April 24, 2024

Monday Scramble: Promising start to the year

Chris Kirk looks as good as ever, Rory McIlroy offers hope of more peaceful times, Scottie Scheffler wins in a tight (and mysterious!) race and much more in this season-opening edition of the Monday Scramble…

Chris Kirk’s inspiring comeback reached a new level on Sunday as he survived a world-class field win the season-opening Sentry with one shot at Sahith Theegala.

Kirk, 38, knows he will likely always be remembered as the multiple Tour winner who reclaimed his career after quitting the sport in 2019 to deal with alcoholism and depression.

And that’s okay with him.

If he hadn’t made the difficult decision to get sober, Kirk believes his career would have been over long ago.

“It’s 100 percent why I can do what I do,” he said.

And what Kirk has done recently is play the best golf of his career.

Last year in Palm Beach, he returned to the winner’s circle for his first victory in eight years, a triumph that helped him earn the Tour’s Courage Award. But the work was not done. He continued to improve during the offseason. He hit the gym harder than ever before. He refined his swing with coach Scott Hamilton. He found the right mental space with performance coach Zach Sorensen.

Sure, even Kirk was a little surprised by how well he played in the first event of this new Tour era. He shot 29 under par at Kapalua, his macho birdie on the 71st hole that gives him the edge. With the wind swirling from both directions, Kirk went up two clubs – from a 7-iron to a 5 – and drilled another high, metronomic draw near the flag on the longest par 4 on the Tour schedule. The shot landed on the front and rolled to within half a meter, a final birdie in a round of 65, which was enough to hold off a slew of contenders at what was the average lowest score to par (6.34 under ) of all other players. round on Tour since at least 1983.

For Kirk, the win gave him a huge lead in the season-long race (plus $3.6 million in the bank), a year after narrowly missing the Tour Championship. It also moved him from just outside the world’s top 50 to 25thesecuring a spot in the Masters.

Along the way, Kirk said he rediscovered his love for the game – not just the weekly competition, but the amount of work it takes to compete against the best in the world.

“I definitely fell in love with the process again, and sometimes you get rewarded for it, like today, and sometimes you don’t. That’s just part of the deal,” he said. “But I think to be successful and really enjoy your life as a PGA Tour player, you have to love the work.”

It’s a great story that just keeps getting better.

Ryder Cup 2023 - Singles Matches

ROME, ITALY – OCTOBER 01: Team Europe’s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm celebrate winning 16 and a half to 11 and a half wins after Sunday’s singles matches of the 2023 Ryder Cup at Marco Simone Golf Club on October 1, 2023 in Rome, Italy. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images)

Rory McIlroy makes his 2024 made his debut this week in Dubai, but he has already played a key opportunity to start the year.

McIlroy appeared on the (ironically) podcast ‘Stick to Football’ to strike a more conciliatory tone, in which he expressed regret for how judgmental he had been towards some LIV quarters; he describes Jon Rahm’s stunning departure as a “smart business move”; and suggested that LIV was taking advantage of some of the PGA Tour’s inherent “flaws.”

Combined, the comments marked a sharp turnaround for one of LIV’s most outspoken critics, and Greg Norman was quick to capitalize on it, praising McIlroy for ‘falling on his sword’.

But that’s not what he did here.

This was not a complete capitulation, but a mea culpa for his role in the ongoing Gulf Civil War.

No, this represented more of a personal evolution. More information has emerged and the landscape continues to change. McIlroy is allowed to change his mind, and he should really be commended for his openness and thoughtfulness, rather than stubbornly digging in.

It’s clear where this whole thing is going – in fact, McIlroy is well aware of it, having only recently resigned from the Tour Policy Board – but he’s not blind to the realities of the present either. He’s talking very sensibly here.

PGA Tour Season Comparisons: Scheffler vs. Rahm

The Golf Central crew compares Scottie Scheffler and Jon Rahm’s 2022-2023 PGA Tour season stats and debates whether they got the right vote in naming Scheffler the 2023 PGA Tour Player of the Year.

The Tour did not announce anything the total of votes for all contenders for the Player of the Year award. We just know that Scottie Scheffler received the highest percentage of the votes, at 38 percent. That means it was an incredibly exciting race, with Masters champion Jon Rahm and FedExCup winner Viktor Hovland also in serious contention.

This was one of the most fascinating votes in recent history.

Without a doubt, Scheffler was a strong prospect, with his two wins, a ton of top-5s and mind-numbing consistency. But it’s also worth remembering the timeline here, because at the end of the wraparound schedule (RIP), voters waited until the end of the entire Tour season:

• Voting began on December 1;

• Rahm left for LIV on December 7;

• Voting ended on December 15.

The Tour has never been transparent on this issue, but it would be fascinating to see a more in-depth analysis: who led the early voting? What percentage of votes went in Scheffler’s or Hovland’s direction after December? 7? What percentage of Tour members voted at all?

Unfortunately all unanswered questions.

But this much we know for sure: Rahm has been suspended by the Tour and Scheffler just became the first player since Tiger Woods (2005-2007) to win back-to-back POY awards.

Spieth’s swing bodes well for the rest of 2024

Rich Lerner and Brandel Chamblee analyze Jordan Spieth’s play at The Sentry with improvements on the green and the trajectory of his game through 2024.

Reasons for optimism: Jordan Spieth. Last month at the Hero World Challenge, Spieth detailed the issues he was having with a nagging wrist injury and how he was ultimately optimistic about how he could swing the club and where his game could go in 2024. Even if he doesn’t would do. practicing as much as he would have liked leading up to his season debut – the weather can be changeable in Dallas this time of year, and he has two children under the age of three – he still gave himself a realistic chance to win in Kapalua , ultimately finishing in solo third place. He led the field in putting, knocking in putts from 450 feet, but in the final round he was undone by a series of bad breaks: a ball into a double divot on 15, a hidden lie in the edge of a fairway bunker on 16 (which led to his first bogey since the opening round) and then another old divot on 17. Now, though, he has another mini-break before returning to Pebble and diving into the meat of the Tour schedule. The arrow points up again.

…And still not enough?!: Sungjae Im. The birdie machine was boiling again on the Plantation course, where he set a new Tour record by notching 34 birdies – the most ever in a 72-hole Tour event since they started keeping detailed records in 1983. I’m tied for fifth this week, an impressive achievement considering he only managed an even-par 73 on Saturday (when he recorded six birdies). Forget a week – it could take us the whole year to make 34 birdies.

The Sentry - Round Three

KAPALUA, HAWAII – JANUARY 06: Akshay Bhatia of the United States lines up a putt on the tenth green during the third round of The Sentry at Plantation Course at Kapalua Golf Club on January 6, 2024 in Kapalua, Hawaii. (Photo by Michael Reaves/Getty Images)

Imitation is the purest form of flattery: Long putter. No doubt influenced by Lucas Glover’s career-saving switch to the long wand, Akshay Bhatia and Ben An were among those who showed up on Maui with the new toy and wielded it successfully. Bhatia was a shot off the lead heading into the final round, finishing third in the field on the greens – a notable improvement for a player ranked 183rdrd a season ago. Ben An finished fourth at Kapalua thanks to a 64th-place finish in the final round, despite being near last in the field in the approach game on Sunday. In total he was 18e when setting. Oh, and speaking of posting…

More of the same: Scottie Scheffler. For at least a week, the world number 1 was undone by a familiar foe. Scheffler ranked first in the field off the tee and third in approach, placing him in the top 5 again, but his chances of winning were gone when he needed 64 swipes with the putter over the weekend . In all, Scheffler, in his second tournament start since hiring putting coach Phil Kenyon, recorded 121 putts and finished in 45th place.e out of 59 players – not as poor as some of the lowlights last summer, but a slight step back from his most recent performance at the Hero. As much as he wishes the focus was elsewhere, his work on the greens will remain something to keep an eye on.

Viktor Hovland wins the 2023 Tour Championship

(Photo by Ben Jared/PGA TOUR via Getty Images)

Head-scratching move: Victor Hovland. After the best season of his career, Hovland has parted ways with swing coach Joe Mayo, as first reported by Golf Channel colleague Todd Lewis. Both Hovland and Mayo declined to discuss the reasons behind the split, but it was a surprising turn of events after Mayo was largely credited with innovating Hovland’s much-maligned short game. (Hovland, however, is a curious, independent thinker and is no stranger to coaching changes.) Still, in his first start as a single man, Hovland was in the mix at Kapalua before a bladed bunker shot led to a triple bogey late in his third season . round. He finished tied for 22ndNL.

Welcome back: Gary Woodland. It’s great to see G-Dub back in a Tour field, four months after undergoing surgery to remove a brain injury. His return to Sony this week should be celebrated no matter how he performs.

Natural fit: Kevin Kisner. The three-time Tour winner and Hall of Fame straight shooter made his debut in The Sentry booth, and he certainly didn’t sound like a rookie. Kiz was typically funny, sharp, self-deprecating and insightful, especially when he pushed Spieth to speed up on a 1-yard attempt and noted that Scheffler’s open shoulders at address aided his ball-striking skills, but perhaps one of the culprits for his recent struggles on the greens. Kiz isn’t retiring from professional golf, but he should have a home on TV – hopefully as a hole announcer – whenever he wants. He was very good and easy to listen to.

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