Lexi Thompson falters, Jon Rahm impresses, Justin Rose stuns, Austin Cook breaks through and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
It’ll be a long two months for Lexi Thompson.
She’ll have plenty to think about this offseason after a strong 2017 season that could have been spectacular.
She won twice, led the LPGA in scoring average and took home the $1 million first-place prize … but she also finished second six times – none more excruciating than the careless spotting in the first major of the year and the 2-foot miss in the season finale – and dealt with the crushing off-course distraction of her mother, Judy, battling cancer.
Thompson said all the right things after the CME Group Tour Championship, that those types of short misses happen in golf, that she’s overcome adversity before.
“It didn’t stop me,” she said, “and this won’t either.”
But at 22, she has already accumulated an incredible amount of scar tissue, especially for a player with world-beater talent.
What will 2018 bring? For Lexi’s sake, hopefully it’s more wins, not heartbreak.
1. The Thompson miss was plenty awkward. So was the end to the LPGA season.
In a fitting result for a year in which no dominant player emerged, So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park shared the Player of the Year award, after both players finished with 162 points. It’s the first time that’s happened since 1966.
Can’t there be some way to break the tie? Low scoring average? Best finishes in the majors? A chip-off content? Rock-paper-scissors?
2. Some of the other awards ...
Vare Trophy: Thompson, who finished the year with a 69.114 average. Maybe the players this year were just really good, but it’s a bit of a head-scratcher than 12 players finished with a sub-70 average, besting the previous best total of, gulp, five. Easier setups?
Money title: Park, with $2.336 in earnings.
No. 1 ranking: Shanshan Feng, though Thompson had a chance to take over the top spot. Alas, that final green …
3. Oh, and there was also the tournament winner: Ariya Jutanugarn, who capped a bizarre year with a satisfying title.
Perhaps only Thompson boasts as much talent as Jutanugarn, and yet the Thai star showed her vulnerability this year. After reaching No. 1 in the world, she struggled through a shoulder injury and then missed five cuts and withdrew from another event in a seven-start span.
Here’s hoping she learned how to deal with that spotlight, because she’s going to be challenging for the No. 1 ranking for a while.
4. Of course, we wrote that about Lydia Ko, too, and she just wrapped up her first winless season on tour since she was 15.
She had 11 top-10s, including three runners-up, but failing to earn a victory was a massive disappointment for a player who was No. 1 in the world for 85 weeks. Perhaps next year she’ll get back on track, but you never know – she changed swings, coaches, equipment and caddies. That's a lot of turnover.
5. So much for that “controversial” Rookie of the Year award.
Jon Rahm, named Europe’s top newcomer despite playing only four regular-season events, left little doubt about who was the breakout star of the year with a comeback victory at the DP World Tour Championship.
Though it wasn’t enough to claim the Race to Dubai title – he finished third – it should serve as a warning to the rest of the European Tour that the 23-year-old Rahm be the man to beat for the next, oh, decade or so.
6. Ranked fourth in the world, particularly impressive because he hasn’t yet hit the minimum divisor in the rankings, Rahm wrapped up a season in which he won in California, Ireland and Dubai.
Just imagine how good he’ll be when he’s not seeing all of these courses for the first time.
7. The biggest stunner on the final day was the play of Justin Rose, who entered the final round with a one-shot lead.
He seemed to be on cruise control, going out in 4 under, but he encountered all sorts of trouble on the back nine, making three bogeys a variety of ways – wayward drives, flared approaches into the water and missed shorties.
Not only did it cost him the DP World Tour Championship title, but it allowed Tommy Fleetwood – even with a closing 74 – to take the end-of-season Race to Dubai title.
8. Austin Cook is now a PGA Tour winner – and what a circuitous journey it has been.
After turning pro in 2014, he played the mini-tours, racking up five top-10s in nine starts on the Adams Tour. A year later, with a chance to earn his Web.com card, he finished bogey-bogey-quad-double. And then last year, Hurricane Matthew forced officials to cancel the Web.com Tour Championship. That left Cook without his card – by $425.
He made it to the big leagues this fall, after finishing 20th on the money list, and then won in just his 14th career Tour start.
“I’ve been close on the Web a couple times but haven’t been able to get the job done, and to be able to do it on the biggest stage in the world, it definitely boosts my confidence and lets me know that I can play with these guys,” he said.
9. Sam Horsfield, who in 2016 was the NCAA Freshman of the Year, routed the field at European Tour Q-School to earn his card for next year. He shot 27 under (!) during the five-round event to win by eight.
Expectations have been high for the 21-year-old ever since he received a public endorsement from Ian Poulter. His mentor chimed in again after Horsfield got his card:
I'm extremely impressed just like I was 7 years ago with this young man @hr59sam. @EuropeanTour School is a daunting week. Many congratulations to now being employed and I hope you enjoy the new job. May you have a long and successful career mate. pic.twitter.com/o8CCluTyI8— Ian Poulter (@IanJamesPoulter) November 16, 2017
Another great story to come out of Q-School was Jigger Thomson, who is interesting not just because of his incredible height – he’s 6-foot-9 – but his back story, after battling leukemia as a kid.
10. A limited fall schedule hasn’t cost Brooks Koepka any of his stellar form.
The U.S. Open champion defended his title at the Dunlop Phoenix, shooting 20 under par – one off his own scoring mark – and winning by a record nine shots. The margin of victory was one shot better than Tiger Woods’ romp there in 2004.
This was only Koepka’s second start since the Tour Championship (tied for second at the WGC-HSBC Champions).
Xander Schauffele tied for second while Hideki Matsuyama finished fifth. This is the time last year, remember, in which the Japanese star was the hottest player in the world, taking four titles in six starts, but he admitted of going up against Koepka right now: “I feel there’s a huge gap between us.”
Um, has this ever happened before?
I.K. Kim had a WILD third round at the CME Tour Championship, making only seven pars and recording everything from a 1 to a 7 en route to a ho-hum 71.
This week's award winners ...
Back Under the Knife: Davis Love III. Set to undergo replacement surgery on his left hip, Love is looking at another extended layoff, likely about four months.
Underrated Fall Performances: J.J. Spaun and Brian Harman. Spaun, who held the 54-hole lead at the Shriners, earned his first runner-up finish at the RSM, his third consecutive top-15. Harman, who won the Wells Fargo in May, had three top-8s.
Fill-In Duty: Cameron McCormick. Jordan Spieth’s swing coach will be on the bag for Spieth this week in Australia with his regular caddie, Michael Greller, at home with his wife and new baby.
Get Well Soon: Luke Donald. He withdrew from the RSM because of chest pain. He spent the night in the hospital, undergoing seven hours of tests, but was given the all-clear sign.
Well that wasn’t quite the finish to my year I had in mind!! Had some chest pain last night and into this morning & it kept getting worse. After some medical advice, I had to withdraw & was shipped off to the hospital to get my heart looked at. After 7 hours of tests all looks good with my heart thankfully A big thank you to the staff at the South East Georgia Brunswick hospital for taking good care of me. Time to put my feet up for a few weeks, recharge, regroup and get ready for a big 2018.
All the Best: Webb Simpson. Wishing the best to the Simpson family, after Webb chose to WD from Sea Island after rounds of 67-68 so he could spend time with his father, Sam, who, Simpson tweeted is “sick and living his last days.”
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Charles Howell III. Red-hot to open the season, with three consecutive top-10s, Howell missed the cut at Sea Island where he was 7-for-7 with three top-10s and a tie for 13th. Sigh.