Monday Scramble: Up and down in the Hollow

By Nick MentaAugust 14, 2017, 4:00 pm

CHARLOTTE, N.C. - Justin Thomas steps out of Jordan Spieth's shadow, Rory McIlroy exits the PGA Championship with more questions than answers, Quail Hollow establishes itself as a flawed but fun major venue, and Tiger Woods ... where to even begin? All that and more in this edition of Monday Scramble.

Justin Thomas is no longer best known as Jordan Spieth's best buddy.

Thomas capped off a breakout season with his first major victory Sunday at Quail Hollow. During the 2016-17 campaign - which isn't over, by the way - Thomas has won four times, fired 59 in a PGA Tour round, signed his name to a 63 in a U.S. Open round, and hoisted the Wanamaker.

He isn't playing second fiddle to anybody, and right now he's got the edge on Spieth for Player of the Year honors. 

Not even a month ago, it was Thomas standing behind the 18th green at Royal Birkdale, waiting to congratulate Spieth on capturing the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Thomas admitted after his win that watching Spieth that day drove him, it made him "hungry." Just a few weeks later, it was Spieth's turn to be part of the receiving line.

They're tight, but a sizable part of this relationship is based on these guys wanting to beat each other's heads in. There's some rivalry, some actual jealousy involved. Thomas said exactly that Sunday night. When these guys finally go head to head in a final round, it'll be a blast.

1. Spieth, McIlroy and Woods recalibrated our expectations for young players to an unfair degree. Relative to Spieth, Thomas' career got off to a slower start. And yet here he is, at 24 years old, with five PGA Tour wins and a major. You know the only other guys since 1960 to win four times with a major before the age of 25? Spieth, McIlroy, Woods and Jack Nicklaus. So much for that slower start.

Strangely, this is Thomas' first win in the contiguous United States. He won in back-to-back years in Malaysia and in back-to-back weeks in Hawaii. 

2. Just a quick recap of this year in major championship golf for those of you keeping score at home.

Thomas and Brooks Koepka cashed in on all their long-driving promise, Spieth rounded third, Branden Grace recorded the first 62 in men's major championship history, and Sergio Freaking Garcia shed the label of TBPTNWAM and slipped on the green jacket.

Good luck, 2018. You've got a lot to live up to.

3. He had just one chance at it, and it was probably a little too much to ask.

Spieth will not become the youngest player to achieve the career Grand Slam after his T-28 finish at the PGA. And to hear him talk about his future chances, he might not be a young man at all when he – if he? – secures the final leg.

“The PGA Championship, I think, is going to be the toughest for me. If we look historically back on my career, I think I will play this tournament worse than the other three majors just in the way that it’s set up,” he said Saturday. “I feel like my game truly suits the other three majors maybe more than the PGA Championship. But I believe we can play anywhere and we can win anywhere. It's just a matter of having everything in sync at the right time.” 

He has a point, at least as it relates to U.S. Open-like setup at Quail Hollow. But Spieth would have won the PGA Championship at Whistling Straits in 2015 had Jason Day not been the first player to reach 20 under par in a major. And the PGA tends to yield more birdies than the U.S. Open. He’ll be fine. (Remind me I wrote this in 20 years.) 

4. And so the pre-tournament fantasy of a McIlroy-Spieth final-round battle never came to pass. Just like last week at Firestone, McIlroy overpowered Quail Hollow with his driving, finishing first in the field in strokes gained-off the tee. The problem is that he still finished T-22 at 1 over for the week.

McIlroy admitted Saturday night that the rib injury he suffered earlier this year is preventing him from practicing the way he wants to and he hinted that he was considering a break. He doubled-down on those comments Sunday, describing his future plans like this: "You might not see me until next year. You might see me in a couple weeks’ time. It really depends.”

He should opt for the former rather than the latter. Take the time, actually heal up, and come back 100 percent and ready to roll. Yeah, he can probably win in his current condition with all his firepower, but he has nothing left to prove in the FedExCup Playoffs or the Race to Dubai. The guy is going to be judged on what he does next April through August. He should start thinking about the Masters right now.

5. From one injury-hampered season to another, Dustin Johnson will exit 2017 without a major title – a group of words no one thought they would read or write five months ago. The world No. 1 won three consecutive starts before his slip and fall at the Masters, and he hasn’t been the same since.

The game’s best go through hot and cold streaks like anybody else, and DJ will look dominant again, but you wonder what might have been. Socks and hardwood floors. They’ll get you every time. 

6. Props to Rickie Fowler. Also, poor Rickie Fowler. For the second major in a row, he was waiting to congratulate somebody else on their major victory as opposed to breaking through himself. As he spoke about Thomas' triumph Sunday night, he kept pivoting to his own pursuit of a major. He's got a great attitude and he's a supportive friend, but it was a clue that this is starting to get to him. 

Bottom line, whenever it is that he's finally the guy walking down 18 en route to major victory, it'll be nice to see a cheering section for him, instead of a cheering section that includes him.

7. As for the current best player who has yet to win a major, it isn't Fowler, it's Hideki Matsuyama. After 54 holes, the PGA was his for the taking, and yet it was his playing competitor who walked away with the Wanamaker. Matsuyama's typically inconsistent putting hurt him over the weekend, as he played his final 36 holes 3 over par. The No. 2 player in the world carries the weight of a nation on his shoulders every week. There's a fishbowl element to his career that has to weigh on him. 

8.Ya know, Quail Hollow faced an unusual amount of criticism for a PGA Championship venue. Players were lukewarm - at best - to the redesign. The greens were hard, the rough was high, and the pin placements were kind of dicey. The front nine is outstandingly, almost aggressively unremarkable (save for the first and seventh holes) and the fourth green is so preposterously undulated that it isn't capable of hosting four fair hole locations.

That all being said, this venue absolutely delivered on the back nine on Sunday. This finishing stretch of 14-18 is a rollercoaster of excitement with back-to-back eagle opportunities at 14 and 15 followed by the toughest three-hole close you'll find anywhere in golf.

It was a bumpy start to the week, but Quail Hollow ended up being everything the PGA of America could have wanted, and it's going to make for a tremendous Presidents Cup host in 2021. As for the difficulty? Thomas won at 8 under par. That's a pretty good target number for a major in 2017.

9. And make no mistake, the PGA Championship will return to Quail Hollow. It'll just be back in May.

Pete Bevacqua made it clear before the tournament even started the PGA of America intends to bring its major championship back here in the future, giving the organization another reliable southern setup as last week's announced date change makes preparing some northern venues a bit trickier.

What’s amusing about the schedule shakeup is what now becomes of The Players. The PGA Tour spent a lot of energy 10 years ago explaining why TPC Sawgrass and The Players would be so much better off in May. Color me excited to hear new arguments as to why March is the real sweet spot. Regardless, it will be nice to have The Players as the linchpin of the Florida swing again.

10. Bear in mind, the PGA and Players announcements are the beginning of the schedule shakeup – not the end of it. If the Tour season is going to end earlier, you can expect to see an expanded wraparound slate, as some tournaments move out of the spring and summer and into the fall. That’ll give the U.S. Ryder Cup committee something to consider when it comes to allocating points after the Tour Championship.

11. Following the worst round of his PGA Championship career (79!) and his second consecutive missed cut at a major, Phil Mickelson was asked before he left Quail Hollow if the absence of his long-time caddie Jim Mackay has anything to do with his recent performance.

His response: “I don’t know how that would really affect the shots that I’ve been hitting. I don’t know how that would play into it." So what is the problem? “It’s not like I’m hitting the ball crooked, I’m just hitting it in the wrong spots, and I’m just not really controlling my thought process, where I want the ball to go. I’m not real focused out there, and I’m having a tough time visualizing the shot. I’m having a tough time controlling my thoughts and not letting it wander to what I don’t want to have happen.” 

It’s absolutely possible Mackay’s absence has nothing to do with a 47-year-old playing poorly at a couple major championships. But Phil and Bones made their … bones (sorry) … engaging in prolonged discussions about individual blades of grass and imperceptible changes in wind direction. Now Phil is unfocused? It’s hard not to connect those dots.

12. Speaking of Phil, Steve Stricker will likely have a decision to make. Mickelson has been a member of every Ryder and Presidents Cup team since 1994. Lefty is currently 17th in points and he'll have the FedExCup Playoffs to play his way onto the team or he’ll be in need of a captain’s pick.

Should he flash even a hint of form, the five-time major winner is a good bet to get the nod given his history and his relationships with his teammates.

But if Mickelson goes bust in his next two starts, Stricker could find himself in the unenviable spot of being the first captain to say no to Phil since the early days of the Clinton Administration. 

13. From one potential captain’s pick to an actual captain’s pick, Paula Creamer will represent the United States this week at Solheim Cup in Iowa after being left off the team for a period of two days. She replaces the injured Jessica Korda, extending Creamer’s unbroken Solheim run that dates back to 2005.

Creamer needed a captain’s pick to make the team two years ago when she was 40th in the world. She’s now 110th. Worth note, alternate lists had to be submitted when the teams were initially announced.

Inkster, who is personally close with Creamer, put her at the top of that list for the same reasons she picked her outright two years ago – veteran leadership and past success. And while Creamer wasn’t her best heading into the matches in 2015, she left Germany 2-2-0 and the winner of her singles match, a key point in United States’ wild Sunday comeback.

Inkster had a host of other options ranked higher than Creamer – Angela Stanford, Mo Martin, Alison Lee, Nelly Korda – but she’s going with what she knows. Does that make it right move? Per usual, we’ll play the results at the end of the week.

14. The PGA Tour’s regular season reaches its end this week at the Wyndham Championship. Players finishing in the top 125 advance to the playoffs and – assuming they aren’t otherwise exempt beyond this season - retain their Tour status for 2017-18. Two interesting names to keep an eye on, No. 125 Geoff Ogilvy and No. 197 Hunter Mahan, who needs to stay inside the top 200 or he won't even qualify for the Finals. 

It was another banner week for Tiger Woods. (It was not another banner week for Tiger Woods.) Updates in his DUI case aside, Woods’ love life made headlines this week when he took to Twitter to address a British tabloid that published pictures of him and his apparently ex-girlfriend Kristin Smith. 

The report claimed the pictures were taken on Woods' boat on July 31, but Woods is denying that, stating that he and Smith "are no longer dating and haven’t since last year."

This, as commercials were running for a Reelz special on Woods’ past affairs that included a “re-enactment” of the events of Thanksgiving 2009, with the actress portraying Elin wielding a golf club.


Not all heroes wear capes: A weather stoppage pushed the completion of the PGA Championship’s second round to Saturday morning, but not for Rod Pampling, Thomas Pieters and Xander Schauffele. With all three players outside the cut line and the horn about to blow on Friday night because of darkness, Pampling rushed to the ninth tee and unleashed this work of art so that his group would be in the clear to complete their rounds and thus wouldn’t need to come back in the morning.

The @TitanicHoops account absolutely dropped the ball not adding Celine to that clip. Try to time it up yourself. I did the heavy lifting.

More of an Andra Day man: A big congratulations to Louis Oosthuizen for capturing the career Grand Slam of runner-ups. With his T-2 Sunday, Oosthuizen has finished second at all four majors championships, a feat that was evidently not lost on him Sunday night:

Sixty percent of the time, it works every time: Asked just why the heck he decided to attempt that "low, bullet hook" en route to a quadruple bogey at the 18th hole on Saturday, Jason Day said that “nine times out of 10 I’ve got that shot." Yeah, well, I've got a cologne for him to pitch.

Natty Love: Smylie Kaufman, who I am sorry to report is now ineligible for a season of "The Bachelor(ette)," proposed to his girlfriend over the weekend. She said yes. Congrats to the happy couple.

So – good news and bad news about this wedding. There’s definitely an open bar, but there’s definitely only one option available.

On a slightly higher shelf, Smylie: It sounds like Daniel Berger already has plans for Thomas' new trophy.

You're probably about to find out, Daniel. Be sure to let us know, preferably via social media, preferably as it's happening.

Profiles in courage: To Chesson Hadley, who locked his keys in his car at the Tour Price Cutter Charity Championship’s but retained the “mental fortitude” to shoot an opening-round 7-under 65.

The orator Mick Foley used to speak of a particular brand of fortitude. Can’t remember what it was.

I said I saw it: And finally, Graham DeLaet very nearly recorded the second hole-in-one in PGA Tour history when his drive at the driveable par-4 14th lipped out on Saturday:

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Koepka: Second-place finishes becoming 'annoying'

By Al TaysMay 28, 2018, 12:02 am

Brooks Koepka didn't go down without a fight.

Trailing Justin Rose by four shots going into the final round of the Fort Worth Invitational, Koepka shot his second 7-under 63 of the week - and made up precisely one shot. He finished solo second at 17 under par, three shots behind Rose.

He could only marvel at the Englishman's performance in closing with a 6-under 64.

"It was pretty impressive," he said. "Justin played well. Hat's off to him. Any time you can come into a lead with four shots and play the way he did today, that's impressive."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Although Koepka was pleased with his own play - especially his putting - he said it felt "annoying" to come in second. Again.

"I feel like we've had so many second-place finishes," he said. "Always seem to run into a buzz saw, whatever it is."

Since May of 2016, Koepka has five solo second-place finishes and one T-2. But he also has a U.S. Open title, won last year at Erin Hills. He'll attempt to defend that title June 14-17 at Shinnecock Hills. "It's nice to finally be playing well and get going into the season," he said. "Kind of peaking right where I need to be."

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Minjee Lee birdies 18 to win on her birthday

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:59 pm

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – Minjee Lee's task was simple: A birdie on No. 18 would win her the tournament. It was a manageable par 5, the easiest hole on the course in the final round.

After a good drive, her second shot came closer to trouble than much of the gallery probably realized.

''I almost clipped the tree,'' Lee said. ''I overcut it a little bit, but it finished out in a good position.''

Lee's shot came to rest just to the right of the green, and from there it was a simple chip and putt for the birdie that gave her a one-stroke win over In-Kyung Kim at the LPGA Volvik Championship on Sunday. Lee, who turned 22 on Sunday, won for the first time since 2016. It was the Australian's fourth career victory.

Lee three-putted for a bogey on No. 17, dropping into a tie with Kim, who finished her round about the same time. So Lee needed a birdie to win on 18. The 18th hole was 470 yards Sunday. There were 44 birdies there in the final round.

Full-field scores from the LPGA Volvik Championship

''The tee was up,'' she said. ''I was pretty confident that I could get there in two if I had a good drive.''

Lee made her winning putt from about 3 feet. She finished at 4-under 68 and 16 under for the tournament. Kim (67) shot a 32 on the back nine and birdied No. 18, but it wasn't enough to force a playoff at Travis Pointe Country Club.

''I kind of knew that 16 was the number and I mean, I give my best,'' Kim said. ''I make some good shots and birdies.''

Moriya Jutanugarn (65) finished third at 14 under.

Lee took a two-stroke lead into the final round, and that was her margin over playing partner Stacy Lewis before Lewis (71) bogeyed No. 7 and 8. Kim emerged as the biggest threat to Lee when she birdied four of the first five holes on the back nine. Lewis is playing four months' pregnant with her first child.

Kim and Lee were briefly tied at 15 under, but then Lee made a tap-in birdie on the par-5 14th, while Kim bogeyed 15. Lee saved par on 15 despite a wayward drive into a bunker.

''I wasn't sure where I was score-wise then. That par 5 is reachable in two, so I think a lot of people would have made birdie there,'' Lee said. ''The next tee shot I just pulled into the bunker. ... I think that was really important for me to hole that par putt just to keep the momentum going.''

Lee had gone 38 consecutive holes without a bogey before making one on the par-4 17th. That, combined with Kim's birdie on 18, left the two golfers tied, but Lee still had the 18th to come.

Su Oh (68) and Lindy Duncan (69) finished at 13 under, and Megan Khang (67) was another stroke back. Lewis finished at 11 under along with Ariya Jutanugarn (69) and Danielle Kang (70).

Lewis birdied three of the first six holes, but Lee did as well.

''It's hard to get close when somebody does that,'' Lewis said. ''She played great all day and played solid. When she needed to make a par putt, she did, and didn't make any mistakes.''

Lee lost this event by one stroke last year. Shanshan Feng, the 2017 winner , finished tied for 21st this time.

The LPGA has had a different winner in each of its 13 tournaments this year. The U.S. Women's Open starts Thursday at Shoal Creek.

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Spieth: Improvement is 'right around the corner'

By Al TaysMay 27, 2018, 10:50 pm

Not that Dallas native Jordan Spieth didn't enjoy the two-week home game that is the AT&T Byron Nelson and the Fort Worth Invitational - he certainly did. But he's eager to get out of town, too.

"It was a great showing these last couple weeks by the fans," Spieth said after closing with a 2-under 68, a 5-under total and a T-32 finish. "Obviously extremely appreciative here in DFW. Wish I could do more. These couple weeks can be a bit taxing, and it's awesome to kind of have that support to carry you through.

"So, you know, I had a great time these couple weeks on and off the golf course as I always do, but I'm also really excited to kind of get out of town and kind of be able to just go back to the room and have nothing to do at night except for get ready to play the next day."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Spieth will have that experience this coming week in Dublin, Ohio, site of the Memorial. He's hopeful of improving on his T-21, T-32 finishes the past two weeks, and he thinks the main thing holding him back - his putting - is ready for a turnaround.

"I think good things are about to come," he said. "I feel a good run coming for the second half of the season. Today was - each day I've felt better and better with the wedges and the putter and the short game; today was no different. My only bogey being just kind of trying to do too much on a par-5; 3-wood into the hazard.

"So, you know, I'm getting into where I'm not making bogeys, and then soon - the not making bogeys is great, and soon I'll get back to the five, six birdies around and shoot some low rounds.

"So I know it's right around the corner."

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Broadhurst fires 63 to easily win Senior PGA

By Associated PressMay 27, 2018, 10:45 pm

BENTON HARBOR, Mich. – Paul Broadhurst wishes he had played this well in his 23 years on the European Tour.

''I know a lot more about my swing now and I guess you get that with age and experience,'' the 52-year-old Englishman said after shooting an 8-under 63 on Sunday to win the Senior PGA Championship by four strokes and match the best 72-hole score in tournament history.

Broadhurst finished at 19-under 265 at Harbor Shores for his second senior major victory. The 63 was the best fourth-round score by a winner. Rocco Mediate also shot 19 under at Harbor Shores in 2016.

Also the 2016 British Senior Open winner, Broadhurst led the field with 26 birdies and passed third-round co-leaders Tim Petrovic and Mark McCarron with a 4-under 31 on the back nine.

Petrovic was second after a 69. McCarron had a 70 to tie for third at 14 under with Jerry Kelly (65).

Full-field scores from the KitchenAid Senior PGA Championship

Broadhurst earned a career-high $585,000 for his fourth PGA Tour Champions victory and moved to the top of the money list. He won six times on the European Tour, was a 1991 Ryder Cup player for Europe and has three European Senior Tour victories.

''It was really a special week,'' he said. ''It got a little bit tense out there. I knew I was playing well but I didn't seem to making any progress against Tim Petrovic. He was side-by-side on the back nine it seemed.''

He learned his lead was three strokes standing on the 18th tee when his caddie asked a television announcer.

''So we put my driver away and reached for the rescue club,'' he said. ''If I made a 5 there that would be fine.''

Broadhurst started the round two strokes behind Petrovic and McCarron, birdied the first hole and was tied with Petrovic for the lead by the turn. He took his first lead with a birdie on the 12th hole, led by two after 16 and birdied the final two holes, including a dramatic 40-foot putt for birdie at the 18th hole.

''I guess it would have been a bit of anti-climax if I would have three-putted the last green, but that would have given Tim a chance of holing his second shot,'' he said. ''I actually spoke to my caddie about that going down the last - we don't want to three-putt and five him the opportunity because stranger things have happened in golf. To see it go in the middle of the hole was just a special feeling.''

Petrovic said missed birdie putts on Nos. 7 and 8 were costly, but it might not have mattered with the way Broadhurst was playing.

''In hindsight it was all for naught,'' he said. ''He was so far ahead of us. Hat's off the guy. It was a great week - we just got beat. When he made the putt on 18 ahead of us I almost started clapping in the fairway and waving a white towel. It was well-deserved. That was great playing. He won the championship for sure.''

Broadhurst shot 72 in the first round, started rolling in putts with a 66 in the second round and was 15 under on the weekend. In addition to the leading 26 birdies, he topped the putts per greens in regulations numbers for the tournament as well with a 1.574 average.

''I wasn't aware I made that many birdies,'' he said. ''That's pretty impressive around this course.''

He said his game has long been unpredictable.

''I'm not blessed with a consistent swing like Bernhard Langer, but when it's on, it works,'' he said. ''If I'm putting well, then anything can happen, really.''