thinking 59. But I was thinking about breaking that barrier.” 

Overshadowed: Justin Thomas. He shot 62 and didn't have the best round of the day. By four shots. "Not often do you shoot 62 and get your butt handed to you," he said afterward.

Better Late Than Never: Anthony Wall. After more than a 16-year wait, he finally won again on the European Tour, after beating Alex Noren in the championship of the Paul Lawrie Match Play.

No Regrets: Dustin Johnson. If you thought DJ might feel a sharp pang of regret about skipping the Olympics, his fiancee's Instagram feed suggests otherwise.

Fake News: The 2017 Florida swing is canceled because of the Zika virus threat. 

Amateur History: Eun Jeong Seong. The 16-year-old became the first player to win the U.S. Girls' Junior and U.S. Women's Amateur in the same year. In the 36-hole final, she defeated Virginia Elena Carta, who was trying to pull a Bryson (winning the NCAAs and U.S. Am in the same year). Which leads us to ... 

Back to the Minors (For Now): Bryson DeChambeau. Despite an auspicious start to his pro career, he has now played the maximum 12 events allowed to non-members and didn't earn enough points to get his card. A trip to the Tour Finals looms. 

Lost Her Speaking Privileges: Diana Murphy. After bungling two consecutive trophy presentations on national TV, the USGA president reportedly did not address the crowd after Seong won the U.S. Women's Am. That's probably best.

Least Surprising News of the Week: John Daly.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Zach Johnson. He made his 10th consecutive cut, but the T-47 at the Travelers was the last thing we expected from a guy who (A) had four top-20s in his last five starts, and (B) finished sixth there last year on the course that rewards precision. Sigh.  

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.