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Monday Scramble: DJ officially off his 'buts'

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DJ goes back-to-back. So does Henderson, only in a different way. Troon puts a potentially volatile issue to rest, and Tiger stays on the sidelines. All this and more in this Fourth of July edition of Monday Scramble.

Reputations are slow to change, but we think it’s safe to say Dustin Johnson is being seen in a whole new light. The guy with the most imposing physical presence on Tour, Johnson teased us with his talent for a long time. 

Prior to this season, he had won at least one event in eight straight seasons and had claimed two World Golf Championship titles - but never a major. On the biggest stages, something always seemed to happen. In 2010, he made it to the final pairing on Sunday in the U.S. Open, then shot 82. That same year he took a one-shot lead to the final hole of the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits, and appeared to be headed to a playoff after closing with a bogey, but he was derailed when what he thought was not a bunker turned out to be just that.

In the 2011 Open Championship, he again made it to the final group on Sunday, but he hit a ball out of bounds at the 14th hole, and his chances disappeared with it. In 2015 he had a chance to win the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay, but he three-putted the final hole from 12 feet and lost to Jordan Spieth. He bounced right back and grabbed the 36-hole lead at The Open, but shot 75-75 over the weekend.

The common denominator in all those sentences? There’s always a “but.”

Johnson finally got off his major schneid last month at Oakmont, winning the U.S. Open. Then he chased down World No. 1 Jason Day to win the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational with a combination of power driving and precision putting.

Golf is a funny, fickle game. It can treat you like a king one minute, like chicken a la king the next. So there’s no guarantee that DJ will win – or even be a factor – in next week’s Open Championship at Royal Troon. But won’t it be fun to watch him?

1. Speaking of Royal Troon, the membership voted “overwhelmingly” last Friday to admit female members. “We have said a number of times recently that it is important for golf clubs to reflect the society in which we exist and the modern world that looks to us,” club captain Dr. Martin Cheyne said. “Therefore, I am delighted with the decision taken by members of Royal Troon this evening and I look forward to welcoming women into our great club. It is the right decision for the club today, and for the generation of golfers that will follow.”

Troon’s vote was in stark contrast to a similar one at Muirfield, where in May a proposal to admit female members was narrowly defeated and its course was removed from the Open Championship rota by the R&A, seemingly ending a run that began in 1892. There were, however, subsequent indications that Muirfield may try a do-over. The vote was actually 64 percent “for” and 36 percent “against,” but the club constitution requires a two-thirds majority.

After the Troon vote, Rory McIlroy had a succinct reaction: “About time.”

2. Speaking of The Open Championship, let’s take a look at the recent fortunes of what we’ll now call the Big Four – Day, Johnson, Spieth and McIlroy – ahead of the festivities next week in Scotland.

Day: Three wins and four other top-10s in nine starts since the Arnold Palmer Invitational. Driving has been somewhat erratic as he tries to perfect his draw, but he feels like missed-fairway stats are overblown. Informed he had officially missed his last six fairways on Sunday, he replied, “Yeah, well, I mean, it was just, just first cut.”

Johnson: We obviously know about the two wins in a row. But DJ also has 10 top-14 finishes in his last 11 events. At Firestone he led the field in total driving and was second in driving distance, and he was 29-for-30 on putts inside 10 feet over the final two rounds.

Spieth: Not as consistent as the first two. He missed the cut at The Players and finished T-57 at the Memorial and T-37 at the U.S. Open. But he was T-3 at Firestone and has 11 other top-20 finishes this season.

McIlroy: Since the WGC-Cadillac Championship, McIlroy has put up four top-4 finishes in eight events. But it’s a “what have you done for me lately?” world, and McIlroy missed the cut in his last U.S. start, the U.S. Open. This past weekend in the French Open he finished third but never seriously challenged winner Thongchai Jaidee.

3. The biggest money-winner from the Bridgestone Invitational? For total purse, it was Johnson, who took home $1,620,000. On a dollars-per-stroke basis, though, no one could touch Daniel Berger. The 2015 PGA Tour Rookie of the Year withdrew with a shoulder injury after hitting one shot. He was paid last-place money: $50,000. DJ’s purse for taking 274 strokes works out to “just” $5,912 per stroke.

Don’t blame Berger for taking the money, though. He acted completely within the rules of the tournament. As it was a limited-field event, he didn’t keep an alternate out of the event. Maybe the rule should be changed, but that’s not Berger’s fault.

4. From Berger to burger ...

5. So, what do you do if you’ve just won the NBA championship and you suddenly have all this free time on your hands? If you’re Cleveland Cavaliers shooting guard J.R. Smith, you make a beeline for Firestone Country Club so you can hang out with the pro golfers.

Smith posed for pictures with, among others, Dustin Johnson and Justin Rose, and Johnson even let Smith hit a few balls with his driver.

Smith’s presence at Firestone shouldn’t have been a surprise. He’s a bona fide golf junkie in terms of both playing and spectating. In 2014 when he was with the New York Knicks, he told Bleacher Report that he had probably played some 50 courses that summer and had been to the Wells Fargo Championship, The Players Championship, the Quicken Loans National and The Barclays. Smith said he would watch each tournament from Thursday through Sunday, then play the course on Monday.

6. Props to Jordan Spieth for doing something we wish more pros – and everybody who has ever been in front of us on a golf course – would do:

Pick up the pace.

After the second round at Firestone C.C. Spieth admitted he hears people in his galleries criticizing him for his slow play. But he didn’t decide to do anything about it until his swing coach, Cameron McCormick, added his voice to the chorus.

“The quicker part actually helps me because then I just get up there and fire away,” Spieth said. “The more I can do that, actually I think the better off, kind of gunslinging mentality, just to go up and hit the way I always have played.”

Remember that Spieth was hit with a “monitoring penalty” in Abu Dhabi this year, running afoul of a European Tour pace-of-play initiative that was all of one day old. The “penalty” is little more than a warning, but a second one – at any future point in the season – would trigger a fine.

7. When will we see Tiger Woods in a PGA Tour event again? There’s no telling. Even he doesn’t seem to know. All we have to go on are the statements issued that he has withdrawn from this or that event. The latest: The Open Championship. Given that the PGA is less than a month away, we should be hearing about that one pretty soon. The only certainty: with DJ, Mcilroy, Day and Spieth, there’s plenty to keep fans occupied, Tiger or no Tiger.

8. A year ago Brooke Henderson was 17, a newly minted pro with no LPGA status. She planned to try to Monday qualify her way into some events. In Portland, Oregon, she did just that. Then she went out and won the tournament, clobbering the field by eight shots. She was only the second Monday qualifier to win an LPGA event (Laurel Kean in 2000 was the other one).

On Sunday, Henderson completed a wire-to-wire defense of her title, finishing four shots ahead of runner-up Stacy Lewis. With her second win of the year, the Canadian teenager became the sixth LPGA player to have multiple wins this year.

Henderson, who has risen to the No. 2 in the Rolex ranking, admittedly won without her A-game.

“I didn’t really play my best today,” she said, “but I hit good shots when I needed to and got some good breaks, too. That’s always really nice.” Two of the best breaks Henderson got were back-to-back double bogeys at 17 and 18 by Mariajo Uribe.

9. Big week for Coastal Carolina. First its baseball team won the College World Series, defeating Arizona for the school’s first national title in any sport. Then Johnson, who played golf for the Chanticleers, followed his U.S. Open victory by winning at Firestone, too.

Since there won’t ever be a better time to answer the question, what’s up with that nickname? We’ll address the elephant – uh, rooster – in the room right here. First, it’s pronounced SHON-ti-clear, not CHAN–ti-clear. This is according to the school, and those folks should know. Second, it’s a fierce rooster who dominates the barnyard. Third, the school used to serve as a two-year branch of the University of South Carolina (mascot: Gamecocks), so an effort was made to create a CCU mascot related to South Carolina’s.

Final random thought about Coastal Carolina: We can’t help but imagine DJ – all 6-foot-4 of him – as a baseball pitcher.

10. Johnson earned his first PGA Tour win in Oct. 2008 at the now-defunct Turning Stone Resort Championship, a former Fall Series event held in upstate New York. Since the beginning of 2008, Johnson has won 10 more times, for a total of 11. Over the same period, only Tiger Woods has more wins than DJ – 18 to 11. Rory McIlroy also has 11 wins over that span, and Phil Mickelson has 10.

11. Stacy Lewis’ victory drought has now passed two calendar years. She last won on June 29, 2014, at the Walmart NW Arkansas Championship. In the interim, she has finished runner-up 11 times, including Sunday. She’s taking that as a positive going into this week’s U.S. Women’s Open at Corde Valle.

“The putting got better every day this week. I am more comfortable today,” said Lewis, who closed with 67-69. “These greens got so firm and fast at the edged the day. It was just hard to make putts. Made some good par putts. Those are the ones, some little 4- and 5-footers, those are the ones you need at a major championship. I did that today under pressure. Definitely much more comfortable with the putter.”

12. Johnson insisted that the only difference in his game of late is his putting. “I just haven't been putting quite as well as I'd like,” he said. “The last couple of weeks, I just putted a little better.'' The Bridgestone Invitational stats back him up – he was 29-for-30 on putts inside 10 feet during the final two rounds, when he shot 66-66.

13. Cheyenne Woods posted her best career result and first career top-10 finish this week, placing in a tie for sixth at 7 under par. Her previous best finish was a T-23 at the 2014 Handa Australian Open.

The whole "Get in the hole!" thing is bad enough, but it hit a new low Sunday after Day chunked a shot from the rough. As the ball pitter-pattered down the cart path, some nimrod just had to yell, "Get in the hole!"

This week's award winners ... 

'Oh, Dolly, I'm hot today': Day gets the trivia knowledge of the week award for dropping a Caddyshack reference in a postround interview, comparing himself to Mr. Havercamp, not knowing where his shots were going or where the green was.

Caddyshack trivia: The Havercamps were played by Kenneth and Rebecca Burritt, who weren’t actors, but members at Rolling Hills, the Fort Lauderdale-area club (now known as Grande Oaks) where most of the movie was filmed. At the time of filming, he was 83 and she was 82.

One more and we can start calling him Alydar: Counting a T-2 at the U.S. Open, Scott Piercy now has back-to-back runner-up finishes, both behind Johnson.

Mr. Perseverance: Nothing says “overshadowed” like an opposite-field event, and the Barracuda Championship was no exception. That’s OK with Greg Chalmers, though. He’s just happy to rid himself of a dubious distinction. He had gone 385 PGA Tour starts without a win, the longest streak of any active Tour player. That’s all in the past now after he won the Barracuda, the Tour’s only event that uses modified Stableford scoring. "In golf you always have to think that something good is around the corner," said the Australian, fighting back tears.