The PGA Tour heads to Asia, Lanto Griffin wins in Houston, Bernd Wiesberger continues his resurgence, Tyrrell Hatton faces a relationship test and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
We’ve arrived at the most critical juncture of the fall calendar.
This week’s CJ Cup kicks off the PGA Tour’s Asian swing, a stretch of three tournaments that feature no cuts, big points and even more significant ramifications.
Among the things to watch over the next month or so:
• The health of Tiger Woods, for he’ll return to action next week, first at a four-man skins game in Japan and then at the inaugural Zozo Championship.
• The comebacks of Jordan Spieth and Jason Day, who are looking to bounce back from disappointing 2018-19 campaigns.
• And the final auditions for the Presidents Cup, as captains Woods and Ernie Els each have difficult decisions to make to fill out their 12-man rosters before Nov. 4.
Prepare for some late nights (at least for those of us here on the East Coast) and important golf as we push toward the end of the calendar year.
1. Back on the big Tour for the second time, Lanto Griffin cashed in on the best form of his life to win the Houston Open.
Entering the week with five consecutive top-20 finishes worldwide, the 31-year-old rolled in a 35-footer on No. 16 and then holed a clutch par putt on the final green to win by one over Scott Harrington and Mark Hubbard.
It was a deeply personal triumph for Griffin, who lost his father to brain cancer at age 12. Be sure to check out colleague Brentley Romine’s game story for a look back at all that Griffin has overcome to become a Tour winner.
2. Five starts into the new season, Griffin has already knocked off many of his goals.
As he detailed Sunday night in an fascinating peek behind the curtain, Griffin keeps his goals realistic, so that he can build upon them. So let’s take a look, shall we?
• Win (duh)
• Keep card (now exempt through 2022)
• Make 70 percent of cuts (now 5-for-5)
• Three top-10s (this is his first)
• Play two of the four majors (now exempt into Masters and PGA)
• Final group on Sunday (check)
• Top 50 strokes gained: putting (currently 12th) and off the tee (68th)
• Top 100 approach (currently 56th) and around the green (58th)
• Top 75 scoring and scoring average (currently 14th)
• Top 70 FedExCup (currently first)
• Qualify for The Players and invitationals (yep)
• Lock up card before The Players (uh-huh)
• Twelve top-40s (five) and eight top-25s (five)
“I’ll check off whatever I have off there,” Griffin said, “and reevaluate after this week.”
Well, he’s got some new goal-setting to do – and that’s a good thing.
3. Though Griffin was the big winner, of course, there was another success story, too.
Harrington was one of the feel-good stories of the Korn Ferry Tour season, where he locked up his card for the first time, at age 38, after putting his life on hold to help his wife battle cancer. It didn’t take him long to settle in to life at the next level, as he was tied for the lead before a bogey on the 71st hole.
Still, it was a life-changer.
In 195 starts on the Korn Ferry Tour, Harrington made $787,464.
His tie for second in Houston was worth $667,500.
Life is good.
4. It’s with a heavy heart that we deliver this somber news: Henrik Stenson has split with his famous 3-wood.
That’s right, Stenson recently discovered that the head of his trusty Callaway Diablo Octane Tour 3-wood had caved in, necessitating a search for the new, hot technology he long had resisted. After all, Stenson had used the club since it first hit the market in 2011; it was equipped with a shaft from 2003.
So lethal was Stenson that he often left the driver in the bag, pummeling his 3-wood all over the course as he won the 2013 FedExCup, 2016 Open and a silver medal at the 2016 Olympics.
The search is on for a replacement.
5. A tip of the cap to Harris English.
The two-time Tour winner was sent back to the minor leagues this fall after he dropped, for the first time, outside the top 125 in points. Playing with limited status in the Nos. 126-150 category, English has been excellent during this fall portion, with his tie for fourth in Houston marking his third top-6 in four starts.
That brief demotion might be the wakeup call that English needed to resurrect his career. Just 30 years old, he still has plenty of good golf ahead of him.
6. How will Spieth and Day perform in their first starts in two months?
That’s what we’re watching this week.
Neither former world No. 1 has been seen since their early exits from the playoffs following the BMW Championship. It marked the second consecutive season in which Spieth, the 2015 FedExCup winner, failed to reach the Tour Championship.
During the time away there was plenty for these stars to work on.
Spieth actually enjoyed the best putting stats of his career last season, which highlights just how far off his ball-striking has gotten. He ranked 176th in strokes gained: off the tee and 145th approach the green. A reminder that, two years ago, Spieth was the best iron player in the game.
Day’s iron play continues to be a problem, as well, as he’s ranked outside the top 100 each of the past three seasons. In 2018-19, he also took a major step back around the greens and wasn’t the same lights-out putter. It was just his second winless season since 2012.
Both Spieth and Day are looking for a captain’s pick for the Presidents Cup.
7. Bernd Wiesberger is making up for lost time.
After missing the last seven months of 2018 with a wrist injury, Wiesberger has rebounded in a big way, capturing his third title of the season at the Italian Open.
The triumph in Italy was his second Rolex Series title of the season, following his playoff victory at the Scottish Open. He also tied for second at the Irish Open.
His impressive play in the biggest events could prove lucrative at the end of the season, as he vaulted to the top of the Race to Dubai standings. He’s also given himself a nice head start in the Ryder Cup standings, as the Austrian looks to make his debut in 2020. He's up to a career-best 22nd in the world ranking.
WTH? MOMENT OF THE WEEK
Tyrrell Hatton is not the dude you’d want to tick off.
He’s been shown to have a short fuse, berating himself and others when outside forces seemed to conspire against him.
So it’s against that backdrop that this scenario unfolded last week at the Italian Open, where Hatton was settling over his second shot when he was thrown off by a loud crash in the distance.
It was the door of a porta-potty slamming shut.
And his fiancée was to blame.
Hatton played it off well – since it was his significant other, did he have any other choice? – and then flagged his approach after the reset. After the round, he got a good chuckle out of the entire ordeal:
TAKE A BOW
This week's award winners ...
Best Wishes: Rickie Fowler. Well, it’s about time something good happened to Fowler, one of golf’s most likable characters who tied the knot Oct. 5 to Allison Stokke.
Progress: Mixed-gender event. The European Tour announced that the Scandinavian Mixed event, hosted by Stenson and Annika Sorenstam next June, will feature men and women competing against each other on the same course for the same prize. Can the Tour please develop its own mixed event soon?
The Other Side of the Story: Kevin Na. What was Na rambling about in Korean after he won in Las Vegas? Golf.com’s Alan Shipnuck fleshes out the details of the “false rumors” that Na alluded to in his post-round remarks.
Still the Twitter GOAT: Eddie Pepperell. Sometimes, a picture tells a thousand words:
Two-Man Race?: Jerry Kelly. With his third win of the season (this time at the SAS Championship), he cleared $2 million in earnings and cut into Scott McCarron’s lead in the Charles Schwab Cup standings. Three postseason events remain, with double points available.
You Gotta Want It: Golf in Montana. Look at this wild scene from a high school state championship, which continued even in a snowstorm. Congrats to Bozeman, which repeated as the boys and girls team champions.
Let’s Try It Again: Kiawah Island. Speaking at an event previewing the 2021 PGA Championship at Kiawah Island, Nikki Haley, the former U.S. ambassador and current co-chairman of the championship council, said that the 2012 PGA was an “experiment” and that the 2021 edition will be “a whole lot better.” Let’s hope so, because the 2012 event was marred by logistical nightmares and some of the worst traffic that longtime observers could ever remember. The bar for improvement is exceedingly low.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Stenson. He’d enjoyed some solid if unspectacular golf of late, with seven consecutive top-30s worldwide, but big Stense didn’t quite have it at one of his old personal playgrounds. Despite having four top-6s in seven career starts at the Golf Club of Houston, Stenson – the tournament headliner in a weak field – missed the cut with rounds of 72-74. Sigh.