Dustin Johnson reminds us who's No. 1, Jordan Spieth surrenders a big lead, playoff fever hits the PGA and Web.com tours, and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
Spieth’s reaction as he walked up to the 18th green said it all.
He turned and smiled at his caddie, Michael Greller. He slightly shrugged his shoulders.
How do you possibly beat THAT?
In one of the best finishes of the PGA Tour season, Johnson took an unfathomable line off the tee en route to a 341-yard drive, then flipped a lob wedge to 4 feet for a birdie, a playoff victory at The Northern Trust and his fourth title of the season.
This was the DJ of the spring, when he looked and was unbeatable, when everyone else was playing for second place, when he entered the Masters as the prohibitive favorite. That’ll be the biggest what-if of the year – what if he didn’t fall on the stairs and injure his back on the eve of the year's first major? – but there still is time to cap his most dominant season yet.
This was a heck of a start.
1. After swirling in an 18-footer for par on the 72nd hole (following a smart layup), Johnson felt the breeze at his back and hammered his tee shot over the lake, with a 310-yard carry.
Spieth regretted that he didn’t take a more aggressive line off the tee, leaving him a 7-iron as opposed to Johnson’s wedge.
Here’s the disparity on ShotLink:
Said Spieth: “At that point, I have to try and make par the best I can, and I’m just hoping. I’m at such a disadvantage.”
2. This was Johnson’s first victory since he ran off three in a row in March, and he said earlier this week that he came into the playoffs under the radar.
“I was struggling a little bit,” he said.
Two good practice sessions got him back on track, and on Sunday night, with the trophy by his side, he declared: “I feel about as good as I did before Augusta.”
That's bad news for the rest of the field.
3. Much is made of Johnson’s prodigious length (and for good reason), but it was his grittiness, wedge play and clutch putting that earned him the victory at Glen Oaks.
DJ led the field in scrambling, getting up-and-down 13 times in 16 chances.
None were better than his saves on the last two holes.
On the par-3 17th, he flared his tee shot into the greenside bunker, splashed out to 3 feet and saved par. On the 18th hole in regulation, Johnson drew a terrible lie in the rough. He thought about muscling his approach shot toward the green, hoping to catch one of the greenside bunkers, but instead chose to lay up to 90 yards and rely on his much-improved wedge play. He sank the slippery 18-footer – his ball catching the right edge, spinning around the cup and dropping in the back door – to force a playoff.
His power took over from there.
“This is the most excited I’ve been on a golf course in a while,” he said. “That was the first time that I really had to work hard for my win.”
4. Maybe we should have seen this one coming from Spieth, golf’s most volatile closer.
Though he had cruised to a stress-free win earlier this year at Pebble Beach, his last two opportunities were rife with drama.
First was the Travelers, where he needed a long putt late on the back nine and then a holed bunker shot in the playoff. Then came The Open, where he lost his three-shot lead in four holes and made one of the most remarkable bogeys in major-championship history before going on his torrid run.
And on Sunday, he had another final round that was more stressful than he wanted.
Spieth built a five-shot lead after five holes but was tied as he walked off the 10th green. He once again showed a flair for the dramatic – holding birdie putts on 13 and 14, sinking a crucial 18-footer for par on 17 and expertly lagging a 75-footer on 18 – but he couldn’t match Johnson’s birdie in the playoff.
“It’s very difficult holding a lead on a difficult golf course when the guy you’re playing with goes bogey-free and doesn’t even really sniff a bogey and shoots 4 under,” Spieth said. “Hats off to DJ.”
It was only Spieth's second lost 54-hole lead in his last 11 attempts, and his first with a multi-shot lead.
5. It would take a spirited playoff run to garner the votes, but Johnson reentered the Player of the Year conversation with his fourth victory.
Justin Thomas is still the frontrunner for the award, and Spieth missed a golden opportunity to overtake him.
DJ’s four wins matches Thomas for the most on Tour this season. He has two WGC titles but – this will hurt him in the POY race – no top-10s in majors after injuring his back. He’ll likely have to win at least one more playoff event, and the FedExCup, to sway some of his peers.
6. Only three players moved inside the top 100 bubble at the Northern Trust. That’s the fewest since 2007.
One was Bubba Watson, who tied for 10th and punched his ticket to Boston for the 11th consecutive year.
The others were David Lingmerth, who started at No. 103, and Harold Varner III, who continued his hot streak, qualifying for a playoff event for the second consecutive week.
Among the players whose season is now over: Jimmy Walker, Luke Donald, Steve Stricker, Geoff Ogilvy and Harris English.
7. Rory McIlroy made a curious decision last week when he announced that not only would he play the PGA Tour’s postseason, but he would also tee it up at the European Tour’s Dunhill Links before shutting it down for the rest of the year to rest his injured rib.
How did he reach that decision? He believes that he still can win – he has won at least once every year since 2008 – and shouldn’t do any more damage to his ribs.
But there still is some risk involved. He risks aggravating his injury further and delaying his recovery. He risks developing bad swing habits because he’s overcompensating.
Currently 43rd in the points standings, McIlroy isn't a lock for the Tour Championship.
8. If you don’t think Rickie Fowler’s play while in contention is concerning, consider that he is now 0-for-6 with at least a share of the 36-hole lead on Tour.
His latest disappointment was hard to fathom. Paired with Spieth in the third round, Fowler was 10 shots worse than his playing partner. Only four players had a worse score than Fowler’s third-round 74. He eventually tied for 20th.
9. Can we stop this narrative that Phil Mickelson’s cup streak is in jeopardy? He’s going to be on the team.
The 47-year-old has played in every international team competition since 1994, and a combination of factors will ensure that he plays on his 23rd consecutive U.S. team next month at Liberty National.
Captain Steve Stricker has already said that it’s up to Mickelson (who is No. 18 on the points list) if he wants a spot on the team. Translation: He isn’t the captain to end Lefty’s streak.
Even though he hasn’t played well since the first week of June (he tied for 54th at Glen Oaks and had another birdie-free round), and even though he has appeared lost at times without his trusty sidekick Jim “Bones” Mackay, Mickelson has shown an ability to rise to the occasion and become a productive member of Team USA. He also has a strong track record at this week's venue, TPC Boston.
Most working in his favor: He doesn’t have much competition. Ahead of him on the points list are Kevin Chappell, Brian Harman, Jason Dufner, Gary Woodland, Brandt Snedeker (injured), Brendan Steele and Ryan Moore.
That group isn’t scaring anyone. Four of those players have never made a U.S. team, and with the influx of young talent, the Americans could use a veteran presence like Lefty in the team room.
Next week, barring some late surprise, expect Chappell and Mickelson to get the call.
10. The Web.com Tour’s regular-season finale produced its usual share of heartbreak, even if no players cracked the top 25 during the final week of qualifying.
No player suffered more than Keith Mitchell, the former Georgia standout who entered the week at No. 36 on the money list.
Playing in the final group with the most nerves of his career, Mitchell needed a birdie on one of the last two holes to move inside the top 25. He left his birdie putt on the lip on the 71st hole, then was told – incorrectly – that he needed an eagle on the par-5 finishing hole. He pulled his approach shot into a collection area left of the green, and he hit a mediocre chip to 15 feet. Thinking that he’d already squandered his chance to earn his Tour card, Mitchell missed his birdie try wide right, despite getting a free read from his playing partner.
“I hate it ended how it did,” he said afterward. “It’s really, really, really disappointing, and it’s really going to hurt, because I relied on information that I shouldn’t have. I felt like I played amazing.”
Among the players who have already locked up their Tour cards for next season heading into the Web.com Tour Finals: money leader Brice Garnett, Stephan Jaeger, Andrew Yun, Aaron Wise and Beau Hossler. Roberto Diaz grabbed the 25th and final card – by more than $6,000 over Mitchell.
11. Billy Payne announced his retirement this week as the chairman of Augusta National and the Masters. He will step down in mid-October and be replaced by Fred Ridley.
It’s not an overstatement that Payne was arguably the most transformative leader in Augusta National’s history: He admitted the club’s first female members, OK’d incredible improvements to the grounds and spearheaded several grow-the-game initiatives, including the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship and amateur qualifiers in Latin America and Asia. His legacy will continue to grow.
12. A couple of LPGA-related thoughts from the past week:
Sung Hyun Park could become the first player since Nancy Lopez to win both the LPGA’s player and rookie of the year awards. Park earned her second title of 2017 with a final-round 64 at the Canadian Open. She has essentially locked up the top rookie award, but she is now second in the Player of the Year race.
A wildly disappointing year from Lydia Ko got even worse last week, when she missed the cut at the Canadian Open, where she had won two of the previous four years. Still winless, the 20-year-old has taken a massive step backward this year – and she only has herself to blame, after changing swing coaches, equipment and caddies.
- Can Michelle Wie catch a break? The LPGA’s most star-crossed star, who was six shots back in Ottawa, withdrew before the final round to undergo an emergency appendectomy.
In one of the most bizarre scenes of the year, Lucas Glover crumpled to the turf after his right foot slid out from under him while he played the 18th hole Saturday at The Northern Trust. He stayed on the ground for nearly 10 minutes, allowing the group behind to play through, and he used his club as a cane to finish the hole.
It sure looked like he’d suffered a major injury in a freak accident and would need surgery and 12 months of rehab … except all he had was a slight knee strain. He played Sunday without pain and tied for 40th.
Clearly, Glover was embarrassed by his dramatic performance on 18. On Saturday night, he wrote a lengthy apology on Twitter, saying that he hated to think his “scene” affected his playing partner, Grayson Murray, and the group behind, David Lingmerth and Charley Hoffman.
Glad he’s OK, and his heartfelt apology was the right (and classy) thing to do.
This week's award winners ...
Rock Star of the Week: Brooke Henderson. Playing in front of some of the largest galleries that longtime observers had ever seen on the LPGA, the young and mega-talented Canadian put on a show at her home open, dazzling with a third-round 63 and tying for 12th. With apologies to Adam Hadwin and Graham DeLaet, Brooke might be the country's biggest star.
How Not to Play the 72nd Hole: David Horsey. Trailing by one at the European Tour’s Made in Denmark event, Horsey snap-hooked his tee shot on the final hole and lost his ball, then sent his reload into the water for a triple. He lost to American Julian Suri.
Our Long National Nightmare is Over: Maverick McNealy. The former Stanford star, who has wavered for the past few years about whether he wanted to turn pro or enter the business world, like his billionaire father, finally decided that he’ll join the play-for-pay ranks after the Walker Cup. More here.
So You Want to Try and Make it on Tour?: Monday qualifiers. Of the 95 spots filled by Monday qualifiers this past season, the average score was 65.88. A whopping 73 percent went on to miss the cut, with no top 10s. It makes what Patrick Reed did in 2012 – when he Monday-qualified for six events – all the more remarkable.
Great News: Jarrod Lyle. In the hospital again for a third bout with leukemia, the affable Australian announced that his cancer is now in remission. Keep fighting, pal.
Decision to Make: Joaquin Niemann. The recipient of the McCormack Medal as the world’s top amateur, the 18-year-old Chilean is now exempt into both summer opens in 2018. But he told GolfChannel.com two weeks ago that he would play Web.com Tour Q-School in the fall and likely turn pro at the beginning of the year.
Your Home for College Golf: Golf Channel. The men's and women's NCAA Championship will be on our air for at least another 10 years, it was announced Monday. Speaking of which ...
Preseason No. 1: Oklahoma State. The hosts for the '18 NCAAs were named the No. 1 team in the preseason men's college golf polls. No surprise there.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. Leading the FedEx Cup, and with five consecutive top-10s worldwide, Matsuyama was out of sorts early with an opening 74, but he still appeared on the verge of making the cut until a 3-foot miss on his 36th hole. Sigh.