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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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.

Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open

Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit