Monday Scramble: G-Mac prevails; Races to be won

By Ryan LavnerNovember 16, 2015, 8:30 pm

Graeme McDowell ends his transitional year on a high note, Russell Knox runs out of gas, the LPGA draws up the perfect season finale, two high-profile caddies trade in their bags for microphones and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Graeme McDowell’s resurgent performance in Mexico was a much-needed reminder of how often life can intervene. 

Contrary to popular belief, those PGA Tour players on our TV screens are not robots. They, too, are humans. And so McDowell, like so many others, has struggled with productivity and desire and motivation following the birth of his first child. He didn’t have the same itch to go practice, to play, to improve. It happens.

His game suffered. His world ranking tumbled. He started to wonder whether he still had the game to win tournaments, to be a major champion, to play on Ryder Cup teams.

McDowell has a strong team around him, and after he realized that what he was experiencing was normal, that it was human, he went back to work with a fresh perspective.

“I’ve been dreaming of this day,” he said after winning in a playoff against Russell Knox and Jason Bohn, “and I said to myself: I’m going to appreciate this when it came.” 

The Mayakoba victory comes with many perks: an invitation to the Masters, a mention from European Ryder Cup captain Darren Clarke and a two-year security blanket on Tour, in case life intervenes again.

“It’s been a rough year,” McDowell said, “but for all the right reasons.” 

1. Graeme McDowell may have gone 31 months between PGA Tour titles, but apparently he never lost his clutch gene.

His highlight reel is a lengthy one. 

In 2010, he holed a 20-footer on the last to force a playoff with Tiger Woods at the World Challenge, then made a longer birdie putt on the first extra hole. That capped a year in which he won his first major and holed the clinching putt in the Ryder Cup. In 2013, he erased a four-shot deficit on the final day and defeated Webb Simpson in a playoff at the Heritage. And last year, G-Mac went 3-0 at the Ryder Cup, including a come-from-behind singles victory against Jordan Spieth. 

So no, that kind of clutchness doesn’t just disappear.

Which brings us to Monday, when McDowell sank an 8-foot par putt on the 72nd hole to post 18 under, then nearly holed his 205-yard approach on the first playoff hole. All he had left was 2 1/2 feet for the win.

“As good a 5-iron as I can hit,” he said.  

2. How miserable has G-Mac’s 2015 been? His victory at Mayakoba was his first top-10 since January, a span of 24 events. 

3. One of McDowell’s keys to victory came from an unlikely source. Greg Norman sent McDowell a text on the eve of the final round telling him to complete his backswing, because he had gotten "short" and "quick." McDowell then reminded himself of that swing tip when he struck one of the best iron shots of his decorated career.

“That was nice to get a little positive reinforcement,” he said. 

4. Knox’s overly ambitious schedule may have caught up with him at the worst possible time.

“Running on fumes” after playing five consecutive events this fall (including a 10,000-mile trip from Shanghai to Playa del Carmen, Mexico), Knox had a one-shot lead on the 18th hole Monday when he hooked his tee shot into a fairway bunker. With nearly 200 yards to the flag, and a steep lip to clear, Knox couldn’t advance the ball to the green. Worse, he failed to get up and down from a straightforward spot short of the green. In the playoff, he missed the green with an 8-iron and made par.

Though Knox said he didn’t expect to be in contention so soon after his maiden victory at the WGC-HSBC Champions, he said: “I was right there. I should have got it done.”

The last player to win his first two tournaments in consecutive starts? Camilo Villegas, who went back-to-back at the 2008 BMW Championship and Tour Championship. 

5. The only two wins of Bohn’s career have come five years apart. He almost kept the streak alive at Mayakoba, where he missed a 25-foot birdie on the first playoff hole. 

Since his last victory, at the 2010 Zurich Classic, Bohn has recorded seven runner-up finishes. He already has two this season, after a close call in Las Vegas, and now has top-3 finishes in three of his four fall starts. 

It's official: Bohn has joined Kevin Na in professional golf’s torture chamber.   

6. There weren’t many doubts to begin with, but there should be no question now whether No. 1-ranked amateur Jon Rahm is ready for the pros.

The Arizona State senior has four starts on the PGA Tour. He has made three cuts and finished in the top 10 twice – a T-5 at the Phoenix Open earlier this year, and now a T-10 at Mayakoba. 

This high finish was particularly impressive, for Rahm began his final round with back-to-back double bogeys. He rebounded with six birdies and remained steady in wild weather Monday morning. 

After earning the McCormack Medal as the world’s top-ranked amateur, Rahm has exemptions into the 2016 U.S. Open and Open Championship - provided he remains an amateur. Expect to see the big hitter turn pro after Oakmont, and make an immediate impact.  

7. Much has been made recently of the international players who are gassed having to traverse back and forth across the Atlantic to fulfill the obligations of dual membership.

Patrick Reed doesn’t seem to mind.

Even at the end of a long season, Reed has posted three consecutive top-10s in Asia, including a playoff loss at last week’s BMW Masters. The busy fall stretch has moved Reed into the top 15 in the season-long Race to Dubai – and back inside the top 15 in the world.

8. That Reed is even still a European Tour member was up for discussion this past week.

According to the tour’s website, Reed has played 12 events this season – one short of the tour requirement, which he will fulfill this week in Dubai – but only 11 tournaments are listed. 

The missing event? Interestingly enough, it's the Presidents Cup, which counts toward the membership total even though European-born players can’t compete on the International squad.

9. Speaking of which … new European Tour CEO Keith Pelley is expected to announce this week changes to both the circuit’s Final Series and its membership policies.

The Final Series will be reduced from four events to three, with the WGC-HSBC Champions falling out of the rotation. That makes sense, because the limited field for the World Golf Championships event kept out many of the European Tour’s deserving players, including Victor Dubuisson, who won the Finals opener. 

The tour will also announce that the number of required events will drop from 13 (including majors and WGCs) to five events, excluding majors and WGCs. A big deal? Not for the top international players, such as Rory McIlroy and Justin Rose, who will still have to book five trips across the Atlantic. But it should make a difference for fringe stars like Luke Donald and Ian Poulter, who might not qualify for some of golf’s biggest events.  

10. The top six players in the Race to Dubai standings have a chance to win the season-long prize.

Here is how they can win the title:

  • Rory McIlroy wins if … he finishes ahead of Danny Willett. 
  • Willett wins if … he finishes ahead of McIlroy.
  • Justin Rose wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (eighth or worse if Rose is second).
  • Shane Lowry wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (ninth or worse if Lowry is second).
  • Louis Oosthuizen wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (12th or worse if Oosthuizen is second). 
  • Branden Grace wins if … he wins or finishes solo second, and McIlroy and Willett finish third or worse (43rd or worse if Grace is second). 
  • Byeong-Hun An wins if … he wins and McIlroy and Willett finish 29th or worse. 

11. Seems Sergio Garcia has no use for playoff systems this year. 

After skipping the first two events in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, the Spaniard will play only half of the European Tour’s Final Series after he confirmed that he will not be a part of the 60-man field this week in Dubai. 

Garcia was 27th in the standings, after a T-11 finish at the BMW Masters, but he will not play in the Euro Tour’s season finale. No reason was given for his withdrawal, but it’s the second time in the past three years that he has opted out of the final event. 

12. Inbee Park just made this week’s CME Group Tour Championship a whole lot more interesting. 

With a closing 64 at the Lorena Ochoa Invitational, Park tied Lydia Ko for the most wins this season (five) and inched to within three points of the teen phenom for Player of the Year honors. It was a remarkable performance, especially since Park recently shelved the clubs for eight days because of a painful cyst in her left hand. 

Almost all of the attention will be on the top two stars, who are in form and primed for a Sunday showdown in Naples. But there is more at stake at the Tour Championship: The top nine on the points list have a mathematical chance to win the $1 million bonus for capturing the season-long Race to the CME Globe, while the top three (Ko, Park and Stacy Lewis) control their own destiny with a win. 

13. With Ko deciding to sit out last week's event in Mexico because of exhaustion, Park has now pulled ahead in the race for the lowest scoring average. Park has a 69.433 average – .016 better than Ko.

14. Let's face it: Not much about this fall series has produced must-see TV, but it’ll be great fun to listen to longtime caddies Jim “Bones” Mackay and John Wood as they serve as on-course reporters during Golf Channel’s telecast of the RSM Classic. (Hey, I’m nothing if not a company man.)

These loopers should bring a new perspective that will be a refreshing contrast to the clichés spouted by many of the ex-players in the booth. That Mackay and Wood just so happen to be two of the most cerebral and articulate people in the game is an added bonus for viewers. 

Can’t trust those hotel shuttles.

Four players competing in last week's Lorena Ochoa Invitational were spared disqualification after the LPGA invoked a rarely used rule and pushed back the players’ tee times because of “exceptional circumstances.” 

The reason? 

Traffic jams in Mexico City, which turned what should have been a 15-minute shuttle ride from the hotel into a two-hour, 15-minute nightmare.

Citing Decision 6-3a/1.5 – which allows tour officials discretion during “exceptional circumstances beyond the players’ control” – the tee times for the final three groups were delayed 53 minutes to accommodate the late-arriving players. 

Hey, who knows, a similar situation may arise this week in Naples. Beware the snowbirds.

This week's award winners ... 

Like Father, Like Son: Dru Love. The son of Ryder Cup captain Davis Love III will make his PGA Tour debut this week at the RSM Classic, where he received a sponsor exemption but still had to play his way into the field.

Friends of Spieth: Kramer Hickok and Alex Moon. Spieth's former roomates and college teammates each shot 66 in the final round of Tour Q-School to advance to final stage and secure at least some status next year on the developmental circuit. 

Overtime Rules: The PGA Tour. The last time that the Tour had consecutive unscheduled Monday finishes? All the way back in 2005, when The Players and BellSouth Classic each went an extra day.

Goodbye, Top 50: Lee Westwood. The Englishman, who reached world No. 1 only four years ago, has fallen out of the top 50 in the world for the first time since '07. He has played every Masters since '05, but that streak is now in jeopardy. 

Back to School: Hunter Stewart. He top-tenned at Mayakoba and earned a spot in this week's RSM Classic field. Only problem? He can't play. He has a date at Q-School's second stage. 

The Machine: Henrik Stenson, who missed only seven fairways all week en route to a T-3 finish at the BMW Masters. A good sign as he heads to Dubai, where has a 66.9 scoring average the past two years there (both wins).

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.