CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Justin Thomas steps out of Jordan Spieth's shadow, Rory McIlroy exits the PGA Championship with more questions than answers, Quail Hollow establishes itself as a flawed but fun major venue, and Tiger Woods ... where to even begin? All that and more in this edition of Monday Scramble.
Justin Thomas is no longer best known as Jordan Spieth's best buddy.
Thomas capped off a breakout season with his first major victory Sunday at Quail Hollow. During the 2016-17 campaign - which isn't over, by the way - Thomas has won four times, fired 59 in a PGA Tour round, signed his name to a 63 in a U.S. Open round, and hoisted the Wanamaker.
He isn't playing second fiddle to anybody, and right now he's got the edge on Spieth for Player of the Year honors.
Not even a month ago, it was Thomas standing behind the 18th green at Royal Birkdale, waiting to congratulate Spieth on capturing the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Thomas admitted after his win that watching Spieth that day drove him, it made him "hungry." Just a few weeks later, it was Spieth's turn to be part of the receiving line.
They're tight, but a sizable part of this relationship is based on these guys wanting to beat each other's heads in. There's some rivalry, some actual jealousy involved. Thomas said exactly that Sunday night. When these guys finally go head to head in a final round, it'll be a blast.
1. Spieth, McIlroy and Woods recalibrated our expectations for young players to an unfair degree. Relative to Spieth, Thomas' career got off to a slower start. And yet here he is, at 24 years old, with five PGA Tour wins and a major. You know the only other guys since 1960 to win four times with a major before the age of 25? Spieth, McIlroy, Woods and Jack Nicklaus. So much for that slower start.
Strangely, this is Thomas' first win in the contiguous United States. He won in back-to-back years in Malaysia and in back-to-back weeks in Hawaii.
2. Just a quick recap of this year in major championship golf for those of you keeping score at home.
Thomas and Brooks Koepka cashed in on all their long-driving promise, Spieth rounded third, Branden Grace recorded the first 62 in men's major championship history, and Sergio Freaking Garcia shed the label of TBPTNWAM and slipped on the green jacket.
Good luck, 2018. You've got a lot to live up to.
3. He had just one chance at it, and it was probably a little too much to ask.
Spieth will not become the youngest player to achieve the career Grand Slam after his T-28 finish at the PGA. And to hear him talk about his future chances, he might not be a young man at all when he – if he? – secures the final leg.
“The PGA Championship, I think, is going to be the toughest for me. If we look historically back on my career, I think I will play this tournament worse than the other three majors just in the way that it’s set up,” he said Saturday. “I feel like my game truly suits the other three majors maybe more than the PGA Championship. But I believe we can play anywhere and we can win anywhere. It's just a matter of having everything in sync at the right time.”
He has a point, at least as it relates to U.S. Open-like setup at Quail Hollow. But Spieth would have won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2015 had Jason Day not been the first player to reach 20 under par in a major. And the PGA tends to yield more birdies than the U.S. Open. He’ll be fine. (Remind me I wrote this in 20 years.)
4. And so the pre-tournament fantasy of a McIlroy-Spieth final-round battle never came to pass. Just like last week at Firestone, McIlroy overpowered Quail Hollow with his driving, finishing first in the field in strokes gained-off the tee. The problem is that he still finished T-22 at 1 over for the week.
McIlroy admitted Saturday night that the rib injury he suffered earlier this year is preventing him from practicing the way he wants to and he hinted that he was considering a break. He doubled-down on those comments Sunday, describing his future plans like this: "You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple weeks’ time. It really depends.”
He should opt for the former rather than the latter. Take the time, actually heal up, and come back 100 percent and ready to roll. Yeah, he can probably win in his current condition with all his firepower, but he has nothing left to prove in the FedExCup Playoffs or the Race to Dubai. The guy is going to be judged on what he does next April through August. He should start thinking about the Masters right now.
5. From one injury-hampered season to another, Dustin Johnson will exit 2017 without a major title – a group of words no one thought they would read or write five months ago. The world No. 1 won three consecutive starts before his slip and fall at the Masters, and he hasn’t been the same since.
The game’s best go through hot and cold streaks like anybody else, and DJ will look dominant again, but you wonder what might have been. Socks and hardwood floors. They’ll get you every time.
6. Props to Rickie Fowler. Also, poor Rickie Fowler. For the second major in a row, he was waiting to congratulate somebody else on their major victory as opposed to breaking through himself. As he spoke about Thomas' triumph Sunday night, he kept pivoting to his own pursuit of a major. He's got a great attitude and he's a supportive friend, but it was a clue that this is starting to get to him.
Bottom line, whenever it is that he's finally the guy walking down 18 en route to major victory, it'll be nice to see a cheering section for him, instead of a cheering section that includes him.
7. As for the current best player who has yet to win a major, it isn't Fowler, it's Hideki Matsuyama. After 54 holes, the PGA was his for the taking, and yet it was his playing competitor who walked away with the Wanamaker. Matsuyama's typically inconsistent putting hurt him over the weekend, as he played his final 36 holes 3 over par. The No. 2 player in the world carries the weight of a nation on his shoulders every week. There's a fishbowl element to his career that has to weigh on him.
8.Ya know, Quail Hollow faced an unusual amount of criticism for a PGA Championship venue. Players were lukewarm - at best - to the redesign. The greens were hard, the rough was high, and the pin placements were kind of dicey. The front nine is outstandingly, almost aggressively unremarkable (save for the first and seventh holes) and the fourth green is so preposterously undulated that it isn't capable of hosting four fair hole locations.
That all being said, this venue absolutely delivered on the back nine on Sunday. This finishing stretch of 14-18 is a rollercoaster of excitement with back-to-back eagle opportunities at 14 and 15 followed by the toughest three-hole close you'll find anywhere in golf.
It was a bumpy start to the week, but Quail Hollow ended up being everything the PGA of America could have wanted, and it's going to make for a tremendous Presidents Cup host in 2021. As for the difficulty? Thomas won at 8 under par. That's a pretty good target number for a major in 2017.
9. And make no mistake, the PGA Championship will return to Quail Hollow. It'll just be back in May.
Pete Bevacqua made it clear before the tournament even started the PGA of America intends to bring its major championship back here in the future, giving the organization another reliable southern setup as last week's announced date change makes preparing some northern venues a bit trickier.
What’s amusing about the schedule shakeup is what now becomes of The Players. The PGA Tour spent a lot of energy 10 years ago explaining why TPC Sawgrass and The Players would be so much better off in May. Color me excited to hear new arguments as to why March is the real sweet spot. Regardless, it will be nice to have The Players as the linchpin of the Florida swing again.
10. Bear in mind, the PGA and Players announcements are the beginning of the schedule shakeup – not the end of it. If the Tour season is going to end earlier, you can expect to see an expanded wraparound slate, as some tournaments move out of the spring and summer and into the fall. That’ll give the U.S. Ryder Cup committee something to consider when it comes to allocating points after the Tour Championship.
11. Following the worst round of his PGA Championship career (79!) and his second consecutive missed cut at a major, Phil Mickelson was asked before he left Quail Hollow if the absence of his long-time caddie Jim Mackay has anything to do with his recent performance.
His response: “I don’t know how that would really affect the shots that I’ve been hitting. I don’t know how that would play into it." So what is the problem? “It’s not like I’m hitting the ball crooked, I’m just hitting it in the wrong spots, and I’m just not really controlling my thought process, where I want the ball to go. I’m not real focused out there, and I’m having a tough time visualizing the shot. I’m having a tough time controlling my thoughts and not letting it wander to what I don’t want to have happen.”
It’s absolutely possible Mackay’s absence has nothing to do with a 47-year-old playing poorly at a couple major championships. But Phil and Bones made their … bones (sorry) … engaging in prolonged discussions about individual blades of grass and imperceptible changes in wind direction. Now Phil is unfocused? It’s hard not to connect those dots.
12. Speaking of Phil, Steve Stricker will likely have a decision to make. Mickelson has been a member of every Ryder and Presidents Cup team since 1994. Lefty is currently 17th in points and he'll have the FedExCup Playoffs to play his way onto the team or he’ll be in need of a captain’s pick.
Should he flash even a hint of form, the five-time major winner is a good bet to get the nod given his history and his relationships with his teammates.
But if Mickelson goes bust in his next two starts, Stricker could find himself in the unenviable spot of being the first captain to say no to Phil since the early days of the Clinton Administration.
13. From one potential captain’s pick to an actual captain’s pick, Paula Creamer will represent the United States this week at Solheim Cup in Iowa after being left off the team for a period of two days. She replaces the injured Jessica Korda, extending Creamer’s unbroken Solheim run that dates back to 2005.
Creamer needed a captain’s pick to make the team two years ago when she was 40th in the world. She’s now 110th. Worth note, alternate lists had to be submitted when the teams were initially announced.
Inkster, who is personally close with Creamer, put her at the top of that list for the same reasons she picked her outright two years ago – veteran leadership and past success. And while Creamer wasn’t her best heading into the matches in 2015, she left Germany 2-2-0 and the winner of her singles match, a key point in United States’ wild Sunday comeback.
Inkster had a host of other options ranked higher than Creamer – Angela Stanford, Mo Martin, Alison Lee, Nelly Korda – but she’s going with what she knows. Does that make it right move? Per usual, we’ll play the results at the end of the week.
14. The PGA Tour’s regular season reaches its end this week at the Wyndham Championship. Players finishing in the top 125 advance to the playoffs and – assuming they aren’t otherwise exempt beyond this season - retain their Tour status for 2017-18. Two interesting names to keep an eye on, No. 125 Geoff Ogilvy and No. 197 Hunter Mahan, who needs to stay inside the top 200 or he won't even qualify for the Web.com Finals.
It was another banner week for Tiger Woods. (It was not another banner week for Tiger Woods.) Updates in his DUI case aside, Woods’ love life made headlines this week when he took to Twitter to address a British tabloid that published pictures of him and his apparently ex-girlfriend Kristin Smith.
The report claimed the pictures were taken on Woods' boat on July 31, but Woods is denying that, stating that he and Smith "are no longer dating and haven’t since last year."
Contrary to the false Daily Mail article, Kristin Smith and I are no longer dating and haven’t since last year.— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) August 10, 2017
This, as commercials were running for a Reelz special on Woods’ past affairs that included a “re-enactment” of the events of Thanksgiving 2009, with the actress portraying Elin wielding a golf club.
Not all heroes wear capes: A weather stoppage pushed the completion of the PGA Championship’s second round to Saturday morning, but not for Rod Pampling, Thomas Pieters and Xander Schauffele. With all three players outside the cut line and the horn about to blow on Friday night because of darkness, Pampling rushed to the ninth tee and unleashed this work of art so that his group would be in the clear to complete their rounds and thus wouldn’t need to come back in the morning.
More of an Andra Day man: A big congratulations to Louis Oosthuizen for capturing the career Grand Slam of runner-ups. With his T-2 Sunday, Oosthuizen has finished second at all four majors championships, a feat that was evidently not lost on him Sunday night:
Just finished my career grand slam second's .. "I'll rise up" pic.twitter.com/083aRityWn— Louis Oosthuizen (@Louis57TM) August 14, 2017
Sixty percent of the time, it works every time: Asked just why the heck he decided to attempt that "low, bullet hook" en route to a quadruple bogey at the 18th hole on Saturday, Jason Day said that “nine times out of 10 I’ve got that shot." Yeah, well, I've got a cologne for him to pitch.
Natty Love: Smylie Kaufman, who I am sorry to report is now ineligible for a season of "The Bachelor(ette)," proposed to his girlfriend over the weekend. She said yes. Congrats to the happy couple.
So – good news and bad news about this wedding. There’s definitely an open bar, but there’s definitely only one option available.
On a slightly higher shelf, Smylie: It sounds like Daniel Berger already has plans for Thomas' new trophy.
Now I want to know how much titos fits in the Wannamaker @JustinThomas34— Daniel Berger (@DanielBerger59) August 13, 2017
You're probably about to find out, Daniel. Be sure to let us know, preferably via social media, preferably as it's happening.
Profiles in courage: To Chesson Hadley, who locked his keys in his car at the Web.com Tour Price Cutter Charity Championship’s but retained the “mental fortitude” to shoot an opening-round 7-under 65.
The orator Mick Foley used to speak of a particular brand of fortitude. Can’t remember what it was.
I said I saw it: And finally, Graham DeLaet very nearly recorded the second hole-in-one in PGA Tour history when his drive at the driveable par-4 14th lipped out on Saturday: