Monday Scramble: Fast, but not-so furious

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 9, 2017, 5:00 pm

Justin Thomas takes another step, Tiger Woods fills out his early schedule, Jay Monahan begins Year 1, Jason Day isn't worried about pace of play and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Fair or not, Thomas has spent the past few years obscured by Jordan Spieth’s considerable shadow. The same age, they were fierce junior and college rivals. They’re frequent practice-round partners. You might have even seen that they once vacationed together.

That can’t be an easy spot, being an enormously talented youngster who is constantly playing second fiddle to a good friend who is more famous and, for now, more accomplished.

Thomas doesn’t yet have the résumé to match Spieth – Kapalua was his third Tour title; Spieth has eight – but his own star is beginning to rise. He has a fun personality and is active on social media. He’s expressive on the course. And he’s a world-class talent, with his awesome power and stratospheric iron shots. It helps, too, that there is a chip on his shoulder.

“It drove me a lot,” Thomas said of his peers’ success. “I wasn’t mad, but it was maybe a little frustrating seeing some friends and peers my age do well. Not because I wasn’t cheering for them, but because I feel like I was as good as them.”  

His title defense in Malaysia last fall helped Thomas feel like he belonged. And now he has two titles in the first four starts of the season and is the 12th-ranked player in the world.

Leave it to Spieth – with whom Thomas has been inextricably linked – to sum up what we all saw in paradise: 

“I think it’s potentially floodgates opening.” 


1. Yes, Thomas made a few mistakes down the stretch. A poor tee shot on 9. A poor wedge on 10. A poor approach on 15. But on the verge of frittering away a five-shot lead, he summoned one of the best shots of his young career: a 226-yard missile from a slope so severe that he walked after the shot, a la Gary Player. 

His 8-iron shot on 17 nestled within 3 feet of the cup, and the easy birdie gave him a three-shot cushion heading to the last.

“It was definitely the best shot I hit this week,” he said. 

2. If there’s one area of Thomas’ game that needed improvement, it was his driving accuracy. Finding the fairway isn’t as important when you’re blasting 350-yard drives, but Thomas quickly learned that some of his big foul balls were costing him. 

Each of the past two years, he’s been ranked outside the top 135 in driving accuracy. Last year, he was ranked No. 97 in strokes gained-off the tee. 

What Thomas showed at Kapalua was not just an ability to pound driver mind-boggling distances; he also displayed something of an off-speed pitch, where he choked down, dialed back and shaped a cut into the fairway. He led the field in 400-yard drives, with two, but he also finished third in strokes gained-off the tee.

Driver is the greatest weapon for the game’s top players – reigning Player of the Year Dustin Johnson was No. 1 in driving last season – so it’ll be interesting to see if Thomas can continue this trend with fairways that aren’t as wide as Kapalua’s.  



3. Only one player has beaten Hideki Matsuyama over the past three months: Justin Thomas. 

Matsuyama is 402-0 against every other player since mid-October. 

4. The Japanese star trailed by two shots entering the final round, dropped five back at one point but still had a chance to pull even on the par-5 15th.

He had missed only four times inside 10 feet during the first three rounds, but here he failed to convert a 10-footer. On the next hole, and with another chance to tie, he left his 10-footer a few rolls short. 

As great as he’s been of late, his putter let him down Sunday. Overall, he lost more than two shots to the field on the greens in the final round. 

5. Spieth didn’t win the Tournament of Champions in a rout, and that’s probably a good thing. 

Last year, after one of the most remarkable major runs in recent memory, Spieth shot 30 under par at Kapalua and blew away the field. The victory served only to inflate what were already insanely high expectations.

There isn’t nearly as much anticipation this year surrounding Spieth – all eyes, for the time being, are on DJ’s follow-up and Rory McIlroy’s bounce back – so he is in a prime position to rebound.  

“I was happy when the ball touched down and 2017 started,” he said. 

All Spieth did at Kapalua was lead the field in birdies (26) and close with a flawless 65. (Alas, he also made five bogeys, two doubles and a triple during the week.) It still added up to a backdoor top-3 finish – and a lot of momentum as he heads to the Sony Open at Waialae, another course that should fit his game.



6. Wrote more about it here, but we’ll have a much better idea of where Woods is headed on Feb. 26. By that point, he’ll have completed (hopefully) four events in five weeks, an ambitious early-season schedule that will include stops in San Diego, Dubai, Los Angeles and West Palm Beach. 

Woods hadn’t competed in 466 days before his appearance last month at the Hero World Challenge. So was it a surprise that he’d craft such a hectic start to his year? Maybe a little. But it suggests two things: 1.) he's healthy, and 2.) he's determined to fight his way back to relevancy. 

7. Dramatic changes could be coming to the PGA Tour schedule. It seems increasingly likely that, beginning as early as 2019, The Players will return to a March date, the PGA will move from August to May, and the playoffs (which likely will shrink from four events to three) will wrap up on Labor Day weekend, before football takes over the sporting calendar. 

This seems like a no-brainer for the Tour – it’d be one huge event each month from March until July, with the postseason during sports-light August – but new commissioner Monahan cautioned that no decisions have been made.

One issue: How the proposed plan would benefit the PGA of America, which would lose its billing as the year's final major and, potentially, some traditional northern venues for agronomical reasons.

8. New commissioner, but the same ol' policy regarding the disclosure of player fines and suspensions. Monahan made clear last week that, like his predecessor, he has no desire to publicly reveal which players have run afoul of the Tour’s regulations. 

“I think our system works,” he said. “I know there is a desire to know everything that’s happened, but our job is we’re family, and if there’s an issue in your family, you deal with it.”

It’s just that every other major sporting league (NFL, MLB, NBA, NHL, etc.) deals with it differently than the Tour. They understand what Camp Ponte Vedra still does not fully grasp – that public humiliation is a strong deterrent, and that fans, sponsors and media appreciate full transparency. 


Day must have known this wouldn’t go over well, his plans to slow down his play this year.

Already a deliberate player, Day is essentially challenging the new Tour regime to do something about slow play.

“I’ve got to get back to what makes me good,” he said. “If that means I have to back off five times, then I’m going to back off five times before I have to actually hit the shot.” 

The world No. 1 was right about one thing here: There’s a massive difference between recreational and professional golf.

A casual round at your local country club should not take five hours; but at least it’s more acceptable for those competing for a major, or a $1 million paycheck, to play a course with fast greens and thick rough in five hours. (And besides, slow play doesn’t affect the fans at home anyway – TV coverage windows are the exact same, and the producer can cut to players when they’re ready to hit.)

Should a professional golfer be able to make up his mind and hit a shot in 40 seconds? Yes. Of course. But until the Tour decides to end a 22-year drought and crack down on slow play – with, and only with, a one-stroke penalty – then Day and others will be able to dawdle all they want.  

This week's award winners ... 


Welcome to 2017: Web.com players. Last year ended with a hurricane. The new year practically started with one, as the seaside course in the Bahamas was pounded with 45-mph gusts in the first round. (A course that isn’t built for wind? In the Bahamas? Oops.) It was carnage – when the first round was suspended because of darkness, 46 players had signed for 80 or worse, with three scores in the 90s.  

2016 is Definitely Over: Davis Love III. Last year was undoubtedly a great year for DL3, who captained a slump-busting Ryder Cup victory and received the call that he’d soon be inducted into the Hall of Fame. But 2017 is already off to a rocky start: Last week, he broke his collarbone while snowboarding and will miss the next three months. 

Random Thought of the Week: Does a colored golf ball really make the game “more fun”?



Maybe Not a Lock for 2020 after all: McIlroy. Seems it wasn’t just Zika that kept the world No. 2 out of the Olympics. The Northern Irishman revealed that he also would have felt “uncomfortable” at the Games having to represent Ireland or Great Britain, knowing that he doesn’t “feel a connection to either flag.” He added that he “resents” the Olympics for forcing him to choose, since Northern Ireland does not field a separate team.  

A Not-So-Hot Take: Monahan. Smart move by the Commish, pumping up the game’s biggest star just a week into his new job: “Just so we’re clear, when he’s 75 years old, I’m going to still think he can win on the Tour.” That, of course, would be a record. 

Wedding Bells: Sergio Garcia. Congrats on the upcoming nuptials. If history is any indication, a happy Spaniard usually has good on-course results.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Bubba Watson. Talk about a rough week in paradise. He was dead last in putting (losing more than six shots to the field on the greens) and below average in both approach shots and scrambling. The only thing that saved him on the par-73 layout was his nuclear driver, because he didn’t break 71 and finished in a tie for 25th. Sigh. 

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Golf Channel Ramps Up Six Weeks of Comprehensive College Golf Coverage Culminating With The NCAA Women's and Men's Golf Championships, May 18-30

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 24, 2018, 9:00 pm

Golf Channel to Announce NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections on Wednesday, April 25 and Wednesday, May 2

 Golf Channel to Expand Coverage of NCAA Women’s and Men’s Regional Championships  

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys, a Four-Part Docu-Series Executive Produced by Rickie Fowler, Premieres on Golf Channel Monday, May 7

 More than 100 News and Tournament Hours Planned for Women’s and Men’s Championships, Back-to-Back Weeks at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

 

ORLANDO, Fla., April 24, 2018 – With conference championships underway, golf fans will be able to follow their favorite college golf programs and alma maters as they attempt to qualify and compete in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships in May at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., as Golf Channel expands its comprehensive on-air and digital collegiate golf coverage the next six weeks.

“Through our new long-term partnership, the NCAA and Golf Channel are successfully raising the profile of college golf by shining a spotlight on the game’s future stars and the passion these programs have in competing for national championships,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive vice president of content and executive producer. “With our expanded coverage of the regional championships and partnering with OSU alum Rickie Fowler for Driven, our viewers will be treated to the most college golf coverage in network history leading into the NCAA Golf National Championships.”

REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS SELECTION ANNOUNCEMENTS: On Wednesday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET (women) and continuing Wednesday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET (men), Golf Channel will announce the teams and individuals selected by the NCAA to participate in the women’s and men’s regional championships, the first step on the road to the NCAA Golf Championships. Live streaming coverage of selection shows will be available through the Golf Channel Mobile App or GolfChannel.com, and Golf Channel will aggregate social content for the shows using the hashtag #NCAAGolf. 

  • Women’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, April 25, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce (live) the 72 teams and24 individuals selected to compete in the four NCAA Women’s Regional Championships, May 7-9 (18 teams and six individuals per regional). 24 teams and 12 individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.
  • Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, May 2, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce the 81 teams and 45 individuals selected to compete in the six NCAA Men’s Regional Championships, May 14-16 (13 teams and 10 individuals at three regionals and 14 teams and five individuals at three regionals). 30 teams and six individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.

GOLF CHANNEL TO EXPAND REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: New for 2018, Golf Channel will feature expanded coverage of the final day of the NCAA women’s and men’s regional championships, Wednesday May 9 and Wednesday, May 16, respectively. Beginning within Morning Drive, Golf Channel’s daily lifestyle news show, and continuing hourly throughout the day via live Golf Central news updates from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET that will be published to Golf Channel Digital and Golf Channel’s social media handles. Coverage will conclude with live news segments, featuring highlights and interviews, announcing the teams and individuals who qualified for the women’s and men’s national championships.

RICKIE FOWLER AND NBC SPORTS COLLABORATE ON FOUR-PART DOCU-SERIES DRIVEN: OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: NBC Sports Group is teaming up with PGA TOUR superstar Rickie Fowler to give viewers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look into Fowler’s alma mater in a four-part documentary series – Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys. Driven, executive produced by Fowler, will premiere Monday, May 7 at 10 p.m. ET and continue Monday, May 14 (10 p.m. ET) and Monday, May 21 (8 p.m. ET). The finale will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16, recapping their season that culminates with a run at a potential 11th national championship, taking place on their home turf.

NCAA GOLF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: Contested in back-to-back weeks, May 18-30 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Golf Channel will dedicate its full suite of production resources to the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships, featuring nearly 30 combined hours of live tournament coverage. In addition, Golf Central will feature nearly 30 hours of combined pre-and post-event live news coverage produced on location, as well as daily news updates on Morning Drive and Golf Channel Digital.                                             

Golf Channel NCAA Women’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   21       

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   22          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   22                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   23            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

Golf Channel NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   28      

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   29          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   29                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   30            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

COLLEGE CENTRAL – GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL COVERAGE: Golf Channel is providing comprehensive coverage leading up to and during the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships as part of College Central,Golf Channel Digital’s home for college golf. Led by Jay Coffin, Ryan Lavner and Steve Burkowski, College Central will be the source for all things college golf, including tournament results and scores, features and columns, video highlights and breaking news.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS NEWS COVERAGE: Golf Channel will cover the conference championships with scores and analysis across its on-air news platforms - Morning Drive and Golf Central – and online within College Central.

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With help from partner, Burns could secure Tour status

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 8:33 pm

AVONDALE, La. – This week Sam Burns has yet another chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, but his partner may determine whether he’s ultimately successful.

In an interesting twist, Burns is burning one of his seven available sponsor exemptions this week at the Zurich Classic. He is 80 non-member points shy of securing special temporary membership, which would allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.

Burns needs at least a two-way tie for fourth to earn the necessary points, but it won’t all depend on how he plays this week. The Zurich is a two-man game, with two rounds apiece of fourballs and alternate shot.

Burns' partner this week is William McGirt. Their games couldn’t be more different – Burns ranks eighth on Tour in driving distance, at 309 yards per pop, while McGirt is 143rd (290) – but they hope to compliment each other over four days at TPC Louisiana.


Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


“I got a good pair of spurs sharpened up last week while I was in San Antonio,” joked McGirt, who is looking for his first top-10 since the fall. “I told him I was going to ride him hard this week. It’ll be fun.”

Burns will have at least two (and maybe three) more opportunities to earn status, with starts lined up next week at the Wells Fargo Championship and also at the Memorial. He doesn’t face quite as much pressure because he won earlier this month on the Web.com Tour and currently sits fourth on the money list, essentially locking up his PGA Tour card for next season.

“It’s obviously nice to have that win,” he said, “but at the same time you have to be careful and make sure you play enough out there to where you’re secure for sure. You don’t want to get at the end of the year and then have two or three events left and you have to make a certain amount of money to get your card.

“So I’m just going step by step, tournament by tournament, and trying to figure out what’s the best route.”   

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Spieth-Palmer draw Rahm-Bryan early at Zurich

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:49 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The PGA Tour’s only team event gets underway Thursday at the Zurich Classic. Here are some featured groups to watch at TPC Louisiana.

Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley/Daniel Berger-Gary Woodland: 8:39 a.m. ET Thursday off 10 tee, 2:08 p.m. Friday off 1: 

The Bama boys, Thomas and Cauley, team up for the second consecutive year, after tying for fifth a year ago on the strength of a final-round 61. Berger teamed with Thomas Pieters a year ago but missed the cut, so he’ll try his luck with Woodland, who also shares a management team at Excel Sports.

Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer/Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan: 8:52 a.m. Thursday off 10, 2:19 p.m. Friday off 1: 

Spieth and Palmer finished fourth a year ago, five shots back of the leaders. Spieth is making his first start since his epic Sunday run at the Masters. Rahm and Bryan have opposite strengths – Rahm is one of the game’s preeminent drivers, while Bryan, statistically, is one of the worst – but the Spaniard is coming off a European Tour victory at home. Another wrinkle here: Even though no world-ranking points are on offer this week, Rahm is set to supplant Spieth as the third-ranked player in the world.

Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels/Brooks Koepka-Marc Turnesa: 1:31 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:42 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Two stars with questionable sidekicks. Ruffels is an up-and-coming Australian who has been playing primarily in Latin America. (He also shares a manager with Day.) Turnesa, meanwhile, got the call late last week from Koepka, who is finally ready to return from a 15-week layoff because of a wrist injury. They both play out of Medalist in South Florida, but Turnesa, 40, has turned his attention to real estate instead of professional golf.

Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay/Jonas Blixt-Cameron Smith: 1:44 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:53 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Reed makes his first start as Masters champion after taking off the past two weeks. This duo tied for 14th last year, undone by a Saturday 75 in foursomes play. Blixt and Smith are the defending champions, after shooting 27 under par last year and holding off Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a playoff. Blixt doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour since then, while Smith tied for fifth at the Match Play and the Masters.

Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson/Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar: 1:57 p.m. Thursday off 1, 10:04 a.m. Friday off 10:

Rose and Stenson, who have proved to be a formidable pairing in the Ryder Cup, were a stunning missed cut last year, after shooting 6 under par for two rounds. Watson teamed up with J.B. Holmes to finish fifth last year, while Kuchar is making his first start in this event since 2009.

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Zurich Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:09 pm

The PGA Tour tries team competition for the second year in a row at the Zurich Classic. Here are the key stats and information for play at TPC LouisianaClick here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $7,200,000 ($1,036,800 to each winner)

Course: TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards)

Defending champions: Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt (-27) in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner


News and notes

• All four reigning major champions - Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed - are in the field this week. This is the first time all four reigning major winners have played this event since 1984 (Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Tom Watson, Hall Sutton).

 Both members of winning team this week will earn an official PGA Tour victory, two-year Tour exemptions, and exemptions into the Players and PGA Championships.

• That said, no Official World Golf Ranking points are awarded from this event and winners will not earn exemptions into the 2019 Masters.


Notable teams in the field 

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson

 Rose won this event in 2014, when it was individual stroke play. From 2012-16, he was a combined 60 under at TPC Louisiana in stroke play, seven shots better than any other player.

 Rose has dramatically improved his performance on the greens from last season, moving from 123rd in strokes gained-putting to 10th.

 Stenson's last three starts look like this: solo 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T-6 at the Houston Open, and T-5 at the Masters.

Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan

 Rahm is coming off a victory at the Spanish Open, his second worldwide win in 2018 and fifth since Jan. 2017.

 Rahm outdrives Bryan by an average of 30 yards off the tee, 305.1 to 276.3.

 Rahm is second on Tour in the strokes gained-off the tee, while Bryan is 210th, last among qualifying players.

Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay

 Reed is just the fifth reigning Masters champ to play the Zurich since 2000, joining Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson (twice), and Bubba Watson.

 Reed has gone T-2, T-7, T-9, WIN in his last four starts.

 Cantlay broke through for his maiden PGA Tour win earlier this season at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.