Patrick Cantlay and Bryson DeChambeau duel until dusk, the top 30 (or 29?) assemble at East Lake, the U.S. Ryder Cup picture becomes a tad clearer and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
In what was the most entertaining non-major of the year, Patrick Cantlay – what else? – buried a 17-foot putt to outlast Bryson DeChambeau on the sixth playoff hole at the BMW Championship.
All Cantlay did last week was pour in putts – he made 537 feet worth of putts and set the record for the most strokes gained on the greens, outperforming the field by a whopping 14.577 strokes. That molten-hot putter kept him alive on the 14th green and on the 16th. It kept him alive on the final hole of regulation and again in the playoff. Finally, after DeChambeau couldn’t convert on any of his first three opportunities to put away Cantlay, the cool Californian delivered to become the first three-time winner of the season.
Coming into his own at 29, Cantlay has risen inside the top 5 in the world for the first time (No. 4) and ascended to the top spot in the FedExCup standings, putting him in line for the $15 million bonus. He’s also established himself as one of golf’s most cold-blooded killers, a player who this season alone has hunted down Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas at the 2020 Zozo; knocked off Collin Morikawa at the Memorial; and now denied a player in DeChambeau who, at 27 under, had the best score to par of a non-winner in Tour history.
There might not be anyone in golf better equipped to handle the circus that comes along with playing with DeChambeau. Cantlay stayed within himself, zoned out the distractions – even when getting chirped at by DeChambeau himself – and delivered the goods, time after time. All with an icy-cool demeanor, barely even glancing at his more ballyhooed playing partner. (And here we thought the Bryson-Brooks relationship would be the frostiest in the U.S. team room ...)
So, how’d he do it?
“I think a lot of determination and a lot of focus,” Cantlay said. “I’m as focused as I can be on every single shot, and I try not to let my mind get past the moment that I’m in, and maybe that’s why I come across a little sedated out there. ... I just try to lock in and do my absolute best in that moment, and my best is pretty good.”
Another week brought even more drama for Bryson DeChambeau.
Seemingly operating on a higher plane, DeChambeau put a soft, defenseless Caves Valley in a chokehold and had a golden opportunity to break the sub-60 barrier in the second round. His all-out assault continued on the weekend, trying to drive par 4s and wailing away on par 5s, even as he seemed to do everything in his power to avoid chipping. It was a commanding performance and, had he been able to prevail in the playoff, it would have arguably gone down as his most impressive to date.
That's because it isn’t easy for DeChambeau to play tournament golf these days. We detailed this miserable dynamic when he imploded on the back nine in Memphis, and those on the ground in Baltimore portrayed a similar situation at Caves Valley. For all the support he clearly has, DeChambeau still is being heckled by blowhards and inundated with stale "Brooksy!" cheers, a lame and seemingly innocuous jeer but one that clearly gets under his skin. (ESPN reported Sunday night about a particularly explosive incident in the aftermath.)
Unfortunately, there is no immediate solution to this problem – Tour security can’t toss fans for simply shouting another player’s name – but commissioner Jay Monahan will be pressed for answers when he meets with the press during his annual state of the Tour address at East Lake.
Another angle sure to be discussed: DeChambeau’s boycott of the press, now 12 rounds and counting.
Though he has stopped to chat with some of the Tour’s broadcast and radio partners, he has not met with the written media since his controversial comments about COVID-19 on Aug. 4. Stung by the backlash and angered by what he feels is unfair treatment in the media, he has stayed true to his word and cut out one of his professional responsibilities.
Let’s say that again: It’s a responsibility, not an obligation. There is nothing within the Tour regulations that requires DeChambeau to speak with journalists, and given the increased dialogue recently about athletes’ mental health, the Tour is unlikely to push for it. But it’s still an impossibly bad PR strategy on his part.
Everyone has a bad day and deserves the occasional free pass, but most Tour players understand the role of the press, who serve as proxies for the fans. They understand it’s an opportunity to explain their thought processes or add context to a five-hour broadcast. Though it surely must be a dismal experience to explain in excruciating detail what went wrong, players almost always fulfill this unstated duty, acknowledging it’s part of being a professional – as much a part of the gig as signing a scorecard or participating in the pro-am. Perhaps no one understood this better than the biggest golf star of the Internet age, Tiger Woods. He has given thousands of interviews throughout his legendary career, and longtime observers will note that there’s maybe been 20 times when he’s blown us off post-round.
And yet, DeChambeau has exempted himself from that process. He has rejected the advice of his inner circle, become his own crisis manager and followed a months-long pattern of unaccountability that, eventually, will force the Tour into action.
At least last week he was consistent: He didn’t speak to the press after shooting 60 and didn’t speak to anyone (Tour partner or otherwise) after the playoff loss. But consider what would have happened had he defeated Cantlay: He would have taken the penultimate event of the season and risen to No. 1 in the FedExCup standings. It’s hard to imagine the Tour being OK with him boycotting the press and declining an opportunity to showcase the playoffs and its ultimate prize.
What’s unfolding here is a dangerous precedent. If DeChambeau’s actions go unchecked, then other marquee players will wonder why they too have to endure the post-round media gauntlet. The problem is and has been on the Tour’s radar for weeks, and it’ll be interesting to hear what Monahan says this week.
This is Year 3 of the staggered scoring start at the Tour Championship. Cantlay now has a two-shot lead as he heads to East Lake, where he’s never finished better than 20th in three tries.
“I think just trying to reset and play the golf tournament like any other golf tournament – trying to put a bunch of rounds in the 60s on the board,” he said. “It’s a really good golf course. It’s a golf course that I actually like. I haven’t played that well there in the past, but it’s a golf course I like. I like the visuals out there, and I’m looking forward to having a better result this year.”
Here is how the leaderboard will look starting Thursday morning at East Lake:
-4: Thomas, English, Ancer, Spieth, Burns
-3: Morikawa, Im, Hovland, Oosthuizen, Johnson
-2: McIlroy, Schauffele, Kokrak, Na, Koepka
-1: Conners, Matsuyama, Cink, Niemann, Scheffler
E: Berger, van Rooyen, Garcia, Horschel, Reed
U.S. RYDER CUP TEAM TAKING SHAPE
Cantlay’s 11th-hour victory at the BMW secured him the sixth and final automatic spot for the U.S. Ryder Cup team. (The European side has two more qualifying weeks.)
Cantlay, who will be making his Ryder Cup debut (he was on the 2019 Presidents Cup squad), joins Collin Morikawa, DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Justin Thomas.
This is the final week to audition for a spot on captain Steve Stricker’s squad; he’ll make his six picks a few days after the Tour Championship.
Here are the top 10 available options in the points standings – with a little forecasting:
7. Tony Finau: Bumped from the sixth spot, but he’s a lock after his Northern Trust win.
8. Xander Schauffele: The Olympic gold medalist is another obvious pick (and is a ready-made partner for Cantlay).
9. Jordan Spieth: Duh.
10. Harris English: One of the best American players over the past year, his career resurgence will be complete with a pick.
11. Patrick Reed: The ultimate wildcard. A month ago, he was seemingly a shoo-in. Now, recovering at home from double pneumonia and a sprained ankle, it’s hard to see how Stricker could pick him. An interesting wrinkle is that he qualified for the Tour Championship, in the 30th and final spot. It’s unclear as of this writing whether he’ll be physically able to play.
12. Daniel Berger: A winner at Pebble this year, he’s a well-rounded talent with a fierce attitude.
13. Webb Simpson: A down year by his own estimation, but probably has an advantage for the final pick even without qualifying for the season finale: veteran, strong iron player, nifty putter and scrambler, a plug-and-play option for foursomes.
14. Scottie Scheffler: Gone quiet the last few weeks and the lack of a win hurts his candidacy. That's too bad – he’s well-liked among his peers and ranks sixth on Tour in birdie average, an ideal fit for fourballs.
15. Jason Kokrak: A two-time winner this season but he'd be a 36-year-old rookie and doesn’t have a top-10 since Colonial.
16. Sam Burns: If Stricker is looking to the future, both he and Scheffler should warrant more serious consideration than they’re probably getting. Burns has been studly in 2021 but may be a year after from a team competition.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Full Circle: U.S. Curtis Cup team. Just as her mother Brenda had done more than 20 years earlier, Rachel Kuehn, who plays collegiately at Wake Forest, secured the winning point for the Americans as they nearly completed a clean sweep in the singles session to take the Curtis Cup. It’s the first time Team USA has won away from home since 2008, and what had been a close contest all week became a lopsided victory after going 6-1-1 in singles. Former U.S. Amateur champion Rose Zhang went 4-0-1, and she’s about to be a monster problem on the college scene as she begins her freshman season for Stanford.
Tip of the Cap: Scott Gutschewski. Competing in the Korn Ferry Tour Finals, the 44-year-old tied for 18th in Columbus (plus a T-10 last week), which earned him enough points to earn another spot on the big stage. It’s his first Tour card since 2011.
FedExCup movement: Erik van Rooyen and Sergio Garcia. Only two players moved their way inside the top 30 bubble, and they did so in impressive fashion: van Rooyen (5th) threw a dart into the 72nd hole for a closing birdie, while Garcia (T-6) had a sensational sand save on the last. It’s van Rooyen’s debut trip to East Lake, while Garcia is making his first appearance there since 2017, the year he won the Masters. Missing out: Charley Hoffman and Max Homa.
So Much For That: Phil Mickelson. The now-51-year-old authored the moment of the year, capturing the PGA Championship in unlikely fashion to become the oldest major champion in history. But other than that, it was a quiet year with little reason for encouragement. He had only one other finish inside the top 20 (a T-19, in a limited-field event) and, following a DFL finish at the BMW, ranked 70th in the FedExCup to miss out on the season finale. That’s very hard to do, given how many points are doled out at the majors. Speaking of Phil ...
Anything to Add?: Mickelson. Apparently with too much free time this week, Mickelson popped off on Twitter about a proposed USGA rule to reduce the maximum driver length to 46 inches. The USGA held off on any formal announcement, and Mickelson didn’t talk to reporters the rest of the week at Caves Valley. Even if this would be a curious way for the game’s governing bodies to clamp down on distance gains, it would affect few at the elite level – except Mickelson, of course, who games a 47 ½-inch driver. At least he had a good reply to a questioning fan:
Never Forget the Wyndham: Kevin Kisner. Whatever push existed for Kiz to make the Ryder Cup essentially fizzled out at the second leg of the playoffs, where he tied for last (after a T-119 out of 123 at the Northern Trust). Entering the week on the Tour Championship bubble, he failed to crack the top 30. Without a final chance to audition for Captain Stricker, we can safely assume this one ain’t happening. That’s unfortunate, because with more consistent form he would have been a nice foursomes addition.
As Expected: So long, for now, Brooks-Bryson feud. It took a little longer than expected, but Stricker confirmed that he has chatted individually with Koepka and DeChambeau – and that both stars assured him they’d set aside their bitter bickering and focus on the team at the Ryder Cup. Stricker even said it's been "put to bed." This type of bad blood was always overblown – they won’t be anywhere near each other in the team room, nor on the lineup card – but it’s comforting to know two of the leading Americans can see the bigger picture, if only for a week.
Unexpectedly Sweet: Rasmus Hojgaard. Never to be confused with our GC colleague Rex Hoggard, the 20-year-old Dane was a surprise winner in Switzerland, going 5 under across his last six holes and benefiting from Bernd Wiesberger’s 72nd-hole collapse to earn his third European Tour title. Wiesberger made double bogey on the final hole – an ugly scene after fatting his fairway-bunker approach into the water – and may have dashed his dreams of playing on the Ryder Cup team. As for Hojgaard, well, he's the youngest player inside the top 100 in the world and keeps getting better, much to the delight of the European captain (and his fellow countryman):
Stud Alert: Pauline Roussin Bouchard. Anyone who has watched college golf or the Augusta National Women’s Amateur over the past few years likely recognizes the name, for the former South Carolina star had the firepower and fiery demeanor that portended greatness. Well, it didn’t take her long to break out as a pro, capturing a Ladies European Tour event in just her second start. She’ll be an LPGA standout and Solheim Cup stalwart before long.
That Was Fun ... For One Week: Caves Valley. Even at more than 7,400 yards, the BMW host couldn’t properly test the game’s best, with warm and soft conditions in Baltimore producing crazy-low scoring: a 27-under playoff, the lowest score by a non-winner and every player in the 69-man field finishing under par, the first time in the 15-year history of the playoffs that has happened in a 72-hole event. Not every tournament needs to be a gut punch like 2020 Olympia Fields, but a little resistance would be nice. Next year the penultimate event goes to Wilmington (Delaware) Country Club.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Collin Morikawa. We’re just about to push the panic button on Morikawa, who tweaked his back at the Olympics, missed the cut at the playoff-opening Northern Trust and nearly finished last in the field at the BMW (T-63 out of 69). The leading points-earner entering the playoffs, he’s all the way down to No. 11 and unlikely to take home the big prize at East Lake. A bigger concern is his health, and whether two weeks off can get him right before a long week at the Ryder Cup.
FANTASY TEAM UPDATE
Whew – the Good Guys were sweating out that finish at Caves Valley.
As the proud owner of a Patrick Cantlay share (subscribe to our podcast here!), Team Lavner extended its lead in our seven-player fantasy challenge in which the loser has to suffer through unimaginable humiliation at the Ryder Cup by wearing a I SUCK AT FANTASY GOLF sign during captains’ press conferences.
Of course, being the idiots that we are, Rex and I didn’t properly think through the rules here. There is no purse payout for the Tour Championship itself, just the overall bonus money. The winner of the FedExCup gets $15 million. Second place: a mere $5 mil. That means it’s virtually impossible for the team with the FedExCup winner to lose ... so this week we’re pulling for an unrostered pick like Tony Finau or Bryson DeChambeau. Then there’s at least some semblance of drama for us.
Anyway, here’s how we stand after Week 2 of 3:
LAVNER: $3,430,308 (BMW week: $2,304,083)
Cantlay (Won): $1,710,000
Rahm (T-9): $256,500
Koepka (T-22): $95,000
Scheffler (T-22): $95,000
Berger (T-26): $73,150
Spieth (T-34): $50,113
Schauffele (T-49): $24,320
HOGGARD: $1,682,957 (BMW week: $1,135,915)
McIlroy (4): $456,000
D. Johnson (T-6): $330,125
Hovland (T-17): $133,000
Thomas (T-22): $95,000
English (T-26): $73,150
Matsuyama (T-46): $28,500
Morikawa (T-64): $21,140