Monday Scramble: Celeb-rate good times

By Ryan LavnerJuly 3, 2017, 4:00 pm

Danielle Kang wins a thriller, Kyle Stanley holds off Charles Howell III, Tommy Fleetwood sprints toward Birkdale, Kenny Perry sets records and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Kang saw this breakthrough coming, even if few others did.

She wasn’t on fire heading into the KPMG Women’s PGA – she had only three top-10s in the past few months. And she wasn’t used to major pressure – her previous best finish was a tie for 17th.

Yet the 24-year-old former world-beater got help from those around her, and even up above, as she snapped a 143-event winless drought in capturing her first LPGA title (and major).

In a daily journal that she has written to her late father ever since he passed in 2013, Kang scribbled on the eve of the final round: “Just keep watching. I got this.”

And indeed she did.  

1. It’s fair to say Kang’s victory was one of the most popular on the LPGA in years. Texts from all over the golf and pop-culture world poured in, as everyone from Dustin Johnson to Wayne Gretzky to Caitlyn Jenner to Marcus Allen wrote Kang to offer support, encouragement and then congratulations. They're all connections from Sherwood Country Club in LA, where she used to play and practice.

DJ’s congratulatory text on Sunday: “That’s how you’re supposed to play.” 

2. Yeah, you could say bestie Michelle Wie and Kang are pretty tight:

3. Kang, a two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion, also ended an American drought in one of the year’s biggest events. The San Francisco native is just the second U.S.-born winner in the past 17 editions of the Women’s PGA. 

4. So much for that slump. Young Canadian star Brooke Henderson admitted to feeling the heat earlier this season when she failed to record a top-10 in her first 12 starts of the year. That all changed at the Meijer LPGA Classic, where she won at 21 under par, and then she closed with a 66 on Sunday at the Women’s PGA to scare Kang and finished second in her major title defense.

Moving into the heart of the season, she’s clearly playing better than both of her primary rivals, Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn. 

5. It’s been a long, difficult road back to relevance for Stanley, who broke down in tears in his winner’s news conference afterward.

A can’t-miss kid out of Clemson, he had a standout rookie season in 2011 and won a year later. Almost nothing has gone right since.

He has been one of the Tour's worst putters. He went 42 consecutive starts without a top 10. He even split time on the PGA and tours. 

But he showed that he was moving in the right direction with a tie for fourth at The Players, where he shared the 54-hole lead, and then he closed with 66 on Sunday, making a gutsy par on the first playoff hole to defeat Howell.

“There was some doubt there for a little bit,” Stanley said. “It’s no fun. You certainly question if you’ll get back and have a moment like this. It’s what makes this pretty special.” 

6. Golf at the highest level has shifted away from drive-for-show, putt-for-dough mantra for a number of years now, and Stanley reminded us Sunday that for the elite ball-strikers, simply putting average will be good enough some weeks to get a W.

Stanley joined Jason Dufner (Memorial) as the only players to win on the PGA Tour this season with negative strokes gained-putting for the week. Stanley lost 0.28 strokes to the field on the greens (ranked 52nd) but was exceptional off the tee and approaching the green, ranking first and fourth, respectively.

7. There were many fans rooting for Howell on Sunday, and for good reason.

Though he has won only twice in his career – and not since 2007 – he has a whopping 16 second-place finishes. It looked like he was destined to get off the schneid on Sunday, until his 18-footer on the last green crawled over the left edge of the cup.

“I was really shocked that missed low,” he said. “I thought I made that.” 

A win last week – after missing the previous nine weeks with a rib injury, and only nine days after he first hit balls – would have been a fitting result for his head-scratching career. 

His runner-up finish (and $767,000 paycheck) pushed him over $33 million in career earnings. That ranks 21st all time.

8. Sung Kang called it bad timing. It was bad luck, too.

The forecast Sunday at the Quicken Loans National called for a 0 percent chance of rain. Instead, there was a five-minute squall late on the back nine, and it seemed to doom Kang's chances

First he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on 16. And then, still soaked from the previous hole, he rinsed his tee shot on 17, leading to a double bogey.

Hard to blame the caddie in this situation. Blame the meteorologist!

9. Neither Howell nor Kang earned the victory, but they did receive a consolation prize: A spot in this month’s Open Championship.

Seemingly always on the bubble for the Masters, Howell’s appearance at Birkdale will be his first at The Open since 2012, and just his second major overall since 2014.

The other qualifiers were Stanley and Martin Laird.

10. As our focus narrows to the year’s third major, let’s set the over/under on the number of pre-tournament Open stories on Tommy Fleetwood at, say, 87.5.

The winner of the French Open grew up about five minutes from Royal Birkdale, host of this year’s Open, and he used to sneak onto the course as a youngster. There’s no way he’ll go under the radar now – he should be on everyone’s list of the top 10 contenders.

11. Fleetwood’s rise to No. 15 in the world still somehow feels underappreciated.

The Englishman won in Dubai and France, placed second in the WGC event in Mexico, posted another top-10 in the European Tour’s flagship event and finished fourth in the U.S. Open. He looks more like a grunge rocker than a primetime player, but he’s shown all year that he has the goods and should be taken seriously. 

12. Low scores were all the rage once again at a USGA Open. What in the name of Mike Davis is going on here?

Just like at Erin Hills, where Brooks Koepka overpowered the longest course in U.S. Open history and shot 16 under to win, Kenny Perry went low to win Sunday.

Overnight rain before the first three rounds took all of the fire out of an already short Salem Country Club, and Perry’s 16-under 264 total was the lowest in tournament history – by three strokes. Kirk Triplett and Brandt Jobe also shot 62s, which tied the mark for the lowest scores ever in a senior major. 

This was Perry's second U.S. Open title and ninth overall on the senior circuit. 

13. Call off the Grand Slam watch. Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 74 and tied for 18th in his bid to capture a third consecutive senior major. Even worse is that slow-motion replay again showed that his left hand was a liiiiiittle too close to his sternum not to be considered anchoring. He met with USGA officials over the weekend to discuss the questions about the legality of his stroke, and he was eventually cleared.

“They brought it to my attention, but they said it was totally within the rules,” Langer said. “For people to be complaining, they often don’t know what they are talking about.” 

People on social media lost their minds last week when it was announced that NBA star Steph Curry would receive a sponsor exemption into the Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic next month.

Look, I can see both sides here.

The timing is not ideal. The tournament is played in August, as the is wrapping up its season, and playing opportunities that time of year could mean the difference in status for 2017-18. Totally get that.

But Curry is receiving one of the unrestricted sponsor exemptions, which means – you guessed it! – there are no restrictions on how it can be used. Most times, these are favors to tournament officials, feel-good stories, local heroes, whatever. This just so happened to go to one of the most famous athletes in the world, a 2 handicap who is still, according to some people, “taking a spot away from someone else.”

That’s just not true.

In all likelihood, that spot wasn’t going to a player who missed Monday qualifying by one shot, or a fresh college graduate in need of a spot start, or a guy on a money-list bubble. Curry will bring some much-needed attention to the – who knows, it could draw the attention of another sponsor – and when he shoots in the upper-70s and misses the cut, it’ll reinforce the massive divide between great everyday amateurs and the pros.

This week's award winners ... 

Cuteness Overload: Spieth-Greller wannabes. See, this is what can happen when golf actually has a cool celebration for once.

Just Not Your Year: Michael Buttacavoli. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the guy who had to withdraw from U.S. Open qualifying because an airline lost his clubs. Well, it happened again, this time as he prepared for British Open qualifying. Fortunately, his sticks eventually arrived in London, after another lengthy delay. If he doesn’t earn a major spot, he at least should get 100,000 airline points.  

Very Good … and Very Bad: Rickie Fowler. He made a career-high nine birdies in the final round at TPC Potomac, but he also squandered a chance to win with a crushing double bogey on the drivable 14th hole, the easiest on the course. He tied for third, two shots back. 

Tweet of the Week: Zac Blair. Indeed, two doubles in a three-hole span on the back nine proved costly, as he dropped into a tie for 29th

Sorry, Mom: Haotong Li. His mom waded into a muddy hazard at the French Open to retrieve her son’s discarded putter. Except it was snapped into two pieces. Thomas Pieters' reaction is glorious.

Finally Got In His Dig: Justin Thomas. It had been a few weeks since Johnny Miller undercut JT’s 63 with a line about how the U.S. Open was more like the Tour’s old Milwaukee event. Thomas was asked if he’d studied the list of the players who shot 63 in the U.S. Open. “I haven’t looked at who did it,” he said. “I know Johnny Miller has, because he reminds us of that quite a bit.” 

When the Shanks Strike: Doug Garwood. He was cruising along in the U.S. Senior Open until he hit a vicious shank on the 54th hole. (All credit to him for laughing it off.) He wound up with double, his fourth dropped shot in the last four holes, and he eventually tied for 10th after a closing 71. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Si Woo Kim. With Kim, we’ve officially reached the point where we’re guessing how he’s going to play. Always a risk to withdrawal, he instead shot 79 in the first round – this, after tying for 13th in the U.S. Open – and missed the cut by a mile. Sigh. 

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After Further Review: Tiger's return comes at perfect time

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 2:19 am

Each week, takes a look back at the week in golf. Here's what's weighing on our writers' minds.

On the current state of golf as Tiger Woods returns to competition ...

Less than four days before Tiger Woods returns to official competitive golf for the first time in a year, Jon Rahm, the new second-ranked player in the world, won on the PGA Tour and Rory McIlroy made an impressive 2018 debut on the European Tour (T-3).

Not since Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus crossed paths at the 1960 U.S. Open has there been so many superstars all poised for big seasons, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson having already won this year and Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas both coming off stellar seasons.

It’s a good time for golf. - Rex Hoggard

On Tommy Fleetwood's continued success ...

There have been scores of talented European players whose skills didn’t translate to the PGA Tour … and maybe, in a few years, Tommy Fleetwood will prove to be no different.

He sure looks like the real deal, though.  

His title defense in Abu Dhabi – on the strength of a back-nine 30 in windy conditions – was his third title in the past 12 months and 11th top-10 overall. A few of those have come in majors and World Golf Championship events, too, which led the reigning Race to Dubai champion to accept PGA Tour membership for this season.

Beginning at Riviera, he plans to play exclusively in the States through May, then reassess for the rest of the year. Hope he sticks, because he’s a fun personality with tons of game. - Ryan Lavner

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Rahm passes Spieth to become world No. 2

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:25 am

With his win Sunday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, Jon Rahm picked up his second PGA Tour victory and moved to No. 2 in the FedExCup points standings.

He picked up one more No. 2, too.

The 23-year-old Spaniard passed Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, behind only Dustin Johnson.

In 19 months, since June 2016, Rahm has rocketed from No. 776 in the world to No. 2, thanks in part to his low divisor, his number of events played.

Asked after his playoff victory over Andrew Landry to discuss his rapid ascent up the world rankings, Rahm was almost at a loss.

“It's hard to believe to be honest, passing Jordan Spieth,” he said. “That's a three-time major champion. I only have two wins. He's got 10-plus, right? It's again – I've said it many times – I never thought I was going to be at this point in my life right now.”

Rahm may only have two PGA Tour titles, but this is his fourth worldwide win in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. He also took the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open and the DP World Tour Championship on his way to claiming the European Tour’s 2017 Rookie of the Year Award.

Dating back to the start of last season on the PGA Tour, Rahm has racked up 12 top-10s, three runner-ups, and two wins.

He will head to Torrey Pines next week ready to defend for the first time.

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Brady compares self to Woods after winning AFC title

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 1:05 am

Tom Brady and Tiger Woods are two of the all-time greats in their respective sports ... a fact that is not lost on the five-time Super Bowl winning quarterback.

Fresh off leading the New England Patriots to a AFC Championship victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars, Brady was asked about winning the game despite a cut on his throwing hand - which made national news heading into the matchup.

His response invoked the name of a certain 14-time major winner, something that would be tough to pull off, if not for the fact that he is, you know, Tom Brady.

“I think it's kind of arrogant to say it bothered me when we had a pretty good game, so I wouldn't say that," the 40-year-old told reporters after the game. "It's like when Tiger Woods said, ‘That was my C game’ and he won the tournament."

Tiger Woods winning with his "C game" may be a distant memory for golf fans, but no matter what game he brings, his next chance to win comes next week at Torrey Pines during his official comeback to the PGA Tour.

Brady has a shot at his sixth Super Bowl title in two weeks. The Patriots would probably benefit from him bringing a little better than his "C game" as well.

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Rahm beats Landry in playoff to win CareerBuilder

By Nick MentaJanuary 22, 2018, 1:00 am

Jon Rahm birdied the fourth extra hole Sunday to defeat Andrew Landry in a playoff, win the CareerBuilder Challenge and move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking. Here’s how things played out in overtime at PGA West:

Leaderboard: Rahm (-22), Landry (-22), John Huh (-20), Adam Hadwin (-20), Martin Piller (-20), Kevin Chappell (-19), Scott Piercy (-19)

What it means: This is Rahm’s second PGA Tour win and his fourth worldwide victory in the last year, dating back to last season’s Farmers Insurance Open. Rahm took the early lead Thursday with an opening 62 and after rounds of 67-70, he started the final round two back. On Sunday, he made five birdies without dropping a single shot on the intimidating Stadium Course. In the clubhouse at 22 under, Rahm watched as Landry made birdie on 18 to force a playoff.

Rahm missed birdie putts that would have ended the tournament on the final hole of regulation and on each playoff hole. Finally, on his fourth trip down 18 of the day, his birdie bid found the cup. With the victory, Rahm passes Jordan Spieth to move to No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, trailing only Dustin Johnson. He enters next week at Torrey Pines looking to defend for the first time.

Best of the rest: A two-time winner playing his second full season on the PGA Tour, Landry shot 68 Sunday, making birdie on the 72nd hole to force extras. Once Rahm finally made birdie on the fourth playoff hole, Landry's putt to extend slid by on the right edge. This is Landry's best career finish on the PGA Tour. Had he won, he would have secured full Tour status through the 2019-20 season and earned invites to the Masters, Players, and PGA Championships.

Round of the day: Sam Saunders fired an 8-under 64 to register this best finish of the season, a tie for eighth at 18 under. The reigning Tour Championship winner was 9 under par through 12 holes before making bogey at 13 and parring his way into the clubhouse.

Biggest disappointment: Overnight leader Austin Cook was eyeing his second win of the season but never contended. The RSM champion carded two double bogeys Sunday en route to a 3-over 75, dropping him from the 54-hole lead to a tie for 14th.

Shot of the day: Rahm's putt to win:

Quote of the day: "One of us had to do it and either one of us would have been a well-deserving champion." - Rahm on his playoff victory over Landry