Bryson DeChambeau takes the next step, Ariya Jutanugarn survives, Tiger Woods befuddles, Oklahoma State romps at home and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
The first win was validation.
The second? It proves that Bryson DeChambeau is on his way to becoming one of the best players in the world.
For years, DeChambeau so badly wanted to prove people wrong and demonstrate that his way could work that he sometimes got into his own way. His breakthrough win at the John Deere Classic last summer did wonders for his reputation, and then his sterling play this season showed that it was no fluke.
His playoff victory at the Memorial was his fifth top-5 finish of the season, vaulting him inside the top 25 in the world and into eighth place in the Ryder Cup standings.
Yes, it’s all coming together for one of the game’s most interesting characters.
1. When DeChambeau won the 2015 NCAAs, his coach at SMU, Jason Enloe, told me this: “He’s the best ball-striker in college, for sure. Possibly top 20 in the world – like, you could put him against any ball-striker playing for a living. He’d be right there with those guys.”
Anyone want to dispute that now?
DeChambeau continues to flush it, ranking inside the top 16 in strokes gained: off the tee and approach the green with his unique set of single-length irons.
So why has DeChambeau taken the next step this season? How did he go from struggling to keep his card to a two-time Tour winner?
After waging war with the USGA over his side-saddle method, DeChambeau worked on a Quintec software program last spring and had Sik Golf build him a 44-inch putter that he runs up his left forearm, Matt Kuchar-style.
DeChambeau might never be a lights-out putter, but the way he strikes the ball he doesn’t need to be. When he went to that method he ranked 211st in strokes gained: putting, better than only two players. Now, he sits 60th.
If you don't think he has the game to win majors, well, you're kidding yourself.
2. Ariya Jutanugarn outlasted H.J. Kim to win the U.S. Women’s Open on the fourth extra hole, but it wasn’t quite that simple.
Jutanugarn, the most talented player on the LPGA, blew a seven-shot lead on the back nine. She came home in 41 to drop into a playoff with the 2014 Evian champ.
Had Jutanugarn lost, it would have gone down as one of the all-time worst collapses in major history. This 22-year-old already has accrued so much scar tissue – the 2013 meltdown at home in Thailand, the ANA collapse in ’16 – and it’s reasonable to assume that she couldn't take much more.
She prevailed in the playoff, though, after making four consecutive pars, and she’s now a two-time major champion.
Her talent is breathtaking – she’s now won multiple majors without a driver. But her resilience might be even more remarkable.
3. Even during her collapse, Jutanugarn continued to show a childlike innocence. She giggled on the first hole of the playoff. She smiled before every tee shot, a tip from her mental coaches to stay in the moment and not worry about the outcome. She even applauded her opponent’s good shots, much to the dismay of Fox analyst Paul Azinger, who was already opining how soul-crushing her loss would become.
Jutanugarn also has the potential, talent-wise, to dominate the tour. Whether she has the disposition for it is another matter.
4. This was the first go-round for the USGA’s new two-hole aggregate playoff. The two playoff participants played the first two holes in even par, then went two more holes in sudden death until a champion was determined.
It may not have been as tense as a do-or-die playoff, but it sure beat an 18-hole slog the next day. The ending felt satisfying.
And if two holes seems like a weird number for an aggregate playoff, that’s because it is. But the Masters uses a sudden-death playoff, the PGA a three-hole aggregate and The Open a four-hole aggregate. Come on, you didn’t actually expect the USGA to – gasp! – copy another organization, did you?
5. The good news: At the Memorial, Tiger Woods hit the ball better than he has in years.
The bad: He had the worst putting performance of his career, at least in the strokes-gained era.
Woods led the field in strokes gained: tee to green and approach the green over four days at Muirfield Village, which is remarkable, really, given the quality of the field and the state of Woods’ game just five months ago.
But his putting has never looked worse, missing seven times from inside 5 feet. For context: He missed just nine times from that range in all of 2009.
“If I just putt normally,” he said, “I probably would be right there with those guys and up there in the last couple of groups.”
Instead, he closed with 72 and plummeted all the way into a tie for 23rd, in the process frittering away critical FedExCup and world-ranking points. He moved only from 83rd to 80th in the world.
Remember, he needs to crack the top 50 by the end of July to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone, where he’s won a record eight times.
6. Big picture, Woods is hitting it well enough not just to win at some point this season but also to contend at Shinnecock.
In 2004, he tied for 17th there, but since then the club has taken out more than 500 trees and added about 500 yards of length.
“Overall my game is where it needs to be heading into the U.S. Open,” he said, “and that’s something that’s very positive.”
7. Apparently, that Sunday charge at the Masters wasn’t the turning point that Jordan Spieth hoped it would be.
Since then he has missed a cut in the team event at the Zurich, where he hit water balls on each of the last two holes, then finished outside the top 20 in three consecutive events before another early exit at the Memorial.
It’s nothing short of stunning that Spieth is still winless this season despite ranking fourth in strokes gained: tee to green. He might be close to another torrid stretch on the greens, but right now he’s statistically one of the worst, ranked 186th on Tour.
It’ll turn around sometime this year … right?
8. It probably wasn’t a coincidence that Patrick Cantlay shot a back-nine 39 after being put on the clock.
Cantlay didn’t blame his poor play coming home on the officials – nor should he have, since it was his painful pre-shot routine that put him in that predicament in the first place – but he clearly was out of sorts. After leading for much of the final round, he finished a shot out of the playoff.
“Putting yourself in position is what it’s all about,” he said. “The more you can do that, the better off you’re going to be. I put myself in position, played great all week, and so I feel like my game is in a good spot and really looking forward to the U.S. Open.”
Wow.— PGA TOUR (@PGATOUR) June 3, 2018
What an awful bounce for Kyle Stanley at the 72nd hole. pic.twitter.com/DXJAiAeqJi
9. Kyle Stanley got one of the unluckiest breaks of the year.
Steamrolling into the 72nd hole off four straight birdies, his tee shot on the last hugged the right side, but it ricocheted off a tree and rocketed across the fairway, into the thick, juicy rough near the creek. He could barely advance the ball down the fairway, leading a momentum-killing bogey and an eventual playoff loss.
“A bit of a sour finish,” he said.
10. You may or may not have noticed that your trusty correspondent didn't pen this column the past two weeks – I was covering the men’s and women’s NCAA Championships at Karsten Creek.
Read more about Oklahoma State’s blowout victory here, and the significance for a legend like Mike Holder, but there's absolutely no way you can say that the Cowboys weren’t a deserving winner this season.
They were the No. 1 team all season long. They had 10 wins. They had a stacked lineup with five guys who had a sub-par scoring average.
And yet, all anyone outside of Stillwater wanted to talk about was how it was unfair OSU won its home course. (Real talk: The Cowboys were so dominant that they could have won a 72-hole tournament in my backyard.)
No, the setup is not ideal, and Oregon would have had no business winning in 2016 if it wasn’t at Eugene Country Club, but the NCAA is clearly conflicted: It wants the energy and the fans that come with hosting at a college course … but it also wants the competitiveness fairness that comes with a neutral site.
Oklahoma star Brad Dalke joined the chorus of detractors, at least until he was put in his place by Oklahoma State freshman Austin Eckroat:
Brad I respect you, and your game. But how do you explain your score at regionals if it has everything to do with playing on your home course?— Austin Eckroat (@AustinEckroat) June 2, 2018
11. This will once again be a topic of conversation again next year, by the way, with NCAAs heading to Blessings Golf Club, which is the home of the Arkansas Razorbacks.
The Arkansas women spent much of this season at No. 1 in the country, so they’ll be a heavy favorite, and the Razorback men are a perennial fringe contender who could take the next step next May.
It’s easy to lose sight of this, because of the manufactured featured groups, but one thing you can only notice from following players in person is that they hit some really, really bad shots.
Chris Solomon from No Laying Up was watching Stanley’s group Friday when he noticed Chris Kirk butchering the final stretch. On the ninth hole, his 18th of the day, needing a par to play the weekend, Kirk cold-topped a drive that went 76 yards.
Kirk still managed to make par, and he even poked fun at himself afterward:
Since #LiveUnderPar is a dud, perhaps the Tour can use this new slogan: These Guys Are Good (When The Cameras Are On Them).
This week's award winners ...
Stay Hot: Francesco Molinari. Over the past weeks, he has a win and a runner-up during which he made 42 birdies and just four bogeys. And, just sayin', but his fairways-and-greens game is perfect for a U.S. Open, too ...
Stud Alert: Joaquin Niemann. The 19-year-old wrapped up special temporary membership (and will now be able to receive unlimited sponsor exemptions for the rest of the season) after notching his third top-10 in five starts as a pro.
Voice of Reason: Rory McIlroy. Just the latest to pile on the USGA for their antics, he said that the blue blazers “overthink” setups and suggested this for a U.S. Open: “Get the fairways sort of firm, grow the rough, put the pins in some tough locations but fair, and go let us play.” Can he take Mike Davis’ job?
He’s Alive!: Danny Willett. The 2016 Masters champion, who had plummeted all the way to No. 462 in the world because of injury and poor form, recorded his first top-10 in nearly 16 months at the Italian Open.
Keep In Your Thoughts: Bud Cauley. The former Alabama standout was in a serious car accident last week that left him with a collapsed lung, five broken ribs and a fractured lower left leg. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.
Out of Gas: Adam Scott. Trying to find his game in time to preserve his majors-played streak and tee it up at the U.S. Open, Scott tied for 35th at the Memorial, his fifth consecutive start. He's entered in sectionals and will try to nab one of the final spots with a good week in Memphis.
Big-Time Player: Patty Tavatanakit. The UCLA star finished better at the U.S. Women’s Open (T-5) than the NCAA Champioship (T-19) two weeks ago.
Still Got It: John Smoltz. The Hall of Fame hurler (and current terrific broadcaster) shot a 3-under 69 and then prevailed in a 3-for-1 playoff to punch his ticket to the U.S. Senior Open.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Marc Leishman. He still made the cut (T-62), but we’d hoped for so much more out of Leishman, who played well at the Nelson and had three consecutive top-15s at Jack’s Track. He closed with 76 on Sunday. Sigh.