Free-for-all - except the top-ranked - at Erin Hills

By Rex HoggardJune 17, 2017, 1:55 am

ERIN, Wis. – Brandt Snedeker glanced up at the leaderboard late Friday at the U.S. Open and momentarily struggled with the math, which is saying something considering the Vanderbilt graduate is normally one of the game’s best and brightest.

For everything this week’s leaderboard lacked in star power – with eight of the top 12 players in the world, including the top 3, headed for the airport after missing the cut – it more than made up for in sheer numbers.

It’s a quantity over quality deal for the 117th edition, with 14 players within three strokes of lead, and that’s not counting the four tied for the top spot at 7 under par at the Rush Hour Open.

The foursome atop the pack, Paul Casey, Brain Harman, Tommy Fleetwood and Brooks Koepka, is the most at the U.S. Open after two rounds since 1974 and represents the sum total of this week’s venue.

Despite the ridiculous length of Erin Hills – the tab came to 7,839 yards on Day 2 – and a modest breeze for much of the day that, in theory, should have started the process of separating the wheat from the chaff, there’s less clarity after 36 holes than there was before Thursday’s opening tee shot, which doesn’t seem possible.

U.S. Open: Scores | Live blog: Day 2 | Full coverage

“I just don't know if we've found the golf course yet. You can see it getting there. Greens-wise in U.S. Opens you get firm, fast conditions and the fire's not quite there yet,” said Snedeker, who joined the pack with a second-round 69 that left him tied for eighth with five others. “Yesterday afternoon I saw it a little on TV. Saw it today a little this afternoon. I expect to see more and more over the weekend. So when that happens, it will really start the separating.”

Perhaps Snedeker is onto something. There’s no denying that the Erin Hills Open is different from your normal fare. There were 44 players under par on Thursday and the 42 players under par after two days are the most in U.S. Open history.

The last two years at the U.S. Open there were nine players within three of the lead at the midway point, 10 in 2013 and no one was within five strokes of Martin Kaymer in ’14, compared to the 14 would-be winners at Erin Hills.

Erin Hills will toughen, on this there is no doubt.

The USGA eased the bite back into the brute on Friday and if history holds the low scoring will subside the closer we get to Sunday afternoon.

“We knew it was coming today. That was no secret,” William McGirt said of Friday’s increasingly difficult conditions.

But it’s just not the ease some in the field have been able to navigate the course that’s to blame for the traffic jam. Despite a singular narrative in the days before this championship that Erin Hills was a bomber’s course – nothing more, nothing less – the leaderboard tells a vastly different tale.

Koepka, Casey, Fleetwood and Harman rank 16th, 78th, 86th and 120th in the field in driving distance, respectively.

“It would be nice if I could play from where Keegan [Bradley] drove for two days,” McGirt said. “It doesn't scare me to have to hit 3- or 4-irons. It's not that big a deal. There's a couple of holes out here that are a little over the top, but that's the way it is.”

Nor does Erin Hills seem to have much interest in the status quo. The world Nos. 1, 2 and 3 – Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day, respectively – missed the cut for the first time in any major with a combined 19 over total, and there’s not a single major champion within three of the lead.

Instead there’s a potpourri of players from perennial contenders Rickie Fowler (T-5), Snedeker and Hideki Matsuyama (T-8) to bona fide dark horses like PGA Tour rookie Xander Schauffele (T-8) and amateur Cameron Champ (T-8).

There’s still plenty of time to restore order. Winds that are forecast to reach 25 mph on the weekend and increasingly crusty greens should thin the crowd and inject some much needed clarity into what after two days has looked more like a fire drill.

Until then it’s best that everyone stays calm and move in an orderly manner toward the 72nd hole.

Thompson wins Race, loses tournament after short miss

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 8:52 pm

The drama went down to the very last hole in the LPGA's final event of 2017. Here's how things ended up at the CME Group Tour Championship, where a surprising miss from Lexi Thompson opened the door for Ariya Jutanugarn to win in dramatic fashion:

Leaderboard: Ariya Jutanugarn (-15), Lexi Thompson (-14), Jessica Korda (-14), Pernilla Lindberg (-13), Eun-Hee Ji (-13)

What it means: There were scenarios aplenty entering the final round, with nearly every season-long accolade still hanging in the balance. Thompson appeared set to take them all as she sized up a 2-foot par putt on the final hole - a stroke that looked like it would take her to world No. 1 for the first time. Instead, the putt barely touched the hole and allowed Jutanugarn to rally to victory with birdies on the closing two holes. Thompson still took home $1 million for winning the season-long Race to the CME Globe, as it was a reverse scenario from last year when Jutanugarn won the $1 million but not the final tournament.

Round of the day: Sei Young Kim made the day's biggest charge, turning in a 6-under 66 to close the week in a share of 11th at 10 under. Kim made eight birdies during the final round, including five over her first eight holes en route to her lowest round of the week while erasing a third-round 75.

Best of the rest: Jutanugarn seemed like an afterthought as the tournament was winding down, but she kept her hopes alive with an 18-foot birdie on No. 17 and then capitalized on Thompson's mistake with a clutch birdie on the difficult final hole. It capped off a final-round 67 for the Thai who now ends what what has been a tumultuous season with a smile on her face.

Biggest disappointment: Thompson faced heartbreak after the penalty-shrouded ANA Inspiration, and she again must handle a setback after essentially missing a tap-in with everything on the line. Thompson can enjoy a $1 million consolation prize along with the Vare Trophy, but a tournament win would have clinched Player of the Year honors as well as her first-ever trip to world No. 1. Instead, she now has the entire off-season to think about how things went awry from close range.

Shot of the day: There were only three birdies on No. 18 during the final round before Jutanugarn laced one down the fairway and hit a deft approach to 15 feet. The subsequent putt found the target and gave her win No. 7 on her young LPGA career.

Watch: Fleetwood gets emotional with family after Race to Dubai win

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 19, 2017, 5:30 pm

Tommy Fleetwood took home the season-long Race to Dubai title on Sunday after a T-21 finish at the DP World Tour Championship.

He was, understandably, emotional after learning his fate while sitting with his wife and baby following a career year in which he won the HSBC Abu Dhabi Championship and the French Open and finished fourth at the U.S. Open.

Luckily for us, cameras were rolling:

Matsuyama after Koepka rout: 'Huge gap between us'

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 4:22 pm

Hideki Matsuyama offered a blunt assessment after finishing 10 shots behind Brooks Koepka at the Japan Tour's Dunlop Phoenix event.

Koepka waxed the field en route to successfully defending his title in Japan, shooting a 20-under par total that left him nine shots clear of a runner-up group that included PGA Tour Rookie of the Year Xander Schauffele. Koepka's score was one shot off the tournament record, and his margin for victory eclipsed Tiger Woods' eight-shot romp in 2004.

Matsuyama appeared set to make a final-round charge after a birdie on No. 2 was followed by an ace on the par-3 third hole. But he played the next eight holes in 3 over and eventually finished alone in fifth place following a 2-under 69. Afterwards, he stacked his game up against that of Koepka in a telling comment to the Japan Times.

"I feel there's a huge gap between us," Matsuyama said.

The Japanese phenom entered the week ranked No. 4 in the world, though he will be passed in the next rankings by Jon Rahm following the Spaniard's win in Dubai. Matsuyama won twice this year on the PGA Tour, including the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, but he has largely struggled since missing out on a maiden major title at the PGA Championship, where he tied for fifth.

Matsuyama was a runner-up to Koepka at the U.S. Open earlier this summer, and the 25-year-old seems headed back to the drawing board before defending his title at the Hero World Challenge in two weeks.

"I don't know whether it's a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well," Matsuyama said. "It seems there are many issues to address."

McCormick to caddie for Spieth at Aussie Open

By Will GrayNovember 19, 2017, 2:21 pm

When Jordan Spieth returns next week to defend his title at the Australian Open, he will do so without his regular caddie on the bag.

Spieth and Michael Greller have combined to win 14 tournaments and three majors, including three events in 2017. But Greller's wife, Ellie, gave birth to the couple's first child on Oct. 13, and according to a report from the Australian Herald Sun he will not make the intercontinental trip to Sydney, where Spieth will look to win for the third time in the last four years.

Instead, Spieth will have longtime swing coach and native Aussie Cameron McCormick on the bag at The Australian Golf Club. McCormick, who won PGA Teacher of the Year in 2015, is originally from Melbourne but now lives in Texas and has taught Spieth since he was a rising star among the junior golf ranks in Dallas.

While Greller has missed rounds before, this will be the first time as a pro that Spieth has used a different caddie for an entire event. Greller was sidelined with an injury last year in Singapore when Spieth's agent, Jay Danzi, took the bag, and trainer Damon Goddard has subbed in twice when Greller was sick, including this year at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

Spieth's torrid 2015 season traced back to his win at The Australian in 2014, and he returned to Oz last year where he won a playoff at Royal Sydney over Cameron Smith and Ashley Hall.