Monday Scramble: An Open for the ages

By Mercer BaggsJuly 18, 2016, 5:55 pm

Henrik Stenson is brilliant in winning The Open, Phil Mickelson is (almost) as equally brilliant in defeat and the top 4 don’t come up big in this 145th (we really have no idea how many) edition of Monday Scramble.

Henrik Stenson produced one of the greatest final rounds in major championship history. He went head-to-head with a Hall of Famer, who shot a bogey-free 65 on Sunday. Stenson closed in a major record-tying 63 and finished at 20 under par when only one other player in the field was within 13 strokes of him. And he did all this while trying to capture his first major title. Mickelson did everything he could do to win his sixth major, but nothing was enough. This wasn't like last year's PGA Championship, where Jason Day won on the same number, but 16 players were double digits under par. This was Henrik and Phil and 79 others who got to play four rounds at Royal Troon. Sometimes someone is so good that their achievement isn't fully appreciated. They make the amazing look commonplace. Tiger Woods has done it countless times. Mickelson has had his moments. Having Phil as a foil will help keep Stenson's performance in proper perspective. The way he played this past weekend, particularly on Sunday under the most stressful conditions of his career, deserves its own wing in the WGHOF.

1. It's difficult to put Stenson's accomplishments into perspective. Unless you like numbers. Then it's quite easy.

• 264: Lowest 72-hole total score in major championship history

• 20 under par: Ties lowest score to par in major championship history (Day, 2015 PGA)

• Second player to shoot 63 in the final round of a major and win (Johnny Miller, 1973 U.S. Open)

• Second player since 2000 to get first major victory after turning 40 (Darren Clarke, 2011 Open)

2. Mickelson's numbers weren't bad, either. They just weren't good enough

• 17 under: Ties second-lowest score to par in a major by a non-winner (Bob May was 18 under in 2000 PGA)

• 17 under: Would have won or forced a playoff in 141 of 145 Opens

• 65: Lowest career final-round score in a major

• 11: Second-most career runner-up finishes in a major (Jack Nicklaus, 19)

3. So where do we stand with Mickelson? Was this it, his last chance to win a sixth major? It doesn't seem likely. There appears to be enough tread on the tires to last a few more years. Mickelson is currently one of six men to have five major wins. If he can get one more, he'll join Nick Faldo and Lee Trevino in a tie for 12th place all time. It might not look like much of a leap, going from T-14 to T-12 on the all-time list, but each major win carries an incredible amount of historical weight.

4. One of the best moments of the week came Thursday evening when Mickelson was attempting to become the first man in major championship history to shoot 62. It was different when Stenson did it on Sunday. For the latter, there was no buildup. The focus was on the one-on-one battle and winning, not the winning score. But with Mickelson, it was all about the number. And it was those few seconds, from the time Phil struck his putt until the time it lipped out, that were the most enjoyable. It’s in that compressed frame where nothing else mattered, just the anticipation of what was about to happen. You did't even have to watch it to enjoy it, just close your eyes, listen to the call and the crowd's reaction. Though, admittedly, it was better with your eyes open.

5. Not all major championship 63s are equal – or memorable. Mickelson’s near-62 won’t soon be forgotten, because of who shot it and how he did it. Stenson's 63, the same. The previous 63 in a major? Just last year at the PGA Championship. Hiroshi Iwata posted the number in Round 2 at Whistling Straits. And he was bummed that the press center, barring the Japanese contingent, was so barren following his accomplishment. Twenty-eight men have shot 63 in a major. How many can you name? Check your knowledge here.

6. The Big 4 was a big bust at Royal Troon.  Rory McIlroy finished best (Pete Best?) of the bunch, back-dooring a T-5. Dustin Johnson finished T-9, Jason Day T-22 and Jordan Spieth T-30. But, really, no 

7. Negativity. It sucks. And it’s weighing heavily on Spieth. Following his third round, Spieth was very revealing in a 365-word response to conclude his media interview. While Spieth may have won twice on Tour this year, this year isn’t close in comparison to last year. It’s a good year. But not last year. And all these comparisons, all the judgment, all the criticism has Spieth bummed. It’s easy to understand Spieth’s position. Who among us wants to be criticized, especially when we are having greater success than the bulk of our peers? But Spieth is held to a higher standard, not to that of his peers but to those who have accomplished what few men ever have. The comparisons to 2015 won’t go way. And neither will negativity, actual or perceived.

8. Although Sunday was a two-man show featuring Stenson and Mickelson, it was nice to have the entertaining undercard of Andrew "Beef" Johnston. Although his final-round 73 was his worst score of the week, it wasn't without its highlights, including an opening-hole birdie. In fact, he birdied three of his first four holes. Alas, those were the last circles that would appear on his card. But with the possible exception of Stenson, it's probably safe to say that no one enjoyed his Open experience more than Beef.

9. Would you go to Rio? There’s no right or wrong answer. It’s a personal call. Jordan Spieth isn’t going. He was supposed to be the face of men’s Olympic golf, especially after his fellow top-4 players withdrew from consideration. But then, last Monday, Spieth joined them. Maybe it had to do with Zika, maybe it was personal safety, maybe it was a factor we know nothing about. We don’t really know, other than it was for “health concerns.” That’s as specific as Spieth would get in his pre-Open news conference. He called it the “toughest decision of my life.” Given his up-front nature over the last few years, there’s no reason to doubt his sincerity. It’s an individual decision, which you have to respect, but there could be consequences. The Games will go on without him, for this year at least …

10. International Olympic Committee chairman Thomas Bach said last week that after this year’s Games, golf, along with other sports, will be evaluated for the 2020 edition in Tokyo. For now, golf has a spot. But, with the absence of so many top male stars this time around, it’s possible, the Associated Press reported, that the men could get bounced while the women stay. With the head of the Rio de Janeiro Olympics adding that he believes men are skipping because they aren't getting paid (not because of Rio's myriad problems, mind you), the top male players might be watching from home again in four years.

11. Or maybe they'll just be watching track and field. That's what Rory McIlroy said he'd tune in to in a few weeks: "the stuff that matters," not golf. Golf is an individual sport. Unless you’re one of its stars. Then you’re expected to carry a torch (no pun intended) and light the way for the future. McIlroy, when asked about his skipping the Olympics, said he “didn’t get into golf to try and grow the game.” McIlroy took heat for his comments and tried to clarify them a day later. More so than a slight to the game, it appeared Rory was peeved at something or someone, and he let out his frustration in the media center. Even if you don’t agree with him, and few did, at least he's an entertaining interview. Did you listen to the Dustin Johnson news conference?

12. The 1977 Duel in the Sun at Turnberry between Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus is often listed as the best Open ever. Now one of the participants says Sunday's Stenson-Mickelson face-off was even better. "Our final round was really good, but theirs was even better," Nicklaus tweeted. For his complete remarks on Sunday's action, click here.

13. If Steve Stricker really wants to pare down his schedule, he's going to have to start playing worse in the majors. For his fourth-place finish, the 49-year-old veteran earned spots in this year's PGA Championship and next year's Masters. And, of course, a trip back across the pond for the 146th Open at Royal Birkdale. "When you're playing well you're rewarded," he said, "and you get to do some pretty cool things."

14. Bill Haas' T-9 finish was his first top-10 in a major. Haas was on the fringe of contention after 54 holes, standing six shots off the lead. But he couldn't get anything going on Sunday, making four bogeys and no birdies.

If you had been able to foresee this Phil Mickelson scorecard before he teed off on Sunday, in your wildest imagination could you predict that he would lose? Tom Watson won the Duel in the Sun with a final-round 65, so Phil's round of the same score isn't exactly the Swoon at Troon. He made not a single bogey - something not even Henrik Stenson could say. Phil got up and down every time he needed to. The only thing he didn't do was match some of Stenson's 10 birdies. And he didn't win. But sometimes you've just got to tip your cap to the other guy.

This week's award winners ... 

Mr. Excitement: Not only did Nicolo Ravano hole his approach shot to cap his second round in a Challenge Tour event, but it was for 59! Not that you could tell by his reaction. People have been happier getting parking tickets.

Badds is back: Victory celebrations don't get much more emotional than Aaron Baddeley's after he won the Barbasol Championship on the fourth hole of a playoff with Si Woo Kim. Baddeley watched his 24-foot birdie putt curling right-to-left toward the hole and, confident that it would go in, started running. When the ball did drop into the cup, he tossed his putter in the air, tore off his logo-less white hat and flung it away. "I think you could tell by my reaction how much it meant to me," he said. Baddeley, 35, hadn't won since the 2011 Northern Trust Open. For his Barbasol win, he gets a two-year exemption. And maybe a logo for that hat.

Low-key Lydia: In contrast to Baddeley was Lydia Ko, who won the LPGA's Marathon Classic, also on the fourth extra hole. Ko actually punctuated her 10-foot winning putt with a fist pump, a rarity for her. ''I'm not really a huge fist-pump kind of person," she said after defeating Ariya Jutanugarn and Mirim Lee, "but I think it's probably the biggest fist pump I've ever done.''

A Good Man: Ernie Els, trying to clear the stage and assist Mickelson in his bid for 62 on Thursday, putted out on the 72nd hole first, even though he was closer than Mickelson. A small gesture, but one that reveals character. Els showed that he stands for goodness.

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More sun, dry conditions expected early at Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 9:14 am

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – An atypically dry Scottish summer is expected to continue this week at The Open.

There’s a possibility of a few showers Thursday and Friday, but otherwise conditions are expected to remain dry with temperatures around 70 degrees and winds in the 15-20 mph range.

The forecast for the opening round at Carnoustie is sunshine with clouds developing later in the day. The high is expected to be around 70 degrees, with winds increasing throughout the day, maxing out at 18 mph.

There’s a chance of rain overnight Thursday and into Friday morning, but it’s not expected to slow down the fiery conditions.

It’s been one of the driest summers in recent memory, leading to fairways that are baked out and fescue rough that is lighter and thinner than in previous years.

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Lincicome grouped with two rookies in Barbasol

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 17, 2018, 9:54 pm

Brittany Lincicome will tee it up with a pair of rookies when she makes her first start in a PGA Tour event Thursday at the Barbasol Championship at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, is scheduled to go off the 10th tee at 9:59 a.m. ET in the first round with Sam Ryder, 28, and Conrad Shindler, 29. They’re off the first tee Friday at 2:59 p.m. ET

Lincicome will become just the sixth woman to play in a PGA Tour event, joining Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie.

“The first three or four holes, I’ll be a nervous wreck, for sure,” Linicome said.



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Lincicome thrilled by reception from male pros

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 8:31 pm

Brittany Lincicome wondered how PGA Tour pros would greet her when she arrived to play the Barbasol Championship this week.

She wondered if there would be resentment.

She also wondered how fans at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky., would receive her, and if a social media mob would take up pitchforks.

“I can’t stop smiling,” Lincicome said Tuesday after her first practice round upon arriving. “Everyone has been coming up to me and wishing me luck. That means a lot.”

PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, husband of LPGA pro Gerina Piller, welcomed her immediately.

Other pros sought her out on the practice putting green.

She said she was also welcomed joining pros at a table in player dining.

Fans have been stopping her for autographs.

“It has been an awesome reception,” said Dewald Gouws, her husband, a former long-drive competitor. “I think it’s put her much more at ease, seeing the reception she is getting. There’s a lot of mutual respect.”

Lincicome, 32, wasn’t sure if she would be playing a practice round alone Tuesday morning, but when she made her way to the first tee, Domenico Geminiani was there, just about to go off.

He waved Lincicome over.

“He said, `Hey, Brittany, do you want to join me?’” Gouws said. “Come to find out, Dom’s a pretty cool guy.”

Geminiani made it into the field as a Monday qualifier.

“The two of us were both trying to figure things out together,” Lincicome said.

Keene Trace will play to 7,328 yards on the scorecard. That’s more than 800 yards longer than Highland Meadows, where Lincicome finished second at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic last weekend. Keene Trace was playing even longer than its listed yardage Tuesday, with recent rains softening it.

Nicknamed “Bam Bam,” Lincicome is one of the longest hitters in the women’s game. Her 269.5 yard average drive is 10th in the LPGA ranks. It would likely be dead last on the PGA Tour, where Brian Stuard (278.2) is the last player on the stats list at No. 201.

“I think if I keep it in the fairway, I’ll be all right,” Lincicome said.

Lincicome is an eight-time LPGA winner, with two major championships among those titles. She is just the sixth woman to compete in a PGA Tour event, the first in a decade, since Michelle Wie played the Reno-Tahoe Open, the last of her eight starts against the men.

Lincicome will join Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Wie in the elite ranks.

Zaharias, by the way, is the only woman to make a 36-hole cut in PGA Tour history, making it at the 1945 L.A. Open before missing a 54-hole cut on the weekend.

What are Lincicome’s expectations?

She would love to make the cut, but . . .

“Just going to roll with it and see what happens,” she said. “This is once in a lifetime, probably a one-and-done opportunity. I’m just going to enjoy it.”

Lincicome grew up playing for the boys’ golf team at Seminole High on the west coast of Florida. She won a couple city championships.

“I always thought it would be cool to compete against the guys on the PGA Tour,” Lincicome said. “I tend to play more with the guys than women at home. I never would have gone out and told my agent, `Let’s go try to play in a PGA Tour event,’ but when Tom Murray called with this opportunity, I was really blown away and excited by it. I never in a million years thought I would have this opportunity.”

Tom Murray, the president of Perio, the parent company of Barbasol and Pure Silk, invited Lincicome to accept one of the tournament’s sponsor exemptions. Lincicome represents Pure Silk.

Lincicome said her desire to play a PGA Tour event is all about satisfying her curiosity, wanting to know how she would stack up at this level. She also wants to see if the experience can help take her to the next level in the women’s game.

As a girl growing up, she played Little League with the boys, instead of softball with the girls. She said playing the boys in golf at Seminole High helped her get where she is today.

“The guys were better, and it pushed me to want to be better,” Lincicome said. “I think playing with the guys [on the PGA Tour], I will learn something to take to LPGA events, and it will help my game, for sure.”

Lincicome has been pleased that her fellow LPGA pros are so supportive. LPGA winner Kris Tamulis is flying into Kentucky as moral support. Other LPGA pros may also be coming in to support her.

The warm fan reception Lincicome is already getting at Keene Trace matters, too.

“She’s already picked up some new fans this week, and hopefully she will pick up some more,” Gouws said. “I don’t think she’s putting too much expectation on herself. I think she really does just want to have fun.”

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Stunner: Inbee Park steps aside for Int. Crown

By Randall MellJuly 17, 2018, 4:00 pm

There was a big surprise this week when the LPGA announced the finalized lineups for the UL International Crown.

Rolex world No. 1 Inbee Park won’t be teeing it up for the host South Koreans Oct. 4-7 in Incheon.

She has withdrawn, saying she wanted another Korean to be able to experience the thrill of representing her country.

It’s a stunner given the importance the LPGA has placed on taking the UL International Crown to South Korea and its golf-crazy allegiance to the women’s game in the Crown’s first staging outside the United States.

Two-time major champion In Gee Chun will replace Park.

"It was my pleasure and honor to participate in the first UL International Crown in 2014 and at the 2016 Olympics, and I cannot describe in one word how amazing the atmosphere was to compete as a representative of my country,” Park said. “There are so many gifted and talented players in Korea, and I thought it would be great if one of the other players was given the chance to experience the 2018 UL International Crown.”

Chun, another immensely popular player in South Korea, was the third alternate, so to speak, with the world rankings used to field teams. Hye Jin Choi and Jin Young Ko were higher ranked than Chun but passed because of commitments made to competing in a Korean LPGA major that week. The other South Koreans who previously qualified are So Yeon Ryu, Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim.