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Monday Scramble: Just getting started

By Will GrayJanuary 22, 2018, 4:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood dazzles, Jon Rahm outlasts, Phil Mickelson falters, Rory McIlroy starts the year on the right foot and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

He didn't hit a single shot on Sunday, but the biggest winner of the weekend may have been Thomas Bjorn.

That's because the burly Dane watched one potential European Ryder Cup stud after another either lift a trophy or show significant signs of promise.

First it was Sergio Garcia cruising to victory in Singapore, then Tommy Fleetwood's stirring rally in Abu Dhabi. By the time Jon Rahm finished off the CareerBuilder Challenge in the waning daylight, the European skipper likely had a grin plastered from ear to ear.

There will be countless ebbs and flows of momentum before the first shot is struck at Le Golf National, but this week proved once again that the Americans won't be the only ones sporting some serious depth at the biennial matches.


1. The most dazzling display Sunday came from Fleetwood, who successfully defended his title in Abu Dhabi thanks to an absolutely unconscious back nine.

The Englishman was five shots back when he made the turn, but six birdies over his final nine holes turned that deficit into a two-shot win.

It was in Abu Dhabi last year that he sparked a career turnaround, winning the event en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. He turned up once again this year with ample confidence and a new wedding ring, and the results were much the same.

He doesn't have the star power of some of his contemporaries, but it's becoming increasingly clear that Fleetwood can more than hold his own against even the best in the game.

2. Hours before Fleetwood caught fire, it was Garcia rolling to a five-shot win in Singapore to complete the transition from tournament headliner to tournament champion.

Garcia was just days removed from his 38th birthday and making his first start with a full bag of Callaway clubs. But he showed no signs of offseason rust or equipment adjustment while capturing his second worldwide win since slipping into his green jacket.

The Spaniard has certainly enjoyed the fruits of his Masters victory nine months ago, but it's apparent that he has no plans to rest on the laurels of last spring.



3. He didn't leave Abu Dhabi with the trophy, but McIlroy may have found something more lasting: confidence.

It was in his first start last year that McIlroy injured his rib and plummeted into a vicious cycle of attempted rehabs and ill-fated comebacks. This time around, he came out of the gates with a relaxed swagger en route to a tie for third.

As Ryan Lavner wrote, it was an ideal beginning to a big year for McIlroy, who has already offered up the notion that 2018 could be the busiest season of his career as he chases the final leg of the career Grand Slam and a return to golf's upper echelon.

After the first leg of a two-week stay in the Middle East, that plan is off to a promising start.

4. Let's take a moment to marvel at McIlroy's record in Abu Dhabi, where he has done everything but win the tournament.

In his last nine appearances, McIlroy has finished fifth or better eight times. That stretch includes four runner-up results and now two straight T-3 finishes.

There remain two equally remarkable factors to McIlroy's run: the fact that he somehow hasn't managed to lift the trophy (yet), and the lone outlier: a missed cut in 2013 after his celebrated switch to Nike.



5. With darkness rapidly encircling the Coachella Valley, Rahm managed to shake off Andrew Landry and capture his second career PGA Tour victory.

Rahm's 20-foot birdie on the fourth playoff hole proved the difference in Palm Springs, where he entered as the highest-ranked player in the field and supported that status with his stout play.

Rahm barely took his foot off the gas, both across the difficult closing stretch at PGA West and during the playoff when he sent one approach after the next hurtling toward the pin. It's the fourth worldwide win in less than a year for Rahm, who continues to outpace even the rosiest of projections for his burgeoning career.

6. The win moves Rahm past Jordan Spieth to world No. 2, making him the fourth-youngest player to ever reach such heights.

One year ago, the Spaniard was ranked 137th in the world. His win at the Farmers Insurance Open the following week altered his trajectory, and he now finds himself only one rung away from the top of the ladder.

While so much focus has been (deservedly) heaped upon players like Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas, perhaps it's Rahm who has the best chance to eventually unseat world No. 1 Dustin Johnson. He'll have a chance to chip into that deficit this week as he defends his title at Torrey Pines.



7. Speaking of Torrey Pines, it's officially Farmers Insurance Open week which means that Tiger Woods watch is about to kick off in earnest.

It's something of a tradition to see Woods strolling the fairways of the South Course, where he has won eight times including the 2008 U.S. Open. But this week will bring heightened expectation following Woods' better-than-anticipated return from injury last month at the Hero World Challenge.

Granted, Torrey Pines is a far cry from the forgiving fairways of Albany. But if Woods is able to put together two solid rounds and make the cut, it should be seen as a step in the right direction.

Of course, for all of Woods' success in San Diego, it's also the place where he struggled with chipping yips prior to a withdrawal in 2015 and missed the cut last year in his final official PGA Tour start of the year. So his results this time around might be anyone's guess.

Ken Duke is one of the bona fide nice guys on Tour, and he proved it this weekend in Palm Springs.

Duke is playing off past champion status this season, and he unsuccessfully petitioned tournament officials at the CareerBuilder Challenge for a sponsor invite. With 156 players in the field, Duke was the odd man out at No. 157 and relegated to first alternate status.

He didn't get into the tournament proper, but Duke was willing to step in when Corey Pavin's first Tour start since 2015 ended with a withdrawal after just 17 holes. Because of the tournament's pro-am format, Pavin's amateur partner was left without a pro for the next two rounds.

So in came Duke to play what amounted to a 36-hole pro-am, an effort of good faith to help an event that couldn't find room for him at the start of the week:

It's not often you see a pro compete where his score only counts for his amateur partner. But such was Duke's situation this week, and kudos to him for handling it with class.

This week's award winners ...


Unusually Short Stay: Phil Mickelson. Lefty has become a regular in Palm Springs, but three shaky rounds left him with his first missed cut in this event since 1994 - a few months before Rahm was born.

Nice Job, Kid: Sungjae Im. The 19-year-old Korean joined Jason Day as the only two teenagers to win on the Web.com Tour, as Im shot a final-round 65 to win the season opener in the Bahamas.

A for Effort: Andrew Landry. Landry put up a stellar fight in Palm Springs, holing a birdie putt on the 72nd hole to force a playoff and going shot-for-shot with Rahm for nearly an hour. He came up short in his effort to win for the first time, but Landry certainly has plenty of positive takeaways from his week in the desert.



On the Disabled List: Brooks Koepka. The reigning U.S. Open champ is out for the next couple months because of a torn ligament in his wrist, with hopes of returning before the Masters. The diagnosis comes after Koepka finished last at both the Hero World Challenge and Sentry Tournament of Champions.

Still the Bridesmaid: Ross Fisher. The Englishman now has 14 runner-up finishes on the European Tour after he coughed up a late lead to Fleetwood. It's been a resurgent year for Fisher, including nine top-10s and three runner-ups in his last six starts. But he's still looking for his first win in nearly four years.

More Euro Momentum: Not to be outshone by Fleetwood and McIlroy, Matthew Fitzpatrick (T-3) and Thomas Pieters (T-5) both started the year on the right foot in Abu Dhabi. Both men were at Hazeltine two years ago, and expect one (or both) to factor on the team in Paris this fall.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Bill Haas. A two-time winner and the all-time leading money-winner in Palm Springs, Haas never factored and eventually missed the cut. Honorable mention here goes to 2014 champ Patrick Reed who also stayed home on Sunday.

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Tour investigating DeChambeau's use of compass

By Will GrayJune 24, 2018, 10:09 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Bryson DeChambeau’s reliance on science to craft his play on the course is well known, but he took things to a new level this week at the Travelers Championship when television cameras caught him wielding a compass while looking at his yardage book during the third round.

According to DeChambeau, it’s old news. He’s been using a compass regularly to aid in his preparation for nearly two years, dating back to the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in October 2016.

“I’m figuring out the true pin locations,” DeChambeau said. “The pin locations are just a little bit off every once in a while, and so I’m making sure they’re in the exact right spot. And that’s it.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


But social media took notice this weekend, as did PGA Tour officials. DeChambeau explained that he was approached on the range Saturday and informed that the Tour plans to launch an investigation into whether or not the device is allowable in competition, with a decision expected in the next week.

It’s not the first time the 24-year-old has gone head-to-head with Tour brass, having also had a brief run with side-saddled putting earlier in his career.

“They said, ‘Hey, we just want to let you know that we’re investigating the device and seeing if it’s allowable,’” DeChambeau said. “I understand. It wouldn’t be the first time this has happened.”

DeChambeau won earlier this month at the Memorial Tournament, and the Tour’s ruling would not have any retroactive impact on his results earlier this year. Playing alongside tournament winner Bubba Watson in the final round at TPC River Highlands, DeChambeau shot a final-round 68 to finish in a tie for ninth.

“It’s a compass. It’s been used for a long, long time. Sailors use it,” DeChambeau said. “It’s just funny that people take notice when I start putting and playing well.”

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Bubba fires 63 to win his third Travelers title

By Nick MentaJune 24, 2018, 9:52 pm

Bubba Watson fired a final-round 63 to storm from six back and steal the Travelers Championship. Here’s how Bubba came from behind once again at TPC River Highlands.

Leaderboard: Bubba Watson (-17), Stewart Cink (-14), Beau Hossler (-14), J.B. Holmes (-14), Paul Casey (-14)

What it means: This is Watson’s 12th PGA Tour win, his third of the season, and his third Travelers title. Watson picked up his first Tour victory at this event in 2010 – when he also came from six back – and won again in 2015 in a playoff victory over – guess who – Casey. Thinking he might need a round of 60 to scare the leader, Watson made eight birdies, the last of which came on the 72nd hole, giving him the outright lead by one. A short while later, Casey would bogey the 16th and 17th to end the drama and allow Bubba to breathe easy. With the win, Watson becomes the only Tour player to win three times this season. He moves to third in the FedExCup points race, behind two-time winners Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson.

Round of the day: Cink’s round was a stroke better, but Bubba earns this title for winning the title. The left-hander made the turn in 2-under 33 and then ripped off five birdies on his back nine to take the clubhouse lead, which he wouldn’t relinquish.

Best of the rest: Cink looked as though he was going to record the second sub-60 round at the Travelers in the last three years. The 2009 champion golfer of the year played his first 10 holes in 7 under par on the par-70 layout. Cink added three more birdies but also added two bogeys to settle for 8-under 62, tying the round of the week. The 45-year-old has finished T-4 and T-2 in his last two starts.

Biggest disappointment: Casey (2-over 72) began the day up four and couldn’t close. Even par on his round through 15 holes, he missed a 4-footer for par on 16 and found the water off the tee at 17, ending his chances. The Englishman, who ended a nine-year Tour winless drought earlier this season at the Valspar, is now 1 for 4 with a 54-hole lead on the PGA Tour.

Shot of the day: Watson’s wedge from 77 yards at the 72nd hole, setting up his eighth and final birdie of the day.

Quote of the day: “That’s the best shot you ever hit.” – caddie Ted Scott to Bubba Watson on his approach at 18

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McCarron (64) edges Kelly in Madison event

By Associated PressJune 24, 2018, 9:37 pm

MADISON, Wis. – Scott McCarron won the American Family Insurance Championship on Sunday, closing with an 8-under 64 for a one-stroke victory over hometown player Jerry Kelly.

The 52-year-old McCarron birdied Nos. 14-16 and parred the final two to hold on for his first victory of the season and seventh in three years on the PGA Tour Champions. He finished at 15-under 201 at University Ridge.

''All week, I drove the ball really well and I was hitting a lot of good iron shots,'' McCarron said. ''I hit a lot of greens. I think I made one bogey all week and that was early on Friday. Just missed a short putt, one of the par 3s and made bogey. Other than that, I really didn't have any other opportunities to make bogeys. I just kept putting myself in play.''

McCarron looked forward to the stretch of three straight major tournaments that begins Thursday with the U.S. Senior Open at The Broadmoor in Colorado.

''Obviously, my game's pretty good, just won this week, so I'm pretty happy the way I'm hitting it.'' McCarron said. ''I started putting better this week. I've got to work on my wedge game. I've got to wedge it closer. I have a lot of wedges out here.''


Full-field scores from the American Family Insurance Championship


Kelly shot 65, also parring the final two holes.

''I'm disappointed, there's no doubt,'' Kelly said. ''I want those putts back. I want to just go ahead and hit them hard.''

Kelly joked about friend McCarron paying him back for a friendly match with McCarron's wife.

''My caddie, Eric and I, beat Jenny and Scott over at Maple Bluff Country Club earlier this week, beat them out of five bucks,'' Kelly said. ''I should have thrown that match.''

Fellow Madison player Steve Stricker, the tournament host and first-round leader, had a 65 to tie for third with 2017 champion Fred Couples and Colin Montgomerie.

''The way it ended up, couldn't have asked for anything more,'' Stricker said. ''Great turnout of people, the players loved it, and we got a great field and some exciting golf down the stretch.''

Couples had a 67, playing alongside McCarron.

''We all said it yesterday, with all those guys there, somebody shoots 7, 8 under will win - and I watched it today,'' Couples said. ''He was phenomenal. He played a stress-free, easy round of golf and I think I lost to him by two, but I was never going to beat him.''

Montgomerie followed a second-round 72 with a 64.

''I didn't play well at all yesterday, at all,'' Montgomerie said. ''So disappointing yesterday ... out here, 72, get trampled on.''

Paul Goydos (67) was 12 under, John Daly (67) topped the group at 11 under, and Bernhard Langer (69) was another stroke back.

University of Illinois coach Mike Small, Stricker's teammate with the Illini, birdied the final hole for a 68 to also tie for 10th at 10 under.

Steve and I have been best friends for 30 years,'' Small said. ''It's great to have him get me in the tournament and validate him helping me get in and getting an exemption. That's huge. I finished top 10 in Iowa at Des Moines two weeks ago. It was my first top 10 in a Champions event. So, to back up with this, and this was a strong field, it feels good to compete.''

Second-round leader Esteban Toledo had a 73 to tie for 24th at 8 under.

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Despite 'flattering' stats, McIlroy has work to do

By Will GrayJune 24, 2018, 9:13 pm

CROMELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy believes he has work to do on his swing, even if the stats don’t back it up.

McIlroy shot a 3-under 67 in the final round of the Travelers Championship, completing a week in which he shot 11 under and led the field in strokes gained: tee-to-green but was last among the 74 players who made the cut in strokes gained: putting.

While the Ulsterman lamented a number of misses from close range – 17 from inside 10 feet over the course of the week, to be exact – he contended that the strokes gained data may have been “flattering” his performance with the other 13 clubs.

“I don’t feel like I hit it that well tee-to-green,” McIlroy said. “It says that I’m probably No. 1 tee-to-green, but it didn’t feel like it. Yeah, obviously I would have loved to have putted better. But I felt like all parts of my game just needed to be a little bit sharper.”


Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos


McIlroy explained that he hasn’t taken a day off from golf for the last five weeks, and he plans to do that in the coming days as he and wife Erica continue construction on a new house in Florida. He’ll next tee it up at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, which is hosted by his charitable foundation, but that will be his final competitive start before renewing his quest for a second Open title at Carnoustie.

In between, he plans to take in some tennis at Wimbledon and get re-acclimated to playing links golf, although he doesn’t plan to play Carnoustie the weekend prior to tournament week like he did last year at Royal Birkdale.

“I’m not going to go there early. I know the golf course pretty well, I know how it’s going to be,” said McIlroy, who made is Open debut at Carnoustie in 2007. “I’ll do a little bit of practice over that weekend. Play some links golf, go to Royal County Down. And then head over to Carnoustie on the Monday.”