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Monday Scramble: Wait lifting

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Angela Stanford cries tears of joy, the PGA Tour season comes to a close, Tadd Fujikawa comes out, Sang-Moon Bae finds his form and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble:

Even Angela Stanford was surprised Sunday.

On tour since 2001, the 40-year-old Stanford hadn’t won in six years or really contended in months, but she was the one who left France with a trophy – in her 76th career major start, as the second-oldest, first-time major winner.

“I have no idea what just happened,” she said.

It wasn’t hard to see how much the Evian title meant to her.

After years of uncertainty, she’d finally reached the mountaintop, just as it appeared that her steady but unspectacular career would end without a crowning achievement.

“God’s funny,” she said through tears afterward. “He catches you off-guard just when you think that maybe you’re done. I don’t think I could have asked for it any other way.”

Either could the LPGA, as one of the most popular American players finally got her due.

1. Stanford lost an 18-hole playoff at the 2003 U.S. Women’s Open and racked up a dozen other top-10s in majors throughout the years.

But still no wins.

That all changed Sunday, when she surged into the lead with an eagle-3 on the 15th hole (followed immediately by an ugly double on 16). She bounced back to birdie 17 and narrowly missed on the final hole.

Her final-round 68 was just enough. For more on Stanford's stirring win, read colleague Randall Mell's column

2. Here’s guessing Stanford now has this low, hooking 3-wood – which rolled out to 8 feet and set up her go-ahead eagle – on a loop in her mind:

3. Part of the surprise afterward was that Stanford shouldn't have been the one who walked away the winner. 

It should have been Amy Olson. 

The small-town girl, who dominated the college golf scene when she starred at tiny North Dakota State, appeared on the verge of scoring her first major title at the Evian. She came to the home hole needing only a par to win. Then she hooked her drive into the left rough. Then she couldn’t escape the tall stuff. Then she hacked out onto the front of the green, raced her par putt 6 feet past and missed the comebacker to lose by one.

It was the kind of nervy finish you’d expect from a player who hadn’t been in that position before. Not only had she never won on tour, but it was her first 54-hole lead.  

“It’s disappointing to finish like that,” she said.

And it's a blown major she'll remember for a long time.

4. Here are the top 5 players who – all together now – control their own destiny at the Tour Championship, meaning if they win at East Lake, they also capture the season-long FedExCup title:

1.) Bryson DeChambeau

2.) Justin Rose

3.) Tony Finau

4.) Dustin Johnson

5.) Justin Thomas

DeChambeau and Rose are interesting cases, as the top two seeds who mathematically have the best chances of claiming the cup. DeChambeau is making his first career start at East Lake; Rose, meanwhile, has never won in Atlanta but he finished second in 2013 and has five consecutive top-10 finishes there. Hmmm.

5. If you’re sinister (like me!), you’re rooting for Tony Finau this week.

Sure, he’s a great dude and a helluva player, but there exists a scenario in which he could win the cup without winning a tournament all year.

And, as the 3 seed, it’s not totally unrealistic. According to the tournament projections, he has a “reasonable chance” of winning with a T-2 finish, and he can finish as low as a two-way tie for third and still have a mathematical chance of winning, depending on how those around him perform.

6. The scenarios for Tiger Woods, in the 20th spot, are more extensive.

He needs to win the Tour Championship and get some help: DeChambeau finishes T-15 or worse; Rose finishes three-way 5th or worse; Finau finishes T-3 or worse; Johnson finishes in a three-way tie for second or worse; Thomas finishes in a three-way tie for second or worse; and Keegan Bradley finishes T-2 or worse.

Woods hasn’t played East Lake since 2013, but he has two wins and four runner-ups there. The way he’s striking his irons, he has a chance anywhere he tees it up.

7. Perhaps it’s a sign of progress that former teen star Tadd Fujikawa came out this week – he’s believed to be the first professional male golfer to publicly declare that he’s gay – and hardly anyone in the ultra-conservative golf world seemed particularly shocked or moved by it.

Fujikawa, who qualified for the 2006 U.S. Open as a 15-year-old, described his struggle late last year with depression and anxiety. Here’s hoping his courageous reveal helps give him some inner peace.   

“I spent way too long pretending, hiding and hating who I was,” Fujikawa said. “I was always afraid of what others would think/say. I’ve struggled with my mental health for many years because of that and it put me in a really bad place. Now I’m standing up for myself and the rest of the LGBTQ community in hopes of being an inspiration and making a difference in someone’s life.”

8. If you wondered whether Sangmoon Bae could regain his form after taking off two years in his athletic prime to fulfill his duties in the South Korean military, well, there’s your answer.

It was a rotten return to the Tour for Bae, who lost his card after finishing 202nd on the FedExCup points list. Sent back to the minor leagues for the Tour Finals, and needing only a few thousand dollars at the Albertsons Boise Open to regain his card, he won the tournament and now is in line to secure fully exempt status for 2018-19 as the Finals money leader.

Think about that: Bae was a two-time Tour winner, gave up the game for TWO YEARS and then found his form again.

Good stuff.

Along with the reemergence of Hunter Mahan, the Finals (which concludes this week with the season-ending Tour Championship) has produced a few feel-good stories this year.

Phil Mickelson always has plenty of eyeballs on him, but the pressure for him to perform in Paris is ratcheted up even more with the emergence of Xander Schauffele, who many thought deserved the final Ryder Cup captain's pick.

So Lefty is pulling out all of the stops.

In a short video posted on Twitter, his new favorite medium, Mickelson showed that he was training for the upcoming Ryder Cup by ... doing some long-range sniper shooting? It's an exercise, apparently, that slows his heart rate.

If it means winning two points in Paris, hey, whatever works, man.  

This week's award winners ... 

Whoops: Player of the Year debate. Trying to inject some much-needed drama into the season finale, the Tour’s official Twitter account last week wrote that the Player of the Year race is still “far from decided.” To which Justin Thomas responded:

Best Major Performer: Ariya Jutanugarn. The Thai star won the Annika Award, which recognizes the player with the best results in the majors each year. She won the U.S. Women’s Open and also tied for fourth at the ANA and Women’s British.

Own It: Anders Albertson. Albertson almost won the Albertsons Boise Open. You can’t make this stuff up.

What Could Have Been: Chris Wood. At the European Tour's KLM Open he recorded his THIRD runner-up of the year, falling just short of Ashun Wu.

Round of Applause: Jordan Spieth. Incredible achievement and gesture by the 25-year-old. 

Still Ballin’: Matt Wolff. Two events, two wins for the Oklahoma State star. It’s all coming together for a player who’s just getting cooking.

Or Is It The Opposite?: Thomas Pieters. In an interview reflecting on the raucous atmosphere at the 2016 Ryder Cup, Pieters (who went 4-1) said that Americans golf fans “can’t drink” and that contributed to some of the ridiculous fan behavior at Hazeltine. Oh, no, Thomas – Americans can drink, all right. It’s that many can’t handle their beer after starting at 7 a.m. Big difference.