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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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GOLFNOW EXPANDS INTO EUROPE, NOW OFFERING TEE TIMES IN FRANCE

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 21, 2018, 4:29 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. (Sept. 21, 2018) – GolfNow today announced its expansion into France – its first entree into continental Europe – via agreements with two of the country’s leading multi-course management companies. The arrangement provides golfers residing throughout GolfNow’s footprint – including the U.S., U.K., Ireland and Australia – with the ability to book tee times on GolfNow at nearly 50 golf courses throughout France.

Coinciding with the growing anticipation of the 2018 Ryder Cup being contested next week at Le Golf National golf course outside of Paris, GolfNow’s agreements with Open Golf Club and UGOLF will showcase a collection of courses throughout France, which is considered to be one of the best countries in Europe to play golf due to its extensive variety of courses and year-round playing conditions. Tee times will be promoted across multiple GolfNow distribution platforms, depending on golfers’ geographic locations: GolfNow (U.S., U.K. and Ireland), Teeofftimes by GolfNow (U.K. and Ireland) and Qantas Golf Club by GolfNow (Australia).

“We’ve been planning this day for some time and are excited about our expansion into France through great partnerships with Open Golf Club and UGOLF,” said Brian Smith, general manager, GolfNow & Emerging Businesses International. “We anticipate that U.S. golfers will be motivated to play in France because of what they see whilst watching the Ryder Cup. Golfers worldwide can easily book tee times via GolfNow for a future trip, and because the U.K. and Ireland remain the number-one source of all golf tourism in France, GolfNow and Teeofftimes.co.uk now can be part of any golfer’s travel planning.”

“Open Golf Club is very happy to welcome GolfNow into France,” said Laurent Boissonnas, CEO, Open Golf Club. “As a leading high-end golf operator, we offer a portfolio of top quality courses, including three in the top-50 on the European continent. In addition to its famous ‘art de vivre,’ France offers a unique variety of golf courses and we are proud to give GolfNow customers the opportunity to discover them.”

“UGOLF is proud to join the GolfNow marketplace and, thus, offering special access to its French golf courses to international golfers,” said Pierre-André Uhlen, Director General, UGOLF. “Customer satisfaction is a UGOLF priority and we strive to offer our golfers the best services and technology at the forefront of innovation.”

Among the more than 600 golf courses throughout France, among the top-rated Open Golf Club courses that are making tee times available via GolfNow and TeeOffTimes are:

  • Golf des Yvelines – just 35 miles west of Paris, in the heart of the Île-de-France region and nearby Ryder Cup host Le National Golf, these two courses are nestled in a natural environment, bordering the forest of Rambouillet.
  • Le Touquet Golf Resort – An award-winning 45-hole golf destination, with its La Mer (The Sea) course among continental Europe’s Top 35 and ranked first in France.
  • Golf d’Hardelot – Home to Les Pins (The Pines), this 36-hole club is a top French golf destination located inside a lush forest and one of the most beautiful golfing sites in Europe.

Among the top courses available on GolfNow and featured within the UGOLF portfolio are:

  • Golf de Courson – host of the French Open qualifiers for 12 years, this property offers two distinct, 18-hole designs of varying difficulty that were crafted by architect Robert von Hagge.
  • Golf du Château de Cely – located less than 50 miles south of Paris on the edge of the Fountainebleau Forest, this recently renovated gem has been transformed.
  • Château de Rochefort – Designed by famous British architect Fred Hawtree, this par 71 is surrounded by the natural beauty of a French forest in Yvelines.

Reviews about golf courses located throughout France, including many that now can be booked via GolfNow, can be found at Golf Advisor, which currently features more than 700,000 golf course reviews of more than 15,000 golf courses around the world.

About GolfNow

GolfNow is an innovative technology company specializing in golf-related products and services that is creating frictionless ways for golfers and golf courses to better connect. GolfNow operates the largest online tee-time marketplace in the world, offering more than 3.5 million registered golfers a variety of ways to stay connected to their favorite courses and the ability to easily book tee times online and via mobile devices any time of day. With offices in Orlando, Fla., and Belfast, Northern Ireland, GolfNow also provides technology, support and marketing services to nearly 8,000 golf courses in 24 countries around the world. GolfNow is included in the suite of digital businesses owned by NBC Sports and managed by Golf Channel, which is available to more than 500 million viewers worldwide. For more information, go to GolfNow Business.

About Open Golf Club

Open Golf Club is the first high-end French golf management company. Founded in 1987, it provides management services to 55 internationally renowned golf courses in Europe, including the full management of 15 courses in France and Belgium, and a network of partners of 40 clubs in six countries, including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. Open Golf Club partnered with the French Golf Federation in hosting the 2018 Ryder Cup 2018 at Le Golf National.

About UGOLF

UGOLF is the leader in French golf course management, currently operating 50 golf courses in France and employing 700 people. Nearly 20,000 subscribers and 27,000 licensees trust UGOLF every year for golf enjoyment. UGOLF Academy trains 3,500 new golfers each year. Through its subsidiary, LeClub Golf, UGOLF operates a network of more than 140 golf courses in France, more than 300 golf courses in Europe and approximately 700 courses around the world. UGOLF is a subsidiary of Duval Group, a family-owned company operating in real estate, tourism and golf management.

 

-NBC Sports Group-

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Tiger Tracker: Tour Championship

By Tiger TrackerSeptember 21, 2018, 4:20 pm

Tiger Woods is looking to close his season with a win at the Tour Championship. We're tracking him this week at East Lake Golf Club.


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Fisher becomes first in Euro Tour history to shoot 59

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 21, 2018, 11:29 am

There’s never been a sub-60 score on the European Tour, and Oliver Fisher almost went two strokes better Friday at the Portugal Masters.

Fisher’s 40-footer on the final green burned the edge, but he tapped in the short par putt to record the first 59 in tour history.   

“It feels great,” he said after getting sprayed with champagne. “It was in the back of my mind all day.”

It didn’t look like it.

The 287th-ranked player in the world, Fisher made 10 birdies, an eagle and seven pars during his magical round.

All of the other major pro tours have produced a 59 – nine times on the PGA Tour; once on the LPGA – but this was the first time that a player on the European Tour broke the sub-60 barrier. (There have been 19 rounds of 60.) Earlier this year, at the Scottish Open, Brandon Stone narrowly missed an 8-footer on the final green during the final round. This tournament has produced a few chances, as well, with both Scott Jamieson and Nicolas Colsaerts coming up just short over the past few years.

Fisher went out in 28 at Dom Pedro Victoria Golf Course, then made three birdies in a row to start the back nine. He tacked on another birdie on 15 to give himself a shot at history, then played the closing stretch in 1 under. On 16, he needed a 20-footer for par after leaving his tee shot well short of the flag. He two-putted for birdie on 17 and then coolly made par on the last, after his birdie try from 40 feet just missed on the left edge.

Two years ago, he arrived in Portugal needed a good result just to keep his card. He shot a final-round 64. 

On Friday, he made tour history.

“I kept that in the back of my mind, thinking things could be worse,” he said. 

To this point, Fisher had a forgettable season. Ranked 72nd in the Race to Dubai, he didn’t have a top-10 in a stroke-play event since late February. His last four results: MC-T71-MC-MC. He opened the Portugal Masters with a 71 and was in danger of missing the cut.

Now, improbably, he’s in position to score his second European Tour title, after capturing the 2011 Czech Open.

“I tried to enjoy it,” he said. “It’s not often that we get a chance to shoot a really low one.”

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Paisley (61) leads Web.com Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Web.com Tour Championship.

The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.

''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''

The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Web.com Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.


Full-field scores from the Web.com Tour Championship


''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''

Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.

''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''

Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Web.com Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162

The series features the top 75 players from the Web.com regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the Web.com regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.