Golf joins the Olympic program, Justin Rose outduels Henrik Stenson, Gil Hanse produces a gem, the regular season is coming to a close and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
After months of handwringing, golf finally returned to the Olympics last week, and you know what? It was a pretty darn good show.
No, it wasn’t perfect. The field was watered down. The format lacked drama. It felt like just another tournament … only it wasn’t.
Rose’s spirited reaction on the 72nd hole said it all. The players in Rio were heavily invested.
What transpired over the past four days was just about the best possible scenario for the Olympic golf movement. A sellout crowd was treated to a stirring duel between a pair of major champions, with another world-class player firing the best round of his career to capture the bronze.
It was just the kind of performance that golf needed to convince the International Olympic Committee that it deserved to stay in the program, despite its lack of star power.
The turnout in Tokyo in 2020 should be even better, as the world's best chase a goal they never knew they wanted. Until now.
1. For a guy who missed his first 21 cuts as a pro, Rose has amassed a rather impressive career résumé.
He won a U.S. Open. He won a World Golf Championships event. He won PGA Tour events on big-boy courses like Congressional and Muirfield Village.
And now he has a gold medal.
2016 has been a largely forgettable campaign for the classy Englishman, who suffered a back injury in the spring and only recently has begun playing his way back into shape. Rio has been circled on his calendar for months, and it showed.
“I made a big deal of this all year,” he said.
2. Though it was ecstasy for Rose, it was another what-could-have-been showing for Stenson.
After a performance for the ages at Royal Troon, the Swede was in position to go back-to-back at the PGA before his putter went cold and he made double on the 15th after a few stubbed pitch shots. Two weeks later, he was in a taut battle with Rose before his back “locked up” on the 13th tee. He needed about five minutes of therapy before he could continue.
Stenson didn’t blame his runner-up finish on his health, but he hit uncharacteristically poor shots on each of the next three holes.
“You can’t say it’s purely down to that,” he said, “but I don’t think it was a helping thing, if I put it that way.”
A shame, really.
3. Matt Kuchar closed with an 8-under 63 to surge past the rest of the contenders and grab the bronze medal, which was arguably the second-most impressive result of his career.
Even if you can't name any of his non-Players wins, you'll remember he took home the bronze in the first Olympics since 1904.
It's not a bad haul seeing how Kuchar was (A) was one of the last players in the Olympic field, and (B) unaware of the format until, like, a week and a half ago. (Hopefully he's not at the Olympic course today, waiting for the team competition to begin.)
Remember: Kuchar only became eligible for the Olympics after making a 12-foot birdie putt on the final hole at Firestone last month. That bumped him inside the top 15 in the world. Then he became the fourth and final member of Team USA after both Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth decided to withdraw.
“I’ve never been so happy with a third-place finish in my life,” he said.
4. As for the rest of the Americans … well, at least they got to meet some other athletes, right?
Patrick Reed closed with 64 to salvage a T-11 finish, but Bubba Watson became an unlikely ambassador for the Olympic Games, calling the experience “one of the greatest golf trips I’ve ever been on.”
Earlier in the week, he joked (we think) that golf “gets in my way” of watching other sports. The same may have been true for Rickie Fowler, whose only on-course highlight was a Saturday 63. He tied for 37th against a mediocre field and added this week’s Wyndham Championship as an emergency start. Few players would don the USA gear more proudly or be a better addition in the team room, but he doesn’t help a Ryder Cup team with golf like this.
5. One simple way to improve the Olympics? Add a team component.
It doesn’t even require any additional work!
Nineteen countries had at least two participants, so just combine the two best 72-hole scores from each squad and crown a team winner. Just like that, the biggest knock on the Games – that the players are competing more for themselves than their country – would be erased.
It's an absolute must for 2020.
6. Oh, and by the way … Stenson would have a gold medal if there were a team race, because he helped lead Sweden (along with David Lingmerth) to the top score overall, 20 under, tied with the United States.
Great Britain (16 under) would have taken bronze, while Spain (15 under) would just miss out. It was a missed opportunity, but the IOC is likely to reexamine the format before Tokyo.
7. There is a growing chorus of match-play proponents, but there are a few reasons why it wouldn’t work in the Games.
The biggest (and most important): There isn’t enough depth among countries to form two-man teams. Sure, the U.S., Australia, Great Britain and South Africa could all form formidable squads, but what about India? And Brazil? And Thailand? One good player, or even a great one, wouldn't be enough.
The 72-hole stroke-play format is the only way to ensure a somewhat level playing field for the participants.
8. Three men beamed on the podium, but the happiest man in Rio on Sunday evening might have been Hanse.
The accomplished course designer faced countless obstacles, including lawsuits and delays because of land and environmental concerns, as he tried to build the Olympic venue. It was finally completed at the beginning of the year, not that you would have known watching the competition – the course looked and played flawlessly.
That much was unknown, of course, because the only tournament ever played on the Olympic course was a nine-player test event this spring. After the Games are over, the Olympic course will become the first public course in Brazil.
Hanse and his indefatigable team deserve their own medal.
9. In an event with only three medals and no prize money up for grabs, there isn’t much difference between fifth place and 50th.
That was the unfortunate reality for Marcus Fraser, the unlikely 36-hole leader who slid into a tie for fifth, five shots back of a medal.
The Australian, who was fifth in line to represent his country in Rio after a spate of WDs, raced out to an opening 63 and led at the halfway point. He wasn’t the same player over the weekend, however, when the pressure ratcheted up. He shot consecutive rounds of 72 while alongside Rose and Stenson, squandering a three-shot cushion over fourth place.
“I’m a proud Australian!” he tweeted afterward. “I gave it everything I had this week all for our great flag!”
10. Meanwhile, back here in the States … Ryan Moore ended four and a half months of middling play with a two-shot victory at the John Deere Classic.
One of the biggest takeaways here was that Moore is finally healthy.
He's been battling a left-ankle injury for the past five years, but he began working with trainer Brian Chandler in Las Vegas and reported that this was his first pain-free week during that span. “That’s a huge victory for me to just feel good,” he said.
Though he isn’t likely to challenge golf’s upper echelon anytime soon – his ball-striking isn’t strong enough to contend on a weekly basis against the world’s best – this was Moore’s fifth career PGA Tour title. That’s the same number as Stenson and John Daly.
11. Here’s how the FedEx Cup bubble looks heading into the final week of the regular season:
- 120. Blayne Barber (465 points)
- 121. David Toms (455)
- 122. Seung-Yul No (454)
- 123. Sung Kang (451)
- 124. Matt Jones (445)
- 125. Whee Kim (444)
- 126. Scott Stallings (443)
- 127. Kyle Stanley (442)
- 128. Nick Taylor (441)
- 129. Steve Marino (429)
- 130. Bronson Burgoon (428)
- 131. Morgan Hoffmann (424)
- 132. Chris Stroud (410)
- 133. Shawn Stefani (404)
- 134. Chad Collins (404)
- 135. Steve Wheatcroft (400)
There were a few notable shifts after the Deere, with runner-up Ben Martin jumping from 121st to 59th; Johnson Wagner going from 125th to 109th; and Whee Kim (who finished third) moving from 154th to squarely on the bubble at 125.
Wheatcroft is one worth watching this week in Greensboro. Don’t forget he was in line for a playoff last month in Canada but got an unlikely break on 18, with his ball settling in a bare spot in the greenside bunker. He tied for fifth there and lost valuable FedEx Cup points.
After missing another cut, the Robert Allenby was arrested at an Illinois casino on Aug. 13 and charged with disorderly conduct and criminal trespassing.
Even more of a head-scratcher was his response afterward, to USA Today Sports: "There’s nothing to be said or done about. Nothing happened." He said he had "no idea" about the charges, despite the fact that he was, you know, released from jail.
And so continues his troubles over the past 20 months, ever since he was robbed and beaten in Hawaii.
Surely Allenby will be reprimanded by the Tour for another embarrassing episode, and any time off might do him well – he’s missed 34 of 41 cuts the past two years, including 20 of the past 22.
This week's award winners ...
Making The Most of Their Opportunity: Rose, Stenson and Kuchar. It's not just talk: The Olympics probably will be a once-in-a-lifetime experience for all three medalists. At the 2020 Games, Rose will be 40, Stenson 44 and Kuchar 42.
So, Everybody is On the Same Team, Right?: Golf’s leaders. Sure seemed odd that both the PGA Tour and USGA held events this week opposite the first Olympic Games in more than a century. The European Tour, meanwhile, was idle. So much for the IOC having golf's "full support."
Random Thought of the Week: Maybe it was a good thing Adam Scott decided to bypass the Olympics – his caddie, Steve Williams, would have destroyed hundreds of fans' cellphones. Sounds like they needed a translator for "PUT THE PHONES AWAY!"
A Match Made in Watery-Beer Heaven: Smylie Kaufman and Natty Light. Seriously, this is a cool partnership, and a good idea, even if it's the worst beer known to man.
The Power of Math: Tom Watson. Old Tom got a little surly with his caddie at the U.S. Senior Open when he couldn’t quickly crunch the numbers for an approach shot. Yes: 97+17=114.
Auspicious Debut: Aaron Wise. The NCAA champion made his first Tour start at the John Deere, finishing in a tie for 16th. He has spent the summer competing on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, where he has a win and a pair of top-15s.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Zach Johnson. Back-to-back weeks in this spot for Johnson, who tied for 34th in an event where he'd finished third or better in six of the past seven years. Sigh.