Getty Images

Monday Scramble: Drowning out - or in - the noise

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 5, 2018, 4:00 pm

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.  

Getty Images

Own history, grow the game with Open memorabilia auction

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 1:00 pm

Get a piece of history and help grow the game, that's what The Open is offering with its memorabilia auction.

The official Open Memorabilia site features unique Open assets from famous venues and Champion Golfers of the Year. All net proceeds received by The R&A from this project will be invested to support the game for future generations, including encouraging women’s, junior and family golf, on the promotion and progression of the sport in emerging golf nations and on coaching and development.

Items for auction include limited edition prints of Champion Golfers of the Year, signed championship pin flags and limited edition historical program covers. Memorable scorecard reproductions and caddie bibs are also available to bid for on the website, with all items featuring branded, serialized holograms for authenticity.

Click here to own your piece of history and to get more information on the auction.

Getty Images

No indication when Trump Turnberry will next host an Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 18, 2018, 12:25 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Turnberry last hosted The Open in 2009, during that magical week where Tom Watson, at age 59, nearly won his sixth claret jug. Ultimately, Stewart Cink won in a playoff.

While Turnberry remains on The Open rota, according to the R&A, there is no clear understanding of when the club, purchased by Donald Trump in 2014 before he became President of the United States, will next host the championship. The next open date is 2022.

“With respect to 2022, I’ve already said, ’21 we’re going to be celebrating the 150th playing of The Open at St. Andrews,” R&A chief executive Marin Slumbers said Wednesday on the annual news conference on the eve of The Open. “And in ’22, we’ll be going south of the border.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

South of the border means the 2022 Open will be at one of the three venues in England. Since the 2020 Open is at Royal St. George’s, that leaves Royal Lytham & St. Annes and Royal Liverpool as the two remaining options. Since Lytham (2012, Ernie Els) last hosted The Open before Liverpool (2014, Rory McIlroy), that’s the likely choice.

Trump was at Turnberry for two days last weekend, 150 miles southwest of Carnoustie. The R&A said it did not receive any communication from the U.S. president while he was in the country.

Turnberry hosted the Women’s British Open in 2015. Inbee Park beat Jin-young Park by three shots.

Getty Images

Slumbers explains driver test; Rory weighs in

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:18 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Players and manufacturers were informed about three weeks ago that the R&A intended to test individual drivers at this week’s Open Championship, marking the first time the rule makers have taken the current standards to players.

Although the R&A and USGA have been COR (coefficient of restitution) tests on drivers for some time, they have been pulling the tested clubs from manufacturers, not players.

“We take our governance role very seriously, not just on the Rules of Golf and amateur status, but also equipment standards, and we felt it was an appropriate next step to more actively seek to test players' drivers straight out of the bag,” said Martin Slumbers, the R&A’s chief executive.

Thirty players were notified their drivers would be tested this week - including Paul Casey, Brooks Koepka, Jason Day and Henrik Stenson - from a list that roughly mirrored the breakdown of various brands based on current equipment counts.

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

The R&A test center was set up on the Carnoustie practice range, and according to Slumbers there were no violations of the testing limits, which essentially measure the spring-like effect of the driver clubface.

Although none of the drivers failed the testing, Rory McIlroy did say that TaylorMade was “singled out a bit more than anyone else.”

“A manufacturer is always going to try and find ways to get around what the regulations are. It's a bit of an arms race,” said McIlroy, who plays TaylorMade equipment but said his driver was not tested. “If there is some drivers out there that have went a little bit over the limit, then obviously guys shouldn't be playing them. I think the manufacturers are smart enough to know not to try to push it too much.”

There was no individual driver testing at last month’s U.S. Open, and it’s not expected to become the norm on the PGA Tour, but Slumbers did say the R&A tested drivers at an event earlier this year on the Japan Golf Tour.

Getty Images

Carnoustie open to any number of scenarios

By Rex HoggardJuly 18, 2018, 12:07 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Carnoustie holds a distinct position within the Open Championship’s rotation of storied venues. It’s come by its nickname, Car-Nasty, honestly as the undisputed rough-and-tumble heavyweight of all the championship links.

Historically, Carnoustie is a beast. A punch in the mouth compared to the other stops on The Open dance card. If the likes of the Old Course and Muirfield are the fair ladies of the rotation, the Angus Coast brute would be the unfriendly bouncer.

As personas go, Carnoustie wears its reputation well, but the 147th edition of the game’s oldest championship has taken on a new look this week. It’s not so much the softer side of Carnoustie as it is a testament to the set up philosophy of the R&A.

Unlike its sister association in the United States, the R&A allows Mother Nature to decide what kind of test a championship will present and this Open is shaping up to be something far different than what the golf world is accustomed.

Instead of the thick, lush rough that ringed the fairways in 1999 and 2007, the last two stops at the par-71 layout, this year has a dust bowl feel to it. The stories have already become legend: Padraig Harrington hit a 457-yard drive on the 18th hole during a practice round that bounced and bounded into Barry Burn and on Monday Tiger Woods slashed a 333-yard 3-iron down the same power alley.

“It’s so fast. It’s nothing like ’99 – that was like a jungle. It was wet, rough was up, there was wind. In 2007, it was cold and green,” said Ernie Els, who has played two championships at Carnoustie. “But this is very, very dry. Very different.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Anywhere else these divergent conditions would simply be the nature of the game’s most hands-off major, but at Carnoustie it’s created an information vacuum and wild uncertainty.

Within a 48-hour window, two of the championship’s easy favorites offered diametrically contrasting philosophies on how they might play Carnoustie.

“There's eight or nine drivers we hit. Depending on the wind direction, we could hit more,” said Brooks Koepka, who won his second consecutive U.S. Open last month. “It's so burnt out, where there's a lot of opportunity where the rough's not quite as thick as I expected it to be.”

That was in contrast to how Jordan Spieth, this week’s defending champion, was thinking he would play the course.

“I talked to [caddie Michael Greller] a little bit about what he thinks, and he said, ‘You might hit a lot of 5-irons off the tee, you might wear out 5- and 4-irons off the tee instead of hitting 3- or 2-irons like you're used to,’” Spieth said.

Unlike previous championships that were played at Carnoustie, which were won by the player best prepared to take a punch, this one might come down to which strategy, controlled and calculated or bold and brash, works best.

In theory, the bombers seem to be on to something, primarily as a result of the dry conditions that have produced uncharacteristically thin and playable rough. The alternative is weaving irons in between the countless bunkers that pepper each fairway, which on links courses are widely considered true hazards compared to what players face at other major venues.

“I would definitely say it is a bomber’s course,” said Gary Woodland, who counts himself among the long-hitting set. “A lot of the bunkers here are 285, 290 [yards] to cover, for us that’s nothing. You can take them out of play, which normally isn’t the case because it’s windy and rainy over here.”

That line of thinking leads to a rather narrow list of potential contenders, from betting favorite Dustin Johnson to Rory McIlroy and Koepka. But that logic ignores the inherent unpredictability of The Open, where countless contenders have been undercut by the rub of a bad draw and the always-present danger of inclement weather.

Although this week’s forecast calls for continued dry weather, winds are currently forecast to reach 25 mph on Sunday which could upend game plans, regardless of how aggressive or conservative one intended to play the course.

Despite conventional thinking and the realities of a modern game that is being dominated more and more by long hitters, there are compelling arguments for the other side of the bash-or-bunt debate.

One needs to look no further than Woods’ record on similarly dusty tracks as an example of how a conservative approach can produce championship results. In 2006 at Royal Liverpool, Woods, who is playing his first Open since 2015, famously hit just one driver all week on his way to victory, and he was just as effective in 2000 at St. Andrews when the Old Course also played to a bouncy brown.

“It could be that way,” Woods said when asked to compare ’06 at Hoylake to this week. “Either case, I'm not going to hit that many long clubs off the tees.”

Adding to that uncertainty is Carnoustie’s track record in producing late drama on Sunday. This is, after all, the same slice of coast where Jean Van de Velde stepped to the 18th tee box with a three-stroke lead in 1999 only to slash his way to a closing triple-bogey 7 and the game’s most memorable, or regrettable, runner-up showing.

In ’07, the heartbreak went extra frames for Sergio Garcia, who appeared poised to win his first major championship before he bogeyed the last hole and lost a playoff to Harrington.

Even this week’s baked-out conditions can’t mitigate the importance and challenge of what many consider the most difficult Grand Slam finish; but the yellow hue has certainly created an added degree of uncertainty to an already unpredictable championship.