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Monday Scramble: Top 10 favorites for Baltusrol

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Jhonattan Vegas (somehow) wins in Canada, Steve Wheatcroft blades a bunker shot, Tiger Woods shuts it down for the season, the U.S. celebrates a team title and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

A week after Henrik Stenson made golf look so easy, the final round of the Canadian Open offered a harsh reminder of how difficult it is to win at the elite level.

Vegas posted 12-under 276 and watched for the next hour as contender after contender faltered down the stretch. 

Ricky Barnes snap-hooked his tee shot on 18. Martin Laird’s drive barely rolled into a fairway bunker, leaving an awkward stance. Dustin Johnson’s approach covered the flag but flew about five yards too far.

And, most notably, Wheatcroft went par-bogey-bogey on the gettable last three holes, including a bladed bunker shot into the water on the 72nd hole.

It’s a hard-earned victory for Vegas, who has battled multiple injuries over the past few seasons. That he was the last man standing was the real surprise. 

"Those are the fortunate breaks that sometimes you need to be a champion on the PGA Tour," Vegas said.

1. Vegas won in his second start in the big leagues, at PGA West in 2011. All of a sudden, the little-known Venezuelan was transformed into “Johnny Vegas,” a recognizable, young, affable star who was poised to take the Tour by storm.

It didn’t quite turn out like that, of course. A left-shoulder injury and lack of belief derailed his progress, and he recorded only four top-10s the next four seasons combined. 

Now fully healthy, Vegas, 31, had chances to win in Mississippi, in New Orleans and again last week in Alabama, where he shot a second-round 60 but followed with back-to-back scores of 72.

When he finished off his 64 Sunday, it seemed like it would, at best, be enough for a playoff. Instead, he walked away a winner, again.

“I thought that I could have kept it going, winning a few times right after (the 2011 breakthrough),” he said. “But obviously putting aside the injuries, it’s just hard to win out here. You have to play well from beginning all the way to the end, and obviously like today, you have to have things work out your way to win.”  

2. Of the many guys who came up short – a list including the red-hot Johnson and 54-hole leader Brandt Snedeker – Wheatcroft’s close call could have the most significant ramifications. 

Wheatcroft, a 38-year-old journeyman who was making his 130th Tour start, entered last week at No. 153 on the FedEx Cup points list, outside the bubble to retain his card for next season. With the regular season winding down, he desperately needed a high finish. 

He made par on the easy 16th, bogeyed the short 17th from the middle of the fairway and then tugged his second shot into the par-5 finisher into a greenside bunker. If he made par, he would have salvaged his day, finishing in a four-way tie for second and earning enough points to cross the No. 125 threshold (at least for now). But he made bogey, and now he sits at No. 134 with only three regular-season starts remaining. Next month, those miscues could loom large.

3. Interestingly, Wheatcroft’s skull wasn’t the first odd shot we saw out of the bunkers at Glen Abbey. The depth of sand seemed inconsistent, at best.

Said Wheatcroft of his now-infamous blade into the drink: “It was an easy shot, to be honest with you. I dug my feet in and realized there was zero sand underneath my shoes. Obviously you can’t test the surface. But I mean, you can’t play from that. I don’t know what I could have done any different. … I hit right where I wanted to and the club absolutely bounced off the sand. There was nothing in there. … 

“It’s a brutal way to lose a golf tournament. I didn’t feel like I did much wrong in there.” 

Yes, bunkers are supposed to be hazards, but there is also a certain expectation when your ball lands in one of the traps.

"Basically," Graham DeLaet said, "it was like hitting a flop shot off a cart path."

4. The bladed bunker shot will get all of the attention, of course. But if Wheatcroft was granted a mulligan, here’s guessing he’ll start in the fairway on the 17th hole. 

Tied for the lead, he had only 81 yards to the green when he dumped his wedge shot into the bunker and made bogey. This came after he made 5 from the fairway on the par-5 16th, as well. 

5. Jon Rahm may have been disappointed walking off the 18th green, after his eagle putt to tie slid by on the left, but he departed Toronto with plenty to look forward to. 

With a three-way tie for second, Rahm can earn his full PGA Tour card for next season with a top-10 in one of his next three starts, at the Travelers, John Deere or Wyndham Championship.

"I'm halfway through the exemption that I have, three more tournaments, and I'm really close," he said. "I just need to keep playing the way I am and hopefully get it done."

The former No. 1-ranked amateur in the world has acquitted himself well in the pro ranks, with a pair of top-3 finishes. He’s the real deal. 

6. So, apparently, is his former teammate at Arizona State, rising senior Jared du Toit. The Canadian flew under the radar (understandably) for the Sun Devils this past season, finishing second on the team in scoring average with his best finish a tie for fifth.

But he looked like one of the game's most promising up-and-comers at his home Open. Playing in the final group, in his Tour debut, he handled the nerves and seemed unburdened by the weight of an entire country on his shoulders. He finished in a tie for ninth, the first Canadian amateur with a top-10 at the Open since Doug Bajus in 1954. 

"It was truly unbelievable," du Toit said. "I'm on cloud nine right now."

Yes, we've seen better finishes by amateurs in recent months – Lee McCoy, remember, tied for fourth at the Tour event at Tampa – but this was the most impressive performance.

7. Here are one man’s top 10 picks for the PGA Championship, which gets underway 11 days after the most recent major:

  1. 1. Dustin Johnson: His last six starts: 3-5-1-1-9-2. Let's not overcomplicate this.
  2. 2. Rory McIlroy: He isn’t about to go two years without a major, right? Baltusrol is an ideal fit for his brawny game. 
  3. 3. Jason Day: Maybe he’s not as sharp as a few months ago, but he pounds it off the tee, launches it a mile high and is one of the Tour’s best putters.
  4. 4. Jordan Spieth: Really, he’s one tee shot from having another tremendous year. There’s plenty of motivation to end this major season.   
  5. 5. Henrik Stenson: That stellar form doesn’t disappear just because he crossed the Atlantic.
  6. 6. Sergio Garcia: The past two majors have seen “breakthrough” winners. The time is now for Garcia, who has five top-5s in his last six starts.
  7. 7. Phil Mickelson: He has good vibes at Baltusrol, where he won in 2005, and he has good vibes with his game, after his sensational performance at Troon.
  8. 8. J.B. Holmes: He’s one of only three players in the OWGR top 50 with top-5s in two of the first three majors.
  9. 9. Patrick Reed: Take DJ off the board, and no one has had a more consistent year than Reed, with nine top-10s.
  10. 10. Adam Scott: Yes, he’s cooled since his torrid spring, but he is a perennial contender who checks all of the boxes at a major venue. 

8. Last week, agent Mark Steinberg confirmed to that Woods would miss the rest of the season as he continues to recover from multiple back surgeries last fall.

The news sounded worse than it actually is. 

There are only three regular-season events remaining that Woods could play. It made little sense to return if he would have to sit out another two months because of the FedEx Cup playoffs.

If fans are looking for a silver lining, Steinberg offered one: Woods is rehabbing and "working hard to then assess when he starts play for the 2016-17 season."

Note his use of “when,” not “if” Woods will play next season.

9. As for when he will return, it’s still a guess. Given the volume of the reports suggesting that Woods was set to come back in early May, it’s reasonable to wonder whether he suffered a setback this spring during his recovery. Woods has insisted that he's simply taking his time.

Looking ahead to possible landing spots ... the Safeway Open in Napa, an event he has played previously, is two months away. Good friend Davis Love III’s event at Sea Island (Nov. 17-20) is also an option. And it’d be a mild surprise if he didn’t play his World Challenge event in the Bahamas, seeing how it’s a limited field, it’s more than 14 months after his most recent surgery, and it’s a perfect spot – to borrow a baseball phrase – for a rehab assignment. We shall see. 

10. What looked like a disastrous year for U.S. women’s golf suddenly has turned in the right direction.

Two weeks after Brittany Lang won the U.S. Women’s Open, an American quartet of Lexi Thompson, Stacy Lewis, Cristie Kerr and Gerina Piller overcame an opening-day sweep to win the International Crown. 

The comeback victory may have been sweet, but a four-day competition, in which the U.S. didn't face top-seeded South Korea during the fourball portion, did little to silence some of the lingering questions about the state of the Americans.

Lewis, a former world No. 1, still hasn’t won in more than two years. The holes in Thompson’s awesome game have been exposed against the dominant, consistent forces like Lydia Ko and Brooke Henderson. Kerr is 38. And Piller, for all of her high finishes, is still winless.

The U.S. squad has proven adept at match play, no doubt, but when will that begin to translate against all of the elite players in a regular stroke-play tournament?

11. New European Tour CEO Keith Pelley hasn’t been afraid to shake things up. He’s allowed shorts in pro-ams. He’s cracked down on slow play. 

And now there is a new initiative: He wants to bring a six-hole tournament to the European Tour, perhaps as soon as 2017.

In an effort to #GrowTheGame, Pelley wants to see a six-hole match-play event between countries with a shot clock, music, a limited set of clubs and casual attire.

“If you’re not prepared to change,” he said in a radio interview, “if you’re not prepared to be innovative, if you’re not prepared to take chances, then I do believe that the sports that aren’t will fall behind.” 

12. If there’s one guy who can shrug off losing a major, it’s Miguel Angel Jimenez. The coolest man in golf, who boasted on the eve of the final round that he would prepare by eating dinner with friends, drinking whisky and smoking a cigar, came undone on the final day at Carnoustie.

His four-shot lead was gone by the time he made the turn. He shot 75 – the worst score of anyone in the top 15 – and lost by three shots to Englishman Paul Broadhurst, who was making his senior debut. 

“I was a little bit tense in the beginning of the round," Jimenez said, "and didn’t play as well as (Saturday’s 65), no?”

Look, I love fantasy sports as much as anyone. I play in five different golf leagues, in all kinds of formats, and usually fare pretty well. It's fun to outsmart your peers.

But let’s get a grip, people.

These were some of the comments directed at PGA Tour veteran Ryan Palmer by Twitter user @InJerichosWords:

@RyanPalmerPGA I've had better scorecards... I play once every 2 months. You f------ serious? 

@RyanPalmerPGA with the weekend collapse... never fails

Maybe @RyanPalmerPGA will withdraw so we don't lose points on every f------ hole on Sunday. 

@RyanPalmerPGA if I knew you were going to f me again you should've used lube thanks alot

All this abuse ... because Palmer went 70-73-73-70 and finished in a tie for 43rd at the Canadian Open.

Each week in the Scramble, I joke about the “Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week.” It’s usually a guy who I thought would play well and didn’t pan out, for whatever reason. It’s OK. We moved on. Fantasy sports are supposed to be fun.

Obviously, there are some oddballs on social media whose only mission is to spread hate, which is why I appreciated Palmer’s responses to this particularly vicious troll: 

Congrats. Keep striving there big boy. Sorry for your rough day, sun will come up on Sunday. Thanks for watching 

Well, I'll give it one more shot tomorrow just for you sweetheart! 

Someone needs a hug I think!!! It's all going to be ok. Enjoy your Sunday 

Well played, sir. 

This week's award winners ... 

A Match Made in Sponsorship Heaven: Andrew Johnston and Arby’s. Seriously, it took this long for a guy nicknamed “Beef” to earn some cash from a fast-food chain.

Worst Luck of the Week: Charley Hull. After making six birdies and an eagle to single-handedly beat the American squad in the first fourballs match, Hull became ill after suffering from an asthma attack. She couldn’t play Friday, helped knock off the Jutanugarn sisters on Saturday and got blown out in singles Sunday. Oh, what could have been.

Back for the First Time: Chambers Bay. The cool moonscape venue, which the USGA ruined in advance of last year’s U.S. Open, will get another shot on the national stage as it was selected for the 2019 U.S. Amateur Four-Ball. It’s likely a trial run for another Open.   

Too Much Time on His Hands: Pat Perez. After undergoing season-ending shoulder surgery in the spring, he's apparently passing the time by appearing in weird music videos.

Don’t Mess with the Lees: Minjee and Min Woo. Min Woo, 17, followed in his sister’s footsteps (2012) and won the U.S. Junior Amateur last weekend. They are the first brother-sister duo to accomplish the feat. 

Comeback Company: Vegas. He became the fourth player this season (Smylie Kaufman, Fabian Gomez, Stenson) to shoot 8 under or better in the final round to win. 

How's the Tour's Life Insurance Policy?: Pre-tournament activities at the Canadian Open.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Emiliano Grillo. An outside-the-box pick, sure, but he came to Canada with top-15s in four of his past five starts. Instead, he needed to rally to make the cut and finished in a tie for 43rd. Sigh.