Danielle Kang wins a thriller, Kyle Stanley holds off Charles Howell III, Tommy Fleetwood sprints toward Birkdale, Kenny Perry sets records and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
Kang saw this breakthrough coming, even if few others did.
She wasn’t on fire heading into the KPMG Women’s PGA – she had only three top-10s in the past few months. And she wasn’t used to major pressure – her previous best finish was a tie for 17th.
Yet the 24-year-old former world-beater got help from those around her, and even up above, as she snapped a 143-event winless drought in capturing her first LPGA title (and major).
In a daily journal that she has written to her late father ever since he passed in 2013, Kang scribbled on the eve of the final round: “Just keep watching. I got this.”
And indeed she did.
1. It’s fair to say Kang’s victory was one of the most popular on the LPGA in years. Texts from all over the golf and pop-culture world poured in, as everyone from Dustin Johnson to Wayne Gretzky to Caitlyn Jenner to Marcus Allen wrote Kang to offer support, encouragement and then congratulations. They're all connections from Sherwood Country Club in LA, where she used to play and practice.
DJ’s congratulatory text on Sunday: “That’s how you’re supposed to play.”
2. Yeah, you could say bestie Michelle Wie and Kang are pretty tight:
3. Kang, a two-time U.S. Women's Amateur champion, also ended an American drought in one of the year’s biggest events. The San Francisco native is just the second U.S.-born winner in the past 17 editions of the Women’s PGA.
4. So much for that slump. Young Canadian star Brooke Henderson admitted to feeling the heat earlier this season when she failed to record a top-10 in her first 12 starts of the year. That all changed at the Meijer LPGA Classic, where she won at 21 under par, and then she closed with a 66 on Sunday at the Women’s PGA to scare Kang and finished second in her major title defense.
Moving into the heart of the season, she’s clearly playing better than both of her primary rivals, Lydia Ko and Ariya Jutanugarn.
5. It’s been a long, difficult road back to relevance for Stanley, who broke down in tears in his winner’s news conference afterward.
A can’t-miss kid out of Clemson, he had a standout rookie season in 2011 and won a year later. Almost nothing has gone right since.
He has been one of the Tour's worst putters. He went 42 consecutive starts without a top 10. He even split time on the PGA and Web.com tours.
But he showed that he was moving in the right direction with a tie for fourth at The Players, where he shared the 54-hole lead, and then he closed with 66 on Sunday, making a gutsy par on the first playoff hole to defeat Howell.
“There was some doubt there for a little bit,” Stanley said. “It’s no fun. You certainly question if you’ll get back and have a moment like this. It’s what makes this pretty special.”
6. Golf at the highest level has shifted away from drive-for-show, putt-for-dough mantra for a number of years now, and Stanley reminded us Sunday that for the elite ball-strikers, simply putting average will be good enough some weeks to get a W.
Stanley joined Jason Dufner (Memorial) as the only players to win on the PGA Tour this season with negative strokes gained-putting for the week. Stanley lost 0.28 strokes to the field on the greens (ranked 52nd) but was exceptional off the tee and approaching the green, ranking first and fourth, respectively.
7. There were many fans rooting for Howell on Sunday, and for good reason.
Though he has won only twice in his career – and not since 2007 – he has a whopping 16 second-place finishes. It looked like he was destined to get off the schneid on Sunday, until his 18-footer on the last green crawled over the left edge of the cup.
“I was really shocked that missed low,” he said. “I thought I made that.”
A win last week – after missing the previous nine weeks with a rib injury, and only nine days after he first hit balls – would have been a fitting result for his head-scratching career.
His runner-up finish (and $767,000 paycheck) pushed him over $33 million in career earnings. That ranks 21st all time.
8. Sung Kang called it bad timing. It was bad luck, too.
The forecast Sunday at the Quicken Loans National called for a 0 percent chance of rain. Instead, there was a five-minute squall late on the back nine, and it seemed to doom Kang's chances.
First he missed a 4-foot birdie putt on 16. And then, still soaked from the previous hole, he rinsed his tee shot on 17, leading to a double bogey.
Hard to blame the caddie in this situation. Blame the meteorologist!
9. Neither Howell nor Kang earned the victory, but they did receive a consolation prize: A spot in this month’s Open Championship.
Seemingly always on the bubble for the Masters, Howell’s appearance at Birkdale will be his first at The Open since 2012, and just his second major overall since 2014.
The other qualifiers were Stanley and Martin Laird.
10. As our focus narrows to the year’s third major, let’s set the over/under on the number of pre-tournament Open stories on Tommy Fleetwood at, say, 87.5.
The winner of the French Open grew up about five minutes from Royal Birkdale, host of this year’s Open, and he used to sneak onto the course as a youngster. There’s no way he’ll go under the radar now – he should be on everyone’s list of the top 10 contenders.
11. Fleetwood’s rise to No. 15 in the world still somehow feels underappreciated.
The Englishman won in Dubai and France, placed second in the WGC event in Mexico, posted another top-10 in the European Tour’s flagship event and finished fourth in the U.S. Open. He looks more like a grunge rocker than a primetime player, but he’s shown all year that he has the goods and should be taken seriously.
12. Low scores were all the rage once again at a USGA Open. What in the name of Mike Davis is going on here?
Just like at Erin Hills, where Brooks Koepka overpowered the longest course in U.S. Open history and shot 16 under to win, Kenny Perry went low to win Sunday.
Overnight rain before the first three rounds took all of the fire out of an already short Salem Country Club, and Perry’s 16-under 264 total was the lowest in tournament history – by three strokes. Kirk Triplett and Brandt Jobe also shot 62s, which tied the mark for the lowest scores ever in a senior major.
This was Perry's second U.S. Open title and ninth overall on the senior circuit.
13. Call off the Grand Slam watch. Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 74 and tied for 18th in his bid to capture a third consecutive senior major. Even worse is that slow-motion replay again showed that his left hand was a liiiiiittle too close to his sternum not to be considered anchoring. He met with USGA officials over the weekend to discuss the questions about the legality of his stroke, and he was eventually cleared.
“They brought it to my attention, but they said it was totally within the rules,” Langer said. “For people to be complaining, they often don’t know what they are talking about.”
People on social media lost their minds last week when it was announced that NBA star Steph Curry would receive a sponsor exemption into the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic next month.
Look, I can see both sides here.
The timing is not ideal. The tournament is played in August, as the Web.com is wrapping up its season, and playing opportunities that time of year could mean the difference in status for 2017-18. Totally get that.
But Curry is receiving one of the unrestricted sponsor exemptions, which means – you guessed it! – there are no restrictions on how it can be used. Most times, these are favors to tournament officials, feel-good stories, local heroes, whatever. This just so happened to go to one of the most famous athletes in the world, a 2 handicap who is still, according to some people, “taking a spot away from someone else.”
That’s just not true.
In all likelihood, that spot wasn’t going to a player who missed Monday qualifying by one shot, or a fresh college graduate in need of a spot start, or a guy on a money-list bubble. Curry will bring some much-needed attention to the Web.com – who knows, it could draw the attention of another sponsor – and when he shoots in the upper-70s and misses the cut, it’ll reinforce the massive divide between great everyday amateurs and the pros.
This week's award winners ...
Cuteness Overload: Spieth-Greller wannabes. See, this is what can happen when golf actually has a cool celebration for once.
Just Not Your Year: Michael Buttacavoli. If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he was the guy who had to withdraw from U.S. Open qualifying because an airline lost his clubs. Well, it happened again, this time as he prepared for British Open qualifying. Fortunately, his sticks eventually arrived in London, after another lengthy delay. If he doesn’t earn a major spot, he at least should get 100,000 airline points.
Very Good … and Very Bad: Rickie Fowler. He made a career-high nine birdies in the final round at TPC Potomac, but he also squandered a chance to win with a crushing double bogey on the drivable 14th hole, the easiest on the course. He tied for third, two shots back.
Tweet of the Week: Zac Blair. Indeed, two doubles in a three-hole span on the back nine proved costly, as he dropped into a tie for 29th.
Live look at my last 6 holes... pic.twitter.com/lybSLH5CEE— Zac Blair (@z_blair) July 2, 2017
Sorry, Mom: Haotong Li. His mom waded into a muddy hazard at the French Open to retrieve her son’s discarded putter. Except it was snapped into two pieces. Thomas Pieters' reaction is glorious.
Even the players had to laugh pic.twitter.com/ROHqKmOCXk— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) June 29, 2017
Finally Got In His Dig: Justin Thomas. It had been a few weeks since Johnny Miller undercut JT’s 63 with a line about how the U.S. Open was more like the Tour’s old Milwaukee event. Thomas was asked if he’d studied the list of the players who shot 63 in the U.S. Open. “I haven’t looked at who did it,” he said. “I know Johnny Miller has, because he reminds us of that quite a bit.”
When the Shanks Strike: Doug Garwood. He was cruising along in the U.S. Senior Open until he hit a vicious shank on the 54th hole. (All credit to him for laughing it off.) He wound up with double, his fourth dropped shot in the last four holes, and he eventually tied for 10th after a closing 71.
The pressure of the last hole ... another reason why this is the ultimate test in senior golf. https://t.co/rfmASKSDjC— USGA (@USGA) July 1, 2017
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Si Woo Kim. With Kim, we’ve officially reached the point where we’re guessing how he’s going to play. Always a risk to withdrawal, he instead shot 79 in the first round – this, after tying for 13th in the U.S. Open – and missed the cut by a mile. Sigh.