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Monday Scramble: Drowning out - or in - the noise

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Gary Woodland prevails, Rickie Fowler falters, the party at 16 rages on, Juli Inkster signs on for another Solheim Cup and more in this week’s Super edition of Monday Scramble:

During a final round in which some of the game’s biggest names were supposed to square off, the only players left standing were Gary Woodland and Chez Reavie.

It’s a prime example of the remarkable depth of talent on Tour – and how difficult it is to win.

Both Woodland and Reavie have been on the fringes of contention all season, and they took advantage when the bigger-name players – the ones with more pressure to perform, with more to lose – faltered on the final day.

It wasn’t the star-studded finish everyone expected, but Woodland’s Sunday 64 was the best of the day, and he was rewarded for his stellar play in the spotlight. 

1. Gary Woodland called 2017 the most difficult year of his career. Last spring, his wife, Gabby, lost one of their twins mid-pregnancy. It affected him the rest of the year.

He was eager for a fresh slate in 2018, and it showed, with three consecutive top-12 finishes.

Swing coach Butch Harmon sent Woodland a text message at the start of the week: Forget about everything else. Just put four rounds together.

Whether it put Woodland’s mind at ease, he doesn’t know. But he just notched his first victory since 2013 – and is the new leader in the clubhouse for feel-good story of the year.

2. It was a heartbreaking finish for Chez Reavie, at a tournament he calls his “fifth major.”

Reavie grew up in Mesa, was a standard bearer at the event as a kid and finally, after years of frustration there, put himself in position to win.

He buried a must-make 21-footer on the final hole of regulation, but he hit a poot approach shot on the first playoff hole, coming up short and left of the green. He misplayed his chip shot and missed the 11-footer for par.

Just like that, it was over. It was just his fifth bogey of the week. 

3. Another year, another close call in Phoenix for Rickie Fowler. It was his third straight top-11 finish there.

This year was perhaps the biggest surprise.

After surviving what was thought to be his worst round of the week to take the 54-hole lead, Fowler couldn’t get a putt to drop on the back nine and finished with three bogeys in his last four holes. That added up to a 2-over 73.

There are a lot of factors involved … but Fowler is now 1-for-6 with at least a share of the 54-hole lead. His all-around game is so solid that it’s easy to envision him winning a major (and probably soon), but his inability to close out tournaments from the lead position is becoming a concern. 

4. This clip generated a lot of buzz on social media Sunday:

It wasn’t Jon Rahm’s first outburst, and it certainly won’t be his last. Here’s what he told your trusty correspondent last year about his anger issues: “Every time I try to keep it to myself, just imagine a Coke bottle. If you shake it once, then it comes down. But once you open it, it’s a complete mess, and that’s what happens if I try to keep it down. … Sometimes I need to get mad.”

And so he does. Depending on your perspective, he’s either passionate or wildly immature.

The belief here? It’s hard to argue with Rahm’s success. And he’s 23. If that’s the way he feels like he can perform best, then let him have his outbursts. He'll grow out of it. For now, it affects only himself, not his playing partners.

5. The party vibe at TPC Scottsdale always brings out the get-off-my-lawn crowd, but this year the opponents seemed larger and more vocal.

Their main beef, best we can tell, is that the scene isn’t “good for golf” and that the sport doesn’t need to showcase boorish fans who have little interest in the actual sport, who just want to drink and yell ridiculous things when players are on the tee.

Let’s be clear: The Waste Management Phoenix Open is not helping grow the game. No one in the stands at 16 is watching the action and thinking to themselves, in between sips, Boy, I need to pick up this sport, because this is really cool.

The Phoenix Open is a party, first and foremost, and a golf tournament just so happens to be played around it.

It may not be a good look for the sport, but it’s undoubtedly good for the tournament, which attracted a record 719,179 fans for the week and generated tons of money for charity, and it’s probably even good for the image of the Tour, which has a reputation for being a bunch of stodgy, old country-club guys.

It’s not a model for success, not a preview of what professional golf will soon become. It’s a fun one-off, nothing more.

6. We couldn’t help but chuckle, however, when a few players complained about the abusive heckling on the 16th.

You receive worldwide notoriety, put 20,000 rowdy fans in close proximity, bake them in 85-degree temperatures, allow them to chug Coors Light and then expect them to keep their jeers light-hearted and respectful?

Come on now.

They can hire more undercover cops to throw out the most egregious offenders, but this is the monster they created. It will only get rowdier.

7. Keep in mind: Players don’t have to subject themselves to this. They’re there because they either like the course or enjoy the vibe, probably both.

Only a handful of Tour types have sponsor-related obligations there – Bubba Watson in 2016: "I’m not going to PC it. I’m here because of my sponsors" – and that’s why there is a 44-event schedule. These independent contractors can pick and choose where they want to play.

Think it’s a distraction? Tired of getting heckled? Good news! There are plenty of other options.

And that’s why it’ll be interesting to see whether Jordan Spieth returns to the desert. Two knuckleheads got him – on his downswing in the first round, and while putting on his final hole to try and make cut in the second round. He didn’t speak to reporters after missing the cut, so it’s unclear how much those two incidents affected him.

8. One quick thing: Ian Poulter is no stranger to fan abuse, or to shanks, but he should be applauded for his reaction to what happened on the 16th hole Friday.

Fortunately for Poulter, his shank came toward the end of the day, when the crowd was already starting to leave, and not at prime party time, 4 p.m. local. 

9. Can someone please explain why this event isn’t on a Wednesday-Saturday schedule? Because it makes too much sense?

Sunday is such a letdown, with “only” 64,273 fans pouring through the gates. That’s about 150,000 (!) fewer fans than Saturday. There’s no energy in the final round, with everyone seemingly more concerned about leaving early to get to their Super Bowl party.

The tournament should end on Saturday, with the biggest crowds, and so it doesn’t bump up against the Super Bowl, as it has for the past few years.

It’s an easy commute from the previous week’s event in San Diego, so the players shouldn’t mind the earlier start. For those concerned about attendance, consider there were more fans Wednesday (83,034) than Sunday, and the money made during the pro-am can be made up with some kind of charity event Sunday morning.

Stop the madness!

10. Spieth missed his first cut in 16 starts after another uncharacteristic performance on the greens.

In eight measured rounds prior to the Phoenix Open, Spieth was 193rd on Tour in strokes gained-putting. It only got worse on the perfect greens at TPC Scottsdale, where Spieth looked visibly uncomfortable over the ball and missed a whopping nine times inside 10 feet. If he converts those putts, like he usually does (and like Fowler did over the first two rounds), then he would have been tied for the lead. Instead, he was leaving early.  

Spieth didn’t speak to reporters afterward, but he explained to Tom Lehman (on-site to work as an analyst Golf Central Pre-Game) that he’s thinking too much about the technical aspects of his stroke instead of speed and line. Seven of his 10 rounds this year have been negative strokes gained-putting, and the bumpy greens at this week’s Pebble Beach National Pro-Am will pose even more of a challenge for a player who is clearly searching for consistency and confidence. 

11. We might go all year before we see another round as wild as Justin Thomas’ Saturday in Phoenix.

Six straight birdies to start. A bogey-triple-double stretch late on the back nine. An even-par 71, when it was all added up.

“Shocked. I’m speechless,” he said. “That pretty much sums it up.”

Per Golf Channel research, Thomas’ round was the first in 197 Tour rounds at TPC Scottsdale that featured eight birdies but did not finish under par. That’s hard to do. 

12. The U.S. Solheim Cup team seems committed to Inkster until she no longer wants the job.

That could be a while, because the Hall of Famer, as energetic as ever, is 2-0 as the leader of Team USA and will be a big favorite when her team heads to Gleneagles in 2019.

Her impact on the Americans has been immense, a complete and much-needed culture change, as they’re finally more interested in winning than face paint, chants and hair ribbons. That’s all Inkster.

(Read colleague Randall Mell on this, and what more she can do.)

Other women deserve the chance to captain the U.S. Solheim Cup team, whether it’s Pat Hurst or Dottie Pepper. But this job should be Inkster’s as long as she wants it. 

Well, it's good to know that at least there are limits to the debauchery at the 16th hole. This streaker was eventually arrested.

This week's award winners ... 

Big Points in Scrabble, Even Better Golfer: Shubhankar Sharma. The 21-year-old Indian prodigy shot a flawless 62 to steal the Maybank Championship, his second win in his past five starts. A lot of doors will soon open for Sharma, who just clinched his spot in the WGC-Mexico. 

Stop Using the “Misquoted” Defense: Suzann Pettersen. Her comments that President Donald Trump “cheats like hell” at golf unsurprisingly went viral, and, unsurprisingly, she defended herself by saying that the reporter took the exchange out of context and that it was “fake news” … except the reporter came out and said, unsurprisingly, that he had recorded the conversation (duh, it’s 2018!) and had proof that’s what she said and what she meant. Athletes: Just stop using that defense. It never, ever works, and it makes you look ridiculous.   

Good Sport: Henrik Stenson. Seriously, Big Stense is just the best. 

Work On Your Trophy Presentations Now: Mark Newell. A key figure in the rules modernization, Newell is the next president of the USGA, succeeding Diana Murphy.

Someone Is Asking For It: PGA Tour employee. An unnamed Tour employee decorated commissioner and rabid Patriots fan Jay Monahan’s car with Eagles balloons. Do it again Monday, and that person is definitely fired.

More of the Same: College golf. The best men’s team (Oklahoma State) and the best men’s player (USC’s Justin Suh) opened up their spring seasons with victories at the Amer Ari Invitational in Hawaii. 

How Did That Not Drop?: Robert Garrigus. Giving it a rip on the drivable par-4 17th, Garrigus’ ball climbed up onto the green, clanked off the flagstick and somehow didn’t drop for an ace. It would have been just the second hole-in-one on a par 4 in Tour history. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. This one hurts. After an opening 69, the two-time defending champion in Phoenix started receiving treatment on his left shoulder. He decided he couldn’t go, citing a wrist injury, and in the process he torpedoed each of the one-and-done leagues in which he was undoubtedly picked. Sigh.