Monday Scramble: Tiger puts a bow on 2016

By Ryan LavnerDecember 5, 2016, 5:00 pm

Wrapping up Tiger Woods’ return, putting a bow on the year and looking ahead to 2017 in this week’s season-ending Monday Scramble:

After a 466-day layoff, after rumors of physical inactivity and reports of a vulnerable game, Woods returned to competition last week at the Hero World Challenge and, if we’re being honest, exceeded all expectations.

He looked healthy, going full bore with the driver. He looked sharp, hitting a number of terrific iron shots. And most of all, he looked happy, which is no small feat considering how bleak his outlook was just a year ago. 

Whether Woods can return to the Tour as anything more than a bit player will be sorted out over the next year. (After all, he played reasonably well in the Bahamas and still lost by 14.) For now, though, his return can be viewed as nothing less than a resounding success. 

Next year just got a lot more interesting. 

1. Woods carded 24 birdies last week – the same number as tournament winner Hideki Matsuyama. That’s good news, because it’s much easier to eliminate mistakes than to make more birdies. 

2. The bad news, of course, is that Woods also made six double bogeys, including three during a final-round 76 (the worst score of the week by any player). It's the most he's ever made in a single tournament.

The six doubles can be attributed to two things, both of which should have been anticipated: rust and fatigue.

Out of competition for nearly 16 months, Woods clearly wore down on the back nine each day, making sloppy swings and poor decisions. Part of Woods’ training was to get back into walking shape, but there was no way to simulate the inevitable waves of adrenaline. By Sunday afternoon, he was gassed.

One of the biggest tests for Woods in early 2017 will be playing consecutive weeks, especially if he still requires treatment and physical therapy after each round.

3. With that in mind, where will we see Woods next? He said after the final round that he'd like to play a full schedule next year, but he needs to see how his body responds after a few weeks off.

He'll have a few options next month: He could play in Abu Dhabi, fly halfway around the world to tee it up at Torrey Pines, take two weeks off and then compete at Riviera; or he could play Torrey Pines, fly halfway around the world to play in Dubai, take a week off and then compete at Riviera. 

Unable to prepare and practice like he used to because of his surgically repaired back, Woods, who turns 41 later this month, must ensure that he doesn't overexert himself at the beginning of a long year. 

4. Matsuyama is making plenty of noise during a quiet time of year. 

In his last six starts, the Japanese star has gone 5th-1st-2nd-1st-1st-1st. He led the World Challenge by as many as seven shots at one point Sunday before settling for a closing 73 and a two-shot victory.

He is still 89 under par over his last 20 rounds. Too bad it's not April. 

5. Which players will take the next step and win a major in 2017? Here are the three most likely candidates: 

  • Matsuyama: His putting was the biggest reason why he didn't win more often, but that part certainly seems to have been figured out. That's scary, because he's a preeminent ball-striker.
  • Brooks Koepka: Big hitter, strong iron player, streaky putter. If he can shore up his wedge game, like his buddy DJ, he’ll be a consistent force in the majors next year.  
  • Patrick Reed: Remarkably, he doesn’t have a top-10 in a major, but it seems like just a matter of time before it all comes together for four days.    

6. That no-good, overrated, sky-is-falling year that Jordan Spieth supposedly had? He still won three times this year, more than all but two players.

Spieth had braced himself for the backlash, had prepared himself to fall short of everyone’s expectations after a record-breaking 2015. But that didn't make it any easier. This year was still a learning experience for the 23-year-old, both on and off the course.

Two poor swings on the 12th hole at Augusta cost him another major, then he struggled with his iron play and wedges, leading to some middling play during the crammed summer schedule. Off the course, he grew frustrated with constant questions about his game and found out the hard way that he needed to better manage his time and energy with international travel.

That he experienced all of this now, while he’s young and on the heels of a breakout year, will only help him for the future. He’s too smart and driven to fall off.   

7. Boy, there’s a lot more buzz surrounding Phil Mickelson than at this time last year.

In late 2015, he had just left Butch Harmon, hooking up instead with little-known swing coach Andrew Getson. He hadn’t won in more than two years. He hadn’t really be competitive, either, save for a few out-of-nowhere major performances.

No, he still didn't break through for his first victory since the 2013 Open, but no winless player was better this year. Phil became an elite putter (again). He qualified for another team competition. And he had a few chances to win, none more agonizing than at Royal Troon, where he lipped out a putt for 62, closed with 65 and lost to the player with the lowest 72-hole score in major history.

Then came the Ryder Cup, where he faced more pressure than anyone … and all he did, as a de facto playing captain, was post a 2-1-1 record and record 10 birdies in Sunday singles.

Only offseason hernia surgery can slow down Lefty.

8. Whether Spieth and Rory McIlroy can return to world No. 1 will be a big storyline in 2017, of course, but I’m most interested to see where Dustin Johnson goes from here.

He possesses the most raw talent of any player on the PGA Tour – he didn’t practice after the HSBC Champions in October and still finished in a tie for third at the Hero – and now he has a long-awaited major title on his résumé.

Does DJ continue to maximize his awesome talent and rise to No. 1? Or does he simply become content with checking off two of his biggest career goals (major and Player of the Year) and coast for the foreseeable future, winning a few titles each year just because he’s too good not to. It’ll be fascinating to watch. 

9. Was there a more scrutinized tournament this year than the Olympics?

The golf course was a headache for the design team. There were security concerns in Rio. And top players bailed for reasons ranging from the Zika virus to scheduling.

In the end, the event proved successful for both the men and the women, thanks in large part to the players who landed on the medal stand. The men’s tournament was riveting, going down to the 18th hole with a pair of major winners vying for the gold. The action was so compelling, and the thought of a medal so enticing, that many of those who missed out – namely Spieth and McIlroy – later expressed regret over their decision.

Would they have felt the same with different medal winners, with just another boring 72-hole event? Probably not. But it’s full steam ahead to the 2020 Games, with the prospect of a format change on the horizon. 

10. It took nearly 40 years for a tournament to challenge the Duel in the Sun.

Locked in a thrilling, high-stakes game of H.O.R.S.E., Henrik Stenson and Mickelson lapped the field at The Open, combining for 14 birdies, an eagle and two bogeys in the final round while shooting 63 and 65, respectively.

Afterward, Stenson reveled in a life-changing victory. Mickelson, meanwhile, looked stunned in defeat, as he tried to come to grips with how he could play so well and still lose.

It was the best tournament of the year by a wide margin.

11. There’s a new young star in women’s golf, and she poses massive problems for Lydia Ko.

Ariya Jutanugarn, with her incredible power and smooth putting stroke, is the star that the LPGA has been waiting for once it was clear that Michelle Wie wouldn’t put a stranglehold on the game. 

Jutanugarn is ranked inside the top 25 in driving distance despite almost never hitting driver. She’s in the top 20 in greens in regulation and putting average, too. 

She swept the postseason awards after a breakout, five-win season. When Jutanugarn is on, and healthy, there is no way that Ko can hang – she doesn’t have the length or the precision to go head-to-head.  

This is just the beginning of Jutanugarn's takeover of the LPGA.

12. So this is telling: An American won a major and yet it was still a historically awful year for the U.S. women.

Brittany Lang took the U.S. Women’s Open, but she was one of only two Americans to find the winner’s circle in 2016. Lexi Thompson won in February but otherwise had the glaring weaknesses in her game exposed on a weekly basis. 

Stacy Lewis, Paula Creamer, Morgan Pressel, Brittany Lincicome and Wie? All MIA.

It was the Americans’ worst season in the 67-year history of the tour – and there isn't much hope for the immediate future, either.

13. As we look back on 2016, here are a few personal highlights ... 

  • I was going to continue walking with the Patrick Reed-Rory Mcllroy Ryder Cup singles match once they made the turn, but decided against it. There was no way it would get any better, and I was right. That was the most thrilling two hours of golf I’ve ever seen, with the birdies and the eagles and the fist pumps and the “I can’t hear you!” screams and the finger wags. Two months later, the hair still raises on my neck every time they show a highlight of the eighth green.
  • When major Sundays are over, I usually mill around the clubhouse, looking for people who can add perspective and color to my stories. After Spieth’s collapse at the Masters, I followed Spieth and his team for the next half hour or so. Michael Greller disappeared into the caddie building. Spieth’s family and swing coach Cameron McCormick gathered near their courtesy SUV, too emotional to offer any insights on the day’s final two hours. But while everyone around him was devastated, Spieth, then just 22, was as polite and gracious as ever, slipping the green jacket on another man’s shoulders and then thoughtfully answered every tough question asked of him. Respect.
  • One of the best tournaments of the year was seen by only about 500,000 viewers: The men’s and women’s NCAA Championships. The match-play portion had everything you could want as a sports fan: drama, hole-outs and clutch putts. And all on a classic design, Eugene Country Club.

The USGA should be thankful that Johnson won the U.S. Open by a comfortable margin, because Mike Davis and Co. made a “big bogey” in how they handled a ruling during the final round at Oakmont. 

Informing Johnson on the 12th tee that a penalty was still possible after the round, the blue blazers threw the U.S. Open into flux, as everyone was unsure of where they stood in the tournament. USGA officials got roasted by players and industry types on social media, and afterward, they insisted that they followed the proper protocol, even trotting out some legal mumbo jumbo in a news conference. It ended up being a moot point – Johnson's final margin of victory was three shots, not four – and 24 hours later, Davis conceded that he’d like a mulligan and the rule will be revisited. 

Gee, really? 

This year's award winners ... 

Best Performance of the Year: Stenson at The Open. He matched Johnny Miller as the only players to win a major with a final-round 63 … and Big Stense’s incredible round included a pair of bogeys. His ball-striking has long been a sight to behold, but now he has a reliable putting stroke, too.  

Random Thought of the Year: How many majors did Nike cost Tiger? Woods admitted that he returned to his old Scotty Cameron putter the same day that the Swoosh decided it was leaving the equipment business. By no means was he a poor putter with the Nike model – he just wasn’t in the top 5 annually, like usual.  

Oldie But Goodie: Jim Furyk. Leave it to Furyk – the aging warrior with the funky swing – to become the first player with two sub-60 scores on Tour. 

Year to Forget: Brendon Todd. Ranked 80th in the world at the end of last year, he is now No. 472 after missing 25 cuts in 27 starts. Oy. 

Most Expected Rise into the OWGR Top 10: Matsuyama. He stared down Rickie in Phoenix, had top-10s at the Masters, Players and PGA, and won four of his last five starts. Stud. 

Most Unexpected Fall out of the OWGR Top 10: Rickie Fowler. So much for that whole Big 5 thing. Fowler won early in the year, in Abu Dhabi, but otherwise didn’t do much, failing to finish in the top 30 in a major and booting away a few chances to win. 

Most Unlikely Rise into the OWGR Top 10: Alex Noren. The 34-year-old Swede had enjoyed a solid if unspectacular career until this June. Over the last four months of the season, however, he matched his career win total (four) and soared into the top 10 in the world. The next step is competing in the States against the world’s best.

Boneheaded Move of the Year: Peter Willett. The Masters champion had struggled ever since he left Augusta, and his brother only compounded his issues by writing a satirical column that disparaged American golf fans just days before the Ryder Cup. Sure enough, Wilett was targeted by spectators and went 0-3 in what was a lopsided European defeat. 

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Wie has hand surgery, out for rest of 2018

By Randall MellOctober 18, 2018, 9:43 pm

Michelle Wie will miss the rest of this season after undergoing surgery Thursday to fix injuries that have plagued her right hand in the second half of this year.

Wie announced in an Instagram post that three ailments have been causing the pain in her hand: an avulsion fracture, bone spurs and nerve entrapment.

An avulsion fracture is an injury to the bone where it attaches to a ligament or tendon.

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I think John Mayer once said, “Someday, everything will make perfect sense. So for now, laugh at the confusion, smile through the tears, be strong and keep reminding yourself that everything happens for a reason.” A lot of people have been asking me what’s been going on with my hand and I haven’t shared much, because I wasn’t sure what was going on myself. After countless MRI’s, X-rays, CT scans, and doctor consultations, I was diagnosed with having a small Avulsion Fracture, bone spurring, and nerve entrapment in my right hand. After 3 cortisone injections and some rest following the British Open, we were hoping it was going to be enough to grind through the rest of the season, but it just wasn’t enough to get me through. So I made the decision after Hana Bank to withdraw from the rest of the season, come back to the states, and get surgery to fix these issues. It’s been disheartening dealing with pain in my hand all year but hopefully I am finally on the path to being and STAYING pain free! Happy to announce that surgery was a success today and I cannot wait to start my rehab so that I can come back stronger and healthier than ever. Huge thank you to Dr. Weiland’s team at HSS for taking great care of me throughout this process and to all my fans for your unwavering support. It truly means the world to me. I’ll be back soon guys!!!! Promise

A post shared by Michelle Wie (@themichellewie) on

Dr. Andrew Weiland, an attending orthopedic surgeon at the Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, performed the procedure.

“It’s been disheartening dealing with pain in my hand all year, but, hopefully, I am finally on the path to being and staying pain free,” Wie wrote.

Wie withdrew during the first round of the Ricoh Women’s British Open with the hand injury on Aug. 2 and didn’t play again until teeing it up at the UL International Crown two weeks ago and the KEB Hana Bank Championship last week. She played those events with what she hoped was a new “pain-free swing,” one modeled after Steve Stricker, with more passive hands and wrists. She went 1-3 at the UL Crown and tied for 59th in the limited field Hana Bank.

“After 3 cortisone injections and some rest following the British Open, we were hoping it was going to be enough to grind through the rest of the season, but it just wasn’t enough to get me through,” she wrote.

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

Wie, who just turned 29 last week, started the year saying her top goal was to try to stay injury free. She won the HSBC Women’s World Championship in March, but her goal seemed doomed with a diagnosis of arthritis in both wrists before the year even started.

Over the last few years, Wie has dealt with neck, back, hip, knee and ankle injuries. Plus, there was an emergency appendectomy that knocked her out of action for more than a month late last season. Her wrists have been an issue going back to early in her career.

“I don’t think there is one joint or bone in her body that hasn’t had some sort of injury or issue,” Wie’s long-time swing coach, David Leadbetter, said earlier this year.

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Woods receives his Tour Championship trophy

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 18, 2018, 8:57 pm

We all know the feeling of giddily anticipating something in the mail. But it's doubtful that any of us ever received anything as cool as what recently showed up at Tiger Woods' Florida digs.

This was Woods' prize for winning the Tour Championship. It's a replica of "Calamity Jane," Bobby Jones' famous putter. Do we even need to point out that the Tour Championship is played at East Lake, the Atlanta course where Jones was introduced to the game.

Woods broke a victory drought of more than five years by winning the Tour Championhip. It was his 80th PGA Tour win, leaving him just two shy of Sam Snead's all-time record.

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Garcia 2 back in storm-halted Andalucia Masters

By Associated PressOctober 18, 2018, 7:08 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Ashley Chesters was leading on 5-under 66 at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters when play was suspended because of darkness with 60 golfers yet to complete their weather-hit first rounds on Thursday.

More than four hours was lost as play was twice suspended because of stormy conditions and the threat of lightning at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

English journeyman Chesters collected six birdies and one bogey to take a one-shot lead over Gregory Bourdy of France. Tournament host and defending champion Sergio Garcia was on 68 along with fellow Spaniards Alvaro Quiros and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano, and Australia's Jason Scrivener.

''It's a shame I can't keep going because the last few holes were the best I played all day. Considering all the delays and everything, I'm very happy with 5 under,'' Chesters said. ''The forecast for the rest of the week is not very good either so I thought I'll just make as many birdies as I can and get in.''

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Caddies drop lawsuit; Tour increases healthcare stipend

By Rex HoggardOctober 18, 2018, 3:33 pm

After nearly four years of litigation, a group of PGA Tour caddies have dropped their lawsuit against the circuit.

The lawsuit, which was filed in California in early 2015, centered on the bibs caddies wear during tournaments and ongoing attempts by the caddies to improve their healthcare and retirement options.

The caddies lost their class-action lawsuit in U.S. District Court and an appeal this year.

Separately, the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was not involved in the lawsuit but represents the caddies to the Tour, began negotiating with the circuit last year.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the APTC.

In January 2017, Jay Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour and began working with the APTC to find a solution to the healthcare issue. Sajtinac said the Tour has agreed to increase the stipend it gives caddies for healthcare beginning next year.

“It took a year and a half, but it turned out to be a good result,” Sajtinac said. “Our goal is to close that window for the guys because healthcare is such a massive chunk of our income.”

In a statement released by the Tour, officials pointed out the lawsuit and the “potential increase to the longtime caddie healthcare subsidy” are two separate issues.

“Although these two items have been reported together, they are not connected. The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

Caddies have received a stipend from the Tour for healthcare for some time, and although Sajtinac wouldn’t give the exact increase, he said it was over 300 percent. Along with the APTC’s ability to now negotiate healthcare plans as a group, the new stipend should dramatically reduce healthcare costs for caddies.

“It’s been really good,” said Sajtinac, who did add that there are currently no talks with the Tour to created a retirement program for caddies. “Everybody is really excited about this.”