Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer team up, the Zurich Classic needs tweaks, Tiger Woods skips Quail Hollow, John Peterson does his best Brett Favre impersonation and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
Ryan Palmer just needed a little push across the finish line.
It’d been since the 2010 Sony Open that Palmer won a PGA Tour event, but lately he’s been outlasted by the young guns, befuddled by a case of the putting yips and distracted off the course by his wife’s breast-cancer diagnosis in 2017. (Fortunately, she's now cancer-free.)
Maybe he would have found his way back in the winner’s circle again on his own, but it certainly didn’t hurt to have a little extra help, a partner who has none of the scars that the 42-year-old Palmer now displays.
Enter Jon Rahm. He’s 24. He’s a seven-time winner around the world. He’s been a top-5 player. And yet Rahm, even though he's enjoyed a mostly charmed pro career, seemed to take as much satisfaction as anyone in helping end Palmer’s winless drought.
“To get it done together,” he said, “it was amazing.”
That's what being part of a team is all about.
1. So how did Rahm and Palmer hook up in the first place? Their friendship began in 2015, when they were paired late at the Phoenix Open. They’ve kept in touch since then, with Rahm playing in Palmer’s charity event during Colonial week.
Rahm had partnered with Wesley Bryan, but Bryan is out indefinitely following shoulder surgery. Palmer had partnered with fellow Texan Jordan Spieth, but Spieth opted not to play this year.
So Palmer randomly shot Rahm a text this year while in Palm Springs.
“When a 42-year-old is texting him, he’s probably like, Why does he want to play with me?” Palmer said. “But he accepted, and what an awesome week.”
2. Palmer’s revamped putting stroke was on display in the final round.
It was just two years ago that Palmer suffered through the full-blown yips, plummeting to 190th in putting and looking nervy even over 2-footers. He made the switch to the claw grip, and he now is ranked 27th on the greens.
Palmer rolled in clutch par saves on Nos. 8 (6 feet) and 11 (7 feet), then poured in an 11-footer for birdie on No. 14 to seal the three-shot victory over Sergio Garcia and Tommy Fleetwood.
3. They’ve just wrapped up Year 3 of the team format at the Zurich Classic, and this much is clear: It’s time for a few more tweaks.
Let’s start with the positives: New Orleans is a draw for players who are still decompressing from the Masters. Those who tee it up there seem to enjoy having a partner. And the format change has brought some much-needed attention to an event that was one of the lowest-rated on Tour.
But there’s a reason why the field has gotten progressively worse year over year. It’s gotten tired.
So here are a few suggestions for improvement, even if some are easier to implement than others:
• A re-grassing at TPC Louisiana will only help so much. The tournament desperately needs to be relocated, to City Park. Make. It. Happen.
• Go back to better ball for the final round. The alternate-shot finale sounded good in theory, with more potential for volatility, but it’s led to boring Sundays watching players who are trying not to make mistakes as opposed to making birdies.
• Host an early-week draft! The tournament almost always goes up against the NFL Draft. So why not have a golf draft on Monday night of tournament week, with the top seeds picking their partner? The bruised egos alone would be worth the 60-minute TV special.
• The players might hate it, but there needs to be a "party hole" on either the drivable 16th or the watery 17th. It's freakin' New Orleans (or close to), after all! They have an Acme tent off the 17th, but it brings no juice. Put the fans on top of the tee, like they do at Honda, and watch the players squirm.
4. Tiger Woods sent Golf Twitter into a state of panic when he appeared to be walking gingerly on social media and then declined to sign up for this week’s Wells Fargo Championship.
In one of his first sightings since Augusta, Woods did some promo work last week for GolfTV, with whom he has a contractual agreement to provide content. That included a sit-down interview and a walk-along round in South Florida, but in teasing the upcoming project they sent out a video that was notable more for Woods’ halting gait than any revelatory answer.
Maybe it was leg day at the gym?
The champ is here... pic.twitter.com/72k3Y6aUSV— GOLFTV (@GOLFTV) April 25, 2019
Quail Hollow seemed a perfect fit for Woods – major-caliber course, strong field, a week off until the PGA – but the Masters champion isn’t ready to play, his agent told ESPN, who added that: "Nobody should lose their mind over this."
And so Woods apparently will stick with a less-is-more approach for the rest of the major season. It’s entirely possible that he’ll play just four more times through the final major of the year: PGA, Memorial, U.S. Open and The Open. He could add an event such as the inaugural 3M, if he wants reps between the two summer Opens, but otherwise he’s looking at a major-heavy schedule through mid-July.
Not that there’s anything wrong with that. Woods pushed himself to get his game major-ready in time for the Masters, and he succeeded. Now it’s about maintaining that top form.
5. It’s just the fourth time in Woods’ career that he’s gone from major to major, without a Tour start in between.
His results on the back end of that doubleheader:
• 1999 Open/PGA: Win
• 2006 Masters/U.S. Open: MC [Note: Woods was dealing with his father's recent death at the '06 U.S. Open]
• 2008 Masters/U.S. Open: Win
• 2013 U.S. Open/Open: T6
6. More concerning, perhaps, is the state of Justin Thomas’ health.
The 2017 PGA champion at Quail Hollow pulled out of the Wells Fargo because of a wrist injury. (He was recently photographed wearing some kind of soft cast on his wrist.) It’s an ailment that has been bothering him since the fall, but he appeared to re-injure it a few months ago at the Honda Classic.
The WD seems like a precautionary move, but Thomas’ agent didn’t respond to a request for comment.
7. Give Ernie Els credit for trying something in advance of the Presidents Cup.
The Big Easy treated last week’s Zurich Classic as an unofficial warmup for the biennial matches in December, gathering 20 hopefuls for dinner in the French Quarter and then watching as a handful of ready-made pairings tried the team format at TPC Louisiana.
Results ... were mixed. Branden Grace and newcomer Justin Harding played well for three rounds, but they were one of only four duos to make the cut, along with the Indian team of Shubhankar Sharma and Anirban Lahiri; Canadians Corey Conners and Mackenzie Hughes; and Argentines Andres Romero and Julian Etulain.
Think any of those dudes are gonna scare the Americans at Royal Melbourne?
Els is trying other tactics, too: The number of required matches played has dropped from two to one; the points cycle shrank from two years to one; and the number of captain’s picks has expanded from two to four.
Sorry, but if his best players (Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama) don’t play their best, it won’t matter. Again.
8. Despite many well-documented gaffes over the past few years, the USGA did the right thing in amending its maternity policy for the upcoming U.S. Women’s Open.
Stacy Lewis and Brittany Lincicome were offered spots in the upcoming major after Lewis’ initial request was rejected.
While Lincicome, who is about five months pregnant, is still weighing whether to accept the invitation, it’s welcome news for Lewis, who at No. 65 in the world rankings would likely have needed to go through sectional qualifying. She took off the second half of last year while on maternity leave.
Colleague Randall Mell has more on the impact for working mothers.
Well, that didn't last long.
Still just 30, John Peterson called it quits late last year after running out of PGA Tour status and saying that he no longer enjoyed life on the road, especially with a wife and kid at home.
Well, after about six months in the real-estate world, Peterson has had enough. As he texted me this week: “Corporate life sucked. I hated it.”
Only problem now is that he doesn't have any status, and so the vicious cycle continues.
To return to the Tour, he'll need Monday qualifiers and sponsor exemptions. That's a tough way to live.
This week's award winners ...
Knocking on the Doorstep: Minjee Lee. With her fifth LPGA victory, this time at the LA Open, Lee is on the cusp of reaching world No. 1 for the first time. You have to look long and hard to find a fault in her game.
Worth the Wait: Jorge Campillo. It took 229 starts, but Campillo is finally a European Tour winner. Also notable was whom he beat at the Trophee Hassan II – a trio of Americans, Julian Suri, Sean Crocker and David Lipsky.
Three Cheers for Public Shaming!: Edoardo Molinari. This scribe has long believed that public embarrassment is the best way to deter slow play, and so the elder Molinari, fed up with the pace in Morocco, decided to take matters into his own hands, tweeting out a list of the slow-play offenders on the European circuit this year. Who knew King Louie was so slow?
As promised...list of timings as of April 22nd. Next updates list will come out at the end of June!— Edoardo Molinari (@DodoMolinari) April 27, 2019
There are a few usual suspects and a few surprises.
Please retweet and share to speed things up!#stopslowplay pic.twitter.com/VpR65M4Xrb
Not Exactly a Feel-Good Story: Xinjun Zhang. The 31-year-old from China is headed back to the PGA Tour, after blitzing the field at the Web.com Tour’s Dormie Network Classic at Briggs Ranch. Zhang, of course, is the player who came up through the PGA Tour China Series and was banned for six months in early 2015 for signing two incorrect scorecards. He played his way onto the big tour once before, but he had just a single top-10 in 28 starts last season.
One Size Does Not Fit All: Tom McKibbin. One of golf’s most intriguing prospects captured the Junior Invitational – widely considered the top junior event – and posed for pictures in the winner’s gold jacket. The only problem? No on-site tailor.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Adam Scott-Jason Day. Only the true degenerates would dabble in a format as unpredictable as this two-man team event, but Scott and Day were the oddsmakers’ favorites to win – and they missed the cut, by one, after Scott whiffed a 3-footer on the 17th hole. Sigh.