Monday Scramble: Change in title

By Ryan LavnerNovember 13, 2017, 4:30 pm

Bernhard Langer gets robbed, Patton Kizzire breaks through, Kevin Sutherland ends a drought, the LPGA season comes to an end and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

The Charles Schwab Cup playoffs produced a familiar, unsatisfying ending Sunday: The best player didn’t walk away with the hardware.

That’s been the case for too many years with the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, a big reason why the postseason structure is poised to undergo a major overhaul.

“Season-long champion” and “season-finale drama” typically don’t mix, and yet the PGA Tour (and, by extension, the senior circuit) continues to try to force the issue with talk of point resets and “controlling your own destiny.” All it creates is more fan confusion and player frustration.

That anyone other than Bernhard Langer – who won a tour-best seven times, including three majors and two of the three playoff events – could capture the “season-long prize” was absurd, just as it was when Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson failed to win the FedExCup.

Here's guessing next year's senior "playoff" looks a bit different.


1. This isn’t meant to diminish Kevin Sutherland’s accomplishment. Even without a victory this year, he entered the week at No. 5 on the points list and could take the Schwab Cup with a win or high finish at the season finale. He got the job done, while Langer finished 12th.

Still, the resumes don’t match up.

Player A: 23 events, 1 win (0 majors), 3 runners-up, 15 top-10s

Player B: 22 events, 7 wins (3 majors), 2 runners-up, 16 top-10s

Forget the guy who showed up at the right time. Disregard the comparisons to the 2007 New England Patriots, who went undefeated and then lost the Super Bowl.

The question the Tour should be trying to answer with these “playoffs” is who had the best year?

In this case, the answer is obvious. 

2. Langer is on the PGA Tour Champions policy board and, even though he voted to approve this version, said it needs tweaking:

“I think it needs adjusting,” he said. “I do, personally, because you could have somebody win the whole thing that hasn’t won a tournament all year, and I’m not sure that’s ideal. But I was on the [PGA Tour Champions policy] board. We said we’re going to try this out. I’m not sure if it’s perfect. It’s maybe like the FedExCup. They had to adjust it two or three times to make it interesting but also make it a little fair.

“It was never meant to be fair. It was meant to be playoffs. Everyone in the field has a chance to win. Is it fair? No, it’s not, but that’s how it is right now.” 

3. That it was Sutherland who ended Langer’s bid for four consecutive Schwab Cup titles was a surprise.

This was the 53-year-old’s first victory ANYWHERE since 2002, and his first stroke-play victory on either the PGA or Champions tours.

“It’s been a long time since I won a tournament,” he said. “I think, early on, I was beating myself up a little bit. But this year, I didn’t really get too frustrated by it. I knew I was playing well, and if I kept doing what I was doing, I was eventually going to get a win.”

Talk about a well-timed breakthrough – he earned $1.44 million.



4. As much as it pains this Georgia grad to admit, it was an awfully good weekend for Auburn athletics.

Sure, the Tigers knocked off the top-ranked Dawgs. (Single tear.) But big ol’ country boy Patton Kizzire survived a 36-hole Sunday to hold off Rickie Fowler and win his first Tour event, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.

The first win is never easy, but Fowler made it even tougher by trimming a four-shot deficit to just one stroke as they played the 72nd hole.

With his ball just outside a fairway bunker, Kizzire played a remarkable shot under the circumstances – crowding the ball, choking down on an 8-iron, he hit his approach to about 30 feet, setting up a two-putt par.

With the victory, he earned a spot in the Masters and likely will reach the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. 

5. Making his first start in five weeks, Fowler came up just short. This one would have been special, as he tried to win for the first time in front of his grandparents. (His grandfather, Yutaka, taught him the game at age 2.) You may recall that Fowler broke down in tears at the 2016 Phoenix Open, when he lost in a playoff with his grandparents in attendance. It seemed clear then that he tried too hard to win for them.

That wasn’t the case in Mexico; he just got outplayed during the marathon Sunday. Fowler made Kizzire earn it, making birdie on the 70th and 71st holes, but his approach into the final green didn’t cut enough from a hanging lie, leaving him a 35-footer to force a playoff. He left it short. 



6. In a year of special moments, Branden Grace added another one Sunday as he became the first South African in a decade to win “Africa’s Major,” the Nedbank Challenge.

Grace hit every green and holed a 40-footer on 16 en route to a final-round 66 and one-stroke victory, his first worldwide since the 2016 RBC Heritage.  

No South African had won this event since Trevor Immelman in 2007. Throw in Grace’s record-setting 62 at The Open, and no doubt it’s been a memorable year. 

7. Tommy Fleetwood tied for 10th in Sun City, extending his lead atop the Race to Dubai standings.

Heading into this week’s DP World Tour Championship, the only two players who can catch Fleetwood for the season-ending prize are Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, and even their chances are unlikely. Rose trails by more than 250,000 points, while Garcia is more than a million behind. Everyone else in the field is just playing for a slice of the bonus pie.  

“Just to be in with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai, it’s pretty special, really,” Fleetwood told reporters. “I don’t feel stressed about it. I don’t feel anxious. And as much as it depends on what they do [in Dubai], it is in my hands.” 



8. There’s more than one way to get to the top of the world.

Shanshan Feng showed that last week, winning for the second consecutive week and ascending to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings for the first time … despite ranking 97th on tour in driving distance.

Lexi Thompson might have the most firepower of any of the top players, but if there are massive holes in her game – and there are – then it’ll be difficult for her to dominate against more complete (if shorter-hitting) players.

9. By the way, does anyone want to be No. 1?

Feng is the FIFTH No. 1 player this year, joining Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn, So Yeon Ryu, S.H. Park (who held the top spot for a total of one week) and now Feng.

10. The top five players in the Race to the CME Globe standings will take the top prize if they also win the season-ending event.

Those players who – all together now – control their own destiny this week: Lexi Thompson, Sung Hyun Park, Shanshan Feng, So Yeon Ryu and Brooke Henderson. 

So much is still to be determined, and not just the $1 million bonus. Still up for grabs are the Player of the Year awards, the money title and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. 

11. There is a massive gulf between those who survive second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School and those who do not, and fortunately for us some familiar names are guaranteed at least conditional status next year on the Web.

Among those who advanced are Maverick McNealy, Sam Burns, Sean Crocker, Jimmy Stanger and Jack Maguire.

Unfortunately, A.J. McInerney, who bypassed a free start at Mayakoba to play second stage, failed to reach the final stage. 

Hey, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of Jon Rahm than this correspondent … but even this is a bit much.

The Spaniard made his first Tour start (as an amateur) at the Mayakoba in 2014. For some reason, tournament officials decided to make a plaque to commemorate that moment, even though he’s unlikely to ever play there again.  

This week's award winners ... 


About to Receive a Call From a 904 Number: Grayson Murray. After Sutherland’s victory, Murray, the controversial second-year player who has had his fair share of social-media incidents, wondered aloud whether anyone actually cares about the Tour’s senior circuit. In a now-deleted tweet, he asked: "Does anyone really care is the real question.....those guys were relevant 10 plus years ago." Yeah, that’s probably a no-no.

Auspicious Debut: John Oda. In his first PGA Tour event as a pro, the former UNLV star challenged for the lead through two rounds and wound up in eighth. Impressive. 

Hey, Remember Me?: Si Woo Kim. He had gone quiet since his Players win, as his third-place showing at Mayakoba was his first top-10 in 15 starts since Sawgrass.



Awkward Line of Questioning of the Week: Reporter to Rickie Fowler.

Question: "Cancun is a beautiful place; a beautiful place for marriage. Are you thinking about this?"

Fowler: “Not yet. Not yet. I’m in a good spot both in my personal life and professional life.”

Sheesh.

Bluegrass Special: Valhalla. In case you missed it, the PGA-owned course in Louisville will host the year’s second major – yeah, it felt strange to type that – in 2024. Rory McIlroy won there in '14. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Pat Perez. The defending champion had come in with good form, winning the CIMB Classic a few weeks ago and finishing no worse than 24th since the playoffs. Then he threw up a second-round 74 to barely make the cut and tied for 34th (after a closing 66) in his title defense. Sigh. 

Battling mono, Kaufman tied for lead at CME

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 2:05 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Kim Kaufman’s bout with mononucleosis might leave fellow tour pros wanting to catch the fever, too.

A couple months after Anna Nordqvist battled her way into contention at the Women’s British Open playing with mono, and then thrived at the Solheim Cup with it, Kaufman is following suit.

In her first start since being diagnosed, Kaufman posted an 8-under-par 64 Saturday to move into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. It was the low round of the day. She’s bidding to win her first LPGA title.

“I’ve been resting at home for two weeks,” Kaufman said. “Didn’t do anything.”

Well, she did slip on a flight of stairs while recuperating, hurting her left wrist. She had it wrapped Saturday but said that’s mostly precautionary. It didn’t bother her during the round.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


“I’m the only person who can take two weeks off and get injured,” Kaufman joked.

Kaufman, 26, left the Asian swing after playing the Sime Darby Malaysia, returning to her home in South Dakota, to see her doctor there. She is from Clark. She was told bed rest was the best thing for her, but she felt good enough to make the trip to Florida for the season-ending event.

“We had some really cold days,” Kaufman said. “We had some snow. I was done with it. I was coming down here.”

How does she feel?

“I feel great,” she said. “I’m a little bit shaky, which isn’t great out there, but it’s great to be here doing something. I was going a little bit stir crazy [at home], just kind of fighting through it.”

Kaufman made eight birdies in her bogey-free round.

New-look Wie eyes CME Group Tour Championship title

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:32 am

NAPLES, Fla. – Michelle Wie is sporting a new look that even has fellow players doing double takes.

Bored during her six-week recovery from an emergency appendectomy late this summer, Wie decided to cut and die her hair.

She went for golden locks, and a shorter style.

“I kind of went crazy after being in bed that long,” Wie said. “I just told my mom to grab the kitchen scissors and just cut all my hair off.”

Wie will get to sport her new look on a big stage Sunday after playing herself into a four-way tie for the lead at the CME Group Tour Championship. With a 6-under-par 66, she is in contention to win her fifth LPGA title, her first since winning the U.S. Women’s Open three years ago.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


Wie, 28, fought her way back this year after two of the most disappointing years of her career. Her rebound, however, was derailed in late August, when she withdrew from the final round of the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open to undergo an emergency appendectomy. She was out for six weeks.

Before the surgery, Wie enjoyed getting back into contention regularly, with six finishes of T-4 or better this season. She returned to the tour on the Asian swing in October.

Fellow tour pros were surprised when she came back with the new look.

“Definitely, walk by people and they didn’t recognize me,” Wie said.

Wie is looking to continue to build on her resurgence.

“I gained a lot of confidence this year,” she said. “I had a really tough year last year, the last couple years. Just really feeling like my old self. Really feeling comfortable out there and having fun, and that's when I play my best.”

You Oughta Know: LPGA's Sunday scenarios

By Randall MellNovember 19, 2017, 1:17 am

NAPLES, Fla. – The CME Group Tour Championship is loaded with pressure-packed subplots Sunday at Tiburon Golf Club.

Here’s what You Oughta Know about the prizes at stake:

Race to the CME Globe

Lexi Thompson and Sung Hyun Park are 1-2 in CME Globe points. They are best positioned Sunday to take home the $1 million jackpot in the season-long competition.

Thompson and Park are tied for fifth in the tournament, one shot off the lead. If either of them wins, she will take home the jackpot.

The way it’s unfolding Thompson is a good bet to take home the jackpot by merely finishing ahead of Park, unless they both stumble badly on Sunday.

Ariya Jutanugarn is tied for the lead. She must win to take home the jackpot, but she would also need Thompson to finish ninth or worse and Park to finish eighth or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points to make a bold Sunday charge.

Stacy Lewis is one shot off the lead with a longshot chance at the jackpot. She must win the tournament while Thompson finishes 26th or worse, Park finishes 12th or worse and nobody else among the top 12 in points makes a bold Sunday charge.

So Yeon Ryu, Shanshan Feng and Brooke Henderson are among others who still have a shot at the $1 million prize, but they have fallen back in the pack and need bold Sunday charges to take home the jackpot.

Rolex Player of the Year

The Rolex Player of the Year Award remains a four-player race.

Ryu (162), Feng (159), Park (157) and Thompson (147) all have a chance to win the award.

Park and Thompson are best positioned to make Sunday moves to overtake Ryu.

Park needs to finish sixth or better to win the award outright; Thompson needs to win the tournament to win the award.

It’s simple math.

The top 10 in the tournament will be awarded points.

1st - 30 points

2nd – 12 points

3rd – 9 points

4th – 7 points

5th – 6 points

6th – 5 points

7rd – 4 points

8th – 3 points

9th – 2 points

10th – 1 point

Vare Trophy

Thompson took a 69.147 scoring average to Naples. Park needs to finish nine shots ahead of Thompson to have a shot at the trophy.

Money-winning title

Park leads the tour in money winnings with $2,262,472. Ryu is the only player who can pass her Sunday, and Ryu must win the tournament to do so. Ryu is tied for 32nd, five shots off the lead. If Ryu wins the tournament, she also needs Park to finish worse than solo second.

Rolex world No. 1 ranking

World No. 1 Feng, No. 2 Park and No. 3 Ryu are separated by just three hundredths of a point.

Because they are so close, the scenarios for overtaking Feng are head spinning.

At No. 4, Thompson is a full average ranking point behind Feng, but she could become the sixth different player this season to move to No. 1. Thompson, however, has to win Sunday to have a chance to do so, and then it will depend on what Feng, Park and Ryu do. Again, the scenarios are complex.

Cook leads RSM Classic by three at Sea Island

By Associated PressNovember 19, 2017, 12:28 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to increase his lead to three strokes in the RSM Classic.

Cook, a shot ahead after a second-round 62, had five birdies and a bogey - his first of the week - to reach 18-under 194 with a round left at Sea Island Golf Club's Seaside Course.

''Putting is key right now,'' Cook said. ''Been able to make a lot of clutch putts for the pars to save no bogeys. Hitting the ball pretty much where we're looking and giving ourselves good opportunities on every hole.''

Former University of Georgia player Chris Kirk was second after a 64.

''I'm really comfortable here,'' Kirk said. ''I love Sea Island. I lived here for 6 1/2 years, so I played the golf course a lot, SEC Championships and come down here for the RSM Classic. My family and I, we come down here a few other times a year as well.''

Brian Gay was another stroke back at 14 under after a 69.

''I love the course,'' Gay said. ''We keep getting different wind directions so it's keeping us on our toes. Supposed to be another completely different wind direction tomorrow, so we're getting a new course every day.''


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


J.J. Spaun had a 62 to get to 13 under.

''I just kind of played stress-free golf out there and kept the golf ball in front of me,'' Spaun said. ''I had a lot of looks and scrambled pretty well, even though it was only a handful of times, but pretty overall pleased with how I played today.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. The 26-year-old former Arkansas player earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour.

''I think with an extra year on the Web this past year, I really grew mentally and with my game, just kind of more confidence,'' Cook said. ''I was able to put myself in contention on the Web.com more this year than I have in the past. I think I've just, you know, learned from experiences on the Web to help me grow out here.''

He planned to keep it simple Saturday night.

''I've got my parents here and my in-laws are both here as well as my wife,'' Cook said. ''Go home and just have a good home-cooked meal and just kind of enjoy the time and embrace the moment.''

Kirk won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2015 at Colonial.

''It's nice to be back in contention again,'' Kirk said. ''It's been a little while for me. But I felt great out there today, I felt really comfortable, and so hopefully it will be the same way tomorrow and I'll keep my foot on the pedal and stay aggressive, try to make some birdies.''