Monday Scramble: Open season, on everybody

By Ryan Lavner, Will GrayJune 19, 2017, 5:05 pm

Brooks Koepka pounds Erin Hills into submission, the USGA gets one right (at last!), Johnny stands by his 63, Rory McIlroy owns Elk and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

Koepka was a fitting winner at a U.S. Open unlike any of the previous 116 editions.

Erin Hills featured the widest fairways in U.S. Open history, and they were made even more spacious with three days of light winds and heavy rain that took much of the fire out of a course designed to play firm and fast.

Coming into the week, the layout was thought to be a bomber’s paradise, and sure enough Koepka treated every tee as his own personal launching pad. He wailed away on driver, never hitting more than a 7-iron into a par 4 for the first three rounds, and became the first player to hit more than 80 percent of his fairways and greens. It was a clinical performance.

But above all, this major will be remembered for the bevy of low scores, including Koepka’s record-tying 16 under total.

No, this wasn't your father's U.S. Open, but rest assured the punishment will return next year.


1. It’s impossible to overstate how absurdly good Koepka’s ball-striking was last week.

For four days at a U.S. Open, he missed only seven fairways and 10 greens. 

Throw in a hot putter, and he became the first U.S. Open winner since 2003 to rank in the top 5 in both greens in regulation and putting.

2. Did watching Koepka overpower a golf course feel familiar? Because it should have. He’s basically DJ Lite.

Golf’s new bash brothers have become inseparable, living in the same area in South Florida, working with the same trainer, using the same swing coach, and even sharing the same chef while on the road.

Labeled for years as an underachiever, Johnson, 32, has become a mentor of sorts for Koepka, 27. The world No. 1 even called Koepka on the eve of the final round to remind his pal of a few keys – namely patience and process.

Pressed for details, Koepka laughed. “There’s probably not that much that’s interesting, to be honest. It was a long phone call for us – it was like two minutes.” 

3. Koepka became the seventh consecutive first-time major winner – the second-longest streak in the modern era – and it’s a troublesome trend as the sport’s popularity drifts back toward the norm in this post-Tiger era.

TV ratings for the final round were the second-lowest in tournament history.

Yes, these types of things are cyclical, but individual sports are most successful when there is a dominant figure. Even though major triumphs by Jason Day, Sergio Garcia and Koepka were satisfying for the hardcore fans, their breakthroughs merely reinforced that this is an era of competitive parity, at least in the game's biggest events. 

4. On Sunday afternoon, Brandt Snedeker was asked about his Ryder Cup partner’s ceiling as a player.

“I don’t see any reason why he can’t be a multiple major winner,” he said. “People don’t realize he’s got the total game: short game, putting, the way he hits it.”

He did issue a word of caution about his potential, however.

“One thing he is going to have to learn is when to rein it in,” Snedeker said. “But when he’s on like this, hitting driver the way he does, it doesn’t matter if you don’t pick your spots because he’s hitting sand wedge.” 



5. Brian Harman and Rickie Fowler offered an interesting contrast in perspective after falling short at Erin Hills.

Harman had every reason to look for silver linings after his tie for second – after all, he didn’t even have a top-25 in any of his previous major appearances.

Fowler, meanwhile, has the most major top-5s of any player without a win since 2010, and he should be growing tired of watching someone else hoist the hardware.

Or not.

Harman: “I don’t believe in moral victories. I had an opportunity today and I didn’t get it done.”

Fowler: “You have to measure success in different ways, not just winning, because that doesn’t happen a whole lot. … You kind of have to say, ‘Hey, it’s a major.’”

That's a revealing glimpse into each player's psyche, no?

6. There were plenty of red figures at Erin Hills, but the top players in the world found nothing but carnage.

Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day all missed the cut, marking the first time since the creation of the OWGR in 1986 that the top three players in the world missed the cut at the same major.

And frankly, it wasn’t really close. McIlroy and Day shot themselves out of it before the opening round was over, while DJ never got things on track after flying into town late after the birth of his second son.

Erin Hills' sprawling fairways and burly length would have seemed to favor each of them, and McIlroy’s “pack your bags” fescue analysis got plenty of pre-tournament attention. But ultimately a quirky venue got the best of all three, who likely will be happy to see the tournament shift back to more traditional venues for the next decade-plus.

Now, if the oh-fer happens again next month at Royal Birkdale ... 



7. That sound you hear is USGA chief executive Mike Davis taking a big sigh of relief.

Erin Hills may not have been a home run, but for the first time since Pinehurst, the folks in blue blazers left the 72nd green without any egg on their face.

After the greens at Chambers Bay and the rules fiasco at Oakmont, a little chirping about low scores and wide fairways must seem like an oasis in the desert. And while there were some double takes at Koepka's 16-under total, the course received largely favorable reviews from the field.

8. It was apparent, however, that the USGA went the cautious route with this major.

Designed for the usual 20-mph winds to rip through the treeless property, the 50-yard-wide fairways posed little challenge to those who had control of their tee shots.

Criticized in the past for pushing green speeds to the edge, the USGA kept the greens at Erin Hills at a manageable pace, helping eliminate some of the pre-tournament pace-of-play concern.

The course can be tipped out at 8,348 yards, and yet it might not have been all that outrageous to play the Open from the back boxes. The field averaged more than 302 yards off the tee, led by amateur Cameron Champ at 334 yards. In all, 14 players averaged more than 315 yards for the week as the course played nowhere near its sticker-shock yardage.

That the USGA and R&A – which recently concluded that the distance increase in golf has been negligible – can even consider an 8,000-yard major should be a red flag about where the game is headed. 



9. Johnny Miller is no longer on the call for the U.S. Open, but leave it to the NBC Sports analyst to offer the most polarizing opinion of the week.

GolfChannel.com asked for his thoughts after Justin Thomas’ 9-under 63 in the third round pushed aside Miller and set the record for the lowest score in relation to par at the U.S. Open.

Miller made it clear that he still views his 8-under 63 at Oakmont in the 1973 Open as one of the greatest rounds in the history of the sport, even if it’s no longer the benchmark at the Open. He criticized the wide fairways at Erin Hills and said the Open’s low scores made it feel like the “Milwaukee Open.”

“Nine under is incredible with U.S. Open pressure,” he said, “but it isn’t a U.S. Open course that I’m familiar with the way it was set up.”

Fans on social media seemed split by his comments. There were some who said that Miller was right, that his round came on a more difficult golf course in more difficult conditions and with more at stake. And others thought he was just a bitter loon who was typically ungracious.

10. Does Johnny have a point? Well, when judging the quality of these U.S. Open rounds, history likely will still favor Miller.

With his closing 63 in 1973, Miller gained 10.8 strokes on the field, and there were only seven rounds under par that day.

Thomas’ round was nine strokes better than the field average, on a day when 32 players broke par.

But Miller earned the decisive point in the argument with this: his 63 propelled him to victory, while Thomas' final-round 75 dropped him into a tie for ninth.

11. With nary a storm in sight during the opening round, the U.S. Open came and went without Phil Mickelson for the first time since 1993.

Mickelson didn’t receive the lengthy weather delay he needed to make the cross-country trek from his daughter’s graduation in California, a jaunt that always appeared to be a long-shot at best. Lefty took it down to the wire, sending his caddie to scout the course and waiting until hours before his tee time to withdraw, but ultimately his spot went to alternate Roberto Diaz.

Mickelson will turn 48 during the final round at Shinnecock, and we’re now reaching the point where a U.S. Open win for Lefty would be largely unprecedented in the history books.

12. The last major included a playoff between two Europeans, but this time around the Euros were almost absent.

England's Tommy Fleetwood took fourth-place honors, but he was the only Euro to crack the top 15 on a leaderboard coated with red, white and blue. Paul Casey, who held a share of the 36-hole lead, faded to 26th over the weekend while McIlroy, Justin Rose and Henrik Stenson all missed the cut.


Steve Elkington is usually wrong about most things on Twitter, but rarely is he so off-base as this.

After McIlroy missed the cut at Erin Hills, the Worst Tweeter in Golf suggested that the four-time major champion was “bored” playing golf and that he was content with his major haul and hefty bank account.

Ring the bell. 

Whoa! Landed a haymaker there. Elk is stumbling around the ring (as usual), but let's see how he responds ... 

OK, he's back, and he appears to have steadied himself long enough to fire off another illiterate tweet:

Second-round TKO. Elk remains winless on Twitter.

This week's award winners ... 


In Need of a Massage: Everyone who attended the Erin Hills Open. Fans who went all 18 walked roughly 30,000 steps – or the equivalent of 15 miles – on the sprawling, linksy property. Yowsers. 

Sorry ’Bout That: Jonathan Randolph. Tasked with keeping Thomas’ score during his historic third round, the Mississippi boy couldn’t fit the card into his back pocket and ended up ripping the bottom of it. “If that goes into the Hall of Fame and it’s all torn and jagged, they’re going to be wondering who in the world Jonathan Randolph is,” he said. 

NSFW: Adam Scott's putting. The former Masters champ had a few cringe-worthy misses from short range at Erin Hills, as his search for a post-anchoring solution continues.



PGA Tour-bound: Aaron Wise. The 2016 NCAA champion started 62-62 at the Web event in Wichita and boatraced the field, eventually winning by five to lock up his PGA Tour card for next season. He’s the next young stud who deserves our attention. 

Running Laps Around the Competition: Leona Maguire. The two-time NCAA Player of the Year won the Women’s British Amateur to continue her reign of terror. Fortunately for the rest of the amateurs, she only has one year left before she takes her game to the next level. 

Well Worth the Work: Local qualifiers. There were five players – Kevin Dougherty, Tyler Light, Jack Maguire, Jordan Niebrugge and Champ – who advanced through both stages of qualifying and made the cut at Erin Hills. It’s the fourth consecutive year that at least that many players have gone 3-for-3. 

Still On a Tear: Braden Thornberry. The NCAA champion and fourth-place finisher at St. Jude kept rolling at the prestigious Sunnehanna Amateur, which he won in a playoff. Can’t help but wonder how he would have fared at Erin Hills if he had qualified. 

If You’ve Got It, Flaunt It: Paul Casey. Yes, that is the Englishman’s wife, Pollyanna, who appears scantily clad not only on the back of his phone case, but also, apparently, on the inside of one of his suit jackets. 


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Top 3 players in the world. Take your pick as to which player’s missed cut was the most disappointing – defending champion DJ, Rory on a rain-softened course, or Day and his excellent Open record. A terrible week for one-and-doners. Sigh. 

Getty Images

Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

Getty Images

Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.