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Monday Scramble: Rahm, Henderson earn popular wins

By Ryan LavnerApril 16, 2018, 3:00 pm

Jon Rahm wins at home, Satoshi Kodaira rallies, Brooke Henderson impresses, Kelly Kraft stews and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Each of the top players has a weakness – iron play, accuracy, short putting, temperament – but Jon Rahm might be best positioned for success.

He has proven, with five wins in just 15 short months, that he can triumph anywhere and everywhere.

Winning on one of the most difficult courses on Tour (Torrey Pines) and one of the easiest (PGA West), taking the title when it’s blustery (Ireland) and dome-like (Dubai), Rahm can now add another line to his increasingly impressive résumé, outlasting the field and steeling himself to capture his home open in Spain.

There will be rough patches, of course, since these stars are not machines. But it’s worth noting that the 23-year-old Rahm has missed only one cut since the U.S. Open.

He brings it every time he tees it up, often giving himself a chance to win, wherever that may be.


1. Rahm didn’t rise in the rankings after taking the Spanish Open title, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a significant victory.

Playing his home open for the first time, he closed with 67 to hunt down Paul Dunne and Nacho Elvira and win for the second time this year. A week after finishing fourth at the Masters, Rahm flew 14 hours and still shot 20 under par.

For now Rahm remained at No. 4 in the world, even with the victory, but he's expected to leapfrog Spieth in two weeks. Math!

2. To many players, a home open is as important as any event outside of the majors. At age 23, Rahm became just the fifth Spaniard to win the Spanish Open over the past 40 years, joining Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia, Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jimenez.

“It’s truly been the hardest Sunday I’ve ever had in any tournament that I’ve won, because the crowd wanted it so much and I wanted it so much,” he said afterward. “You can tell how excited everybody is. I felt that tension; I felt that stress. I felt everything magnified.”

3. So Rahm was able to handle the pressure of trying to win at home. Elvira, it seems, could not.

Tied for the lead with two holes to play, Elvira missed on the 71st hole the only place he could not – left, in the water. He still would have had a chance on the home hole, but he yipped a 3-footer for a deflating double bogey.

He finished third, three shots back. Dunne, the 54-hole leader, wound up in second.



4. Satoshi Kodaira erased a six-shot deficit on the final day at the RBC Heritage. In difficult conditions he shot a 5-under 66, then waited around to see if his 12-under 272 would be enough.

Locked in a playoff with Players champion Si Woo Kim, Kodaira made two pars before rolling in a 25-footer for the win on the third extra hole.

The Heritage was just his 15th career PGA Tour start.

“To win this quickly is a big surprise to me,” he said.

5. Never heard of Kodaira?

He’s a six-time Japan Tour winner who has never had a top-25 in a major. (Though he tied for 28th at the Masters.) Last year, he won twice and ripped off 13 other top-10s on the Japanese circuit to soar up the world rankings. He entered the week at No. 46 and now is all the way up to 27th – ahead of guys like Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay and Daniel Berger.  

Clearly, he has a ton of game. He finished the week ranked sixth in strokes gained: off the tee and seventh in the tee-to-green statistics.

“This course is very similar to the courses in Japan – a little bit shorter and a shape course,” he said. “I felt very comfortable.”



6. Kodaira benefited from Kim’s horrible day on the greens.

Entering the week ranked 209th out of 210 players on Tour in strokes gained: putting, Kim predictably looked lost at times. Holding a slim lead down the stretch, he missed putts of 4, 7, 5 and 6 feet over the last four holes to drop into the playoff. In overtime, he also missed a pair of 20-footers.

It was all part of a round in which Kim lost nearly three strokes to the field on the greens and holed a combined 33 feet of putts. With stats like that, it was a miracle he was even in contention and able to shoot even par on Sunday.

“Rather than it being nerves,” Kim said through a translator, “I think with the weather, it kind of slowed the greens down and affected them, how I made the putts. But I tried my best and the putts didn’t drop.”

As sweet as Kim’s swing appears, there’s a reason why the two-time Tour winner has also missed 22 cuts over the past three seasons.

7. Six Sunday birdies helped Dustin Johnson salvage a respectable showing in his Palmetto State homecoming.

A new RBC ambassador, Johnson was playing the Heritage for the first time since 2009. He had missed the cut in his two prior appearances at one of the most claustrophobic courses on Tour, failing to even break par in a round, but he’s a different, more well-rounded player now. He shot rounds of 69-69-72-67 to tie for 16th.

He’s had significantly more success at the other RBC event on the schedule – the Canadian Open, the week after The Open, where he has a pair of runners-up and another top-10 in five starts.



8. With Lydia Ko’s game on the fritz, it looks like Brooke Henderson could be the young star to rule the game in 2018. The 20-year-old Canadian won for the sixth time on the LPGA, battling strong winds and winning by four shots at the Lotte Championship. She already has three other top-10s this season.

Henderson is a joy to watch, the rare female talent who is unafraid to grip-and-rip the driver and to attack flags even when she’s clinging to a narrow lead. It’s a stark contrast to Ko, who captured 14 tour titles with steady, methodical, consistent, almost boring play.

Henderson is just two wins shy of tying Sandra Post for the most wins by a Canadian player in LPGA history.

9. It took the PGA Tour a while to finally get on Keith Pelley’s level, and the selections will probably be more Darius Rucker than Drake, but tournament officials should be applauded for trying something different next week at the Zurich Classic: walk-up music on the first tee.

With one week left to commit, here are some of the notable groups: Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley, Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan, Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer, Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay, Sergio Garcia-Rafa Cabrera Bello, Tommy Fleetwood-Chris Paisley, Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels, Graeme McDowell-Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar.



10. Those who think the PGA Tour Champions is just a carefree hit-and-giggle must not have watched Saturday’s 36-hole finish.

Forced to complete two rounds in one day because of severe storms expected to hit the area on Sunday, the over-50 set played a marathon Saturday that went even longer, with Steve Flesch, Bernhard Langer and Scott Parel battling it out in a playoff.

Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that it was a 50-year-old, Steve Flesch, who emerged from the pack, taking the Mitsubishi Electric Championship after a 38-hole day. At least they got to use carts at hilly TPC Sugarloaf.

“I know I’ll sleep great,” Flesch said, “but mentally I’m more exhausted than physically.”

He won in only his sixth career senior start, after previously failing to record a top-15 this season.

“You never know if you’re ever going to win again,” said Flesch, who hadn’t won anywhere since 2007. “Honestly, it’s been harder than I anticipated winning on this tour. The guys are so good. That Langer guy is hard to beat.”


Not all missed cuts are the same. Just ask Kelly Kraft.

Fighting to play the weekend at the Heritage, Kraft’s tee shot on the par-3 14th had just begun its descent when it drilled a bird. His ball dropped short of the green, in the water, and led to a double bogey. He missed the cut by one.

“It wouldn’t been in the middle of the green,” he said. “It might have been close. I got screwed.”

At this point, you just hope that the bad break doesn’t cost Kraft down the road, or at least evens out over time. He entered the week at No. 85 in the FedEx Cup standings.

This week's award winners ... 


Stay Hot: Luke List. In 16 starts this season, he now has nine top-25s and a trio of top-5s – a tie for fifth at the CJ Cup, a playoff loss at Honda and now a tie for third at the Heritage, where he finished one shot out of the Kim-Kodaira playoff.  

Running On Fumes: Ian Poulter. Playing his sixth consecutive week, the Englishman crashed back to Earth with a final-round 75 while staked to the overnight lead. After winning just two Tour events in 240 career starts, he was seeking his second title in the past three weeks.

Back to the Drawing Board: Live Under Par. Saying goodbye to “These Guys are Good” after two decades, the PGA Tour rolled out its new advertising campaign, which was supposed to highlight the Tour’s younger, fan-friendly approach. A sampling on Twitter shows just how much it missed the mark, but even more of a forehead-slapper was the fact that, in the UK, to “live under par” means that you feel like total crap. Oops!

Psycho Scorecard of the Week: James Hahn. Not good in golf, but, man, Giancarlo Stanton would love to hit for the cycle right about now:


Not Quite Tiger-Esque: Paul Casey. His Tour-leading streak of 29 consecutive cuts made came to an end at the Heritage. Too bad, because he was only 113 short of catching Tiger’s amazing run.

Leading Amateurs: Hogan Award finalists. The final vote isn’t for another month, but right now Ole Miss’ Braden Thornberry, Oregon’s Norman Xiong and Texas’ Doug Ghim should be considered the frontrunners for amateur golf’s most prestigious award.

Place Your Bets: PGA Tour. The Tour said last week that it would support legalizing sports betting, falling in line with other major sports leagues. One thing to watch: Fan behavior is already an issue, and that could be exacerbated if, say, a spectator has 50 benjis on a JT head-to-head victory.

Lunch of (Masters) Champions: Patrick Reed hits Chick-fil-A. 


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Luke Donald. His form stunk heading into Harbour Town, but rarely has that mattered – since 2009, he was 9-for-9 with five runners-up and a pair of third-place finishes, reason enough for many one-and-doners to pick him. Then he opened with 76, and even though he rebounded with a Friday 67, it still wasn’t enough to make the cut. Sigh.

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DJ may keep cross-handed grip for Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 4:29 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – As he’s proven in the past Dustin Johnson isn’t averse to switching things up when it comes to his putting, but this was extreme even for him.

Johnson switched to a cross-handed grip on the sixth hole during Saturday’s third round at the Tour Championship and continued to use the same grip through the final round.

It was the first time he’d putted cross-handed in competition and the first time he switched his grip mid-round.


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“I did it a few times on the putting green. Sometimes I do it on the putting green just to get my setup a little bit better because it just levels out my shoulders,” said Johnson, who closed his week at East Lake with a 67 and finished alone in third place. “I was putting well. I hit some bad putts for the first five holes, so after I hit a really bad putt for eagle on 6, the next one I tried it, I made it, so I kept it going.”

Johnson, who moved back into the top spot in the World Golf Ranking thanks to his third-place finish, was encouraged by his putting on the weekend but he was vague when asked if he planned to putt cross-handed this week at the Ryder Cup.

“We're going to stick with it for now. We'll try it,” he said.

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For the U.S. team, advice from the gridiron

By Damon HackSeptember 24, 2018, 4:01 pm

Seve Ballesteros might have been a magician with a sand wedge, but he was truly hell on wheels.

As Europe’s captain at the 1997 Ryder Cup in his native Spain, Ballesteros led his team with a heavy foot, racing across the emerald landscape in a souped-up Club Car festooned with blue flags.

“All week long it seemed like there were four Seves or five Seves,” recalls Lee Janzen, who went 2-1-0 for the United States. “He was everywhere. I’d turn around and look up and he’d be following our group, and then he was gone, and then he was back with our group again. I found out years later that there were tunnels at the golf course. I asked [‘97 U.S. captain] Tom Kite and he said he knew about the tunnels, too, but it didn’t seem like he knew about ALL the tunnels.”

The most infamous golf cart in the history of the Ryder Cup is, mercifully, far from Paris, but somehow the skid marks from Valderrama remain.

Europe’s 14 ½-to-13 ½ win over the United States 25 years ago began a streak that has lasted over two decades, a stretch of European dominance and long American flights home.

While the United States has made large strides in teamwork and bonding, the work of its 2014 task force must be judged as incomplete until the Americans find a way in Europe.

It hasn’t happened since Bryson DeChambeau was 10 days old.

“I’m getting tired of saying I was on the last team to win on the road,” says Jim Gallagher Jr., who defeated Ballesteros in singles as a Ryder Cup rookie in 1993. “That was the horse-and-buggy era.”

The American road futility has not gone unnoticed. It has transcended the golf world to the point that figures throughout the sports world have watched as five straight American teams have returned from Europe empty-handed - from Valderrama, the Belfry, the K Club, Celtic Manor and Gleneagles.

One year, Seve shrinks the course, tightening the doglegs and taking driver out of the hands of Tiger and Phil (1997). Or Paul McGinley makes the big putt (2002). Or Darren Clarke proves an inspiration (2006). Or there’s rainsuitgate, golf's version of a wardrobe malfunction (2010). Or Jamie Donaldson starts knocking down flagsticks (2014).

It’s always been something - the vagaries of travel, body clocks out of rhythm, fewer friendly faces in the crowd and missed putts.

So how do you win on the road?

“Whatever you’ve done to be successful in a Ryder Cup at home you try to do the same thing on the road, as far as preparation, meals, meetings, practice, timing, as much as you can make it a home situation,” says Dan Reeves, who participated in nine combined Super Bowls as an NFL running back and coach. “Stay in as nice a place as you can. Do you have a pre-game meal? One thing you’ll talk about with your team is that they’ll be in Paris for several days.”

Reeves was the Atlanta Falcons' head coach for Super Bowl XXXIII in Miami when one of his top defensive players was arrested for soliciting an undercover policewoman the night before the game.

The Falcons went on to lose to Reeves’ former team - the Denver Broncos - 34-19 in what has become one of the most well-known cautionary tales in sports.

“There are a lot of distractions on the road,” Reeves says. “Stay focused on what the job is, have things arranged to where they can do things as a group instead of going out and getting into any kind of trouble.”

R.C. Slocum, the former head coach of Texas A&M, also took his road preparation seriously, once going as far as calling Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio for advice on a road game against the high-powered University of Hawaii.

“I called the military and said, ‘Tell me about moving troops from one time zone to another,’” Slocum says. “They gave me a study. The typical response for a long airplane ride is for adults to drink alcohol and coffee and for [college] kids to have carbonated drinks. If you have a few alcoholic beverages at 40,000 feet, you are going to have sleep issues and hydration issues. We put a quart bottle of water in every kid’s seat. ‘Drink this whole bottle before we get there.’”

Slocum says the study also told him to get his players on the time zone of the arrival city as soon as possible.

“The best thing to do when you land,” Slocum says, “is to go get some exercise.”

The coach put together a robust itinerary for his team that varied from a Polynesian dinner show to a solemn trip to the USS Arizona Memorial at Pearl Harbor.

After calling several coaches of teams who’d lost road games in Hawaii, Slocum packed extra sunscreen after being told of visiting athletes striking out to Hawaii’s beaches and ending up too sunburnt to comfortably wear shoulder pads.

“Those are things you can control,” Slocum says.

His Aggies won, 28-13.

What advice would he give to U.S. captain Jim Furyk and his 12 players as they try to unlock their own road riddle?

“This is a business trip at the highest level,” Slocum says. “They are so privileged to be on the team and represent the United States. They owe it to each other to be at their best. Anything a guy does against that is cheating his teammates and his country and all the people back home rooting for him. To play on the biggest stage is an opportunity that only rolls around a few times.”

That stage has only grown bigger through the years, as evidenced by the 50,000 fans that attended Hazeltine each day.

Some organizers have predicted 60,000 to 65,000 daily at Le Golf National.

And most won’t be donning red, white and blue.

“It’s a bit like in football in that you want to keep them quiet, but the louder they scream and the better you play, that’s what’s really energizing,” says Joe Theismann, who won Super Bowl XVII as the Washington Redskins' quarterback. “When you reach an elite status as an athlete, the ability to focus and block things out is paramount. I played in front of 100,000 people and I could still hear a pin drop.”

Theismann still remembers leading Washington to a 1983 road win against the Detroit Lions at the Pontiac Silverdome.

“Loudest stadium I’ve ever played in,” he says. “It was built down into the ground so the sound would circle around you and sit on top of you. Coming out of that game, you felt like you accomplished something.”

At Ryder Cups in Europe, that sound has been chants of “Ole, ole, ole, ole,” a soundtrack on an endless loop.

“You want to thrive in that chaos,” says former Green Bay Packers linebacker A.J. Hawk. “That’s the true test of mental strength.”

Hawk imagined himself standing in the middle of the United States team room on the eve of the Ryder Cup.

“That’s a hell of a group to be addressing, a lot of major championships,” Hawk says. “I’d say ‘Look at your left and right. This is us against them, and we are in hostile territory. You’ve got each other, your wives, your family, and there is nobody else. Let’s go out here and lean on your brother. You go into Paris and beat up on Europe, you all will be talking about it for the next 20, 30, 40 years.”

Much better than talking about Seve’s old golf cart.

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U.S. team celebrates wins by Woods, Stricker

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 3:50 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The U.S. Ryder Cup team was waiting to catch a charter flight to Paris late Sunday in Atlanta when the man everyone was waiting for arrived.

“We had a major victory for the team and we had a whole group of guys waiting in the team room, and then a giant roar when Steve Stricker walked in the room after his victory last night,” U.S. captain Jim Furyk laughed.

Stricker, one of Furyk’s vice captains, did win on Sunday, but it was on the PGA Champions Tour at the Sanford International. The bigger roar, of course, was reserved for Tiger Woods, who won for the first time in five years at the Tour Championship.


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“Obviously Tiger played so well at the Tour Championship and to grab ahold of the golf tournament early and fend everyone off, I think was a good buzz in the team room,” Furyk said. “It’s nice to have those two guys play so well, and you know, start us off pretty well this week.”

Woods’ victory at East Lake included a final-round pairing with Rory McIlroy, who the American beat by three strokes, and set an early tone for the Ryder Cup. In fact, European captain Thomas Bjorn was even asked if Woods should be “feared” this week.

“We don't fear anyone because we've played against them so many times before individually but we respect our opponents and know what we are up against,” Bjorn said.

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U.S. Ryder Cup team arrives in Paris

By Rex HoggardSeptember 24, 2018, 3:27 pm

SAINT-QUENTIN-EN-YVELINES, France – The U.S. Ryder Cup team landed in Paris just before 1 p.m. (local time) on Monday and most players headed to the hotel to rest following a long week at the Tour Championship.

“I’m not going to be at the golf course tomorrow,” Justin Thomas said on Sunday following his final round at East Lake.

U.S. captain Jim Furyk said he encouraged his players to take a day to rest and recover with a busy week looming. Half of Furyk’s team have never played Le Golf National, site of this week’s matches, and the next three days promise to be a crash course in learning the nuances of the layout.


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“These next three days are very key for us and very important in practice to get to know this golf course, to understand as best we can the ins and outs,” Furyk said.

Thomas played the French Open on the Ryder Cup course in July and Bubba Watson, Jordan Spieth and Tony Finau made a scouting trip to Le Golf National prior to The Open.

“I was always a guy who broke down golf courses in a major trying to learn, like at a major championship, trying to learn a golf course in 36 holes and be very prepared for that round on Thursday,” Furyk said. “That's what we're going to have to do, and the European side is going to know the golf course a lot better.”