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Monday Scramble: Change in title

By Ryan LavnerNovember 13, 2017, 4:30 pm

Bernhard Langer gets robbed, Patton Kizzire breaks through, Kevin Sutherland ends a drought, the LPGA season comes to an end and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

The Charles Schwab Cup playoffs produced a familiar, unsatisfying ending Sunday: The best player didn’t walk away with the hardware.

That’s been the case for too many years with the PGA Tour’s FedExCup playoffs, a big reason why the postseason structure is poised to undergo a major overhaul.

“Season-long champion” and “season-finale drama” typically don’t mix, and yet the PGA Tour (and, by extension, the senior circuit) continues to try to force the issue with talk of point resets and “controlling your own destiny.” All it creates is more fan confusion and player frustration.

That anyone other than Bernhard Langer – who won a tour-best seven times, including three majors and two of the three playoff events – could capture the “season-long prize” was absurd, just as it was when Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson failed to win the FedExCup.

Here's guessing next year's senior "playoff" looks a bit different.


1. This isn’t meant to diminish Kevin Sutherland’s accomplishment. Even without a victory this year, he entered the week at No. 5 on the points list and could take the Schwab Cup with a win or high finish at the season finale. He got the job done, while Langer finished 12th.

Still, the resumes don’t match up.

Player A: 23 events, 1 win (0 majors), 3 runners-up, 15 top-10s

Player B: 22 events, 7 wins (3 majors), 2 runners-up, 16 top-10s

Forget the guy who showed up at the right time. Disregard the comparisons to the 2007 New England Patriots, who went undefeated and then lost the Super Bowl.

The question the Tour should be trying to answer with these “playoffs” is who had the best year?

In this case, the answer is obvious. 

2. Langer is on the PGA Tour Champions policy board and, even though he voted to approve this version, said it needs tweaking:

“I think it needs adjusting,” he said. “I do, personally, because you could have somebody win the whole thing that hasn’t won a tournament all year, and I’m not sure that’s ideal. But I was on the [PGA Tour Champions policy] board. We said we’re going to try this out. I’m not sure if it’s perfect. It’s maybe like the FedExCup. They had to adjust it two or three times to make it interesting but also make it a little fair.

“It was never meant to be fair. It was meant to be playoffs. Everyone in the field has a chance to win. Is it fair? No, it’s not, but that’s how it is right now.” 

3. That it was Sutherland who ended Langer’s bid for four consecutive Schwab Cup titles was a surprise.

This was the 53-year-old’s first victory ANYWHERE since 2002, and his first stroke-play victory on either the PGA or Champions tours.

“It’s been a long time since I won a tournament,” he said. “I think, early on, I was beating myself up a little bit. But this year, I didn’t really get too frustrated by it. I knew I was playing well, and if I kept doing what I was doing, I was eventually going to get a win.”

Talk about a well-timed breakthrough – he earned $1.44 million.



4. As much as it pains this Georgia grad to admit, it was an awfully good weekend for Auburn athletics.

Sure, the Tigers knocked off the top-ranked Dawgs. (Single tear.) But big ol’ country boy Patton Kizzire survived a 36-hole Sunday to hold off Rickie Fowler and win his first Tour event, the OHL Classic at Mayakoba.

The first win is never easy, but Fowler made it even tougher by trimming a four-shot deficit to just one stroke as they played the 72nd hole.

With his ball just outside a fairway bunker, Kizzire played a remarkable shot under the circumstances – crowding the ball, choking down on an 8-iron, he hit his approach to about 30 feet, setting up a two-putt par.

With the victory, he earned a spot in the Masters and likely will reach the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. 

5. Making his first start in five weeks, Fowler came up just short. This one would have been special, as he tried to win for the first time in front of his grandparents. (His grandfather, Yutaka, taught him the game at age 2.) You may recall that Fowler broke down in tears at the 2016 Phoenix Open, when he lost in a playoff with his grandparents in attendance. It seemed clear then that he tried too hard to win for them.

That wasn’t the case in Mexico; he just got outplayed during the marathon Sunday. Fowler made Kizzire earn it, making birdie on the 70th and 71st holes, but his approach into the final green didn’t cut enough from a hanging lie, leaving him a 35-footer to force a playoff. He left it short. 



6. In a year of special moments, Branden Grace added another one Sunday as he became the first South African in a decade to win “Africa’s Major,” the Nedbank Challenge.

Grace hit every green and holed a 40-footer on 16 en route to a final-round 66 and one-stroke victory, his first worldwide since the 2016 RBC Heritage.  

No South African had won this event since Trevor Immelman in 2007. Throw in Grace’s record-setting 62 at The Open, and no doubt it’s been a memorable year. 

7. Tommy Fleetwood tied for 10th in Sun City, extending his lead atop the Race to Dubai standings.

Heading into this week’s DP World Tour Championship, the only two players who can catch Fleetwood for the season-ending prize are Justin Rose and Sergio Garcia, and even their chances are unlikely. Rose trails by more than 250,000 points, while Garcia is more than a million behind. Everyone else in the field is just playing for a slice of the bonus pie.  

“Just to be in with a chance of winning the Race to Dubai, it’s pretty special, really,” Fleetwood told reporters. “I don’t feel stressed about it. I don’t feel anxious. And as much as it depends on what they do [in Dubai], it is in my hands.” 



8. There’s more than one way to get to the top of the world.

Shanshan Feng showed that last week, winning for the second consecutive week and ascending to No. 1 in the Rolex Rankings for the first time … despite ranking 97th on tour in driving distance.

Lexi Thompson might have the most firepower of any of the top players, but if there are massive holes in her game – and there are – then it’ll be difficult for her to dominate against more complete (if shorter-hitting) players.

9. By the way, does anyone want to be No. 1?

Feng is the FIFTH No. 1 player this year, joining Lydia Ko, Ariya Jutanugarn, So Yeon Ryu, S.H. Park (who held the top spot for a total of one week) and now Feng.

10. The top five players in the Race to the CME Globe standings will take the top prize if they also win the season-ending event.

Those players who – all together now – control their own destiny this week: Lexi Thompson, Sung Hyun Park, Shanshan Feng, So Yeon Ryu and Brooke Henderson. 

So much is still to be determined, and not just the $1 million bonus. Still up for grabs are the Player of the Year awards, the money title and the Vare Trophy for low scoring average. 

11. There is a massive gulf between those who survive second stage of Web.com Tour Q-School and those who do not, and fortunately for us some familiar names are guaranteed at least conditional status next year on the Web.

Among those who advanced are Maverick McNealy, Sam Burns, Sean Crocker, Jimmy Stanger and Jack Maguire.

Unfortunately, A.J. McInerney, who bypassed a free start at Mayakoba to play second stage, failed to reach the final stage. 

Hey, you’d be hard-pressed to find a bigger fan of Jon Rahm than this correspondent … but even this is a bit much.

The Spaniard made his first Tour start (as an amateur) at the Mayakoba in 2014. For some reason, tournament officials decided to make a plaque to commemorate that moment, even though he’s unlikely to ever play there again.  

This week's award winners ... 


About to Receive a Call From a 904 Number: Grayson Murray. After Sutherland’s victory, Murray, the controversial second-year player who has had his fair share of social-media incidents, wondered aloud whether anyone actually cares about the Tour’s senior circuit. In a now-deleted tweet, he asked: "Does anyone really care is the real question.....those guys were relevant 10 plus years ago." Yeah, that’s probably a no-no.

Auspicious Debut: John Oda. In his first PGA Tour event as a pro, the former UNLV star challenged for the lead through two rounds and wound up in eighth. Impressive. 

Hey, Remember Me?: Si Woo Kim. He had gone quiet since his Players win, as his third-place showing at Mayakoba was his first top-10 in 15 starts since Sawgrass.



Awkward Line of Questioning of the Week: Reporter to Rickie Fowler.

Question: "Cancun is a beautiful place; a beautiful place for marriage. Are you thinking about this?"

Fowler: “Not yet. Not yet. I’m in a good spot both in my personal life and professional life.”

Sheesh.

Bluegrass Special: Valhalla. In case you missed it, the PGA-owned course in Louisville will host the year’s second major – yeah, it felt strange to type that – in 2024. Rory McIlroy won there in '14. 

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Pat Perez. The defending champion had come in with good form, winning the CIMB Classic a few weeks ago and finishing no worse than 24th since the playoffs. Then he threw up a second-round 74 to barely make the cut and tied for 34th (after a closing 66) in his title defense. Sigh. 

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Ball headed O.B., Stone (68) gets huge break

By Mercer BaggsJuly 19, 2018, 2:14 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Brandon Stone knew it when he hit it.

“I knew I hit it out of bounds,” the South African said following his opening round in the 147th Open Championship.

Stone’s second shot on the par-4 18th, from the left fescue, was pulled into the grandstands, which are marked as O.B. But instead of settling in with the crowd, the ball ricocheted back towards the green and nearly onto the putting surface.

Stone made his par and walked away with a 3-under 68, two shots off the early lead.

“I really didn’t put a good swing on it, bad contact and it just came out way left,” Stone said. “I feel so sorry for the person I managed to catch on the forehead there, but got a lucky break.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“When you get breaks like that you know you’re going to have good weeks.”

It’s been more than just good luck recently for Stone. He shot 60 in the final round – missing a 9-foot birdie putt for the first 59 in European Tour history – to win last week’s Scottish Open. It was his third career win on the circuit and first since 2016. It was also just his first top-10 of the season.

“A testament to a different mental approach and probably the change in putter,” said Stone, who added that he switched to a new Ping Anser blade model last week.

“I’ve been putting, probably, the best I have in my entire life.”

This marks Stone’s sixth start in a major championship, with his best finish a tie for 35th in last year’s U.S. Open. He has a missed cut and a T-70 in two prior Open Championships.

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Kang on cheating allegation: 'I did the right thing'

By Ryan LavnerJuly 19, 2018, 1:26 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Three weeks after his playing partner claimed that he “cheated,” taking an improper drop at the Quicken Loans National, Sung Kang insisted Thursday that he did nothing wrong.

Joel Dahmen tweeted that Kang cheated after a lengthy dispute about where his ball had last crossed the line of a hazard. A PGA Tour official ruled in Kang’s favor. Kang made par on the hole, shot 64 and earned one of the available spots in the Open Championship.

Kang didn’t learn of the controversy until the next day, when he received an email from a PGA Tour communications official seeking comment. He researched online what the furor was about, then issued a brief statement through the Tour (which added its own statement, saying that there was “no clear evidence” to suggest that Kang dropped incorrectly).


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Kang said he tried to clear the air with Dahmen before the first round of last week’s John Deere Classic, but they never had the opportunity to discuss their differences.

“I followed the rules official and I think I did the right thing,” Kang told a handful of reporters Thursday following his opening round at Carnoustie, where he shot a 2-under 69 to sit three shots off the early lead.

Kang said he was hesitant to discuss the incident with reporters, because he said there clearly was a difference in opinions. He said he’d already told his side to South Korean news outlets but that “whatever I say, some people are going to trust it and some people are not going to trust it. Then I’ve got to think about it more and more when it’s not going to help my golf game.”

“I really want to say a lot of things about it, the truth about what happened,” he added, “but I’m not going to say anything.”

Kang said that he wouldn’t alter his approach when dealing with rulings in the future.

“No. Why?” he said. “I did the right thing. There’s no point in changing.”

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Kisner (67) enjoying 'frat' life, soccer matches with Jordan and Co.

By Rex HoggardJuly 19, 2018, 12:49 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – The frat house tradition continued this year at The Open, with a group of seven high-profile Americans rooming together for the week, including early first-round leader Kevin Kisner.

Kisner explained after his opening 5-under 66 that the group – which includes Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Zach Johnson, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler – has spent the week talking about how demanding Carnoustie is playing and enjoying the summer weather.

“We're out there playing soccer at night and hanging out,” he said.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


To be clear, this isn’t a proper soccer match, but instead a penalty-kick situation with all but one player taking turns trying to score.

“I just try to smash [Dufner] in the face,” Kisner laughed. “He's the all-time goalie.”

Although Kisner said he’s always impressed with the athletic prowess of other players, Spieth has proven himself particularly adept on the impromptu pitch.

“Jordan scored when Duf tripped, it was hilarious,” Kisner smiled. “[Spieth] is good until he sends it over the goal four houses over, and we've got to go knock on a neighbor’s door for the soccer ball.”

The group is actually staying in two local houses that are next to each other, one with a large enough back yard and a soccer net, but perhaps not enough soccer balls.

“We’re going to have to Amazon Prime a couple new balls to replace the ones we lost,” Kisner said.