Monday Scramble: Peaks and valleys

By Ryan LavnerJuly 10, 2017, 3:00 pm

Jon Rahm soars to win No. 2, another rules controversy emerges, Xander Schauffele comes up clutch, the anchoring ban returns to the spotlight and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

And here we thought Rahm’s biggest statement of the week was dusting world No. 4 and tournament host Rory McIlroy by 13 shots over two days.

Not even close.

Displaying all of the tools in his considerable skill set, and showing decidedly more patience on the course, Rahm lapped a good field at the Irish Open en route to his second pro title.

Some observers were ready to give up on the 22-year-old after his petulant display over the past month, but his tour de force at Portstewart was a reminder that Rahm has generational talent – and even more room to grow.

Rahm is thrilling to watch – capable of meltdowns, sure, but even more likely to produce stunning golf that will, someday soon, challenge Dustin Johnson for the No. 1 world ranking.

1. All year Rahm has been building toward a performance like we saw at Portstewart.

There was the back-nine 30 at Torrey Pines to steal his first PGA Tour title in January. Since then, he posted seven other top-10s, took DJ to the final hole at the Match Play, contended at another WGC event and the Masters, and now stormed to victory at the $7 million Irish Open. You have to look long and hard to find a weakness in this kid’s physical game. He has power and accuracy. He hits nuclear, sky-high irons. And he has incredible imagination around the greens and a rock-solid putting stroke.

At 22, his only concern is on-course maturity, and how he handles adversity. Fortunately for him, he hasn’t encountered much in the past 13 months. 

2. Rahm’s 24-under 264 total was a tournament record and the lowest 72-hole score this season on the European Tour. And that was with two careless bogeys in his last three holes. 

3. While sound in theory, the new reasonable judgment standard failed its first big test Sunday at the Irish Open.

In April, the USGA and R&A announced that they were implementing two new decisions to the Rules of Golf that would rely less on video replay and more on a player’s integrity. On the sixth hole, replays appeared to show that Rahm marked and replaced his 1-foot putt from a slightly different location.

The new rule states that a player won’t be assessed a penalty “if it is determined that the player did all that can be reasonably expected under the circumstances to make an accurate estimation of measurement … even if later shown to be wrong by other means (such as video technology).”

And so Rahm wasn’t penalized, keeping his lead at five shots, not three.

“Do I think he’s got the ball back in exactly the right place?” said Andy McFee, chief referre for the European Tour. “No, but we’re talking about maybe a couple of millimeters here or there. Has the player made a reasonable judgment? I believe he has.”

Except now every player and fan watching the coverage now knows that Rahm made a careless mistake and wasn’t penalized for it. A cloud was cast over his victory, and that's a shame.

It's why this rule is grossly unfair for the players – officials might clear the player of any wrongdoing, but obvious infractions can overshadow a result. 

4. The Irish Open not only was one of the Rolex Series events, which will figure largely into the season-ending Race to Dubai, but it also offered three spots to next week’s Open.

Grabbing those invitations were Richie Ramsay, who went 67-65 on the weekend; David Drysdale, who posted a 10-shot improvement with a Sunday 63; and New Zealander Ryan Fox. Just missing out was Daniel Im, who played in the final group and hovered near the lead all week before a few short misses early rattled his confidence. He bogeyed the 72nd hole to miss the spot by one. 

5. It’s almost crisis time for McIlroy and his shaky short game. He missed his second consecutive cut last week at the Irish Open, and he has only this week’s tuneup in Scotland before the year’s third major.

At the Travelers he used three putters in four rounds, and the model that he settled on didn’t cooperate over two days at Portstewart. “Just silly mistakes,” he said, but it appears to be a more significant issue than that. He appears lost on the greens, uncomfortable over the ball. McIlroy’s long game is usually so good that he only needs to putt decent to have a chance to win. Alas, right now, he’s not even doing that.

6. It was easy to see this one coming. Xander Schauffele hung tough all week at the U.S. Open, finishing fifth and flashing a complete game.

He won less than a month later.

Schauffele stuffed a 161-yard pitching wedge for a birdie on the final hole to edge Robert Streb by one shot and take The Greenbrier Classic for his first title.

The 24-year-old has an interesting backstory. His father, Stefan, was a decathlete in Germany who was hit by a drunk driver at 23. The accident altered his career, and he turned to golf, eventually teaching his second son, Alexander, how to play. Schauffele blossomed into a top-tier amateur player, reaching the finals of the Western Amateur and owning the lowest career scoring average at San Diego State.

Schauffele finished 26th on the money list to miss his card by less than $100. He punched his ticket to the PGA Tour, anyway, after finishing 15th on the Finals money list. 

7. Alas, it was also easy to see this one coming ... 

Sebastian Munoz was riding a heater that was destined to run out. Through three rounds he gained 9.2 strokes on the field and holed a remarkable 396 feet worth of putts – or 100 feet more than Streb, also in the final group.

In the final round, he sank only 32 feet worth of putts. No one was worse on the greens Sunday – he lost nearly five strokes to the field.

Cruel game. 

8. Small consolation, perhaps, but Munoz was one of four qualifiers for The Open, along with Schauffele, Streb and Jamie Lovemark. 

9. Jim “Bones” Mackay won’t land with another big-time player, after all. In a move that, selfishly, we were hoping for, the longtime caddie has signed a multiyear deal with NBC/Golf Channel to work as an on-course reporter. He will make his official debut next week at Royal Birkdale.

More was written about this move here, if you missed it, but in short: If he’s unafraid to discuss (and criticize) the players and caddies with whom he has become friends over the past 25 years, Bones should become a hit on TV, offering a unique and fresh perspective on the game. Welcome to the team. 

10. Heading into this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, there are two big questions:

1.) Will there be a Trump sighting?

2.) Which of golf’s young stars will step up at the toughest women’s major?

A third question mark was answered Sunday, when Ariya Jutanugarn’s agent said that the right-shoulder injury that caused the world No. 2 to withdraw from last week’s LPGA event would not affect her participation in the Open. That’s good news, of course, but she clearly won’t be 100 percent healthy. It’s the same shoulder that needed surgery a few years ago … 

11. The 2014 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year is headed back to the big leagues after spending some time this year in the minors. After a close call earlier this season, Chesson Hadley had to shoot 15 under on the weekend to take the Tour’s Lecom Health Challenge and secure his Tour card for 2017-18.

Pushing him to the finish line was Beau Hossler, the 2016 NCAA Player of the Year who began the year with no status anywhere, following shoulder surgery last June that cost him six months. He earned his second runner-up finish in the past few weeks and now is inside the top 25 on the money list, in position to earn his Tour card for next season. 

In a peculiar move, the USGA, Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron all issued statements last week defending the two PGA Tour Champions players’ putting strokes, which have come under scrutiny recently after slow-motion replays showed that their long putters, if not anchored to their bodies, were at least close enough to create suspicion.

But by even acknowledging this controversy, Langer and McCarron – Nos. 1 and 4 on the money list, respectively – will be under even more of a microscope. You don’t think everybody now will be watching for a possible anchoring infraction?

Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee said that the anchoring rule needs to be rewritten, immediately, because there is a loophole that players can use – that their “intent” was not to anchor. Chamblee argues that the rule should state that there must be a clear separation between the anchoring hand and the body, to ensure that no competitive advantage is gained.

Hard to disagree. 

This week's award winners ... 

Weird Stat of the Week: Leaders at The Greenbrier. How about this one? A first-, second- or third-round leader has never gone on to win at the Old White TPC. Like, ever. 

When The Tinkering Has Gone Too Far: Padraig Harrington. The anniversary of his victory at Birkdale is coming up, and it appears that he will return there having gone Full Happy Gilmore.

Keep An Eye On: Joaquin Niemann. The No. 1-ranked amateur in the world carded a 65 in the final round at The Greenbrier, jumping all the way into a tie for 29th. He is set to start at South Florida in the spring. 

Not Too Late?: Chambers Bay’s U.S. Open chances. The Seattle-area venue, still smarting from the greens debacle in 2015, recently converted all of its putting surfaces to poa annua in hopes of attracting another major. The USGA is essentially booked for another decade. 

A Bit More Cumbersome Than a Trophy: Michael Greller’s rake. Not sure if he’ll hang this in his den or his outdoor shed, but it’s a cool memento from the best golf celebration in years. 

Remember When Tiger Comparisons Were Flattering?: Novak Djokovic. The former No. 1-ranked tennis player was asked repeatedly last week at Wimbledon about comments made by analyst John McEnroe, who compared Djokovic’s off-court troubles to Woods, whose personal life imploded amid revelations of infidelity in 2009. Sigh.  

Youth Is Served: Atthaya Thitikul. At 14 years, 4 months and 19 days, she became the youngest winner on the Ladies European Tour.

Boss: Sergio Garcia. The Royal Box at Wimbledon has never looked better.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Kevin Kisner. Solid across the board in almost every statistical category, the Colonial winner had a pair of other second-place finishes as he rolled into West Virginia. Then he shot rounds of 72-70 and missed the cut. Sigh. 

Getty Images

Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1

Getty Images

Perez (T-3) looks to remedy 'terrible' major record

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 7:34 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Pat Perez’s major record is infinitely forgettable. In 24 Grand Slam starts he has exactly one top-10 finish, more than a decade ago at the PGA Championship.

“Terrible,” Perez said when asked to sum up his major career. “I won sixth [place]. Didn't even break top 5.”

It’s strange, however, that his status atop The Open leaderboard through two rounds doesn’t seem out of character. The 42-year-old admits he doesn’t hit it long enough to contend at most major stops and also concedes he doesn’t exactly have a wealth of knowledge when it comes to the game’s biggest events, but something about The Open works for him.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I didn't like it the first time I came over. When I went to St. Andrews in '05, I didn't like it because it was cold and terrible and this and that,” he said. “Over the years, I've really learned to like to come over here. Plus the fans are so awesome here. They know a good shot. They don't laugh at you if you hit a bad shot.”

Perez gave the fans plenty to cheer on Friday at Carnoustie, playing 17 flawless holes to move into a share of the lead before a closing bogey dropped him into a tie for third place after a second-round 68.

For Perez, links golf is the great equalizer that mitigates the advantages some of the younger, more powerful players have and it brings out the best in him.

“It's hard enough that I don't feel like I have to hit perfect shots. That's the best,” he said. “Greens, you can kind of miss a shot, and it won't run off and go off the green 40 yards. You're still kind of on the green. You can have a 60-footer and actually think about making it because of the speed.”