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Monday Scramble: All kinds of whether

By Ryan LavnerJune 4, 2018, 3:00 pm

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?

His putting.

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.”

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:

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.

Seventy-six 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. 

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Garwood (64) leads Dick's Sporting Goods Open

By Associated PressAugust 17, 2018, 9:53 pm

ENDICOTT, N.Y. - Doug Garwood birdied the final three holes for an 8-under 64 and the first-round lead Friday in the Dick's Sporting Goods Open.

The 55-year-old Garwood had nine birdies and a bogey, playing his final nine holes - the front nine at En-Joie Golf Club - in 6-under 31.

''Drove it well, hit the irons well, pitched well, putted well, thought well,'' Garwood said. ''I got to a point I was just making birdies and I kind of lost track of how it was going,'' Garwood said. ''That's always a good thing.''

He won the 2016 SAS Championship for his lone PGA Tour Champions title.

Full-field scores from the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open

"I haven't been playing great this year, but I've been working hard on my game and things I've been working on are paying off,'' Garwood said. ''My golf, I take it a shot at a time, don't think about too far in advance because you really can't control, you know, the 13th hole tomorrow. It's just about the tee shot on No. 1.''

Michael Bradley and Marco Dawson shot 65, Woody Austin and Clark Dennis followed at 66, and Bob Estes and Tom Gillis were at 67.

''It was a good day,'' Bradley said. ''I've traditionally not driven the ball well here and you've got to drive the ball good here to shoot a good score. I drove the ball well and made a few putts, so that was that.''

Kenny Perry, the 3M Championship winner two weeks ago in Minnesota, had a 68. Bernard Langer and Miguel Angel Jimenez each shot 70. Langer won the 2014 tournament. Jimenez is coming off a victory at St. Andrews in the British Senior Open.

Defending champion Scott McCarron had a 72. Kevin Sutherland also had a 72. He shot the only 59 in PGA Tour Champions history in the 2014 event. John Daly, the winner of the PGA Tour's 1992 B.C. Open at En-Joie, opened with a 73.

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Kaymer: Don't deserve Ryder Cup spot even with win

By Randall MellAugust 17, 2018, 9:50 pm

Martin Kaymer is one of the most decorated Europeans of this generation, and one of the most thoughtfully honest as well, as he is demonstrating yet again at this week’s Nordea Masters.

Kaymer, a two-time major championship winner, has helped the Euros win three of the last four Ryder Cups. He won the singles match that clinched Europe’s historic comeback win at Medinah in 2012.

But with his run into contention Friday in Sweden, Kaymer told Sky Sports TV he didn’t believe that even a victory would make him worthy of playing for captain Thomas Bjorn’s Ryder Cup team in Paris next month.

“Do you think I deserve to be on the game after the way I've been playing, and with just one win in Sweden?” he said. “Is that enough? I don't think so.”

Kaymer shot a 3-under 67 at the Nordea Masters, leaving him tied for seventh, five shots off the lead and in position to make a run at his 12th European Tour title. He is hoping to capitalize on the opportunity in a season that has left him unsatisfied. He missed three of his previous four cuts coming to Sweden and has just two top-10 finishes this year.

Kaymer made some thoughtful observations about the nature of golf’s challenges in the same week that LPGA star Lexi Thompson opened up about a personal struggle to build a life about more than golf.

At 33, Kaymer said he feels as if he’s still just beginning to understand the game’s effect on him. Here is what he shared with reporters about that on the eve of the Nordea Masters:

“I'm on the seventh hole, hopefully. You need some time to get to know and place yourself in the world of golf.

Full-field scores from the Nordea Masters

“In the beginning you can't know, you have zero experience. Then you play around the world and measure your game with the best in the world. Then you see good results and in my case underestimate yourself a little.

“All of a sudden you win a major. You play a vital role in Ryder Cups. You win your second major. Then you need to adjust, because it's sometimes overwhelming and not understandable. It cannot only be talent, you need to ask yourself how you actually got here.

“That realization took me a long time. That's why I would say I'm on the seventh hole, maybe seventh green.

“It's just understanding who you are, what you do, what kind of life you live. For example, when you try to have a relationship with anyone -- it doesn't matter what kind of relationship -- people see you not for who you are as a person but as the athlete, what you have, what kind of success you had.

“I never understood that, because I don't want to be treated that way, but I also understood by now that is who I am, because I am that athlete. I am the guy who makes a lot of money.

“I never wanted to be seen that way, because I was raised different, and I wanted to be normal. But you are not normal when you do what I did. It took me a long time to understand, but now I can handle it better.”

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S.H. Park eyes Indy title, LPGA awards after 'best round of year'

By Randall MellAugust 17, 2018, 9:20 pm

Sung Hyun Park’s hot finish Friday gives her more than a chance to win the Indy Women in Tech Championship.

It gives her a chance to keep Ariya Jutanugarn from running away with the LPGA’s most important awards and honors heading into the final third of the season.

Park’s 9-under 63 left her tied for the lead with Lizette Salas (69) at 13 under overall in the rain-suspended second round at Brickyard Crossing Golf Course in Indianapolis.

“My best round of the year,” Park said through a translator.

Jutanugarn, the Rolex world No. 1, put up a 65 and sits four behind the leaders.

Park is No. 4 in the world rankings and feeling good about her weekend chances.

“I’m going to do really well,” she said. “I feel really good about my game.”

Jutanugarn has won an LPGA best three times this season, including the U.S. Women’s Open. She is dominating, statistically. She leads the tour in money winnings ($2,161,185), Rolex Player of the Year points, scoring average (69.44), putts per greens in regulation (1.72) and birdies (327).

Full-field scores from Indy Women in Tech Championship

Park is looking to equal Jutanugarn’s victory total for the season. Park won the Volunteers of America Texas Classic and also a major this year, the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship.

Park could overtake Jutanugarn as Rolex world No. 1 with a victory, depending on what Jutanugarn does this weekend.

Park shared Rolex Player of the Year honors with So Yeon Ryu last season, with Jutanugarn winning the award the year before.

Notably, Jutanugarn is giving her driver a rare appearance this week, putting it in her bag in both the first and second rounds at the friendly confines of Brickyard Crossing.

“I like the way [the holes] set up, because I’m ab le to hit driver a few holes,” Jutanugarn said. “I missed some, but I hit a few pretty good ones, too.”

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Podcast: Welcome our guest - Tiger Tracker

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 17, 2018, 7:47 pm

Host Will Gray calls him “The man, the myth, the legend.”

GCTiger Tracker, aka “TT,” makes his highly anticipated first guest appearance in a Golf Channel podcast, pontificating on everything from Tiger Woods’ run at the PGA Championship at Bellerive to the overall nature of Tiger’s comeback and what breakthroughs may lie ahead.

Tiger Tracker, Golf Channel’s mystery man, continues to rigorously protect his identity as the foremost Twitter tracker of all things Tiger, but he does open up on his intense relationship with his growing legion of followers and his “trigger finger” when it comes to blocking those unworthy of his insight.

“I’m more of a lover than a hater of Tiger Woods, but I’m a tracker,” TT tells Gray. “I call it like I see it.”

Tracker goes deep on what he sees as his role in continuing to document Tiger’s comeback, including a sense of kinship in this journey.

“I had 142,000 followers on the Monday of the Bahamas [late last year], and as we speak now, 296,000, more than double in that short span,” Tracker says. “That shows you what he’s been able to do, what we’ve been able to do together. Let’s be honest about that.”

Listen in below: