Monday Scramble: The end, for better or worse

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 18, 2017, 2:00 pm

Marc Leishman stays hot, the Tour Championship field takes shape, the Evian becomes a farce and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Forty-six events down, just one more to go, and so much is still up for grabs.

The red-hot Leishman crashed the top 5 party, but the other four leading contenders for the FedExCup all are ranked inside the top 5 in the Official World Ranking. The system has worked, for now.

As the playoff No. 1, Jordan Spieth has the most mathematical scenarios working in his favor, and a victory this week at the Tour Championship could steal some Player of the Year votes from his longtime friend and rival Justin Thomas. The rest of the top 5 includes Dustin Johnson, who has won four times, including a playoff event, and Jon Rahm, who has enjoyed a meteoric rise in just 15 months as a pro.

East Lake seemingly always delivers high drama, no matter the protagonists.

Who rises to the occasion this year? 


1. A week after kicking away the title at TPC Boston, Leishman put on an absolute clinic at the BMW Championship.

He became just the second wire-to-wire winner this season. He made 29 birdies. And his 23-under total tied a tournament record.

“It’s just nice to put four good rounds on the board in a really big event,” he said. “Backing up what happened last week was probably the most satisfying thing for me.” 

2. Does this run by Leishman seem familiar?

It should recall Billy Horschel’s torrid stretch that bagged him the FedExCup title in 2014. That year, Horschel lost a heartbreaker in Boston (finished T-2), then ripped off wins at the BMW Championship and Tour Championship.

All Leish has done in the postseason is take the lead late in Boston (ultimately finishing third) and then win the BMW. He doesn’t have a great track record at East Lake – he tied for 28th (out of 30 players) in his lone appearance there, in 2009 – but his recent form suggests it might not matter.



3. The all-important top 5 is set. If any of those players win the Tour Championship, they also take the FedExCup.

That list:

1. Jordan Spieth

2. Justin Thomas

3. Dustin Johnson

4. Marc Leishman

5. Jon Rahm

Rickie Fowler had a chance to grab the fifth and final spot with a birdie on the 72nd hole, but his driver off the deck sailed left of the green, leaving him an awkward pitch from a thick lie. He couldn’t get up-and-down and settled for par. 

4. A closing 65 allowed Spieth to hold onto the No. 1 spot and kept alive his hopes of sweeping both the season-long title and Player of the Year honors.

Personally, this scribe would vote for Spieth over Thomas if the Golden Child wins the Tour Championship and FedExCup, but here’s thinking that his peers might not.

Spieth said this Sunday afternoon: “It would make it a tough call for other people if I were to win and win the FedExCup. You start looking at depth of the years and how they compare. But the major and five wins, if he doesn’t win next week, it’s still tough not to give the trophy to him.”



5. Of the players who moved inside the top 30 after the BMW Championship, Patrick Cantlay was the most inspiring. He made a 10-footer on the final green to earn his spot.

In February, your trusty correspondent filed this story on the former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world, who had fallen on hard times, injuring his back and losing his best friend and caddie in a hit-and-run accident.

In limited action this year, he played well enough to crack the top 30 in the standings – just the third player of the FedExCup era to qualify for the Tour Championship with a dozen or fewer starts. 

6. Jason Dufner claimed the 30th and final spot by 0.72 points over Louis Oosthuizen – or less than a shot over the course of an entire season.

The other notables missing out on the Tour Championship were Henrik Stenson, Phil Mickelson, Bill Haas, Charles Howell III, Charl Schwartzel, Zach Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau and Ian Poulter. 

Oh, and this guy ... 

7. Rory McIlroy’s tie for 58th ended a disappointing Tour season and continued an interesting trend.

Only two FedExCup champions have returned to East Lake the following year: Brandt Snedeker (2013) and Spieth (2015).

Dogged by a rib injury all year, McIlroy doesn’t have a win anywhere in a year. Though he’ll play twice more in Europe, he had six top-10s and eight top-25s in 14 starts. 

8. Keep an eye on Justin Rose for the FedExCup. His tie for second at the BMW was his third consecutive top-10 in the playoffs, and he moved to No. 8 in the standings. Now he heads to East Lake, where he has four top-6 finishes in a row. Hmm … 



9. Chalk up a big loss for Mike Whan.

On Thursday, the LPGA commissioner not only scrubbed first-round scores at the Evian Championship, but he also turned the fifth and final major of the year into a 54-hole affair. Remember: This move was made on Thursday, and it was made, in part, because of a poor Sunday forecast. At the time, it seemed woefully premature. (Let’s just see how the rest of the week goes, no?) By Sunday afternoon, it was indeed horribly miscalculated.

Weather was not an issue Sunday – at least not until rain (and hail) began to fall as the final group made its way up 18, a problem that could have been solved by not having the first group go off at 9:22 a.m. local time. They easily could have played 36 Saturday. Heck, with no tournament next week, they could have played the final 18 on Monday or Tuesday. But Whan, three days too early, decided to make an LPGA major 54 holes for the just the second time in 20 years, diminishing the credibility of the event.

A major season that began with a rules controversy ended with poor decision-making from its top officials. Shame.

10. Still, a tip of the cap to Anna Nordqvist, who prevailed with a bogey on the first playoff hole to put away Brittany Altomare.

Nordqvist, who has struggled with mononucleosis over the past few months, shot bookend 66s (and played an 11-hole stretch in 8 under Sunday) and holed a clutch 5-footer on the first extra hole in some of the worst conditions you could ever imagine: cold, rain, hail, wind.

It’s her second major title (2009 Women's PGA), and it was sweet redemption for the close call at last year’s Women’s Open, when she was penalized for moving a few grains of sand in her backswing.

11. Tournament officials have taken some of the excitement out of the event after converting Evian Resort's par-5 18th hole into a difficult par 4.

Lydia Ko and Moriya Jutanugarn came to the final hole needing a par to get into the playoff, but each player made bogey.

Ko missed a 12-foot slider, while Jutanugarn sailed the green with her wedge shot. The playoff was brutal to watch, too.

Ko now has gone 29 starts since her last victory. The player who was supposed to challenge her, Ariya Jutanugarn, has missed the cut or withdrawn from seven of her last eight events.



12. The Evian was the final LPGA start for Ai Miyazato, one of the tour’s most popular players who announced earlier this year that she was stepping away because of a lack of motivation, burned out after more than a decade in the spotlight.

One of Japan’s biggest sports stars, Miyazato hasn’t yet decided how she’ll spend retirement but said that she has no reservations about her decision. She finishes her career with 15 wins on the JLPGA and nine on the LPGA. 

Judging by the reaction among her peers, she will be missed.

13. Some other quick hits ...

• At the Boise Open, it was Alex Cejka, Tyler Duncan and Jonathan Randolph who clinched their cards for next season by virtue of their good play. Chesson Hadley, who had already secured his status for next season, earned the title.

• The top 5 players on the Mackenzie Tour (Canadian) money list earn Web.com Tour cards for next season. For college golf fans, that group includes some familiar names: Kramer Hickok, Robby Shelton and Rico Hoey, the latter of whom won the season finale Sunday. Lee McCoy was No. 6. 

• The good times continue to roll for the U.S. Walker Cup team. Oregon’s Norman Xiong and Wake Forest’s Will Zalatoris, who teamed up to blow out Team GB&I a week ago at Los Angeles Country Club, shared medalist honors in their first college event of the season. 


Ben Crane’s chances of earning his PGA Tour card for next season may have taken a hit last week with a bizarre DQ at the Boise Open.

In the first round, the PGA Tour veteran was hit with a pair of four-shot penalties for carrying two non-conforming clubs. The clubs themselves were fine, but his driver and 6-iron still had the dot sticker details from swing testing. That’s a no-no, and he was later disqualified.

With a sixth-place finish in the Web.com Tour Finals opener (worth $34,750), Crane should need just a few decent finishes the next two weeks to secure his card via the Finals money list. 

This week's award winners ... 


Clutch, Part 1: Tony Finau. With a chip-in birdie on 18, he capped off a final-round 64, moved inside the top 30 in points and earned his first invitation to the Masters.

Clutch, Part 2: Xander Schauffele. The Greenbrier champion played his last six holes in 6 under to reach the Tour Championship and seize control of the Rookie of the Year race. He's one of only two first-timers to advance to East Lake.

If There’s a Will …: This kid. Gotta want it, man. 


End of an Era: Phil Mickelson. He didn't qualify for East Lake. And this was his first time in 27 years that he didn’t have a top-3 finish on Tour. Still hard to believe, but Tiger has won more recently than Phil. 

Quote of the Week: Phil. After watching Sergio Garcia’s excruciatingly long wait for a ruling on the 18th hole, and then holing the putt for birdie anyway, Lefty offered this: “I was thinking, This is what my playing partners go through most of the time.”  

Smart Man: David Skinns. Even in the cutthroat world of golf’s minor leagues, Skinns made the right call by withdrawing from last week’s Web.com Tour Finals event to be with his wife, who had gone into labor. Tied for ninth at the halfway point, he likely needed only to finish in the top 5 to earn his Tour card for next season. 

When Real Life Intervenes: Japan Golf Tour. Thanks to Matt Griffin for bringing this to our attention – an event was stopped last week because of North Korea’s missile testing. Scary stuff. 


Oh, So They Can Play Fast: Wesley Bryan. First off Sunday at the BMW, the Tour rookie made it ’round in 1 hour, 28 minutes. The best part? He shot 69. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. Remember when the young Japanese star was the hottest player in golf, like, a month ago? He hasn’t finished better than 23rd in the playoffs, and now, at No. 7 in the standings, he’s on the outside looking in for the FedExCup. Sigh. 

If Park is nervous, she sure doesn't show it

By Randall MellNovember 17, 2017, 11:24 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park says she can feel her heart pounding every time she steps to the first tee.

She says she always gets nervous starting a round.

You don’t believe it, though.

She looks like she would be comfortable directing a sky full of Boeing 737s as an air traffic controller at Incheon International Airport . . .

Or talking people off the ledges of skyscrapers . . .

Or disarming ticking bombs . . .

“In terms of golf, I always get nervous,” she insists.

Everything about Park was at odds with that admission Friday, after she took control halfway through the CME Group Tour Championship.

Her Korean nickname is “Dan Gong,” which means “Shut up and attack.” Now that sounds right. That’s what she looks like she is doing, trying to run roughshod through the Tour Championship in a historic sweep of all the LPGA’s most important awards and honors.

Park got just one look at Tiburon Golf Club before this championship began, playing in Wednesday’s pro-am. Then she marched out Thursday and shot 67, then came out Friday and shot 65.

At 12 under overall, Park has a three-shot lead on Caroline Masson and Sarah Jane Smith.

She is six shots up on Lexi Thompson, who leads the CME Globe point standings in the race for the $1 million jackpot.

She is 11 shots up on world No. 1 Shanshan Feng.

And 11 shots up on So Yeon Ryu, who leads the Rolex Player of the Year point standings.


CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship


There’s a long way to go, but Park is in position to make an epic sweep, to win the Tour Championship, that CME Globe jackpot, the Rolex Player of the Year Award, the Rolex Rookie of the Year Award, the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Rolex world No. 1 ranking.

Nobody’s ever dominated a weekend like that in women’s golf.

It’s all there for the taking now, if Park can keep this going.

Park has another nickname back in South Korea. Her fans call her “Namdalla.” That means “I am different.” She’ll prove that if she owns this weekend.

Park, 24, isn’t assuming anything. She’s humbly aware how much talent is flooding the LPGA, how the tour’s depth was underscored in a year where five different players have reigned as world No. 1, five different players won majors and 22 different winners stepped forward in 32 events.

“I don’t think it’s quite that far a lead,” Park said of her three-shot advantage. “Two, three shots can change at any moment.”

About those nerves that Park insists plague her, even Hall of Famer Judy Rankin can’t see it.

Not when Park unsheathes a driver on a tee box.

“She’s the most fearless driver of the ball out here,” Rankin said. “I would put Lexi a close second and everybody else a distant third. She hits drivers on holes where you shouldn’t, and she hits it long and she just throws it right down there between hazard stakes that are 10 yards apart, like it’s nothing. Now, that’s a little hyperbole, but she will hit driver almost everywhere.”

David Jones, Park’s caddie, will attest to that. He was on Park’s bag when she won the U.S. Women’s Open in July and won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open in August.

“She reaches for driver a lot because she is a good driver,” Jones said. “She isn’t reckless. She’s as accurate with a driver as she is a 3-wood.”

Park and Thompson played together in the first round. Park is eighth on tour in driving distance, averaging 270 yards per drive, and Thompson is third, averaging 274.

Thompson loves to hit driver, too, but . . . 

“Lexi hit a lot of 3-woods compared to us when we played together yesterday,” Jones said.

Jones doesn’t find himself talking Park out of hitting driver much.

“It’s really simple,” Jones said. “When you hit driver as straight as she does, why mess around?”

Count Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee, a student of the swing, among admirers of Park’s abilities.

“No other swing in the game comes close to her technical perfection and elegance in my opinion,” Chamblee tweeted Friday.

Come Sunday, Park hopes to complete a perfect sweep of the LPGA’s most important awards.

National champion Sooners meet with Trump in D.C.

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 11:10 pm

The national champion Oklahoma men's golf team visited Washington D.C. on Frday and met with President Donald Trump.

Oklahoma topped Oregon, 3 1/2 to 1 1/2, in last year's national final at Rich Harvest Farms to win their second national championship and first since 1989.

These pictures from the team's trip to Washington popped up on social media late Friday afternoon:

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Web.com Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook made a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at the RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without a bogey on the Plantation and Seaside courses at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside - the site of the final two rounds in the last PGA Tour event of the calendar year - on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

''We've just been able to it hit the ball really well,'' Cook said. ''Speed on greens has been really good and getting up-and-down has been great. I've been able to hit it pretty close to the hole to make some pretty stress-free putts. But the couple putts that I have had of some length for par, I've been able to roll them in. Everything's going well.''

The 26-year-old former Arkansas player was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

The 45-year-old Gay won the last of his four PGA Tour titles in 2013.


RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic


''I've hit a lot of greens and fairways,'' Gay said. ''I've hit the ball, kept it in front of me. There's a lot of trouble out here, especially with the wind blowing, so I haven't had to make too many saves the first couple days and I putted well.''

Cook has made the weekend cuts in all four of his starts this season. He earned his PGA Tour card through the Web.com Tour, and has hired Gay's former caddie, Kip Henley.

''With him being out here so long, he knows everybody, so it's not like I'm completely the new kid on the block,'' Cook said. ''He's introduced me to a lot of people, so it's just making me feel comfortable out here. He knows his way around these golf courses. We're working really well together.''

First-round leader Chris Kirk followed his opening 63 on the Plantation with a 70 on the Seaside to drop into a tie for third at 9 under with C.T. Pan (65) and Vaughn Taylor (66).

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back at 8 under.

''I was hitting the ball really well coming down here,'' Snedeker said. ''I was anxious to see how I would hold up under pressure. I haven't played a tournament in five months, so it's held up better than I thought it would. Ball-striking's been really good, mental capacity's been unbelievable.

''I think being so fresh, excited to be out there and thinking clearly. My short game, which has always been a strength of mine, I didn't know how sharp it was going to be. It's been really good so far.''