Monday Scramble: Where do we go from here?

By Ryan LavnerJune 8, 2015, 4:00 pm

David Lingmerth outduels Justin Rose (not a misprint), Tiger Woods comes in last place, Jordan Spieth looks ready to conquer Chambers Bay and fans everywhere welcome back your trusty correspondent in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble: 

We’re about to find out how much fight Tiger Woods has left.

It sure looked like he was fried at the Memorial: His highest score as a pro (85), his first event with six double bogeys or worse, his worst 72-hole total (302).

In his first 18 full seasons on Tour, Woods shot in the 80s only once – an 81 in dreadful conditions during the third round of the 2002 Open Championship. This season, he's done it twice in a 12-round span.

Such a dismal performance prompts two major questions: 

  • Is he on the right track? Sure, swing changes take time, but in the past eight months he clearly has regressed. If he had enough rounds to qualify this year, Woods would rank next-to-last in strokes gained-tee to green (-3.172).
  • Should he shut it down for the rest of the season? His game is in disarray. If he took off two months earlier this year because his game wasn’t up to his standards, how is this situation any different? Slogging through these embarrassments will only undermine whatever confidence he earned on the range.

This process is nothing new to Woods, who is in the midst of his fourth swing change since his rookie year. The difference now is that he’s no longer in the prime of his athletic career, no longer the player with more drive, ambition and talent than the rest of the Tour. It’ll be a fascinating fight until he’s finished. 

1. Steven Bowditch came out of nowhere to win the Nelson. David Lingmerth shook off 27 middling results to capture the Memorial. Sheesh, who’s next in line to prove that past form isn’t always the best indicator for future success? Derek Ernst?

Prior to their wins …

  • Bowditch had 17 consecutive events without a top-10, with nine missed cuts and only $245,000 in earnings over that span. 
  • Lingmerth had 27 consecutive events without a top-10, with nine missed cuts and only $508,000 in earnings this season.

So how did Lingmerth get it done? Well, not surprisingly, he rolled the rock well – he was third in strokes gained-putting; last week Bowditch was first – and he limited his mistakes. On a penal course, the 27-year-old Swede made only two bogeys over his last 25 holes, and didn’t drop a shot over his last 11 Sunday.

2. Lingmerth may have locked up a three-year Tour exemption with his Memorial win – a big deal for a guy who lost his card a year ago – but he STILL had to tee it up in a 36-hole U.S. Open sectional qualifier on Monday.

So let’s get this straight: Lingmerth topped one of the best fields of the year … and that wasn’t enough to secure a spot in the year’s second major. This doesn't pass the Common Sense Test. When are all of the major organizations going to get on the same page?  

3. So here’s an odd one, courtesy of the Golf Channel research department: Four players this season have held a three-shot lead entering the final round (Justin Rose, Troy Merritt, Ian Poulter and Martin Laird). None have gone on to win. 

4. One of the game’s preeminent ball-strikers, Rose was one of the last players you’d expect to forfeit a three-shot cushion. But he made seven (!) bogeys in 21 holes Sunday – he made three during the previous three rounds combined – and likely considered himself fortunate to even have a chance in the playoff. After all, he dropped shots on two of his first four holes … he bogeyed a par 5 … he made bogey at 14 after he misfired with a wedge and a bonehead fan yelled during his bunker shot … he shanked an approach on 18 … and he still shot even par!

Regardless of how he arrived there, Rose dropped to 3-for-11 with at least a share of the 54-hole lead on Tour. Chalk that up to bad timing for his bad rounds, because this is a guy with no weaknesses in his game. 

5. Found this to be a smart take by Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee: “I don’t know that it’s sad; it’s mysterious. Time hasn’t robbed Tiger Woods of his game. He’s done this to himself. He’s traded his genius for the ideas of others.”

OK, so time probably has something to do with it – Woods turns 40 in December and over the years his body has been ravaged by injuries. But Chamblee’s larger point echoes what Big Jack said over the weekend: Tiger first needs to fix himself. 

Because at what point does the heat finally get turned up on consultant Chris Como? He and Woods have been working together for eight months, and with little to show for it, other than a few “worst-ever” performances, an even more erratic driver, a case of the short-game yips (which seemed to resurface at the Memorial) and a two-month hiatus as Woods tried to sort out his myriad issues.

Tiger is saying all the right things – that he’s committed to these changes, that he has to take a step backward to make a giant leap forward – but at some point even he has to doubt this latest overhaul and the direction he is heading. How much more embarrassment can he stomach? 

6. Couldn’t help but chuckle at the suggestion that Tiger’s closing 74 was a sign of progress.

Every pro hits it well when he’s off first and playing as a solo. He wasn’t going to mail it in – the grind, he says, is the fun part – but how can you be overly optimistic about a 2-over-par round with no pressure at a place he's won five times? 

He still made two double bogeys in his last four holes. Heck, over his last two starts, he has recorded ELEVEN doubles or worse. We've never seen him this lost.

7. It’s been 13 years since a player won the first two majors on the calendar. Regardless of what the oddsmakers say, Jordan Spieth should be a heavy favorite to win again at Chambers Bay.

His final-round 65 at Muirfield Village – nearly eight shots better than the field average – was just what he hoped to see in his last tune-up before the Open. He struck the ball purely. Saw a few putts drop. Felt some nerves. Really, he couldn’t have scripted a better Sunday, save for capping off the comeback win.

Spieth has the tidiest short game on the planet, and that (along with patience) will be the most important asset at the little-known, links-style track. Another benefit: Spieth played the 2010 U.S. Amateur at Chambers (though he shot 83 and didn't qualify for match play), and his caddie, Michael Greller, used to loop there in the summer. Even got married on-site.

USGA setup czar Mike Davis said that only players who make a scouting trip to the Pacific Northwest have a realistic shot to win. How about a guy with the bulletproof mentality, the stroke-saving short game, the confidence from his Memorial charge and the caddie with some local knowledge? Yeah, we’ll take our chances that guy.  

8. This may surprise you – OK, it probably does not – but Phil Mickelson likes Chambers. A lot. Can’t wait to play the Open there. Described it as “wonderful.” 

Is this just another example of Lefty’s relentless optimism? Maybe. But he also knows better than anyone that arriving at Chambers with a positive outlook will give him a leg up on a field that has heard nothing but criticism about the new U.S. Open venue.

Hey, it’s also possible that Phil toured the links-style course and discovered that it suits his game rather nicely, with its endless options off the tee and the creativity and imagination required around the greens. His pursuit of the career Grand Slam has taken a backseat, storyline-wise, with Rory’s (relative) struggles and Jordan’s emergence and Tiger’s horror show. But here’s guessing Phil will be squarely in the mix come U.S. Open Sunday. Again.   

9. A poor opening round at last week’s NCAA Championship not only cost Stanford standout Maverick McNealy a chance to win a national title; it also cost him a shot at the lowest scoring average in college golf history. 

McNealy entered NCAAs with a 68.7 scoring average. He missed the 54-hole cut after rounds of 78-72-70 at Concession, and an even bigger disappointment was that his scoring average rose all the way to 69.05. Bill Haas’ 68.93 mark as a member of the 2003-04 Wake Forest team remains the best all time.

McNealy still won the Haskins and Nicklaus awards as the top college Player of the Year. He’s also earned sponsor exemptions into the Greenbrier Classic (July 2-5) and Barbasol Championship (July 16-19).

10. With one final chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the season, Patrick Rodgers needed to finish 62nd or better at the Memorial. It was probably a little more dramatic than he’d prefer, but Rodgers birdied the last two holes to finish in a tie for 40th at Muirfield Village.

Rodgers was already going to be on Tour in 2015-16 by virtue of his position on the money list, but this allows him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season. Look for him (at least) at the St. Jude, Travelers, John Deere and Wyndham. 

Seventy-one players made the cut at the Memorial. That meant Kevin Chappell, alone at 1-under 143, went off first on Saturday. And it meant that Tiger Woods, alone at – gulp – 12-over 228, went off by his lonesome Sunday at Jack’s Place.

Kyle Robertson, the staff photographer for the Columbus Dispatch, snapped this sweet (sad?) shot as Tiger and Joey made their way down the first fairway:

So. Many. Metaphors. 

NBC Sports has secured the rights to televise the Open Championship, beginning in 2017. The partnership begins at Royal Birkdale – where, ironically enough, Johnny Miller won his lone Open title in 1976. 

Jason Dufner has stiff-armed the national media ever since reported in late March that he and wife Amanda had filed for divorce. After moving into contention earlier in the week at the Memorial, he first boycotted the media, then after Day 2 opted to speak with only a Sirius/XM reporter who works for the PGA Tour Radio Network and a few local scribes. Obviously, his personal life is a sensitive topic, but he can answer any of those queries with a simple “no comment” or “I’d prefer to focus on my golf, thanks.” He still has a responsibility to discuss his golf.

• Has anyone gone to Butch Harmon and gotten worse? Suzann Pettersen made the move to Harmon in late December, and after a few injury-plagued events she cashed in Sunday with her first victory since October 2013. Butch Harmon: GOAT. 

Is this a 10-foot hoop? Oh, who knows, but the 6-foot-2-inch Rodgers definitely has some hops.

Getting that kind of levitation in golf slacks was even more impressive. 

Because of a blister on his left forefinger, Woods says he will only practice his putting for the first couple of days this week. Good idea, but he may have trouble simulating Chambers Bay’s wild, undulating fescue greens in his backyard in South Florida. 

• TV cameras caught Leo Rose, Justin and wife Kate’s adorable 6-year-old son, politely clapping when Lingmerth holed his par putt on the first playoff hole. Can’t say I would have done the same at his age. Kid was raised well. 

Mark Calcavecchia ... won ... with ... BACON PANTS. Need we say more?

In the conversation? Of course. A long game like his never goes out of style – that’s why he’s been in the top 21 in each of the last three Opens, including his breakthrough win at Merion. Most concerning for this year’s Open, however, is his scrambling, because that will play such a huge role at Chambers. Rose ranks 155th on Tour in that department, getting it up-and-down just 55 percent of the time. That’s why at Chambers we’d favor guys like Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama and Jason Day (assuming his health is not a major concern), all of whom are ranked inside the top 15 in scrambling. 

As for changing my Twitter avatar … hey, first of all, thanks for noticing, and secondly, I wish I had a better story to tell you, other than I simply got sick of staring at a 2012 version of my face. 

Getty Images

Kisner (66) leads Open by 1; Woods 5 back

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 7:44 pm

The course was playing firm and the winds never truly gusted, but it was still quite a mixed bag for some of the world's best during the first round of The Open at Carnoustie. Here's how things stand as Kevin Kisner moved into the lead in search of his first career major:

Leaderboard: Kevin Kisner (-5), Erik van Rooyen (-4), Tony FInau (-4), Zander Lombard (-4), Brandon Stone (-3), Brendan Steele (-3), Ryan Moore (-3)

What it means: Van Rooyen took the early lead in one of the first groups of the morning, and he remained near the top despite a bogey on the final hole. But that left a small opening for Kisner to eke past him, as the American put together a round with as many bogeys as eagles (one apiece). Already with two wins on the PGA Tour and having challenged at the PGA Championship in August, Kisner tops a crowded leaderboard despite never finishing better than T-54 in three prior Open appearances.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Round of the day: Kisner started slowly, as a bogey on No. 5 dropped him to 1 over on the round. But that proved to be his lone dropped shot of the day, and he quickly rebounded with an eagle on the par-5 sixth. Kisner added four birdies over his final 11 holes, including three in a row from Nos. 13-15, and successfully navigated the difficult closing stretch to post the only 66 of the day on the par-71 layout.

Best of the rest: Van Rooyen held a four-shot lead heading into the final round of the Irish Open two weeks ago, but he fell apart at Ballyliffin as Russell Knox rallied for victory. He's off to another surprisingly strong start after a 4-under 67 that included only one bogey on No. 18. Van Rooyen has never won on the European Tour, let alone contended in a major, but he's now in the thick of it after five birdies over his first 15 holes.

Biggest disappointment: Two major champs were among the short list of pre-tournament contenders, but both Patrick Reed (4 over) and Dustin Johnson (5 over) appear to already be out of the mix. Reed has finished T-4 or better each of the last three majors but made only one birdie in his opener, while Johnson was the consensus betting favorite but played his last three holes in 4 over including a triple bogey on No. 18.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Kisner is no stranger to the top of the standings, but keep an eye on the chase pack a few shots back. The group at 2 under includes Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm. Tiger Woods is just five shots off the pace after an even-par 71 that featured three birdies and three bogeys as Woods made his return to The Open for the first time since missing the cut at St. Andrews in 2015.

Shot of the day: Stone put his head on his hands after pulling his approach from the rough on No. 18, but his prayers were answered when his ball rattled off a fence, bounced back in bounds and rolled to the front of the green. One week after winning the Scottish Open with a final-round 60, Stone turned a likely double into a par to close out his 68.

Quote of the day: "I've been taped up and bandaged up, just that you were able to see this one. It's no big deal." - Woods, who had KT tape visible on both sides of his neck after a bad night of sleep.

Getty Images

Rory 'convinced' driver is the play at burnt Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – There are two distinct schools of thought at this week’s Open Championship - that Carnoustie is either best played with a velvet touch and a measured hand off the tee, or that it makes sense to choose the hammer and hit driver whenever and wherever possible.

Count Rory McIlroy in the latter camp.

Although the Northern Irishman’s opening 2-under 69 may not be a definitive endorsement of the bomb-and-gouge approach, he was pleased with his Day 1 results and even more committed to the concept.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I’m convinced that that's the way that I should play it,” said McIlroy, who hit just 4 of 15 fairways but sits tied for eighth. “It's not going to be for everyone, but it worked out pretty well for me and I would have taken 69 to start the day.”

From the moment McIlroy’s caddie, Harry Diamond, made a scouting trip to Carnoustie a few weeks ago, the 2014 Open champion committed himself to an aggressive gameplan, and there was nothing on Thursday that persuaded him to change.

The true test came early on Thursday, with McIlroy sending his tee shot over the green at the 350-yard, par-4 third and scrambling for birdie.

“That hole was a validation for me. It proved to me it’s the right way for me to play here. It was a little personal victory,” said McIlroy, who played his opening loop even but birdied Nos. 12 and 14 to move under par.

Getty Images

Report: USGA, R&A to 'severely restrict' green books

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 6:42 pm

The detailed yardage books that many players rely on to help read greens at various tournaments could soon become a thing of the past.

According to a Golfweek report, the USGA and R&A are poised to "severely restrict" the information offered to players in green-reading books, which currently include detailed visuals and specifics about the location and severity of slopes and contours on each putting surface. The change is expected to go into effect on Jan. 1, 2019.

Green-reading books have come under scrutiny in recent years as their use has increased, seen as both an enemy of pace of play and a tool that can take the skill out of reading the break on putts.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

"We believe that the ability to read greens is an integral part of the skill of putting and remain concerned about the rapid development of increasingly detailed materials that players are using to help with reading greens during a round," the R&A said in a statement. The USGA also reportedly issued a statement that they plan to update their review process on the books "in the coming weeks."

Speaking to reporters after an opening-round 72 at The Open, Jordan Spieth seemingly implied that the rule change was all but official.

"I don't think we're allowed to use them starting next year, is that right?" Spieth said. "Which I think will be much better for me. I think that's a skill that I have in green reading that's advantageous versus the field, and so it will be nice. But when it's there, certain putts, I certainly was using it and listening to it."

According to the report, new language in the Rules of Golf is expected to address the presentation of the books and "end the current level of detail."

Getty Images

'Super 7' living – and loving – frat life in Carnoustie

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 6:32 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – It’s not exactly “Animal House Scotland,” but it’s as close as the gentleman’s game allows itself to drift toward that raucous line.

For the third consecutive year, some of golf’s biggest and brightest chose to set up shop on the same corner of the Angus coast, a testosterone-fueled riff session where feelings are never spared and thick skin is mandatory.

Among the eclectic “Super 7” who are sharing two houses in Carnoustie this week are defending champion Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker and Kevin Kisner – a group that ranges in age from 24 (Spieth) to 42 years old (Johnson).

The tradition, or maybe “guy’s week” is a better description, began in 2016 at Royal Troon when Spieth, Fowler, Thomas, Walker, Johnson and Dufner all roomed together. Kisner was added to the mix this year and instead of baseball – the distraction of choice in ’16 – the group has gone native with nightly soccer matches. Actually, the proceedings more resemble penalty kicks, but they seem to be no less entertaining.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

For the record, his flat mates will attest to Dufner’s abilities as a goalie, although asked about his chances to make the U.S. national team Thomas was reluctant to go that far.

“As a U.S. citizen, I hope he does not make our team, but he's a pretty good backyard goalie,” Thomas said.

The arrangement comes with a litany of benefits, from the camaraderie to the improved logistics of having so many VIPs under the same roof.

“Honestly, it just makes everything really, really easy because there's a lot of cars going to and from the golf course. They know our address. We have food essentially at our beck and call. And we have friends. I mean, we have some women [wives] in there to keep the frat house somewhat in order,” Johnson said. “But I mean, every individual there is great. It's fun.”

But this goes well beyond some random male bonding for what at the moment represents nearly one-third of the U.S. Ryder Cup team. This is a snapshot into a curious side of golf that’s as rare as it is misunderstood.

Unlike team sports, golf is a lonely pursuit. A player can collect as many swing coaches, sports psychologists and handlers around them as they wish, but there’s a connection between athletes at this level that creates a unique flow of ideas that’s normally only present during the annual team events, be it a Ryder or Presidents cup.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this level, players talk a language only they understand that’s littered with the kind of insider give-and-take one would expect from PGA Tour winners and major champions. Between the two houses, which are adjacent to each other, there are eight major victories.

“I have zero, so I don't know how many they have,” Kisner joked when asked about his accomplished roommates.

Kisner is southern like sweat and sweet tea and can trade good-natured jabs with the best of them, but given the pedigrees assembled between the two houses he seems to understand the importance of listening.

“Everybody is just really chill, and it's a lot of fun to be around those guys. There's a lot of great players. It's really cool just to hear what they have to say,” Kisner said. “Everybody's sitting around at night scratching their head on what club to hit off of every tee.”

It’s worth pointing out that The Open winner has come from this group twice in the last three years, including 2017 champion Spieth, who took no small measure of inspiration from Johnson’s victory at St. Andrews in ’15.

Nor is it probably a coincidence that four of those players now find themselves firmly in the mix and all within the top 20 at Carnoustie, including Kisner who will have bragging rights on Thursday night following a first-round 66 that vaulted him into the lead.

“I probably get to eat first,” he smiled.

In their primes, Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player would occasionally share a house, they even vacationed together from time to time – you know, SB1K68 – but the practice fell out of favor for a few generations. It’s hard to imagine Greg Norman enjoying a friendly kick-about with any of his contemporaries and even harder to think that Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson could share a cab ride, let alone a house for a week.

Some say this type of fellowship is the product of a new generation who grew up playing junior golf against each other and logically took their bond to the big leagues, but that ignores the 40-somethings (Johnson and Dufner) in the frat.

Maybe it’s a byproduct of America’s Ryder Cup rebuilding efforts or an affinity for non-stop one-liners and bad soccer. Or maybe it’s a genuine appreciation for what each of the “7” have to offer.

“[Kisner] is good friends with all those guys, he likes to cut up and have a good time and talk trash. It’s a good little group,” said Kisner’s swing coach John Tillery. “This last year or two and the Presidents Cup and being on the teams with those guys has just escalated that.”

Some seem to think these friendships run a little too deep. That sharing a bachelor pad and dinner for the week somehow erodes a player’s competitiveness. But if the “Super 7” have proven anything, other than American golfers probably aren’t the best soccer players, it’s that familiarity can be fun.