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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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Woods, Leishman, Fleetwood grouped at Northern Trust

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 10:55 pm

While 125 players qualified for The Northern Trust this week, only 120 have decided to tee it up at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey. Here's a look at a few of the marquee, early-round tee times where players are grouped via FedExCup standing and Tiger Woods makes his first start since a runner-up performance at the PGA Championship (all times ET):

7:54 a.m. Thursday, 12:55 p.m. Friday: Tiger Woods, Marc Leishman, Tommy Fleetwood

Woods starts the postseason at No. 20 in the points race, with a great chance to advance to the season-ending Tour Championship for the first time since 2013. He'll look to pad his point total this week in the Garden State, making his return to competition after a week off following a strong showing at Bellerive. He'll play the first two rounds with Leishman, who has two runner-up finishes this season, and Fleetwood, who nearly caught Brooks Koepka at the U.S. Open.


8:05 a.m. Thursday, 1:06 p.m. Friday: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka

There should be no shortage of eye-popping drives from this trio, who comprise the top three in the season-long points race heading into the playoffs. Johnson holds the No. 1 spot in both the world rankings and the FedExCup, having won three times since January, while Thomas will look to become the first player to go back-to-back in the playoffs and Koepka hopes to add to a career year that already includes two majors.


8:16 a.m. Thursday, 1:17 p.m. Friday: Webb Simpson, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau

Simpson got back into the winner's circle in impressive fashion at The Players Championship, and he heads into the playoffs off a T-2 finish last week at the Wyndham Championship. Molinari cruised to victory at the Quicken Loans National before his major triumph at Carnoustie, while DeChambeau's win at the Memorial highlighted his season that brought him to the cusp of a Ryder Cup berth.


12:44 p.m. Thursday, 7:43 a.m. Friday: Jordan Spieth, Beau Hossler, Byeong-Hun An

Normally featured among the points leaders at this point in the season, Spieth heads into the playoffs at No. 43 in the standings, sandwiched between a pair of players whose best results came in playoff losses. Hossler has had a quietly strong season that was highlighted by a runner-up to Ian Poulter in overtime at the Houston Open, while An lost a playoff to DeChambeau at the Memorial.


12:55 p.m. Thursday, 7:54 a.m. Friday: Patrick Reed, Phil Mickelson, Tony Finau

There will be four green jackets among this group, as the reigning Masters champ is joined by a pair of Ryder Cup hopefuls in Mickelson and Finau. Lefty broke a lengthy victory drought with his WGC-Mexico win in March but has largely slowed this summer, while Finau notched top-10 finishes in each of the first three majors to enter the discussion for possible picks for Paris.

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Randall's Rant: Too much Tiger for his own good?

By Randall MellAugust 20, 2018, 10:00 pm

We could be getting a dose of way too much Tiger Woods.

Yeah, that’s difficult to fathom, given how good his return to the game has been on so many levels, but the man might be too close to winning for his own good right now.

I’m not a doctor, I don’t play one on TV, and I didn’t sleep at a Holiday Inn Express last night, but a reasonable person has to wonder how playing the next three weeks in a row – five of the next six weeks – will affect Woods’ surgically fused spine.

That isn’t to say Woods is actually going to end up playing that much, but it looms as a real possibility.

In fact, dating back to the WGC Bridgestone, it’s possible he could be amid a run of playing seven times in the last nine weeks.

My sacroiliac joint is throbbing at the thought.

Beginning with The Northern Trust this week, Woods is committed to the first three legs of the FedExCup Playoffs, and it’s difficult to imagine he wouldn’t play the final leg at the Tour Championship if he qualifies.

It’s impossible to imagine he won’t be among Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks to play the Ryder Cup.

So if Woods continues this streak of strong play, what’s going to give?

We hope it isn’t his back.

Or his neck.

Or his knees.

Only Woods and his doctors really know how much the 42-year-old can take physically, but there is more to lose than to gain by overdoing it now.

Yeah, the FedExCup Playoffs are great fun, more meaningful with each passing year, but it’s all about the major championships now for Woods.

Competitively, it’s all that matters.

Nobody but the most anal Tiger fans are going to remember how many FedExCups he won, but we’re all going to remember how many majors he won.

We’re all going to remember him resuming his pursuit of Jack Nicklaus, if that’s where his summer tease is taking us, with Woods’ T-6 at The Open last month and his second-place finish at the PGA Championship two weeks ago.

Whether you are a Woods fan or not, how can you not want to see a historic chase of Jack as Tiger’s last chapter?

The game soars to yet another level with that.

A legion of young, new fans come pouring into the game even if Tiger only gets to 17 major championship titles.

So while the FedExCup Playoffs give us a postseason in golf, make Player of the Year chases more interesting and Ryder Cup captain’s picks more intriguing, they are a mere prelude for Tiger.

The playoffs give him another chance to get ready for next year’s Masters.

They give him a chance to win something before heading to Augusta National.

They give him another chance to rebuild his closing skills.

Woods doesn’t have to win the overall FedExCup to do that.

And he doesn’t have to play every event he commits to playing. He’s 20th in FedExCup points right now. He can get to the Tour Championship without playing all three of the legs leading there.

The tough spot for Woods is withdrawing from a FedExCup event. It’s trickier for him. With all the extra tickets sold when he commits, with all the excitement his anticipated arrival creates, it feels like a broken promise when he backs out.

Yeah, other players WD before big events for reasons beyond injury, but they don’t create the massive disappointment Woods creates.

For somebody invested in wanting to see Tiger vs. Jack reprised, it’s a lot easier to live with seeing Woods pull out of a FedExCup Playoff event to rest than to see him WD from one with an injury.

There’s more excitement in the prospect of seeing a lot of Woods in the majors next year than seeing too much of him now.

Here’s hoping somebody helps Tiger gets his FedExCup Playoff dosage right. His pain could be golf’s pain.

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Watch: Marshawn Lynch's golf game could use some work

By Grill Room TeamAugust 20, 2018, 8:15 pm

NFL star running back Marshawn Lynch is pretty great at driving golf carts, but from the looks of a video that surfaced this weekend, his golf prowess starts and ends there.

"Beast Mode" was in attendance at Klay Thompson's charity event in San Francisco on Sunday, and luckily the Golden State Warriors shooting guard caught Lynch's swing on camera - because it is a sight to behold.

Dressed in a traditional golf hoodie, the former Super Bowl champion who has been thrilling fans with his raw athleticism and power on the gridiron for more than a decade showed off a swing that would make Charles Barkley blush.

Lynch was not questioned about the swing by members of media afterwards, although there's a pretty good chance you already know how he would've answered.

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Stenson (elbow) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 20, 2018, 5:41 pm

Former FedExCup champ Henrik Stenson will start his postseason on the sideline, as he withdrew on Monday from The Northern Trust because of an elbow injury.

Stenson captured the season-long title back in 2013, when he won two of the four playoff events. At 50th in the current points standings, he's assured of a spot next week at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship and likely to make the field at the 70-man BMW Championship the following week.

A PGA Tour official confirmed that Stenson cited the elbow injury as the reason for his withdrawal. He was bothered by an injured elbow last month that led him to withdraw from the Scottish Open and limited his prep for The Open, where he tied for 35th.

The 42-year-old defended his title last week at the Wyndham Championship, tying for 20th place after shooting a 6-under 64 in the final round.

"It's fine, I can practice and I can play without any problems as of now, but I can't really go after it in the gym fully," Stenson told reporters last week in Greensboro. "The main thing that we can play and practice without having any problems there, so it's getting better."

The intrigue around Stenson's decision grows when the context of the Ryder Cup is taken into consideration. The Swede has represented Europe in the biennial matches four times, but he's currently 16th in both the European Points and World Points lists with only two weeks remaining in the qualification window.

Even before skipping this week's event in New Jersey, Stenson appeared likely to need a pick from captain Thomas Bjorn, who will round out his 12-man roster with four selections on Sept. 5. Other notable players who are not currently in position to qualify include Sergio Garcia, Ian Poulter, Paul Casey, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Russell Knox, Matthew Fitzpatrick and Thomas Pieters.

Stenson becomes the fifth player to withdraw from this week's field, which does not feature alternates and is now down to 120 players. Rory McIlroy opted to rest up this week, while Patrick Rodgers is skipping the tournament to attend a wedding. Both Rickie Fowler (oblique) and Bud Cauley (June car accident) withdrew because of injury.