Brooke Henderson wins an instant classic, Daniel Berger knocks down the door, a brutal U.S. Open looms and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
The only person with a wider smile today than Henderson is LPGA commissioner Mike Whan. Women’s golf was the big winner Sunday.
Yes, technically, Henderson became the second-youngest major winner in history at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship, but there was no shortage of heroines in the Pacific Northwest.
In her first full season on tour, Henderson, 18, cemented her place among the game’s best players. Lydia Ko, 19, vying to become just the fifth woman to win three consecutive majors, proved gracious in defeat. Ariya Jutanugarn, 20, bidding for her fourth win in a row, powered her way to another high finish. And tree-lined Sahalee, left off the men’s and women’s major radar for nearly two decades, was a smashing success in its return to a big stage.
The final round of the Women's PGA was one of the most compelling in LPGA history, a highlight-reel finish even in a crowded sports week.
It's a dream scenario for Whan and the LPGA brass, and the rest of the major season could make 2016 a transformative year for the women's game.
1. For months, maybe even years now, all we’ve been hearing is how the future of the game is bright on the LPGA tour. Enough already.
Ko, Henderson, Jutanugarn and Lexi Thompson – all 21 or younger – aren’t just the "future" of the women’s game. They’re the present, too.
It's obvious that they’re the best the LPGA has to offer – a quartet that is powerful, ambitious, compelling, fan-friendly and, most of all, loaded with talent. They've elevated the LPGA to another level, adding a dose of excitement that was sorely lacking over the past few years.
Make no mistake, the future IS bright, with another decade of intriguing duels sure to unfold. But the present is awfully good, too.
2. Which Henderson shot was the most impressive during the Showdown at Sahalee? There were plenty to choose from during her closing 65.
From the 90-foot eagle on 11 to the 40-foot birdie on 17 to the 90-yard up-and-down on 18 to the cold-blooded 7-iron to 3 feet in the playoff, Henderson put on a clinic to capture her first major title.
“I’m happy with the way I played,” said Ko, who shot a bogey-free 66 of her own in the final round. “I just got outplayed.”
3. As this season progressed, it became clear that Berger was on the verge of a breakthrough. The 2015 Rookie of the Year had six top-20 finishes in his last seven stroke-play starts entering last week's FedEx St. Jude Classic.
With the victory, Berger moved from 25th to 12th in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings. With his combination of talent and swagger, he would make a fun addition to the American squad come late September.
4. Dustin Johnson has eight consecutive seasons with a PGA Tour victory, and he’s had several chances this year to extend the longest active streak in the game.
He began the final round at Riviera, Houston and Memorial just one off the lead. He blew up on the weekend at Torrey Pines and on the final day at Doral. And even last week in Memphis he had a prime opportunity, only to shoot 73 in the third round.
Surprising, sure, but he’ll enter this week’s Oakmont Open as one of the main protagonists. Again. He shot 29 on his final nine holes Sunday for a closing 63 and a second consecutive top-five finish.
“Right now I have a lot of confidence,” he said. “I feel like I’ve been playing really well.”
And speaking of players who headed north with good vibes ...
5. Phil Mickelson posted his third top-three finish in the past four years at the St. Jude Classic.
What will it mean for his Open chances? Consider this when filling out your major pools:
• The only other time Mickelson tied for second in Memphis, in 2013, he went on to hold the 54-hole lead the following week at Merion. We all know how that turned out.
• In 2014, he was tied for fourth after three rounds before fading to a T-11. The following week, in his return to Pinehurst, he was 28th.
• Last year, he finished joint third at TPC Southwind but never had a chance at Chambers Bay, tying for 64th.
Lefty was No. 1 in putting in Memphis, pouring in a whopping 434 feet worth of putts over four days … but he also found less than half the fairways. That won’t fly at Oakmont. Mickelson has played there twice in competition, in the 1994 and ’07 U.S. Opens. He shot rounds of 74-77 at the ’07 Open – just the second time he’s missed the cut in the year’s second major.
“It almost feels like the U.S. Open came a week early to finish another second place,” he smirked.
6. Another big bopper is trending, as well: Brooks Koepka.
After a playoff loss at the Nelson, Koepka came back with a tie for second at the St. Jude, three shots behind Berger.
Most encouraging for this week’s Open? He was ranked inside the top 5 in strokes gained-tee to green, proximity to the hole and scrambling.
“My game is peaking,” he said.
7. Yes, indeed, it’s officially Oakmont Open week, which means we’re setting the over/under on the words “hard” and "tough" at 8,395.5 for the next seven days.
More than its church-pew bunkers or Johnny Miller's 63, Oakmont is best known among golf fans for its sheer difficulty.
At 7,200 yards, it’s the shortest course on the Open rota. But the place isn’t tricked out, either – USGA setup czar Mike Davis said the fairways will be the same width, the rough will be the same length, the bunkers will be prepared the same way, the hole locations will be in the same areas and the greens speeds will be similar.
They just so happen to be the fastest, and most undulating, greens in golf.
Prior to 2007, the last five Opens held there were won with an under-par score. No one expects that to be the case this year, not with shoe-swallowing rough and greens that will push 14 1/2 on the Stimpmeter. Those who have seen the course already have noted the similarities to '07, when Angel Cabrera won at 5 over par.
With rain and wind in the forecast, a har- … sorry, a brutal course will only get more difficult.
8. With all of that said, here are one man’s favorites for the U.S. Open:
- Jason Day: His driving, short game and course management are huge advantages at this type of test, which helps explain why he has four top-10s in five Open appearances.
- Dustin Johnson: If he’s driving the ball in play, few Open venues will set up better for him. It remains to be seen whether he can smartly navigate his way around such a demanding course.
- Rory McIlroy: Peaking at the right time, the only question mark is how his putting stroke will hold up on these torturous greens.
- Jordan Spieth: He tends to thrive at more difficult courses, which place a greater emphasis on the short game and reward discipline.
- Hideki Matsuyama: His iron play is so good that he’s bound to be in the mix, especially in what figures to be an over-par slugfest.
- Adam Scott: He’s cooled since a torrid spring, but his rock-solid game has produced top-15s in three of the past four Opens.
- Sergio Garcia: Back in the winner’s circle at the Nelson, but he opened with 79 the last time the Open was at Oakmont.
- Rickie Fowler: Which Fowler will show up this week: the one with six top-10s this season, or the guy who has two consecutive missed cuts and hasn’t been better than 30th in his past four majors?
- Patrick Reed: Something has to give this week: He has the most top-10s on Tour this season (nine), but he’s still looking for his first top-10 in a major.
- Justin Rose: The 2013 champion would be higher on this list if not for a back injury that knocked him out of the Memorial. Enters the week with seven top-20s in his past eight stroke-play events.
9. Want an indication of how this week will go? These Instagram posts from Justin Thomas, Byeong-Hun An and Max Kieffer should give you a pretty good idea.
Look, we're all for a gut-check U.S. Open, but when conditions are this severe, it negates some of the skill required to play the shots.
10. Battling through a thumb injury, Inbee Park mercifully completed her eligibility for the LPGA Hall of Fame last week. At age 27, she is the youngest player to qualify for the Hall, her remarkable career (so far) producing 10 LPGA titles and seven major victories.
The next phase of her career is unclear. Park hinted at a long layoff because of the left thumb injury, and she said she would notify the Korean Olympic Committee next month about her availability for the Olympic Games. For the past few months, she has played through the injury in order to record 10 events in 10 seasons. She has only a pair of top-10s this year.
11. When will Tiger Woods return to competition? It’s looking more and more likely that it won’t be this season.
Saying that he wasn’t “physically ready,” Woods bowed out of this week’s U.S. Open and the following week’s Quicken Loans National, which benefits his foundation.
The number of possible return dates is dwindling. Though he could play the July 14-17 Open Championship or July 28-31 PGA, at this point it doesn’t make much sense to come back this season. The regular season ends Aug. 21, and Woods, who has not played at all this season, is unlikely to qualify for the FedEx Cup playoffs.
Why rush back and risk re-injury when there is little chance of contending after nearly a year’s worth of competitive rust?
12. Bernhard Langer continues to amaze.
It’s funny now to think about how much angst there was about Langer post-anchoring ban. The ageless wonder is doing just fine.
The 58-year-old won for the third time this season at the Senior Players Championship. He is second on the over-50 circuit in putting average and first in birdie average. Most impressively, he survived the ultimate test at Philadelphia Cricket Club, where windy conditions made putting with the unanchored long wand even trickier.
Langer will slow down eventually (right?), but it won't be anytime soon.
Michelle Wie’s abysmal season continued at the Women’s PGA Championship, where she shot rounds of 78-80 to miss her third consecutive cut.
Her travails stand in stark contrast to the brilliant play of the game's newest stars.
Wie's breakthrough win at the 2014 U.S. Women’s Open was supposed to spur her on to great heights, to offset all of the middling years and to begin to fulfill her immense potential. Instead, it’s only served to measure how far she has fallen.
In the two injury-plagued years since, she is still waiting for another top-10 finish, let alone a title. After yet another early exit at Sahalee, Wie was skewered by a USA Today columnist for cutting off a 90-second interview.
Now 26, Wie, sadly, is on the verge of being forgotten, passed over by players who are younger, more talented and, most of all, hungrier to succeed.
This week's award winners ...
Last Laugh: Berger. On the eve of the final round, the 23-year-old discussed his relationship with Mickelson. "I like to call Phil Philip," Berger said. "He says only his wife calls him that, I can't call him that until I win on the PGA Tour. But I still call him that anyway. I don't care." And so after Berger raced past him on Sunday and won for the first time on Tour, Mickelson was asked again about their name game. "I just saw him inside," Lefty said. "Philip it is."
Irony: Steve Stricker qualifies for the Open Championship. After skipping the year's third major each of the past three years, Stricker was one of the four Open qualifiers in Memphis. He said his potential appearance at Troon will be a "game-time decision," because that week conflicts with his wedding anniversary.
Not Bad for a Golfer: Jason Day. Throwing out the first pitch for the Pirates-Cardinals game, the world No. 1 hurled a 53-mph fastball. Fortunately, no one was injured.
Next LPGA Star Alert: Bronte Law. It was an impressive six days for the rising UCLA senior, who was named the Annika Award winner as the top player in women’s college golf, then became just the second Curtis Cup player in history to go 5-0 in a winning effort for Team GB&I.
First Time for Everything: Slow-play penalties at the Curtis Cup. During Saturday four-balls, U.S. team member Bailey Tardy was assessed a two-shot penalty for slow play. She lost the hole and the match, putting the Americans in an even bigger hole. U.S. captain Robin Burke said the penalty was in “poor taste” and that the Ladies Golf Union was inconsistent in doling out penalties and bad times. Sounds familiar.
See You Next Year?: Beau Hossler. What was supposed to be a busy summer of pro events has instead turned into a lot of downtime for one of the game’s next great talents. Injured during the NCAA semifinals, Hossler underwent shoulder surgery June 10 and likely won’t return to competition until early 2017.
End of an Era: Dunvegan Hotel. St. Andrews’ famed 19th hole will go on the market today after 23 years. Here’s hoping the next owners are as hospitable as Jack and Sheena Willoughby.
Only One LPGAer Can Do This: Jutanugarn. If you need me, I'll be watching this on an endless loop all day.
Ariya Jutanugarn out here blistering 2-irons with a little Tiger leg kick. pic.twitter.com/GoyRw90B2y— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) June 13, 2016
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Ryan Palmer. After a T-3 at Colonial and top-25s in three of his last four trips to Memphis, he was an obvious selection for the St. Jude … until he shot 8 over on the weekend and tied for 68th. Sigh.