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Monday Scramble: Take a bow ... and a knee?

By Nick MentaSeptember 25, 2017, 3:40 pm

Justin Thomas takes the FedExCup, Xander Shauffele takes the Tour Championship, Tiger Woods takes to blogging, and Peter Malnati takes a knee in this edition of Monday Scramble.


Well, that made the Player and Rookie of the Year votes quite easy.

As a chaotic Sunday afternoon finally turned into Schauffele vs. Thomas, and it became clear that Justin had already etched his name on the FedExCup, it was hard not to root for Xander to pick up the biggest win of his career.

Sunday marked the first time since 2009 that the winner of the Tour Championship did not also walk away with the FedExCup. And as judged by Thomas and Schauffele's post-round interaction, the result was plenty fine with both of them.

Thomas put his stamp on this season by wrapping up the Jack Nicklaus Award and collecting nearly $11 million, while Schauffele capped off a whirlwind four months with a $3.5 million payday and future Rookie of the Year honors. Talk about sharing the wealth.


1. Thus ends the Season of Justin Thomas. In summation, that was five wins, his first major, a playoff victory, a round of 59, a U.S. Open round of 63, the FedExCup, and nearly $20 million in on-course earnings. In one year, he's vaulted himself from 72nd to fourth in the Official World Golf Ranking. There are three men – Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth, and Hideki Matsuyama – still ahead of Thomas on that list, but right now, no one's stock is higher than his own.

Of course, now comes the hard part - maintaining his current level of success. 

At different points in the last four years, DJ, Jordan, Hideki, Rory McIlroy and Jason Day have all appeared as if they would never lose another tournament for the rest of their lives before revealing themselves as human again. Thomas will enter next season much as Spieth entered 2016, coming off a year he might never surpass for the rest of his career. His biggest challenge moving forward won't be any golf course or any opponent; it'll be managing his own expectations.

2. This was less a breakout season than it was a breakout four months for Schauffele, who described himself during his victory speech on Sunday as having "weaseled his way around" all year. The 23-year-old rookie was 135th in the FedExCup standings before announcing his apparent arrival with a tie for fifth at the U.S. Open. He followed that performance with his first PGA Tour win three weeks later at The Greenbrier. His rise has been so meteoric that Johnny Miller sounded as though he was channeling David Byrne at various points during the final round: And you may ask yourself, who is Xander Schauffele?

Well, he's now the first rookie in history to win the Tour Championship, the first rookie in the FedExCup era to win a playoff event, and the highest-finishing rookie in history of the season-long points race. 

3. I can't get over this putt.

No one is going to remember that come tomorrow (later this afternoon?), but Schauffele was dangerously close to missing that shortie and going to a playoff. That lip-in could have been a lip-out, it could have cost him the tournament, and it could have haunted him for a long time. Instead, he got $3.5 million and we got a new GIF:

Again, everyone wins.

4. Schauffele's victory Sunday was an impressive mix of driving and putting prowess. He finished the week first in strokes gained-off the tee (+1.15) and first in putting inside 10 feet, making 67 of 69 attempts, including that horseshoe lip-in above. Add Schauffele, at 5-foot-10 and 165 pounds, to the list of smaller guys – like McIlroy and Thomas – who somehow keep up with the likes of DJ and Brooks Koepka off the tee.



5. When is Paul Casey going to close on Sunday? His decision three years ago to abandon the European Tour and focus full-time on the PGA Tour was a wise one that led to a career resurgence. Once ranked a high as third in the world, Casey dropped as low as 169th in 2013. But a U.S.-focused schedule has kept Casey a top-25 player in the world for the bulk of the last three seasons. Over that time, he's racked up the most top-five finishes of any player on Tour who hasn't won, with 16. He has proven himself a borderline elite talent for 63 holes a week. 

6. Spieth put together a Sunday rally that at one point had him projected to win his second FedExCup. Instead, he settled for his second Vardon Trophy for low scoring average. Per Golf Channel Research, Spieth joins Tiger Woods as the players to win the Vardon multiple times before the age of 25. 

7. And credit to Spieth, by the way, for sowing even a tiny bit of doubt into what should have been an obvious POY race. He exits 2017 with three victories and the third leg of the career Grand Slam. Had he found a way to win at East Lake and take the FedExCup, he may have made his friend/rival Thomas sweat through the voting process. But even he'll admit things turned out as they should have.

"This was probably my worst putting week of the year, unfortunately," he said Sunday. "But what a great season it was. I'm very pleased with the way 2017 has gone. ... JT is very well-deserved winning the FedExCup this year. It is rightfully so given his season. I almost squeaked through when he really deserved it."

In addition to Player of the Year and the FedExCup, it sounds like what JT really won himself is one hell of a bar bill.

8. Are the game’s top talents coached to say, “It’s not about the money,” or are they actually ambivalent about $10 million?

On the one hand, honesty from professional athletes is refreshing and respectable, even if it’s unrelatable. McIlroy made headlines last year when he was asked about the FedExCup’s $10 million bonus and answered that, “Luckily, that amount of money doesn't sort of mean much to me anymore.” DJ echoed those comments this past week when he said the bonus wouldn’t change his life. Thomas, who took the jackpot prize, insisted before the event started that winning trophies matters more to him than winning money. At least Spieth acknowledged the rush of competing for that kind of cash, comparing wait-and-see scenarios on Sunday to a multi-million dollar bet.

I know the PGA Tour prefers these guys to talk about the prestige of winning the Tour Championship and the FedExCup, but I’d really like one guy with a massive grin on his face to explode with, “$&@^ yeah, I want the money! I know exactly what I’m going to buy that I absolutely do not need, and it’s going to be great!”

Maybe the FedExCup really has achieved a kind of quan. I guess the only way to find out how the game’s wealthiest really feel would be to take the $10 million off the table. Something tells me that’s unlikely.



9. Speaking of refreshing honesty, Tiger Woods! (Did I just type that?)

Woods’ blog update this week was an unexpected and much-appreciated window into the thoughts of a guy sitting at home and experiencing life not unlike the rest of us – save for the frequent text exchanges with Rafa Nadal. The medical update he offered was straightforward and understandable and a welcome contrast to the usually annoying cycle of sourced reports that are then immediately disputed in a dizzying web of misinformation. There was the odd line that made you roll your eyes, but if the golf world got solar-eclipse Tiger and Raider-fan Tiger and mentor Tiger a little more often, everyone – including Woods himself – would be better off. Fewer state secrets and more nicknames, please. (Inky!)

10. And speaking of people speaking their minds, good job, Peter Malnati. Malnati on Sunday became the first professional golfer to openly support professional athletes who have chosen to kneel during the national anthem. 

"Those who kneel during the national anthem aren't disrespecting the heroes who sacrificed to defend the United States," he wrote. "Those who kneel are pointing out that as a nation, we are not doing a good job of upholding the values for which people sacrificed."

As you can see, it's a lengthy missive, one that directly criticizes "the current administration." He explained the impetus for his statement last night in an interview with Golf Central:

Maybe Malnati's statement will lead other pros to speak their mind on issues of injustice or inequality. Then again, Tour types tend to skew to one side of the spectrum, and most of these guys and girls, regardless of their ideology, prefer to punt when asked anything remotely political. However they feel about kneeling, I'm sure many of them are grateful the anthem isn't part of their pre-round routine. That way, they don't have to take a stand – or a knee.

11. It looks like U.S. captain Steve Stricker will be employing the much-ballyhooed pods system this week for the Presidents Cup at Liberty National. Of note, Spieth and Thomas are in separate cohorts, which doesn't necessarily preclude them from teaming this week, but such a pairing would flout standard pod protocol. Spieth will likely spend the bulk of his time playing Bucky to Captain America Patrick Reed, while Thomas pairs with his Tiger's-backyard-chipping-buddy Rickie Fowler. This is all just an excuse to remind you that pods are neither normal nor human.

12. As for the event itself, the International team record stands at 1-9-1 at in 11 tries, with their only win coming at Royal Melbourne in 1998. The 2015 installment in South Korea very nearly resulted in the competition's second halve. This desperately event needs a series of International victories, a Tom Watson captaincy, and a U.S. task force. This will be 37-year-old Adam Scott's eighth Presidents Cup appearance. He has never been a member of the winning side.

13. And, finally, the Web.com Tour Finals come to an end this week. Six-time PGA Tour winner and former East Lake-staple Hunter Mahan will start his week outside The Finals 25 at 33rd in earnings through three events. He'll need a big week to retain his full-time status on the big Tour. Of note, Sam Saunders will start the week 24th, while Zac Blair enters 26th. Other notable names currently outside the top 25 include Curtis Luck, Daniel Summerhays, Shawn Stefani, Cameron Tringale, Spencer Levin, Roberto Castro, Jon Curran, Jonathan Byrd, Ricky Barnes and Colt Knost. 

While the USGA and R&A are rewriting the Rules of Golf, let's go ahead and address what happened to Matthew Southgate on Sunday. The Englishman got hit with a four-shot penalty at the Web.com Finals' DAP Championship when a blowing leaf knocked his putt off-line.

Rule 19-1 calls for the stroke to be cancelled and replayed from the ball's original position, but Southgate tapped in instead. He was later docked two shots for playing from the wrong position and two more for signing an incorrect scorecard.

The Rules of Golf are far too complicated and contradictory. What does and doesn't fall under the purview of the "rub of the green" is confounding. There's nothing you can do about a spike mark, but flying leaves are an aggression that cannot stand, man?

Regardless of the rule itself, there is no reason Soutgate needed to be penalized twice, much like Lexi Thompson at the ANA earlier this year. What was his crime? That a rules official didn't tell him what happened before he signed his card? One infraction should mean one penalty. There shouldn't have been a second infraction or penalty.

This week's award winners ...

The very pants he was about to return: To Jason Dufner, who shot 67 on Friday and encountered a wardrobe malfunction while bending down to pick up his ball late in his round.

But he wasn't done: Two days later, after a final-round 72, a tie for 20th at East Lake, and the 30th-place finish in the FedExCup standings, Dufner ended his 2016-17 by giving away his shoes and apparently his 7-iron to young fans.

I wonder who got the pants.

How very SEC of you: Kevin Kisner needed the help of Thomas, East Lake Golf Club and neighboring Charlie Yates Golf Club, but he was able to secure himself a helicopter ride to the Georgia-Mississippi State game in nearby Athens on Saturday.

Dawgs won 31-3.

How very Nantz of you: To (who else?) Jim Nantz, who was married on the seventh green at Pebble Beach and who we now know has a miniature replica of the iconic par-3 in the backyard of his Pebble Beach home.

Of course, every time we think we’ve hit peak-Nantz, he ups the ante. It’s either the blessing we all assume or some strange, strange curse where he’s not actually in The Good Place.

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Murray fixes swing flaw, recovers momentum

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 2:24 am

SAN ANTONIO - Grayson Murray fixed a flaw in his swing and hit the ball well enough that blustery conditions weren't an issue for him Thursday in the Valero Texas Open.

Coming off a missed cut at Hilton Head last week, Murray made seven birdies for a 5-under 67 and a one-shot lead. His only mistake was a double bogey from a greenside bunker on the par-3 seventh hole.

''Just the fact I did give myself enough opportunities today for birdie, it took a lot of pressure off,'' Murray said.

Of the five players at 68, only Chesson Hadley played in the morning side of the draw, and he called it among his best rounds of the year because of gusts. The wind died in the afternoon and scoring improved slightly on the AT&T Oaks Course at the TPC San Antonio. Keegan Bradley, Ryan Moore, Billy Horschel and Matt Atkins each posted 68. Horschel and Moore played bogey-free.

''Struck the ball really well, something that we've been working hard on,'' Horschel said. ''Could have been better, yeah. I didn't really make anything out there today. But I'm happy with it.''

Sergio Garcia, who consulted Greg Norman on the design of the course, played the Texas Open for the first time since 2010 and shot a 74. Adam Scott failed to make a birdie in his round of 75. Scott is at No. 59 in the world and needs to stay in the top 60 by May 21 to be exempt for the U.S. Open.

Harris English was in the group at 69, while two-time Texas Open champion Zach Johnson, Nick Watney and Brandt Snedeker were among those at 70. Johnson saved his round by going 5 under over his final five holes, starting with a 12-foot eagle putt on the par-5 14th hole. He birdied the last three.


Full-field scores from the Valero Texas Open

Valero Texas Open: Articles, photos and videos


Murray was coming off a pair of top 15s at Bay Hill and the Houston Open when his game got away from him last week in the RBC Heritage, and he shot 74-70 to miss the cut. He got that sorted out in the five days between teeing it up in San Antonio.

He said he was coming down too steep, which meant he would flip his hands and hit a sharp draw or pull out of it and hit it short and right.

''I was hitting each club 10 yards shorter than I normally do, and you can't play like that because your caddie is trying to give you a number and a club, and you keep hitting these bad shots or keep coming up short,'' Murray said. ''I got back to the basics with the setup and the takeaway, got my club in a better position at the top, which kind of frees my downswing. Then I can start going at it.''

Even so, Murray thought he wasted his good start - three birdies in his first six holes - when his bunker shot at No. 7 came out with no spin and rolled off the green into a deep swale. He hit his third short to about 7 feet, but missed the putt and took double bogey.

''I would have loved to limit that to a bogey because bogeys don't really kill you - doubles are the ones that now you've got to have an eagle or two birdies to come back with, and out here it's kind of tough to make birdies,'' Murray said. ''But I kept my head. My caddie keeps me very positive out there, that's why I think we could finish 4 under the last nine holes.''

Only 34 players in the 156-man field managed to break par.

Horschel missed four birdie chances inside 18 feet on the back nine. What pleased him the most was the way he struck the ball, particularly after his tie for fifth last week at the RBC Heritage. Horschel was one shot behind going into the last round and closed with a 72.

But he's all about momentum, and he can only hope this is the start of one of his runs. Horschel won the FedEx Cup in 2014 when he finished second and won the final two playoff events.

''I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward,'' he said. ''I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump in that winner's circle.''

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LPGA back in L.A.: Inbee Park leads by 1

By Associated PressApril 20, 2018, 1:53 am

LOS ANGELES - Inbee Park's flirtation with retirement is in the rear-view mirror.

Backed by a large contingent of South Korean fans, Park shot a 5-under 66 for a one-shot lead Thursday in the opening round of the HUGEL-JTBC LA Open in the LPGA's return to Los Angeles after a 13-year absence.

Showers ended shortly before Park's threesome, including second-ranked Lexi Thompson, teed off at windy Wilshire Country Club just south of Hollywood.

Using a new putter, Park birdied four consecutive holes on the back nine before a bogey on the par-4 17th. She quickly recovered and rolled in birdie putts on the second and fifth holes to finish off her round.

''I never played a tournament outside Korea having this much Korean supporters out,'' Park said. ''I almost feel like I'm playing back home. It's almost like a little Korea.''

That applies to the food, too, with nearby Koreatown's restaurants beckoning.

''Too many,'' Park said.

The third-ranked Park banished the blade-style putter she used in her Founders Cup victory last month in Phoenix, a playoff loss in the ANA Inspiration and a tie for third last week in Hawaii. She went back to one that feels more comfortable and has brought her success in the past.

''Last week was just an awkward week where I missed a lot of short ones and I just wasn't really comfortable with the putter,'' Park said, ''so I just wanted to have a different look.''

The 29-year-old Hall of Famer recently said she was 50-50 about retiring before returning to the tour in early March after a six-month break. Momentum has been going her way ever since.

Marina Alex was second. Thompson was one of seven players at 68 in partly sunny and unseasonable temperatures in the low 60s.


Full-field scores from the Hugel-JTBC Open


Alex tied Park with a birdie on No. 11. The American dropped a stroke with a bogey on the par-5 13th before rallying with a birdie on No. 14 to share the lead.

Alex found trouble on the par-4 17th. Her ball crossed over a winding creek, bounced and then rolled into the water, leaving Alex looking for it. Eventually, she salvaged a bogey to drop a shot behind Park. After a bad tee shot on 18, Alex managed a par to close at 67.

''I made a lot of the putts that I shouldn't, I wouldn't have expected to make,'' she said. ''I made two great saves on 17 and 18. Kind of got away with some not-so-solid golf shots in the beginning, and I capitalized on some great putts.''

Thompson returned from a two-week break after finishing tied for 20th at the ANA Inspiration, the year's first major.

She bogeyed her second hole, the par-4, 401-yard 11th, before settling down and birdieing four of the next eight holes, including the 14th, 15th and 16th.

''I changed a little thing that slipped my mind that I was working on earlier in the year,'' said Thompson, declining to share the change in her putting technique. ''I don't want to jinx it.''

ANA winner Pernilla Lundberg was among those in the logjam after a 68.

Natalie Gulbis was among five players tied for 10th at 69. Playing sparingly the last two years, Gulbis put together a round that included four birdies and two bogeys.

Top-ranked Shanshan Feng struggled to a 74 with five bogeys and two birdies.

The venerable course with views of the Hollywood sign and Griffith Observatory wasn't any kinder to eighth-ranked Cristie Kerr and Michelle Wie.

Both had up-and-down rounds that included three bogeys and a double-bogey on No. 10 for Kerr and five bogeys, including three in a row, for Wie. Wie, ranked 14th, had a few putts that lipped out.

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Horschel (68) builds on momentum at Valero

By Will GrayApril 20, 2018, 12:32 am

Billy Horschel only ever needs to see a faint glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.

While some players require a slow ascent from missed cuts to contending on the weekend, Horschel's switches between the two can often be drastic. Last year he missed three straight cuts before defeating Jason Day in a playoff to win the AT&T Byron Nelson, a turnaround that Horschel said "still shocks me to this day."

The veteran is at it again, having missed five of six cuts prior to last week's RBC Heritage. But a few tweaks quickly produced results, as Horschel tied for fifth at Harbour Town. He wasted no time in building on that momentum with a bogey-free, 4-under 68 to open the Valero Texas Open that left him one shot behind Grayson Murray.

"I'm a big momentum player. I've got to get the train moving forward," Horschel told reporters Thursday. "I've always been a guy who gets on a little roll, get that train moving and jump into the winner's circle. So yeah, it would have been great to win last week, but it was just nice to play four really good rounds of golf."

Many big names tend to skip this week's stop at TPC San Antonio, but Horschel has managed to thrive on the difficult layout in recent years. He finished third in both 2013 and 2015, and tied for fourth in 2016.

With a return next week to the Zurich Classic of New Orleans where he notched his first career win in 2013 and a title defense in Dallas on the horizon, Horschel believes he's turning things around at just the right time.

"Gets the momentum going, carry it into this week, next week, which I've had a lot of success at," Horschel said. "Really the rest of the year, from here on in I have a lot of really good events I've played well in."

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Three years later, PXG launches new iron

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 19, 2018, 11:22 pm

Three years is a long time between launches of club lines, but Bob Parsons, founder and CEO of PXG, says his company had a very good reason for waiting that long to introduce its second-generation irons.

“Three years ago, when we introduced our first generation 0311 iron, we made a commitment that we would not release a product unless it was significantly better than our existing product,” Parsons said. “:Our GEN2 irons are better than our GEN1 irons in every respect. We believe it’s the best iron ever made, and the second-best iron ever made is our GEN1 iron.”

PXG’s 0311 GEN2 irons, which officially went on sale today, feature what the company says is the world’s thinnest clubface. They have a forged 8620 soft carbon steel body and PXG’s signature weighting technology. The hollow clubheads are filled with a new polymer material that PXG says not only dampens vibration, but also produces higher ball speeds and thus more distance.

The irons come in four “collections” – Tour Performance, Players, Xtreme Forgiveness and Super Game Improvement.

Cost is $400 per iron, or $500 for PXG’s “Extreme Dark” finish. Price includes custom fitting. For more information, visit www.pxg.com.