Getty Images

Monday Scramble: Win and where

By Ryan LavnerOctober 23, 2017, 3:00 pm

Justin Thomas wins again, Sergio Garcia shakes off his Masters hangover, Bernhard Langer eagles the last and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Now with five and a half weeks off, Thomas has plenty of time for reflection.

The most obvious question that will come to his mind: Now how am I going to back up THAT?

Thomas capped the best run of his career with a playoff victory Sunday at the lucrative CJ Cup. Over the past 52 weeks, he has six victories (including his first major), a FedExCup title, a Player of the Year trophy and more than $20 million in the bank.

Of the many goals that Thomas set for himself, both large and small, he met or exceeded almost all of them. Continuing to improve next season will be a challenge, because there isn’t as much ground to cover, but the 24-year-old showed that his ceiling is as high as anyone’s on Tour.

This is a break well deserved.

1. The par-5 18th hole at Nine Bridges will make course-architect snobs break out in hives, but it provided plenty of drama at the CJ Cup.

Both Thomas and Leishman went for the well-protected green in two shots during the playoff.

Leishman was unsuccessful, leading to a bogey but no regrets.

“If you go down,” he said, “you want to go down like that. I’d rather attack and try to take it. I would certainly sleep better at night just doing that.”

Even after seeing his opponent rinse his approach, Thomas didn’t back down, either.

“I didn’t travel all this way to make this a three-shot hole,” he said.

That led to a two-putt birdie and the victory. 

2. If Thomas was low on energy two weeks ago at the CIMB Classic, then he was really running on fumes in South Korea. And his patience was tested all week, when officials cut hole locations in difficult positions on Friday to protect par, and then the wind gusted (and swirled) to 30 mph over the weekend.

It’s a testament to his mental toughness that he was able to overcome a 71st-hole bogey and put away Leishman, who notched his third top-3 finish in his last four starts.

“I’m really tired and fatigued right now,” Thomas said. “I’m excited about getting home.”  

3. Here’s how the top of the world rankings look heading into the final World Golf Championships event of 2017:

1. Dustin Johnson
2. Jordan Spieth
3. Justin Thomas
4. Hideki Matsuyama
5. Jon Rahm

It’s the first time since May 2010 that Americans hold down the top three spots. Back then, it was Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson and Steve Stricker – an average age of 39.2.

This trio? An average of 27.4. 

4. A reminder that last fall, Thomas was ranked 35th in the world.

So what changed?

Here are some of the areas in which Thomas has seen the most improvement, year over year:

Strokes gained-around the green (108th to 28th), putting (131st to 47th), approaches from 50-125 yards (71st to 1st) and 75-100 yards (156th to 13th).

If Thomas can improve his driving – even with his awesome length, he ranks only 32nd in strokes gained-off the tee – then his six-win 2017 might just be the beginning. 

5. No Ryder Cup points are available this fall, for the second consecutive Ryder Cup.

Though that’s unlikely to affect the status of a star like Thomas, it’s a potentially big deal for someone like Pat Perez, who won the CIMB and followed it up with a tie for fifth at the CJ Cup. 

6. Garcia’s Masters hangover is over, after the Spaniard served as both host and champion at the European Tour event at Valderrama hosted by his foundation.

Since his life-changing victory at Augusta, he managed only one top-10 in 10 PGA Tour starts, and his runner-up at the BMW International Open was his best showing worldwide.

A lot has been going on, of course. Garcia got married. He’s expecting his first child next spring. He adjusted to life as a major champion. And it was announced last week that he and longtime sponsor TaylorMade are parting ways.

Valderrama was the perfect landing spot for another Garcia reboot – he has finished in the top 5 in eight of 13 career appearances there.  

7. Interestingly, this was Garcia’s first three-win season since 2008.

He moved to 14 career titles on the European Tour, one clear of Rory McIlroy for the most among players currently under 40.

8. After wondering whether she would ever win again, Eun-Hee Ji snapped an eight-year winless drought by taking the Swinging Skirts – by six.

Now 31, Ji hadn’t won since the 2009 U.S. Women’s Open.

Perhaps even more interesting was the brief reappearance in Taiwan of local hero Yani Tseng. Mired in a miserable slump, the former world No. 1 hasn’t won anywhere since 2012.

A strong final round briefly vaulted her inside the top 5, but she stumbled down the stretch and eventually tied for 17th – still one of her best results of the year.

“I feel the nerves and I feel the pressure,” she said, “but it was great pressure and good news. I haven’t had that for a while.” 

9. In the least surprising development of the week, Bernhard Langer won the PGA Tour Champions playoff opener, eagling the final hole and creating even more separation from Scott McCarron.

Though the field size is trimmed each week, like the FedExCup playoffs, the cut down from 72 to 54 players barely registered, seeing how those players have no chance to make any noise with Langer, McCarron, Kenny Perry and the rest of the senior stars monopolizing the top of the leaderboard.

Langer is on the verge of taking the money title for the ninth time in the past 10 years. 

It’s why we opined last week that the senior circuit desperately needs a match-play finale to liven up its finishing kick.

10. About the only thing Langer has left to accomplish in senior golf is the record for the most victories all time.

With title No. 35, and his sixth this year, he’s now only 10 back of Hale Irwin’s mark.

Barring an injury, Langer could eclipse that record in 2019, when he’d be 62. Irwin was 61 when he earned his final senior victory.

Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth are longtime friends. This was established a few years ago, when Thomas joined a Tour on which Spieth had already made his mark.   

Well, for some reason, this storyline is still a thing, even after Thomas finally moved out of Spieth’s considerable shadow, winning the PGA Championship, the FedExCup and Player of the Year.

This was a real question posed to Thomas on Saturday night (emphasis is mine): Jason Day mentioned that he has never seen winds like this before. Are you used to such windy conditions? If you were to give Jordan Spieth any advice playing on this course, what would you say?

Unfortunately, Thomas (and, now, Spieth, to some extent) are used to such ridiculous queries. In his presser, Thomas shrugged it off and talked about the difficult conditions.

Well, the same reporter (we think) went back to the well on Sunday night, after Thomas prevailed in a playoff.

If you were to come back next year, would you convince your good friend Jordan Spieth to come with you?

Not only was that question insulting – as if Thomas’ victory, and presence, wasn’t enough for the reporter – it was absurd.

Thomas handled it perfectly: “I don’t care what he does.”


This week's award winners ... 

See You Next Year: Paula Creamer. The 31-year-old recently underwent surgery on her ailing left wrist, ending her season. Winless since 2014, she faces an uphill climb when she returns to competition.

What a Mess: KLPGA. A pair of players received two-shot penalties after they picked up their ball on what they thought was the green, and it was later determined that four other players had done that, too. Several players threatened to withdraw out of protest, the KLPGA wiped out all scores for the first round, and the head rules official resigned.  

Mission Accomplished: Leona Maguire. Needing to make the cut to earn Symetra Tour status for 2018, the top-ranked amateur in the world cruised at second stage of Q-School. She won’t even attempt to play the finals; she’ll return to Duke for the spring semester and complete her degree.

Presidential Company: Hideki Matsuyama. The world No. 4 is scheduled to play a round with Donald Trump when the president makes his first Asia trip next month, according to Bloomberg.

New Home: Barbasol Championship. Beginning this season, one of the Tour’s opposite-field events is relocating from Alabama to Kentucky. 

What Can't He Do?: Braden Thornberry. During the Ole Miss-Auburn game Saturday night, the reigning NCAA champion was asked to knock in a field goal using one of his irons. This is a lot harder than it looks!

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Tony Finau. His runner-up finish in Napa was his third consecutive top-10. But he just didn’t have it halfway around the world, backing up an opening 67 with three consecutive rounds of par or worse for a tie for 26th. Sigh.  

Getty Images

Stricker shares first-round lead in South Dakota

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:48 am

SIOUX FALLS, S.D. - Steve Stricker shot a 7-under 63 on Friday to share the first-round lead at the Sanford International.

The 51-year-old Stricker was 8 under through 17 holes at chilly, rain-softened Minnehaha Country Club but closed with a bogey to fall into a tie with Jerry Smith, Brandt Jobe and David McKenzie.

Stricker only got to play seven holes in the pro-am because of rain that prevented the field from getting in much practice.

''You've just kind of got to trust your yardage book and hit to the spots and then try to make a good game plan on the way into the green, too, not really knowing where to hit it or where to miss it up there on the green. Sometimes it's good, too,'' Stricker said. ''You go around and you're focused a lot more on hitting it to a specific spot and not knowing what lies ahead in the course. So I guess today was the ultimate 'Take one hole at a time' because we didn't really know anything else, what was coming.''

Full-field scores from the Sanford International

Stricker has two wins and has not finished worse than fifth in six starts this season on the over-50 tour as he continues to play a part-time schedule on the PGA Tour. Next week, he will be one of U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk's assistants at the matches outside Paris.

McKenzie, a 51-year-old Australian, had two eagles on the back nine, holing a wedge from 116 yards on the par-5 16th.

''We got told ... to play faster on No. 16, and so my caddie just said, 'Hit it in the hole so you don't have to putt it,' so I just did what he told me,'' McKenzie said.

Smith had eagles on Nos. 4 and 12.

''Honestly, I was just trying to hit some good shots and I really wasn't with the irons,'' Smith said. ''I just really didn't like the way I hit them today. You know, just the putter was the big difference for me. I just felt good with it all day, especially say outside of 10, 15 feet, where I felt like I was a lot.''

Scott McCarron, Lee Janzen and Paul Goydos were one shot back. McCarron came in second in the Charles Schwab Cup money standings behind Miguel Angel Jimenez, who is not playing this week.

Getty Images

Glover (64) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 22, 2018, 12:12 am

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Former U.S. Open champion Lucas Glover shot his second consecutive 7-under 64 on Friday to take a one-shot lead at the Tour Championship.

The 38-year-old Glover, who won the 2009 U.S. Open at Bethpage Black, can still regain his PGA Tour card through a medical extension if he fails to earn enough money in the four-tournament Tour Finals. But a high finish this weekend at Atlantic Beach Country Club would take care of everything.

''I've got a lot to fall back on regardless of this week, but any time I tee it up, I want to play well,'' Glover said. ''Tomorrow won't be any different. Sunday won't be any different.''

Glover had arthroscopic knee surgery in June and will have eight starts to earn 53 FedEx Cup points and keep his card. He earned $17,212 in the first three Tour Finals events. The top 25 money winners in the series earn PGA Tour cards, and the final card went for $40,625 last year.

Glover was at 14-under 128. Denny McCarthy, who has already earned enough money to secure a return to the PGA Tour, was one shot back. McCarthy, a former Virginia player, has a shot at winning the Finals money list, which would guarantee him fully exempt status and entry into The Players Championship.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''There's no secret about it. I'll come out and tell you I'm here to win this tournament and get that No. 1 spot,'' McCarthy said. ''I've been hungry for a while. I have a pretty hungry attitude and I'm going to stay hungry.''

Tour veteran Cameron Tringale, who has earned just $2,660 after missing two of the first three cuts, was 12 under after a 67. Last year, Tringale entered the Tour Championship at 63rd on the Finals money list and finished tied for fifth to get back onto the PGA Tour. He struggled again this season, though, missing 19 cuts in 26 starts.

''Yeah, I was hoping last year was my last time here, but I do have a comfort at this golf course and I'm excited to keep pressing,'' Tringale said.

The four-tournament series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top 25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals.

Sepp Straka and Ben Silverman were three shots back. Each would likely need a top-5 finish to earn his card.

Peter Malnati, who regained his card with a second-place finish in the opening finals event, followed his opening-round 74 with a 9-under 62, shooting an 8-under 27 on his second nine.

Four-time PGA Tour winner Aaron Baddeley was among those who missed the cut. He was 22nd on the finals money list going in and likely will fall short of earning his card.

Getty Images

Thomas (69) only three back with 'C' or 'D' game

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTA – Justin Thomas was tied for fourth place following his second-round 69 on Friday at the Tour Championship, which considering the state of his game on Day 2 was an accomplishment.

“I wish I had my 'B' game today. I would say I had my 'C' or 'D' game today,” he laughed.

Thomas’ struggles were primarily with his driver and he hit just 6 of 14 fairways at East Lake, but he was able to scramble late in his round with birdies at Nos. 15 and 18 to remain three off the lead.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I drove it so poorly today, this is probably in my top 5 rounds of the year I'm most proud of just because I easily could have shot 4- or 5-over par today and not had a chance to win the tournament,” he said. “I hung in there and birdied two of the last four, and I have a chance.”

Thomas was slowed the last two weeks by a right wrist injury that limited his preparation for the finale and said the issue with his driver is timing and the byproduct of a lack of practice.

Thomas made up for his erratic driving with his short game, getting up and down four out of seven times including on the fourth hole when he missed the fairway well left, punched out short of the green and chipped in from 81 feet.

“[Rory McIlroy] just kind of said it looked like a ‘3’ the whole day and I kind of laughed because I played with him at The Players and I chipped in three times that first round with him, so I guess he's good luck for me,” Thomas said.

Getty Images

McIlroy two behind Woods, Rose after 68

By Rex HoggardSeptember 21, 2018, 11:46 pm

ATLANTA – Maybe it should be no huge surprise that Rory McIlroy finds himself back in contention at the Tour Championship. It is, after all, a Ryder Cup year.

In 2016, McIlroy won the finale before heading to Hazeltine and posting a 3-2-0 record. In ’14, he finished runner-up to Billy Horschel and went 2-1-2 at the Ryder Cup; and in ’12 he finished tied for 10th place at East Lake and went 3-2-0 at Medinah.

“I was on such a high a couple of years ago going into Hazeltine after winning the whole thing, and I felt great about my game that week and played well. I won three matches,” McIlroy said. “I guess it doesn't matter whether it's a match play event or whatever. If you're playing well and you've played well the week before, I think most people can carry it into the next week, whatever that is.”

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

McIlroy’s performance this week certainly qualifies as “playing well.” He charged out on Friday with birdies at two of his first three holes and bounced back from a pair of late bogeys to shoot a 68 and was in third place and two strokes off the lead held by Tiger Woods and Justin Rose.

“I've made 12 birdies in 36 holes, which is really good around here, and that's with not birdieing either of the par 5s today,” he said. “So yeah, just tidy up the mistakes a little bit.”