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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Goal for new world No. 1 Koepka: Stay healthy

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 1:38 pm

Last season Brooks Koepka bagged a pair of majors en route to the PGA Tour's Player of the Year award. He started the new wraparound season with an emphatic win at the CJ Cup to reach world No. 1 for the first time.

But amid the best form of his career, Koepka has a simple goal in mind as he gets ready to turn his attention to the new year.

"Stay healthy," Koepka told reporters. "That's been the big thing. I need to be healthy to be able to play all these events, play all the majors."

Koepka's breakthrough year comes despite the fact that he missed four months in the spring, including the Masters, while recovering from a wrist injury. He hit the ground running once he returned, with strong finishes at TPC Sawgrass and Colonial preceding wins at the U.S. Open and PGA Championship.

Now Koepka has added a third trophy after cruising to a four-shot win in South Korea on Sunday that allowed him to move past Dustin Johnson at world No. 1.

"I'm 1-for-1 this year, which is nice," Koepka joked about his undefeated record in the new wraparound season.

Koepka will be in the field next week in China for the WGC-HSBC Champions before putting the clubs on the shelf. With Justin Thomas paving the way by making the goal-setting process more public in recent years, Koepka explained that even after summiting the world rankings he plans to wait until 2019 to adjust his expectations for himself.

"I keep the same goals through the calendar year," Koepka said. "On Jan. 1 I go to the beach in the morning and go write down my goals and figure them out for the calendar year, but I just need to finish this year off. I've got next week and I would like to, coming out the first week as No. 1, I'd like to play well."

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Birdie binge for Woodland comes up short at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 21, 2018, 12:52 pm

Gary Woodland mounted an impressive rally at the CJ Cup, but in the end even 11 birdies weren't enough to catch Brooks Koepka.

Woodland started the final round in South Korea five shots behind the new world No. 1, but he made the biggest move of the day amid chilly conditions on Jeju Island. With six birdies over his first nine holes, including four in a row on Nos. 6-9, he briefly caught Koepka at the top of the leaderboard.

But Woodland bogeyed No. 10, and even with five more birdies coming home to finish a 9-under 63 he still finished alone in second, four shots behind Koepka who closed with a bogey-free 29 to put the trophy out of reach.

"Yesterday I didn't get any putts to go in, and today I saw a lot of putts go in," Woodland told reporters. "Brooks with the lead, not much fazes him. So you knew you had to make a lot of birdies, and I made a lot today. But I was just too far behind."

It's the second straight strong performance from Woodland to start the new wraparound season, as he tied for fifth at the CIMB Classic in Malaysia after holding a share of the 54-hole lead. A closing 63 would have gone a long way last week, but he was still pleased to be able to make Koepka sweat a little on a day when even the bad holes resulted from good shots.

"I made two bogeys on the back and I said, 'Be right' on both shots," Woodland said. "I was just maybe a little too amped up, a little excited. I hit them both perfect. All in all, I would have liked for a couple more putts to go in yesterday and been a little closer going into today."

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Kang (69) wins Buick LPGA Shanghai by two

By Associated PressOctober 21, 2018, 9:11 am

SHANGHAI - Danielle Kang shot a 3-under 69 on Sunday to win the LPGA Shanghai by two strokes for her second career title.

Kang, who started the final round one stroke off the lead, offset a lone bogey on the par-5 fourth hole with four birdies after the turn to finish at 13-under 275 and hold off a late charge by Lydia Ko, who had the day's lowest score of 66.

''I hope I win more,'' Kang said. ''I did the best I can. I'm going to keep working hard and keep giving myself chances and keep putting myself in contention. I'll win more. I'll play better.''

Ko, who had seven birdies and a lone bogey, tied for second at 11 under with a group of seven players that included Brittany Altomare (71), Ariya Jutanugarn (71) and overnight co-leader Sei Young Kim (72).

Buick LPGA Shanghai: Articles, photos and videos

Carlota Ciganda, who also held a share of the lead after the third round, shot a 73 to fall into a tie for ninth with Bronte Law and local favorite Lu Liu.

Paula Creamer carded three birdies against a pair of bogeys for a 71 to finish in sole possession of 12th place.

The tournament is the second of five being played in South Korea, Japan, China and Taiwan in the LPGA's annual Asian swing.

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New world No. 1 Koepka already wants more

By Nick MentaOctober 21, 2018, 8:48 am

If there is a knock on Brooks Koepka, it’s that he’s a little too cool.

Gary Woodland, who threw 11 birdies at Koepka on Sunday and still finished four shots back, inadvertently captured that exact sentiment after Saturday's third round.

“You know," he said, "Brooks doesn't seem like he cares too much."

Woodland meant that there was little anyone in the field could do to rattle the 54-hole leader. (He proved himself right, by the way.)

But the also comment fits the general narrative surrounding Koepka. That he’s just detached enough for fans to have trouble attaching themselves to him. That he’s just a jock here to cash checks and collect trophies, to kick ass and chew bubblegum.

But for a few moments Sunday in South Korea, it became clear that Brooks Koepka does care. Crouched on the 72nd green with some time to stop and think as Ian Poulter lagged a bit behind, Koepka finally let a moment get to him. Cameras caught the three-time major champion appearing unusually emotional.

Of course, less than a minute later, those same cameras caught him yawning. The contrast was almost too perfect. It was as if he knew he had just been found out and needed to snap back into character – which he did.

He promptly poured in an eagle putt to cap off a final-round 64, to win the CJ Cup by four, and to ascend to No. 1 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in his career.

Full-field scores from the CJ Cup

CJ Cup: Articles, photos and videos

“To be world No. 1 is something I dreamed of as a kid,” Koepka said on the 18th green, moments after closing out his fifth PGA Tour victory and third this year. “I don't think this one's going to sink in.”

What is beginning to sink in is that Koepka now unequivocally belongs in the conversation, the one golf fans and analysts have been having over and over since Tiger Woods fell from golf's greatest heights.

Who’s the best at their best?

In the two years between his first PGA Tour win and his first U.S. Open victory, Koepka was touted as having the kind of talent to compete with the game's elites. It took a little while for him to get here, but Koepka has taken over as the latest player to look like he’ll never lose again. Just as it was for Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Dustin Johnson and Justin Thomas before him, this is Koepka's moment. This is his run of dominance.

It’s a run that will have to end at some point. Every one of the guys just mentioned did cool off eventually. Koepka will, too. Maybe it'll be fatigue, maybe it'll be injury, and maybe it’ll just be golf. This talent pool is  too deep for anyone to remain on top for too long.

But what Koepka has done this year – in defending his U.S. Open title, in staring down Tiger at the PGA, in claiming the Player of the Year Award, in ascending to the top of the world rankings – is put his name at the forefront of the conversation. If he was unappreciated at times before, those days are behind him. He's already accomplished too much, proven himself too good to be overlooked any longer.

And he’s far from done.

“For me, I just need to keep winning,” the new world No. 1 said Sunday. “I feel like to win a few more regular Tour events and then keep adding majors. I feel like my game's set up for that. I've gotten so much confidence off winning those majors where, it's incredible, every time I tee it up, I feel like I really have a good chance to win whether I have my A-game or not. It's something I'm so excited [about] right now, you have no idea. I just can't wait to go play again.”