Monday Scramble: Jordan Spieth works his magic again; next trick, a Grand Slam?

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Jordan Spieth rediscovers the magic, countless contenders blow their chance at Harbour Town, Bryson DeChambeau goes under the knife and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

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This was the full Jordan Spieth Experience.

There were ripped drives and twirled irons.

There were manufactured shots around trees.

There were hole-outs from around the green.

And there was at least one inexplicable gaffe – most notably the 18-inch lip-out on the final green Saturday that dropped him three shots behind and sent him reeling post-round.

Spieth said that on Saturday night he was “about as upset after the round as I’ve ever been in a golf tournament. There’s just no excuse for those kind of brain farts as a professional.” But afterward, sage advice came from – who else? – Spieth’s wife, Annie, who doesn’t typically comment about his golf but this time instructed him to take an extra five seconds before stepping in for the tap-in.

“I’m just glad it didn’t end up affecting it at all, to be honest,” he said. “Just made it a little more exciting at the end.”

That’s perfectly on-brand for Spieth, who has a habit of making the routine look difficult and the difficult look routine. (Seriously: Peep that playoff sealer.) Even in the best of times, he seems as though he’s wobbling down a tightrope, in danger of falling off, yet seemingly always saving himself. It’s why, outside of Tiger, he’s the game’s can’t-look-away character. It's good to have his high-wire act back in our lives.

Writers' Block: Level of optimism for Spieth? Level of concern for DeChambeau?

After kicking away a chance to win at Pebble Beach in February (he was two up with two to go), Spieth has been striking the ball as well as he ever has, with little to show for it.

Much has been made recently of his unorthodox and technical pre-shot routine, in which he seems to rehearse, in phases, his full backswing. “Structurally,” he explained, “I still am trying to feel 150% of what I’m doing in a rehearsal. It’s feel versus real. I’m not actually doing it.”

But of late, it’s been working. He’s been striping it: The last two regular-season starts, he has led the field in strokes gained: tee to green. What has hampered him, again and again, has been his once-reliable putter. He was 71st out of 72 players at the Valero. He was 60th out of 71 at the Heritage; his strokes-gained total was the worst (-2.545) by a Tour winner since 2009. And this isn't a new trend either: For the season he’s ranked 179th on Tour in strokes gained: putting. He seems to tighten up the closer to the hole he gets.

For the first time in his decorated career, he missed the cut in the Masters. “It was the worst feeling as a golfer that I can remember,” he said, but he chalked up his 6-over score more to bad breaks than poor swings. It also gave him a few more days to iron out his issues, or at least try to.

Now, after four straight weeks of competition, he’ll enjoy a mini-break before gearing up for the PGA Championship, where he'll have another shot at the career Grand Slam at a venue, Southern Hills, that will offer perhaps one of his best chances. In the coming weeks his tee-to-green performance won’t be a point of emphasis.

“I’ve got a lot more work to do,” he said. “I’ve been putting a lot of work into my full swing, and that certainly takes away some of the time you put into other parts of your game, including putting. … I would say [I’m] very close on the full swing, and then I’ve really got to put some time and effort into getting my putter where I know it can be.”

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Even Spieth had to be stunned that he eked this one out.

According to the folks at DataGolf.com, Spieth’s win probability when he stood on the 18th tee was 0.8%.

Then he rolled in a 10-footer for birdie and watched the boys stumble behind him.

Sepp Straka was stuck between an 8- and 9-iron on the final hole of regulation, chose the longer option and still wound up short of the green, unable to get up-and-down. He finished one back.

Playing from a sandy area, Shane Lowry chipped his second shot into the water on the par-3 14th, made double bogey and never recovered. He finished one back.

Third-round leader Harold Varner III made nine consecutive pars to close. He finished one back.

Erik van Rooyen made four bogeys in his first eight holes on the back nine. He finished two back.

Even Patrick Cantlay couldn't get it done. He three-putted the 14th hole, failed to birdie the last par 5 on 15 and then didn’t come particularly close with his 12-footer to win outright. In the playoff, he had an almost identical yardage as in regulation but caught a gust from a different wind direction, his ball coming up well short of the green and burying in the sand. Needing to land his ball on a downslope, he had little chance to get the ball close. His 40-foot par putt raced by, handing the title to Spieth.

“I needed a lot of things to go right,” Spieth conceded. “I needed to birdie the 18th. Then I needed some help. Got some help. Dodged a bunch of bullets coming in. And ended up in a 1-on-1 playoff where my lie in the bunker, although not great, was certainly better than Patrick’s.

“Yeah, it’s a bit of a surprise.”

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As initially feared, Bryson DeChambeau underwent surgery last week to repair the fractured hamate bone in his left hand. It’s an issue that cropped up during his intense training sessions last fall and has affected his play for months.

There was ample reason to have the procedure now.

He desperately wanted to play the Masters, and he did (albeit a shorter stay, after rounds of 76-80).

He clearly wasn’t competitive, that much made evident by his three consecutive starts in which he drove the ball wildly and appeared to be compensating with his grip.

And there’s at least a chance that he’ll be able to return for at least one major, perhaps two if he’s a quick healer. On social media, DeChambeau said that he anticipates returning within the next two months, even if that’s a bit optimistic for a player who swings at his velocity. Dr. David Chao, who has medical experience with pro golfers, said that the U.S. Open, which begins June 16, would be right at the end of that ambitious recovery timeline, with The Open Championship a more realistic target for a return.

The only regret DeChambeau may have is not doing the procedure sooner.

At No. 217 in the FedExCup standings, he’ll miss the playoffs if he doesn’t string together a couple of good finishes. And sitting out the postseason means he’d probably be passed over for a Presidents Cup pick, too. It's looking like a lost year for big Bryson.

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...

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Tough-Luck Loser: Patrick Cantlay. The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year has every reason to be aggravated with his what-could-have-been season, racking up five top-10s this calendar year but zero wins so far. That includes a playoff loss to Scottie Scheffler in Phoenix, the result that rocketed the new Masters champion into a different stratosphere. And now it includes the overtime loss to Spieth, who needed only a par on the first extra hole. As complete of a player as Cantlay is, he’ll be getting his soon enough.

When the Best Strategy is No Strategy?: LIV Invitational series. Over the past few months “commissioner” Greg Norman has reportedly been courting the biggest names in the sport to his new venture but now is apathetic about who actually shows up to play in the events that begin in June. (A real quote from Norman, apparently said with a straight face: “Quite honestly, it doesn’t matter who plays – we’re going to put the event on.”) Sports Illustrated reported that the 48-player field could actually be filled out with top amateurs, which isn’t a bad idea, actually, since the has-beens rumored to be involved won’t be able to carry the tour for long. Other media outlets reported that LIV's league concept has been tabled until 2024, and the events will just go off as standalone, 54-hole money grabs on nondescript courses for anyone interested. How … uninventive.

Hoffmann reviews first PGA Tour outing since 2019
Hoffmann reviews first PGA Tour outing since 2019

Welcome Back: Morgan Hoffmann. In his first start since 2019, the 32-year-old – who has been waging an admirable war against a rare form of muscular dystrophy – held his own at Harbour Town, barely missing the cut on one of the most precise tracks on Tour. There was much to build on, and he shouldn’t have any trouble gaining sponsor exemptions if he’s unable to lock up his playing privileges in his remaining starts on a major medical extension. He’ll next tee it up at the Wells Fargo.

Better Than Anticipated: Zurich field. Despite the fact that are no world-ranking points on offer (and only half the usual FedExCup allotment, and an underwhelming venue …), a mighty field has assembled at TPC Louisiana, with seven of the top 12 players in the world slated to tee it up in the only team event of the regular season. Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland figure to be the favorites, with Cantlay and Xander Schauffele forming another dynamic duo.

Golf’s Scottie Pippen: Ryan Palmer. Is the affable Texan gaming the system?! First he signed up for the Zurich with Spieth. Then he rode shotgun alongside Jon Rahm. And now he’ll be partners with Scottie Scheffler in his first start since his Masters victory. We’re not even mad – just impressed.

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Gearing Up: Tiger Woods. He’s on the wrong side of questionable – probably – for the next two majors, but Tiger appears to be going all-in for the Old Course. He made the unusual move of announcing his intention to play while at the Masters, and then he doubled down last week by reaffirming a prior commitment to play in the JP McManus Pro-Am in Ireland with other stars like Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas. That means Woods will play two rounds the week before The Open to gauge his levels, then fine-tune before making his way over to the Home of Golf.

Delayed Gratification: Eugenio Chacarra and Sam Bennett. In this era when college studs quickly turn into Tour contenders, it was refreshing to see two of the game’s brightest young stars opt to stick in school for another year, despite being ranked inside the top 5 in the PGA Tour University and being near-locks for full Korn Ferry Tour status. Their messages differed slightly, but their message remained the same: When they leave for the pros, they want to be as ready as possible. Respect.

Right in the Feels: Jordan Spieth keeping his promise. After signing his card, Spieth told a horde of autograph-hungry kids that he was going to the clubhouse to see how the rest of the tournament unfolded – but that he'd definitely be back to sign for them later. We've personally seen this move countless times, only for the star to head for the exit when the result didn't go his way. Well, after his media obligations and now wearing the winner's tartan jacket, Spieth returned and signed every glove, hat and flag while they chanted his name. Little wonder he's such a fan favorite.

Inhospitable Homecoming: Dustin Johnson. An RBC ambassador, DJ has yet to record a top-10 in seven career starts at the Heritage, the rare event that he plays with regularity (because he’s contractually obligated to do so) but doesn’t fare well. He missed the cut this year after rounds of 72-71, and he was spotted on the range after his opening round in full grind mode with coach Claude Harmon III. Perhaps he’s not as close to great play as his Match Play run suggested.

#Trending: Shane Lowry. Coming off a T-3 at the Masters, Lowry followed up that encouraging major performance with another good result, his fifth consecutive top-15 finish in a stroke-play event. This one was tinged with disappointment, of course, after his back-nine stumble, but the good golf is there. It’s wild to think that he hasn’t won since Portrush in 2019, but he’s never been closer to rediscovering that championship form.

Rules are Fun!: Dylan Frittelli. Since he got dinged here under Rule 10.1c, here's yet another call for there to be some sort of sub-rule that is simply called the "Common-Sense Clause," with potential infractions being debated and ultimately determined by an Everyman Committee. Who says no?

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Cameron Smith. After challenging until the end at the Masters, it’s always a question of whether these guys will use the disappointment as fuel or simply show up totally wiped. It seems the Aussie was the latter, doing well just to card a Thursday 73 that left him scrambling to play the weekend. He wound up one short but will be back at it again this week in New Orleans, where he’s always been a threat in the team format.