Monday Scramble: Playing favorites at the PGA

By Ryan LavnerAugust 7, 2017, 2:30 pm

Hideki Matsuyama bags another big title, the PGA Championship takes shape, Steph Curry debuts, I.K. Kim earns major redemption, the Solheim Cup teams are finalized and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

From our seat, at least, this has been one of the most memorable major seasons in years.

There was a long-awaited breakthrough (Sergio Garcia). A U.S. Open record (Justin Thomas). A 62 (Branden Grace). And a comeback for the ages (Jordan Spieth).

And now the game’s best head to Quail Hollow, a big ballpark that tends to produce drama and star-studded leaderboards.

At 24, Spieth can become the youngest player to complete the career Grand Slam, but even if he misses out there’s reason to believe this PGA will be won by a mega-talent. Too many top players are in form, from Rory McIlroy to Matsuyama to Rickie Fowler to Dustin Johnson.

Here’s hoping there is a fitting end to this unforgettable major season. 


1. By now we know that Matsuyama has high standards. There’s no other way to describe his one-hand follow-throughs and looks of disgust after iron shots that still plop 15 feet from the cup.

But this was a completely different type of fake-out.

CBS’ on-course reporter Dottie Pepper said on air Sunday that Matsuyama’s pre-round range session was one of the worst she’d ever seen. “It was so rough,” she said.

Not surprisingly, Matsuyama concurred: “I was nervous all the way around, because I really wasn’t sure of my swing today.”

So, of course, he went out in 30. So, of course, he birdied his last three holes. So, of course, he shot a course-record-tying 61, the lowest final round ever by a WGC winner.

2. Will someone other than Matsuyama and DJ win a WGC event? They’ve won the last five, dating to last year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Matsuyama’s two WGC titles (HSBC Champions in Shanghai) have been won by a whopping 12 shots.

The 25-year-old Japanese star now has six victories and three runners-up in his last 20 starts. Scorching.

3. Matsuyama has joined the conversation for PGA Tour Player of the Year, and the winner should emerge over the next six weeks.

Right now, there are four candidates, in this order: Spieth, DJ, Matsuyama and Thomas. Of that group, only Spieth has won a major this year, so he gets the edge.

But Matsuyama or DJ could become the frontrunner if they win this week’s PGA. That’d give them a major along with multiple WGC titles and a regular Tour victory – or a better résumé than Spieth’s.

If they don’t win at Quail Hollow, however, then Spieth would take the lead heading into the playoffs, and it’d take a big postseason push to dethrone him. 



4. Here are one man’s favorites for the PGA Championship:

1. Rory McIlroy: Finally in form and pounding his driver as he heads to Quail Hollow, one of his personal playgrounds, where he has two wins and a playoff loss. (A rainy forecast plays into his hands, as well.)

2. Hideki Matsuyama: No longer trending, he's a serious force. Big Sunday at Firestone, and top-15s in every major so far this year.

3. Jordan Spieth: Won’t be fazed by the Grand Slam pressure. A bigger concern is whether he can find the fairway at a course that should have thick, juicy rough.

4. Rickie Fowler: Form has dipped a bit over the past two months, but he’s a former winner at Quail Hollow whose game is perfectly suited for a shootout PGA.  

5. Brooks Koepka: Has only played twice since Erin Hills, but both of those starts went for top-20s. Like Rory, his driver is a big weapon.

6. Dustin Johnson: The model of consistency has been erratic ever since he slipped before the Masters. Bummer. The world No. 1 is capable of turning it on at any moment, but a top-10 in Canada was his only notable result in the past three months. 

7. Jason Day: Has finished in the top 2 in each of the past two PGAs, and he’s beginning to show signs of life after a quiet year.  

8. Jon Rahm: Was undone by one bad round at Bridgestone. If he keeps his driver on the planet, he should be in the mix.  

9. Sergio Garcia: Shook off the post-wedding rust with a pedestrian showing at Firestone. Here is one last chance to make this an epic year.

10. Charley Hoffman: Remarkably, he has seven missed cuts in eight career PGA starts, but never has he performed this well, or this consistently. His third-place showing at Firestone was his fourth top-10 in his last six starts, and he has finished 22nd or better in the first three majors of the year. 

5. A reminder that Quail Hollow will look different than its last appearance on the world stage, during the 2016 Wells Fargo.

In an ambitious 90-day project, four holes on the front nine were redone, all of the greens were re-grassed (to a different strand of Bermuda) and thousands of trees were removed.

Among the biggest changes:

• The first hole used to be a benign, 418-yard par 4. Now, it’s a dogleg-right par 4, and the longest on the course, at 524 yards.

• The second hole was a 178-yard par 3. Now, it’s a 452-yard par 4.

• The fourth hole used to be a 483-yard par 4. Now, it’s a brand-new, 184-yard par 3.

• The fifth hole used to be a 570-yard par 5. Now, it’s a dogleg-right, 449-yard par 4.

• Bunkers were also added to the 11th hole, and the green pushed back. 

It adds up to a par-71 layout of about 7,600 yards.

6. This week, the PGA of America is expected to confirm its long-rumored move of the PGA Championship from August to May, beginning in either 2019 at Bethpage Black or 2020 at Harding Park.

This makes sense for many reasons, but mostly because it allows PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan to shorten the season. Under the proposed changes, the Tour Championship would wrap up on Labor Day weekend, before the NFL kicks off. It would also reduce the congestion every four years with the Olympics.

The PGA has been played in August all but twice since 1969, so the move will take some getting used to. But so did the FedExCup playoffs. A decade later, it’s an integral part of the schedule. 



7. With all due respect to the World Golf Championship event and the fourth women’s major, the biggest happening last week, at least for two days, was the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic, where NBA superstar Steph Curry made his long-awaited debut.

Curry missed the cut by 11 shots, after consecutive rounds of 74, but that mattered little. He was competitive and engaging. He was grateful for the opportunity, but he also left with a better understanding of what separates golf’s minor leagues and everyday amateurs.

That’s all that could be hoped for from this experiment.

8. Curry attracted big crowds at TPC Stonebrae and casual sports fans online, many of them pointing out on social media that this was the first time they’d ever checked out a Web.com Tour leaderboard. Maybe those same fans didn’t stick around until the end of the event, won by Martin Piller, but at least now there’s more awareness of the Tour’s equivalent of the D-league.

The Web will always be starved for attention, at least until they revamp the schedule (perhaps to a Sunday-Wednesday format, in bigger markets) and boost the purses. But these types of one-off definitely can’t hurt.  

9. For those who whined that Curry – one of the tournament’s UNRESTRICTED sponsor exemptions – was taking up a spot: He finished three shots behind Sam Ryder, who won two weeks ago and is No. 2 on the money list, and two back of Aaron Wise, the 2016 NCAA champion and future PGA Tour star.

Oh, and by the way, Colt McNealy (Maverick’s brother) earned the other unrestricted sponsor exemption, after he took medalist honors at a Junior Tour of Northern California qualifier. McNealy finished last, at 21 over par – or 13 shots worse than Curry.

This type of scenario plays out every week … only this time, the spot went to one of the most famous athletes on the planet. No complaints here.



10. With a few fortunate breaks and a red-hot putter, I.K. Kim built a huge lead and then held on for a two-shot victory at the Women’s British Open.

It was the LPGA’s feel-good story of the year, after Kim missed a 14-inch putt to win the 2012 ANA Inspiration. (She later lost in a playoff.) That’s a massive mental hurdle to overcome. 

Think about it: Kim went to sleep with a six-shot lead Saturday night, but she also knew that she’d been close before, 14 inches away, and lost it. Her peers knew it. The fans watching knew it.

And she still got it done. It’s hard to find a more redemptive performance this year. 

11. It was written in this space multiple times that the LPGA was primed for an exciting year, with Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn poised to dominate not just this season but for the foreseeable future. It hasn’t panned out that way. At all.

Ko hasn't won in 13 months, and she hasn’t finished in the top 10 in her past six majors (and was outside the top 30 for her third consecutive major). Jutanugarn has won once, but her missed cut at Kingsbarns was her third in a row in golf’s biggest events.

Ko has seemingly changed everything over the past couple of years – swing coaches, caddies, equipment – and continues to plummet in the world rankings, while Jutanugarn is once again dealing with a balky right shoulder and confidence issues.

There’s one major left, and so there’s time to salvage their lost seasons. But they’ve shown no signs that turnarounds are imminent. 



12. The top 10 players in the U.S. Solheim Cup standings entering the Women’s British Open ended up making the team after the final qualifying event.

With a team full of veterans (save for U.S. Women’s Open champion Danielle Kang), captain Juli Inkster opted for a pair of rookies as her wildcard picks: Angel Yin and Austin Ernst.

Yin has been an exciting newcomer and a no-brainer pick for Inkster, after racking up five top-15s. But the captain played it too safe with the Ernst selection.

Ernst was next in line in the points standings, but that was based largely on what she accomplished last year and early this spring. She doesn’t have a top-10 in her last 13 starts. Frankly, she just isn’t playing well enough right now to warrant a spot.

Still, Inkster said: “I just felt like last time (in 2015), she was on the outside looking in and I had to tell her no. This year, she was the same, kind of on the outside looking in. I just felt she deserved a chance to see what she can do.”

Ugh. 

Inkster should have taken Nelly Korda, the 19-year-old sister of Jessica and a player who figures to be a fixture on these teams for the next decade-plus. She already has five top-20s and would have a ready-made pairing with her sister (who is currently battling an arm injury). 

European captain Annika Sorenstam filled out her team with Anna Nordqvist, Caroline Masson, Emily Pedersen and Madelene Sagstrom.

These matches aren’t won on paper, however, and that’s a good thing for the Europeans. They would be massive underdogs. 

That Curry shot 74 in his Web.com Tour debut surprised many ... and probably even Curry himself.

Web.com player Dawie van der Walt was so convinced that it was a fluke, in fact, that he told ESPN that he would eat his golf bag if Curry broke 80 in the second round.

We all know what happened next, so van der Walt followed through: 

This week's award winners ... 


One Way to End a Winless Drought: Chris Stroud. Entering Reno 0-for-289 in his Tour career, he recorded nine birdies and an eagle in regulation (including on the 72nd hole to force a playoff), then made a pair of birdies in overtime to vanquish rookie Richy Werenski. Stout. 

Everyone Digs the Long Ball: Rory. Fifty-two of his 56 drives last week traveled 300 yards or more. Have mercy.

Don’t Forget About: Phil Mickelson. Sure, he has looked a bit lost since splitting with longtime caddie Jim “Bones” Mackay, but Lefty has a ridiculously good record at Quail Hollow: Seven top-5s and 11 top-12s in 13 appearances. 

Best Player-Caddie Exchange of the Week: Charley Hoffman and Brett Waldman. Sizing up his second shot on the 667-yard par-5 16th, Hoffman overruled his bagman and went for the green in two shots, saying, “I’m three back with three to play. I’m trying to win a golf tournament. I’m tired of finishing second.” Alas, he made par and finished third. 


Better Luck in 2019: Paula Creamer and Morgan Pressel. The Solheim Cup stalwarts were passed over after poor seasons in 2017 (though Creamer has played better in the past month). It’ll be the first cup without them in a decade.  

As If The Walker Cup Race Couldn’t Get Any More Crowded: Norman Xiong. He nearly blew a huge lead on the back nine, but the Oregon sophomore (and NCAA Freshman of the Year) won the Western Amateur in 22 holes. The condensed schedule makes the Western the most difficult amateur event to win, and Xiong earned medalist honors and breezed through the match-play portion. That should be enough to put him on the U.S. squad.  

No Good Very Bad Luck: Stewart Hagestad. The mid-am standout apparently had his clubs stolen out of his car – about a week before the start of the U.S. Amateur. Fortunately, a few equipment companies stepped in to offer assistance. (Nice work, TaylorMade.) 

Nothing Lasts Forever: Pat Perez. His 72-hole scoring record at the Junior PGA held up for 24 years, but Perez's mark was shattered last week by Akshay Bhatia, a 15-year-old left-hander from North Carolina who shot 22 under (including a 61 in the second round). 

Too Soon: Spieth and Matt Kuchar. The two protagonists from Birkdale were paired again Sunday at Firestone, which not nearly as much at stake. (They shot matching 68s.) Wonder if they had anything to talk about? 

Said No One Ever: Ted Bishop. Yeah, um, some opinions are best kept to yourself:


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Rose. Winless since the Olympics last summer, he still has racked up five top-5s since Rio. Three of his four career top-5s at Firestone have come since 2012, but he threw up a clunker last week, breaking par only once and tying for 63rd. Sigh. 

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.

Getty Images

Rose leads Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose completed the final two holes of his second round early Saturday for a 3-under 69 and a one-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose, who had a first-round 62, was among a quarter of the field forced off the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course after weather delays on Friday.

The Englishman, who bogeyed his last hole, had a two-round total of 13-under 131.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat, who completed his 64 on Friday, was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters. He has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.


Playing with the pros

Tiger, DJ and Faxon

Article: Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

Article: After DJ and Tiger, Trump plays golf with Jack

Rory faces criticism

Article: Rory: Round with Trump about respect for presidency

Article: Rory: Round with Trump not a 'political statement'


President at the Presidents Cup


Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

Article: President Trump presents trophy to U.S. team

Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump


Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73


Cart on the green


Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green


Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open


Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

Article: Trump supporters, protesters clash near Women's Open

Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National


Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open


Trump golf properties

Vandalism

Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses

Finances


Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

Reportedly fake TIME covers


Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover


Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up


Pros comment on the president

Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

Getty Images

Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm