Monday Scramble: More Ko history; cups & more cups

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 14, 2015, 4:00 pm

Lydia Ko officially becomes golf's best prodigy, the Solheim Cup takes center stage and another U.S. team suffers an embarrassing loss in this week's bye-week edition of the Monday Scramble:

Move over, Morgan. 

At 18 years, 4 months and 20 days, Lydia Ko became the youngest major winner, male or female, to win a Grand Slam event in the modern era. The Evian was Ko's last chance to better Pressel’s mark, and she smashed the record in style, closing with a final-round 63 to win by six. 

There was always a sense of inevitability with this record.

Think about it: Ko won a professional event at 14. She claimed an LPGA title at 15. Last year, she reached No. 1 in the world. The only thing left to do as a teen was to win a major. 

It's been interesting to watch over the past few years how Ko's emergence has put a damper on some of the accomplishments of her heralded peers. Now a nine-time winner on the LPGA, she has five more titles than the tour's most popular player, Michelle Wie, and is only one career win behind Paula Creamer, who is 29, and two back of Stacy Lewis, who is 30. 

The major hurdle cleared, it won't be long before Ko sets her sights on some of the tour's other hallowed marks. 

1. How good was Ko’s final-round 63 at the Evian? 

It was the lowest final round by a major winner in LPGA history, topping Karen Stupples’ 64 at the 2004 Women’s British.

Indeed, with all of that major history on the line, Ko shot the best round of the day by three shots. Even better? She erased a two-shot deficit on the final day and beat her star-studded counterpart, Lexi Thompson, by seven shots, despite being outdriven by an average of nearly 20 yards. 

2. With the victory, Ko is now atop this list, of the youngest LPGA major winners:

  • Lydia Ko, 2015 Evian, 18 years, 4 months, 20 days
  • Morgan Pressel, 2007 Kraft Nabisco, 18 years, 10 months, 9 days
  • Lexi Thompson, 2014 Kraft Nabisco, 19 years, 1 month, 27 days

3. Inbee Park’s play was so dominant this season that she clinched the Annika Major Award – given to the player with the best performance in all five majors – before the fifth major, the Evian Championship, was even completed.

Park, who won the Women’s PGA and Women’s British Open, enjoyed such a huge lead in points standings that she received the award at a banquet following the third round in France. 

Her performance in the majors this season:

  • ANA Inspiration: T-11
  • PGA: Win
  • U.S. Women’s Open: T-3
  • Women’s British: Win
  • Evian: T-8

4. There’s been a lot of concern about the state of the American team heading into this week’s Solheim Cup. Michelle Wie? Beset by injuries all season. Paula Creamer? Four missed cuts in a row. Heck, even Stacy Lewis, the steadiest of the U.S. players, hasn't won in more than a year.

At least there were some positive returns coming out of the Evian.

Yes, Creamer missed the cut again (and should ride the bench in Germany), but the U.S. team had five players place inside the top 20, including Thompson, who finished second, and newcomer Alison Lee, who tied for sixth. Morgan Pressel (T-11), Lewis (T-16) and Wie (T-16) all had high finishes, as well. 

As for the European Solheim Cuppers? It was downright ugly in France. No player finished inside the top 20, and four team members missed the cut. Not exactly tiptop form as they look to win their third Solheim Cup in a row. 

5. Juli Inkster keeps playing the underdog card, but it’s hard to make that argument based solely on the numbers: the U.S. team has won 10 majors (compared to four on the Europeans), and its average ranking (24.6) is nearly 30 spots better (52.6). 

6. Hey, if nothing else, the U.S. Solheim Cup team is hoping it can fare better than the American amateurs at the Walker Cup. 

The U.S. suffered its worst-ever defeat at Royal Lytham, a seven-point thrashing in which only two American players (Beau Hossler and Bryson DeChambeau) finished with winning records. 

7. Once again, the USGA made a number of curious decisions when it came to the biennial competition.

Here are the most questionable: 

  1. It continued to enforce a rule that requires two mid-amateurs (age 25 or older) to make the 10-man team. The move was made for all of the right reasons – leadership and sportsmanship – but it feels like self-sabotage when GB&I doesn’t have a similar rule in place. In other words, the U.S. squad is intentionally making its team weaker. The decision has clearly backfired: After Scott Harvey and Mike McCoy went 1-5 at Royal Lytham, the mid-ams are now 3-8 since the rule was instituted. Neat idea, but it’s time to start fielding the best roster possible.
  2. It didn’t announce that Robby Shelton was one of the first five players selected. You might not think that it matters in the end, because Shelton was an obvious choice and he was selected when the team was finalized after the U.S. Amateur. Though that's true, the omission drew plenty of snickers from those in the amateur golf community and underscored how little faith exists in the secretive selection committee. There were even rumors that the USGA didn’t select Shelton early because he turned down a chance to play for Team USA at the World Amateur Team Championship in Japan – because (news flash) he wanted to represent his shorthanded, back-to-back NCAA title-winning team in its season opener.
  3. Bryson DeChambeau apparently has been dealing with a neck injury and asked to be left out of the opening foursomes matches. When he played in the afternoon, however, he was fit enough to scratch out a half point, and on Sunday he won both of his matches. His point wouldn’t have much mattered in what was a historic rout, but it’s still interesting to note that DeChambeau was sent off last Sunday, when the outcome was no longer in doubt. Why? “Because he asked to go there,” U.S. captain Spider Miller said, “and I acquiesced.” Lineups were set Saturday night, with the U.S. already down two points and heading into foursomes, a format in which it has traditionally struggled. Wouldn't you want to frontload the lineup to give the team a chance?
  4. Miller promised that all 10 of his players – regardless of form – would play at least three of the four sessions. A good strategy in church-league soccer … not so much in international team competition. NCAA Player of the Year Maverick McNealy, St. Andrews star Jordan Niebrugge, Lee McCoy and Mike McCoy (no relation) combined to earn one point for the Americans. 

8. A player to keep an eye on this week at the BMW who seems poised to steal this FedEx Cup title: Jim Furyk. 

He is No. 9 in the standings, coming off a T-4 in Boston. And now he heads to Conway Farms, where he shot 59 in the second round in 2013 and eventually finished third. Another high finish would allow him to control his own destiny at East Lake, where he has a sterling record, with a win and four other top-three finishes. 

9. Some of the names who are currently outside the FedEx Cup bubble and would miss the Tour Championship: Hunter Mahan (52nd), Sergio Garcia (54th), Phil Mickelson (61st), Keegan Bradley (63rd), Ian Poulter (66th) and Billy Horschel (67th).

According to projections, those players likely need a third-place finish at Conway Farms just to secure their spot inside the top 30. 

10. Mickelson will once again be under the microscope this week in Chicago, after his recent selection as a captain’s pick for next month’s Presidents Cup.

Lefty hasn’t won in 26 months. He hasn’t finished better than 50th in these playoffs. He has one top-10 since June. So, in short, it was a tough sell that Mickelson was the best man for the gig.

And if Brooks Koepka, or Brandt Snedeker, or Robert Streb, or Kevin Kisner, or Webb Simpson win this week … oh, yes, the second-guessing will only grow.  

11. This week, as the Official World Golf Ranking carousel spins 'round and 'round ... Rory McIlroy supplanted Jordan Spieth and returned to No. 1 in the world. He leads by 0.023 average points – the closest Nos. 1 and 2 have ever been in the history of the OWGR.

12. Remember when we wrote Aug. 31 that Thomas Pieters has “all of the necessary physical tools to be a stud on the PGA Tour someday”? Well, he just won for the second time in as many starts, this time at the European Tour's KLM Open. Over that span he has jumped from 245th to 88th in the world ranking. He’s getting closer … 

Justin Thomas, a proud Alabama alum and a player who helped the Crimson Tide win the NCAA title in 2013, attended a college football game on Saturday. The PGA Tour rookie tagged along with Rickie Fowler as he returned for Oklahoma State’s home game against (gulp) Central Arkansas. That’s not the crime here – it was a great opportunity for Thomas to hang out with his buddy, visit another school’s stadium and partake in pre-game festivities. No, the crime here is that, even if only for a few hours, Thomas ditched his ’Bama gear in favor of some ... Stillwater swag! Come on, man! Just a guess here, but Nick Saban probably doesn't respond well to treason. 

This week's award winners ... 

Georgia’s Next Signal-Caller: Bubba Watson? Hey, given the state of the Bulldogs' quarterback play, maybe Bubba deserves more of a role in the offense than just a mug shot on a play board. 

Texas' Best Athlete: Jordan Spieth. Seems Fowler wasn't the only player who returned to his alma mater over the weekend. The UT band even spelled out Spieth's name on the field. Baller. 

Heading to Wine Country: Tiger and Rory. As expected, Woods and McIlroy will fulfill an obligation and start their 2015-16 seasons at the Oct. 15-18 Open in Napa Valley. A big boost for an otherwise sleepy opener. 

One Way to Earn PGA Tour Membership: Close with a course-record 62. That's what Henrik Norlander did Sunday at the Tour Finals opener. It's the second time in four years that he's locked up his card (2013). Norlander, you might recall, was part of those back-to-back NCAA Championship teams at Augusta State, along with Patrick Reed.

Getty Images

Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

Getty Images

13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

Getty Images

McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014. 

Getty Images

Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."