Collin Morikawa makes more history, Jordan Spieth looks like his old self, Louis Oosthuizen can't close (again), Bryson DeChambeau has another week to forget and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
The common refrain about Collin Morikawa has gone something like this: Well, if he can just learn how to putt ...
Well, then this.
This is what happens.
This is what Morikawa can do: He can hold off a trio of major champions to take The Open and become the first player to win two different major championship debuts.
Because he’s been a pro for just two full years now – think about that for a moment – the sample size is still small. But the data is mounting: Considering how dominant his iron play is, if Morikawa merely has a good putting week – say, a top-20 putting week, good but not the best – then the rest of the field is basically playing for second place.
These are the only full-field events in his career in which he’s had top-20 putting weeks:
• 2020 Colonial (T-18): Playoff loss
• 2020 Workday (13): Win
• 2020 PGA (1): Win
• 2021 WGC-Workday (10): Win
• 2021 Memorial (6): Playoff loss
Then there were the two events in which strokes-gained data wasn’t available: 1.) The 2019 Barracuda, Morikawa’s first win in 2019, where it’s a good bet he was rolling it that week or he wouldn’t have shot +47, the second-best winning total since the event moved to modified Stableford scoring in 2012; and 2.) last week’s Open (which apparently is still living in the dark ages, technology-wise), where he led the field in overall putting average.
So put together: In the seven full-field events in which he had a top-20 putting week, Morikawa posted five wins and two playoff losses. That's scary.
It remains to be seen whether Morikawa can ever become a consistently good putter. He knows, and even acknowledges publicly, that his stats aren’t the best (indeed, his strokes-gained numbers rank 170th on Tour). But he found something that worked at the 2020 PGA, when his caddie told him to put more weight on his left side at address. Just as he found something that worked ahead of The Open, when he switched to a conventional grip for putts outside 25 feet while otherwise using the saw grip.
Maybe it was just a one-week boost. Perhaps it'll be a game-changer moving forward. Whatever the case, Morikawa holed seemingly every putt that mattered, none bigger than this 25-footer on the 14th hole when Jordan Spieth was closing in. Even if his overall numbers suggest he's a poor putter, Morikawa has at least developed a reputation for elevating his putting in the game's biggest events, when the pressure is at its highest.
“I felt like it was as solid [inside 10 feet] as it’s going to get,” he said afterward. “I don’t think I really missed many from that distance. Especially in a major. I’m going to tell myself probably tomorrow, Why can’t I keep doing that all the time?’”
If he can just do it slightly more often, he won’t be stopped anytime soon.
How about a little context for Spieth’s stirring run at The Open: Just five months ago, he was the 219th-best driver on the PGA Tour. He was lost, wandering, questioning the direction he was going with swing coach Cameron McCormick.
And yet to watch him at The Open, he looked almost as good as ever, surely the best he’s looked since 2017.
The foul balls that had haunted him over the past few years? He never hit ’em.
The iron shots that had sailed both left and right of his intended target? Nope, he was dialed in, all week.
“I 100% played well enough to win this week,” said Spieth, whose 267 total tied the best-ever score of an Open runner-up. “I haven’t felt that way in a major in a while.”
And that’s the big takeaway here, even if Spieth was lamenting what could have been. He said that his putting is not “at all” where he wants it to be, but he’s been saying that for months – this might, in fact, just be his new normal. That means stretches of brilliances (he was 6th in putting average), with a couple of head-scratchers (bogey-bogey finish on Saturday, including the 2-foot miss) thrown in.
Unlike in 2015 or even ’17, the depth and quality of the competition is that much greater now at the top of the world order. Spieth’s rounds just need to be cleaner, especially when going up against an explosive player like Jon Rahm or the consistent excellence of Morikawa. Spieth will do that and reach the summit again – in all likelihood, at the Masters next April.
Louis Oosthuizen didn’t speak to the media following his disappointing final round at Royal St. George’s.
Just as well. At this point, what else is there to say?
His closing 71 was the worst score of anyone in the top 14. He failed to close another major, now his eighth top-3 since his 2010 Open title.
Sure, there is much to appreciate about King Louis’ recent run: His 11 consecutive major rounds inside the top 3 is an astounding stretch of play, nearly matching Tiger Woods’ record 12 in a row in 2000. The big difference, of course, is that Woods was running away with those titles. Oosthuizen is doing just enough to kick them away.
A couple of poor drives on the back nine doomed him at Kiawah Island. He yanked his tee shot into the penalty area on the 71st hole at Torrey Pines. And then Sunday at The Open, he bungled the easiest hole on the course, fanning his approach into the pot bunker and making bogey on the par-5 seventh. Leading wire to wire prior to that point, he never again pulled within two shots of the lead.
Throw another recent miscue into the mix – Oosthuizen pushed his tee shot into the water on the first playoff hole of the Zurich, eliminating his team’s chances – and there’s a pattern of poor execution under pressure. Most of the time, it's a tension-filled right miss.
In position so often, Oosthuizen clearly has the physical tools to win a bunch, even at age 38. He has handled the crushing disappointments with unwavering grace. But this much must be said, too: With each passing major, the mental hurdle is only getting harder to clear.
WHAT ELSE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT ...
He won’t get one anytime soon, but Bryson DeChambeau could desperately use a break.
He’s in a feud with Brooks Koepka that he wants no part of.
His caddie split on the eve of a title defense.
And now he has alienated his most prominent and important sponsor after saying publicly that his driver “sucks.”
Controversy is nothing new to the polarizing DeChambeau – it’s been that way since his amateur days. And some of the drama the 27-year-old has no doubt brought on himself. But at some point, it just has to be tiring. Every week something else pops up: A run-in with a cameraman. A gripe with a rules official. A bold strategy that prompts tournament officials to adjust. A breach of competitive etiquette (to be fair, he definitely yelled "fore!" last week).
DeChambeau wants to be the face of the game, but he also doesn’t want (or understand) the scrutiny that comes along with it. Once his schedule calms down after the Ryder Cup, he and his team are due for a couple of difficult conversations. The steady drumbeat of drama is affecting his game.
Four months after knee surgery, Brooks Koepka just completed a major season that would leave nearly everyone else thrilled.
If you throw out the Masters in which he competed on essentially one leg, here were Koepka’s results in the majors this year:
• T-2 at the PGA
• T-4 at the U.S. Open
• T-6 at The Open
And Koepka afterward was ... frustrated by it?
Understandably so, perhaps.
After all, he got outplayed by 50-year-old Phil Mickelson at Kiawah. He had a chance to post the clubhouse lead at Torrey Pines but bogeyed two of the last three holes, including the par-5 finisher. And in weekend contention at Royal St. George’s, he fell off the pace with a Saturday 2-over 72.
Since the beginning of 2016, no one is even in Koepka’s league in the majors. He is a combined 92 under par – 64 (!!!) strokes better than anyone else.
Regardless of form or health status, he’ll be among the top 3 contenders again at Augusta National. That much is virtually guaranteed. The only question is whether he can close it out.
Five significant events remain for the game’s elite this season, and the PGA Tour Player of the Year race could be down to as few as two contenders.
Morikawa and Rahm lead the way, and each has a compelling case:
Morikawa has two wins, including a major and a World Golf Championship, plus a playoff loss at a strong event (the Memorial) and top-10s in two other majors. He also just took the lead in the FedExCup race, putting him in the best position to secure the season-long title.
Rahm has one win, the U.S. Open, but joined Gary Player as the only international player to finish inside the top 8 in all four majors in a season (plus top-10s at The Players and the WGC-Match Play). He could have, potentially, added another impressive W if not for an untimely withdrawal from the Memorial. He also leads the Tour in scoring average and ascended to No. 1 in the world for the first time.
That is tiiiight, but luckily there’s a few more big titles to help decide the honor, with the Olympics, WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational and three playoff events in the next seven weeks.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Season Saver: Seamus Power. Back in May, as he recovered from elbow surgery and struggled to get into events, the Irishman was dangerously close to the top 200 in the FedExCup, on the verge of being sent back to the minors. Then he got on a mini-torrid run, ripping off six consecutive top-20 finishes – and now, a breakthrough PGA Tour title, after beating J.T. Poston in a playoff at the opposite-field Barbasol event. No longer does Power have to worry about his future status: He’s secure on Tour through 2023. “It’s a lot of hard work to get to these points,” he said, “and it was able to just come together at the correct time.”
That Hurts: Poston. In a good spot to earn his second PGA Tour title, Poston stepped up to the 15th tee and made his worst swing of the week. Needing to hit a fade on what should have been a birdie hole, he double-crossed a hook that landed out of bounds by mere inches. “If I make birdie there, it’s probably over,” he said. Instead, Poston bogeyed the next hole and dropped into a playoff with Power, losing on the sixth extra hole. The overtime loss snapped a streak of indifferent golf, but the ending still left him smarting.
Weekend Warrior: Collin Morikawa. With all of the pressure of trying to win The Open, all Morikawa did was play his last 31 holes without a bogey. That was even better than his bogey-free run to close out the PGA (23 holes). In the final rounds of his two major wins, he has shot 64-66 with an eagle, eight birdies and zero bogeys. The kid is impossibly clutch.
Rise Up, Canada!: Mackenzie Hughes. In contention at his second consecutive major, Hughes’ T-6 was his best career finish in a major – and the best result ever by a Canadian in The Open. Cheers!
When You’re Too Good For Your Own Age Group: Rose Zhang. The 18-year-old already won the U.S. Women’s Amateur last summer, but she dropped down to play the Girls’ Junior and obliterated her competition, including a 6-and-4 victory in the 36-hole championship match. The best news for these girls is that Zhang is headed off to Stanford in the fall and will finally age-out of the championship. Now she can just whip up on players who are a few years older.
These Guys Are (Too) Good: Korn Ferry Tour. The third-round scoring average at the KFT event last week was a mind-blowing 66.9 – the lowest single-day average in tour history. Put another way: Those who shot 67 got passed! Taylor Moore shot 27 under to win the track meet at the Memorial Health Championship and lock up his PGA Tour card for next season.
Particularly Pleased: Padraig Harrington. With Shane Lowry’s T-12 in his Open title defense, he leapfrogged Victor Perez to grab what is now the ninth automatic qualifying spot for the European Ryder Cup team. It’d be the Irishman’s first Ryder Cup appearance but surely Harrington would have more confidence in him than, say, Perez, another first-timer who doesn’t have a top-10 in a stroke-play event since March. It’s also easy to see how Lowry’s ascension into the top 9 also frees up Harrington to use his wildcard picks as he’d prefer, choosing Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia, then either rookie Robert MacIntyre or veteran Justin Rose.
Tweet of the Week: Jason Dufner, summing up the unintended consequences of DeChambeau’s driver complaint:
When You Straight Up Own a Hole: Robert Garrigus. Check out how Garrigus played Keene Trace’s 549-yard fifth hole last week: Birdie-Albatross-Eagle-Eagle. That’s 8 under in four days. It’s even more incredible when you consider he played the other 68 holes in just 5 under, tying for 31st at the Barbasol.
Take That, Silly Rules: Matilda Castren. Not yet eligible for the European Solheim Cup team despite winning on the LPGA last month, Castren returned home to Finland and captured the Ladies European Tour’s Gant Open. That win secured the LET membership she needed to qualify for the squad – one she’ll now be counted on to deliver a few points for if they have any chance of upsetting the heavily favored Americans.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Xander Schauffele. Is this what we get for picking him for 17 consecutive majors? Even after ditching the armlock putting method, Schauffele couldn’t get rolling at Royal St. George’s. A closing 65 helped salvage a top-30 finish, but we had higher hopes for the world No. 5 who had shown an affinity for links golf and had top-7s in two majors this year. Sigh.