Monday Scramble: Big win, big loss and big questions

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2015, 4:00 pm

Only a bizarre week for front-runners – Jimmy Walker Torches Waialae! Martin Kaymer Self-Immolates in Abu Dhabi! The Packers' Super Bowl Hopes Go Up in Smoke When They Pull a Kaymer! – could supplant a PED suspension and an abduction as the week's top stories. All that and more in this week's fiery edition of the Monday Scramble: 


The Takeaway

Winning is hard, but Kaymer needn’t look far for solace. Just six days ago, Walker lost his stroke on the back nine at Kapalua, got caught by a red-hot Patrick Reed and then lost in a playoff, a defeat so crushing that it left his wife in tears. A week later, Walker shot 62-63 on the weekend at the Sony. He set the tournament record for largest margin of victory (nine). And he stepped forward as the second-best American in the world, behind Bubba Watson. 

The bounce back isn’t unprecedented – Kyle Stanley accomplished the feat in 2012 – but it underscores just how far Walker has come in the past few years. It’s telling that Walker has improved each and every season on Tour, from 125th in earnings in 2009 to 48th in 2012 to fourth in 2013-14. Every week, it seems, his golf IQ rises.

The simplest explanation for Walker's recent surge is that he's more confident and more comfortable, that he’s able to shake off the disappointments because he knows there’s plenty more good golf to come. Even the best players in the world can develop scar tissue and flame out in spectacular fashion, but the final round in Abu Dhabi was particularly shocking given Kaymer's reputation as one of the game's best closers. After this all-time collapse (up by 10 with 14 to play!), we'll soon find out whether he possesses those same gritty attributes as Walker.


The Scorecard

1. Jimmy Walker and Hawaii, a match made in scoring heaven: 

  • 61 under par in his last three PGA Tour events in the state
  • 13 consecutive rounds in the 60s at Waialae CC, and 18 of his last 19
  • His scoring average over his last nine rounds there: 64.88
  • He shot 125 (!) last weekend

2. His face bloodied, scraped, scratched and swollen, Robert Allenby wasn’t exaggerating when he said he felt like he was starring in the next “Taken” movie. Scary stuff, and the incident immediately brought to mind Chris Couch’s story from the 2006 Zurich Classic, where he alleged that he was abducted and robbed in New Orleans days before winning the tournament. There is likely much more to this story – the police haven’t yet released details about the investigation, and already there are conflicting accounts – but for now it serves as a cautionary tale.

3. Before his closing 71 at the Sony, Matt Kuchar had recorded a birdie in 255 consecutive Tour rounds – a span of more than 60 events. In the final group with Walker, and on a course that produced 14 scores of 63 or better last week, Kooch must have felt like he was going 35 mph during a NASCAR race.

4. Serious question: Can a player drive a golf ball any better than this?

5. Bhavik Patel joined Doug Barron in the PGA Tour’s Hall of Infamy last week when he was suspended for the use of PEDs ... except we don’t know which substance triggered the positive test. For a circuit with a transparency problem – hello, player misconduct! – the continued secrecy doesn’t help its image. Forgive our naiveté, but isn’t the point of a drug-testing policy to provide clarity and accountability? 

6. From the Golf Channel Research Department: 

  • Jimmy Walker’s earnings in his first 187 PGA Tour starts: $7.29 million
  • Jimmy Walker’s earnings in his last 32 PGA Tour starts: $7.79 million

7. The newest Masters invitee doesn’t have a sub-70 score in 12 college golf rounds this season, has no wins and only a pair of top-fives in 3 ½ years, and is ranked No. 293 in the country.

8. Where did this Rory-Rickie rivalry talk start? The world No. 1 has twice as many majors (four) as Rickie has pro titles (two). Push this narrative all you want, but that’s an awfully lopsided tale of the tape. They are not rivals, not yet anyway. 

9. Well, Webb Simpson definitely can’t return to his old belly putter now – it is in two pieces, snapped in half so he wouldn’t be tempted to use it again. It looked like a genius move after opening 62-67 at the Sony, but he lost more than 2.7 strokes to the field on the greens during both weekend rounds and finished 52nd in that category (not to mention T-13 on the leaderboard). So, before declaring that the anchoring brigade will be fine without the belly bump, consider these recent U-turns:

  • Keegan Bradley, Part 1: He had a hot opening round at the Memorial, but stumbled to a T-37 weekend. Less than a month later, the long putter was back in the bag.
  • Keegan Bradley, Part 2: He rode the conventional putter to a T-3 at the 18-man Hero World Challenge and declared afterward that it was “one of the biggest tournaments of my career” and “probably the best I’ve putted all year.” Whether he sticks with it for the rest of 2015 remains to be seen.
  • Ernie Els declared that he would retire the belly putter after the 2013 Masters, only to go back and forth for the next two years because of inconsistency.
  • Adam Scott practiced with a non-anchored putter at the 2012 Australian Open, only to put the broomstick in play for the tournament.   

So it seems that old habits die hard. Anybody have some extra super glue for Webb's belly putter … you know, just in case?

10. Casa de Campo’s Teeth of the Dog course, selected to host the 2016 Latin America Amateur, is ranked annually as not just the best course in the Caribbean, but among the top 20 in the world. Needless to say, this will be on our tournament wish list for next year:

11. Maybe Henrik Stenson should open his year somewhere else. The last four years he’s started in Abu Dhabi, he has three missed cuts and another finish outside the top 40.

12. The Tour continued to follow the NFL’s no-fun-league mantra by banning players and caddies from tossing items into the 16th-hole grandstands in Phoenix. All in the name of fan safety, we get that, but nothing will tick off drunk, unruly fans like taking away their freebies. 


The WTH? Moment of the Week

Matt Kuchar doesn’t tuck his glove into his back pants pocket. No, he HOOKS IT AROUND HIS BELT: 


Take a Bow 

The week’s honor roll … 

Best Tweet award: When Rory makes his first-ever 1 in competition:  

Please Put Down the Phone award: Is Lee Westwood 14 or 41? Last week alone he posted 22 photos and videos on Instagram, everything from his workouts (why?!) to his hungover beach day to his crooked beauty shots. Twenty-two times! That’s more than Kim Kardashian. Unfollowed.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week award: Zach Johnson. A closing 73 dropped him from a disappointing selection to an all-out disaster. Tied for 64th among the 70 players who made the cut.

Best Supporting Actor award: Tiger Woods, in a ghoulish mask, supporting Lindsey Vonn in Italy:

Remember the Name award: Guan Tianlang made the cut last week in Abu Dhabi, a third-round 78 dooming his week and sending him to a 70th-place finish. But he wasn’t even the most promising high-schooler in the field – that honor belongs to Renato Paratore, the 18-year-old Italian who made his third cut in as many tries.

Best Dance Moves award: 

Duh.

Jimenez made a hole-in-one, three birdies, three bogeys and a double – so many colors! – during an opening-round 72 in Abu Dhabi.

Smartest Person in the Room award: USGA executive director Mike Davis. The format for the 2016 Olympics might be lame – 60 men or women, 72 holes stroke play – but Davis hinted that the International Golf Federation would look at tweaks to the 2020 Games (and, hopefully, beyond) by implementing match play or a team format. Unfortunately, golf’s status in the Olympics will be reviewed in 2017, so the first impression better be a good one.   


The #AskLav Mailbag

I’ll take Phil – he’s hungry, focused, and supposedly in the best shape of his life. We’ve heard this type of optimism from the Mickelson camp before, but even Lefty must know that this is a make-or-break year. He’s 45 this June, he’s coming off one of the worst years of his career, and he’s well aware that it’s only getting harder to win on the PGA Tour. There are so many question marks surrounding Tiger – his health, his swing, his short game – that I want to see him make a few starts before forecasting his 2015 season. Phil is the safer bet.

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Asia offers chance for players to get early jump on season

By Rex HoggardOctober 17, 2018, 6:00 pm

When the field at this week’s CJ Cup tees off for Round 1 just past dinner time on the East Coast Wednesday most golf fans will still be digesting the dramatic finish to the 2017-18 season, which wrapped up exactly 24 days ago, or reliving a Ryder Cup that didn’t go well for the visiting team.

Put another way, the third event of the new season will slip by largely unnoticed, the victim of a crowded sports calendar and probably a dollop of burnout.

What’ll be lost in this three-event swing through Asia that began last week in Kuala Lumpur at the CIMB Classic is how important these events have become to Tour players, whether they count themselves among the star class or those just trying to keep their jobs.

The Asian swing began in 2009 with the addition of the WGC-HSBC Champions in Shanghai, although it would be a few years before the event earned full status on Tour, and expanded in 2010 with the addition of the CIMB Classic. This week’s stop in South Korea was added last season and as the circuit transitions to a condensed schedule and earlier finish next year there are persistent rumors that the Tour plans to expand even more in the Far East with sources saying an event in Japan would be a likely landing spot.

Although these events resonate little in the United States because of the time zone hurdles, for players, the Asian swing has become a key part of the schedule.

Consider that seven of the top 10 performers last year in Asia advanced to the Tour Championship and that success wasn’t mutually exclusive to how these players started their season in Asia.

For players looking to get a jump on the new season, the three Asian stops are low-hanging fruit, with all three featuring limited fields and no cut where players are guaranteed four rounds and FedExCup points.

For a player like Pat Perez, his performances last October virtually made his season, with the veteran winning the CIMB Classic and finishing tied for fifth place at the CJ Cup. All total, Perez, who played all three Asian events last year, earned 627 FedExCup points - more than half (53 percent) of his regular-season total.

Keegan Bradley and Cameron Smith also made the most of the tournaments in Asia, earning 34 and 36 percent, respectively, of their regular-season points in the Far East. On average, the top 10 performers in Asia last year earned 26 percent of their regular-season points in what was essentially a fraction of their total starts.

“It's just a place that I've obviously played well,” Justin Thomas, a three-time winner in Asia, said last week in Kuala Lumpur. “I'm comfortable. I think being a little bit of a longer hitter you have an advantage, but I mean, the fact of the matter is that I've just played well the years I played here.”

Perhaps the biggest winner in Asia last season was Justin Rose, who began a torrid run with his victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, and earned 28 percent of his regular-season points (550) in the Far East on his way to winning the FedExCup by just 41 points.

But it’s not just the stars who have made the most of the potential pot of Asian gold.

Lucas Glover finished tied for seventh at the CIMB Classic, 15th at the CJ Cup and 50th in China in 2017 to earn 145 of his 324 regular-season points (45 percent). Although that total was well off the pace to earn Glover a spot in the postseason and a full Tour card, it was enough to secure him conditional status in 2018-19.

Similarly, Camilo Villegas tied for 17th in Kuala Lumpur and 36th in South Korea to earn 67 of his 90 points, the difference between finishing 193rd on the regular-season point list and 227th. While it may seem like a trivial amount to the average fan, it allowed Villegas to qualify for the Web.com Tour Finals and a chance to re-earn his Tour card.

With this increasingly nuanced importance have come better fields in Asia (which were largely overlooked the first few years), with six of the top 30 players in the Official World Golf Ranking making the trip last week to Malaysia and this week’s tee sheet in South Korea featuring two of the top 5 in world - No. 3 Brooks Koepka and No. 4 Thomas.

“I finished 11th here last year and 11th in China the next week. If I can try and improve on that, get myself in contention and possibly win, it sets up the whole year. That's why I've come back to play,” Jason Day said this week of his decision to play the Asian swing.

For many golf fans in the United States, the next few weeks will be a far-flung distraction until the Tour arrives on the West Coast early next year, but for the players who are increasingly starting to make the trip east, it’s a crucial opportunity to get a jump on the season.

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Watch: Woods uses computer code to make robotic putt

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 3:10 pm

Robots have been plotting their takeover of the golf world for some time.

First it was talking trash to Rory McIlroy, then it was making a hole-in-one at TPC Scottsdale's famous 16th hole ... and now they're making putts for Tiger Woods.

Woods tweeted out a video on Tuesday draining a putt without ever touching the ball:

The 42-year-old teamed up with a computer program to make the putt, and provided onlookers with a vintage Tiger celebration, because computers can't do that ... yet.

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Woods admits fatigue played factor in Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:35 pm

There was plenty of speculation about Tiger Woods’ health in the wake of the U.S. team’s loss to Europe at last month’s Ryder Cup, and the 14-time major champ broke his silence on the matter during a driving range Q&A at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach on Tuesday.

Woods, who went 0-4 in Paris, admitted he was tired because he wasn’t ready to play so much golf this season after coming back from a fourth back surgery.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

The topic of conversation then shifted to what's next, with Woods saying he's just starting to plan out his future schedule, outside of "The Match" with Phil Mickelson over Thanksgiving weekend and his Hero World Challenge in December.

“I’m still figuring that out,” Woods said. “Flying out here yesterday trying to look at the schedule, it’s the first time I’ve taken a look at it. I’ve been so focused on getting through the playoffs and the Ryder Cup that I just took a look at the schedule and saw how packed it is.”

While his exact schedule remains a bit of a mystery, one little event in April at Augusta National seemed to be on his mind already.

When asked which major he was most looking forward to next year, Woods didn't hesitate with his response, “Oh, that first one.”

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Podcast: Fujikawa aims to offer 'hope' by coming out

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 17, 2018, 12:03 pm

Tadd Fujikawa first made golf history with his age. Now he's doing it with his recent decision to openly discuss his sexuality.

Last month Fujikawa announced via Instagram that he is gay, becoming the first male professional to come out publicly. Now 27, he has a different perspective on life than he did when he became the youngest U.S. Open participant in 2006 at Winged Foot at age 15, or when he made the cut at the Sony Open a few months later.

Joining as the guest on the latest Golf Channel podcast, Fujikawa discussed with host Will Gray the reception to his recent announcement - as well as some of the motivating factors that led the former teen phenom to become somewhat of a pioneer in the world of men's professional golf.

"I just want to let people know that they're enough, and that they're good exactly as they are," Fujikawa said. "That they don't need to change who they are to fit society's mold. Especially in the golf world where it's so, it's not something that's very common."

The wide-ranging interview also touched on Fujikawa's adjustment to life on golf-centric St. Simons Island, Ga., as well as some of his hobbies outside the game. But he was also candid about the role that anxiety and depression surrounding his sexuality had on his early playing career, admitting that he considered walking away from the game "many, many times" and would have done so had it not been for the support of friends and family.

While professional golf remains a priority, Fujikawa is also embracing the newfound opportunity to help others in a similar position.

"Hearing other stories, other athletes, other celebrities, my friends. Just seeing other people come out gave me a lot of hope in times when I didn't feel like there was a lot of hope," he said. "For me personally, it was something that I've wanted to do for a long time, and something I'm very passionate about. I really want to help other people who are struggling with that similar issue. And if I can change lives, that's really my goal."

For more from Fujikawa, click below or click here to download the podcast and subscribe to future episodes: