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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. 

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Rose leads halted Indonesian Masters; Snedeker WDs

By Associated PressDecember 15, 2017, 2:04 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead at the Indonesian Masters when bad weather stopped play Friday during the second round.

The Englishman, who shot a 10-under 62 on Thursday, had completed 13 holes and was 5 under on the day at the Royale Jakarta Golf Club course.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat (64) was in second place.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew wit on the 11th hole at 2 under for the day after shooting an opening 72.

There was no reason given for his withdrawal, but the American has been affected by a rib-sternum injury for most of the season. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.

Newsmaker of the Year: No. 2, Donald Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 1:00 pm

Even away from the White House, President Donald Trump generated plenty of headlines this year.

Trump’s first year in office didn’t dim his enthusiasm for the game, as he made splashy appearances at two big events, tweeted about golf to his more than 44 million followers, teed it up with some of the sport’s biggest stars, including Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy and Lexi Thompson, and fired a few eyebrow-raising scores. Logging more than 75 rounds since his inauguration, the 3-handicap has only bolstered his reputation as the best golfing president, particularly after his alleged 73 with Sen. Lindsey Graham.

None of his appearances created a bigger stir than when he attended the U.S. Women’s Open. Despite protests and calls for the USGA to move its premier women’s event from Trump Bedminster – the president reportedly threatened to sue – his weekend there went off without incident, as Trump watched the action and hosted players in his private box near the 15th green.


Full list of 2017 Newsmakers of the Year


Despite his controversial rhetoric on a variety of national issues, Trump has remained a staunch supporter of women’s golf, and he became the first sitting president to attend the U.S. Women’s Open.

An honorary chairman of the Presidents Cup, Trump also flew to Liberty National for the biennial team event, where he presented the trophy to the U.S. team and dedicated the victory to the hurricane victims in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico.

In late November, amid tweets about the national anthem, Turkey, Egypt and Time Magazine, Trump announced that he was playing a round in South Florida with Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Yes, that too became a headline, just like everything else Trump did in 2017.


Playing with the pros

Tiger, DJ and Faxon

Article: Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

Article: After DJ and Tiger, Trump plays golf with Jack

Rory faces criticism

Article: Rory: Round with Trump about respect for presidency

Article: Rory: Round with Trump not a 'political statement'


President at the Presidents Cup


Video: President Trump makes the rounds at Liberty National

Article: President Trump presents trophy to U.S. team

Article: Stricker: 'Great thrill' to get trophy from Trump


Purported round of 73 with Lindsey Graham

Article: Senator tweets Trump shot 73 in windy, wet conditions

Article: Graham offers details on Trump's round of 73


Cart on the green


Article: Trump appears to drive cart on Bedminster green


Presence and protests at U.S. Women's Open


Article: Trump makes presidential history at Women's Open

Article: Trump supporters, protesters clash near Women's Open

Article: UltraViolet takes protest inside Trump National


Photo gallery: President Trump at the U.S. Women's Open


Trump golf properties

Vandalism

Article: Environmental group vandalizes Trump golf course

Article: Man accused of vandalizing four Trump courses

Finances


Article: Two Trump courses in Scotland losing millions

Article: Eric Trump denies Russia helped fund golf courses

Article: Trump company ordered to pay $5.77M in dues dispute

Reportedly fake TIME covers


Article: Trump clubs display fake Time magazine cover


Trump apologizes for voter-fraud story

Report: Trump's voter fraud claim tied to Langer

Langer: Trump 'apologized' for story mix-up


Pros comment on the president

Article: Players defend Trump at Senior PGA Championship

Article: Trump congratulates Daly; Daly congratulates Trump

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Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 12:30 pm

Spieth, Thomas headline winter break trip to Cabo

By Grill Room TeamDecember 15, 2017, 1:05 am

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth. Really good at golf. Really good at vacationing.

With #SB2K18 still months away, Thomas and Spieth headlined a vacation to Cabo San Lucas, and this will shock you but it looks like they had a great time.

Spring break veteran Smylie Kaufman joined the party, as did Thomas' roommate, Tom Lovelady, who continued his shirtless trend.

The gang played all the hits, including shoeless golf in baketball jerseys and late nights with Casamigos tequila.

Image via tom.lovelady on Instagram.

In conclusion, it's still good to be these guys.