Monday Scramble: Day completes remarkable journey

By Ryan LavnerAugust 17, 2015, 4:30 pm

Jason Day breaks through, Jordan Spieth never gives up, Tiger Woods prolongs the inevitable, Brooke Henderson's star is born and more in this week's teary-eyed edition of the Monday Scramble.

Jason Day must have been tired of watching his peers celebrate.

The extravagantly talented Aussie avoided becoming the first player in history to lose three consecutive 54-hole leads in a major, rising to the occasion at the PGA with one of the year's most impressive performances. 

It wasn't just that Day set the major scoring record at 20 under par. It was the way in which he won, wailing away on driver, staring down Jordan Spieth, golf's new No. 1 player, and dusting him by three shots. 

Not everyone's path to major glory is smooth, and for a while Day was considered little more than a tantalizing tease, with just one victory in his first six years on Tour. Heck, even he began to wonder whether he had what it took to reach the game's highest level.

Then he won the Match Play. Then he won at Torrey Pines. Then he won in Canada. And now he has won at Whistling Straits, shedding the label of best player without a major. 

"Some people get there quicker than others. Some people make it look easier than others, and I'm just glad that it's finally happened, because it was kind of wearing on me a little bit," he said. "It doesn't help with the media, hearing about it all the time. But I'm glad to take my name off that list and move forward from here." 


1. There were lots of tears on the 72nd green, and not just because Day lifted his major burden. This was the culmination of a remarkable journey in which he grew from a teenage drunk reeling from the death of his father to one of the game’s bona fide superstars. (More on that here.) 

Much of that rise can be credited to the work of his caddie and swing coach, Colin Swatton, who rescued Day when he was a 12-year-old headed down the wrong path.

“It’s just a lot of hard work that I’ve been putting into this game to dedicate myself to have a shot at glory, have a shot at greatness,” Day said. “That’s what we all work toward. It’s a good feeling.”

2. Day’s seven top-5s in the majors since 2011 are tied for the most over that span. And the player he’s tied with, fellow Aussie Adam Scott, just played his final major with an anchored putter. 

3. Day's putting, meanwhile, is an underappreciated aspect of his game. Since 2011, he's never been worse than 30th on Tour in strokes gained-putting. Last week at the PGA, he was an incredible 60-for-62 from inside 10 feet. 

4. The lowest 72-hole scores in relation to par in major-championship history:

  • Jason Day: 20 under, 2015 PGA
  • Tiger Woods: 19 under, 2000 Open
  • Jordan Spieth: 18 under, 2015 Masters
  • Tiger Woods: 18 under, 2006 PGA
  • Tiger Woods: 18 under, 2006 Open
  • Tiger Woods: 18 under, 2000 PGA (won playoff)
  • Tiger Woods: 18 under, 1997 Masters
  • Nick Faldo: 18 under, 1990 Open

 


5. Random thought: You'd be hard-pressed to find a more appealing Big Three in golf than Jordan, Rory and J-Day.

6. There's a common thread between these three stars: sportsmanship. Last week, Day went out of his way to compliment his fellow playing competitors in a public setting, whether it was Dustin Johnson or Spieth. When it became clear that he would cede his No. 1 ranking to Spieth, McIlroy told us: “I’ll be the first one to congratulate him, because I know the golf you have to play to get to that spot, and it has been impressive this year.” I wrote this Sunday night from Whistling Straits, but it’s worth repeating here: Spieth unabashedly praised Day down the stretch in the final round, raving about an unlikely birdie on 14, giving him a thumbs up for a cozy lag putt on 17 and applauding him on the final green when Day collapsed into his caddie’s arms and his family raced out onto the green to celebrate. 

The game is in a great place, with three eminently likable lads. 



7. Dustin Johnson's final-round 69 at the PGA basically summed up his entire career, with big misses (an opening quad and three bogeys) and loads of promise (six birdies and an eagle). 

8. Johnson may believe that he's "got what it takes" to win multiple majors, but this Grand Slam season has convinced more than a few observers that his time may never come in the game's biggest events. The collapse at Chambers. The weekend retreat at St. Andrews. The baffling stumble at the PGA. At 31, he's only one year younger than Woods when the former world No. 1 captured his last major. In other words, he's no longer a rising talent who is still learning how to win. He's a megastar-in-waiting who is squandering the prime of his athletic career by continuing to fold in the biggest moments.

9. Think DJ had it rough this major season? Consider the case of Justin Rose. He was 14 under par in both the U.S. Open and PGA – and lost by a combined 10 shots! His 34-under-par performance in the majors was the best of any non-winner in the last 30 years, according to the Golf Channel research department.  

10. Speaking of which ... the 2015 major venues served up plenty of low scores. Below is a list of the best cumulative scores, ever, in the majors. Note that four of the top seven players were from this year: 

  • Jordan Spieth (2015): -54
  • Tiger Woods (2000): -53
  • Jason Day (2015): -35
  • Justin Rose (2015): -34
  • Rickie Fowler (2014): -32
  • Dustin Johnson (2015): -29
  • Tiger Woods (2006): -28

Players are getting better, yes, but Augusta, St. Andrews and Whistling Straits all played softer and more forgiving than anticipated. 



11. This should help put Spieth's historic season in perspective: He finished just four shots away from a single-season Grand Slam. In the modern era, only Jack Nicklaus in 1975 (three) has come closer.

12. Just for fun, let's pretend that Spieth's final-round 68 was enough to win the PGA for his third major of the season. The hottest topic in the press tent over the weekend is where that would have placed Spieth's in the pantheon of all-time great major seasons. 

I'd argue that it would have slotted him No. 1, ahead of Tiger Woods' 2000 season.

Spieth's 2015 major campaign would have been better for a few reasons. Start with the fact that he already has the lowest cumulative score to par in the majors, the fewest number of strokes ever and a better "fourth major" finish (T-4 at Open; Woods was fifth at 2000 Masters). 

Anyone who contends that Woods put together the greatest major season in golf history undoubtedly will point first at the most dominant stretch of golf anyone has ever seen – a combined margin of victory of 23 shots, including the 15-stroke romp at the Pebble Beach Open.

Yes, that blows away Spieth – whose spread in his wins was only five shots, a nod to his efficient but not overwhelming game – but keep in mind that Woods swept the season’s final three majors and didn’t have the single-season Slam hanging over his head. His major season began with a fifth-place showing at the Masters, where he finished six behind, and then went on his tear. 

Hey, if nothing else, it would have been a lively debate.  



13. A snapshot of Woods at the majors:

  • 1997-2013: 64 starts, three missed cuts
  • 2014-present: 6 starts, four missed cuts

14. Even a few days later, it still doesn't compute why Woods would choose to tee it up this week at the Wyndham Championship. He hasn't won in two years, and that's the only result that will send him to the FedEx Cup playoffs. He said that his decision is more about "building," but it's unclear to what he is building. If this is his last start of the season – and, let's face it, there's a strong possibility that it is – then Woods isn't expected to play again until Oct. 15, at the Frys.com Open. In other words, he would be building toward a break, nothing more. Curious.



15. Rory McIlroy may have forfeited his No. 1 ranking, but it's hard to view his PGA return as anything but a resounding success. He shot 7 under on the weekend after knocking off the scoring-skills rust. He didn't report any issues with his injured left ankle. And he averaged a very Rory-like 308 yards off the tee. Not bad for a guy who couldn't walk six weeks ago. 

16. Rory performs his best when he has an edge, when he has something to prove. He wants to be No. 1 in the world, but he also realizes that it was inevitable that the red-hot Spieth would take over the top spot sometime in the next few weeks. It should be just the motivation McIlroy needs to try and end his year on a high note. 

17. How long until Brooke Henderson becomes a top-5 player in the world? The 17-year-old Canadian starlet, whose petition last year to waive the LPGA's age requirement was (embarrassingly) denied by commissioner Mike Whan, won the Portland Classic by a whopping eight strokes on Sunday. Even more impressive considering she was a Monday qualifier for the event. She has already cracked the top 20 in the world – ahead of more heralded players like Michelle Wie, Karrie Webb and Morgan Pressel – in what is just her first year as a pro. At this time last year, she was coming off a loss in the U.S. Women's Amateur finals. 

The carnival act that is John Daly's PGA Tour career made a stop in Sheboygan, Wis., last week. Still allowed to play because of his win at Crooked Stick 24 years ago, Daly fired three shots into Lake Michigan and then his club during another pathetic outburst. 

The worst part? He attempted to explain his petulance by telling reporters, “I’ve always said, ‘You throw a club, it shows you care.’”

Not really. It shows that he has no etiquette or respect for the game.  

A look at this week's award winners ... 


Goodbye … Hello?: Steve Stricker. The 48-year-old semi-retired player may have played his last major at the PGA, but it'd rate as a surprise if this was his last time at Whistling Straits. The Wisconsin native would appear to be a heavy favorite to land the Ryder Cup captaincy when the event heads to the Straits in 2020. Unless, of course, Davis Love III’s bunch gets crushed at Hazeltine and the task force has to blow up the system again. 

What Were You Thinking?: Pete Dye. Building the 18th hole into the setting sun? As if the 500-yard par-4 finisher over a ravine wasn't tough enough in a major.

Rules Official's Best Friend (or not): Bubba Watson. Trying to get relief from an ant hill, Watson snapped at an official and said, "So if someone was allergic to ants, you couldn't care less?" 

The Young King: Jordan Spieth. At 22 years and 21 days, he is the second-youngest world No. 1 of all time. Tiger was 21 years, 5 months, 23 days when he reached the top spot for the first time.  

Best GIF of the Week: Phil Mickelson, riding the Straits Slip 'N Slide: 

Getty Images

Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

Getty Images

Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

Getty Images

Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

Getty Images

Woods does everything but win at The Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and small victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

Sure, after a round in which he took the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

“Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

But here’s where we take a deep breath.

Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with nine holes to play.

Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

The scenario was improbable.

Inconceivable.

Impossible.

At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

“For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, the ball ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

“It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

“Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing The Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

“She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

“To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two new, younger additions to his clan.

Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

LOVE THE HATERS.

After this unbelievable performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?