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Monday Scramble: Again and never again

By Ryan LavnerJune 25, 2018, 3:00 pm

Bubba Watson takes title No. 3, Paul Casey folds, Rory McIlroy's putting struggles continue, Phil Mickelson apologizes, Ho-sung Choi stars and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Bubba Watson still defers to 2014 as the best year of his career. That’s when he won in Los Angeles, Augusta, and Shanghai. During the PGA Tour wraparound season, however, he won only twice, and it wasn’t nearly enough win Player of the Year honors.

This season might be different.

There are still two majors and the playoffs left, and voters tend to weigh major victories more heavily, but the 39-year-old Watson has to be considered the current favorite for Player of the Year.

He’s the first three-time winner of the campaign, and his three titles have come on a variety of courses and even formats – at Riviera, at the Match Play, at TPC River Highlands. The common denominator is a strong field, and Watson prevailed again Sunday after a closing 63.

The only issue for Watson’s POY candidacy: He’s entering a portion of the schedule (July-September) in which he’s never won. He has only one top-25 at The Open. He hasn’t contended at the PGA since a playoff loss in 2010. He has stated that he isn’t particularly fond of East Lake, site of the all-important FedExCup finale.

But maybe this is the summer it all changes and Watson becomes the Tour’s top player for the first time in his career.

1. Just 71 yards. Tight lie. Downwind. Tucked pin. Desperately needing birdie.

Of the many spectacular shots that his boss has hit in his career, caddie Ted Scott put his hand on Watson’s shoulder and told him this was the best yet:


2. Watson’s final-round 63 was the lowest closing score by a winner on Tour this season. His round included six birdies and no bogeys over his final 10 holes, as he chased down a sputtering Paul Casey and eventually passed him, erasing a six-shot deficit. 

3. It wasn’t a surprise, of course.

Watson has three wins, six top-10s and eight top-25s at TPC River Highlands. His scoring average there: 67.48. His career earnings are north of $4.7 million.

“I feel like this is my home course,” he said. “I can play golf around here.”



4. Even with a drought-busting victory earlier this year at Innisbrook, Casey on Sunday couldn’t shake his reputation as a talented ball-striker who has trouble closing.

Staked to a five-shot lead after the opening hole, Casey shot 2 over in the final round – including crushing bogeys on Nos. 16 and 17 – to finish three shots back of Watson. His was the worst score of anyone inside the top 35.

Casey has 53 top-10s on Tour but only two wins. Odd.

5. Without question, Casey wasn’t as sharp as his third-round 62, but it didn’t help to be in the final group behind J.B. Holmes.

Indeed, one of the Tour’s most notorious slowpokes was at it again at TPC River Highlands.

After icing Alex Noren with a 3-minute standoff with his ball at Torrey Pines, Holmes dropped at least a hole behind on the closing stretch Sunday.

It clearly affected both quick players in the final group, Casey and Russell Henley. Yes, it’s a shame that Holmes can continue to disrupt the competition without repercussions, but Casey needed to be prepared for that situation.



6. Another stellar week of ball-striking was for naught last week for Rory McIlroy. He tied for 12th, but his statistics really told the story at TPC River Highlands:

Strokes gained: tee to green: First

Strokes gained: putting: Last

Since that highly publicized lesson with Brad Faxon resulted in an emphatic victory at Bay Hill, McIlroy has only had negative strokes-gained weeks on the greens.

That’s not a knock on Faxon’s methods. It’s more a reflection that even the poorest putters on Tour can find a spark for a week.

7. Well, it’s official: Jordan Spieth is mired in the worst slump of his young career.

Never before has the 24-year-old gone six consecutive starts without a top-10 finish. But that’s exactly what Spieth has done now, dating to the Masters.

The Travelers may have been his biggest head-scratcher yet. He shared the first-round lead after a 63, then played 3 over the rest of the week and finished outside the top 40.

It wasn’t his suddenly suspect putting that let him down, either. He finished the week ranked 21st in strokes gained: putting; once again, it was his long game (he was 60th in strokes gained: tee to green).

Spieth didn’t sound concerned afterward. He said that his putting is the “best it’s been for a couple of years” – keep in mind he was ranked ninth and second, respectively, in 2015-16 – and now it’s just a matter of sorting out his alignment with his long game.

He didn’t rule out adding another start before his title defense at The Open – the most likely landing spot is the Deere, where he won in 2013 and ’15 – but he also took three weeks off before capturing the claret jug last year at Royal Lytham.

8. U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka said he never thought about pulling out of the Travelers because of fatigue, and he was rewarded with a Sunday 65 to post a top-20 finish. He also wasn’t surprised by the number of “stupid mistakes and mental errors” he made, a product of being wiped out after a long, trying week at Shinnecock.

Last year, remember, Koepka didn’t play another event after his win at Erin Hills and followed it up with a tie for sixth at The Open. This time, at least, he has a few extra reps before heading to Carnoustie.

“I’m shutting it down for a while,” he said. “I don’t feel like I need to play. I feel like my game is in a good spot.”



9. Four days too late, Phil Mickelson finally offered an apology for his actions during the third round of the U.S. Open – and it’s precisely what many thought Mickelson would say after he finished his week at Shinnecock Hills.

Since he was still fired up after his Saturday round, fine, let him blow off steam, continue to be defiant and provide an excuse (albeit a confusing one). But the next day, after some time to reflect? Fall on your sword and show some contrition. That’s on the first page of the PR handbook.

And yet Mickelson didn’t talk at all to reporters after the final round, and he only issued a statement three days later, after “a few days to calm down.”

“My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend,” he said. “I’m embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

That’s a step in the right direction, but he’s sorry for what exactly? Sorry that he deliberately broke the spirit of a rule? Sorry that he made a farce out of the competition? Sorry that he didn’t withdraw? Sorry that he told fans and fellow players to “toughen up” if they were offended? Sorry that he offered a lame excuse about wanting to break that rule for years? Sorry that he didn’t just admit that his window to win the U.S. Open is almost closed?

So many questions remain.

10. One question that seemingly WAS answered Monday: Mickelson won’t partner with Tiger Woods again at the Ryder Cup.

It wasn’t that absurd of a consideration, the two aging warriors and rivals whose relationship has thawed in recent years. It’s possible it’s their final Ryder Cup together, and perhaps this time, 14 years later, they’d bring out the best (and not the worst) of each other.

But U.S. captain Jim Furyk laughed off the idea Monday, saying that it’s not a “good idea” and that if the two stars heard it on TV they “just fell off the couch laughing.”

OK, then.

11. If you’re reading this column over lunch, well, sorry, but Greg Norman recently had a photo shoot for ESPN the Magazine’s “Body Issue,” and the results were nothing short of horrifying.

The Shark is still crazy-fit at 63, but he's also a similar age to my parents and at some point this just becomes weird.


Growing up, my favorite player to watch was Tiger Woods.

Over the past few years, it’s been a joy to watch Rory McIlroy up close.

But there’s no one, anywhere, at any time, who is more entertaining to watch than Ho-sung Choi. I’d never heard of him before last week, and perhaps we’ll never hear of him again, but what a thrill it was for him to come into our lives. His WILD body English after shots, his twisting and contorting and pirouetting, was beautiful and mesmerizing.

Playing in the Korea Open, Choi nearly stole one of the two available spots into The Open. Perhaps the powers-that-be can offer him a special exemption into Carnoustie – you know, for the good of the game and all that.

This week's award winners ... 


Another Rules Investigation: Bryson DeChambeau. After photos surfaced of DeChambeau using a compass during the Travelers, Tour officials informed him that they’re looking into whether it’s an allowable device during competition. He uses the compass to check the “true pin locations,” since he says sometimes the Tour-issued sheets are slightly off. Credit him for his response afterward: “It’s just funny that people take notice when I start putting and playing well.” He's now up to eighth in the Ryder Cup standings ...

Best This Decade: Stewart Cink. Following up a fourth-place showing in Memphis in his previous start, Cink closed with 62 in Hartford to share second. It’s the first time since 2008 that Cink had consecutive top-5s on Tour.

Awkward: Paul Casey/Peter Kostis dynamic. As his student kicked away a five-shot lead in the final round, we would have loved to watch Kostis’ reaction in the CBS booth.

Must Be a FSU Thing: Chase Seiffert. A former teammate of Koepka’s, Seiffert parlayed a Monday qualifying spot into a top-10 at the Travelers, earning a spot in two weeks at The Greenbrier.  

Making It Look (Big) Easy: Jovan Rebula. The rising junior at Auburn won the British Amateur to earn a spot into the first two majors of 2019, provided he remains amateur. Even more interesting: Rebula will join his uncle, Ernie Els, at Carnoustie.  


Time to Go Low: Thorbjorn Olesen. The best score for the first three rounds of the BMW International Open was 67 … and then Olesen hung an 11-under 61 in the final round to finish one shot out of a playoff. Meanwhile ... 

Home Hurt: Martin Kaymer. Trying to score a victory in his home country, Kaymer bogeyed the 71st hole when he thinned a wedge shot over the green. He finished one stroke shy of Matt Wallace.

Can’t Make This Up: Marc Dull. You might remember the name from the two stories we published about him last month – he’s the Florida amateur whose "inebriated" caddie allegedly sucker-punched his opponent during a rain delay at the State Mid-Am. Well, he found himself in another rain delay, this time in a playoff for the State Amateur. His opponent, Gabriel Lench, emerged unscathed during the rain delay and won on the second extra hole.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Daniel Berger. Technically, he earned a paycheck (T-67), but the week was a massive disappointment for a player who A) lost in a playoff at the Travelers last year and had a tie for fifth in his other prior appearance, and B) tied for sixth at the U.S. Open after holding the 54-hole lead. Sigh.  

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Schauffele just fine being the underdog

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 8:06 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Following a breakthough season during which he won twice and collected the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Award, Xander Schauffele concedes his sophomore campaign has been less than stellar, but that could all change on Sunday at The Open.

Schauffele followed a second-round 66 with a 67 on Saturday to take a share of the 9-under-par lead with Jordan Spieth and Kevin Kisner.

Although he hasn’t won in 2018, he did finish runner-up at The Players and tied for sixth at the U.S. Open, two of the year’s toughest tests.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“Growing up, I always hit it well and played well in tough conditions,” Schauffele said. “I wasn't the guy to shoot 61. I was the guy to shoot like 70 when it was playing really hard.”

Sunday’s pairing could make things even more challenging when he’ll head out in the day’s final tee time with Spieth, the defending champion. But being the underdog in a pairing, like he was on Saturday alongside Rory McIlroy, is not a problem.

“All the guys I've talked to said, 'Live it up while you can, fly under the radar,'” he said. “Today I played in front of what you call Rory's crowd and guys were just yelling all the time, even while he's trying to putt, and he had to step off a few times. No one was yelling at me while I was putting. So I kind of enjoy just hanging back and relaxing.”

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Open odds: Spieth 7/1 to win; Tiger, Rory 14/1

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 21, 2018, 7:54 pm

Only 18 holes remain in the 147th Open Championship at Carnoustie, and the man tied atop the leaderboard is the same man who captured the claret jug last year at Royal Birkdale.

So it’s little surprise that Jordan Spieth is the odds-on favorite (7/4) to win his fourth major entering Sunday’s final round.

Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner, both tied with Spieth at 9 under par, are next in line at 5/1 and 11/2 respectively. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy, both four shots behind the leaders, are listed at 14/1.

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


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Jordan Spieth: 7/4

Xander Schauffele: 5/1

Kevin Kisner: 11/2

Tiger Woods: 14/1

Francesco Molinari: 14/1

Rory McIlroy: 14/1

Kevin Chappell: 20/1

Tommy Fleetwood: 20/1

Alex Noren: 25/1

Zach Johnson: 30/1

Justin Rose: 30/1

Matt Kuchar: 40/1

Webb Simpson: 50/1

Adam Scott: 80/1

Tony Finau: 80/1

Charley Hoffman: 100/1

Austin Cook: 100/1

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Spieth stands on brink of Open repeat

By Rex HoggardJuly 21, 2018, 7:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Jordan Spieth described Monday’s “ceremony” to return the claret jug to the keepers of the game’s oldest championship as anything but enjoyable.

For the last 12 months the silver chalice has been a ready reminder of what he was able to overcome and accomplish in 2017 at Royal Birkdale, a beacon of hope during a year that’s been infinitely forgettable.

By comparison, the relative pillow fight this week at Carnoustie has been a welcome distraction, a happy-go-lucky stroll through a wispy field. Unlike last year’s edition, when Spieth traveled from the depths of defeat to the heights of victory within a 30-minute window, the defending champion has made this Open seem stress-free, easy even, by comparison.

But then those who remain at Carnoustie know it’s little more than a temporary sleight of hand.

As carefree as things appeared on Saturday when 13 players, including Spieth, posted rounds of 67 or lower, as tame as Carnoustie, which stands alone as The Open’s undisputed bully, has been through 54 holes there was a foreboding tension among the rank and file as they readied for a final trip around Royal Brown & Bouncy.

“This kind of southeast or east/southeast wind we had is probably the easiest wind this golf course can have, but when it goes off the left side, which I think is forecasted, that's when you start getting more into the wind versus that kind of cross downwind,” said Spieth, who is tied for the lead with Xander Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under par after a 6-under 65. “It won't be the case tomorrow. It's going to be a meaty start, not to mention, obviously, the last few holes to finish.”

Carnoustie only gives so much and with winds predicted to gust to 25 mph there was a distinct feeling that playtime was over.

As melancholy as Spieth was about giving back the claret jug, and make no mistake, he wasn’t happy, not even his status among the leading contenders with a lap remaining was enough for him to ignore the sleeping giant.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But then he’s come by his anxiousness honestly. Spieth has spent far too much time answering questions about an inexplicably balky putter the last few weeks and he hasn’t finished better than 21st since his “show” finish in April at the Masters.

After a refreshingly solid start to his week on Thursday imploded with a double bogey-bogey-par-bogey finish he appeared closer to an early ride home on Friday than he did another victory lap, but he slowly clawed his way back into the conversation as only he can with one clutch putt after the next.

“I'm playing golf for me now. I've kind of got a cleared mind. I've made a lot of progress over the year that's been kind of an off year, a building year,” said Spieth, who is bogey-free over his last 36 holes. “And I've got an opportunity to make it a very memorable one with a round, but it's not necessary for me to prove anything for any reason.”

But if an awakened Carnoustie has Spieth’s attention, the collection of would-be champions assembled around and behind him adds another layer of intrigue.

Kisner, Spieth’s housemate this week on Angus coast, has led or shared the lead after each round this week and hasn’t shown any signs of fading like he did at last year’s PGA Championship, when he started the final round with a one-stroke lead only to close with a 74 to tie for seventh place.

“I haven't played it in that much wind. So I think it's going to be a true test, and we'll get to see really who's hitting it the best and playing the best tomorrow,” said Kisner, who added a 68 to his total on Day 3.

There’s no shortage of potential party crashers, from Justin Rose at 4 under after a round-of-the-week 64 to 2015 champion Zach Johnson, who also made himself at home with Spieth and Kisner in the annual Open frat house and is at 5 under.

Rory McIlroy, who is four years removed from winning his last major championship, looked like a player poised to get off the Grand Slam schneid for much of the day, moving to 7 under with a birdie at the 15th hole, but he played the last three holes in 2 over par and is tied with Johnson at 5 under par. 

And then there’s Tiger Woods. For three magical hours the three-time Open champion played like he’d never drifted into the dark competitive hole that’s defined his last few years. Like he’d never been sidelined by an endless collection of injuries and eventually sought relief under the surgeon’s knife.

As quietly as Woods can do anything, he turned in 3 under par for the day and added two more birdies at Nos. 10 and 11. His birdie putt at the 14th hole lifted him temporarily into a share of the lead at 6 under par.

“We knew there were going to be 10, 12 guys with a chance to win on Sunday, and it's turning out to be that,” said Woods, who is four strokes off the lead. “I didn't want to be too far back if the guys got to 10 [under] today. Five [shots back] is certainly doable, and especially if we get the forecast tomorrow.”

Woods held his round of 66 together with a gritty par save at the 18th hole after hitting what he said was his only clunker of the day off the final tee.

Even that episode seemed like foreshadowing.

The 18th hole has rough, bunkers, out of bounds and a burn named Barry that weaves its way through the hole like a drunken soccer fan. It’s the Grand Slam of hazardous living and appears certain to play a leading role in Sunday’s outcome.

Perhaps none of the leading men will go full Jean Van de Velde, the star-crossed Frenchman who could still be standing in that burn if not for a rising tide back at the 1999 championship, but if the 499 yards of dusty turf is an uninvited guest, it’s a guest nonetheless.

It may not create the same joyless feelings that he had when he returned the claret jug, but given the hole’s history and Spieth’s penchant for late-inning histrionics (see Open Championship, 2017), the 18th hole is certain to produce more than a few uncomfortable moments.

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Wandering photographer costs McIlroy on 16

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2018, 7:44 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy bogeyed two of his last four holes Saturday to fall four shots off the lead at The Open.

One of those mistakes might not have entirely been his fault.

McIlroy missed a short putt on the par-3 16th after a photographer was “in a world all his own,” wandering around near the green, taking photos of the crowd and not paying attention to the action on the green.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“It’s fine,” McIlroy said after a third-round 70 put him at 5-under 208, four shots off the lead. “It’s one of those things that happens. There’s a lot of people out there, and it is what it is. It’s probably my fault, but I just didn’t regroup well after it happened.”

McIlroy also bogeyed the home hole, after driving into a fairway bunker, sending his second shot right of the green and failing to get up and down.

“I putted well,” he said. “I holed out when I needed to. I just need to make the birdies and try to limit the damage tomorrow.”