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.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm

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Recent winner Cook contending at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:45 pm

Patton Kizzire is currently the only two-time PGA Tour winner this season, but Austin Cook hopes to join him this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge.

Cook won for the first time in November at the RSM Classic, a victory that catapaulted him from the Tour graduate category into an entirely new echelon. Cook notched a pair of top-25 finishes over the last two weeks in Hawaii, and he's again in the mix after an opening 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course left him one shot behind Jon Rahm.

"Today was great," Cook told reporters. "The conditions were perfect, but I always loved desert golf and I was just hitting the ball well and seeing good lines on the greens and hitting good putts."

Cook got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under highlighted by an eagle on the par-5 fourth hole. He briefly entertained the notion of a sub-60 round after birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 before closing with six pars and a birdie.

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Cook was a relative unknown before his victory at Sea Island earlier this season, but now with the flexibility and confidence afforded by a win he hopes to build on his burgeoning momentum this week in California.

"That was a big, proud moment for myself, knowing that I can finish a tournament," Cook said. "I think it was one of those things that I've proven to myself that now I can do it, and it just meant the world to me."

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Photo: Fleetwood's phone cover is picture of Bjorn

By Jason CrookJanuary 18, 2018, 11:40 pm

There's phone covers and then there are Phone Covers.

Paul Casey has himself a Phone Cover, showing off the protective case that features a picture of his wife at last year's U.S. Open.

Now, it appears, Tommy Fleetwood has joined the movement.

Fleetwood, last year's season-long Race to Dubai winner, has a phone cover with a picture of Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn on it. And not even a current Thomas Bjorn. This is a young Bjorn. A hair-having Bjorn.


A post shared by Alex Noren (@alexnoren1) on

The 26-year-old is a virtual lock for this year's European Ryder Cup team, but just in case, he's carrying around a phone with a picture of the team captain attached to the back of it.

It's a bold strategy, Cotton. Let's see if it pays off for him.

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Mickelson starts fast, fades to 70 at La Quinta

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 11:07 pm

Phil Mickelson got off to a fast start in his first competitive round of 2018 - for six holes, at least.

The 47-year-old is making his first start since the WGC-HSBC Champions this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, and only his third competitive appearance since the BMW Championship in September. Four birdies over his first six holes indicated that a strong opener might be in the cards, but Mickelson played his subsequent holes in 2 over.

It added up to a 2-under 70 at La Quinta Country Club, typically the easiest of the three courses in rotation this week, and left Mickelson eight shots behind Jon Rahm.

"It was fun to get back out and be competitive," Mickelson told reporters. "I for some reason am stuck on 70 here at La Quinta, whether I get off to a good start or a bad one, I end up shooting the same score."

Full-field scores from the Career Builder Challenge

CareerBuilder Challenge: Articles, photos and videos

Mickelson stunted his momentum with a tee shot out of bounds on the par-4 eighth hole, but he managed to save bogey and otherwise drove the ball relatively well. Instead, he pointed to his normally reliable iron play as the culprit for his back-nine backslide on a day when more than 120 players in the 156-man field broke par.

Mickelson will now head to the Nicklaus Tournament Course with the Stadium Course on tap for Saturday's third round. While there were several low scores Thursday at La Quinta, Mickelson remains bullish about the birdie opportunities that still lie ahead.

"This isn't the course where I go low on," Mickelson said. "I feel more comfortable on Stadium and Nicklaus. Neither of them are nearly as tight and I tend to score a lot lower on those other two than I do here, historically."