Monday Scramble: Loss of the King looms on RC week

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2016, 4:10 pm

Golf loses a legend, Rory McIlroy steals the FedEx Cup, Ryan Moore makes the U.S. team, Ryder Cup mania begins and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

The sport is worse off today, after the heartbreaking news Sunday night that Arnold Palmer, the King, had died at age 87.

It was a life well lived. Arnie was the most transformative figure in golf history, and the most important, his impact stretching far greater than his 62 wins or his seven major titles. No one did more to popularize the game. He was beloved, appreciated, revered. He was, in every sense of the word, an icon. 

Everyone has an Arnold Palmer story, so here is mine: It was Bay Hill, March 2010, his tournament – and my first day on the job at Golfweek magazine. I was nervous. Hesitant. I was 22 years old, in my first pro gig.

A colleague and I wandered out onto the course. Waiting in a cart behind the first green, the very first person I saw, was Arnold Palmer. We locked eyes, and he gave me a big smile and a thumbs up, and immediately I felt at ease. That's what I'll remember most. He was disarming. 

He made everyone feel special, even with the tiniest gesture. There will never – ever – be another superstar like him.

1. There are so many wonderful tributes to Arnold Palmer today. Please take some time to read some of ours, including this, this and this.

2. As Sunday night turned into Monday morning, Golf Channel went deep into the night, bringing in some of golf's biggest names to share their memories of the King. Some reflections were particularly poignant. Grab a Kleenex for these eight minutes with Fred Couples:

3. When you’re Rory McIlroy, even lost seasons still turn out OK. 

What had been a year filled with frustration ended Sunday in unlikely fashion – with majestic shots and clutch putts and, best of all, fist pumps and primal screams. It was the McIlroy we’d grown accustomed to seeing. The alpha dog. 

Add it all up, and this season he won twice, had eight top-10s and cleared nearly $5.8 million in earnings. Only two seasons (2012, 2014) have been more profitable.

No, it wasn't the year he hoped for, especially in the majors. But after sweeping the FedEx Cup/Tour Championship titles, he said: "I've made it no secret that it's one of the last things I feel like I had left on my golfing CV."

4. McIlroy has been so brilliant, so often, that it's easy to lose perspective. Not yet 28, he now has 13 PGA Tour titles. 

The only players in the past 25 years with more wins at this point in their careers? Tiger and Phil.

5. It took 10 years, but the FedEx Cup finally has its signature moment.

Sure, there were other points over the past few years when you thought, “Hey, this playoff thing is pretty cool.” Jim Furyk's backward hat. Bill Haas’ splash from the water. Jordan Spieth’s putt from downtown Buckhead.

But none was better than what transpired Sunday at East Lake, with McIlroy stuffing a long approach shot to 6 feet on the first playoff hole and then celebrating in the gloaming a few holes later after running in his winning putt.

The Tour Championship won’t ever be able to compete against the behemoth that is football – a Labor Day finish, anyone? – but the final round was the best reminder yet that meaningful, exciting golf can still be played long after the majors are over. 

6. The much-maligned Ryder Cup task force finally got one right when it was announced that Moore had received the 12th and final spot on the U.S. roster. 

We likely couldn’t have typed these words a week ago, but there would have been a mini mutiny had Moore been left home. 

Quite simply, he was the only player who stepped up late. Since the PGA, he led the Tour in combined score (57 under), birdies/eagles (122) and rounds in the 60s (18).

Even more important for his bid was the spirited duel at East Lake with McIlroy, matching him shot for shot despite spotting him 50 yards off the tee. Throw in his strong match-play reputation (albeit from a dozen years ago), and Moore was the only choice. 

7. Seriously, let’s give the task force just a little bit of credit here: They pushed back the deadline for the final pick until after the Tour Championship, so the PGA leadership wouldn’t get skewered again for leaving off a player like Billy Horschel, who in 2014 won the final two tournaments of the season. 

They said they wanted the players who were playing the best at the time, because good form doesn’t disappear over four days, no matter if the next tournament is held in Minnesota or Malaysia.

The final spot seemed certain to go to Bubba Watson, who could wail away on driver at long, rough-less Hazeltine. But Moore forced Love and Co. to call a late audible. Credit to them for adapting, using the new rule to their advantage and adding a player who can help them win. 

8. Left out, of course, was Watson, which was stunning only when you look at his lofty world ranking: No. 7.

Much will be made about the perceived chemistry or partnership issues with Watson, but the reason he wasn’t picked was actually quite simple: He's struggling with his game. He doesn’t have a top-10 in a full-field Tour event since early March, and his Ryder Cup record (3-8) didn’t help his cause.

Sure, it was a bold move, leaving off a player of Watson’s pedigree, but it was the proper decision. 

9. That’s not to suggest that this whole situation was handled properly. Far from it, in fact.

Not only did Love put Watson in an awkward position by failing to address him by name during the initial picks announcement, but the waiting game created an unnecessary melodrama that provided endless fodder for the Europeans.

Even task force/committee member Phil Mickelson conceded that it was a mistake to wait so long: “It’s kind of hard to get all the game plans and so forth in sync when the team is not quite finalized.”

The European team, meanwhile, has been finalized – and gelling – for the past four weeks ... 

10. Dustin Johnson’s field-worst 73 in the final round of the Tour Championship was costly – like, $8.5 million. 

In line for a season-ending, $11.44 million sweep, DJ instead finished second in the FedEx Cup, taking home $3 million, after shooting his worst final-round score since March. Had Moore or Kevin Chappell won the playoff, Johnson still would have claimed the big bonus. 

“It still wouldn’t have felt right just because I didn’t win the Tour Championship,” Johnson said. 

His accountant might disagree. 

11. Jason Day’s season came to an abrupt end when he withdrew from the Tour Championship with more back issues.

It makes you wonder about his long-term prospects.

Day has been plagued by injuries ever since he broke on Tour. His swing is so violent, and creates so much stress on his lower back, that he’s bound to break down. When he’s healthy, or at least able to manage the preexisting condition, he’s able to play sublime golf – after all, he has won eight times over the past two years, more than any other player. But like his famous idol/mentor, he’s also a risk to withdraw at any moment. Among the activities during which Day has thrown out his back: changing a diaper, snatching his tee and picking up a pillow. Ugh.  

12. NBC Sports analyst Johnny Miller suggested that the Europeans have, on paper at least, the “worst team they’ve had in many years.” 

He cited the loss of Ian Poulter as one of the main reasons, which was curious, because the Englishman hasn’t played particularly well for years and only went 0-1-2 in his most recent Ryder Cup appearance. 

The American team should be favored – the home-course advantage is real – but it likely won't be a blowout. The Europeans still have the Masters champion, Open champion, Olympic champion and FedEx Cup champion, after all, and more top-12 players than the U.S. team. 

The only way Europe loses by five points is if the stars don't show up. 

Davis Love III, Southern gentleman, isn’t prone to hyperbolic statements or trash talk. And yet there he was last week, popping on SiriusXM radio, channeling his inner Hal Sutton and declaring that this year’s U.S. Ryder Cup team – the one that, outside of Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth, has combined for just three wins this year – was the “best golf team maybe ever assembled.”

Yeah, uh, maybe not.

In 1981, the U.S. team consisted of Jack Nicklaus, Tom Watson, Lee Trevino, Johnny Miller, Hale Irwin, Raymond Floyd, Tom Kite, Ben Crenshaw, Larry Nelson, Jerry Pate and Bill Rogers. They didn't need a task force, either. 

Such an uncharacteristically brash, arrogant comment leaves many questions, including this: What on earth are you doing?

Love showed a lack of respect for his opponent, and the Europeans will surely use that as bulletin-board material. (Rory: “They’ve definitely assembled the best task force ever, that’s for sure.”) It's not like the Americans need any more pressure – they already play tight having lost eight of the past 10 cups.

Why add to that?

This week's award winners ... 

He Did What?: Phil Mickelson. Trying to gain more distance in advance of this week’s Ryder Cup, Lefty tried out three new drivers at East Lake that were an inch longer than normal. Tinkering before the most pressure-packed week of the year is a bad idea for a number of reasons – namely: why not stick with what’s led to a resurgent season? – but he hit only six of 28 fairways over the first two rounds, the worst start of his Tour career. Who knows what type of form he’ll bring to Hazeltine. 

Swell Move: Changing the routing for the Tour Championship. By switching the nines at East Lake, the finish now includes a watery par 4 and a final-hole par 5 that brings an eagle into play. That definitely beats a 210-yard par 3 that never produced much drama. Now players can win the tournament, as Rory did, rather than lose it. 

Oh, So It IS Possible …: Kevin Na. One of the slowest players on Tour hustled around East Lake as a single on Sunday, checking in at 1 hour, 59 minutes while running between shots and making birdie on the last four holes. So maybe everybody else is slowing him down?

Random Thought of the Week: East Lake rough. They needed penal, hack-out rough for the 30-man season finale … why exactly? 

Apropos of Nothing (or Something): Tour Championship performance. Excluding Moore, the other eight U.S. Ryder Cup members were a combined 11 over par for four days at East Lake. That includes Patrick Reed, J.B. Holmes and Jimmy Walker, who occupied three of the last four spots on the leaderboard. Uh-oh. 

Oy, Oy, Oy: Australia’s amateurs. The three-man Aussie team put a beatdown on the field at the World Amateur Team Championship in Cancun, matching a tournament record at 38 under par, finishing 1-2 in the individual race (including U.S. Amateur champion Curtis Luck as the runner-up) and lapping the field by 19 shots. The U.S. squad tied for sixth, marking the first time since 1998 that it didn’t medal.  

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Jordan Spieth. A win and a runner-up in two of his last three years there, approaching the week like a major, plenty of motivation to try and salvage a what-could-have-been season … and a tie for 17th? Sigh.  

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Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

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Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.

Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years

And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."