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.
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.
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.
This camera guy deserves a big raise. pic.twitter.com/dxCiosO7K7— Skratch (@Skratch) September 4, 2017
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.