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Monday Scramble: What we know and what we think we know

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 4, 2018, 2:00 pm

Bryson DeChambeau goes back to back, Tony Finau makes Jim Furyk's job even easier, Matt Wallace makes Thomas Bjorn's even harder, and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

The more we learn about Bryson DeChambeau, the more he looks like a longtime force.

The Dell Technologies Championship was another enlightening week for the Mad Scientist.

Not only did he dust his boyhood idol, 63-68, on Sunday, but he played another clinical final round in the last group to capture back-to-back playoff titles.

It was a statement win, in many ways.

He’ll be the top seed heading into the Tour Championship. He now has as many Tour wins as Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler (four). And he’s all the way up to No. 7 in the world – ahead of Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and others – meaning he no longer can be viewed as just a quirky kid with an unorthodox approach.

He’s a bona-fide stud, with a rock-solid game and unassailable self-belief in his methods.

1. This will shock you, but DeChambeau is very dialed in with his game right now.

At The Northern Trust, he ranked fifth in strokes gained: tee to green and fifth in putting.

At the Dell, he ranked sixth in strokes gained: tee to green and sixth in putting.

His 34-under total through the first two playoff events is the best postseason score all time. The previous best was Vijay Singh, who was 30 under for the first two events in 2008. He went on to win the cup.

2. No matter what happens at this week’s BMW Championship, DeChambeau will be the No. 1 seed heading into East Lake.

That doesn’t guarantee much, other than a few more favorable scenarios.

No top seed has won the FedExCup since 2009 – or roughly a dozen format tweaks ago.

DeChambeau could go 3-for-3 in the playoffs, and if someone else in the top 5 wins the Tour Championship – right now, that includes Dustin Johnson, Justin Rose, Finau and Justin Thomas – he takes home the FedExCup. It’s one of the many reasons why the Tour is looking to overhaul the season finale.

3. As a reminder, Bryson is just 24 years old.

DeChambeau is the fifth player under the age of 25 in the last 30 years to win three or more times in the same season. He joins Tiger Woods (three times), McIlroy (2012), Spieth (twice) and Thomas.

DeChambeau isn't yet on Spieth's and Thomas' level – he needs a major, or two, for that – but he's on his way there.

4. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk’s four captain’s picks are so painfully obvious that we can’t help but root for Furyk to throw a curveball, just so he has to somehow explain it.

It’s DeChambeau. And Woods. And Phil Mickelson. And Finau.

There’s no need to wait until 5 p.m. on Tuesday, when he announces three of the four picks. (But please, tune in! It's live on Golf Channel!) There's no need to wait until Sept. 10, either, when he announces the 12th man. Furyk could do it this instant.

Nothing should change, even if one of the so-called “contenders” wins the BMW. Not Kevin Kisner. Not Patrick Cantlay. Not Brandt Snedeker. Not Xander Schauffele.

These are the four.


5. Mickelson hasn’t been on form of late, but he closed the Dell Technologies with a final-round 63 and then dropped the mic afterward when he reminded everyone that he’s the second-ranked putter on Tour this season. “It would be a strong argument whether I was a veteran player, a rookie or a kid in high school,” he said.

Finau’s selection should be just as automatic. The tie for fourth in Boston  was his 10th top-10 of the season – second-most on Tour, behind only world No. 1 Johnson. The birdie machine is an ideal fourballs partner. (Just ask Furyk – Finau sank a PGA record 10 birdies while in his group.) He’s friends with everybody. He’s showed up on big stages all year long.

And even though Finau hasn’t won, this point should not be forgotten: No one else has done ANYTHING to threaten his spot.  

6. As straightforward as Furyk’s picks appear to be, the opposite is true for European captain Thomas Bjorn.

Pass him the Advil, because he's about to have a rather large headache. 

Ian Poulter is a lock for one of the four spots. So, it seems, are Henrik Stenson, who is recovering from an elbow injury, and Paul Casey, who rejoined the European Tour this year to make the team and who’s ranked 16th in the world.

Now, the big question: What to do with the fourth pick?

7. Matt Wallace seemingly wasn’t on the radar before last week, but he birdied 10 of his last 13 holes and prevailed in a playoff at the Made in Denmark, the final Ryder Cup qualifying event on the European circuit. That gives him three wins in the past six months – more than any other contender – but he’d be the sixth rookie on the European squad.

Ryder Cup experience is about the only thing that Sergio Garcia has going for him at the moment – but, indeed, that 19-11-7 career record looms large. Since April he’s been dismal, though his only top-10 in his past 12 starts came at the French Open – held at Ryder Cup host site Le Golf National.

Or could Bjorn opt for another Spaniard, Rafa Cabrera Bello? He went 2-0-1 in the 2016 matches, has a significantly better record this year than Garcia and contended for the title against a top field in Boston.

Or maybe he’ll select Thomas Pieters, who needed a pick in 2016 and proceeded to have the best mark of any European, going 4-1 at Hazeltine. He has three top-10s in his past five starts and a ready-made pairing with McIlroy.

Bjorn will announce his picks at 9 a.m. ET Wednesday, and it promises to be interesting. 

8. A few back-nine stumbles by Woods made the BMW Championship a lot more stressful than it needed to be.

With a bogey on 14 and a watery double on 16, he turned a solid final round into an even-par 71 that left him in a tie for 24th.

As a result, he failed to make up any ground in the FedEx race.

He was 20th at the end of the regular season.

He was 25th at the end of the first playoff event.

And now he's still 25th as he heads into the third leg of the postseason.

Though Woods is still in decent shape – the top 30 make it to East Lake – he’ll need to grind harder than perhaps he expected to. He tied for 46th at Aronimink in his only prior experience there, in the 2010 AT&T National.

9. It might be a good thing that the playoffs are getting overhauled next year, with the reduction of an event and, reportedly, a head start for the FedExCup leader.

Because it still doesn’t make much sense.

Finau has had a strong, consistent season … but he has no business sitting ahead of Brooks Koepka (two majors) and Thomas (three wins, including a WGC) in the standings.

Finau is fourth, after another playoff top-10. Thomas is fifth and Koepka is sixth.

Of the many ways to lose a tournament, this has to be one of the most disheartening.

Joe Durant was in position to win the PGA Tour Champions’ Shaw Classic until he yipped this tap-in on the 17th hole. He fell one behind and couldn’t make up the ground on Scott McCarron, who used an ace on the 14th hole to win.

This week's award winners ... 

Get Used to the Name: Matthew Wolff. The Oklahoma State sophomore, who holed the clinching putt for the Cowboys at the NCAA Championship, returned from a wrist injury this summer to win his first college event – at Pebble Beach, no less, after shooting 17 under. He’s the reigning NCAA Freshman of the Year, after posting four runners-up during his first year on campus.

Stop Trying to Make This a Thing: Matt Kuchar on the Ryder Cup team. He just finished his worst season in years, failing to advance to the BMW.

First For Everything: Talkin’ Tiger. He didn’t talk after his closing 71 in Boston, the first time in 60 rounds this season that he didn’t speak with the media after signing his card. Woods takes to the podium FAR more often than any other player on Tour, even after the most ordinary of days, so this one-off can easily be excused. And besides, he needs to rest his voice for the 90-minute Ryder Cup selection show special on Tuesday night.   

Ain’t Scared: Bryson. Paired with (his likely Ryder Cup partner) Woods during the third round in Boston, Bryson hung a 63 on him – the lowest score recorded by Tiger’s playing partner since 2014 – and left little doubt that he can handle the spotlight.

Sweating It Out: Peter Uihlein. He birdied the last three holes to move from 83rd to 64th in the points standings, ensuring that his season will continue for at least one more week.

Don’t Look Now, But …: Spieth is putting better. The Dell was his sixth consecutive event with a positive strokes-gained putting week. That narrative, at least for now, can be retired, and he can focus on the other holes in his game that have kept him out of the winner's circle for more than a year.

Marina Number 5: Marina Alex. With a closing 65, she erased a six-shot deficit to win the Portland Classic and become the fifth American – joining Brittany Lincicome, Jessica Korda, Michelle Wie and Annie Park – to win on the LPGA this year.

How to Handle Defeat: Eddie Pepperell. Some will shed tears when Bjorn’s number doesn’t pop up on their phone this week. Pepperell will not be one of them. This guy is the best.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Jason Day. The best putter on Tour, he arrived in Boston with five consecutive top-20s and a strong course history with three top-10s and eight top-25s at TPC Boston since 2008. Then he shot rounds of 76-73 and beat only four players. Sigh.  

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Miller's biggest on-air regret: Leonard at Ryder Cup

By Jason CrookOctober 17, 2018, 12:00 am

Johnny Miller made a broadcasting career out of being brutally honest, calling golf tournaments exactly like he saw them.

His unfiltered style is what kept him on the air for nearly 30 years, but it wasn't always the most popular with players.

After announcing his upcoming retirement, Miller was asked Tuesday if there were any on-air comments he regretted over the last three decades. One immediately came to mind.

"I think that I didn't say the right words about Justin Leonard at Miracle at Brookline about he should be home watching it on TV. I meant really - I did say he should be home, but I meant the motel room. Even then I probably shouldn't have said that," Miller recalled. "I want so much for the outcome that I'm hoping for that I actually get overwhelmed with what I want to see. Almost the kind of things you would say to your buddies if you were watching it on TV, you know? He just couldn't win a match."

After struggling on Friday and Saturday in team play, Leonard ended up the U.S. hero after halving his Sunday singles match with José María Olazábal by holing a 40-foot birdie putt on the 17th hole - one of the most famous shots in Ryder Cup history.

"Of course he ended up - after the crappy comment I made that motivated maybe the team supposedly in the locker room, and he ends up making that 45-, 50- foot putt to seal the deal," Miller said. "Almost like a Hollywood movie or something."

Not only did the putt seal the comeback for the U.S., but it also earned Leonard an apology from Miller. 

"I apologized to him literally the next day; I happened to see him. I tried to make a policy when I go over the line that I get ahold of the guy within 24 hours and tell him I made a double bogey, you know. That's just the way I have done it through the years."

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Love him or not, Miller's authentic style stood out

By Doug FergusonOctober 16, 2018, 10:11 pm

The comment was vintage Johnny Miller, raw enough to cause most television producers to wince.

Miller was in the NBC Sports booth at Doral in 2004 when he watched Craig Parry hit another beautiful shot to the green. Miller said what he saw. That was his job.

He just didn't say it like other golf analysts.

''The last time you see that swing is in a pro-am with a guy who's about a 15-handicap,'' Miller said. ''It's just over the top, cups it at the bottom and hits it unbelievably good. It doesn't look ... if Ben Hogan saw that, he'd puke.''

Parry got the last word, of course, holing out a 6-iron from 176 yards in a playoff to win.

Except that wasn't the last word.

''I was in Ponte Vedra going back to the Honda Classic, and my phone is blowing up,'' said Tommy Roy, the longtime golf producer at NBC. ''It started percolating down in Australia, and you had radio stations demanding Johnny Miller be fired.''

Miller could make golf more fun to hear than to watch.

''He doesn't have a filter. That's why he's so good,'' Roy said. ''What he's thinking comes out. And 99.5 percent of the time, that was a great thing for viewers, and for me. And 0.5 percent of the time, it was a problem for our PR department and for me.

''And it was worth it.''

Roy was in Wisconsin on Monday night for his first look at Whistling Straits for the 2020 Ryder Cup. It will be the first Ryder Cup since 1989 that doesn't have Miller in the booth weighing in on good shots and bad with thoughts that immediately become words.

He often entertained. He occasionally irritated. He was rarely dull.

Miller is retiring after three decades calling the shots for NBC. His last tournament will be the Phoenix Open, the perfect exit for a Hall of Fame player once known as the ''Desert Fox'' for winning six times in Arizona. Miller was so good for so long that it was easy for younger generations to forget about that other career he had.

Miller to retire from broadcast booth in 2019

Best of: Photos of Miller through the years

And to think that was nearly his only career in golf.

Miller said he wasn't interested when NBC first approached him, but then his wife stepped in and told him it would be nice to have a steady paycheck. Even then, it took time for him to realize his audience was in the living room, not the locker room.

He made his debut at the Bob Hope Classic in 1990 and it didn't take long for him to leave his mark. Peter Jacobsen faced an awkward lie to the 18th green with water to the left.

''The easiest shot to choke on,'' Miller said.

People thought about choking. Miller said it because that's what he was thinking.

''What came into his brain came out of his mouth,'' said Mike McCarley, president of golf for NBC Sports. ''He was the first to really talk about the pressure. It's the most important element of the game, especially in those really big moments. He was doing it at a time when others weren't.''

It wasn't just the word ''choke.''

Phil Mickelson was getting up-and-down from everywhere at the 2010 Ryder Cup when Miller suggested that if Lefty weren't such a good putter he'd be selling cars in San Diego. Justin Leonard and Hal Sutton were losing a fourballs match at the 1999 Ryder Cup when Miller blurted out, ''My hunch is that Justin needs to go home and watch it on television.''

During the 2008 U.S. Open playoff at Torrey Pines that Tiger Woods won in 19 holes over Rocco Mediate, Miller suggested that guys named ''Rocco'' don't get their name on the trophy, and that Mediate looked like ''the guy who cleans Tiger's swimming pool.''

It wasn't all bad.

Roy, who also has produced NBA Finals and Olympics, said he wants analysts who first-guess, not second-guess. The latter is for talk radio. First-guessing means sharing instincts, and Miller had plenty of them.

Woods was playing the final hole at Newport in the 1995 U.S. Amateur when Miller said, ''It wouldn't surprise me if he knocked this thing a foot from the hole.''

And that's just what Woods did.

McCarley remembers how retired NBC Sports chairman Dick Ebersol used to worry whenever Miller called because he thought it was about retirement. McCarley soon inherited that feeling.

''Every time I'd see Johnny's number pop up on my cellphone, my heart would skip a beat,'' McCarley said. ''Two years ago, he made that call I had been dreading.''

McCarley kept him working a slightly reduced schedule, but no longer. Miller is 71 and has been on the road for 50 years. His 24th grandchild was born on Sunday. He wants to teach them fly fishing in Utah, perhaps even a little golf.

Miller wasn't sure he would last a week when he started. He never imagined going nearly 30 years.

He leaves behind a style all his own.

Most loved it. Some didn't. But everyone listened, and that might be his legacy in the broadcast booth. Roy said what he has heard from viewers he knows is that 70 percent really like Miller, and 30 percent really don't.

''But they all have an opinion,'' he said.

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CJ Cup: Tee times, TV schedule, stats

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 16, 2018, 9:20 pm

The PGA Tour returns to South Korea this week for the second edition of the CJ Cup at Nine Bridges. Here is the key information for the no-cut event, where Justin Thomas is defending champion.

Golf course: Located on Jeju Island, the largest island off the coast of the Korean Peninsula, The Club at Nine Bridges opened in 2001 and was designed by Ronald Fream and David Dale. The par-72 layout (36-36) will measure 7,184 yards for this week's event, 12 yards shorter than last year.

Purse: The total purse is $9.5 million with the winner receiving $1.71 million. In addition, the winner will receive 500 FedExCup points, a two-year exemption on the PGA Tour, and invitations to the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, Players, Masters, and PGA Championship.

Last year: Thomas defeated Marc Leishman with a birdie on the second playoff hole to earn his seventh career PGA Tour win.

TV schedule (all times Eastern): Golf Channel, Wednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m.

Live streamingWednesday-Saturday, 10 p.m.-2 a.m. 

Notable tee times (all times Eastern): 7:15 p.m. Wednesday, 8:15 p.m. Thursday: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Sungjae Im; 8:15 p.m. Wednesday, 7:05 p.m. Thursday: Marc Leishman, Si Woo Kim, Ernie Els; 8:25 p.m. Wednesday, 7:15 p.m. Thursday: Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama

Notables in the field: Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka, Ernie Els, Jason Day, Adam Scott, Hideki Matsuyama, Ian Poulter, Graeme McDowell and last week's winner Marc Leishman.

Key stats:

 This is the third of 46 official events of the season and the second of three consecutive weeks of events in Asia

• 78-player field including the top 60 available from the final 2017-2018 FedExCup points list

The field also includes 12 major champions and two of the top five in the Official World Golf Ranking (highest ranked are No. 3 Koepka and No. 4 Thomas)

Thomas and Koepka both have a shot to ascend to No. 1 in the OWGR this week - they will play their first two rounds grouped together

Stats and information provided by the Golf Channel editorial research unit

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Els eyeing potential Prez Cup players at CJ Cup

By Will GrayOctober 16, 2018, 6:55 pm

Ernie Els is teeing it up this week in South Korea as a player, but he's also retaining the perspective of a captain.

While the 2019 Presidents Cup in Australia is still more than a year away, Els has already begun the process of keeping tabs on potential players who could factor on his International squad that will face an American contingent captained by Tiger Woods. Els played in last week's CIMB Classic in Malaysia, and this week received one of eight sponsor exemptions into the limited-field CJ Cup on Jeju Island.

Els played a Tuesday practice round with Presidents Cup veteran and Branden Grace and India's Shubankhar Sharma, who held a share of the 54-hole lead last week in Malaysia.

"It's going to be a very diverse team the way things are shaping up already," Els told reporters. "We've got another year to go, so we're going to have an interesting new group of players that's going to probably make the team."

In addition to keeping tabs on Grace and Sharma, Els will play the first two rounds with Australia's Marc Leishman and South Korea's Si Woo Kim. Then there's Sungjae Im, a native of Jeju Island who led the Tour money list wire-to-wire last season.

"There's so many Korean youngsters here this week, so I'm going to really see how they perform," Els said. "Still a long way to go, but these guys, the young guys are going to be really the core of our team."

Els, who will turn 49 on Wednesday, made only five cuts in 15 PGA Tour starts last season, with his best result a T-30 finish at the Valero Texas Open. While it's increasingly likely that his unexpected triumph at the 2012 Open will end up being his final worldwide victory, he's eager to tackle a new challenge in the coming months by putting together the squad that he hopes can end the International losing skid in the biennial matches.

"The U.S. team is a well-oiled team. They play Ryder Cups together, they obviously play very well in the Presidents Cups against us, so they're a very mature team," Els said. "We are going to be a young team, inexperienced. But that doesn't scare me because I know the course very well down in Melbourne, I've played it many, many times. I feel I have a very good game plan to play the golf course strategy-wise and I'm going to share that with my players."