Monday Scramble: Full range of emotions

By Ryan LavnerJune 5, 2017, 3:30 pm

Tiger Woods news goes viral, Jason Dufner breaks through at Muirfield Village, Phil Mickelson plans to skip the U.S. Open and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

There now are a few images by which we will remember Woods, golf legend and, like the rest of us, flawed human.

Nothing can take away the uppercut fist pump at the 1997 Masters or the chip-in celebration at the 2005 Masters or the primal scream at the 2008 U.S. Open. Those will forever be etched into our memories.

But what has happened in the nine years since Woods won his last major are necessary details that fill in the entire picture: The apology in front of the velvet curtain. The shot that brought him to his knees at the 2013 Barclays.

And now, finally, the infamous mug shot, the picture of Woods, at 4 a.m., with that disoriented look and those sad, sullen eyes, a photo that live on the web for eons, right alongside the fist pump and the chip-in celebration and the primal scream.

Indeed, the images of euphoria and embarrassment, they are both a part of his story now, the first sports star to be undone in the internet age. 

1. The closer he got to the hole, the shakier he became, so it was fitting Sunday that from way downtown Dufner drained a 33-footer for an unlikely par and a victory at The Memorial.

It was his longest made putt of the week, and it couldn’t have come at a better time, after he was able to advance his second shot only 75 yards out of the thick, juicy, wet rough. He ended up a winner by three shots, though it wasn’t that close all day. 

2. It’s a testament to Dufner’s resilience that he was able to shake off a sluggish Saturday round and win for the fifth time on Tour.

Leading by five at the halfway point – after a tournament record 14-under 130 to start – he trailed by four shots when he walked off the course Saturday. His 77 wound up being the second-highest score by a Tour winner in the past 35 years (Kenny Knox had an 80 in the 1986 Honda).

“I had to get over it quick,” Dufner said. “It’s a 72-hole tournament, and there’s a lot of things that can happen out there. I just needed to get myself together.”

Despite a pair of weather delays, he bounced back with an inward 32 to storm to victory. 

The comeback was reminiscent of how Dufner won his first major, at the 2013 PGA. He tied a record with a second-round 63, struggled to keep it together during a Saturday 71, and then overcame a final-round deficit with a closing 68.

3. So about that short putting … even Dufner recognizes that it “might not look pretty.”

And it sure doesn’t. He stands over the ball for an inordinate amount of time, waiting to pull the trigger. When he finally does, his stroke is short and jabby. He missed five times inside 7 feet in the third round, but on Sunday he was able to shake in enough shorties to keep the round going, including an important 3-footer on 17 that gave him a two-shot cushion.

Dufner is well outside the top 100 in putting from 3 feet, 5 feet and 7 feet.

“The short ones I’ve struggled with in my career,” he said. “I make more than I miss, I can promise you that, even though they might not look pretty.” 

Rickie Fowler

4. It was Duf’s day, but several other players had a chance to win.

No one was in a better position than 54-hole leader Daniel Summerhays, who told himself all day, “Today is your day. Today is your day.” It wasn’t, as he shot a final-round 78 (including a back-nine 41) to fall all the way into a tie for 10th.

Matt Kuchar had another chance to win, like he seemingly always does as Muirfield Village, but he made three bogeys on the back nine. That gave him his fifth top-5 there.

Rickie Fowler briefly grabbed the lead, but the afternoon rain caused some jumpers off the clubface and he airmailed a few greens late. He played the last seven holes in 2 over.

Justin Thomas looked ready to win for the fourth time this season, but he missed short putts on 13 and 14, then scrambled just to make par on the par-5 15th after his approach sailed miles right of the green. 

5. This was Fowler's 10th runner-up finish on Tour.

That seems like a big number for such a young player, and it is, but keep in mind that Jordan Spieth has one more close call (11) while playing in 71 fewer events. Spieth has also won more times on Tour, 9-4.

Fire up all of the tired "Rickie-is-too-nice-to-be-a-closer" hot takes. 

“You have to put yourself in position,” Fowler said. “You have to be up there to get the job done. And it just shows you that you don’t necessarily get the job done a high percentage of the time. You just have to be in contention. The more that you’re there, ultimately, the more that you’re going to win.”  

6. Mickelson’s pursuit of the career Grand Slam will have to wait another year, as he plans to skip the U.S. Open at Erin Hills to attend his daughter’s high school graduation.

"I mean obviously it's the tournament I want to win the most," he said. "But this is one of those moments where you look back on life and you just don't want to miss it. I'll be really glad that I was there and present."

This is the same daughter, Amanda, who arrived a day after the 1999 U.S. Open at Pinehurst, which began Lefty’s long and tortured relationship with our national open. The president of her graduating class, Amanda will attend Brown in the fall. 

7. So let’s just get this out of the way …

Was this merely a power play by Phil to get Amanda’s small private high school, Pacific Ridge in San Diego, to move the graduation ceremony a day earlier, to Wednesday?

Mickelson was asked Saturday if there was any talk of shifting the times to accommodate his schedule.

“No, there’s not,” he said. “I wouldn’t put them in that situation.”

But with the school now on full blast, and because of Mickelson’s well-known desire to capture the Open, doesn’t it seem possible that they’ll move things around for their local hero? 

8. If he doesn't play, this isn’t necessarily a death knell for the soon-to-be 47-year-old’s hopes of eventually getting off the Open schneid.

The upcoming venues for the year’s second major: Shinnecock, Pebble Beach and Winged Foot. 

9. The LPGA projections were incorrect, and there is NOT a new No. 1 in women’s golf.

Lydia Ko stayed in the top spot for another week, despite continuing to lose points in the two-year rolling cycle. She is now just .01 points of Ariya Jutanugarn.

Most interesting: Neither Ko nor Jutanugarn has won this year. Which brings us to ... 

10. It’s been a year of parity for the LPGA.

I.K. Kim became the 13th different winner in 13 events this year, as she won the Shoprite LPGA

Last year seemed to mark the beginning of a Ko-Jutanugarn duel for global supremacy. So far, it has yet to materialize, and that's bad news for the women's game. 

11. For the past two weeks, your trusty correspondent has covered the men’s and women’s NCAA Championships at Rich Harvest Farms outside Chicago.

Arizona State won the women’s final, while Oklahoma took home the hardware for the men.

This year’s results continued an amazing streak: The top seed after stroke-play qualifying, the team playing the best that week, has still never gone on to win the title, which is determined in match play. The No. 1 seeds are now 0-for-12.

What’s the deal?

Maybe it's just a statistical anomaly, but it doesn’t sit well with some coaches that the four rounds of stroke play determine the match-play bracket, 1 through 8. It’s just a qualifier, after all, and a team’s entire body of work is thrown out. That’s what happened in 2009, when the Nos. 1 and 2 teams in the country squared off in the first round of match play because of how they fared in the stroke-play portion. By the end of the day, both teams were gone. It’s actually a surprise that scenario doesn’t happen more often.

In no other sport can the two best teams face off in anything other than the finals. The suggestion here is to treat the 72 holes of stroke play just like any other tournament, plug those scores into Golfstat’s rankings system, and then spit out the new rankings entering match play. It would take just a few minutes. This would ensure that the best teams all season have what is statistically the easiest route to the championship. That doesn’t mean they’ll win the title more often – anything can happen in 5-on-5 match play, of course – but it at least offers the highest probability.   

Many media outlets were criticized for showing dashcam and breathalyzer video of Woods’ DUI arrest, because the details in the police report provided a pretty good sense of what had transpired in the early-morning hours on Memorial Day.

An explanation: 

For starters, this is a news organization, and any information pertaining to the arrest of one of the most famous athletes in the world is newsworthy. Secondly, the police didn’t release the information just to publicly shame Woods – the information was available via an open-records request, just as it would be for your neighbor or your boss. That these videos also served as a public-service announcement about the dangers of DUIs was an added bonus for the cops. 

Did it seem like overkill, since Woods in his statement didn’t dispute any of the facts of the arrest? Maybe. But it still was in the public’s best interest to show the video, to illuminate the process of the arrest and to be transparent.

This week's award winners ... 

About to Be Under the Microscope: Bernhard Langer. He just became the most prolific major winner in senior golf history, but Hank Haney tweeted out this video, which appears to show Langer creating an anchor point for his long putter, which would be illegal.

All’s Still Not Right: Jordan Spieth’s putting. For the third time in four events, Spieth lost strokes to the field on the greens – something that seemed unfathomable for arguably the best putter in the world. He was middle of the pack at Muirfield Village, ranking 47th and looking uncomfortable over the shorties. He still tied for 13th.

Ready to Go: Rory McIlroy. Crisis averted. After missing the BMW PGA and The Memorial because his rib injury flared up, the world No. 2 confirmed that he’ll be able to play next week’s U.S. Open at Erin Hills. He has spent the past two weeks recovering and preparing at Quinta do Lago in Portugal. 

Not What It Seems: Jason Day’s “home-course advantage.” Yes, J-Day lives in Columbus, and he is a member at Muirfield Village, but the only time he usually plays there is during tournament week, and he hadn’t logged any prep time there this year. Clearly, it doesn’t fit his eye – he doesn’t have a top-10 there in nine tries, including a T-15 last week, after making the cut on the number.

Good Week: Sam Burns. His team didn’t make match play at NCAAs, but the LSU sophomore, who will turn pro after the Walker Cup in September, earned the Nicklaus Award, which comes with a spot in next year’s Memorial Tournament, and then won the Barbasol Shootout to grab a spot in the Tour's opposite-field event this summer. 

Um, You Get These For Free: Zac Blair. Being frugal is one thing. This is quite another. 

Someone to Emulate: Renato Paratore. Not only did he earn his card at 17, but the latest European Tour winner plays at a blistering pace that was refreshing to see among a younger set that gets criticized for dawdling. 

Look Out For: Matthias Schwab. The Vanderbilt star turned pro on Monday and will begin the next chapter of his career in Europe. Though not as flashy (or as talented) as some of the big names to leave college recently, he figures to make a lot of money someday. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Dustin Johnson and/or Jon Rahm. So they are in fact human. The two hottest players in golf both missed the cut at The Memorial … which only means more prep time for their (inevitable) showdown at the Open. 

Getty Images

Lopez fires flawless 63 for lead in Arkansas

By Associated PressJune 23, 2018, 12:41 am

ROGERS, Ark. – Since its first year on the LPGA Tour in 2007, the crowds at the NW Arkansas Championship have belonged to Stacy Lewis.

Another former University of Arkansas star staked her claim as the hometown favorite Friday when Gaby Lopez shot a career-low 8-under 63 to take the first-round lead at Pinnacle Country Club.

Like Lewis, the two-time winner of the tournament, Lopez starred as a three-time All-American for the Razorbacks before joining the LPGA Tour in 2016. Despite flashes of potential, Lopez had yet to join Lewis among the ranks of the world's best - missing the cut in her last two tournaments and entering this week ranked 136th in the world.

For a day, at least, the Mexican standout felt right at home atop the leaderboard in her adopted home state.

''I feel like home,'' Lopez said. ''I feel so, so comfortable out here, because I feel that everyone and every single person out here is just rooting for us.''

Full-field scores from the Walmart Arkansas Championship

Moriya Jutanugarn was a stroke back along with Minjee Lee, Catriona Matthew, Nasa Hataoka, Lizette Salas, Mirim Lee and Aditi Ashok. Six others finished at 6 under on a day when only 26 of the 144 players finished over par, thanks to some mid-week rain that softened the greens and calm skies throughout the day.

Jutanugarn finished second at the tournament last year and is trying to win for the second time on the LPGA Tour this year. Her younger sister, Ariya, is already a two-time winner this year and shot an opening-round 66.

Lewis, the former world No. 1 who won the event in 2007 in 2014, finished with a 66. She's expecting her first child in early November

Defending champion So Yeon Ryu, coming off a victory Sunday in Michigan, shot a 67.

Friday was Lopez's long-awaited day to standout, though, much to the delight of the pro-Arkansas crowd.

After missing the cut her last two times out, Lopez took some time off and returned home to Mexico City to rest her mind and work on her game. The work paid off with two straight birdies to open her round and a 6-under 30 on her front nine.

Lopez needed only 25 putts and finished two shots off the course record of 61, and she overcame a poor drive on the par-5 18th to finish with a par and keep her place at the top of the leaderboard. Her previous low score was a 64 last year, and she matched her career best by finishing at 8 under.

''(Rest) is a key that no one really truly understands until you're out here,'' Lopez said. ''... Sometimes resting is actually the part you've got to work on.''

Getty Images

Harman rides hot putter to Travelers lead

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:28 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – There are plenty of big names gathered for the Travelers Championship, and through two rounds they’re all chasing Brian Harman.

Harman opened with a 6-under 64, then carded a 66 during Friday’s morning wave to become the only player to finish the first two rounds in double digits under par. The southpaw is currently riding a hot putter, leading the field in strokes gained: putting while rolling in 12 birdies and an eagle through his first 36 holes.

“Putted great today,” said Harman, who ranks 22nd on Tour this season in putting. “Got out of position a couple of times, but I was able to get myself good looks at it. I started hitting the ball really well coming down the stretch and made a few birdies.”

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Harman, 31, has won twice on the PGA Tour, most recently at last year’s Wells Fargo Championship. While he doesn’t have a win this year, he started his season in the fall by reeling off five straight finishes of T-8 or better to quickly install himself as one of the leaders in the season-long points race.

Now topping a leaderboard that includes the likes of Jason Day, Bubba Watson and Rory McIlroy, he realizes that he’ll have his work cut out for him if he’s going to leave Connecticut with trophy No. 3.

“The putter has been really good so far, but I’ve been in position a lot. I’ve had a lot of good looks at it,” Harman said. “I’m just able to put a little pressure on the course right now, which is nice.”

Getty Images

10-second rule costs Zach Johnson a stroke

By Will GrayJune 23, 2018, 12:06 am

CROMWELL, Conn. – Zach Johnson heads into the weekend one shot back at the Travelers Championship, but he was a matter of seconds away from being tied for the lead.

Johnson had an 18-foot birdie putt on No. 3 at TPC River Highlands, his 12th hole of the day, but left the ball hanging on the lip. As Johnson walked up to tap the ball in, it oscillated on the edge and eventually fell in without being hit.

Was it a birdie, or a par?

According to the Rules of Golf, and much to Johnson’s chagrin, the answer was a par. Players are afforded “reasonable” time to walk to the hole, and after that they are allowed to wait for 10 seconds to see if the ball drops of its own accord. After that, it either becomes holed by a player’s stroke, or falls in and leads to a one-shot penalty, resulting in the same score as if the player had hit it.

According to Mark Russell, PGA Tour vice president of rules and competitions, Johnson’s wait time until the ball fell in was between 16 and 18 seconds.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“Once he putts the ball, he’s got a reasonable amount of time to reach the hole,” Russell said. “Then once he reaches the hole, he’s got 10 seconds. After 10 seconds, the ball is deemed to be at rest.”

Johnson tried to emphasize the fact that the ball was oscillating as he stood over it, and even asked rules officials if marking his ball on the edge of the hole would have yielded a “bonus 10 seconds.” But after signing for a 2-under 68 that brought him within a shot of leader Brian Harman, the veteran took the ruling in stride.

“The 10-second rule has always been there. Vague to some degree,” Johnson said. “The bottom line is I went to tap it in after 10 seconds and the ball was moving. At that point, even if the ball is moving, it’s deemed to be at rest because it’s on the lip. Don’t ask me why, but that’s just the way it is.”

While Johnson brushed off any thoughts of the golf gods conspiring against him on the lip, he was beaming with pride about an unconventional par he made on No. 17 en route to a bogey-free round. Johnson sailed his tee shot well right into the water, but after consulting his options he decided to drop on the far side of the hazard near the 16th tee box.

His subsequent approach from 234 yards rolled to within 8 feet, and he calmly drained the putt for an unexpected save.

“I got a great lie. Just opened up a 4-hybrid, and it started over the grandstands and drew in there,” Johnson said. “That’s as good of an up-and-down as I’ve witnessed, or performed.”

Getty Images

Travelers becoming marquee event for star players

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 11:29 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Get lost in the throngs following the defending champ, or caught up amongst the crowds chasing the back-to-back U.S. Open winner, and it’s easy to forget where this tournament was a little more than a decade ago.

The Travelers Championship was without a sponsor, without a worthwhile field, without a consistent date and on the verge of being jettisoned to the PGA Tour Champions schedule. The glory days of the old Greater Hartford Open had come and gone, and the PGA Tour’s ever-increasing machine appeared poised to leave little old Cromwell in its wake.

The civic pride is booming in this neck of the woods. Main Street is lined with one small business after the next, and this time of year there are signs and posters popping up on every corner congratulating a member of the most recent graduating class at Cromwell High School, which sits less than two miles from the first tee at TPC River Highlands.

Having made it through a harrowing time in the event’s history, the local residents now have plenty of reason to take pride.

The Tour’s best have found this little New England hamlet, where tournament officials roll out the red carpet in every direction. They embrace the opportunity to decompress after the mind-numbing gauntlet the USGA set out for them last week, and they relish a return to a course where well-struck shots, more often than not, lead to birdies.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Ten years ago, this tournament was also held the week after the U.S. Open. Stewart Cink won, and for his efforts he received a paltry 36 world ranking points. But thanks to a recent influx of star-power, this week’s winner will pocket 58 points – the same amount Rory McIlroy won at Bay Hill, and two more than Justin Rose got at Colonial. Now at the halfway point, the leaderboard backs up the hefty allocation.

While Brian Harman leads at 10 under, the chase pack is strong enough to strike fear in the heart of even the most seasoned veteran: McIlroy, Bubba Watson and Zach Johnson, they of the combined eight major titles, all sit within three shots of the lead. Former world No. 1 Jason Day is one shot further back, and reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas will start the third round inside the top 20.

Paul Casey and Bryson DeChambeau, both likely participants at the Ryder Cup this fall, are right there as well at 8 under. Casey lost a playoff here to Watson in 2015 and has come back every year since, witnessing first-hand the tournament’s growth in scope.

“It speaks volumes for what Travelers have done and how they treat everybody, and the work that Andy Bessette and his team put in to fly around the country and speak highly of this event,” Casey said. “And do things which matter, to continue to improve the event, not just for players but for spectators.”

Part of the increased field strength can be attributed to the Tour’s recent rule change, requiring players who play fewer than 25 events in a season to add a new event they haven’t played in the last four years. Another portion can be attributed to the short commute from Shinnecock Hills to TPC River Highlands, a three-hour drive and even shorter across the Long Island Sound – an added bonus the event will lose two of the next three years with West Coast U.S. Opens.

But there’s no denying the widespread appeal of an event named the Tour’s tournament of the year, players’ choice and most fan-friendly in 2017. While Spieth’s return to defend his title was assumed, both Day and McIlroy are back for another crack this year after liking what they saw.

“Anyone that I talked to could only say good things about the tournament about the golf course, how the guys are treated here, how the fans come out, and how the community always gets behind this event,” McIlroy said. “Obviously I witnessed that for the first time last year, and I really enjoyed it.”

After starting the week with all four reigning major champs and five of the top 10 players in the latest world rankings, only Masters champ Patrick Reed got sent packing following rounds of 72-67. The remaining top-flight contingent will all hit the ground running in search of more low scores Saturday, with Spieth (-4) still retaining a glimmer of hope to keep his title defense chances alive, perhaps with a 63 like he fired in the opening round.

The Tour’s schedule represents a zero-sum game. Outside of the majors and WGCs that essentially become must-play events for the game’s best, the rest of the legs of the weekly circus become victim of a 12-month version of tug-of-war. Some players like to play in the spring; others load up in the fall. Many play the week before majors, while a select group block off the week after for some R&R far away from a golf course.

But in an environment where one tournament’s ebbs can create flows for another, the Travelers has continued a steady climb up the Tour’s hierarchy. Once in jeopardy of relegation, it has found its footing and appears in the process of turning several of the Tour’s one-name stars into regular participants.

Rory. Jordan. Bubba. JT.

It’s been a long battle for tournament officials, but the proof is in the pudding. And this weekend, the reward for the people of Cromwell – population 14,000 – looks to be a star-studded show.

“All the events are incredible,” Thomas said. “But this is kind of one of those underrated ones that I think until people come and play, do they realize how great it is.”