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Monday Scramble: Many happy returns

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Lee Westwood keeps proving 'em wrong, Andrew Landry blows a big lead (but still wins!), Brooks Koepka eases into action, Tiger Woods returns and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:




1. Lee Westwood closed with 67 to win the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, the 25th European Tour title of his career.

TAKEAWAY: With the victory Westwood, 46, has now won in four different decades, a remarkable achievement for a player who two years ago was drifting toward irrelevance. Instead, Westy is back among the game’s elite, a top-30 player and now a lock to play in all of the majors and WGCs this season. Oh, and there’s something else on his radar, too: The Ryder Cup. Having been a vice captain for the home matches in 2018, Westwood admittedly thought he’d end his career with 10 cups played, but he’s rising in the standings. He grew emotional when reflecting on his late-career resurgence.

“It’s just nice to come out and keep proving that you’ve still got it,” he said.




2. In his first action in more than three months, Brooks Koepka tied for 34th in Abu Dhabi.

TAKEAWAY: It was a surprising result only because of how his week began, with a bogey-free 66 that put him just two shots off the lead. But Koepka struggled to break in a new driver, tumbled down the leaderboard and eventually finished in the middle of the pack. Koepka said that his left knee still isn’t 100 percent – and might not be for a while – and so it was understandable that he reported some soreness as he walked 18 holes for the first time since October.

Koepka will tee it up again next week, in Saudi Arabia, but he might not do so as the top-ranked player. If Rory McIlroy wins this week at Torrey Pines, he’ll supplant Koepka and rise to No. 1 for the first time since 2015.




3. Andrew Landry earned his second PGA Tour title in dramatic fashion, blowing a six-shot lead before making birdie on the final two holes.

TAKEAWAY: As a 5-foot-7-inch grinder on a bomber’s tour, competing against young stars who seemed destined to be great, Landry realistically expects to contend only one to three times a season. The key, then, is to capitalize when he does.

That’s what made his back-nine collapse at the American Express so difficult to watch. Five shots clear with six holes to go, Landry bogeyed three consecutive holes and watched as Scottie Scheffler and Abe Ancer made furious charges. All square as he stood on the 17th tee, the watery par 3 on PGA West’s Stadium Course, Landry hit a choked-down 8-iron to 6 feet. Birdie. Then he pured a drive on the visually intimidating home hole, leaving only a wedge that he – once again – stuffed to 6 feet. Another birdie.

Afterward, Landry sounded more relieved than happy. And for good reason. “I don’t want to be a part of something like that ever again,” he said.




4. In her 2020 debut, Inbee Park lost in a playoff at the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions.

TAKEAWAY: Park usually starts her year in late February, but she opted to tee it up in the season opener for the first time since 2016. That wasn’t a coincidence. This year, like 2016, is an Olympic year, and Park, 31, is determined to defend her gold medal.

It won’t be an easy task. Among the uber-talented South Koreans, Park, the LPGA’s Player of the Decade, is currently the second alternate, so she’s planning an ambitious schedule in an attempt to earn enough points to leapfrog her compatriots and earn a coveted spot on the four-player team before the June 29 cutoff.

The TOC was a squandered opportunity, as her putter went cold in the final round, dropping her into a three-way playoff with Gaby Lopez and Nasa Hataoka. Park exited on the third extra hole, but it’s clear that she's on a mission in 2020.

Lopez came back Monday morning and finally bested Hataoka – on the seventh playoff hole.


5. After an impressive end to the fall, Tiger Woods makes his 2020 debut at Torrey Pines, where he's won eight times as a pro.

TAKEAWAY: Expectations have ratcheted up significantly for Woods, who claimed his record-tying 82nd Tour title at the Zozo Championship before going 3-0 as a playing captain at the Presidents Cup. Prepare accordingly for an onslaught of “Chasing History!” promos, but it seems unlikely that he’ll pass Sam Snead this week, even at one of his personal playgrounds.

Since 2013, Woods hasn’t finished better than 20th at Torrey Pines, and there are various theories why. Perhaps Woods, a single father now in his mid-40s, isn’t quite as ready to go in his first start of the new year. Or maybe the cool San Diego mornings don’t allow his surgically repaired body to warm up. Or the brutish South Course is simply too demanding a test to start.

That said ... the way Woods was swinging in Japan and Australia, anything seems possible right now.

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ... 



Tough Look: Cameron Smith vs. PGA Tour. Golf Digest reported that the Australian was warned by the PGA Tour that another public attack on a fellow player could result in disciplinary action, per the guidelines in the Tour handbook. That's technically true, but the optics here are horrible. The Tour is seemingly protecting Reed while trying to silence those who called him out for an egregious rules breach. Hundreds of NFL and NBA players are fined each season by their respective leagues; they decide that speaking their mind (about the refs, management, teammates, whatever) is worth the financial repercussions. Here’s hoping Tour players feel the same, because the sport needs their candor.

His Time is Coming: Scottie Scheffler. The 54-hole co-leader at the AmEx, Scheffler battled his swing all day and could only manage a 70 in the final round, dropping to solo third. It was his fourth top-7 of the young season, and he’s gaining valuable experience.

Something to Watch: Rickie Fowler. PGATour.com reported that Fowler recently switched swing instructors, from Butch Harmon to John Tillery, who coaches, among others, Kevin Kisner and Scott Brown. Harmon is looking to lighten his workload in retirement, and Fowler is trying to use his lower body more effectively in his swing. Fowler has top-tenned in each of his two starts this year.   

The WTH? Moment of the Week: Hosung Choi. His act wore thin a long time ago, but Choi was back in the news again, this time for hitting his playing partner with his thrown driver. This was a missed opportunity – just "accidentally" take a step forward and snap that shaft in half.



More of the Same: Phil Mickelson. In what will likely be a recurring theme this year, Mickelson’s pledge to hit bombs and go on a tear didn’t materialize at PGA West, where his increased driving distance only added up to a 3-under total through three rounds and a missed cut by six. He’s now 82nd in the world and dropping fast.

Well, That’ll Change Things: Abel Gallegos. The 17-year-old Argentine was preparing to turn pro, but now he’ll have to wait a few more months. He shot 67 in the final round of the Latin America Amateur Championship, earning spots in the Masters, The Open and also sectional qualifying for the U.S. Open.  

Tweet of the Week: Brooks Koepka. Twas an epic clap back at Bryson, who violated the golden rule of social media with his claim that "Body Issue" Brooks lacks six-pack abs: You come at the king, you best not miss





Big Easy Vibes: Ernie Els. It seems like a perfect fit, Ernie Els and the over-50 circuit, and he nearly had a perfect debut in Hawaii, where he closed with rounds of 65-65 to lose in a playoff to Miguel Angel Jimenez at the PGA Tour Champions opener. Unlike so many former Tour stars who hit the senior tour, Els seems committed to a full schedule – and that’s bad news for all of the regulars.   

Stand up: John Smoltz. We’ve seen these self-standing putters, but we haven't seen anyone use one in competition, celebrity or otherwise. Then we watched John Smoltz light up the field at the LPGA’s Tournament of Champions as he defended his title in the celebrity division. Who knew? 



Early Returns, Not Good!: Bryson DeChambeau. It’s still a small sample size, and this week’s return to Dubai (where he shot 24 under and won by seven last year) will be a better gauge of his game, but Beefy Bryson’s play is continuing to raise eyebrows. Swinging out of rhythm, almost as if to prove that he’s longer off the tee, DeChambeau shot a second-round 77 in Abu Dhabi and missed the cut, continuing a run of uninspired play that included a 15th-place finish at the 18-man Hero and then a semi-benching at the Presidents Cup, where captain Tiger Woods used him only once in team play.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charles Howell III. Not since 2004 had one of the game’s most consistent performers missed a cut in the desert, and he was coming off a T-12 in windy conditions at the Sony. But he couldn’t find a spark at the AmEx, shooting 6 under and missing the cut. Sigh.