Monday Scramble: Win and where

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

Justin Thomas wins again, Sergio Garcia shakes off his Masters hangover, Bernhard Langer eagles the last and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Now with five and a half weeks off, Thomas has plenty of time for reflection.

The most obvious question that will come to his mind: Now how am I going to back up THAT?

Thomas capped the best run of his career with a playoff victory Sunday at the lucrative CJ Cup. Over the past 52 weeks, he has six victories (including his first major), a FedExCup title, a Player of the Year trophy and more than $20 million in the bank.

Of the many goals that Thomas set for himself, both large and small, he met or exceeded almost all of them. Continuing to improve next season will be a challenge, because there isn’t as much ground to cover, but the 24-year-old showed that his ceiling is as high as anyone’s on Tour.

This is a break well deserved.


1. The par-5 18th hole at Nine Bridges will make course-architect snobs break out in hives, but it provided plenty of drama at the CJ Cup.

Both Thomas and Leishman went for the well-protected green in two shots during the playoff.

Leishman was unsuccessful, leading to a bogey but no regrets.

“If you go down,” he said, “you want to go down like that. I’d rather attack and try to take it. I would certainly sleep better at night just doing that.”

Even after seeing his opponent rinse his approach, Thomas didn’t back down, either.

“I didn’t travel all this way to make this a three-shot hole,” he said.

That led to a two-putt birdie and the victory. 

2. If Thomas was low on energy two weeks ago at the CIMB Classic, then he was really running on fumes in South Korea. And his patience was tested all week, when officials cut hole locations in difficult positions on Friday to protect par, and then the wind gusted (and swirled) to 30 mph over the weekend.

It’s a testament to his mental toughness that he was able to overcome a 71st-hole bogey and put away Leishman, who notched his third top-3 finish in his last four starts.

“I’m really tired and fatigued right now,” Thomas said. “I’m excited about getting home.”  

3. Here’s how the top of the world rankings look heading into the final World Golf Championships event of 2017:

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Jordan Spieth
3. Justin Thomas
4. Hideki Matsuyama
5. Jon Rahm

It’s the first time since May 2010 that Americans hold down the top three spots. Back then, it was Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker – an average age of 39.2.

This trio? An average of 27.4. 



4. A reminder that last fall, Thomas was ranked 35th in the world.

So what changed?

Here are some of the areas in which Thomas has seen the most improvement, year over year:

Strokes gained-around the green (108th to 28th), putting (131st to 47th), approaches from 50-125 yards (71st to 1st) and 75-100 yards (156th to 13th).

If Thomas can improve his driving – even with his awesome length, he ranks only 32nd in strokes gained-off the tee – then his six-win 2017 might just be the beginning. 

5. No Ryder Cup points are available this fall, for the second consecutive Ryder Cup.

Though that’s unlikely to affect the status of a star like Thomas, it’s a potentially big deal for someone like Pat Perez, who won the CIMB and followed it up with a tie for fifth at the CJ Cup. 



6. Garcia’s Masters hangover is over, after the Spaniard served as both host and champion at the European Tour event at Valderrama hosted by his foundation.

Since his life-changing victory at Augusta, he managed only one top-10 in 10 PGA Tour starts, and his runner-up at the BMW International Open was his best showing worldwide.

A lot has been going on, of course. Garcia got married. He’s expecting his first child next spring. He adjusted to life as a major champion. And it was announced last week that he and longtime sponsor TaylorMade are parting ways.

Valderrama was the perfect landing spot for another Garcia reboot – he has finished in the top 5 in eight of 13 career appearances there.  

7. Interestingly, this was Garcia’s first three-win season since 2008.

He moved to 14 career titles on the European Tour, one clear of Rory McIlroy for the most among players currently under 40.

8. After wondering whether she would ever win again, Eun-Hee Ji snapped an eight-year winless drought by taking the Swinging Skirts – by six.

Now 31, Ji hadn’t won since the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open.

Perhaps even more interesting was the brief reappearance in Taiwan of local hero Yani Tseng. Mired in a miserable slump, the former world No. 1 hasn’t won anywhere since 2012.

A strong final round briefly vaulted her inside the top 5, but she stumbled down the stretch and eventually tied for 17th – still one of her best results of the year.

“I feel the nerves and I feel the pressure,” she said, “but it was great pressure and good news. I haven’t had that for a while.” 



9. In the least surprising development of the week, Bernhard Langer won the PGA Tour Champions playoff opener, eagling the final hole and creating even more separation from Scott McCarron.

Though the field size is trimmed each week, like the FedExCup playoffs, the cut down from 72 to 54 players barely registered, seeing how those players have no chance to make any noise with Langer, McCarron, Kenny Perry and the rest of the senior stars monopolizing the top of the leaderboard.

Langer is on the verge of taking the money title for the ninth time in the past 10 years. 

It’s why we opined last week that the senior circuit desperately needs a match-play finale to liven up its finishing kick.

10. About the only thing Langer has left to accomplish in senior golf is the record for the most victories all time.

With title No. 35, and his sixth this year, he’s now only 10 back of Hale Irwin’s mark.

Barring an injury, Langer could eclipse that record in 2019, when he’d be 62. Irwin was 61 when he earned his final senior victory.


Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are longtime friends. This was established a few years ago, when Thomas joined a Tour on which Spieth had already made his mark.   

Well, for some reason, this storyline is still a thing, even after Thomas finally moved out of Spieth’s considerable shadow, winning the PGA Championship, the FedExCup and Player of the Year.

This was a real question posed to Thomas on Saturday night (emphasis is mine): Jason Day mentioned that he has never seen winds like this before. Are you used to such windy conditions? If you were to give Jordan Spieth any advice playing on this course, what would you say?

Unfortunately, Thomas (and, now, Spieth, to some extent) are used to such ridiculous queries. In his presser, Thomas shrugged it off and talked about the difficult conditions.

Well, the same reporter (we think) went back to the well on Sunday night, after Thomas prevailed in a playoff.

If you were to come back next year, would you convince your good friend Jordan Spieth to come with you?

Not only was that question insulting – as if Thomas’ victory, and presence, wasn’t enough for the reporter – it was absurd.

Thomas handled it perfectly: “I don’t care what he does.”

Next?  

This week's award winners ... 

See You Next Year: Paula Creamer. The 31-year-old recently underwent surgery on her ailing left wrist, ending her season. Winless since 2014, she faces an uphill climb when she returns to competition.

What a Mess: KLPGA. A pair of players received two-shot penalties after they picked up their ball on what they thought was the green, and it was later determined that four other players had done that, too. Several players threatened to withdraw out of protest, the KLPGA wiped out all scores for the first round, and the head rules official resigned.  

Mission Accomplished: Leona Maguire. Needing to make the cut to earn Symetra Tour status for 2018, the top-ranked amateur in the world cruised at second stage of Q-School. She won’t even attempt to play the finals; she’ll return to Duke for the spring semester and complete her degree.



Presidential Company: Hideki Matsuyama. The world No. 4 is scheduled to play a round with Donald Trump when the president makes his first Asia trip next month, according to Bloomberg.

New Home: Barbasol Championship. Beginning this season, one of the Tour’s opposite-field events is relocating from Alabama to Kentucky. 

What Can't He Do?: Braden Thornberry. During the Ole Miss-Auburn game Saturday night, the reigning NCAA champion was asked to knock in a field goal using one of his irons. This is a lot harder than it looks!

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Tony Finau. His runner-up finish in Napa was his third consecutive top-10. But he just didn’t have it halfway around the world, backing up an opening 67 with three consecutive rounds of par or worse for a tie for 26th. Sigh.  

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.

Class of 2011: The groups before The Group

By Mercer BaggsNovember 20, 2017, 9:00 pm

We’ve been grouping things since the beginning, as in The Beginning, when God said this is heaven and this is earth, and you’re fish and you’re fowl.

God probably wasn’t concerned with marketing strategies at the time and how #beastsoftheearth would look with a hashtag, but humans have evolved into such thinking (or not evolved, depending on your thinking).

We now have all manner of items lumped into the cute, the catchy and the kitschy. Anything that will capture our attention before the next thing quickly wrests said attention away.

Modern focus, in a group sense in the golf world, is on the Class of 2011. This isn’t an arbitrary assembly of players based on world ranking or current form. It’s not a Big Pick A Number.

There’s an actual tie that binds as it takes a specific distinction to be part of the club. It’s a group of 20-somethings who graduated from high school in the aforementioned year, many who have a PGA Tour card, a handful of who have PGA Tour wins, and a couple of who have major titles.

It’s a deep and talented collective, one for which our knowledge should continue to expand as resumes grow.

Do any “classes” in golf history compare? Well, it’s not like we’ve long been lumping successful players together based on when they completed their primary education. But there are other notable groups of players, based primarily on birthdate, relative competition and accomplishment.

Here’s a few on both the men’s and women’s side:

BORN IN 1912

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Feb. 4, 1912 Byron Nelson 52 5
May 27, 1912 Sam Snead 82 7
Aug. 13, 1912 Ben Hogan 64 9

Born six months within one another. Only a threesome, but a Hall of Fame trio that combined for 198 PGA Tour wins and 21 majors.


BORN IN 1949

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 4, 1949 Tom Watson 39 8
Dec. 5, 1949 Lanny Wadkins 21 1
Dec. 9, 1949 Tom Kite 19 1

Only 96 days separate these three Hall of Fame players. Extend the reach into March of 1950 and you'll get two-time U.S. Open winner Andy North.


BORN IN 1955

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 30, 1955 Curtis Strange 17 2
Jan. 30, 1955 Payne Stewart 11 3
Feb. 10, 1955 Greg Norman 20 2

Another trio of Hall of Fame players. Strange and Stewart were born on the same day with Norman 11 days later. Fellow PGA Tour winners born in 1955: Scott Simpson, Scott Hoch and Loren Roberts.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1956-57

Birthdate Player LPGA wins Major wins
Feb. 22, 1956 Amy Alcott 29 5
Oct. 14, 1956 Beth Daniel 33 1
Oct. 27, 1956 Patty Sheehan 35 6
Jan. 6, 1957 Nancy Lopez 48 3

A little arbitrary here, but go with it. Four Hall of Famers on the women's side, all born within one year of each other. That's an average (!) career of 36 tour wins and nearly four majors.


EUROPE'S BIG 5

Birthdate Player Euro (PGA Tour) wins Major wins
April 9, 1957 Seve Ballesteros 50 (9) 5
July 18, 1957 Nick Faldo 30 (9) 6
Aug. 27, 1957 Bernhard Langer 42 (3) 2
Feb. 9, 1958 Sandy Lyle 18 (6) 2
March 2, 1958 Ian Woosnam 29 (2) 1

The best 'class' of players Europe has to offer. Five born within a year of one another. Five Hall of Fame members. Five who transformed and globalized European golf.


WITHIN A CALENDAR YEAR, 1969-70

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Sept. 12, 1969 Angel Cabrera 3 2
Oct. 17, 1969 Ernie Els 19 4
May 12, 1970 Jim Furyk 17 1
May 12, 1970 Mike Weir 8 1
June 16, 1970 Phil Mickelson 42 5

Not a tight-knit group, but a little more global bonding in accordance to the PGA Tour's increased international reach. Add in worldwide wins – in excess of 200 combined – and this group is even more impressive.


BORN IN 1980

Birthdate Player PGA Tour wins Major wins
Jan. 9, 1980 Sergio Garcia 10 1
July 16, 1980 Adam Scott 13 1
July 30, 1980 Justin Rose 8 1

Could be three future Hall of Fame members here.

Editor's note: Golf Channel's editorial research unit contributed.