Monday Scramble: Start of something big?

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 30, 2017, 5:00 pm

Tiger Woods returns to the PGA Tour, Jon Rahm wins the first of many, Brittany Lincicome ends the American slump and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

It’s tempting to make a few bold proclamations after Woods’ missed cut at Torrey Pines, to type here that he’s either (a) improving, (b) lost, or (c) finished.

Woods has hinted at it, but since he won’t say it explicitly, let's do it for him: These next few months are his preseason. 

He’s trying to make cuts and win, of course, but even more important to Woods is testing his back, evaluating his swing, managing his game and feeling the rush of competition. He’s not trying to peak at the Honda; it’s all about the Masters.

For now, at least, he is maintaining the proper perspective.

So we’ll evaluate and take these appearances for what they are – test runs – while looking ahead to how much sharper he must be to compete at the year’s first major.

After his first Tour start in 17 months, it’s abundantly clear that there’s a long way to go. And no one knows that better than Woods.

1. Why are so many young players like Rahm finding success early on Tour? It’s an attitude.

Last summer Rahm finished in the top 4 in two of his first four starts to lock up his card for this season, but each of those close calls could have turned into victories with the proper mindset.

And so when he surged ahead of the field on the back nine Sunday at Torrey Pines, he fought the tendency to protect his lead, to just try and get in the house unscathed. He told himself on the 17th and 18th holes that he was “one shot behind,” that he needed to make birdie.

Rahm played those last two holes in 3 under par, including the sensational (and unlikely) eagle on 18 to come home in 30, a finishing kick that became a part of tournament lore. 

2. This quote from Phil Mickelson on Sunday is all you need to know about Rahm:

“I think he’s more than just a good young player. I think he’s one of the top players in the world.” 

Mickelson has played a few times with Rahm, losing to him in money games. He has seen up close the Spaniard’s aggressiveness. His passion. (Did you see his reaction on the 72nd hole?) His remarkable gifts.

“Jon doesn’t have weaknesses,” Phil said. 

3. Funny, because about seven months ago, in advance of the NCAA Championship, I asked Tim Mickelson, then the head coach at Arizona State, for a pro comparison.

Mickelson said that Rahm reminded him a lot of his brother, Phil, but with a few key differences. 

Though Mickelson and Rahm both have go-for-broke styles and imaginative short games, Rahm, unlike Phil, is a tremendous driver of the golf ball – he’s both long and incredibly straight.

Tim Mickelson was so bullish on Rahm’s potential, he left ASU last summer to become Rahm's manager. It was a throwback to 25 years earlier, when Sun Devils coach Steve Loy left the program to serve as Phil's agent.

4. To hear Rahm afterward was a reminder of how far he’s come in the past four years.

In the fall of 2012, he hardly knew any English. After attending classes with only 30 students in Spain, his first class at ASU was held in a 375-person auditorium. “I thought it was a movie theater, and I was in the wrong place,” he said.

Tim Mickelson wasn’t sure that Rahm would make it in the States. He forced him to do 10 burpee pushups for each Spanish word he uttered during practice. Rahm earned a second language by watching TV and movies, and listening to rap lyrics. Eventually, he thrived, becoming the chattiest member of the team, soaring to world No. 1 and becoming the first two-time Hogan Award winner. 

For more on Rahm's back story, here's a profile I wrote nearly two years ago.

5. Though Woods’ performance at the Hero (where he made a field-high 24 birdies) was encouraging, there was decidedly more pessimism after his brief stay in Torrey Pines, where he looked out of rhythm, stiff in the 50-degree temperatures, and swung with a speed that was 6 mph slower than his last full season (2013). 

Virtually every swing analyst noted the same thing: Trying to take pressure off his back, Woods’ body line pointed left and he swung out to the right. The top of his backswing didn’t match the path that he wanted to swing the club. That’s a recipe for a two-way miss.

The results weren’t pretty: He found only half the fairways (14 of 28, ranking him T-74 in the field), hit only 20 of 36 greens (T-125) and averaged 44 feet and 4 inches on his approaches (T-112). If there was a bright spot, it was his short game; he gained 1.5 strokes on the greens, good for 37th, and missed several putts on the edge.

Ideally, Woods would aim and swing left, hitting low fades, but that puts torque on his back. His swing remains a work in progress. 

6. Though technically correct, the statistic that Woods missed his first cut at Torrey Pines in 16 tries is deceiving. 

He hasn’t played on Sunday there in his last three appearances.  

Woods missed the secondary cut in 2014, finishing in a tie for 80th after a third-round 79, then withdrew with back problems after a disastrous start in 2015. He didn’t play last year because of injury. 

Because of the cool weather, hack-out rough and bumpy greens, Torrey might no longer offer one of his best chances for success.

7. Woods has signed a deal to play TaylorMade woods and irons. The woods part of the deal was a no-brainer – he played them last month in the Bahamas – but the irons were an interesting twist.

According to the release, Woods will have a personalized iron model that will debut this year. But when?

Breaking in a new set of clubs before the Masters, especially when he has only signed up for one event in March, would be a curious move. Woods said that he is in "no rush" to put a new set in the bag, but TaylorMade probably doesn't want to see the Nike sticks in there for much longer.

8. More shocking than Woods’ missed cut was the play of the other superstars in his group, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.

Day, who led the Tour in strokes gained-putting last season, was woeful on the greens. He took 34 and 32 putts over the first two rounds, respectively. He missed four times inside 5 feet, leading to the world No. 1’s first missed cut since last year’s Farmers, when he dealt with the flu.

As for Johnson, it was his first early exit since his stunning missed cut at the PGA Championship, where he ran out of gas after a stellar summer stretch. He needed 35 swipes during a five-bogey 74 on the easier North Course. 

9. Cheng-Tsung Pan seemed poised to become the latest member of the high school class of 2011 to win on the PGA Tour before his putter turned cold on the back nine. After moving into a tie for the lead, Pan made eight consecutive pars to close – including on the back-nine par 5s – to finish at 10 under, three shots back.

There have been four Tour winners from that heralded class. There are at least six others from that class currently playing on Tour, including Patrick Rodgers, who shared the 54-hole lead and tied for fourth.

10. Charles Howell III continues to be a smart pick in one-and-done fantasy formats.

His updated record at Torrey Pines: 15-of-15 cuts, 10 top-25s, three runners-up and more than $2.55 million.

Howell also has six consecutive top-15s on Tour. At No. 64 in the world, the Augusta native needs to crack the top 50 by the end of March to get into the Masters.

11. After their worst year in LPGA history, the Americans got their 2017 season off to a strong start. Six of the top seven players on the leaderboard, including the top four, sported the red, white and blue. That group included stalwarts like eventual winner Lincicome, Lexi Thompson and Stacy Lewis, but also newcomers like Nelly Korda.

U.S. players won seven times in 2015. Last year, they won only twice, their worst showing ever.

“American golf, here we come,” Lincicome said afterward. “It’s going to be our year.” 

Eh, maybe. Remember: Only five of the top 10 players in the world teed it up at the season opener in the Bahamas … 

12. Scoring was insanely low at the Ocean Club. 

With five holes to play Sunday, four players were within two strokes of the tour record for lowest score in relation to par. Annika Sorenstam set the mark at 27 under at the 2001 Ping Register.

But the wind picked up late, and Lincicome and Thompson played off after posting 26 under.

In all, seven players cracked 20 under, after a week of light winds on a par-73 layout. 

Bryson DeChambeau has been a pro for barely a year now, and already he is one of the most polarizing figures in golf.

Some love his unique perspective and personality. Others think he’s a phony who is going to tinker his way out of the major leagues. There really isn’t a middle ground here. 

Well, Young Bryson had himself a whirlwind week, taking on the USGA for banning one of his face-on putters, attending the PGA Show and #GrowingTheGame with his single-length irons, and then jetting all the way across the country, where his game – and, apparently, his “closure rate” – were off. The missed cut at Torrey added to a stretch of listless play, as he now has just one top-30 worldwide since June. 

Even the 23-year-old admitted that he should have taken off last week; that he had too much on his plate and couldn’t have expected a good result. It was a rookie mistake.

DeChambeau deserves credit for establishing a brand and getting people to view equipment differently. But he’ll only be able to truly revolutionize the game if he – first and foremost – plays good golf.  

This week's award winners ... 

The Happiest Man This Monday: Thomas Bjorn. Tim Mickelson said a few years ago that Rahm would be a European Ryder Cupper by the time he’s 30. At this point, it’d be a massive surprise if he wasn’t by next year in France, at the age of 23. Bjorn just found another huge weapon. 

Redemption: Greg Eason. Mentioned in this column the past two weeks for flailing about in the Bahamas, he set the record for the largest turnaround in a Tour-sanctioned event by going 90-68. Good for him. His interesting story, here.

What Could Have Been: Ollie Schniederjans. In the mix on the weekend at Torrey Pines, Ollie’s putter went cold, as he ranked near the bottom of the field in putting and holed only 134 feet of putts combined. He shot 71-71 and tied for ninth. 

If At First You Don’t Succeed … : Mark Johnson. For 206 consecutive days he tweeted at Garcia, asking whether he could caddie for him at a tournament. His wish will finally come true this September, during the pro-am at the British Masters.

Auspicious Debut: Nelly Korda. The younger sister of LPGA winner Jessica, the 18-year-old shot 63-67 on the weekend in her tour debut to shoot 21 under and tie for fifth. Big game.    

Still The Needle: Tiger. Ratings for the first round of the Farmers were up 109 percent, year-over-year, and were the highest Round 1 overnight since the 2015 Players.

Hey, Who You Workin’ For?: Jeunghun Wang’s caddie. They already have the player’s name stamped on the back of their bib; this guy takes it to another level, putting WANG inside the bill of his cap. Whatever works, because this budding star has three European Tour wins since May.

When In Doubt, Blame the Media …: Bernhard Langer. Pulled into a bizarre story about voter fraud, Langer began his Tour-issued statement by blaming the media … ironic, of course, because it was the media that set out to clarify the issue and clear him of any involvement. 

Third-round entertainment: Elusive fan. Thanks to Harold Varner III for sharing this clip of a man avoiding security, jumping into the pond short of 18 green and finally surrendering. The only surprise: that this doesn’t happen more often.

Awkward Line of Questioning: Phil Mickelson. Returning to Torrey Pines North – in 2015, he lost out on the bid to redesign the course – Mickelson was inevitably asked about the job Tom Weiskopf did in his redo. He said the course was “a good challenge” and that it was in “good shape,” which is Phil-speak for “Yeah, I could have done a much better job here.”  

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Jason Day. The 2015 champion at Torrey, he also had top-10s in both ’13 and ’14. The guy hadn’t missed a cut in a year! Sigh. 

Getty Images

(Not that) Jutanugarn shares lead with (not that) Ko

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 1:58 am

LOS ANGELES - A player eager for her first win and a rookie top the leaderboard at the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open. Lurking two shots back is a Hall of Famer.

Winless Moriya Jutanugarn overcame a poor start and birdied the 18th for a hard-earned 1-under 70 to tie rookie Jin Young Ko at 9 under on Saturday at Wilshire Country Club.

Ko shot a 66 in her bid to become the year's first two-time LPGA winner. She won the Women's Australian Open in February, her first victory as an official tour member after a successful run on the Korean LPGA circuit.

''I'm ready for win or top 10, so maybe tomorrow I will really focus on shot by shot,'' said Ko, who added an exclamation point to her golf bag for each of her wins on the KLPGA. ''I won 11 times, so if I win tomorrow, maybe I change to 12. I need more, I need every time motivation.''

Jutanugarn is trying to match younger sister Ariya as a tour champion. Seven-time winner Ariya was tied for 27th after a 72 in the third round.

Usually when one of the Thai sisters is in the lead, the other will watch when her round is finished.

''If she's not too lazy, she is probably going to come out,'' Moriya said about Ariya.

Playing in an all-Korean threesome, Hall of Famer Inbee Park was two shots back in third after a 69. Her birdie putt for a share of the lead on 18 slid just by the hole. The group drew a large contingent of Korean fans.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

''I kind of started off a little bad. I was able to come back strong, so I'm really happy with that,'' Park said. ''I left a few putts out there. The greens around this golf course are just really tough. You just don't know what's going to happen.''

Moriya Jutanugarn's round included a double bogey on the par-4 first hole and a bogey on the par-4 sixth. She eagled the par-4 14th after holing out from the fairway 93 feet away. The ball took once bounce and went in, eliciting a stunned look from Jutanugarn before she high-fived her caddie.

''Today was kind of a pretty rough day for me with not a very good start and like trying to come back,'' Jutanugarn said. ''I just try to play my game and be patient out there I think is the key.''

Jutanugarn, the second-round leader, read the break perfectly on a long putt to make birdie on 18 and share the lead with Ko.

Playing two groups ahead of Jutanugarn, Caroline Inglis also eagled the 14th from 180 yards. She briefly jumped up and down and smiled after three bogeys and a double bogey. She shot a 69 and was four shots back in a tie for sixth with Minjee Lee.

''It was like one bounce and then it like trickled in,'' Inglis said.

Aditi Ashok eagled 14 early in the round.

Ko did some scrambling of her own. Her ball found a sandy hazard on the 17th with a scoreboard and a winding creek in between her and the green 190 yards away. Her approach landed just off the green and she made par. Her round included six birdies and a bogey on 16.

Eun-Hee Ji (70) and American Marina Alex (72) were tied for fourth at 6 under.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng shot a 70 and was in a six-way tie for 12th at 2 under.

Getty Images

Defending champs Singh, Franco take senior lead

By Associated PressApril 22, 2018, 12:15 am

RIDGEDALE, Mo. - Defending champions Vijay Singh and Carlos Franco took the third-round lead Saturday in the windy Bass Pro Shops Legends of Golf.

Singh and Franco shot a 7-under 47 in wind gusting to 20 mph on the Top of the Rock par-3 course to get to 19-under 145, a stroke ahead of the teams of David Toms-Steve Flesch and Paul Broadhurst-Kirk Triplett.

''It was a tough day,'' Singh said. ''The wind was swirling, have to get the club right and we made some putts. Carlos played really well on the back nine and I played really well on the front nine, so we ham-and-egged it a little.''

Toms and Flesch also shot 47, and Broadhurst and Triplett had a 33 on the 13-hole Mountain Top par-3 course.

''We just paired well together,'' Toms said. ''I don't think either one of us played great. We picked each other up out there.''

Wind and rain is expected Sunday when the teams finish at Top of the Rock, again playing the front nine in alternate shot and the back nine in better ball.

''Make as many birdies as possible and see what happens,'' Singh said. ''That's all we can do.''

Singh and Franco are trying to become the first to successfully defend a title since Jim Colbert and Andy North in 2001. Singh won the Toshiba Classic in March for his first individual senior title.

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

Flesch won the Mitsubishi Electric Classic last week in Georgia for his first senior victory.

Tom Lehman and Bernhard Langer had a 34 at Mountain Top to join Spanish stars Miguel Angel Jimenez and Jose Maria Olazabal at 17 under. Jimenez and Olazabal had a 33 at Mountain Top.

''It's great for me to be able to play with him as a team member,'' Olazabal said. ''We do have great memories from the Ryder Cup and other events, and it's always a great pleasure to play with a great player and a friend.''

Langer took the final-round forecast in stride.

''We've done it hundreds of times before and we'll probably do it again,'' Langer said. ''We'll make the best of it. We both have a good attitude. We're known to play in all sorts of weather and I just look forward to playing one more day with my partner here.''

Wisconsin neighbors Steve Stricker and Jerry Kelly were 16 under after a 48 at Top of the Rock.

John Daly and Michael Allen, the second-round leaders after a 46 at Top of the Rock, had a 37 at Mountain Top to drop into a tie for seventh at 15 under.

Getty Images

Landry shares Valero lead, eyes first career win

By Will GrayApril 21, 2018, 11:15 pm

After coming up just short of a breakthrough win earlier this season, Andrew Landry has another chance to earn his maiden victory at the Valero Texas Open.

Landry came within inches of winning the CareerBuilder Challenge in January, ultimately losing to Jon Rahm in a four-hole playoff. He struggled to find form in the wake of his close call, missing the cut in each of his four starts following his runner-up finish in Palm Springs.

But Landry took some time off to welcome his first child, Brooks, last month and he made it to the weekend in his first start back last week at the RBC Heritage, where he finished T-42. He made a move up the standings Saturday at TPC San Antonio with a bogey-free 67, and at 13 under shares the lead with Zach Johnson heading into the final round.

"I just did everything really good," Landry told reporters. "I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat, and I had a couple bad putts that I didn't really make. I'm happy with it, it's a good 5-under round. Gets me in the final group tomorrow and we'll see what happens."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Landry started the day one shot off the pace and in the final group with Johnson and Ryan Moore, and at one point he took sole possession of the lead after birdies on three of his first six holes. Now he'll have another chance in the day's final tee time where he's grouped with Johnson and Trey Mullinax, who sits one shot back after firing a course-record 62 in the third round.

For Landry, it's another opportunity to break into the winner's circle, and it's one for which he feels prepared after coming so close three months ago.

"I mean, I don't want to go too deep into it because I don't want to sound cocky or anything, but I just believe in myself. There's no other explanation for it," Landry said. "You can totally get out here and play with Zach Johnson, Ryan Moore, two top players in the world, and you can go out there and fold under pressure or you can learn a lot.

"Zach's always been a role model to me the way he plays golf, I feel like we have very similar games, and it's just going to be fun tomorrow getting to play with him again."

Getty Images

Z. Johnson, Landry share 54-hole Texas Open lead

By Associated PressApril 21, 2018, 10:56 pm

SAN ANTONIO - Zach Johnson birdied the par-5 18th Saturday at the Valero Texas Open for a share of the third-round lead with Andrew Landry, a stroke ahead of record-setting Trey Mullinax.

Johnson shot a 4-under 68, holing a 10-footer on 18 to match Landry at 13-under 203 at TPC San Antonio's AT&T Oaks. Landry birdied the 16th and 17th in a 67.

Johnson won the event in 2008 and 2009, the last two times it was played at LaCantera. The 42-year-old Iowan is trying to win for the first time since the 2015 British Open.

''I've got 18 holes to get to that point,'' Johnson said. ''I've got to do exactly what I did on the back side and that was give myself opportunities on every hole. I'm putting great, I'm seeing the lines well, my caddie's reading the greens well, so it's just a matter of committing and executing down the stretch.''

The 30-year-old Landry is winless on the tour.

''I'm a good putter and I just need to give myself a lot of opportunities tomorrow like I did today,'' Landry said. ''I'll be looking forward to tomorrow.''

Mullinax had a course-record 62. He played the back nine in 7-under 29, going 6 under on the last five with eagles on the par-5 14th and 18th and birdies on 16 and 17. He also birdied Nos. 10 and 12 and bogeyed 11.

''It's probably one of the best rounds I've ever had,'' Mullinax said. ''To go out there and shoot 62 on a hard golf course is really good.''

Johnson played the front nine in even par with two birdies and two bogeys. He birdied Nos. 11, 14, 15 and 18 on the back nine.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

''Different wind today early on, misjudged some numbers, misjudged some wind, made some bad swings, all of the above,'' Johnson said. ''But truthfully, my short game was actually pretty good, my putting was great. I missed some putts, but I hit some really good ones, hit some lines and I gave myself opportunities especially on the back side.''

Landry had a bogey-free round.

''I just did everything really good,'' Landry said. ''I was staying patient and just trying to make a bunch of pars. This golf course can come up and bite you in a heartbeat.''

Ryan Moore was two strokes back at 11 under after a 70. Sean O'Hair had a 65 to join 2015 champion Jimmy Walker (67), Chris Kirk (68) and 2013 winner Martin Laird (69) at 9 under.

''I just feel like I'm getting closer and closer to playing better and better golf, more solid golf, putting rounds together,'' Walker said. ''I'm excited for the opportunity tomorrow.''

Mullinax has made 42 of 44 putts from inside 10 feet this week.

''They just kind of remind me of greens from home,'' Mullinax said. ''My caddie, David (Flynn), has been reading them really well. We trusted each other on our reads and I've been hitting good putts. Been working hard on putting on the weeks off that I've had so it's good to see some results.''

The 25-year-old former Alabama player chipped in for the eagle on 14 and the birdie on the par-3 16th.

''It was just a little bit down the hill,'' he said about the 16th. ''All you had to do was just land it just past that little light grass spot. My caddie told me just read it like a putt, so I tried to just read it like a putt and it went in.''

On 18, he hit a 3-iron from 255 yards to 15 feet to set up his eagle putt. He broke the course record of 63 set by Matt Every in 201 and matched by Laird in 2013. The tournament record is 60 at LaCantera, by Bart Bryant in 2004 and Johnson in 2009.