Monday Scramble: Chasm between McIlroy and Woods

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 2, 2015, 4:00 pm

Thanks to Pete Carroll, at least now someone had a worse stay in Phoenix than Tiger Woods.

This week’s Supersized edition of Monday Scramble: 

In the span of about 48 hours, two thoughts occurred: 1.) With a swing that sound and confidence that high, it’s a wonder Rory McIlroy doesn’t win every week, and 2.) If Tiger’s short-game woes aren’t solved, soon, he could struggle to break Snead’s record, never mind Jack’s. The game’s two biggest stars have never been further apart.

For as bad as Woods looked last week in the desert – the banana balls off the tee, the avert-your-eyes shots around the green – McIlroy appears in total control of his game, with no sign of letting up. And for as lost as Woods looked last week in the desert – genuinely confused about how to play straightforward pitch shots – McIlroy has never appeared more comfortable or confident. Rivalries can’t and won’t exist between the Nos. 1 and No. 56 players in the world, so it’s reasonable to wonder whether the window is closing. Fast. 

1. How otherworldly has Rory been recently? He has seven consecutive top-two finishes on the European Tour, the longest such streak in history. Since the Open began, he is a combined 149 under par in 48 rounds played. That any good? 

2. Of course there are a few rea$on$ why Rory opts to play in the Omega Dubai Desert Classic – have you stumbled upon his commercial yet? – but it would be incredible to watch Rory, at the peak of his powers, in THIS:

3. The most concerning part of Tiger’s abbreviated week was that he had SIX weeks to prepare. He hit “thousands” of chips during the offseason and was supposedly getting “better,” but it's clear that he has regressed badly.

4. Strange, too, because no one used to sprint out of the gates like Tiger Woods. In his first 15 season openers (through 2010), he had six wins, 12 top-fives and 14 top-10s. Since ... 

  • 2011 Farmers Insurance Open: T-44
  • 2012 Abu Dhabi: T-3
  • 2013 Abu Dhabi: MC
  • 2014 Farmers Insurance Open: MDF
  • 2015 Phoenix Open: MC 

Yes, he dealt with various injuries during that timespan, but this downward trend would seem to suggest that he’s either not practicing as hard as he did during his prime, or he’s practicing the wrong things. 

5. On a positive note, Tiger appears to have his explosiveness back, no small feat for an oft-injured 39-year-old less than 10 months removed from serious back surgery. Through two rounds at the Phoenix Open he led the field in driving distance (by 15 yards), at 327.5 per pop, and his swing speed of 121.46 mph was his fastest since 2008 (124.63). Yet he still missed 18 greens in two days, and was an unfathomable 5-for-18 in scrambling situations.

6. The new world No. 56 likely needs a top-10 at Torrey to move back inside the top 50. If not, Tiger will need a high finish at Honda or he’ll be watching Doral from the couch. (He has won in Miami on four occasions, most recently in ’13.) Chances are he won’t appear at the opposite-field event in Puerto Rico, which would give him just four total starts before Augusta, unless he adds to his projected schedule (Phoenix, Torrey, Honda, Bay Hill).

7. Brooks Koepka’s trophy case is increasingly eclectic, with wins in five countries – Turkey, Italy, Spain (twice), Scotland and, now, the U.S. Still only 24, Koepka traveled the world to learn how to win, and now he’s brimming with confidence and inside the OWGR top 20. One of the greatest compliments a player can receive is being told that his game travels well. Clearly, over the past few years, few players’ games have traveled better than Koepka’s. 

8. The task force was a ridiculous idea, anyway, but how are the U.S. team rosters shaping up now? Just a guess, but the Americans should be all right with Jimmy Walker, Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Patrick Reed and Koepka holding it down.  

9. Lydia Ko became the youngest No. 1 player, male or female, at 17 years, 9 months and 7 days – more than four years younger than the next-closest on the list. Good thing LPGA commish Mike Whan waved that 18-year-old age requirement for her last year, huh?

10. Ko has six LPGA titles. Incredibly, she’s already bearing down on the career totals of these leading ladies:

  • Paula Creamer (10 wins)
  • Stacy Lewis (11)
  • Inbee Park (12)
  • Suzann Pettersen (14)

That was fast.

11. The return of Robert Allenby wasn’t nearly as hostile as expected. He shot rounds of 70-74 and missed the cut, but he escaped without further injury. More newsworthy was his bizarre pre-tournament news conference, during which he blamed the media for investigating an incident that Allenby himself brought to the media. Essentially, he was snarling, How dare you try to find out what happened during that two-hour gap that even I don’t remember!, which has us thinking that Allenby might be preparing for a new role in “The Hangover 4: Honolulu”:

12. Most NFL fans can agree that the 1983 draft class yielded the best crop of quarterback prospects ever. Someday, golf fans might say the same thing about the high school Class of 2011. Indeed, it’s easy to forget sometimes that Spieth would be a senior in college, but he headlines a superstar class that includes, among others, Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers, Ollie Schniederjans. Daniel Berger, Michael Kim, Cheng-Tsung Pan, Denny McCarthy and Anthony Paolucci. Be afraid, current Tour pros. Be very afraid.

13. Fans who decided to part with their beverages after Tiger made an ace on 16 is one thing. But making it rain beer after someone named Cory Renfrew chipped in for birdie? Have some respect. That’s BEER you’re wasting!

14. In an upcoming book, author Shane Ryan details the turbulent rise of Patrick Reed, depicted as a win-at-all-costs loner who was reportedly so unpopular amongst his teammates at both Georgia and Augusta State that on the eve of the 2011 NCAA Championship, his Jaguars teammates went to the Bulldogs with a message: “We want to win the national title, but we hope you kick the s--- out of Patrick Reed.” That didn’t happen, of course, because Reed went 6-0 in leading the tiny school to back-to-back NCAA titles. Funny … none of these stories leaked while he was helping the team win.

15. The Open Championship is poised to move from the BBC to Sky Sports, beginning in 2017, and some of Europe’s biggest names are peeved about it. Lee Westwood called it a “disgrace.” Graeme McDowell said he “feels bad” for those at home. Even Rory conceded that “it’s a shame.” By ’17 the Open will have had a 61-year relationship with the Beeb, but Sky has deeper pockets. It is also a subscription network, which means fewer people will be able to watch the year’s third major. Lower viewership numbers and no Peter Alliss? Sad. 

We saw some trying to justify that Tiger shanked his bunker shot into the crowd on 16 on purpose, during the WMPO pro-am. Riiiiight

Here is another view:

Knowing what we do now, it’s safe to say that he did NOT intentionally launch that teeth-seeking missile into the crowd. If he did, it was his best shot of the week.

Best Fan Interaction on 16 award: What better way to ingratiate oneself to the notoriously unforgiving fans than by handing out golf balls wrapped with $10 bills? Drink up all of that Coors Light, fellas!

Second-Best Fan Interaction on 16 award Patrick Reed, doing what he does best:

Better Luck Next Year award: Morgan Hoffmann donned a huge orange foam hat on Thursday and Sunday, but he missed the 16th green both times. Oy.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week award: Branden Grace. Coming off a victory, with a pair of titles in his last four starts and no finish outside the top 25 since September the 26-year-old South African was a LOCK for another high finish in Dubai, right? Nope. T-55. Brutal. 

OK, Kid, You’re Cute award: 

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Golf Channel, Loch Lomond Partner on Claret Jug Tour Ahead of 147TH Open

By Golf Channel Public RelationsJune 18, 2018, 9:35 pm

Award-Winning Independent Scotcb Whisky Sponsoring Tour to Select U.S. Cities; Will Include Special Tastings and Opportunities for Fans to Engage with Golf’s Most Storied Trophy

Golf Channel and Loch Lomond Group are partnering on a promotional tour with the Claret Jug – golf’s most iconic trophy, first awarded in 1873 to the winner of The Open – to select U.S. cities in advance of the 147TH Open at Carnoustie Golf Links in Scotland. Loch Lomond Whisky’s sponsorship of the tour further enhances the brand’s existing five-year partnership with the R&A as the official spirit of The Open, initially announced in February.

“We are proud to partner with Golf Channel to support this tour of golf’s most iconic trophy,” said Colin Matthews, CEO of Loch Lomond Group. “Whisky and golf are two of Scotland’s greatest gifts to the world, and following the news of our recent partnership with the R&A for The Open, being a part of the Claret Jug tour was a perfect fit for Loch Lomond Group to further showcase our commitment to the game.”

“The Loch Lomond Group could not be a more natural fit to sponsor the Claret Jug tour,” said Tom Knapp, senior vice president of golf sponsorship, NBC Sports Group. “Much like the storied history that accompanies the Claret Jug, Loch Lomond’s Scottish roots trace back centuries ago, and their aspirations to align with golf’s most celebrated traditions will resonate with a broad range of consumers in addition to golf fans and whisky enthusiasts.”

The tour kicks off today in Austin, Texas, and will culminate on Wednesday, July 11 at the American Century Championship in Lake Tahoe one week prior to The Open. Those wishing to engage with the Claret Jug will have an opportunity at one of several tour stops being staged at Topgolf locations in select cities. The tour will feature a custom, authentic Scottish pub where consumers (of age) can sample Loch Lomond’s portfolio of whiskies in the spirit of golf’s original championship and the Claret Jug. The Claret Jug also will make special pop-up visits to select GolfNow course partners located within some of the designated tour markets.

(All Times Local)

Monday, June 18                    Austin, Texas              (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m.)

Tuesday, June 19                    Houston                      (Topgolf, 5-8 p.m.)

Wednesday, June 20               Jacksonville, Fla.        (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Monday, June 25                    Orlando, Fla.               (Topgolf, 6-9 p.m.)

Wednesday, July 4                 Washington D.C.        (Topgolf, 5:30-8:30 p.m. – Ashburn, Va.)

Monday, July 9                       Edison, N.J.                (Topgolf, Time TBA)

Wednesday, July 11               Lake Tahoe, Nev.       American Century Championship (On Course)

Fans interacting with the Claret Jug and Loch Lomond during the course of the tour are encouraged to share their experience using the hashtag, #ClaretJug on social media, and tag @TheOpen and @LochLomondMalts on Twitter and Instagram.

NBC Sports Group is the exclusive U.S. television home of the 147TH Open from Carnoustie, with nearly 50 live hours of tournament coverage, Thursday-Sunday, July 19-22. The Claret Jug is presented each July to the winner of The Open, with the winner also being given the title of “Champion Golfer of the Year” until the following year’s event is staged. The Claret Jug is one of the most storied trophies in all of sports; first presented to the 1873 winner of The Open, Tom Kidd. Each year, the winner’s name is engraved on to the trophy, forever etched into the history of golf’s original championship. It is customary for the Champion Golfer of the Year to drink a favorite alcoholic beverage from the Claret Jug in celebration of the victory.

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USGA-player relationship at a breaking point?

By Will GrayJune 18, 2018, 8:00 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. – For seven days each year, the American game’s preeminent governing body welcomes the best players in the world with open arms. They set up shop at one of the premier courses in the country, and line it with grandstands and white hospitality tents as far as the eye can see.

The players arrive, first at a slow trickle and then at a steady pace. And once they’ve registered and clipped their player medallions over their belts, they’re told how this year is going to be different.

How this time around, be it in a Washington gravel pit or on a time-tested piece of land on the tip of Long Island, the USGA will not repeat the mistakes of the past. That the process of identifying the best players in the world will not veer into the territory of embarrassing them.

Like a college sweetheart in search of reconciliation, the powers-that-be preach a changed attitude and a more even-handed approach. Then, inevitably, they commit the same cardinal sins they promised to avoid.

So year in and year out, the scar tissue builds. Charlie Brown keeps trying to kick the football and, for most of the players not named Brooks Koepka, he ends up on his butt in a cloud of dust and fescue.

After letting Shinnecock Hills plunge into avoidable yet all-too-familiar territory over the weekend – before being doused back to life – one thing is clear: in the eyes of many players, the USGA can’t be trusted.

“When are they going to get it right? I just feel like they disrespect these historic golf courses,” said Scott Piercy, a runner-up at the 2016 U.S. Open who got swept away this week during a crispy third round en route to a T-45 finish. “I think they disrespect the players, I think they disrespect the game of golf. And they’re supposed to be, like, the top body in the game of golf. And they disrespect it, every aspect of it.”

Piercy, like several players in this week’s field, had a few specific gripes about how Shinnecock was set up, especially during the third round when USGA CEO Mike Davis admitted his organization lost control in a display that echoed the mistakes of 2004. But this was not an isolated case.

Players went with skepticism to Chambers Bay three years ago, only to encounter greens that were largely dirt and got compared to produce. Mismatched grass strains, they were told. Whoops.

The next year the USGA threw a dark cloud over a classic venue by allowing much of the final round at Oakmont to play without knowing the leader’s actual score as a rules fiasco reached a furious boil. Last year’s Erin Hills experiment was met with malaise.

At this point, the schism runs much deeper than a single error in setup. It threatens the core competency of the organization in the eyes of several of the players it looks to serve.

“They do what they want, and they don’t do it very well. As far as I’m concerned, there is no relationship (between players and the USGA),” said Marc Leishman. “They try and do it. They do it on purpose. They say they want to test us mentally, and they do that by doing dumb stuff.”

By and large, players who took issue with the USGA’s tactics had a simple solution: put more of the setup choices in the hands of those who oversee PGA Tour and European Tour venues on a regular basis. While some of those personnel already moonlight in USGA sweater-vests for the week, there is a strong sentiment that their collective knowledge could be more heavily relied upon.

“I know (the USGA) takes great pride in doing all this stuff they do to these golf courses, but they see it once a year,” Brandt Snedeker said. “Let those guys say, ‘Hey, we see this every week. We know what the edge is. We know where it is.’ We can’t be out there playing silly golf.”

That’s not to say that a major should masquerade as the Travelers Championship. But the U.S. Open is the only one of the four that struggles to keep setup shortfalls from becoming a dominant storyline.

It all adds up to a largely adversarial relationship, one that continues to fray after this weekend’s dramatics and which isn’t helped by the USGA’s insistence that they should rarely shoulder the blame.

“They’re not going to listen, for one. Mike Davis thinks he’s got all the answers, that’s No. 2,” said Pat Perez after a T-36 finish. “And when he is wrong, there’s no apologies. It’s just, ‘Yeah, you know, we kind of let it get out of hand.’ Well, no kidding. Look at the scores. That’s the problem. It’s so preventable. You don’t have to let it get to that point.”

But this wound festers from more than just slick greens and thick rough. There is a perception among some players that the USGA gets overly zealous in crafting complicated rules with complex decisions, a collection of amateur golfers doling out the fine print that lords over the professional game on a weekly basis – with the curious handling of whatever Phil Mickelson did on the 13th green Saturday serving as just the latest example.

The gripes over setup each year at the USGA’s biggest event, when it’s perceived that same group swoops in to take the reins for a single week before heading for the hills, simply serve as icing on the cake. And there was plenty of icing this week after players were implored to trust that the miscues of 2004 would not be repeated.

“To say that the players and the USGA have had a close relationship would be a false statement,” Snedeker said. “They keep saying all the right things, and they’re trying to do all the right things, I think. But it’s just not coming through when it matters.”

It’s worth noting that the USGA has made efforts recently to ramp up its communication with the top pros. Officials from the organization have regularly attended the Tour’s player meetings in recent months, and Snedeker believes that some strides have been made.

So, too, does Zach Johnson, who was one of the first to come out after the third round and declare that the USGA had once again lost the golf course.

“I think they’ve really started to over the last few years, last couple years in particular, tried to increase veins of communication,” Johnson said. “When you’re talking about a week that is held in the highest regards, I’m assuming within the organization and certainly within my peer group as one of the four majors and my nation’s major, communication is paramount.”

But the exact size of the credibility gap the USGA has to bridge with some top pros remains unclear. It’s likely not a sting that one good week of tournament setup can assuage, even going to one of the more straightforward options in the rotation next year at Pebble Beach.

After all, Snedeker was quick to recall that players struggled mightily to hit the par-3 17th green back in 2010, with eventual champ Graeme McDowell calling the hole “borderline unfair” ahead of the third round.

“It’s one of the greatest holes in world golf, but I don’t really know how I can hit the back left portion of the green,” McDowell said at the time. “It’s nearly impossible.”

Surely this time next year, Davis will explain how the USGA has expanded its arsenal in the last decade, and that subsequent changes to the 17th green structure will make it more playable. His organization will then push the course to the brink, like a climber who insists on scaling Mount Everest without oxygen, and they’ll tell 156 players that this time, finally, the desired balance between difficult and fair has been achieved.

Whether they’ll be believed remains to be seen.

@bubbawatson on Instagram

Bubba gets inked by Brooks, meets Tebow

By Grill Room TeamJune 18, 2018, 5:40 pm

Bubba Watson missed the cut at Shinnecock Hills following rounds of 77-74, but that didn't stop him from enjoying his weekend.

Watson played alongside Jason Day and eventual champion Brooks Koepka in Rounds 1 and 2, and somehow this body ink slipped by us on Thursday.

Got autographed by defending @usopengolf Champ @bkoepka!! #NeverShoweringAgain

A post shared by Bubba Watson (@bubbawatson) on

And while we're sure Bubba would have rather been in contention over the weekend, we're also sure that taking your son to meet the second most famous minor-league baseball player who ever lived was a lot more fun than getting your teeth kicked in by Shinnecock Hills over the weekend, as just about everyone not named Brooks Koepka and Tommy Fleetwood did.

Already in Hartford, Watson will be going for his third Travelers Championship trophy this week, following wins in 2010 and 2015.

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Phil rubs fan's Donald Duck hat seven times, signs it

By Nick MentaJune 18, 2018, 3:09 pm

There is a case to be made that what Phil Mickelson did on Saturday made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

There is also a case to be made that the USGA's setup of Shinnecock Hills made a mockery of a major championship and was worthy of derision.

Whatever you think about what Mickelson did on Saturday - and how he attempted to justify it after the fact without even a hint of remorse - watch this video.

The next time you hear someone say, "If anybody else had putted a moving ball on purpose and not apologized for it, it would get a different reaction," you can point to this video and say, "Yeah, here's why."

Here's what happened once a still-strident Mickelson was done rubbing Donald Duck hats on Sunday, per Ryan Lavner:

If you’re wondering whether Mickelson would be defiant or contrite on Sunday, we don’t know the answer. He declined to stop and speak with the media, deciding instead to sign autographs for more than a half hour and then offering a few short answers before ducking into player hospitality.

“The real question is, ‘What am I going to do next?’” he said. “I don’t know.”

The 2024 Ryder Cup at Bethpage is going to be a three-ring circus, and Mickelson, a likely choice to captain the U.S. team, will be the ringmaster.

Separately, shoutout to 2017 Latin Am champ Toto Gana, who does a terrific Donald Duck (skip to end).