Emiliano Grillo notches another win for the heralded Class of '11, Kevin Na goes down swinging, Rory McIlroy picks up his participation trophy and Lexi Thompson exacts some revenge, in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
It wasn't pretty, but Grillo got the job done Sunday at the Frys.com Open. Barely.
With the sun quickly setting in wine country, the Argentinian polished off Na in overtime to earn his maiden win in his first start as a PGA Tour member. Granted, he had the tournament on his putter blade minutes earlier only to gag away a 3-footer, a yank that was eerily similar to his short miss that would have won the Puerto Rico Open in March.
But while his first go-around ended in playoff defeat, this time Grillo bounced back for the win. Now he can book 2016 travel for Kapalua, Augusta National and Rio de Janeiro, where he will almost certainly represent Argentina at the Olympics next summer.
The only rookie to win last season was Nick Taylor at the easily-forgotten Sanderson Farms Championship, but Grillo quickly put a stamp on the new campaign and cemented his status as the top rookie to watch. With his card already secure, he won two weeks ago at the Web.com Tour Championship, only to lament how long it had taken him to break through in the States. Now he's exempt through August 2018 and will be able to hand-pick his schedule next year as a member of the OWGR top 50.
At 23 years young, he's only getting started.
1. It looks like the (high school) class of 2011 might have a bit of a future. Led by Jordan Spieth and reigning Rookie of the Year Daniel Berger, the Tour's newest wave of talent includes a bunch of players born in 1993 (let that sink in for a bit). It also includes Grillo, an elder statesman from his graduating class, along with can't-miss prospects like Justin Thomas, Patrick Rodgers and Ollie Schneiderjans.
The group of rising stars are somewhat close-knit after years of competition against each other on the junior circuit, and Grillo's win was followed quickly by congratulatory tweets from Spieth and Thomas, among others. It won't be the last time the '11ers will have a chance to toast one of their own this season.
2. Hats off to Na, who took another runner-up finish in stride. Na's chances to win evaporated on the second extra hole, when his driver off the deck barely got off the ground. But in the moments after Grillo sank the winning putt, Na succinctly assessed the situation and deemed it poor execution of the proper shot.
"If I were to do it over again," Na said, "I'd still hit driver."
Na hasn't won since 2011, and this is his second playoff loss in the last 16 months. Despite the lack of hardware, he has maintained a regular spot inside the Official World Golf Ranking top 50 and has made the Tour Championship two years in a row. His name isn't often discussed among the Tour's most consistent players, but it should be.
3. It's tough to win on the PGA Tour ... perhaps not as tough as some of the contenders made it seem down the stretch in Napa. Maybe we've been spoiled by the closing ability of Spieth and Jason Day, but the final holes Sunday were filled with a bevy of missed putts and poor pitches.
Extra nerves from guys looking for their first win? Sure, but it was a grizzled veteran with two wins under his belt who offered up the worst shot of the day. Jason Bohn had the lead and less than 60 yards left for his approach to No. 16. He then chunked a wedge and barely got the ball halfway to the green. A potential birdie turned into a costly bogey, and Bohn missed the playoff by a shot when three closing pars would have gotten it done. Ouch.
4. For those scoring at home, Grillo now has a 200-point lead over Na in the season-long FedEx Cup race. The Tour won't turn away sponsors if they're willing to back seven-figure checks to tournament winners, but the saturation of the product still seems problematic. The shiny season-long trophy probably hasn't touched Spieth's mantle yet, and it's now once again up for grabs.
In a season that already lasts over 10 months, a little bit of a breather would go a long way. Oh well.
5. Rory McIlroy fulfilled his obligation this week in Napa, but he seemed very much like a man who showed up to punch a clock. With the Race to Dubai looming, McIlroy would not have played this week were he not required to because of his participation in a non-sanctioned event in Turkey three years ago. He even went as far as to say that given the choice, he would have been in Wales this weekend to watch Ireland play in the Rugby World Cup.
McIlroy's appearance certainly boosted ticket sales, and he left with a solid T-26 finish (and probably a few bottles of nice wine). But don't expect a return visit anytime soon.
6. Somewhat lost amid the sudden-death finish, McIlroy's former Ryder Cup teammate, Justin Rose, quietly spit the bit in Napa. Rose made the turn Sunday at 14 under, and as it turned out he needed only to play the final nine in 1 under to make the playoff.
Instead, he came home in 2-over 38 to fall into a tie for sixth.
It's hardly a bad result, but it's another near-miss for Rose, whose stellar play over the last six months has been largely overshadowed by those barely ahead of him on the leaderboard. Since his win in New Orleans in April, Rose's PGA Tour record is as follows: 13 starts, 10 top-20s, seven top-sixes and a pair of runner-up finishes. But, alas, no trophies.
7. Beware the injured hospitalized golfer? Tyrone van Aswegen was barely able to stand up Sunday morning, and a quick trip to the E.R. ended with a diagnosis of vertigo and severe dehydration.
"I woke up and the room was spinning," the South African said. "I thought, 'Oh man, this is not good.'"
Van Aswegen was still in the hospital an hour before his scheduled starting time, but after a quick discharge he was able to make it to the first tee. He closed with a 68, including two birdies across his final three holes, to notch a career-best T-3 finish. Not bad for a guy who was fighting to earn his card just a couple weeks ago.
8. Speaking of which, it was an impressive debut for several graduates from the Web.com Tour Finals. In addition to Grillo and van Aswegen, Smylie Kaufman, Luke Guthrie, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Loupe all finished T-10 or better just two weeks after teeing it up in the Web.com Tour Championship.
It's never fun to go through the four-week gauntlet of Finals with only a few cards up for grabs, but those who advance are poised to carry that momentum right into the fall portion of the new season.
9. Noted author and mental coach Bob Rotella once penned a book entitled, "Golf Is Not a Game of Perfect." Well, Amy Yang took a shot at disproving that theory, closing her final round in South Korea with nine straight birdies to tie Beth Daniel's LPGA record.
"I don't know what just happened," Yang said afterward, seemingly taking a cue from Will Ferrell's character in "Old School."
Yang's back-nine performance was one to remember, and all the more impressive considering she didn't seem to have much going during the round after making the turn in 1-under 35. But when the putts start rolling in, the cup can seem like a bucket. At least, that's what I'm told.
10. Weeks after Lydia Ko chased her down at the Evian, Lexi Thompson got a bit of revenge by holding off the Kiwi sensation to win the LPGA KEB Hana Bank Championship. It wasn't a major, but it was still a quality victory for Thompson, who now has a pair of LPGA trophies this year and helped the U.S. to a Solheim Cup win last month.
Women's golf is always a better product when the stars perform to their abilities, and after a slow start to the year, Thompson has certainly held up her end of the bargain in recent months.
11. It's hard to believe that Yani Tseng hasn't won on the LPGA in nearly four years. While Tseng is still far from her former perch atop the Rolex Rankings, she continues to show flashes of form that indicate a win is near. The latest example came this week, when she earned her third runner-up of the year, and her third top-five finish in her last four starts.
After falling off the map, many were quick to label Tseng as one of the game's biggest and most curious busts. It's easy to forget that even now, she is only 26 with plenty of years ahead of her. If Tseng has the mental strength to remain on the comeback trail, it won't be long before she's back in the winner's circle - perhaps as soon as next week, when the LPGA heads to her native Taiwan.
12. You may not have noticed, but Matt Every withdrew during the second round at Silverado. It continues a troubling trend for the two-time API champ, who now has four mid-tournament withdrawals since June. And it's not just a nagging injury leading to these early exits - Every has previously cited neck, wrist and stomach ailments, although no reason was given for his most recent withdrawal.
Since a T-42 finish at The Players in May, the only time Every has played the weekend was at the no-cut WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when he finished 74th in a 77-man field. Whatever the reason, it's clear that the form that led him to back-to-back wins at Bay Hill is nowhere to be found.
13. One day before notching his breakthrough win, Grillo nearly beaned McIlroy with a tee shot. McIlroy was standing near the green on the reachable par-4 17th, and Grillo took dead aim without realizing that the green hadn't cleared. The ball missed the oblivious Ulsterman's dome by mere inches.
If I were McIlroy, I might bring a batter's helmet with me to my next start. You know, just in case.
14. Bernhard Langer shot a final-round 65 to rally for a three-shot win at the San Antonio Championship, his 25th victory against the over-50 crowd. Not much to add here, other than he is now T-3 on the tour's all-time victory list. Just four back of Lee Trevino ... and 20 shy of No. 1 Hale Irwin.
This week's WTH comes to you in two installments. First, we have Matt Kuchar in the wind-swept Fiji International, watching as his ball is magically blown into the hole for a weather-aided bogey:
Kuchar went on to win the event, but the question remains: why in the world was Kuchar playing in Fiji? Sure, he was already in that neck of the woods after last week's Presidents Cup, and he probably had a few rea$ons for teeing it up in the OneAsia Tour event. But combined with an appearance in Mexico at next week's America's Golf Cup, Kuchar will play three straight weeks in three different foreign countries - certainly an unconventional approach to the offseason.
Next, we have the sad fate of Alvaro Quiros, whose tap-in at the Portugal Masters did not go as planned:
I mean, come on. That's just mean.
This week's award winners ...
The Space Man Strikes Again: Andy Sullivan continued his breakthrough season, winning in a nine-shot romp in Portugal to become the first three-time winner this year on the European Tour.
Sullivan may be best known to American fans as the guy who won a trip to space thanks to an ace at last year's KLM Open - a prize he doesn't plan on redeeming anytime soon, by the way - but he is now a player to watch thanks to his on-course performance.
The Englishman started the year ranked No. 150 in the world and is now inside the top 50, hallowed ground that brings with it an opportunity to customize a schedule of elite events - starting with next month's WGC-HSBC Champions. When he contended at the Memorial this summer, Sullivan said he would welcome the opportunity to play more in America.
If he keeps this up, he just might get his wish.
Stick Around For Closest-to-the-Pin Prizes: It seemed odd at the time, but kudos to the European Tour for thinking outside the box and going with a shotgun start during the third round of the Portugal Masters. With heavy rains in the forecast, officials sent everyone out at 8 a.m. local time, with the leaders off No. 1 tee. The result? The round was completed before the rains hit, and the tournament got in 72 holes as expected.
But after weather shortened last year's affair to only 36 holes, perhaps it's time to look for a new date (or venue?) for this event before it gets washed off the schedule.
Give Her All the Scrabble Points: The season-ending Symetra Tour Championship was won by, wait for it, Sherman Santiwiwatthanaphong. Aside from the fact that it would violate the letter-usage rules of Scrabble, her surname would be worth 35 points.
This Doesn't Make Much Sense: Charl Schwartzel finished T-6 at Frys.com, but it would have been an even better result were it not for an eyeroll-inducing rules violation before Thursday's opening round.
As Schwartzel explained it, he thought his tee time was 12:45 p.m. local time when it was actually 12:40. After rushing to the tee, he made it to the edge of the scoring area as the starter was introducing playing partner Steven Bowditch. Schwartzel was hitting third in the group so he thought he was in the clear, but as it turns out the rule stipulates he had to be on the teeing ground before the starter began any of his player introductions.
The error cost Schwartzel two shots before his tournament even began, and it showed yet again that golf has some seriously dumb rules.
Next Time, Just Call Uber: When we last heard from Will Wilcox, he was withdrawing from the Deutsche Bank Championship after injuring his knee getting into his courtesy car. This week, his loaner was broken into before the tournament started, with the thieves absconding with some new golf shoes among other items.
Wilcox finished T-10 despite a final-round 73, but he may be well-served to leave his tournament transportation in the hands of someone else this season.