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Monday Scramble: Wait lifting

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 17, 2018, 3:00 pm

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.

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Dunlap, in 'excruciating pain,' shares early Dominion lead

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 10:29 pm

RICHMOND, Va. – Scott Dunlap and Fran Quinn shot 5-under 67 on Friday to share the first-round lead in the PGA Tour Champions' playoff-opening Dominion Energy Charity Classic.

Fighting a left wrist injury that will require surgery, Dunlap matched Quinn with a closing birdie on the par-5 18th on The Country Club of Virginia's James River Course.

''Maybe excruciating pain is the key to playing good golf because I'm not getting nervous on a shot, you're just trying to get through it,'' Dunlap said. ''The worst parts are gripping it and getting the club started ... that's when that bone hits that bone.''

The top 72 players qualified for the Charles Schwab Cup Playoffs opener. The top 54 on Sunday will get spots next week in the Invesco QQQ Championship in Thousand Oaks, Calif., and the top 36 after that will advance to the season-ending Charles Schwab Cup Championship in Phoenix.

Full-field scores from the Dominion Energy Charity Classic

The 55-year-old Dunlap entered the week 29th in the standings. Playing through the wrist injury, he's coming off ties for ninth and seventh in his last two starts.

''I think I finally taped it the right way,'' Dunlap said. ''Or maybe it's the pain meds kicking in. I don't know, one of the two.''

Quinn is 64th in the standings.

''I finished up strong last year, too, kind of secured my privileges for the following year making eagle on 18,'' Quinn said. ''I played solid all day. I had a lot of opportunities. A couple hiccups.''

Jay Haas was a stroke back with Kent Jones, Stephen Ames, Woody Austin and Tim Petrovic. The 64-year-old Haas won the last of his 18 senior titles in 2016.

Vijay Singh and Miguel Angel Jimenez, second in the standings, were at 69 with Joey Sindelar, Tom Gillis, Billy MayfairLee Janzen, Glen Day and Gene Sauers.

Defending champion Bernhard Langer opened with a 70. The 61-year-old German star won the SAS Championship last week in North Carolina to take the points lead. He has two victories this year and 38 overall on the 50-and-over tour.

Defending Charles Schwab Cup champion Kevin Sutherland had a 71. He's 14th in the standings. No. 3 Jerry Kelly shot 72. No. 4 Scott McCarron, the 2016 tournament winner, had a 74.

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Weather continues to plague Valderrama Masters

By Associated PressOctober 19, 2018, 7:55 pm

SOTOGRANDE, Spain  -- Marc Warren helped his chances of retaining his European Tour card by moving into a tie for second place behind Englishman Ashley Chesters at the rain-hit Andalucia Valderrama Masters on Friday.

Bad weather interrupted play for a second straight day at the Real Club Valderrama in southern Spain before darkness caused the second round to be suspended until Saturday, with overnight Chesters still ahead at 5-under.

Weather delays on Thursday, including a threat of lightning, had kept 60 golfers from finishing their opening round. They included Scottish player Warren, who went out on Friday and finished his first round with a 2-under 69.

He then made three birdies to go with one bogey on the first nine holes of the second round before play was halted. He joined Frenchman Gregory Bourdy one shot behind Chesters.

Full-field scores from the Andalucia Valderrama Masters

''I'm hitting the ball as well as I have in a long time,'' Warren said. ''Hitting fairways and greens is the most important thing around here, so hopefully I wake up tomorrow with the same swing.''

Chesters and Bourdy were among several golfers unable to play a single hole in the second round on Friday.

Warren, a three-time European Tour winner, has struggled this season and needs a strong performance to keep his playing privileges for next year.

Currently ranked 144th, Warren needs to break into the top 116 to keep his card.

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Watch: Is this the up-and-down of the year?

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 19, 2018, 3:30 pm

Play away from the pin? Just because there's a tree in your way? Not Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano. Watch him channel some Arnie (or, more appropriately, some Seve) with this shot in the Valderrama Masters:

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Cut Line: Johnny's exit, Tiger's fatigue

By Rex HoggardOctober 19, 2018, 2:06 pm

In this week’s edition we bid farewell to the most outspoken and insightful analyst of his generation and examine a curious new interpretation that will require players to start paying attention to the small print.

Made Cut

Here’s Johnny. After nearly three decades Johnny Miller will hang up his microphone following next year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Miller called his first tournament as NBC Sports/Golf Channel’s lead analyst in 1990 at the Bob Hope Chrysler Classic and he told Cut Line this week that at 71 years old he’s ready to relax and spend time with his 24 grandchildren.

“I was the first guy with an open microphone,” Miller said. “That requires a lot of concentration. It’s not that I couldn’t do it but the handwriting was on the wall; it would be more of a challenge.”

Miller will be missed for his insight as much as his often-blunt deliveries, but it’s the latter that made him one of a kind.

A long ride to the right place. After nearly four years of legal wrangling a group of PGA Tour caddies dropped their class-action lawsuit against the circuit this week.

The lawsuit was filed in U.S. District Court in early 2015 in an attempt by the caddies to secure marketing rights for the bibs they wear during tournaments as a way to create better healthcare and retirement benefits.

The district court largely ruled against the caddies and that ruling was upheld by an appeals court earlier this year, but better healthcare options may still be in the cards for the caddies.

“I told the guys, if we really want a healthy working relationship with the Tour, we need to fix this and open the lines of communication,” said Scott Sajtinac, the president of the Association of Professional Tour Caddies.

Sajtinac told Cut Line that the Tour has offered a potential increase to the longtime stipend they give caddies for healthcare and in a statement the circuit said talks are ongoing.

“The PGA Tour looks forward to continuing to support the caddies in the important role they play in the success of our members,” the statement said.

It’s rare when both sides of a lawsuit walk away feeling good about themselves, but this particular outcome appears to have ended with a favorable outcome for everybody involved.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A long haul. Tiger Woods acknowledged what many had speculated about, telling a group this week at his annual Tiger Woods Invitational at Pebble Beach that his season-ending push and his first victory in five years took a physical toll at the Ryder Cup.

“It was just a cumulative effect of the entire season,” Woods said on Tuesday. “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf and on top of that deal with the heat and the fatigue and the loss of weight.”

Woods went 0-4 for the U.S. team in France and appeared particularly tired on Sunday following the European victory at Le Golf National.

For Woods the result was worth the effort with his victory at the Tour Championship ending a five-year drought, but his play and concession that it impacted him at the Ryder Cup does create some interesting questions for U.S. captain Jim Furyk, who sent Woods out for both team sessions on Saturday.

Tweet(s) of the week: @BobEstesPGA (Bob Estes) “I spoke to a past Ryder Cup captain yesterday. We both agreed that there should be a week off before the [Ryder Cup] to adequately rest and prepare.”

Given Woods’ comments this week it seems likely he would agree that a break – which may become the norm with the Tour season ending three weeks earlier – would be helpful, but Belgian Nicolas Colsaerts had a slightly different take in response to Estes’ tweet. “I’m afraid a different schedule wasn’t gonna make the fairways wider. On that particular course with how we played, [the United States] had absolutely no chance. Hasn’t more than half the euros played playoffs too?” Colsaerts tweeted.

It’s never too early to get a jump on the 2020 trash talking.

Missed Cut

By the book. The USGA and R&A’s most recent rulemaking hill involved the use of green-reading materials. On Monday the game’s rule-makers unveiled new interpretations on what will be allowed starting next year.

Out will be the legal-sized reams of information that had become ubiquitous on Tour, replaced by pocket-sized books that will include a limited scale (3/8 inch to 5 yards).

While the majority of those involved were in favor of a scaled-back approach to what to many seemed like information overload, it did seem like a curious line to draw.

Both sides of the distance debate continue to await which way the rule-makers will go on this front and, at least in the United States, participation continues to be a challenge.

Banning the oversized green-reading books may have been a positive step, but it was a micro issue that impacted a wildly small portion of the golf public. Maybe it’s time for the rule-makers to start looking at more macro issues.