Monday Scramble: Who's got next? What's up, Rory?

By Will GrayAugust 1, 2016, 2:38 am

Jimmy Walker breaks through, the PGA avoids a nightmare scenario, the U.S. Ryder Cup team takes shape, Rory McIlroy searches for answers and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Through the rain and through the slop, amid the starts and stops and after marathon finish, Walker got it done.

Walker is a late bloomer by most standards, getting his first PGA Tour win at 34 and now, his first major title at 37. But that wait likely only sweetened the taste of victory at the PGA Championship, where Walker held off a hard-charging Jason Day to win by a shot.

Walker becomes the oldest first-time major winner from the U.S. since Todd Hamilton shocked the world at Royal Troon in 2004, but this is not that. This is an example of a strong player, admittedly in search of form this year, watching it all come together at the right time.

Walker has been a strong front-runner, racking up five wins in less than 18 months after first getting into the winner's circle. And just like Henrik Stenson and Dustin Johnson before him, he capitalized on his opportunity and emphatically slammed the door on the rest of the field with a strong closing nine.

Jimmy Walker, major champion. It's a billing fit for a deserving winner, even one who had to wait a little longer than most for his moment in the sun.

1. Walker's victory speech came as that sun was setting Sunday evening at Baltusrol - a nearly inconceivable scenario given where the tournament stood just 24 hours earlier.

As Billy Horschel put it, the PGA of America "gambled and lost" with their decision not to move up tee times on Saturday, as the storms in the forecast showed up earlier than expected and wiped out afternoon play. The subsequent decisions - no re-pair for the final round and lift- clean-and-place conditions for the finale - definitely qualified as a gamble, but they all paid off.

A 36-hole slog through the mud was hardly ideal, nor were the consequences of PGA chief championships officer Kerry Haigh's other decisions. But the skies parted long enough for the tournament to conclude on schedule, and that essentially validated the decision to push the envelope with pairings and break major championship precedent by placing ball in hand.

While it didn't pan out as they expected to start the week, the PGA accomplished the main goal of any tournament: crown a winner on time. It's an outcome that made Walker the main attraction and course conditions the side discussion rather than the other way around, and it can absolve a lot of curious decision-making along the way.

2. For Walker and caddie Andy Sanders, this victory was 16 years in the making.

Sanders has been on Walker's bag since 2008, and he had looped for each of his previous five wins. But the two first met on the grounds at Baltusrol back at the 2000 U.S. Amateur, where Walker viewed Sanders as a peer to be reckoned with.

"I could remember thinking when I met him, I was like, 'Wow, that's Andy Sanders. He's from Houston and he's really good,'" Walker said. "This is where we met. We've been together a long time."

3. Perhaps fewer players should look at the week(s) between majors as a chance to catch their breath.

Plenty of big names skipped last week's RBC Canadian Open, but that was where both Walker and Robert Streb, who joined Walker in the final pairing, found the spark that led them to a run up the leaderboard this week.

For Walker, it was the close to his final round, a run of four birdies over his final six holes that led to a T-14 finish.

"I felt like, personally, I did a lot of things right, and that's what I've been kind of looking to do that I haven't been doing," he said.

Ontario is the gateway to major success. Who knew?

4. Walker's win closed out a year of major debutantes, as each of the four biggest tournaments were captured by guys winning their first major. That streak is actually five in a row dating back to Day's win at Whistling Straits, so here is one man's hierarchy of who could next break out of the pack:

- Branden Grace: The South African now has four top-5 finishes in his last seven majors, and his time will come. Soon.

- Brooks Koepka: Like Grace, Koepka is on the rise after a T-4 finish that came despite a bum ankle. It's his fourth top-10 finish in his last 10 major starts, and his burly game seems well-suited for nearly any venue.

- Hideki Matsuyama: The putter let him down in a big way this week in Jersey, but the ball-striking is so, so pure. At some point he'll find a groove on the greens, and if he does the rest of the field should take cover.

- Tyrrell Hatton: Going out on a bit of a limb, sure, but Hatton has now finished T-25 or better in each of his last three majors. If looking for Danny Willett 2.0, he might be your guy.

- Sergio Garcia: It has to happen at some point. Right?

5. He came up short in his title defense, but did Jason Day ever go down swinging.

The must-make eagle is always a tall task, but Day pulled it off on the 72nd hole at Baltusrol, roping a 240-yard 2-iron before rolling in a must-make 15-footer.

Walker closed out the win a few minutes later, but Day's performance in the clutch shows just how much he has changed as a player in the last year or so, racking up trophies by the handful. His approach also goes down in the annals of best clutch shots by a non-winner, likely alongside Rory McIlroy's 5-wood at the Honda Classic a few years back.

6. The majors are done, which means it's time to start building a case for year-end superlatives and there's an interesting debate brewing for Player of the Year, led by the world's top two players.

In one corner we have Day, whose three wins include The Players, a WGC event and a prestigious invitational. The Aussie now has nine top-10 finishes in 15 PGA Tour starts this year, including a runner-up at Baltusrol.

On the other hand there is Dustin Johnson, whose two wins include the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. DJ finished second last week in Canada and has an impressive 12 top-10s in 18 starts this year.

Still plenty of golf to play before they hand out the hardware, but it makes for a fun debate. Given the choice today, I'd side with Day.

7. Speaking of superlatives, Emiliano Grillo seems like a clear choice at this point for Rookie of the Year.

After winning the Open in his first start as a full-fledged member, the Argentine followed up by making the cut in all four majors. That includes a trio of top-20 finishes, capped by Sunday's T-13 result at Baltusrol.

It's proof once again that the vaunted Class of 2011 extends well beyond the likes of Spieth and Justin Thomas.

8. Walker and Koepka both essentially sewed up Ryder Cup spots with their PGA performances, and that's a great thing for anyone hoping the U.S. breaks out of its extended drought at Hazeltine.

Both players have the length off the tee and finesse around the greens to contend on nearly any venue, but they also bring with them two elements that have been lacking for the U.S. in the biennial matches: fresh blood and swagger.

Walker was a pleasant surprise during his debut at Gleneagles, going 1-1-3 while teaming with Rickie Fowler. Koepka would be a rookie in Minnesota, having gutted out a strong performance despite an ankle injury that nearly kept him on the bench.

Their inclusion could free up captain Davis Love III to look to guys like Fowler, Bubba Watson, Patrick Reed and Matt Kuchar with some of his picks, but hopefully he doesn't stick too close to the gameplan that hasn't exactly panned out well this century.

9. If you want to win a major, you'd better bring your best during the final round. Walker's bogey-free finale at Baltusrol meant that, were it not for the USGA's ill-fated penalty on DJ, the four winners of this year's majors would have combined for 21 birdies and only three bogeys during their respective final rounds:

- Danny Willett, Masters (67): five birdies, 0 bogeys

- Dustin Johnson, U.S. Open (69): three birdies, two bogeys (one of which came from penalty for causing ball to move)

- Henrik Stenson, The Open (63): 10 birdies, two bogeys

- Jimmy Walker, PGA Championship (67): three birdies, 0 bogeys

10. Rory, Rory, Rory.

Seemingly poised to dazzle again at the season's final major, McIlroy aced half of the examination while flaming out in spectacular fashion on the latter half.

The Ulsterman appeared to be searching for answers Friday after a sloppy bogey on his final hole led to a missed cut. McIlroy led the field in strokes gained off-the-tee, but erratic work on the greens (151st in strokes gianed-putting) meant all those bombing drives and soaring approaches went for naught.

McIlroy will get his short-game woes sorted out eventually, at which point he'll get back to contending in majors and probably winning a fifth (or sixth). But make no mistake, he's feeling a bit of heat as Day, Johnson and others threaten to leave him and his ice-cold putter in their dust.

11. McIlroy received plenty of attention, but Johnson's early exit was just as puzzling. Weeks after his stripe show at Oakmont and only days removed from a runner-up in Canada, DJ's A game was nowhere to be found during an opening 77 that left him ahead of only a handful of players.

It's hardly a reason for Johnson to panic, but it did bring to a screeching halt the heater that he had ridden through much of the summer. It also shows that predictions have a way of going south (more on that below).

12. The golf scene will soon shift to Rio, where Fowler is getting an early start.

The other three members of the American contingent - Watson, Reed and Kuchar - are all playing this week at the Travelers Championship. But Fowler is heading down to Brazil on Thursday, landing in time to walk with the American delegation in the Opening Ceremony.

What's more, he'll walk alongside caddie Joe Skovron, who said Sunday that he's looking forward to the unexpected Olympic opportunity.

"It's really cool that I'll get to be there with Rick," Skovron said. "It's going to be a lot of fun for me. It's definitely something special that you wouldn't think a caddie would get to do. So I'm looking forward to it."

The PGA of America got a little lucky with the Sunday weather conditions, but they still deserve a fair bit of scrutiny for a pin sheet blunder two days prior that nearly cost Colt Knost his tournament.

Playing No. 10 as his first hole of the second round, Knost battled a driving rain and believed his pin sheet when it said the hole was in the back left. He played safe for the right side with his 5-wood approach, then was shocked to find he had short-sided himself because the hole was actually on the far right side of the green - an error that apparently went unnoticed by the folks sending out info to players and caddies.

Should Knost have been able to spot the change from the fairway, considering the fact that Ryan Palmer and Gary Woodland both noticed it while standing on the 10th tee? Perhaps. And Knost having a new caddie on the bag this week likely didn't help matters.

But it's not that difficult to produce an accurate pin sheet, and players are conditioned to take those notes as gospel. It's a shocking blunder for any professional tournament, let alone one where a major trophy is up for grabs.

This week's award winners ... 

Mr. 58: Take a bow, Stephan Jaeger. The German managed to take some headlines away from the PGA with his record-setting 58 in the opening round of the Tour's Ellie Mae Classic, then followed it up by shooting 30 under for the week (58-65-64-63) to win by seven shots.

Better Luck Next Time: To Rhein Gibson, who shot 23 under at that same event and got lapped. It's a tough game sometimes.

Disappearing act: Reed. Remember when it looked like he could be the guy to watch this weekend at Baltusrol? Instead he faded during Sunday's marathon. Reed has been consistent in majors, six top-30 finishes in his last eight, but it's pretty shocking to realize he still hasn't cracked the top 10 in any of them.

Beef Back for More: Andrew Johnston once again stole the show at the PGA, earning a healthy amount of fan support despite a T-60 finish. While it's likely his last start in the U.S. this year, it's safe to say that Beef Mania - and the trademark beard - will both be back before too long.

Parking Spots at Quail Hollow Still Available: Perhaps we'll see more players sleeping in the parking lot at next year's PGA after Day and Walker, the two players who stay each week in RVs near the tournament site with their respective families, combined to lift the Wanamaker each of the last two years.

Wily Veteran Beats the Teens: While that's not exactly how things went, that's kind of how it felt when Ariya Jutanugarn broke through for her first major title at the ripe old age of 20, winning the Ricoh Women's British Open after teen sensations Lydia Ko and Henderson claimed two of the first three major titles this year.

Stealing a Page from the Book of Hogan: Vijay Singh may have missed the cut at the PGA, but that didn't mean he took the weekend off:

Tick, tock: Only 248 days until the next major on the calendar, the 2017 Masters, which can't be as depressing to read as it was to type.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: All of them. Every single one. From McIlroy to DJ to Garcia and even Tony Finau, every pony I tipped this week came up lame. As Bill Belichick might say, we're on to Cromwell.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.