Monday Scramble: Back to normal?

By Will GrayMay 29, 2017, 2:30 pm

Kevin Kisner slams the door, Jordan Spieth gets back on track, Tiger Woods offers an update, the efficient machine that is Bernhard Langer rolls right along and more in this week's Memorial Day edition of Monday Scramble: 

With a tantalizing, four-way playoff on the horizon, Kevin Kisner ended things on time at Colonial.

Kisner rolled in a 5-foot par putt to finish one shot ahead of the pack at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational, putting the finishing touches on a second PGA Tour win.

Kisner toiled through three different playoff losses during the summer of 2015 before breaking through for his first win at the RSM Classic, and his path to title No. 2 was equally indirect. He has been playing some solid - if under-reported - golf for much of the spring, highlighted by a runner-up at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and a playoff loss alongside Scott Brown at the Zurich Classic.

Kisner's ability and potential have outpaced his hardware tally for a few years now. Adding a coveted title at one of his favorite venues helps to narrow the gap, but don't be surprised if the wait until win No. 3 is a short one.

1. Among other things, Kisner's win basically locked up his spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team this fall. And that's a good thing.

The American squad at Liberty National is going to feature some fresh blood, with Kisner and Justin Thomas essential locks, Kevin Chappell on his way to a bid and Daniel Berger likely to play his way off the bubble. It's a good thing for American golf to have as many players as possible exposed to the patriotic, high-stakes environment that only team match play can provide.

The wily veterans that have propelled the U.S. to six straight wins in tihe biennial event haven't exactly disappeared, and several familiar names will still make the 12-man squad. But a little experience can go a long way in those arenas, and this year's matches will create a deeper talent pool for next year's Ryder Cup - even if you'll never hear that sentence spoken in Ponte Vedra Beach.

2. It should come as no surprise that Kisner added his name to the Wall of Champions at Colonial Country Club.

This is his third straight top-10 finish in Fort Worth, and it comes on a course that has long favored ball-strikers. Kisner, who entered the week ranked 15th on Tour in strokes gained-tee-to-green, is now up to 10th in the statistic after extending his run to 11 of 13 sub-par rounds at Colonial.

"It's definitely at the top of my list when I set a schedule," Kisner said. "I love the golf course. It reminds me a ton of home. Really precision golf off the tee and into the greens."

From Zach Johnson to Phil Mickelson to Spieth, Colonial has typically been a place where a select few players tend to thrive year after year. Kisner's name can officially be added to the list.

3. Speaking of Spieth, it appears the thoughts of his game collapsing from within can be put to bed.

Last year Spieth used a win at Colonial to steady the ship after giving away a green jacket. This time, a final-round 65 led to a runner-up finish and proof that the golden child still has plenty of chops.

Spieth was coming off back-to-back missed cuts, a run that included a brief putter switch away from the weapon that guided him to each of his 12 career Tour wins. He went back to his trusty Scotty Cameron at Colonial and, despite flirting with the cut line during the second round, showed that his recent struggles are the exception rather than the rule.

"I could look back at the end of the year and this could be the most important round of the year," Spieth said Sunday. "I hope that's the case."

Spieth will cap a run of four straight starts next week at the Memorial. But regardless of how he fares at Jack's Place, woe to those who count him out for Erin Hills.

4. After his runner-up finish at Colonial, Jon Rahm is officially inside the top 10 in the latest world rankings. Expect him to be there for awhile.

Rahm's rapid ascension to a top-10 player comes 11 months after he turned pro, as this time last year he was collecting the Hogan Award as the nation's top collegiate player.

At age 22, he is the fifth-youngest to crack the top 10 since the Official World Golf Ranking was created. Those that beat him to the honor? Sergio Garcia, Rory McIlroy, Spieth and Woods.

Rahm is quickly racking up the accolades, but at the same time his game is proving that it's not all hype. The Spaniard is incredibly talented, and the flair with which he stalks a course - especially when in contention - will make him an entertaining player to watch for decades to come.

5. Billy Horschel tied for 34th at Colonial, but he and wife Brittany made a big impact in the wake of his win at the AT&T Byron Nelson.

One day after her husband's first victory in nearly three years, Brittany Horschel took to Twitter to explain that she has battled alcoholism for the last year, including a two-month stint at a treatment center in South Florida.

It was a brave admission in a very public setting, and one that Horschel admitted he wasn't expecting. But it's a step that hopefully helps in her continued recovery, and one that could potentially serve as an example for others waging a similar battle.

It's also another reminder that PGA Tour pros are people first and golfers second. Too often it's easy to get bogged down in stat lines and FedEx projections and lose sight of the fact that players often have bigger issues than just golf at the forefront of their thoughts.

6. Many casual American golf fans may have missed Alex Noren's rapid ascension through the world rankings thanks to four late-season wins last year. But Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship, they got a good glimpse of just what makes Noren one of the top players in the world.

Starting the final round seven shots off the lead, Noren eagled the 18th hole to shoot a course-record 62 and win the European Tour's flagship event by two shots. It was his ninth career European Tour victory, and his fifth since the Scottish Open in July.

Noren's late surge didn't land him a spot on the European team at Hazeltine last fall, and this year he has been somewhat quiet in a handful of PGA Tour starts. But a quarterfinal appearance at the WGC-Dell Match Play was followed by a 10th-place showing at TPC Sawgrass, and now Noren has his hands around one of Europe's most coveted trophies.

The Swede, who was outside the OWGR top 700 as recently as January 2015, has enjoyed a meteoric rise into the game's upper echelon. Don't be surprised if he adds another big notch to his tally this summer, perhaps as soon as next month at Erin Hills.

7. One man who wasn't at Wentworth last week was Rory McIlroy, and now we'll all be left wondering about the Ulsterman's nagging rib injury until he steps foot in Wisconsin.

McIlroy also withdrew from the Memorial, an unsurprising development once his BMW withdrawal statement put the focus squarely on the U.S. Open. But it doesn't help answer any questions about just how healthy McIlroy is, given that he has made just one start since the Masters.

McIlroy had planned an ambitious schedule around Erin Hills, and he still has plenty of important golf yet to play this summer. But the fact that he's not able to suit up for two weeks running shows that an injury he had hoped to kick by March will extend into June - and perhaps beyond.

8. A Branden Grace victory at Wentworth may not have sat well in the locker room given the South African's liberal interpretation of the rule book during his opening round.

Grace avoided a plugged lie in the sand because his feet reached the bunker lining upon digging in, entitling him to a free drop. Staring a likely double bogey in the face, Grace made bogey and ultimately moved to within a shot of the lead after 54 holes.

On one hand, the rule book so rarely benefits the player that Grace should be commended for knowing his options. But the move didn't sit well with Paul McGinley, who raised the astute point that if players simply dig deep enough they might be able to get out of a variety of poor lies.

It didn't help Grace's cause that his incident came on the same day when fellow South African Ernie Els was universally lauded for calling a two-stroke penalty on himself that emphasized the role honesty and integrity play inside the ropes.

10. "I want to say unequivocally that I want to play professional golf again."

Those were the words every Tiger Woods fan wanted to hear, and they were the ones the 14-time major champ penned during his first injury update since undergoing lumbar fusion surgery.

Woods was unusually candid, both with his current plight and the level to which the back pain had impacted him in recent months. But it also highlights the fact that his previous updates - of which there were many - were optimistic if not misleading.

Woods came out of each of his previous three back surgeries with a similar theme: recovery ahead, positive prognosis with an assurance that he'll return to competition. Even in his last start in Dubai, Woods told reporters that he was "feeling pretty good" and his eventual withdrawal was explained away by agent Mark Steinberg as a "back spasm."

Woods' latest diary entry shows that his situation was probably more serious than those comments in Dubai indicated.

It's nice to have what seems to be an open and honest injury update from Woods, and after years of pain it's encouraging to hear him say this latest procedure brought "instant nerve relief." A return to golf remains the goal, for Woods and everyone with ties to the game. But a long road to recovery lies ahead, and ultimately the proof will be in the pudding.

11. According to European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, it looks like the move of the PGA Championship to May is all but a done deal.

Pelley spoke during Golf Channel's second-round coverage at Wentworth and candidly theorized about his options for moving the BMW PGA should the PGA of America move its marquee event.

"If in fact the PGA Championship is moved to May, which I anticipate that it will, we will have to look where is the best fit for the BMW PGA Championship," Pelley said. "But obviously we would do everything around the majors."

Pelley also added earlier in the week that he expects a decision on future PGA dates to be made by the end of August. At this point, the surprise would be if the season's final major remained in its current slot.

Golf can be a frustrating game, even for a two-time major champ.

A fan snapped a photo of Johnson mid-meltdown during the third round at Colonial, with his clubs splayed in a wide radius around the green:

It was a scene you might expect in the 12th fairway at your local muni, but not one that pops up often on the PGA Tour - especially from a player with Johnson's credentials. But golf is, after all, a four-letter word.

"Not my proudest moment yesterday," Johnson tweeted Sunday. "Putter was stuck, yanked it out, many clubs came out, frustrated for sure. Tap in double. Ugh."

This week's award winners ... 

Second Verse, Same as the First: Bernhard Langer. We predicted in this space last week that Langer would add another senior major and he did just that, beating Vijay Singh by a shot to win the Senior PGA and pass Jack Nicklaus with his record ninth over-50 major.

Abacus in Hand: Gary Player, who openly questions Langer's newfound spot atop the senior major leaderboard. Player believes his three Senior Open titles (that came before it was designated a major) should count, giving him nine. He may have a point, but retroactively assigning major victories is a slippery slope.

Pretty Good for Part Time: 50-year-old Steve Stricker, who fired a final-round 63 at Colonial to tie for seventh. Erin Hills will be a much more interesting place next month if the Wisconsin native manages to sneak through sectional qualifying.

Staying at home: President Donald Trump, who opted not to make an appearance at Trump National following a week-long overseas trip to watch his friend, Langer, hoist the hardware on one of his eponymous golf courses.

Returning Home: Ha Na Jang, who is turning in her LPGA card to play full-time in her native Korea. It's an unfortunate loss for LPGA fans, as Jang was among the most colorful players on the circuit but never seemed to shake the freak accident where her luggage collided with In Gee Chun in a Singapore airport last year.

Hanging It Up: Ai Miyazato, who reached world No. 1 during the fall of 2010, will retire at the end of the season after citing a lack of motivation. The 31-year-old didn't win an LPGA major, but she did win nine LPGA titles from 2009-12 including the 2009 Evian before it became a major.

Going Out on Top: Monica Vaughn. The Arizona State senior rallied to win the NCAA individual title, then used her final day of college golf to lead the Sun Devils past Stanford and Northwestern en route to the school's first national title since 2008.

Will He or Won't He?: Maverick McNealy, who won the Hogan Award and days later saw his Stanford career come to a close. He'll likely remain amateur at least through the Walker Cup, but after that it will be fascinating to see if the No. 2-ranked amateur in the world opts out of a career inside the ropes.

Global Performer: Japan's Hideto Tanihara, who proved his run to the semis at the WGC-Dell Match Play was no fluke when he rallied for a T-3 finish at Wentworth. Tanihara overcame an opening-round 76 and earned a spot in The Open in the process.

DFS MVP: Kevin Tway. He may not have a win and certainly doesn't receive much hype, but Tway's recent results speak for themselves: T-3, third, T-5, T-20 and T-18 in his last five starts. Leave him on your fantasy bench at your own peril.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Ryan Palmer. A Colonial membership and a partisan crowd has translated into success for Palmer at this event in the past. This time around, all it meant was a tie for 70th among the 72 that made the cut. Alas.

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Rosaforte Report: Toski lively, singing and ready to go home

By Tim RosaforteJune 22, 2018, 6:41 pm

Bob Toski sounded pretty good for a man near death last week. When we spoke on Friday, the 91-year-old teaching legend and former PGA Tour leading money winner was alive and feeling well. Especially when he was talking about giving lessons, swinging a golf club again, and going down to the piano bar at Arturo’s near his home in Boca Raton, Fla., to sing his favorite song, “Sentimental Journey."

“It’s been quite a journey,” Toski said in total bliss. “But I’m going home tomorrow.”

Going back 10 days, to June 12, Toski suffered a severe heart attack that had him on life support, in critical condition, at a hospital not far from the South Florida golf community where he’s pro emeritus at St. Andrews.

He opened 15 minutes on the phone on Friday by asking how much he owed me for the publicity he got during the U.S. Open. Typical Toski. His heart may have skipped a beat, but he hadn’t.

At no more than 120 pounds, still larger than life.

Bob Toski from his hospital bed in South Florida

“This is the mouse,” he said when asked to confirm it really was him on the phone. “The Mighty Mouse.”

We were laughing now, but there was a moment one night during “Live From the U.S. Open” when I got a message from the Boca hospital which sounded grim. That’s when one of the friends by his side texted me and said it would be just like “Tosk” to sit up straight and ask everybody what was going on.

Essentially, that’s what happened. And now here he was on the phone, cracking off one-liners, talking about Brooks Koepka’s win at Shinnecock, giving his take on the USGA and course setup, asking how much I’d been playing, and giving his love to everybody at “The Channel.”

He invited me down for a lesson at St. Andrews and dinner at Arturos. “In a month’s time,” he said, “I’ll be ready to go.”

He sounded ready right now, singing a line from his favorite song, from his hospital bed in the happiest of voices, “Gotta set my heart at ease.”

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Spieth fades with 3-over 73: 'It's just golf'

By Will GrayJune 22, 2018, 6:10 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – After finding nothing but positives for his first five trips around the course, Jordan Spieth finally suffered a setback at TPC River Highlands.

Spieth won the Travelers Championship last year in his tournament debut, and he quickly bounced back from a missed cut at Shinnecock Hills by firing a 7-under 63 in the opening round this week to take a share of the lead. Out early during the second round with a chance to move even further into red figures amid calm conditions, he instead went the other way.

Undone by a triple bogey on the par-5 13th hole, Spieth was 5 over for his first 14 holes and needed an eagle on the par-5 sixth hole for the second straight day simply to salvage a 3-over 73. The score knocked him back to 4 under for the week and six shots behind Brian Harman.

Despite finding three fewer fairways, three fewer greens in regulation and taking five more putts than he did in the opening round, Spieth still put a positive spin on a lackluster result.

Full-field scores from the Travelers Championship

Travelers Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I actually felt like I had better control of my golf swing than I did yesterday. I really struggled with my swing yesterday and I kind of got some good breaks,” Spieth said. “It’s just golf. It’s kind of like yesterday I got three or four shots extra out of the round, and today I lost three or four based on how I felt.”

Spieth was happy with his opening-round effort, but even after finishing late in the day he still went straight to the driving range that lines the ninth fairway at TPC River Highlands – not exactly standard behavior after grabbing a share of the lead.

“So it’s not like things are on,” he said. “Sometimes it can get disguised by rounds, but it’s not far off. It really is close.”

Spieth has lamented a lack of quality chances to win this year, which he has previously described as being within six shots of the lead heading into the final round. He’ll have some work to do to meet that mark this weekend in defense of his title, as his round hit a snag on No. 13, his fourth hole of the morning, when he pulled his tee shot out of bounds and then hit his subsequent approach into the water.

“For whatever reason, it’s a large fairway but it’s always just killed me,” Spieth said. “I don’t know what it is about the hole, but that hole I get on the tee and for whatever reason I struggle. … I just hit a bad shot at the wrong time there.”

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Watch: Daly's 1999 Pinehurst meltdown as a Lego

By Grill Room TeamJune 22, 2018, 5:42 pm

Jared Jacobs' latest Lego recreation of a memorable golf moment is a timely one.

Less than a week after Phil Mickelson hit a moving ball at Shinnecock Hills, Jacobs gives us John Daly doing the same in the 1999 U.S. Open.

Daly twice hit his ball up the slope and onto the putting surface on the eighth hole in the final round at Pinehurst No. 2, and it twice rolled back to his feet. After the ball began to roll back a third time, Daly slapped it across the green.

Here's a look at some video from the original incident:

Jacobs has also done Lego recreations of:

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Cut Line: Phil's apology doesn't jibe with initial excuse

By Rex HoggardJune 22, 2018, 4:56 pm

In this final look back at the U.S. Open, Phil Mickelson offers a curious mea culpa, the USGA endures another setup snafu and some take the “Lefty Loophole” to a logical extreme.

Made Cut

Strength in numbers. When the PGA Tour introduced a strength-of-field regulation for the 2016-17 season, the results were almost immediately favorable.

Essentially, the rule required players who didn’t have at least 25 starts in the previous season to add an event to their schedules that they hadn’t played in the last four years.

Fields at events that often struggled to attract star players widely improved, but the rule has also had a carry-on impact, as the tee sheet for this week’s Travelers Championship proves.

Five out of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are in this week’s field at TPC River Highlands, including world No. 2 Justin Thomas, No. 4 Brooks Koepka, No. 5 Jordan Spieth, No. 7 Rory McIlroy and No. 9 Jason Day.

Many of these stars added the event to their schedules to fulfill the strength-of-field requirement and liked it, making it a regular stop on their dance cards.

It’s often easy to criticize the Tour and forget the myriad constituents the circuit serves, but on this complicated front they got it right.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Mea culpa. As apologies go, Mickelson’s statement this week regarding his actions during the third round of last week’s U.S. Open touched all the right points, albeit a tad late for some.

“I know this should've come sooner, but it's taken me a few days to calm down,” Mickelson said in a statement regarding his decision to hit a moving golf ball on the 13th green at Shinnecock Hills. “My anger and frustration got the best of me last weekend. I'm embarrassed and disappointed by my actions. It was clearly not my finest moment and I’m sorry.”

What’s still unclear, however, is exactly what Lefty is apologizing for. In the heat of the moment on Saturday, Mickelson told reporters that those offended by his actions should “toughen up,” and that he fully understood the Rules of Golf on this front and had been thinking about doing something similar to this before.

However, Mickelson’s reconciliatory tone suggests he finally understands the extreme nature of his actions, or maybe he just realized he’s on the wrong side of public opinion.

Tweet of the week:

Mickelson cited a similar scenario on Saturday when asked if he’d ever thought of hitting a moving golf ball. The USGA is deep into what has been billed as a rules modernization. Let’s hope the association, along with the R&A, uses the “Lefty Loophole” as a reason for more tinkering. Players blatantly batting moving golf balls around is a bad look.

Houston, we have a solution. News last week that the Houston Open would remain on the Tour schedule was encouraging on many fronts.

The event will transition to the fall portion of the schedule and will be run by the Astros Foundation and Houston Astros owner Jim Crane.

According to various sources, the event, which lost its title sponsor after the 2017 event, will be supported by a consortium of local sponsors and is looking to relocate to Memorial Park in 2019.

Lost in all this good news, however, is the Houston Golf Association’s role in the event. The HGA had run the event for 72 years and is a staple to the Houston golf community via its First Tee program and amateur events.

Change may be inevitable for the Houston Tour stop, but given the HGA’s commitment for over seven decades let’s hope some things remain the same.

Missed Cut

Shinnecock sequel. After years of telling the golf world that this Shinnecock Hills Open would be different, the déjà vu that descended on the championship for Round 3 was beyond baffling.

The USGA had 14 years to figure out how to keep what is largely considered one of the best layouts the championship uses from slipping over the setup abyss, and yet as a warm afternoon turned to early evening here we were again.

“What happened is we simply got higher winds than we anticipated,” USGA CEO Mike Davis said on Saturday after some Round 3 hole locations became unplayable. “The grass really began to dry out. In fact, if you looked at it at the end, it was almost wilting around there, and it just didn't have enough grass to hold the ball up.”

For many, the moment of truth came about midway through Davis’ press conference on Saturday.

Question: “Mike, are there any regrets about putting the course this close to the edge? And can you really be surprised by the wind on Long Island in June?”

Davis: “Surprised by the wind in Long Island, I think no. Point made on that. We got, essentially, the wind from the direction, the prevailing wind today, but it was simply at a rate that was a good bit more than what we had anticipated and our meteorologist had thought.”

For the record, Saturday’s forecast called for sustained winds of about 15 mph with gusts to 20 mph around 4 p.m. Maybe the USGA got more than they bargained for from Mother Nature, or maybe they just got it wrong – again.