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Monday Scramble: Take a bow ... and a knee?

By Nick MentaSeptember 25, 2017, 3:40 pm

Justin Thomas takes the FedExCup, Xander Shauffele takes the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods takes to blogging, and Peter Malnati takes a knee in this edition of Monday Scramble.


Well, that made the Player and Rookie of the Year votes quite easy.

As a chaotic Sunday afternoon finally turned into Schauffele vs. Thomas, and it became clear that Justin had already etched his name on the FedExCup, it was hard not to root for Xander to pick up the biggest win of his career.

Sunday marked the first time since 2009 that the winner of the Tour Championship did not also walk away with the FedExCup. And as judged by Thomas and Schauffele's post-round interaction, the result was plenty fine with both of them.

Thomas put his stamp on this season by wrapping up the Jack Nicklaus Award and collecting nearly $11 million, while Schauffele capped off a whirlwind four months with a $3.5 million payday and future Rookie of the Year honors. Talk about sharing the wealth.


1. Thus ends the Season of Justin Thomas. In summation, that was five wins, his first major, a playoff victory, a round of 59, a U.S. Open round of 63, the FedExCup, and nearly $20 million in on-course earnings. In one year, he's vaulted himself from 72nd to fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking. There are three men – Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Hideki Matsuyama – still ahead of Thomas on that list, but right now, no one's stock is higher than his own.

Of course, now comes the hard part - maintaining his current level of success. 

At different points in the last four years, DJ, Jordan, Hideki, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day have all appeared as if they would never lose another tournament for the rest of their lives before revealing themselves as human again. Thomas will enter next season much as Spieth entered 2016, coming off a year he might never surpass for the rest of his career. His biggest challenge moving forward won't be any golf course or any opponent; it'll be managing his own expectations.

2. This was less a breakout season than it was a breakout four months for Schauffele, who described himself during his victory speech on Sunday as having "weaseled his way around" all year. The 23-year-old rookie was 135th in the FedExCup standings before announcing his apparent arrival with a tie for fifth at the U.S. Open. He followed that performance with his first PGA Tour win three weeks later at The Greenbrier. His rise has been so meteoric that Johnny Miller sounded as though he was channeling David Byrne at various points during the final round: And you may ask yourself, who is Xander Schauffele?

Well, he's now the first rookie in history to win the Tour Championship, the first rookie in the FedExCup era to win a playoff event, and the highest-finishing rookie in history of the season-long points race. 

3. I can't get over this putt.

No one is going to remember that come tomorrow (later this afternoon?), but Schauffele was dangerously close to missing that shortie and going to a playoff. That lip-in could have been a lip-out, it could have cost him the tournament, and it could have haunted him for a long time. Instead, he got $3.5 million and we got a new GIF:

Again, everyone wins.

4. Schauffele's victory Sunday was an impressive mix of driving and putting prowess. He finished the week first in strokes gained-off the tee (+1.15) and first in putting inside 10 feet, making 67 of 69 attempts, including that horseshoe lip-in above. Add Schauffele, at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, to the list of smaller guys – like McIlroy and Thomas – who somehow keep up with the likes of DJ and Brooks Koepka off the tee.



5. When is Paul Casey going to close on Sunday? His decision three years ago to abandon the European Tour and focus full-time on the PGA Tour was a wise one that led to a career resurgence. Once ranked a high as third in the world, Casey dropped as low as 169th in 2013. But a U.S.-focused schedule has kept Casey a top-25 player in the world for the bulk of the last three seasons. Over that time, he's racked up the most top-five finishes of any player on Tour who hasn't won, with 16. He has proven himself a borderline elite talent for 63 holes a week. 

6. Spieth put together a Sunday rally that at one point had him projected to win his second FedExCup. Instead, he settled for his second Vardon Trophy for low scoring average. Per Golf Channel Research, Spieth joins Tiger Woods as the players to win the Vardon multiple times before the age of 25. 

7. And credit to Spieth, by the way, for sowing even a tiny bit of doubt into what should have been an obvious POY race. He exits 2017 with three victories and the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Had he found a way to win at East Lake and take the FedExCup, he may have made his friend/rival Thomas sweat through the voting process. But even he'll admit things turned out as they should have.

"This was probably my worst putting week of the year, unfortunately," he said Sunday. "But what a great season it was. I'm very pleased with the way 2017 has gone. ... JT is very well-deserved winning the FedExCup this year. It is rightfully so given his season. I almost squeaked through when he really deserved it."

In addition to Player of the Year and the FedExCup, it sounds like what JT really won himself is one hell of a bar bill.

8. Are the game’s top talents coached to say, “It’s not about the money,” or are they actually ambivalent about $10 million?

On the one hand, honesty from professional athletes is refreshing and respectable, even if it’s unrelatable. McIlroy made headlines last year when he was asked about the FedExCup’s $10 million bonus and answered that, “Luckily, that amount of money doesn't sort of mean much to me anymore.” DJ echoed those comments this past week when he said the bonus wouldn’t change his life. Thomas, who took the jackpot prize, insisted before the event started that winning trophies matters more to him than winning money. At least Spieth acknowledged the rush of competing for that kind of cash, comparing wait-and-see scenarios on Sunday to a multi-million dollar bet.

I know the PGA Tour prefers these guys to talk about the prestige of winning the Tour Championship and the FedExCup, but I’d really like one guy with a massive grin on his face to explode with, “$&@^ yeah, I want the money! I know exactly what I’m going to buy that I absolutely do not need, and it’s going to be great!”

Maybe the FedExCup really has achieved a kind of quan. I guess the only way to find out how the game’s wealthiest really feel would be to take the $10 million off the table. Something tells me that’s unlikely.



9. Speaking of refreshing honesty, Tiger Woods! (Did I just type that?)

Woods’ blog update this week was an unexpected and much-appreciated window into the thoughts of a guy sitting at home and experiencing life not unlike the rest of us – save for the frequent text exchanges with Rafa Nadal. The medical update he offered was straightforward and understandable and a welcome contrast to the usually annoying cycle of sourced reports that are then immediately disputed in a dizzying web of misinformation. There was the odd line that made you roll your eyes, but if the golf world got solar-eclipse Tiger and Raider-fan Tiger and mentor Tiger a little more often, everyone – including Woods himself – would be better off. Fewer state secrets and more nicknames, please. (Inky!)

10. And speaking of people speaking their minds, good job, Peter Malnati. Malnati on Sunday became the first professional golfer to openly support professional athletes who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem. 

"Those who kneel during the national anthem aren't disrespecting the heroes who sacrificed to defend the United States," he wrote. "Those who kneel are pointing out that as a nation, we are not doing a good job of upholding the values for which people sacrificed."

As you can see, it's a lengthy missive, one that directly criticizes "the current administration." He explained the impetus for his statement last night in an interview with Golf Central:

Maybe Malnati's statement will lead other pros to speak their mind on issues of injustice or inequality. Then again, Tour types tend to skew to one side of the spectrum, and most of these guys and girls, regardless of their ideology, prefer to punt when asked anything remotely political. However they feel about kneeling, I'm sure many of them are grateful the anthem isn't part of their pre-round routine. That way, they don't have to take a stand – or a knee.

11. It looks like U.S. captain Steve Stricker will be employing the much-ballyhooed pods system this week for the Presidents Cup at Liberty National. Of note, Spieth and Thomas are in separate cohorts, which doesn't necessarily preclude them from teaming this week, but such a pairing would flout standard pod protocol. Spieth will likely spend the bulk of his time playing Bucky to Captain America Patrick Reed, while Thomas pairs with his Tiger's-backyard-chipping-buddy Rickie Fowler. This is all just an excuse to remind you that pods are neither normal nor human.

12. As for the event itself, the International team record stands at 1-9-1 at in 11 tries, with their only win coming at Royal Melbourne in 1998. The 2015 installment in South Korea very nearly resulted in the competition's second halve. This desperately event needs a series of International victories, a Tom Watson captaincy, and a U.S. task force. This will be 37-year-old Adam Scott's eighth Presidents Cup appearance. He has never been a member of the winning side.

13. And, finally, the Web.com Tour Finals come to an end this week. Six-time PGA Tour winner and former East Lake-staple Hunter Mahan will start his week outside The Finals 25 at 33rd in earnings through three events. He'll need a big week to retain his full-time status on the big Tour. Of note, Sam Saunders will start the week 24th, while Zac Blair enters 26th. Other notable names currently outside the top 25 include Curtis Luck, Daniel Summerhays, Shawn Stefani, Cameron Tringale, Spencer Levin, Roberto Castro, Jon Curran, Jonathan Byrd, Ricky Barnes and Colt Knost. 

While the USGA and R&A are rewriting the Rules of Golf, let's go ahead and address what happened to Matthew Southgate on Sunday. The Englishman got hit with a four-shot penalty at the Web.com Finals' DAP Championship when a blowing leaf knocked his putt off-line.

Rule 19-1 calls for the stroke to be cancelled and replayed from the ball's original position, but Southgate tapped in instead. He was later docked two shots for playing from the wrong position and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.

The Rules of Golf are far too complicated and contradictory. What does and doesn't fall under the purview of the "rub of the green" is confounding. There's nothing you can do about a spike mark, but flying leaves are an aggression that cannot stand, man?

Regardless of the rule itself, there is no reason Soutgate needed to be penalized twice, much like Lexi Thompson at the ANA earlier this year. What was his crime? That a rules official didn't tell him what happened before he signed his card? One infraction should mean one penalty. There shouldn't have been a second infraction or penalty.

This week's award winners ...

The very pants he was about to return: To Jason Dufner, who shot 67 on Friday and encountered a wardrobe malfunction while bending down to pick up his ball late in his round.

But he wasn't done: Two days later, after a final-round 72, a tie for 20th at East Lake, and the 30th-place finish in the FedExCup standings, Dufner ended his 2016-17 by giving away his shoes and apparently his 7-iron to young fans.

I wonder who got the pants.

How very SEC of you: Kevin Kisner needed the help of Thomas, East Lake Golf Club and neighboring Charlie Yates Golf Club, but he was able to secure himself a helicopter ride to the Georgia-Mississippi State game in nearby Athens on Saturday.

Dawgs won 31-3.

How very Nantz of you: To (who else?) Jim Nantz, who was married on the seventh green at Pebble Beach and who we now know has a miniature replica of the iconic par-3 in the backyard of his Pebble Beach home.

Of course, every time we think we’ve hit peak-Nantz, he ups the ante. It’s either the blessing we all assume or some strange, strange curse where he’s not actually in The Good Place.

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Web.com Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.


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Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.

@tommyfleetwood_1

A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.