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. 

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.