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.

Getty Images

Maggert and Parnevik lead at Bass Pro Shops

By Associated PressApril 19, 2018, 10:49 pm

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Jeff Maggert and Jesper Parnevik shot an 8-under 63 in better-ball play Thursday to take the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' chilly Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

''It was very relaxing for me because I felt like terrible,'' Parnevik said. ''I was so stiff this morning. It was freezing cold. I thought if I can just try to make some pars in case he ever makes a bogey, but I didn't even have to do that.''

Playing together for the first time in the team event, Maggert and Parnevik eagled the par-5 eighth and had six birdies in the cool and breezy conditions on Big Cedar Lodge's Buffalo Ridge course.

''We play well together,'' Maggert said. ''We both contributed a lot. Jesper had a lot of birdies and an eagle on our final nine. It was so cold this morning, I just was going to come out and just try to hit fairways and greens. Really I wasn't thinking about making birdies, I was just trying to play steady and give myself an opportunity to have some birdie putts.''


Full-field scores from the Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf


The next three rounds will be played on par-3 courses. Maggert and Parnevik will play the 18-hole Top of the Rock on Friday and Sunday, and the 13-hole Mountain Top on Saturday.

Mark Calcavecchia and Woody Austin were a stroke back. They also eagled No. 8. Austin won the 2016 title with Michael Allen. Calcavecchia won the Boca Raton Championship this year.

''I lucked in a few birdies on the back, but it was tough, tough conditions,'' Calcavecchia said. ''Even when it warmed up a little bit, it was still tough to make birdies out there. All in all, 7 under's a pretty good start.''

Bernhard Langer and Tom Lehman were at 65 along with Davis Love III-Scott Verplank, 2015 winners Billy Andrade-Joe Durant, Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett and Steve Flesch-David Toms.

''We kind of brother-in-lawed or ham-and-egged it or partnered it,'' Love said. ''Neither one of us were playing great, but we had one guy in every hole and that's kind of what you have to do. We're going to have to go to the par 3 courses and get two birdie putts on a hole is what you really want to do and we didn't do that enough today.''

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week for his first senior title.

Madison, Wisconsin, friends Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were tied for 22nd at 68.

Getty Images

Dredge, Quiros share early lead in Morocco

By Associated PressApril 19, 2018, 8:41 pm

RABAT, Morocco - Bradley Dredge reeled off three birdies in his last five holes to share the lead with Alvaro Quiros after the opening round of the European Tour's Trophee Hassan II event Thursday.

Quiros finished with two straight birdies as the big-hitting Spaniard joined Welshman Dredge on 5-under-par 67.

Dredge, who made seven birdies in all, has won twice before but his last triumph came in 2006.


Full-field scores from the Trophee Hassan II


Quiros, who has claimed seven victories, last won at the Rocco Forte Open in Sicily last year.

The joint leaders have a one-shot advantage over Oliver Fisher, Joakim Lagergren, Erik Van Rooyen and Lorenzo Gagli at the Royal Golf Dar Es Salam course.

Former U.S. Masters champion Danny Willett, without a win since his victory at Augusta two years ago, opened with a 1-over 73.

Getty Images

Murray battles wind, takes early Valero lead

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 7:59 pm

Amid a feast-or-famine season, Grayson Murray appears poised for another meal at the Valero Texas Open.

Murray battled windy conditions during the opening round at TPC San Antonio, carding seven birdies against a double bogey to start with a 67. At 5 under, he held a one-shot lead over Chesson Hadley at the end of the morning wave.

There has been no middle ground for Murray this year, as each of his nine starts in full-field events have yielded either a top-15 finish or a result outside the top 70. That includes his two most recent starts, where he finished T-14 at the Houston Open despite putting "terribly" and then missed the cut last week at the RBC Heritage.

But Murray spent time on the range early this week to iron out a swing flaw, and the results were quickly evident during his opening round.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


"When I get off, it's never far off but it seems like I'm always searching for something, and then I start compensating and then I create a new bad habit," Murray told reporters. "Ball-striking for me gives me confidence with every other club in my bag when it comes to putting or chipping or anything. I know if I hit it well, those parts of the game are going to be good, too."

Murray made more headlines for his words than his game for much of his rookie season, but a breakthrough win at the opposite-field Barbasol Championship in July solidified his playing status for the next two years. With swirling winds reaching 25 mph during his round, Murray was pleased to have found 13 of 18 greens in regulation and capitalize on several of his birdie chances.

"The wind bothers me when I'm hitting it like I did last week, when I'm not compressing the ball. That's just the bottom line," Murray said. "But once you start swinging it well, like hitting it into the wind really shows you how you are hitting the golf ball because it's only going to maximize your dispersion. So if you hit a 5-yard cut, it's going to be probably a 10-yard cut into the wind. That tells you when you're hitting it good."

Getty Images

One year later: Surgery to success for Tiger

By Will GrayApril 19, 2018, 6:30 pm

So much can happen in a year.

Exactly 365 days ago, Tiger Woods went under the knife. When it comes to Woods, surgery has become a somewhat regular occurrence over the years; his timeline of injuries and procedures stretches nearly as long as the one detailing his on-course accomplishments.

But this one was surprising, both for the timing and the operation in question.

It was only one day prior, after all, that Woods sat in front of a sparse gallery of fans and media to announce his plans to design a new course at Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri. He smiled while sitting carefully in a wooden folding chair, then stood up and gingerly hit a short wedge shot to cap the publicity stunt. He needed to re-load and swing again in order to find the makeshift green.

While it was clear that Woods was not firing on all cylinders, at no point in the proceedings did he mention the surgical appointment looming on his calendar.

“The back is progressing,” Woods said on April 18, 2017. “I have good days and bad days. I’ve had three back operations, and that’s just kind of the nature of the business unfortunately. That’s all I can say.”

He added back operation No. 4 the very next day, this time opting for a lumbar fusion that was more serious and invasive than any of its predecessors. The surgery brought with it a six-month recovery window and the very real notion that, at age 41, Woods may have already played his final hole of competitive golf.



“He is looking forward to life without pain, looking forward to day-to-day without pain,” Woods’ agent, Mark Steinberg, said the day after the surgery. “He’s looking forward to playing with his kids without pain, playing golf without pain. He knows he’s got a long road, but there’s a huge sense of relief right now.”

Fast-forward one year, and Woods returned to Missouri this week to survey the progress of his Payne’s Valley layout that is scheduled to open in 2019. And near the same spot where he swung through pain with wedge in hand, this time around he ripped a driver at full speed to the delight of the estimated 7,000 fans gathered for a junior clinic he hosted.

Given the relative normalcy of his most recent appearance, what Woods endured last April 19 seems like a lifetime ago.

In recapping the subsequent 12 months, keep in mind that the surgery wasn’t even Woods’ lowest point. That would come six weeks later, when he was arrested and cited for driving under the influence in Florida. There was the mugshot photo, and the arrest reports, and of course the police video where one of the greatest athletes of the last 30 years struggled to tie his shoes.

At that point, professional golf was an afterthought.

But Woods entered private treatment over the summer for his use of prescription drugs, and when he re-emerged as an assistant at the Presidents Cup in October the focus was again on his potential return to life inside the ropes – even as Woods himself acknowledged the possibility that he may never return to competition.

“I don’t know what my future holds for me,” he said. “As I’ve told you guys, I’m hitting 60-yard shots.”

It wasn’t long before those pitch shots gave way to irons and full swings with drivers, one social media video at a time. Woods’ whirlwind renaissance after receiving clearance from his surgeon raised expectations for his return at the Hero World Challenge in December to stratospheric levels.

Now four months into his latest comeback attempt, Woods has exceeded nearly every expectation while re-establishing himself as a regular contender on the PGA Tour. Three straight top-12 finishes in Florida highlighted his spring, and his health is such that questions about the status of his back from the media are now few and far between.

“I think as an athlete, you’re always pushing yourself, right? And the best ones are pushing themselves beyond their limits,” Woods said at the Valspar Championship. “I happened to be one of those guys who pushed my body and my mind to accomplish the things I knew I could. I was able to do it.”

How the next 365 days unfold remains to be seen. Woods is now 42, fighting an undefeated opponent in Father Time, and it wasn’t that long ago that the one-year retrospectives about him had a decidedly different tone.

But heading into the heart of the summer season, Woods’ prospects seem more promising than they have been at any point since his five-win season in 2013. And the winding path from bleak to rosy can be traced back to a fateful decision exactly one year ago to try once more to heal his ailing back where multiple prior attempts had failed.

From limping with a wedge to veering off the road to hinting at a possible return to smashing expectations while staring down players half his age.

So much can happen in a year.