Monday Scramble: Fireworks at the finish

By Will GrayAugust 21, 2017, 3:45 pm

Iowa shines in the Solheim spotlight, the Americans easily keep the cup, the season's final event on the PGA Tour provides plenty of drama and the U.S. Amateur goes down to the wire with an all-time finish. All that and more in this edition of Monday Scramble:


If birdies and hole-outs by the truckload are your thing, this was a week to remember.

From the antics of "the Brittanys" at the Solheim Cup to the card-saving theatrics of the Wyndham Championship and Doc Redman's memorable rally to capture the U.S. Amateur, this was an instance where tournaments and status were not lost. They were actively won, gains taken by players who boldly attacked and were rewarded accordingly.

It's not going to be the case everytime. Just last week at Quail Hollow we saw a course where par was a good score, and often times trophies are decided by untimely three-putts rather than makes from across the green.

Part of the allure of golf is that the delineation between dreamer and achiever can often seem faint. Amateurs can sit at home watching pros struggle with certain situations and nudge their buddy with a hint of "been there, done that."

But Sunday, across the country, some of the best men and women in professional and amateur golf reminded all of us just how good they can be when the stakes are at their highest. And they did so by pulling off shots the rest of us know little about.


1. There was no concession drama, no epic Sunday comeback. But the Solheim Cup was still the best spectacle in golf this week, and by a pretty wide margin.

Lofty expectations were assigned well before the two teams set foot on Des Moines Country Club, and the course - and area - lived up to the hype. From first-tee antics to dancing captains, fans in costumes to players walking in putts, the scene was electric.

Iowa doesn't have a pro sports team, and the Hawkeye football team isn't expected to turn heads this fall. But Des Moines had this one circled for a while, and they delivered in a big way. It's another storied chapter in the history of an event whose scope on the global golf landscape continues to grow.

2. Juli Inkster had a Hall of Fame playing career, but she somehow seems even more comfortable patrolling the fairways as a captain.

Two years after rescuing her team from a third straight loss in Germany, Inkster pressed all the right buttons. She ably deflected any pressure her team may have faced as favorites defending the trophy on home turf. She was fierce when she needed to be fierce, and loose when the moment called for it.

Management of the pod system went off without a hitch, as did her handling of rookies Angel Yin and Austin Ernst and the scrutinized inclusion of Paula Creamer.

After a dominating performance and a second straight win, Inkster should be afforded the captaincy for as long as she wants it.

3. The final margin was five points, but this year's Solheim should be remembered for two matches.

The Saturday fourball between Brittany Lang-Brittany Lincicome and Carlota Ciganda-Mel Reid was the stuff they write movies about. Six straight birdies from Lincicome, a hole-out eagle from Lang, and a dogged Euro pair who still pushed the match to the last hole.

The two teams combined to shoot 22 under, which seemed impressive until Lexi Thompson and Anna Nordqvist met in Sunday's singles. Nordqvist was the MVP for Annika Sorenstam's shorthanded squad, and she played like it early on until Thompson caught fire. In a seven-hole span, she made four birdies and two eagles to flip the match on its head.

It ended in a draw, a fitting conclusion to the best match of the day that recalled memories of the duel between Sergio Garcia and Phil Mickelson last year at Hazeltine.



4. Henrik Stenson went to the Wyndham Championship on a whim, and he left with his first win in the U.S. in nearly four years.

Stenson added the Greensboro stop to make sure he'd play at least 15 events in order to keep his PGA Tour status and avoid a pitfall that has cost Martin Kaymer some time and will put Danny Willett into a penalty box next season. What the Swede found was an old-school layout where he could leave driver at home and still thrive.

The first win after a major can sometimes prove to be an interesting hurdle. Stenson has played plenty of good golf since lifting the claret jug at Royal Troon, but he he was still without a victory until Sunday. With four tied for the lead down the stretch, Stenson turned on the heat with three birdies in a four-hole stretch, including a 27-footer on the penultimate hole to (nearly) put things on ice.

Miles from Sedgefield, Phil Mickelson probably cracked a knowing grin.

5. The only man that appeared able to go toe-to-toe with Stenson was Ollie Schniederjans, yet another member of the storied Class of 2011 who undoubtedly will win soon on the PGA Tour.

Schniederjans sticks out as the only guy in most tournament fields without a hat, but his game got plenty of attention in the final round - especially when he hit a torpedo of a driving iron off the 18th tee that seemingly never left the ground but still trundled 341 yards downhill.

The former Georgia Tech standout now has five top-10 finishes this season and enters the playoffs with a great chance to reach the Tour Championship. Don't be surprised if he picks up a trophy on his way to East Lake.

6. The annual bubble watch at Wyndham certainly didn't lack any drama this year.

While four players cracked the top 125 in the season's final event, it was the manner in which they made their climbs that was noteworthy. Martin Flores essentially needed an ace on the 70th hole, and he got it. Rory Sabbatini came to the same green a few minutes later and holed a putt from Winston-Salem.

Even J.J. Henry had a hand in the theatrics, stuffing his final approach to 6 feet for a birdie that edged him past Zac Blair for coveted spot No. 125 by a single point.

More often than not, we'll see players crumble under the pressure of a 72-hole crucible where they know that every poor shot or a missed cut could cost them a job next year. Credit to this year's party crashers for thriving amid difficult circumstances.



7. Rory McIlroy will be in the field this week at Glen Oaks, which is a somewhat surprising turn of events given his comments at Quail Hollow.

McIlroy has clearly been frustrated by his inability to shake a rib injury that has already sidelined him twice this year. After closing out the season's final major he didn't rule out the possibility that he might shelve it for the whole year. Instead, he'll return to begin defense of his FedExCup title, with friend Harry Diamond still on the bag, after consulting with doctors in Northern Ireland.

This won't be a year to write home about for McIlroy, and a few good rounds in New York or Boston likely won't change that as his stated focus last week was on Augusta in April - not Atlanta in September. At this point, any efforts that aren't pointed toward hitting the ground running in 2018 might not be the best use of his time.

8. Even with McIlroy's inclusion, the 125-man field for The Northern Trust (formerly The Barclays, and not to be confused with the Northern Trust Open, which is now the Genesis Open ... got all that?) has been trimmed to 120.

Adam Scott was an an expected absence with the birth of his second child, while Sergio Garcia skipping a postseason event is nothing new. Brandt Snedeker ended his season last week, while No. 115 Dominic Bozzelli's is effectively over with his withdrawal. No. 85 Scott Piercy, who hasn't played since June, will also be absent at Glen Oaks.



9. There may not have been a seven-figure check on the line, but the theatrics Redman showed in mounting a last-gasp comeback to win the U.S. Amateur at Riviera were nonetheless riveting.

Down two with two holes to play, the rising sophomore calmly rolled in a 60-foot eagle putt on No. 17, stuffed his approach to the famed 18th, rolled in that putt to force overtime and then nearly drove the green on the tricky par-4 10th. How many Tour pros would kill for that series of shots each February?

Poor Doug Ghim seemed shell-shocked, and rightfully so. There was little he could have done to prevent the Redman onslaught, as a man who needed to survive a 13-for-8 playoff on the 10th hole Wednesday just to make the match-play portion of the tournament etched his name on the Havermeyer Trophy four days later.

10. A thrilling comeback means Redman will basically be able to plan a PGA Tour schedule around his classes at Clemson next year. Should he remain an amateur, he can expect to receive spots in each of the first three majors of 2018, plus invites to the Arnold Palmer Invitational, Memorial Tournament and Quicken Loans National. He'll also have a leg up on snagging a "Champions' Choice" sponsor invite to Colonial.

Not bad for a guy who still won't be able to legally drink next spring in the Crow's Nest.

11. Let's pause for a moment to reflect on Ghim, who played a masterful match through 34 holes and then was undone by a single tee shot in overtime. This is the second time the Texas senior has carred a 1-up lead into the 36th hole of a USGA final, and both times he's come up short.

Ghim is a talented prospect, and he landed a spot (alongside Redman) on the Walker Cup despite the loss. At least he can take additional comfort in knowing that as runner-up he'll still receive invites to the Masters and U.S. Open next year.


Schniederjans nearly took down Stenson with one hand tied behind his back. Sort of.

While making his charge up the leaderboard at Sedgefield over the weekend, Schniederjans drew some funny looks over how he executed from short range. On close putts, he would take his right hand off the club entirely at impact, essentially implementing a one-handed follow-through.

It may look unconventional, but it certainly didn't hold him back down the stretch. It's also not the craziest thing we've seen a PGA Tour pro attempt with putter in hand.

Captain knows best: Creamer and Catriona Matthew both filled in admirably this week as injury replacements, each going 3-1 for their teams. Inkster especially took some flak for naming Creamer to replace Jessica Korda, but the choice was ultimately vindicated - just as it was two years ago in Germany.

Too much to overcome: The Euros were already facing an uphill battle before losing Suzann Pettersen to injury. Pettersen was at the center of the storm back in '15, and while she embraced her role as assitant, her on-course fire would've been helpful - especially as Sorenstam's squad fought to find its footing early in the week.

Family first: With two weeks left in the Web.com Tour season, Martin Piller sat at No. 26 on the money list with the top 25 getting PGA Tour cards. But rather than tee it up in Knoxville, he opted to go to Iowa to support wife Gerina at the Solheim Cup. He'll head into the season finale in Portland at No. 27, about $12,000 behind No. 25 Beau Hossler as he seeks a promotion.

Even major winners tremble: Geoff Ogilvy, 2006 U.S. Open winner who entered the Wyndham No. 125 on the points list and saved his card with a T-16 finish: "There's a level of tension and stress in your body that's on a different level when you're in that position."

See you in Columbus: Familiar names facing a trip to Web.com Tour Finals after missing out on the FedExCup top 125: Sam Saunders, Ryan Palmer, Ricky Barnes, Johnson Wagner, Ben Crane, Retief Goosen and Boo Weekley.

To the victor go the spoils: Notables who finished outside the top 125 but will remain exempt next year thanks to recent wins on Tour: Shane Lowry, Billy Hurley III, Graeme McDowell, Smylie Kaufman, Greg Chalmers and Matt Every.

Decent rotation: After finishing up at one of the best courses on Tour in Riviera, the U.S. Amateur will shift to Pebble Beach next year, followed by Pinehurst No. 2 in 2019 and Bandon Dunes in 2020. Not too shabby.

Too much secret ballot: Ryan Lavner's stance on the subject is worth your time, but the USGA's insistence on using a super-secret formula to pick the Walker Cup team is one of the biggest head-scratchers from an organization that has produced a few in recent memory. Until the policy changes, they'll come under fire for it every two years - and rightfully so.

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Watch: Tiger 'drops mic' in long drive contest

By Golf Channel DigitalMay 20, 2018, 12:44 am

Tiger Woods is in Las Vegas this weekend for the 20th annual Tiger Jam charity event that benefits his foundation.

During the tournament on Saturday afternoon, Woods challenged World Long Drive competitor Troy Mullins to a long drive contest.

 

A post shared by TROY MULLINS (@trojangoddess) on May 19, 2018 at 1:25pm PDT

Safe to say it looks like Tiger won.

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Sunday showdown for Wise, Leishman at Nelson

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 11:40 pm

DALLAS – While the swirling Texas winds may still have their say, the AT&T Byron Nelson is shaping up to be a two-horse race.

With a four-shot gulf between them and their closest pursuers, co-leaders Marc Leishman and Aaron Wise both stepped up to the microphone and insisted the tournament was far from over. That it wouldn’t revert to a match-play situation, even though the two men didn’t face much pressure from the pack down the stretch of the third round and have clearly distanced themselves as the best in the field through 54 holes.

But outside of an outlier scenario or a rogue tornado sweeping across Trinity Forest Golf Club, one of the two will leave with trophy in hand tomorrow night.

That’s in part because of their stellar play to this point, but it’s also a byproduct of the tournament’s new and unconventional layout: at Trinity Forest, big numbers are hard to find.

Even with the winds picking up during the third round and providing the sternest challenge yet, the field combined for only 16 scores of double bogey, and nothing worse than that.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


There’s irony in a course called Trinity Forest offering a tree-less test, sure, but there are also no water hazards in play here. For the most part, players have been maxing out with bogey – and Leishman and Wise have combined for only six of those so far this week.

If someone from the chase pack is going to catch them, the two sharing the pole position aren’t going to do them any favors.

“I don’t really want to give them a chance,” Leishman said. “I’d love to go out and shoot a low one and make Aaron have to shoot a good score tomorrow to beat me, which, I fully expect him to shoot a good score.”

While Leishman has been somewhat of a late bloomer on the PGA Tour, with only one win across his first eight seasons, he now has a golden opportunity to add a third trophy in the last 14 months. He has felt right at home on a sprawling layout that reminds him of a few back in his native Australia, and he’s part of a Down Under invasion on a leaderboard that also includes Matt Jones (-13) and Adam Scott (-9).

While Wise briefly held sole possession of the lead, Leishman has seemingly held an iron grip on the top spot since opening his week with a blistering 61.

“Before last year, I was a pretty slow starter. I always got off to a slow start Thursday, or I’d be fighting to make the cut and have a good weekend to slide into the top 10,” Leishman said. “Getting into that round straight away on the first tee rather than the ninth green or something, which sounds like a really basic thing, but it’s something I didn’t do very well until last year.”

But as Leishman acknowledged, he likely can’t count on a stumble from Wise to help finish off a wire-to-wire victory. As the youngest player to make the cut this week, Wise is facing a challenge of taking down a top-ranked Aussie for the second time in as many starts.

While he came up short at the Wells Fargo Championship, tying for second behind Jason Day, he remains supremely confident that he can put those hard-earned lessons to use this time around.

“I feel like it’s a great opportunity,” Wise said. “It will obviously be a huge day for me. I feel like having one go at it already, I’m a little more confident going into it this time.”

Even among the landscape of the Tour’s promising next wave, Wise stands out as a particularly young gun. Still only 21, he could feasibly be heading to Karsten Creek next week with his Oregon Duck teammates to close out his senior season with another NCAA championship appearance.

But Wise turned pro after winning the NCAA individual title as a sophomore, and he steadily worked his way through the professional ranks: first a win on the Mackenzie Tour in Canada, then one last summer on the Web.com Tour.

Now he’s poised to turn what he described as a “lackluster” season before his Quail Hollow runner-up into one that defies even his own expectations.

“Absolutely, I am way ahead of the curve. It’s pretty hard to do what I’ve done at such a young age. Only a few have done it,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”

An unpredictable Coore-Crenshaw layout will have one more day to star, and outside of Wise the top six names on the leaderboard have at least one Tour win to their credit. But after the two men traded punches on a firm and fast afternoon, it sure feels like the final round is shaping up to offer more of the same.

For Leishman, it’s a chance to add another notch to some quickly expanding credentials; for Wise, it’s an opportunity to win on the one level he has yet to do so.

“It’s golf, at the end of the day. If you play better than everyone else, you’re going to win,” Wise said. “That’s why I play it. That’s why I love this sport, and tomorrow is nothing different.”

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5 thoughts from NCAA Women's Championship Day 2

By Ryan LavnerMay 19, 2018, 11:35 pm

The field is almost halfway through stroke-play qualifying at the NCAA Women’s Championship. Here are some thoughts on the first two days at Karsten Creek:

1. UCLA is on a mission. Just a year ago, the Bruins were headed home from regionals after becoming the first No. 1 seed that failed to advance out of the qualifying tournament. This year, with the core of the team still mostly intact, the Bruins have opened up a five-shot lead on top-ranked Alabama and a comfortable 16-shot cushion over Southern Cal in third place. On one of the most difficult college courses in the country, UCLA has received contributions from all four of its usual counters – standout Lilia Vu shot 68 on Saturday, while Mariel Galdiano posted a 69. Freshman Patty Tavatanakit and junior Bethany Wu also broke par. This is a strong, deep lineup that will pose issues for teams not just in stroke-play qualifying, but also the head-to-head, match-play bracket.

2. What happened to Arkansas? Riding high off their first SEC Championship and a dominant regional performance, the Razorbacks were considered one of the top threats to win the national title. But entering Sunday’s third round of stroke play, they need to hold it together just to ensure they make the top-15 cut. Arkansas is 32 over par through two rounds. The Razorbacks had shot in the 300s just once this season in the play-five, count-four format. Here at Karsten Creek, they’ve now done so in consecutive rounds.

3. The Player of the Year race is heating up. With a decent showing at nationals, Arkansas’ Maria Fassi should have been able to wrap up the Annika Award, given annually to the top player in the country. She has six individual titles, plays a difficult schedule and is well-liked among her peers. But through two rounds she’s a whopping 15 over par while spraying it all over the map. If the Razorbacks don’t survive the 54-hole cut, neither will Fassi. That’d open the door for another player to steal the votes, whether it’s UCLA’s Vu or Wake Forest’s Jennifer Kupcho. There’s a lot still to be decided.

4. Stanford has steadied itself. One of the biggest surprises on Day 1 was the horrendous start by the Cardinal, one of just two teams to advance to match play each of the three years it’s been used to determine a national champion. They were 19 over for their first nine holes Friday, but instead of a blowup round that cost them a shot at the title, they’ve found a way to hang tough. Stanford has been just 4 over par over its last 27 holes. Andrea Lee made only one bogey during her second-round 69, Albane Valenzuela eagled the 18th hole for a 73 and senior leader Shannon Aubert – who has been a part of each postseason push – carded a 74. And so, even with its early struggles, coach Anne Walker once again has Stanford in position to reach match play.

5. Karsten Creek is identifying the best teams. The top teams in the country want a difficult host venue for NCAAs – it helps separate the field and draws an unmistakable line between the contenders and pretenders. Only one team (UCLA) is under par after 36 holes. Fewer than a dozen players are under par individually. The dearth of low scores might not be the greatest advertisement for how talented these players are, but the cream has still risen to the top so far: Five top-10 teams currently sit inside the top 7 on the leaderboard (and that doesn’t even include last year’s NCAA runner-up Northwestern). This is all any coach wants, even if the scores aren’t pretty.

Quick hits: Cheyenne Knight, part of Alabama’s vaunted 1-2-3 punch along with Lauren Stephenson and Kristen Gillman, shot rounds of 70-69 to figure in the mix for individual honors. The junior will turn pro after nationals. …  Arizona’s Bianca Pagdanganan made a hole-in-one on the 11th hole Saturday en route to a 68 that tied the low round of the day. She’s at 5-under 139, same as Knight. ... Defending champion Arizona State, which lost star Linnea Strom to the pro ranks at the halfway point of the season, is 35 over par after two rounds. … Play was delayed for nearly an hour and a half Saturday because of inclement weather.

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Wise (21) makes Leishman (34) feel a little old

By Will GrayMay 19, 2018, 10:55 pm

DALLAS – With the final round of the AT&T Byron Nelson likely to take on a match-play feel, Marc Leishman likes his chances to close out another win – even if his opponent makes him feel a little old.

Leishman, 34, shares the lead at Trinity Forest Golf Club with 21-year-old Aaron Wise, who was the youngest player to make the cut at the tournament’s new venue. The two men will start the final round at 17 under, four shots clear of their next-closest pursuers.

Leishman played the third round alongside Wise and Brian Gay, and he originally didn’t realize just how fresh-faced his fellow co-leader is.


Full-field scores from the AT&T Byron Nelson

AT&T Byron Nelson: Articles, photos and videos


“He’s a solid player for, I heard this morning he’s only 21. I didn’t realize that,” Leishman said. “I guess I was in high school before he was born, so that’s – I don’t know. You hear guys talk about that all the time but I’ve never said that, I think. Yeah, he’s a good player.”

Wise won the 2016 NCAA individual title while at Oregon, and he opted to turn pro after his sophomore season. While he could have been capping his senior season with a return to the NCAAs next week, Wise is pleased with the career choice and remains eager for a chance to close out his first career PGA Tour win against a seasoned veteran.

“I feel like I’m in a great spot for tomorrow,” Wise said. “I feel like I’m getting some great experience for a kid this young. It’s only going to serve me well down the road.”