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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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit