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Monday Scramble: Peaking - and piqued - for Augusta

By Ryan LavnerMarch 12, 2018, 3:00 pm

Tiger Woods contends, Paul Casey ends a drought, Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy struggle, the new Rules of Golf go to print and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Tiger Woods failed to win the Valspar Championship on Sunday. Starting the final round one shot back, he made only two birdies – the latter coming on a 44-foot bomb – appeared a touch off with his iron play and struggled with the speed of the greens.

But let’s not get bogged down in the details here.

Even more important than Woods’ best finish on the PGA Tour in nearly five years was the realization that, yes, this guy still can win. And that’s remarkable, after all that he has endured – much of it self-inflicted, of course – over the past few years.

If this all feels so sudden, if it seems unfathomable that the guy who last fall admitted that he didn’t know what his future held now has a legitimate chance to win for the ninth time this week at Bay Hill, you’re not alone. Woods himself seems surprised by how quickly his fortunes have turned, how quickly he’s been able to piece together his game.

For the first time in years, Woods’ game is trending upward – and what a bonus to golf fans everywhere.  


1. At least one player ended a long victory drought.

Casey hadn’t won since the 2009 Houston Open, but he fired a 65 that was good enough to win by one shot.

The affable Englishman said after his second round that if he didn’t win, he hoped that Woods would. Instead, he edged Woods (and Patrick Reed) by a shot.

“I’m glad it’s this way,” Casey said, smiling.

2. Casey had to wait more than an hour to see if his 10-under 274 would be enough.

The first challenger was Justin Rose, but he made back-to-back bogeys early on the back nine and never recovered.

Then came Reed, who thought he’d stiffed his approach into 18 but his shot didn’t carry onto the back ledge. He tried to putt from the front edge of the green and his ball came back to his feet. He made bogey and lost by one.

And then came Woods, who rolled in the long birdie putt on 17 and faced another from long distance, this time from 35 feet, to force a playoff.

“I’m sure he was disappointed he didn’t get the victory,” Casey said. “I thought he was going to win today, before the round started. I thought it was just teed up beautifully for him.”



3. Woods just couldn’t close it out.

I wrote more on his week here, but what really stood out at the Valspar was the quality of Woods’ short game. He ranked fifth in strokes gained-around the green, which seemed impossible given his chipping horrors over the past couple of years. Woods played a number of deft shots around the greens – soft flops, bump-and-runs, long bunker explosions.

His short game looked as formidable as ever.

Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee took a closer look at Woods’ action here:


4. Granted, every start feels like a referendum on Woods’ competitive future, but this week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational will be really interesting to watch.

It’s Woods’ fourth start in five weeks. It’s his second time playing consecutive weeks. It’s three days after he expended a ton of energy – for the first time in years – while trying to win a tournament. And it’s at a place where he’s had record success, with eight tournament titles.

At Bay Hill, Woods will have to hit driver more than he did at Innisbrook, where he was content hitting 3-wood and iron off the tee. Showing improvement with the big stick this week will be another sign that he is Augusta-ready.

5. Speaking of driver … PGA Tour player Brian Gay questioned Woods’ decision to hit iron off the 18th tee, knowing that he needed a birdie to tie.

Woods explained afterward that the dogleg-left fairway pinches in where he would have tried to squeeze in a 3-wood. So he laid back, to the fat part of the fairway.

From 185 yards, he was in between clubs, but he wanted to leave himself below the hole. His 7-iron came up 35 feet short.

“If anything,” he said, “that 2-iron I could have hit it flatter and hotter, but hey, I’m in the fairway, I got a shot at this thing. Unfortunately, I didn’t hit it close enough.”



6. Remember when Rory McIlroy’s form looked so promising in the Middle East?

That feels like a year ago.

After missing the cut, McIlroy has now shot six consecutive rounds of at least 2 over par. Even after months to work on his game, his putting is still a mess – through two rounds he ranked 140th out of 143 players in strokes gained-putting.

“It’s hard because when I play my weeks off on practice, it feels pretty good,” he said, “and when I get out on to the course, it isn’t quite the same.”

That sure doesn’t sound like a guy ready to contend at the Masters.

7. Is it finally time to worry about Jordan Spieth?

He missed his second cut of the season after a surprisingly poor two-day performance at the Valspar, where he shot rounds of 76-71.

Once again he struggled on the greens, losing more than a shot and a half to the greens with his putter and holing only 51 feet worth of putts. It seems his putting problems are beginning to trickle down to his long game, too. It's hard to overcome the fact that he's 167th in putting. 

What’s the issue? He can’t get comfortable.

“Everything right now is based on how I feel and the setup,” he said. Trouble is, he has only two starts before the Masters to get right.

8. This stat should underscore Woods’ career-long brilliance: He has only 18 missed cuts as a pro on Tour in 318 starts.

Spieth, after this latest missed cut? Nineteen missed cuts in 126 starts.



9. Well, the Rules of Golf are finalized.

So tap down your spike marks, return that moved ball to its original spot (with no penalty!), and be sure to use "reasonable judgment" when measuring a line, drop or distance.

More on that here.

There’s still a long way to go in making golf easier to understand at all levels, but at least this is a start.

Trey Mullinax did his best Phil Mickelson impersonation during the second round, playing a shot from inside the hospitality tent. Not only did he perfectly nip his pitch shot off the carpet, but he cleared a vinyl fence and put enough spin on it to nestle it close to a tucked pin.


Sweet shot, and the tie for eighth was easily his best finish of the season.

This week's award winners ... 


Fun With Numbers: Tiger-Phil. If Woods wins this week at Bay Hill, he’ll have gone 1,687 days between victories – or the exact same number as Mickelson, who just ended his drought at the WGC-Mexico. Hmmm …

Rolling the Rock: Casey. His 21 putts in the final round were the fewest by a Tour winner since Jim Carter in 2000.

Not a Misprint: Woods’ swing speed. On the 14th hole Saturday, Woods swung 129 mph. To put this in perspective: He’s 42 years old … with a fused back … and he just uncorked the fastest swing of the season on Tour. That’s 3 mph faster than Dustin Johnson’s best rip.



Oldie But Goodie: Vijay Singh. Count this scribe among those who thought the big Fijian would mop up on the senior circuit, but Singh, now 55, just collected his first individual title on the PGA Tour Champions. He admitted that he’s been putting too much pressure on himself.  

In Need of a Tiger Break: Brandt Snedeker. On Sunday Sneds played with Woods for the FIFTH time this season, shooting a final-round 78 that cost him a spot in the WGC-Match Play and, possibly, the Masters. His five scores alongside Woods this year: 74-74-73-67-78.

Room for Two Playing Captains?: Jim Furyk. We kid (kinda), but the 2018 U.S. Ryder Cup captain finished seventh in Tampa – his best finish since a tie for sixth at Sea Island in fall 2016.

Yes, This Will Be Loud: First tee at the Ryder Cup. The plan calls for 6,648 seats around the first tee in Paris – that’s WAY more than Hazeltine (1,688) or Gleneagles (2,148).


MIA: Smylie Kaufman. He’s 63 over par for his last five starts. Ouch.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Tony Finau. Fifth here a year ago, where he led the field in strokes-gained off tee to green, and coming off a stretch in which he had two top-6s in his past four starts. What’d he do at Innisbrook? Consecutive rounds of 74, to miss the cut by a mile. Sigh.

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U.S. captures Junior Ryder Cup

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 26, 2018, 12:29 am

The U.S. defeated Europe, 12 ½ to 11 ½, in the Junior Ryder Cup at Golf Disneyland at Disneyland Paris.

Rachel Heck, 16, of Memphis, Tenn., clinched the winning half-point on the 18th hole with a 12-foot birdie putt that halved her match with Annabell Fuller, 16, of England.

"It was the most incredible experience of my life," said Heck, a Stanford commit who last week made the cut in her second LPGA major, the Evian Masters.

Michael Thorbjornsen, 16, of Wellesley, Mass., the 2018 U.S. Junior Amateur champion, drove the green on the 315-yard 18th hole, the ball stopping within 5 feet of the pin. His eagle putt completed 2-up win over 15-year-old Spaniard David Puig and ensured that the U.S. would retain the Junior Ryder Cup, as the defending champion needs only a tie (12 points) to maintain possession of the trophy.

Singles results

Match 1 - Lucy Li (USA) def. Amanda Linner (EUR), 4 and 3

Match 2 — Rasmus Hojgaard (EUR) def. William Moll (USA), 1 up

Match 3 —  Ingrid Lindblad (EUR) halved Rose Zhang (USA)

Match 4 – Nicolai Hojgaard (USA) def. Canon Claycomb (USA), 4 and 2

Match 5 — Yealimi Noh (USA) def. Emma Spitz (EUR), 3 and 2

Match 6 —  Ricky Castillo (USA) def. Eduard Rousaud Sabate (EUR), 3 and 1

Match 7 – Emilie Alba-Paltrinieri (EUR) def. Erica Shepherd (USA), 2 up

Match 8 — Michael Thorbjornsen (USA) def. David Puig (EUR), 2 up

Match 9 – Alessia Nobilio (EUR) def. Alexa Pano (USA), 2 and 1

Match 10 —  Robin Tiger Williams (EUR) def. Cole Ponich (USA), 2 and 1

Match 11 – Annabell Fuller (EUR) halved Rachel Heck (USA)

Match 12 — Conor Gough (EUR) def. Akshay Bhatia (USA), 1 up

 

TOUR Championship Final Round Becomes Most-Watched FedExCup Playoffs Telecast Ever and Most-Watched PGA TOUR Telecast of 2018

By Golf Channel Public RelationsSeptember 25, 2018, 6:48 pm

ORLANDO, Fla., (Sept. 25, 2018) – NBC Sports Group’s final round coverage of the TOUR Championship on Sunday (3:00-6:19 p.m. ET) garnered a Total Audience Delivery (TAD) of 7.8 million average viewers, as Tiger Woods claimed his 80th career victory, and his first in five years. The telecast’s TAD was up 212% vs. 2017 (2.5m). Television viewership posted 7.18 million average viewers, up 192% YOY (2.46m) and a 4.45 U.S. household rating, up 178% vs. 2017 (1.60). It also becomes the most-watched telecast in the history of the FedExCup Playoffs (2007-2018) and the most-watched PGA TOUR telecast in 2018 (excludes majors).

Coverage peaked from 5:45-6 p.m. ET with 10.84 million average viewers as Woods finished his TOUR Championship-winning round and Justin Rose sealed his season-long victory as the FedExCup champion. The peak viewership number trails only the Masters (16.84m) and PGA Championship (12.39m) in 2018. The extended coverage window (1:30-6:19 p.m. ET) drew 5.89 million average viewers and a 3.69 U.S. household rating to become the most-watched and highest-rated TOUR Championship telecast on record (1991-2018).

Sunday’s final round saw 18.4 million minutes streamed across NBC Sports Digital platforms (+561% year-over-year), and becomes NBC Sports’ most-streamed Sunday round (excluding majors) on record (2013-’18).

Sunday’s lead-in coverage on Golf Channel (11:54 a.m.-1:25 p.m. ET) also garnered a Total Audience Delivery of 829K average viewers and posted a .56 U.S. household rating, becoming the most-watched and highest rated lead-in telecast of the TOUR Championship ever (2007-2018). Golf Channel was the No. 2 Sports Network during this window and No. 7 out of all Nielsen-rated cable networks during that span.

 This week, NBC Sports Group will offer weeklong coverage of the biennial Ryder Cup from Le Golf National outside of Paris. Live From the Ryder Cup continues all week on Golf Channel, surrounding nearly 30 hours of NBC Sports’ Emmy-nominated live event coverage, spanning from Friday morning’s opening tee shot just after 2 a.m. ET through the clinching point on Sunday. The United States will look to retain the Ryder Cup after defeating Europe in 2016 (17-11), and aim to win for the first time on European soil in 25 years, since 1993.

 

-NBC Sports Group-

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Tiger Woods names his Mount Rushmore of golf

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 25, 2018, 6:29 pm
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Mickelson savoring his (likely) last road game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 25, 2018, 3:49 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – Phil Mickelson lingered behind as his foursome made its way to the ninth tee during Tuesday’s practice round.

He needed the extra practice, no doubt. He’s one of just six players on the U.S. Ryder Cup team with even a modicum of knowledge about Le Golf National, but the likely reason for Lefty’s leisurely tempo was more personal.

The 2019 Ryder Cup will likely be Mickelson’s last road game as a player.

He’ll be 52 when the U.S. team pegs it up at the 2022 matches in Rome. Although there’s been players who have participated in the biennial event into their golden years – most notably Raymond Floyd who was 51 when he played the ’93 matches – given Mickelson’s play in recent years and the influx of younger players the odds are against him.

“I am aware this is most likely the last one on European soil and my last opportunity to be part of a team that would be victorious here, and that would mean a lot to me personally,” Mickelson said on Tuesday.

It’s understandable that Mickelson would want to linger a little longer in the spotlight of golf’s most intense event.

For the first time in his Ryder Cup career Mickelson needed to be a captain's pick, and he didn’t exactly roar into Paris, finishing 30th out of 30 players at last week’s Tour Championship. He’s also four months removed from his last top-10 finish on the PGA Tour.


Ryder Cup: Articles, photos and videos


Although he’s reluctant to admit it for Mickelson Le Golf National looks every bit a swansong for the most accomplished U.S. Ryder Cup player of his generation.

In 11 starts at the Ryder Cup, Mickelson has a 26-16-13 record. Perhaps more telling is his 7-3-1 mark since 2012 and he holds the U.S. record for most matches played (45) and is third on the all-time list for most points won (21.5), just two shy of the record held by Billy Casper.

Mickelson’s record will always be defined by what he’s done at the Masters and not done at the U.S. Open, but his status as an anchor for two generations of American teams may never be matched.

For this U.S. team - which is trying to win a road Ryder Cup for the first time since 1993 - Lefty is wearing many hats.

“You know Phil and you know he's always trying to find a way to poke fun, trying to mess with someone,” Furyk said. “He's telling a story. Sometimes you're not sure if they are true or not. Sometimes there's little bits of pieces in each of those, but he provides some humor, provides some levity.”

But there is another side to Mickelson’s appeal in the team room. Although he’s never held the title of vice captain he’s served as a de facto member of the management for some time.

“At the right times, he understands when a team needs a kick in the butt or they need an arm around their shoulder, and he's been good in that atmosphere,” Furyk said. “He's a good speaker and good motivator, and he's been able to take some young players under his wing at times and really get a lot out of them from a partner standpoint.”

In recent years Mickelson has become something of a mentor for young players, first at the ’08 matches with Anthony Kim and again in ’12 with Keegan Bradley.

His role as a team leader in the twilight of his career can’t be overstated and will undoubtedly continue this week if Tuesday’s practice groupings are any indication, with Lefty playing with rookie Bryson DeChambeau.

As DeChambeau was finishing his press conference on Tuesday he was asked about the dynamic in the U.S. team room.

“We're going to try and do our absolute best to get the cup back,” he said.

“Keep the cup,” Lefty shouted from the back of the room, noting that the U.S. won the last Ryder Cup.

It was so Mickelson not to miss a teaching moment or a chance to send a subtle jab delivered with a wry smile.

Mickelson will also be remembered for his role in what has turned out to be an American Ryder Cup resurgence.

“Unfortunately, we have strayed from a winning formula in 2008 for the last three Ryder Cups, and we need to consider maybe getting back to that formula that helped us play our best,” Mickelson said in the Scottish gloom at the ’14 matches. “Nobody here was in any decision.”

If Mickelson doesn’t step to the microphone in ’14 at Gleneagles in the wake of another U.S. loss and, honestly, break some china there probably wouldn’t have been a task force. Davis Love III likely wouldn’t have gotten a second turn as captain in ’16 and the U.S. is probably still mired in a victory drought.

Lefty’s Ryder Cup career is far from over. The early line is that he’ll take his turn as captain in 2024 at Bethpage Black – the People’s Champion riding in to become the People’s Captain.

Before he moves on to a new role, however, he’ll savor this week and an opportunity to win his first road game. If he wants to hang back and relish the moment so be it.