Jin Young Ko shows who's No. 1, Collin Morikawa double dips in Dubai, Tiger Woods sets the internet ablaze, Talor Gooch caps the Tour's fall slate and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
In a head-to-head battle between the LPGA’s two best players, Jin Young Ko reigned supreme.
Finishing off her week with a mind-boggling 63 consecutive greens in regulation – with a bum wrist! – Ko put Nelly Korda in the rearview mirror with a closing 63 to defend her title at the CME Group Tour Championship and claim the Rolex Player of the Year award.
This might go down as the year that made Nelly a household name, but all of the lucre will go to the dominant Ko.
Over her last nine LPGA starts, Ko racked up all five of her wins and posted a 67.4 scoring average. All this despite a wrist injury that left her sore after rounds and curtailed her practice time, including before tournament rounds. There was even some doubt whether she'd be able to compete in the season finale; she was on the verge of tears Thursday, saying that she wanted to drop out.
It didn’t seem to matter, and it certainly didn’t Sunday at the CME, where she broke out of a four-way tie for the lead with a front-nine 30. Despite a late challenge from Nasa Hataoka, Ko played mistake-free to the house to shoot 63 – the low round of the day, even while playing in the final group.
Not only did Ko claim the biggest prize in women’s golf, $1.5 million, but she also earned the points-based Player of the Year award after Korda tied for fifth. Had this been a member vote, like the PGA Tour, who knows? It wouldn't have been surprising to see Korda get the nod, what with her lower scoring average and four wins, including a major, and Olympic gold.
All of the promising young players on the LPGA have been distilled into these two headliners. Sign us up for a half dozen more showdowns in 2022.
Collin Morikawa has made a habit out of accomplishing things at a historic clip, so why not take the Race to Dubai, too?
Morikawa holed a few timely putts down the stretch for a back-nine 31 to surge past Rory McIlroy and sweep both the DP World Tour Championship and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai – a $4 million windfall that punctuated another stellar year for the 24-year-old.
If you were curious how Morikawa would back up his breakout 2020 that included his first major championship, all he did in 2021 was capture a World Golf Championship, sail to the claret jug in his first Open appearance, go undefeated (3-0-1) in his first Ryder Cup while claiming the clinching point and then make history in Dubai as the first American to win the Race to Dubai.
Where does he go from here?
To world No. 1, perhaps, if he can take the Hero World Challenge in early December. A victory at the exhibition would bump him to the No. 1 spot, unseating Jon Rahm, if only for one week (then the OWGR math kicks in).
No matter. Morikawa continues to prove how unique of a player he is in this age of bomb and gouge. Neither long nor a tremendous putter, Morikawa is lethally accurate with his driver and irons and situationally great on the greens, as he’s been in his two major victories as well as his triumph Sunday against the European Tour’s best.
“I still think there’s a ton to work on,” Morikawa said. “That’s just kind of the nature of how my mind works and how I work – I just want more. I know I’m going to enjoy this one a lot, especially since it’s at the end of the year, but there’s a lot more from me hopefully.”
That’s bad news for McIlroy, who shared the lead late Sunday before a stroke of misfortune on the 15th hole. His approach rattled the flagstick and wound up in the bunker, leading to a bogey.
Pressing on the 16th green, he three-putted for another bogey and then made bogey on the last – spoiling his bid to end the year with back-to-back victories.
So angered was McIlroy afterward that he apparently ripped his polo. The flat finish was a bummer end to his official 2021 campaign, but at least the fire has returned?
The pre-tournament press conferences at the Hero World Challenge just got a lot more interesting.
As of last week, a tournament official said that the host, Tiger Woods, was probably 50-50 to have a press availability ahead of his exhibition in the Bahamas. It'd be his first since February and the Genesis Invitational, shortly before his life unraveled.
Since that serious car crash that mangled his right leg, there have been scant updates from Woods or his inner circle – just a few TMZ images and videos floating around, then, recently, an encouraging report from Justin Thomas that suggested Woods would at least try to play again.
Still, questions remained. Namely: Was Tiger playing golf ... or even thinking about playing golf?
Now we have our answer: A swing video that broke the internet and has already led to another tidal wave of speculation about his potential return.
Here are some takeaways from the short clip:
• The launch monitor in the foreground suggests this wasn’t his initial foray onto the range; he’s been ramping up, and now he’s ready to start examining the cold, hard numbers of his rebuilt body: his speeds, the distances, etc.
• There’s already been some speculation that he could return next month, at the PNC Championship. That seems ... unlikely. Riviera and Augusta still seem like stretches, too, to be honest, until we learn more from him about his conditioning. Hitting balls on the range is different than 72 holes, walking, and he’s never been the type to sprint out onto the world stage until he knows for sure that he can finish. Still, unmistakably: This is progress.
• He’s only going at it, what, 50-70%, but the positions and tempo look primo. Can't help but wonder if the forced time off helped his ailing back, too.
• Only Tiger could make a compression sleeve look cool.
• His horrific crash was 272 days ago, and now here we are – with the best possible news to end 2021, no matter how it turns out. A reminder: He. Doesn’t. Owe. Us. Anything.
Those keeping a close eye on the fall results could have seen this one coming:
Those were Talor Gooch's most recent finishes heading into the RSM Classic, where he went bogey-free over his final 26 holes to earn his first career title and take the final regular-season Tour event of the 2021 calendar year. He won by three shots over Mackenzie Hughes.
So, with the fall slate wrapped up, here are some superlatives for the fall:
Best Player: Sam Burns. A win at the Sanderson Farms, but also three other finishes inside the top 15. Even when he’s not clicking he’s in the mix, and that’s a promising sign for a complete player who is now inside the top 20 in the world and ready to take the next step in the game’s biggest events.
Most Special Moment: Hideki Matsuyama at the Zozo Championship. What a banner year for Japan, and it starts with the Masters champion. Though he failed to earn a medal at the Olympics, he returned home to a hero’s welcome at the Zozo, where he stormed to the title to put a punctuation mark on a career-changing year.
Performance Sure to be Cited Most Often in 2022: Rory McIlroy at the CJ Cup. In a dark place with his game, McIlroy thought about shutting it down for the rest of the year following the Ryder Cup. Instead, he decided to work through it, convinced that returning to his roots – big, high draws; artistry; swagger – would lead him all the way back. It worked for one week in Vegas (and then nearly again in Dubai) to buoy hopes that, now 32 and seven-plus years removed from his last major title, his best years can still be ahead of him.
Most Encouraging: Matthew Wolff. In contention at the Shriners, Mayakoba and Houston, Wolff seemed to put his season-long woes behind him at the beginning of the new campaign with a pair of top-5s. Still just 22, he’ll be better for overcoming this rough patch early in his career – and for letting the world see his vulnerabilities.
Best Proposal: Invitational-style events. Details are still being discussed, and the new schedule wouldn’t be rolled out for a couple of years, but the Tour appears poised to reward its biggest stars with four to six limited-field events with huge purses in the fall. Will it divert some eyes from football? No, probably not, but it’d keep the superstars happy (and help stave off any threat from rival leagues), bring together the best players more often and essentially relegate the have-nots to opposite-field events. All of that is worth celebrating.
Best Disappearing Acts: Bryson DeChambeau and Patrick Cantlay. All the stars lament the lack of a true offseason, but these are the only two who went seriously off the grid. Both had their reasons – DeChambeau, his speed training and experimentation; Cantlay, his recovery from a long season – and we can’t wait to see what they do for an encore in the new year.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
That Didn’t Go Over Well: Billy Horschel. Hey, give the man credit – BillyHo doesn’t hold back, no matter how unpopular his opinion. His ideas on how to improve the quality of the Tour likely didn’t land with the rank-and-file, seeing how he wants to limit the number of available cards and more handsomely reward the top leaderboard finishers each week. We’ve argued for years about cutting the number of cards from 125 to 100 (or perhaps even 75) but admitted it’s a long shot that would require a complete overhaul of the system. The Tour has two responsibilities: Provide playing opportunities for its members and satisfy sponsors by providing the best possible fields. And those two, naturally, are in conflict. Unlike many of his Tour brethren, at least Horschel isn’t afraid to shake up the status quo.
Meet the New King, Same as the Old King: PIP race. With one viral comeback tweet (and a horrifying crash that consumed the golf media for weeks), Woods put to rest any thoughts of another player taking home the $8 million prize for being the Tour’s biggest needle-mover. Phil Mickelson is probably second, with DeChambeau, Koepka and Jordan Spieth somewhere in the top 5 – not that we’ll ever know, of course, since the results won’t be made public. Sigh.
Half Man, Half Machine: Morikawa. Why is Morikawa so tough to beat? Why does he have a habit of beating back the biggest names in the sport, whether it was Dustin Johnson at the 2020 PGA, or Jordan Spieth at the 2021 Open, or now McIlroy at the 2021 DP World Tour Championship? Because this, this right here. It takes a Herculean effort to pass a guy who isn't making mistakes:
In Need of a Rickie Rebound: Jason Day. For the first time since May 2010, Jason Day has dropped outside the top 100 in the world. This isn’t a huge surprise, given the former world No. 1’s declining health and slipping game. But it’s still a sad state of affairs for a player who, around 2015-16, was almost peerless. Hoping he turns the corner soon, just like Fowler.
Sneaky Sweet: Matt Fitzpatrick. Memories of his Ryder Cup clunker won’t soon fade, and he’s still winless on the PGA Tour, but Fitz continues to show that he’s becoming a more well-rounded player. He tied for second in Dubai, continuing a run that now has seen him record a win and two other runners-up in his past six European Tour starts.
Soon: Brooks-Bryson. The run-up to the match (scheduled for this Friday, in Las Vegas) has been predictably insufferable, but this was at least a well-executed barb and a reminder that Koepka’s game stinks right now. DeChambeau’s is a total unknown – he hasn’t played since the Ryder Cup.
Don’t Call it a Comeback: Lydia Ko. Just as the golf world seemed ready to write her off, Ko bounced back in 2021 and collected the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average (69.34, which was best after Jin Young Ko and Nelly Korda failed to meet the minimum-round requirement). Turns out adding the Pelican, the tour's penultimate event, was a good move for Ko, after all.
Timely: Tyler McCumber. Flirting with golf’s magic number, he settled for a 10-under 60 in the final round of the RSM, rocketing 31 spots on the leaderboard into joint fourth – his best finish in more than a year and ending a stretch that saw him miss five cuts in his last six starts.
Worst Tweet of the Week: Scott Stallings. Scott, you're a swell guy, but Thanksgiving is the No. 1 holiday, and it's not particularly close. If you knock the food, then you're knocking the day, and we won't stand for it. As the foremost Thanksgiving lover, we here at Scramble HQ hope everyone has a wonderful, safe holiday – and we'll see you back here next week.