Monday Scramble: Home sweeter for McIlroy than Spieth

By Will GrayMay 23, 2016, 4:20 pm

Rory McIlroy wins his national Open, Sergio Garcia returns to the PGA Tour winner's circle, Jordan Spieth remains erratic, Phil Mickelson writes a check and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Well, that was emphatic.

McIlroy could only sit idly by in recent months as Jason Day racked up trophy after trophy en route to the top spot in the world rankings. McIlroy was contending, sure, but his top-10s and top-15s often came without a serious chance for victory in the final round.

That trend changed in a hurry at the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open, where McIlroy dazzled fans by winning his national Open, simultaneously reminding us all that he's one of the best in the business when his game is on.

It was already a big week for McIlroy, whose eponymous foundation sponsored the event for the second straight year. But needing to find something down the stretch to distance himself from Russell Knox, McIlroy uncorked a pair of fairway-wood bombs that few players can author.

From 271 yards and 253 yards, McIlroy first found the green, then knocked an approach within a few feet for a tap-in eagle on the final hole.

They're shots we've seen him hoist at places like Kiawah, Valhalla and Hoylake. They're also shots that will make the season's second major even more tantalizing should he be able to reproduce them at Oakmont.

Day remains No. 1, and rightfully so, but when McIlroy reaches his potential as he did during those closing holes, it's hard to see many weaknesses in his game.

1. The timing of the win could not be any better for McIlroy, who like many top-ranked players is gearing up for a hectic summer. McIlroy won the season-ender in Dubai in November, but it's been more than a year since his last PGA Tour victory and last week he was overshadowed by Day's wire-to-wire win.

But with many big events on the horizon, there's a good chance McIlroy is only just beginning. On multiple occasions - including last May - the Ulsterman has turned one win into two (or three) within a few weeks' time.

2. Last year, McIlroy pledged to donate all of his Irish Open winnings to his charitable foundation, and he promptly missed the cut at Royal County Down.

This time around, things went a little more according to plan, as McIlroy will hand over 666,660 euros - about $750,000 - to charity.

It's a noble gesture, but it's also an indication of just how important this event is to McIlroy, who badly wanted to make up for last year's early exit.

"I don't really get emotional when I win, but I was holding back tears there," McIlroy said. "To play like that and finish like that, with all of my family and friends watching, was just so special."

3. Mid-day Sunday, it appeared all of the stars were aligning. One week after Day took home the PGA Tour's flagship event, McIlroy won in front of partisan crowds and Spieth appeared ready to do the same back home in Texas.

But for Spieth, a game that had been held together with chewing gum and bobby pins couldn't survive the crucible of the final round at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

The dreaded two-way miss, the one Spieth alluded to throughout the week, reared its ugly head early and often. Spieth was never able to get his ball-striking on track, and his trusty putter failed to bail him out. Despite hearty support from the partisan crowds, he trailed by five shots by the time he made the turn, ultimately finishing T-18.

"It was an off round," Spieth said. "Just didn't really get anything going and kind of stinks, you know, given I had a chance here at a hometown event."

If anything, Spieth's stagger toward the finish line both here and in Augusta show how special - and rare - his 2015 form was.

4. If Spieth's week could be summed up in one word, it would be "frustrated." He spoke both at TPC Sawgrass and before the Nelson began about trying to relax, have more fun and return to an easy-going nature inside the ropes.

But his performance this week was chock full of on-course strife as he said he was some variation of frustrated after each competitive round.

Talking to the ball, dramatic post-shot reactions, the "me vs. we" debate with caddie Michael Greller. They all came off as endearing idiosyncrasies last year when all the putts were falling, but in recent weeks as Spieth has struggled to get his season back on track, they appear to be only fueling his fire of frustration.

It's a trend he'll likely take another shot at reversing this week, as he heads across the Metroplex for more fun at Colonial.

5. While Spieth didn't leave Dallas with a new trophy, as the photo above indicates, Garcia did. The Spaniard captured the Nelson title in a playoff over Brooks Koepka that was over before it started.

Garcia's ninth PGA Tour win in 301 starts tied Seve Ballesteros for the most ever by a Spaniard, and it also continued his affinity with the Lone Star State.

A third of Garcia's U.S. hardware has come in Texas, as his first win was at Colonial in 2001 and he also won the Nelson in 2004, when the tournament's namesake handed him the trophy.

6. While Garcia's victory was well-earned after a closing 68,  it begs the question - why doesn't he win more, especially in the States?

After all, Garcia has played at least 15 events every year since 2000. And while he racked up six wins in a four-year span from 2001-05, this is his first win since 2012 and just his second PGA Tour title since his breakthrough victory at the 2008 Players.

Garcia is a global player with a stockpile of trophies outside the U.S., but he has not won here at the rate of similarly elite players over the past decade.

Whatever the reason, it certainly hasn't been from a lack of effort - or chances. Garcia, for his part, took a philosophical approach after the playoff.

"I guess nowadays I realize that obviously winning is amazing, it's great, it's unbelievable, but it's not the only thing in the world," he said. "When I'm out there I'm trying my hardest, but if it doesn't come out, you know, I try to take it as the best way possible. Some weeks are better than others."

7. Garcia's gain was Koepka's loss, as the American surrendered a three-shot lead down the stretch and promptly rinsed his first shot in the sudden-death playoff.

Koepka's burly game seems ideally suited for TPC Four Seasons, but like Spieth, he professed to be scraping it around over the weekend. A lack of control showed up at the worst possible time for Koepka, who bogeyed Nos. 14 and 15 before making a mess of the only hole of overtime.

While golf fans were treated to a display early in the morning as McIlroy grabbed the proceedings by the throat at the K Club, the Nelson turned into a pillow fight down the stretch as players faltering near the lead far outweighed those making a run up the standings.

Count Koepka among that former group after he failed to notch a single back-nine birdie. Although the 26-year-old will surely contend again somewhere soon, three-shot leads don't come around during the final round that often.

8. McIlroy and Garcia shining, combined with the ball-striking struggles of both Spieth and Koepka, again highlighted the fact that top Americans haven't been keeping pace with their European counterparts in recent weeks as the Ryder Cup looms.

In fact, the last American to win a PGA Tour event while ranked inside the OWGR top 50 remains Bubba Watson - who won the Northern Trust Open way back on Feb. 21.

9. Phil Mickelson made national headlines last week without hitting a shot, as his name was tied to a federal case on insider trading.

This was the culmination of a two-year investigation by the SEC, and while Mickelson's attorney said his client was "vindicated" that no criminal charges were brought against him, Mickelson will have to write a check for a little more than $1 million - the profits, plus interest, from a quesitonable 2012 stock transaction.

Given the choice, Mickelson would've probably written the check months ago in order to make the situation disappear. But now he'll have to deal with the scrutiny from being linked to such a case - and perhaps some extra scrutiny from the Tour after the SEC filing detailed that he owed money to a noted sports gambler, Billy Walters, at the time that Walters supplied MIckelson with the stock tip in question.

10. Mickelson was also tied to another high-profile story last week, as he might be the last Champion Golfer of the Year to be crowned at Muirfield for some time. Mickelson won there in 2013, but the Honourary Company of Edinburgh Golfers voted Thursday not to allow the club's first female members through the doors.

That's certainly their prerogative as a private institution, but it's a choice that prompted the R&A to quickly pull the course from its Open Championship rota. Hopefully, at some point in the near future, the club can be dragged into the 21st century and the claret jug can once again be handed out on its famed links.

One ball in the water from close range? Fine. Chalk it up to a stiff back and no warm-up.

But two, and then three in a row?

In the span of a couple minutes, Tiger Woods turned media day at the Quicken Loans National into a bit of a sideshow, unable to flip a wedge 80-some yards across a pond.

And while there are some fervent truthers who insist he rinsed those shots on purpose as part of some sort of long-range public relations scheme, the far more likely scenario for Woods is that the equity created with recent public appearances at Sage Valley and Bluejack National quickly unraveled.

Woods' cryptic comments about his prognosis certainly didn't help his cause, and calls for a return to action next week at Memorial, followed by the U.S. Open, have grown rather faint.

Instead, we're left to wonder whether we'll see Woods compete at all this season.

This week's award winners ... 

The beat rolls on: Jack Nicklaus and Hale Irwin. That's the entire list of players with more PGA Tour Champions majors than Bernhard Langer after the German cruised to another victory at the Regions Tradition, his sixth major on the over-50 circuit. Memo to Keegan Bradley, Webb Simpson and others: there is, in fact, life after anchoring.

No island in sight: Russell Knox nearly took home the title in Ireland, one week after he was pantsed on national television by the 17th hole at TPC Sawgrass. While the Scot came up a couple shots short, he still earned his second worldwide runner-up in his last three starts. It won't be long before he has his hands on another trophy.

Twice as nice: What better way to follow your maiden victory than by winning the your next start? That's what Ariya Jutanugarn did, chasing her first LPGA win with another at the Kingsmill Championship. At 21, she continued the incredible youth movement this year on the LPGA, which has yet to crown a winner who was born before 1992.

Tears of joy: After a birdie on the 72nd hole in Ireland, journeyman Matthew Southgate hugged his caddie, then broke down in tears. It made for an emotional scene as the moment overtook Southgate, a survivor of testicular cancer who, after a fourth-place showing at the K Club, clinched his European Tour card for next season. It also showed the magnitude of the battle many players wage, far from the spotlight, simply to maintain their status.

At least there will still be plenty of flags: McIlroy's triumph in Ireland will make his absence this week from the BMW PGA Championship all the more noticeable. With Justin Rose missing the European Tour's flagship event because of a bad back and Ian Poulter opting for Colonial instead of Wentworth, the tournament could be in for one of its weakest fields in years.

Check, please: With his team facing a sudden-death playoff for a spot in the NCAAs, former U.S. Amateur champ Gunn Yang jarred a 7-iron from 218 yards for an albatross on the first extra hole. That's one way to help your team punch its ticket to Eugene.

Put down the mic: Esteemed commentator Peter Alliss supported the result of the vote against female members at Muirfield, saying, "If somebody wants to join, well, you'd better get married to somebody who's a member." It's the latest in a series of questionable remarks from Alliss, 85, who has been the voice of golf for generations on the BBC but who could benefit from a bit more forward thinking.

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Kupcho wins NCAA title; final eight teams set

By Jay CoffinMay 22, 2018, 1:55 am

STILLWATER, Okla. – On one of the more nerve-racking days of the college golf season two important honors were up for grabs at Karsten Creek – the individual title, and the top eight teams attempting to qualify for match play.

Here’s the lowdown of what happened Monday at the women’s NCAA Championship:

Individual leaderboard: Jennifer Kupcho, Wake Forest (-8); Andrea Lee, Stanford (-6); Bianca Pagdanganan, Arizona (-6); Cheyenne Knight, Alabama (-5); Morgane Metraux, Florida State (-4); Jaclyn Lee, Ohio State (-3).

Team leaderboard: UCLA (+9), Alabama (+9), USC (+16), Northwestern (+21), Stanford (+28), Duke (+30), Kent State (+32), Arizona (+33).

What it means: Let’s start with the individual race. Wake Forest junior Jennifer Kupcho was absolutely devastated a year ago when she made triple bogey on the 17th hole of the final round and lost the individual title by a shot. She was bound not to let that happen again and this year she made five birdies on the last eight holes to shoot 71 and win by two shots. Kupcho is the first player with three consecutive top-six finishes at the NCAA Championship since Duke’s Amanda Blumenherst (2007-09).

The team race took an unexpected turn at the end of the day when Arizona junior Bianca Pangdaganan made eagle on the last hole to vault the Wildcats into an eighth-place tie, meaning they would enter a playoff with Baylor for the final spot in the match play portion of the championship.

The Wildcats got a reprieve because they played terribly for most of the day and dropped from third place to 10th at one point. In the playoff, Arizona ultimately defeated Baylor in an anticlimactic finish.

Best of the rest: Stanford played horribly the first round. So bad that it almost seemed like the Cardinal shot itself out of the championship. But they played steady over the next three days and ended with the fifth seed. This is the fourth year in a row that Stanford has advanced to match play.

Round of the day: USC shot a 5-under total on Monday, the best round of the day by six shots. They landed as the third seed and will play Duke in the quarterfinals.

Stanford sophomore Andrea Lee shot a 7-under 65, the best score of the day by three shots. Lee made seven birdies and no bogeys and vaulted up the leaderboard 11 spots to end in a tie for sixth place.

Biggest disappointment: Arkansas, the second-ranked team in the country, missed qualifying for match play by one shot. The Razorbacks shot a 20-over 308 in Round 1 and played only slightly better with a 300 in the second round. Consecutive 1-over-par 289 scores were a good try, but results in a huge miss for a team expected to contend for the team title.

Here are Tuesday morning's quarterfinal matchups:

Cut and not so dry: Shinnecock back with a new look

By Bradley S. KleinMay 21, 2018, 9:22 pm

SOUTHAMPTON, N.Y. - The last time the USGA was here at Shinnecock Hills, it nearly had a train wreck on its hands. The last day of the 2004 U.S. Open was so dry and the turf so firm that play was stopped in the morning just to get some water on the greens.

The lessons learned from that debacle are now on display three weeks before Shinnecock gets another U.S. Open. And this time, the USGA is prepared with all sorts of high-tech devices – firmness meters, moisture monitors, drone technology to measure turf temperatures - to make sure the playing surfaces remain healthy.

Players, meanwhile, will face a golf course that is 548 yards longer than a dozen years ago, topping out now at 7,445 yards for the par-70 layout. Ten new tees have assured that the course will keep up with technology and distance. They’ll also require players to contend with the bunkering and fairway contours that designer William Flynn built when he renovated Shinnecock Hills in 1930.

And those greens will not only have more consistent turf cover, they’ll also be a lot larger – like 30 percent bigger. What were mere circles averaging 5,500 square feet are now about 7,200 square feet. That will mean more hole locations, more variety to the setup, and more rollouts into surrounding low-mow areas. Slight misses that ended up in nearby rough will now be down in hollows many more yards away.

The course now has an open, windswept look to it – what longtime green chairman Charles Stevenson calls “a maritime grassland.” You don’t get to be green chairman of a prominent club for 37 years without learning how to deal with politics, and he’s been a master while implementing a long-term plan to bring the course back to its original scale and angles. In some cases that required moving tees back to recapture the threat posed by cross-bunkers and steep falloffs. Two of the bigger extensions come on the layout’s two par-5s, which got longer by an average of 60 yards. The downwind, downhill par-4 14th hole got stretched 73 yards and now plays 519.

“We want players to hit driver,” says USGA executive director Mike Davis.

The also want to place an emphasis upon strategy and position, which is why, after the club had expanded its fairways the last few years, the USGA decided last September to bring them back in somewhat.

The decision followed analysis of the driving statistics from the 2017 U.S. Open at Erin Hills, where wide fairways proved very hospitable to play. Players who made the cut averaged hitting 77 percent of fairways and driving it 308 yards off the tee. There was little fear of the rough there. “We didn’t get the wind and the dry conditions we anticipated,” says Davis.

Moving ahead to Shinnecock Hills, he and the setup staff wanted to balance the need for architectural variety with a traditional emphasis upon accuracy. So they narrowed the fairways at Shinnecock Hills last September by seven acres. They are still much wider than in the U.S. Opens played here in 1986, 1995 and 2004, when the average width of the landing areas was 26.6 yards. “Now they are 41.6 yards across on average,” said Davis. So they are much wider than in previous U.S. Opens and make better use of the existing contours and bring lateral bunkers into play.

This time around, with more consistent, healthier turf cover and greens that have plenty of nutrients and moisture, the USGA should be able to avoid the disastrous drying out of the putting surfaces that threatened that final day in 2004. The players will also face a golf course that is more consistent than ever with its intended width, design, variety and challenge. That should make for a more interesting golf course and, by turn, more interesting viewing.

Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys Documentary Series Continues Tonight at 8 p.m. ET on Golf Channel

By Golf Channel Public RelationsMay 21, 2018, 8:27 pm

Monday’s third installment in the four-part series focuses on the Big 12 Championships and NCAA Regional Championships

Reigning NCAA National Champion Oklahoma Sooners and Top-Ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys Prepare for Showdown Friday at the 2018 NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships

ORLANDO, Fla., May 21, 2018 – Tonight’s third episode of the critically-acclaimed documentary series Driven: Oklahoma State Cowboys (8 p.m. ET) wraps up the conclusion of the 2017-18 regular season and turns to post-season play for the top-ranked Oklahoma State Cowboys and reigning NCAA National Champions Oklahoma Sooners.

Drivenwill take viewers behind the scenes with the conclusion of regular season play; the Big 12 Conference Championship, where Oklahoma captured their first conference championship since 2006; and the NCAA Regional Championships, where Oklahoma State and Oklahoma – both No. 1 seeds in their respective regionals – were both victorious and punched tickets to the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

The episode also will set up the showdown starting Friday at the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships, where Oklahoma State will attempt to dethrone Oklahoma as national champions, all taking place at Karsten Creek Golf Club in Stillwater, Okla., Oklahoma State’s home course. Oklahoma and Oklahoma State will be paired together for the first two rounds of individual stroke play Friday and Saturday.

Driven’s fourth and final episode will air on NBC on Saturday, June 16 at 5 p.m. ET, recapping all of the action at the NCAA Golf National Championships and the two programs’ 2017-18 golf seasons.

Golf Channel is airing back-to-back weeks of live tournament coverage of the NCAA Women’s and Men’s Golf Championships. Golf Channel’s coverage begins today (4-8 p.m. ET) to crown the individual national champion and track the teams attempting to qualify for the eight-team match play championship. Golf Channel’s coverage on Tuesday and Wednesday, May 22-23 will include all three rounds of team match play, ultimately crowning a team national champion. Next week (May 28-30), the same programming schedule will take place for the NCAA Men’s Golf National Championships.

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Mann's impact on LPGA felt on and off course

By Randall MellMay 21, 2018, 8:00 pm

Just a few short hours after winning the U.S. Women’s Open in 1965, Carol Mann was surprised at the turn of emotion within her.

She called her friend and mentor, Marlene Hagge, and asked if they could meet for a glass of wine at the Atlantic City hotel where players were staying.

Hagge was one of the LPGA’s 13 founders.

“I’ll never forget Carol saying, `I don’t mean to sound funny, because winning the U.S. Women’s Open was wonderful, but is that all there is?’” Hagge told Monday after hearing news of Mann’s death.

It was one of the many defining moments in Mann’s rich life, because it revealed her relentless search for meaning, within the game, and beyond it.

Mann, an LPGA and World Golf Hall of Famer, died at her home in Woodlands, Texas. She was 77.

“Carol was a very good friend, and a really sincere and good person,” Hagge said. “She was intelligent and insightful, the kind of person who always wanted to know the `why’ of things. She wasn’t content to be told this is the way something is. She had to know why.”

Mann’s search for meaning in the sport took her outside the ropes. She was a towering presence, at 6 feet 3, but her stature was more than physical. She won 38 LPGA titles, two of them major championships, but her mark on the game extended to her leadership skills.

From 1973 to ’76, Mann was president of the LPGA, leading the tour in challenging times.

“Carol was a significant player in the growth of the LPGA,” LPGA Hall of Famer Judy Rankin said. “She was involved when some big changes came to the tour. She was a talented woman beyond her golf.”

Mann oversaw the hiring of the tour’s first commissioner, Ray Volpe, a former NFL marketing executive. Their moves helped steer the tour out of the financial problems that threatened it.

“Carol was willing to do something nobody else wanted to do and nobody else had the brains to do,” Hagge said. “She loved the LPGA, and she wanted to make it a better place.”

At the cost of her own career.

Juggling the tour presidency with a playing career wasn’t easy.

“My golf seemed so secondary while I was president in 1975,” Mann once told author Liz Kahn for the book, “The LPGA: The Unauthorized Version.”

That was a pivotal year in tour history, with the LPGA struggling with an ongoing lawsuit, a legal battle Jane Blalock won when the courts ruled the tour violated antitrust laws by suspending her. With the tour appealing its legal defeats, a protracted battle threatened to cripple LPGA finances.

It was also the year Mann led the hiring of Volpe.

“I could barely get to the course in time to tee off,” Mann told Kahn. “There was so much other activity. I burned myself out a bit.”

Still, Mann somehow managed to win four times in ’75, but she wouldn’t again in the years that followed.

“I had launched a ship, and then I had to let it go, which was not easy,” she said of leaving her tour president’s role. “I was depressed thinking that no one on tour would say thank you to me for what I had done. Some would, others never would, and 10 years later players wouldn’t give a damn.”

Mann’s reign as a player and a leader aren’t fully appreciated today.

“A lot of players in the ‘60s haven’t been fully appreciated,” Rankin said.

Mann won 10 LPGA titles in 1968, the same year Kathy Whitworth won 10. Mann won the Vare Trophy for low scoring average that year. She won eight times in ’69 and was the tour’s leading money winner.

“Those were the toughest times to win,” Hagge said. “You had Kathy Whitworth and Mickey Wright, who is the best player I ever saw, and I saw them all. You had so many great players you had to beat in that era.”

Mann’s good humor came out when she was asked about her height.

“I’m 5-foot-15,” she liked to say.

After retiring from the tour at 40, Mann stayed active in golf, working as a TV analyst for NBC, ABC and ESPN. She found meaning in her Christian faith, and she was active supporting female athletes. She was president of the Women’s Sports Foundation for five years. She wrote a guest column for the Houston Post. She devoted herself to the World Golf Hall of Fame, taught at Woodlands Country Club and became the first woman to own and operate a course design and management firm.

“I’ve walked on the moon,” Mann once said. “I enjoy being a person, and getting old and dying are fine. I never think how people will remember Carol Mann. The mark I made is an intimate satisfaction.”