Monday Scramble: Win-win for Thomas, Lewis

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 5, 2017, 3:00 pm

Justin Thomas wins a PGA Tour-best fifth title, Presidents Cup teams take shape, Stacy Lewis breaks her winless drought for Houston and more in this week's edition of the Monday (Tuesday?) Scramble:

The number of contenders for the PGA Tour Player of the Year award is narrowing.

Justin Thomas moved one step closer with a 63-66 finishing kick at the Dell Technologies Championship to win for the fifth time this season.

Tour players vote for the award, so it’s a bit of a guessing game, but common sense suggests that Jordan Spieth and Dustin Johnson will need to win the final two events of the season to steal Player of the Year from Thomas (though even that might not be enough).

A playoff victory was an important résumé-booster for Thomas, who already had a major, a 59, three other Tour titles and a record-breaking 63 at the U.S. Open.

The Year of JT continues. 


1. Maybe he didn’t have a run at the Grand Slam like Spieth in 2015, but Thomas is putting together one of the most memorable seasons in recent memory.

With this victory, he is now just the fourth player since 1960 to win five times, including a major, during a PGA Tour season. The others? Jack Nicklaus, Tiger Woods (twice) and Spieth.  

Spieth capped his memorable year in 2015 with a FedExCup title. Thomas is now No. 2 in the standings.  

2. How to win on the PGA Tour?

It’ll look a lot like Justin Thomas’ week at TPC Boston. In every facet of the game, he put on a clinic, finishing in the top 11 in strokes gained-off the tee, approach the green, around the green and putting. He missed 21 greens … and got up and down for par 20 times. 

3. The FedExCup has its faults, but there’s little doubt that the playoffs bring the best out of today’s stars.

Check out the caliber of players who have won the last 10 playoff events: Jason Day, Rickie Fowler, Spieth, Patrick Reed, Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson and Thomas.

Stout. 

4. Another week, another runner-up finish for Spieth.

After going out in 30, he carded three bogeys in the final seven holes and came up three shots short. But given his starting position, and his torrid start, this second-place showing was easier to stomach than the playoff opener at the Northern Trust, where he squandered a five-shot lead over Dustin Johnson.

“I’m not going to be as down on myself as I was last week,” he said. “I’m pleased with the way I finished off. [The putts] just didn’t quite go in.”  

And if there’s any consolation, he moved to No. 1 in the points standings, 27 points ahead of Thomas. Woods is the only player to win multiple cups. 

5. Like Spieth, the back nine featured plenty of surprises for Marc Leishman, too.

Out in 30, he moved two shots in front but bogeyed the first three holes on the back nine. He lost two more shots coming home, on 17 and 18, to come home in 40 and drop into solo third.

Those two miscues were worth $350,000 – and potentially much more in FedExCup bonuses. 

“It’s a disappointing end to the week,” he said, “but I can take a lot of positives out of it.” 



6. The rosters for the upcoming Presidents Cup are nearly set.

Three players on the U.S. side qualified for their first team competition: Daniel Berger, Kevin Kisner and Kevin Chappell.

Another would-be first-timer, Charley Hoffman, got bumped from the 10th and final qualifying spot, but based on how close he came (he was clipped by less than a point) and his form this season, he’s a good bet for one of Steve Stricker’s captain’s picks.

The other? That is almost surely Phil Mickelson, especially after Lefty, who said he saw a doctor about his recent inability to focus, tied for sixth in Boston. This would be his 23rd consecutive team appearance.

Though it’d be nice to see Stricker go outside the box with these picks – Brian Harman would be a tough out, Tony Finau is perfect for fourballs, and Patrick Cantlay has been terrific in limited action this year – chances are he takes Hoffman and Mickelson.

7. How about the Internationals?

Adam Hadwin secured the 10th and final spot, but captain Nick Price has fewer appealing options than Stricker.

Much fewer.

Hideto Tanihara and Emiliano Grillo, Nos. 11 and 12 in points, respectively, have combined for one top-10 since May.

Haotong Li finished third in The Open, after a stellar final round, but he backed it up with consecutive missed cuts. Anirban Lahiri’s runner-up at Memorial was his only top-10 in a Tour event this year.  

No matter whom Price selects, the visitors will be a massive underdog at Liberty National.    

8. Among the players whose season ended last week in Boston, after failing to crack the top 70 in points:

  • Adam Scott
  • Bubba Watson (set for more than a four-month layoff)
  • Harold Varner III
  • Patrick Rodgers
  • Chris Stroud

The only players to move from outside to inside the top 70 in Boston were Rafa Cabrera Bello, Emiliano Grillo and Stewart Cink.

9. What seemed like a curious decision hasn’t paid off for McIlroy. Not yet, anyway.

Battling a nagging rib injury, McIlroy was a non-factor at the playoff opener, then missed the cut in his title defense at TPC Boston.

Afterward, he admitted: “I’m sort of waiting for the season to end and that’s reflected in the way I’m playing.”

His PGA Tour season could end in two weeks. At No. 51 in the standings, he needs a good performance at the BMW to return to the Tour Championship. 



10. And here we thought I.K. Kim would own the LPGA’s feel-good story of the year, winning the Women’s British Open five years after her short miss.

Sunday in Portland, Houstonian Stacy Lewis snapped a three-year winless drought and donated all of her $195,000 check to Hurricane Harvey relief efforts.

There is no cheering in the press tent, but it was hard not to pull for Lewis down the stretch. Not only was there the charitable angle – that was the kind of selfless gesture that has endeared Lewis to fans over the past couple of years. But there was the competitive part, too. No one has come closer more often over the past few years than Lewis, a former world No. 1 who has endured 12 runner-up finishes since her last victory, in June 2014.

Even she admitted afterward that she needed to relearn how to win.

“I’m excited to get the monkey off my back and know I can do it,” she said. “I can hit the shots when I need to, hole the putts when I need to. It’s nice to see yourself do that again.” 

11. Lewis got even more good news after her victory.

Two of Lewis’ sponsors stepped up in a big way, with KPMG matching Lewis’ donation and Marathon Petroleum kicking in another $1 million.

Lewis, who has lived in the Houston area since age 11, said her family’s home was spared from the disaster. 



12. Peter Uihlein is heading home.

The former American amateur star, who headed to Europe to travel the world and hone his game, earned his PGA Tour card in his first try, winning the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, the first event in the Web.com Tour Finals.

At No. 89 in the world, Uihlein was the highest-ranked player in the field in Columbus. It took him six years – longer than Brooks Koepka – but like his South Florida pal, Uihlein showed that there’s more than one way to secure a Tour card.

"Obviously it's an unconventional route," Uihlein said, "but it’s something I would do over in a second, absolutely."


Tip of the cap, Kelly Kraft, because this is actually really hard to do – rinsing two shots, taking another penalty and three-putting from 5 ½ feet for a septuple-bogey 12. And most of the damage came from inside 160 yards!

Kraft was 10 over for the day when he eventually withdrew during the first round at TPC Boston, citing a foot injury that has bothered him for the past month. The WD ended his season.

Kraft will return next month at the season-opening Safeway Open. 

This week's award winners ... 


Commence Masters Watch 2018!: Tiger Woods. With his tweet last week that he’s been given the green light to start hitting pitch shots, yeah, you’re going to read a lot about his progress in the months leading up to the year’s first major.  

Why You Shouldn’t Break Your Putter on Anything But the 18th Hole: Sergio Garcia. After slamming his putter into a sprinkler head on the fourth hole, the Masters champion was left to putt with three clubs for the rest of the round (driver, fairway wood, 3-iron). Not surprisingly, he shot 4 over. 



Go Ahead and Try This One Again: TPC Boston’s par-4 12th. With a scoring average of 4.343, it played as the hardest hole all week. Architect Gil Hanse defended his work, which he should, but if players are going down an adjacent fairway to approach the green, well, it’s just not a good hole. 

Another of Justin Thomas’ Good Buddies: Tom Lovelady. Thomas’ current roommate and former teammate at Alabama is headed to the Tour after making birdie on the last and tying for third in the Web.com Tour Finals opener.  

Also Heading to the Big Leagues: Celine Boutier. A former Player of the Year at Duke, the 23-year-old won on the Symetra Tour for the second time this season to lock up an LPGA card for next year. 

Best Move of the Week: NBC cameraman. Zeroed in on Leishman in the hazard short of 18 green, the camera guy somehow got out of the way of this errant pitch. 


That’s How You Start a Season: Oklahoma State. The preseason No. 1 Cowboys shot 52 under (!) at Pebble Beach, with Hayden Wood and Texas Tech’s Hurly Long sharing medalist honors at 19 under (!), as Long shot a second-round 61 (!). 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Rory. The all-time earnings leader at TPC Boston, and the Tour’s leader in strokes gained-off the tee, he struggled with a two-way miss for two rounds and flamed out with a surprising missed cut. Sigh. 

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told GolfChannel.com Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when GolfChannel.com sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.


Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery


A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.

Love's hip surgery a success; eyes Florida swing return

By Rex HoggardNovember 22, 2017, 3:31 pm

Within hours of having hip replacement surgery on Tuesday Davis Love III was back doing what he does best – keeping busy.

“I’ve been up and walking, cheated in the night and stood up by the bed, but I’m cruising around my room,” he laughed early Wednesday from Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center in Birmingham, Ala., where he underwent surgery to replace his left hip. “[Dr. James Flanagan, who performed the surgery] wants me up. They don’t want me sitting for more than an hour.”

Love, 53, planned to begin more intensive therapy and rehabilitation on Wednesday and is scheduled to be released from the hospital later this afternoon.

According to Love’s doctors, there were no complications during the surgery and his recovery time is estimated around three to four months.

Love, who was initially hesitant to have the surgery, said he can start putting almost immediately and should be able to start hitting wedges in a few weeks.

Dr. Tom Boers – a physical therapist at the Hughston Orthopedic Clinic in Columbus, Ga., who has treated Fred Couples, Phil Mickelson, Greg Norman and Brad Faxon – will oversee Love’s recovery and ultimately decide when he’s ready to resume normal golf activity.

“He understands motion and gait and swing speeds that people really don’t understand. He’s had all of us in there studying us,” Love said. “So we’ll see him in a couple of weeks and slowly get into the swing part of it.”

Although Love said he plans to temper his expectations for this most recent recovery, his goal is to be ready to play by the Florida swing next March.