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Monday Scramble: Walker ready for Masters; Is Tiger?

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Jimmy Walker takes a 30-minute joy ride back home, the Masters field approaches the century mark, Lydia Ko inches closer to history and so much more in this week’s Texas-sized edition of the Monday Scramble: 

Forget what the Official World Golf Ranking says, that Jimmy Walker is *only* the 10th-ranked player on the planet. His five PGA Tour victories since the start of last season are two more than any other player. More than Rory McIlroy. More than Bubba Watson. More than Patrick Reed. 

Don’t be fooled that Walker is behind No. 8 Sergio Garcia (perennial bridesmaid) and No. 9 Jim Furyk (winless since 2010). Never mind that No. 2 Henrik Stenson doesn’t have a PGA Tour W since September 2013. Since the start of last season, no one has more PGA Tour top-10s (15) and more birdies (589) than Walker. His name has been atop the FedEx Cup standings since what seems like the early '90s. The late bloomer may not be fully appreciated by the OWGR, but there's no debating his five wins in less than 18 months.

The only thing missing from his résumé, of course, is a big-time title, a major championship, and as luck would have it there’s one that begins in 10 days. Last year, with little major experience, he finished in the top 10 in three Grand Slam events, including a T-8 in his Augusta debut.

If he’s not at least near the top of your list of Masters favorites ... well ... start over.  

1. That 54-hole-leaders-can’t-close storyline was fun while it lasted.

For the first time in two months – since Bill Haas nailed down the Humana Challenge – a third-round leader went on to win a PGA Tour event. From Jim Furyk to Ian Poulter to Henrik Stenson, the overnight lead has been a death blow to some of the Tour’s best players.

Walker led the Valero by four shots after 54 holes and went on to win by the same margin, so ending a run of nine PGA Tour events in which the third-round leader didn’t seal the deal. Only one of the 11 leaders or co-leaders during that span broke par in the final round (combined scoring average: 72.9). 

On Sunday, as Jordan Spieth went on a four-birdie run to briefly add some drama to an otherwise sleepy event, Walker slammed the door with a slippery par save on 15 and macho birdies on 16 and 17. That's how it's done.

2. Walker’s updated record when he holds the outright lead after 54 holes: 3-0.

Which is why he cruises home like a boss:

3. So here was an unexpected revelation during the Valero Texas Open: Zach Johnson needs some serious help with the flat stick.

He changed putters for the first time in more than a decade – opting for a Scotty Cameron mallet instead of his old SeeMore – and that clearly didn’t work. Of the 75 players who made the cut, Johnson was 73rd in strokes gained-putting. Despite ranking first in strokes gained-tee to green – no small feat for a short hitter on a big-boy course – he forfeited nearly 5.2 shots on the greens. 

For the season, Johnson is now ranked 162nd on Tour in SGP. Keep in mind this is a player who has never finished outside the top 100 and usually ranks as a top-15 putter. Alarming, to say the least.

4. The Masters field could hit triple digits for the first time since 1966. Ninety-nine players have qualified for the year’s first major, and that includes a very questionable Tiger Woods. Anirban Lahiri, Bernd Wiesberger, Branden Grace and Paul Casey all punched their tickets March 29 after cracking the OWGR top 50 deadline.

The only way a player can still qualify for the Masters is if he wins this week’s Shell Houston Open. The Masters hasn’t had a field with 100 or more players since 1966, when there were 103 participants. (Four years ago, there were 99.) Based on past statements by chairman Billy Payne, this development will not please the club. 

5. The opening round of last week’s PGA Tour event was the Valero Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

The gory numbers:

  • 12 under-par scores (10 of which came in the afternoon)
  • 23 of the 69 players in the morning wave failed to break 80
  • A morning-wave scoring average of 78.6
  • 137 double bogeys or worse
  • A total field score of 662 (!) over par

In the end, the Round 1 scoring average was 76.685 – the toughest single round in a non-major on Tour since 1999. Because nothing gets you ready for the Masters like getting your teeth kicked in!

6. An eye-popping stat made the rounds last week: Lydia Ko has played 48 events as a pro and amateur, and made the cut in all 48. Truly remarkable stuff, especially for a 17-year-old, but let’s face it: The LPGA isn’t exactly brimming with depth. Stacy Lewis hasn’t missed a cut since April 2012, either. 

Instead, an even more wipe-your-eyes stat is this: Lydia Ko has now shot 28 consecutive under-par rounds on the LPGA. That’s only one off the all-time record, set in 2004 by Annika Sorenstam, one of the greatest female golfers in history, when she was 34.

Think about that: Ko has put up 28 consecutive red numbers. Even when she’s not feeling well, or her long game is off, or she can’t buy a putt … she still finishes the day under par. She’s done so every LPGA round since Nov. 13. That's incredible poise from someone who can't even buy a lottery ticket. What we’re witnessing is truly a once-in-a-generation talent.

7. Tiger Woods insider Notah Begay III said that the former world No. 1 has a “50-50” chance to the play the Masters. Yet using Woods’ own reasoning, that number should be significantly lower.


Because when Tiger stepped away from the game, he said he’d only return when he felt like he could compete and win. Last we checked, a "50-50" chance to play is a far cry from being 100 percent committed and ready to win. There’s little doubt that he’s working hard and trying to get his game in shape for the year’s first major, but rushing back a return could only lead to more scar tissue and embarrassment. And that's the last thing he needs with a yippy short game and crisis of confidence. 

8. Speaking of Tiger … does the number 6,749 mean anything? That’s how many days it’s been since Woods was ranked outside the top 100 in the world. He is now No. 104 – sandwiched between an injured Thorbjorn Olesen and a streaking (not literally) Jason Kokrak. 

9. When I was 21, I shared a four-bedroom apartment with a few friends in Athens, Ga. Our rent was $1,400, split four ways, and even that was pushing it. My bedroom was so messy, visitors were surprised to learn there actually was carpet in there. The entertainment center was swiped from a neighbor’s front lawn. The shower curtain in the bathroom was adorned with basketballs, baseballs and soccer balls, briefly earning me the nickname "Spalding". The first and last time I cleaned the toilet was our move-out date. 

This is (somewhat) revelant now because Jordan Spieth is 21, and he just got the keys to a $2.2 million McMansion in the Dallas suburbs. (His $669,600 paycheck should help ease the sticker shock.) According to the listing on, there is a two-story office, a tanning ledge at the pool and a 288-bottle wine closet, because, apparently, he has taken a liking to the stuff in his eight months as a legal boozer. Silently weep with us:  

Ohhhh, so THAT'S what 7,378 square feet looks like

The kitchen, which seems like a LOT of space to fire up those Hungry-Man microwavable dinners

Brick pavers were a wise choice, because, like, who has time to mow nowadays? 

10. By the way, there’s a young star on the LPGA who is making a Spieth-like impact this season: Alison Lee.

The similarities are striking:

  • She’s 20
  • She was a former No. 1-ranked junior 
  • She left college (UCLA) after a year and a half 
  • She already has three top-25s in four early-season starts 
  • She briefly held the lead Sunday at the Kia before a closing 71. She finished solo fourth.

And like Spieth, she's a good bet to notch a win in her first full season on tour. 

11. BY FAR the best part of this viral video: Luke Donald resigned to the fact that (A) MJ was not going to miss this shot, and (B) at 5-foot-9, he had absolutely no chance of securing a rebound.

A surreal Shot Tracker graphic for arguably the flukiest birdie of all time. Aaron Baddeley took an unplayable lie after his tee shot went way left (1) on the par-4 17th. He headed back to the tee (2), grabbed another ball, and promptly found the bottom of the cup (3) – from 336 yards away. That’s a birdie-3, the hard way.   

Even more amazing: There is NO video of this shot!

This week's award winners ... 

A Tradition Unlike Any Other: Tim Herron's Masters scripting. Warning: Friday's outfit may cause nightmares. 

You’re Not Dead Yet!: Jose Maria Olazabal. His T-9 finish at the Trophee Hassan was his first top-10 since the 2013 Irish Open. Before last week, he had broken 70 only four times in his last 53 European Tour rounds. 

But Seriously ... Is It Over?: Phil Mickelson. He’ll always be dangerous at the majors – look at how he nearly stole last year’s PGA – but a two-year slump isn’t an aberration. It’s a cold, new reality. The only way he contends at Augusta is if he finds a magic putter that doesn’t miss inside 8 feet.  

Worst Week Ever: Golf equipment. Last week, the equipment trailers doubled as a morgue. Srixon/Cleveland lost its president. TaylorMade named its third CEO in the past year. Phil lost the head on his 8-iron. Troy Merritt shattered the face of his 2-iron. G-Mac bent his putter. Yowsers.

Best Mid-Shot Exclamation: Chesson Hadley. "BE SOMEBODY!"

Comeback Player of the Week: Dustin Johnson. Was blown away (with the rest of the morning wave) during an opening 78. Made the cut on the number. Weekend 68s. Tied for fifth.

And the Sports Emmy Goes To … : Truly exceptional work by the NBC golf crew, which set Kevin Na’s memorable 16 to Taylor Swift’s “Out of the Woods.” 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Jim Furyk. Stumbled to a T-58 on a track where he’d finished in the top 6 each of the past two years. We had Spieth and laughed all the way to the bank.

The latest update: 

  1. Bubba Watson: When he drives down Magnolia Lane in search of his third green jacket in four years, here’s guessing he won’t remember that blown lead at Doral.
  2. Jason Day: The big-time player rises to the occasion in the biggest events.
  3. Jordan Spieth: Confidence is sky-high after six top-5s his last 10 worldwide starts. Augusta fits his game – he had one arm in the green jacket last year with 11 holes to play.  
  4. Rory McIlroy: Three pedestrian starts in Florida identified a major flaw – his so-so wedge game – but even his C-game was good enough to top 10. He’ll need to be sharper at Augusta. 
  5. Jimmy Walker: That booming, right-to-left ball flight plays well at Augusta, which helps explain why he top-tenned there last year in his first go-around.  

Others receiving votes: Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed, Adam Scott

The Tiger-proofing didn’t just take a toll on Woods – it made it tougher on everyone. Augusta National is no longer the fun, light-it-up birdie-fest that it was for so many years. Instead of players hitting driver-iron into par 5s, it’s a slog, both physically and mentally. The considerable length of the course still favors the long hitter, but Woods is no longer among the Tour’s premier big boppers. In this scribe’s opinion, the club went too far with its changes to the course. It’s a far less interesting venue. 

If we’re talking off-the-radar names – or guys ranked outside the OWGR top 15 – you could do worse than consider:

  • Brooks Koepka: The rib injury is a concern, and so is the fact that he’s heading into Augusta sans scouting trip, but he should be able to contend in his first try.
  • Lee Westwood: Five years in a row now he has finished inside the top 11 at Augusta. Now that he’s playing more consistently (all six Tour starts have resulted in top-25s), he’s the best sleeper option.
  • Brandt Snedeker: Gassed after a hectic early-season run, but he loves the National and should ride a flat stick to another high finish.   

Practice at Augusta? Not yet, at least. From every report we’ve heard, he’s having enough trouble in his own backyard, let alone Augusta’s treacherous greens. The percentage chance that Woods plays (and this is purely a guess): 25%.