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Monday Scramble: Hurry up and wait, the week at Riviera

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J.B. Holmes takes his time in victory, Justin Thomas struggles in the final round, Tiger Woods improves, Jordan Spieth collapses again, Lucy Li slides, Matt Kuchar pries open his wallet and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Start with the disclaimers: The leaders were playing 34 holes on a difficult course. It was pumping 25 mph. They were vying for a $1.33 million check.

OK, good. Now that that’s out of the way ...

Sunday's product was borderline unwatchable.

Genesis Open champion J.B. Holmes was far from the only slowpoke out there, but he’s also one of the chief violators of a Tour pace-of-play policy that long ago was broken. It’s not just that he took more than 40 seconds to play; that was to be expected in treacherous conditions. It’s that he was rarely ready (and sometimes hadn’t even begun his lengthy pre-shot discussion) when it was his turn, despite almost never being the first in his group to hit.

That dawdling shows not just a lack of respect to his fellow playing competitors, but it’s frustrating for TV viewers and creates a dreadful in-person experience with little action.

For years the Tour has turned a blind eye toward slow play, because it’s all good as long as the golf wraps up on network TV by 6 p.m. ET. That keeps sponsors and broadcast partners happy. But there now seems to be a groundswell of support, even from high-profile stars like Adam Scott and Brooks Koepka, for something to be done about the slow-play crisis on Tour, recognizing that it’s a skill to play shots decisively.

We’ll see if the PGA Tour is listening.

1. J.B. Holmes is not what you’d consider a good putter. Entering the Genesis Open, he was ranked 202nd on Tour in strokes gained: putting and was losing, on average, nearly three shots PER ROUND on the greens this year. 

But these are the best players in the world, and even the worst putters can get hot for one week. That’s what happened with Holmes, who finished the week at Riviera No. 1 in strokes gained: putting and made a few clutch putts down the stretch, none more so than his slippery 12-footer on par on 13 and his par save from 11 feet after finding the greenside bunker on 16.    

It was Holmes' fifth Tour title of his career, and his first since the 2015 Houston Open.

2. A poor week with the driver finally caught up to Justin Thomas.

Staked to a four-shot lead at the start of the final round, Thomas made three bogeys in his first five holes and trailed by the time he stepped on the 11th tee.

It wasn’t hard to see why his lead evaporated. He found just one fairway in his first 11 holes (and just three all day), a continuation of his struggles during the first two rounds. For the week, he finished 58th in strokes gained: off the tee, which is uncharacteristically low for a player who is one of the game’s best drivers.  

3. Thomas’ post-round presser was a clinic in honesty and accountability.

Afterward, he was most frustrated (understandably) by his four-putt on the 13th green, which led to a double bogey and dropped him behind Holmes.

He had 60 feet for birdie but left his lag putt 8 feet short. He missed that low, then tried to ram home his 3-footer for bogey and lipped out.

Of his short miss for bogey, Thomas said: “I’ve got to stop doing that. I could feel the wind coming, and I got scared so I tried to hit it harder, and I did hit it harder and that’s why I missed it – I jammed it. That’s not the speed that I hit putts when I’m putting well.”

Thomas said that’s usually the explanation for why he misses a short putt – he either doesn’t back off when he feels uncomfortable or tries to adjust on the fly.

“I did it at the PGA a couple of times, and I’ve got to stop doing that,” he said. “You would think I would learn my lesson. Maybe now I will.”  

4. Some tired swings late cost Tiger Woods the chance at a high finish at Riviera. No surprise there – 28 holes in 50-degree weather on a long, soft course was a big ask for a 43-year-old with a fused back.

Still, his sloppy finish notwithstanding (tie for 15th), there were signs that he’s rounding into form as the stars head into the meat of the schedule.

Remember how lost Woods appeared with the driver a year ago at Riviera? How he swung out of his spikes and missed both ways?

Well, last week he relied on a cut, was under control and finished 12th in strokes gained: off the tee on a course where he has traditionally struggled to find the fairway.

This is his formula for success now in the final act of his career: Woods is still plenty long (16th in distance), but if he's able to keep it in play more often – and rely on his preeminent iron play – then 2019 could be even better than last year.

Don’t be surprised if Woods makes a run at the title this week in Mexico, if he regains his energy levels and can quickly adjust to playing at altitude. It’s a course that should fit his rebuilt game. 

5. It’s increasingly evident that Jordan Spieth’s problems are both physical AND mental.

In contention through two rounds at Riviera, Spieth imploded Sunday afternoon with a 10-over 81, his third career round in the 80s. He made a bogey, double, triple and quad that included a meltdown in the greenside bunker on the diabolical 10th hole and a three-putt from 4 feet on No. 5. He looks uncomfortable with both the driver and putter.

He hasn’t broken par on the weekend across his last four Tour starts, and he's now 14 over par during his last two weekends. At Pebble Beach, he was 5 over in Rounds 3 and 4. At Riviera, well, he was even worse, tumbling all the way into a share of 51st.

6. Despite brazenly appearing in an ad for the Apple Watch, Lucy Li was allowed to retain her amateur status after the USGA let her off the hook with a “one-time warning.”

What’ll happen for her next infraction? She’ll have to sit out recess?

This was about as egregious of an infraction as you can imagine, and yet the USGA let it slide because A) Li and her family pled ignorance, B) the ad was promptly taken down, and C) she had no prior incidents.

Some sort of penalty was warranted here, but instead she’ll be one of the favorites for the upcoming Augusta National Women’s Amateur.

7. Nelly Korda continued to prove she’s one of the next great American players by winning the Women’s Australian Open on Sunday, her second career LPGA title at age 20. She showed that she’s ready to build off her breakthrough 2018 campaign, in which she won the Swinging Skirts in Taiwan.

Lexi Thompson (No. 5) is the only American player ranked higher than Nelly, now ninth.

This victory was particularly significant for the Korda family: Her father, Petr, won the 1998 Australian Open tennis event, while her brother, Sebastian, won the 2018 Australian Open junior tennis tournament and sister Jessica won this event in 2012.

“I just got off the phone with my dad,” Nelly said afterward, “and he’s like, Well, congratulations – you’re part of the Korda clan now.”

Matt Kuchar finally paid temporary caddie David “El Tucan” Ortiz the amount to which he felt he was entitled for his work at the Mayakoba Classic – $50,000 – and so it’s the end of the melodrama, right?

Oh, he wishes. 

Cheapskate-gate likely will follow Kuchar for years, if not forever, as it marked the unceremonious end to his aw-shucks, choirboy-like image. He couldn’t golly-gee his way out of this one, believing it was fine to part with only $5,000 of a $1.3 million payday. Yes, he followed the strict language of their agreement, but this case was always more about optics than anything else. It’s a bad look when a guy who is 10th on the all-time money list, with more than $46 million in on-course earnings, is also viewed as a parsimonious tipper.

He could have changed El Tucan’s life. Instead, he practically stiffed him.

Where was Kuchar's team? How did they not put a cap on this? How did they not offer him better advice? How did they not drill into his brain that what he’s doing is wrong, and that this is getting out of hand, and that he needs to reverse the tidal wave of bad publicity?

The hit to his reputation was worth much more than the $50,000 he ended up spending.

This week's award winners ... 

#Trending: Rory McIlroy. His tie for fourth at Riviera – which included a disappointing par on 17, and then a deflating bogey on the home hole – was his third straight top-5 finish on Tour. The last time he did that? In 2014. When he won two majors in a three-start span. Hmmm.

Not For Everyone: WGC-Mexico. Holmes was a late entry into this week’s WGC event in Mexico ... and he was also a late scratch; he already had a family vacation planned this week. World No. 1 Justin Rose and Jason Day are among those also not making the trip south of the border.

Quote of the Week: Miguel Angel Jimenez. After rallying to win on the senior tour, Jimenez said: “I’m working hard and I practice and go to the gym ... apart from smoking and drinking.” Legend.

Can’t Make This Up: Kuch. The week he finally made the $50,000 payment ... he banked $50,320 for his five-way tie for 28th at Riviera. You know who he is? He's Even Steven.

Taking Advantage: J.T. Griffin. The former Georgia Tech standout Monday-qualified into last week’s Tour event on the west coast of Florida, and he played his way into the penultimate group. He ultimately finished fifth but it was an important step for a player still trying to find his way.

Guard Your Valuables: Wade Ormsby. After advancing to the match-play portion of the Super 6 Perth, Ormsby tweeted that his trusty Scotty Cameron putter had been stolen out of his locker overnight. Flustered in the morning, he dropped his opening match. Ouch.

Release the Tapes!: Bronte Law. The young LPGA pro tweeted that she experienced a golfer’s worst nightmare – she fell into a bunker while reading a putt. How is there no video of this?!

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Phil Mickelson. Most of the big stars showed up in Hollywood, but Lefty was a disappointment, finishing 37th while coming off his big win at Pebble Beach. Maybe a letdown was expected, but we had hoped for more with his track record at Riv, where he’s made all nine cuts since 2007 with a pair of wins and two runners-up. Sigh.