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Monday Scramble: Who's the (Masters) man?

By Ryan LavnerMarch 19, 2018, 3:00 pm

Rory McIlroy stars at Bay Hill, Tiger Woods stumbles late, the Masters favorites take shape, Inbee Park wins again and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Rory McIlroy is back, and not a moment too soon, with the Masters now just two and a half weeks away.

After dealing with a nagging rib injury and slumping for the better part of the past two years, McIlroy reminded everyone of his awe-inspiring talent at Bay Hill, playing fearlessly and making five birdies in the last six holes to leave a star-studded field in the dust.

Two mental tweaks (to his backswing and putting stroke) have McIlroy feeling as though it’s 2014 all over again. That’s the year he won two majors, and if he can roll the rock like he did at Bay Hill, he’ll be a force at the Masters.

Suddenly, the thought of him capturing the career Grand Slam this year doesn't seem so far-fetched.


1. Today, Brad Faxon’s phone number is getting passed around like the flu.

First he helped Gary Woodland with his putting stroke during the offseason, turning the big hitter into the Phoenix Open champion.

And then he turned his attention to Rory McIlroy, who spent three hours with Faxon in South Florida last Monday. McIlroy was totally lost on the greens, requiring 39 putts in an embarrassing second round at the Valspar Championship, but with Faxon he flipped a switch, feeling less rigid over the ball and more reactive with his stroke.

The result? The best putting performance of McIlroy's career, as he needed just 100 putts to shoot 18 under.

Golfweek reported that by the time McIlroy’s final putt dropped – a 25-footer, of course – Faxon had already been contacted by three other former major champions.

One thing’s for sure: His rate just went up.

2. The completeness of McIlroy’s game at Bay Hill was breathtaking.

He led the field in driving distance, proximity to the hole, scrambling and strokes gained-putting.

“It’s so nice that everything finally came together,” he said.

Said Justin Rose, his final-round playing competitor: “He always makes it look easy when he’s playing well.”

3. Wrote more about McIlroy here on Sunday night, but the Arnold Palmer connections were a little eerie.



4. Tiger Woods rolls into the Masters with 10 consecutive rounds of even par or better – and, yes, even a sense that he could have earned a victory or two.

He finished in a tie for fifth at Bay Hill, the first time he’s had consecutive top-5 finishes on Tour since May 2013.

He’s MILES ahead of where most of us thought he’d be when he came back at the Hero.

“If you would have told me at the beginning of the year that I would have had a chance to win two golf tournaments,” he said, “I would have taken that in a heartbeat.” 

5. And so, if we’re maintaining the proper perspective, what comes next is nitpicking of the highest variety.

But here goes: Woods had yet another questionable final round when in the hunt.

At the Honda, Woods made a little bit of a run, playing the first eight holes in 3 under to create a buzz at PGA National. Then he immediately bogeyed the ninth, and instead of one last vintage finishing kick, he rinsed his tee shot on 15, bogeyed 16 and carded an even-par round of 70 to finish outside the top 10.

At the Valspar, he made more progress, going off in the penultimate pairing on Sunday. Even though he played conservatively, because he wasn’t sharp with his irons, he still had a chance to force a playoff on the 72nd hole. Then he took 2-iron off the tee, leaving him a 185-yard approach, and left his long birdie putt to tie about 2 feet SHORT.

At Bay Hill, he pulled within a shot of the lead as he stepped up to the par-5 16th. He had missed right during the previous three rounds, but he still made birdie each time. On Sunday, uncommitted with the driver, he shockingly pulled his tee shot left, out of bounds, leading to a deflating bogey. He dropped a shot on the next hole, too, and did well just to save par on the last.

All of the physical tools are there for Woods to succeed, but his last three starts suggest there’s a mental hurdle for him to overcome, as well.

He needs to relearn how to win.

6. Once again, Woods’ short game carried him to success at Bay Hill.

He finished the week ranked inside the top 10 in both strokes gained-putting (eighth) and around the green (second). He missed only one of his 64 chances inside 10 feet.

His long game raised plenty of red flags, however. Of the 77 players who made the cut, he was 71st in strokes gained-off the tee.

Yes, Augusta is more accommodating than most venues, but the world’s best players – Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Rory, Jon Rahm – all use their driver as a weapon. Woods isn’t there, yet.



7. Woods apparently has shown enough to become the betting favorite for the Masters, with 8-1 odds. He’s ahead of Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas and McIlroy, all of whom are listed at 10-1.

Two weeks out, here’s one man’s list of the top five favorites:

1. Justin Rose

2. Phil Mickelson

3. Justin Thomas

4. Rory McIlroy

5. Dustin Johnson

8. Bryson DeChambeau didn’t back down in the final round.

Playing in a final group for the first time on Tour, and facing a bevy of stars, DeChambeau eagled the 16th hole to pull within a shot of the lead and eventually finished solo second.

To win the John Deere last July, he made six birdies on the back nine. His inward 33 at Bay Hill wasn’t enough to overtake McIlroy, but the 24-year-old said he’ll take plenty of confidence into the Masters.

“Ultimately it kind of stinks, but at the same point in time I’m happy with where my game’s at,” he said. “Finishing second out here is not an easy task with all of these great players, and this is, honestly, my first time being in the big thick of things with a lot of guys. So it was great to be comfortable out here and to actually make a couple clutch putts.”  

9. As for Henrik Stenson, it was another close call at Arnie’s Place.

The 54-hole leader shot a second consecutive 71 on the weekend and got lapped. It was his sixth top-15 finish there in his past seven starts.

10. Woods and Ernie Els were named captains for the 2019 Presidents Cup … 21 months ahead of time.

That was the most curious aspect of this announcement. Not that Woods and Els were going to lead their respective teams – it was a natural progression in their careers – but rather, why now?

The matches won’t be played for nearly two years. Woods is just beginning to reassert himself as a contender, not a ceremonial figure. And it was made during the late Arnold Palmer’s event, with a stacked field assembled and only three weeks until the Masters.

Couldn’t this have waited until, like, late April?



11. The most interesting note to come out of the news conference was this: That Woods was the one who approached PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about becoming the 2019 captain.

That phone call was preceded by a group chat with Woods, Steve Stricker, Jim Furyk, Fred Couples and Davis Love III, when it became clear that Woods was next in line, in keeping with the succession plan Team USA is trying to push through the Ryder Cup committee.

So Woods called Monahan to ask about the possibility.

“Silence,” Woods said, “and then he said, ‘Yeah, we might be able to work that out.'”



12. Inbee Park continues to impress.

Nineteen wins. Seven majors. An Olympic gold medal. Qualifying for the Hall of Fame at age 27.

Her latest feat was a runaway win at the Founders Cup, the first domestic stop on the LPGA schedule.

13. And Lydia Ko continues to struggle.

She entered the week ranked outside the top 80 in driving distance, accuracy and greens hit, and she didn’t do anything to improve those numbers, missing the cut in Phoenix after rounds of 74-73.

Said Cristie Kerr, who was paired with Ko for the first two rounds: “Her game’s not in good shape. She seemed a little lost.”

Bryson DeChambeau in the first round of the 2017 Shriners Hospitals for Children Open


DeChambeau is smart, very smart, something that was reinforced yet again Saturday night at Bay Hill.

He was talking about his recent back injury when he went Full Bryson:

“Well it was the QL and that really got inflamed for me,” he explained. “It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working, my illiacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of overworking, if you want to get technical on that.”

No. We don’t want to get technical on that.

We’re sportswriters. We’re barely college-educated. Just spelling those medical terms was difficult enough. 

So how about a translation?

“Pretty much my lower back was hurting and I rested it,” he said. “How about that?”

Yes, much better. Thanks. 

This week's award winners ... 


You Know You’re a Baller When …: Laura Davies. Now 54 years old, and nursing an Achilles injury, she turned back the clock with a sweet 63 that put her in position to become the LPGA’s oldest winner (by eight years!). She eventually tied for second, her best finish on tour in a decade.

Growing Trend?: WGC-Match Play. Five players will skip this week’s event in Austin, and that number could grow next spring, with the event awkwardly positioned just two weeks before the Masters and following a busy stretch that includes Riviera, Mexico, Honda, Bay Hill and The Players.

Name of the Game: Sergio Garcia’s baby. He and wife Angela named their baby girl “Azalea,” after the lovely flowers at Augusta National and, perhaps, after the par-5 13th hole, where Garcia made a crucial par en route to his breakthrough major. What, no love for “Tea Olive”?  



More Fan Complaints: Rory. After the third round, McIlroy suggested that the PGA Tour should consider curbing alcohol sales at events. More and more players are complaining about fan behavior, but it seems the only way something will change is if a spectator costs a player a tournament on the 72nd hole.  

So, This is Awkward: Grayson Murray and Ben An. We’re guessing not many words were exchanging in this Sunday pairing, not after Murray went scorched earth on Twitter last year during their infamous world-ranking debate.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Kiradech Aphibarnrat. All of the usual contenders hit, so we had to look further down the list and find the disappointing Barnrat. With two wins in his last four starts, and T-6s in each of his past two appearances at Bay Hill, he was a trendy sleeper pick this week. Instead, he shot rounds of 73-74 to miss the cut. Sigh.

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Golf Channel Ramps Up Six Weeks of Comprehensive College Golf Coverage Culminating With The NCAA Women's and Men's Golf Championships, May 18-30

By Golf Channel Public RelationsApril 24, 2018, 9:00 pm

Golf Channel to Announce NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections on Wednesday, April 25 and Wednesday, May 2

 Golf Channel to Expand Coverage of NCAA Women’s and Men’s Regional Championships  

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys, a Four-Part Docu-Series Executive Produced by Rickie Fowler, Premieres on Golf Channel Monday, May 7

 More than 100 News and Tournament Hours Planned for Women’s and Men’s Championships, Back-to-Back Weeks at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla.

 

ORLANDO, Fla., April 24, 2018 – With conference championships underway, golf fans will be able to follow their favorite college golf programs and alma maters as they attempt to qualify and compete in the 2018 NCAA Division I Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships in May at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., as Golf Channel expands its comprehensive on-air and digital collegiate golf coverage the next six weeks.

“Through our new long-term partnership, the NCAA and Golf Channel are successfully raising the profile of college golf by shining a spotlight on the game’s future stars and the passion these programs have in competing for national championships,” said Molly Solomon, Golf Channel executive vice president of content and executive producer. “With our expanded coverage of the regional championships and partnering with OSU alum Rickie Fowler for Driven, our viewers will be treated to the most college golf coverage in network history leading into the NCAA Golf National Championships.”

REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS SELECTION ANNOUNCEMENTS: On Wednesday, April 25 at 5:30 p.m. ET (women) and continuing Wednesday, May 2 at 5:30 p.m. ET (men), Golf Channel will announce the teams and individuals selected by the NCAA to participate in the women’s and men’s regional championships, the first step on the road to the NCAA Golf Championships. Live streaming coverage of selection shows will be available through the Golf Channel Mobile App or GolfChannel.com, and Golf Channel will aggregate social content for the shows using the hashtag #NCAAGolf. 

  • Women’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, April 25, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce (live) the 72 teams and24 individuals selected to compete in the four NCAA Women’s Regional Championships, May 7-9 (18 teams and six individuals per regional). 24 teams and 12 individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.
  • Men’s Golf Championships Regional Selections, Wednesday, May 2, 5:30 p.m. ET: Golf Central will announce the 81 teams and 45 individuals selected to compete in the six NCAA Men’s Regional Championships, May 14-16 (13 teams and 10 individuals at three regionals and 14 teams and five individuals at three regionals). 30 teams and six individuals will advance from regional sites to the national championships.

GOLF CHANNEL TO EXPAND REGIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: New for 2018, Golf Channel will feature expanded coverage of the final day of the NCAA women’s and men’s regional championships, Wednesday May 9 and Wednesday, May 16, respectively. Beginning within Morning Drive, Golf Channel’s daily lifestyle news show, and continuing hourly throughout the day via live Golf Central news updates from 9 a.m.-7 p.m. ET that will be published to Golf Channel Digital and Golf Channel’s social media handles. Coverage will conclude with live news segments, featuring highlights and interviews, announcing the teams and individuals who qualified for the women’s and men’s national championships.

RICKIE FOWLER AND NBC SPORTS COLLABORATE ON FOUR-PART DOCU-SERIES DRIVEN: OKLAHOMA STATE COWBOYS: NBC Sports Group is teaming up with PGA TOUR superstar Rickie Fowler to give viewers a dramatic behind-the-scenes look into Fowler’s alma mater in a four-part documentary series – Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys. Driven, executive produced by Fowler, will premiere Monday, May 7 at 10 p.m. ET and continue Monday, May 14 (10 p.m. ET) and Monday, May 21 (8 p.m. ET). The finale will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16, recapping their season that culminates with a run at a potential 11th national championship, taking place on their home turf.

NCAA GOLF NATIONAL CHAMPIONSHIPS COVERAGE: Contested in back-to-back weeks, May 18-30 at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Golf Channel will dedicate its full suite of production resources to the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships, featuring nearly 30 combined hours of live tournament coverage. In addition, Golf Central will feature nearly 30 hours of combined pre-and post-event live news coverage produced on location, as well as daily news updates on Morning Drive and Golf Channel Digital.                                             

Golf Channel NCAA Women’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   21       

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   22          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   22                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   23            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

Golf Channel NCAA Men’s Golf Championships Coverage

Monday, May   28      

Individual National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Tuesday, May   29          

Quarterfinals, Team   Match Play  

11 a.m.-1:30 p.m. ET   (Live)

Tuesday, May   29                 

Semifinals, Team Match   Play 

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

Wednesday, May   30            

Team National   Championship  

4-8 p.m. ET (Live)

 

COLLEGE CENTRAL – GOLF CHANNEL DIGITAL COVERAGE: Golf Channel is providing comprehensive coverage leading up to and during the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships as part of College Central,Golf Channel Digital’s home for college golf. Led by Jay Coffin, Ryan Lavner and Steve Burkowski, College Central will be the source for all things college golf, including tournament results and scores, features and columns, video highlights and breaking news.

CONFERENCE CHAMPIONSHIPS NEWS COVERAGE: Golf Channel will cover the conference championships with scores and analysis across its on-air news platforms - Morning Drive and Golf Central – and online within College Central.

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With help from partner, Burns could secure Tour status

By Ryan LavnerApril 24, 2018, 8:33 pm

AVONDALE, La. – This week Sam Burns has yet another chance to secure special temporary membership for the rest of the PGA Tour season, but his partner may determine whether he’s ultimately successful.

In an interesting twist, Burns is burning one of his seven available sponsor exemptions this week at the Zurich Classic. He is 80 non-member points shy of securing special temporary membership, which would allow him to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season.

Burns needs at least a two-way tie for fourth to earn the necessary points, but it won’t all depend on how he plays this week. The Zurich is a two-man game, with two rounds apiece of fourballs and alternate shot.

Burns' partner this week is William McGirt. Their games couldn’t be more different – Burns ranks eighth on Tour in driving distance, at 309 yards per pop, while McGirt is 143rd (290) – but they hope to compliment each other over four days at TPC Louisiana.


Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


“I got a good pair of spurs sharpened up last week while I was in San Antonio,” joked McGirt, who is looking for his first top-10 since the fall. “I told him I was going to ride him hard this week. It’ll be fun.”

Burns will have at least two (and maybe three) more opportunities to earn status, with starts lined up next week at the Wells Fargo Championship and also at the Memorial. He doesn’t face quite as much pressure because he won earlier this month on the Web.com Tour and currently sits fourth on the money list, essentially locking up his PGA Tour card for next season.

“It’s obviously nice to have that win,” he said, “but at the same time you have to be careful and make sure you play enough out there to where you’re secure for sure. You don’t want to get at the end of the year and then have two or three events left and you have to make a certain amount of money to get your card.

“So I’m just going step by step, tournament by tournament, and trying to figure out what’s the best route.”   

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Spieth-Palmer draw Rahm-Bryan early at Zurich

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:49 pm

AVONDALE, La. – The PGA Tour’s only team event gets underway Thursday at the Zurich Classic. Here are some featured groups to watch at TPC Louisiana.

Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley/Daniel Berger-Gary Woodland: 8:39 a.m. ET Thursday off 10 tee, 2:08 p.m. Friday off 1: 

The Bama boys, Thomas and Cauley, team up for the second consecutive year, after tying for fifth a year ago on the strength of a final-round 61. Berger teamed with Thomas Pieters a year ago but missed the cut, so he’ll try his luck with Woodland, who also shares a management team at Excel Sports.

Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer/Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan: 8:52 a.m. Thursday off 10, 2:19 p.m. Friday off 1: 

Spieth and Palmer finished fourth a year ago, five shots back of the leaders. Spieth is making his first start since his epic Sunday run at the Masters. Rahm and Bryan have opposite strengths – Rahm is one of the game’s preeminent drivers, while Bryan, statistically, is one of the worst – but the Spaniard is coming off a European Tour victory at home. Another wrinkle here: Even though no world-ranking points are on offer this week, Rahm is set to supplant Spieth as the third-ranked player in the world.

Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels/Brooks Koepka-Marc Turnesa: 1:31 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:42 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Two stars with questionable sidekicks. Ruffels is an up-and-coming Australian who has been playing primarily in Latin America. (He also shares a manager with Day.) Turnesa, meanwhile, got the call late last week from Koepka, who is finally ready to return from a 15-week layoff because of a wrist injury. They both play out of Medalist in South Florida, but Turnesa, 40, has turned his attention to real estate instead of professional golf.

Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay/Jonas Blixt-Cameron Smith: 1:44 p.m. Thursday off 1, 9:53 a.m. Friday off 10: 

Reed makes his first start as Masters champion after taking off the past two weeks. This duo tied for 14th last year, undone by a Saturday 75 in foursomes play. Blixt and Smith are the defending champions, after shooting 27 under par last year and holding off Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown in a playoff. Blixt doesn’t have a top-10 on Tour since then, while Smith tied for fifth at the Match Play and the Masters.

Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson/Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar: 1:57 p.m. Thursday off 1, 10:04 a.m. Friday off 10:

Rose and Stenson, who have proved to be a formidable pairing in the Ryder Cup, were a stunning missed cut last year, after shooting 6 under par for two rounds. Watson teamed up with J.B. Holmes to finish fifth last year, while Kuchar is making his first start in this event since 2009.

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Zurich Classic: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 24, 2018, 7:09 pm

The PGA Tour tries team competition for the second year in a row at the Zurich Classic. Here are the key stats and information for play at TPC LouisianaClick here for full-field tee times.

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 2:30-6:30PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream: https://www.golfchannel.com/pgastream; CBS, 3-6 p.m.


Purse: $7,200,000 ($1,036,800 to each winner)

Course: TPC Louisiana (par 72; 7,425 yards)

Defending champions: Cameron Smith and Jonas Blixt (-27) in a playoff over Scott Brown and Kevin Kisner


News and notes

• All four reigning major champions - Brooks Koepka, Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed - are in the field this week. This is the first time all four reigning major winners have played this event since 1984 (Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Tom Watson, Hall Sutton).

 Both members of winning team this week will earn an official PGA Tour victory, two-year Tour exemptions, and exemptions into the Players and PGA Championships.

• That said, no Official World Golf Ranking points are awarded from this event and winners will not earn exemptions into the 2019 Masters.


Notable teams in the field 

Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson

 Rose won this event in 2014, when it was individual stroke play. From 2012-16, he was a combined 60 under at TPC Louisiana in stroke play, seven shots better than any other player.

 Rose has dramatically improved his performance on the greens from last season, moving from 123rd in strokes gained-putting to 10th.

 Stenson's last three starts look like this: solo 4th at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, T-6 at the Houston Open, and T-5 at the Masters.

Jon Rahm and Wesley Bryan

 Rahm is coming off a victory at the Spanish Open, his second worldwide win in 2018 and fifth since Jan. 2017.

 Rahm outdrives Bryan by an average of 30 yards off the tee, 305.1 to 276.3.

 Rahm is second on Tour in the strokes gained-off the tee, while Bryan is 210th, last among qualifying players.

Patrick Reed and Patrick Cantlay

 Reed is just the fifth reigning Masters champ to play the Zurich since 2000, joining Vijay Singh, Phil Mickelson (twice), and Bubba Watson.

 Reed has gone T-2, T-7, T-9, WIN in his last four starts.

 Cantlay broke through for his maiden PGA Tour win earlier this season at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas.