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Monday Scramble: Dustin Johnson plays role of Secretariat; Sophia Popov pulls an Upset

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Dustin Johnson leaves the field in his wake, Sophia Popov comes out of nowhere to win a major, Tiger and Rory look for ways to get fired up, Brooks Koepka heads to the injured list, Phil Mickelson makes his Champions debut and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:


DJ feeling like No. 1 again: 'This week I got my form back'

DJ feeling like No. 1 again: 'This week I got my form back'

1. Two days after shooting the most disappointing 60 in PGA Tour history, Dustin Johnson pulled a Secretariat on the field at the first playoff event.

TAKEAWAY: This was not even close. By the time Johnson rolled in his final putt in near darkness at TPC Boston to close out The Northern Trust, the winning margin was a stunning 11 shots. It was the first time a Tour event was won by double digits since Brian Gay at the 2009 RBC Heritage, and the largest margin of victory on Tour since Phil Mickelson's 13-shot romp at TPC Sugarloaf in 2006.

Johnson somehow settled for a second-round 60, playing his first 11 holes in 11 under before closing with seven pars just hours after Scottie Scheffler put up a 59. But he didn't stop there, increasing his lead to five after three rounds before turning on the after-burners.

Johnson has now won the playoff opener three times in the last decade on three different courses. He's back to world No. 1, and he'll head to the BMW atop the FedExCup rankings. But that's not what will be remembered years from now about this evisceration. Instead it'll be the fact that Johnson proved once again that in the "whose best is best" debate that fuels social media mentions, he doesn't just deserve a spot in the discussion; he might just merit the top seed.

DJ shuts down competition with runaway win

Dustin Johnson beat a playoff field by a mind-boggling 11 shots Sunday at The Northern Trust, a reminder that when he's on, few are better.

2. In a Hall of Fame career with 22 wins including a U.S. Open title, Johnson may have just put on his best-ever performance.

There’s winning on Tour, there’s winning by a lot, and then there’s what Johnson did to the field this week in Massachusetts. His last 54 holes were the stuff of legend, a stretch where he shot 26 under without breaking a sweat. After the win he explained that he “found something” with his ball-striking on Wednesday, and what followed was a clinical dissection even for his lofty standards: that memorable second round began with three birdies and two eagles over the opening five holes. He had more eagles (5) than bogeys (3) for the week, and Sunday he didn’t miss a single green in regulation.

Eleven shots ahead of second, 14 clear of the (now former) world No. 1 and 16 shots ahead of anyone outside the top 10. With a victory every season since 2008, and having doubled (or tripled) up on a handful of PGA Tour events, the winning performances often blur together for a generational talent. But even though much of the importance of this particular rout could hinge on whether he turns it into an eight-figure payday at East Lake, it will still stand above the rest in terms of sheer efficiency on a tested track against a loaded field.


Popov's feel-good story: From no status to Women's Open champ

Popov's feel-good story: From no status to Women's Open champ

3. With all due respect to DJ's postseason clinic, the event of the week happened in Scotland.

TAKEAWAY: The COVID-19 pandemic robbed golf fans of a chance to watch The Open at Royal St. George's (at least for a year), but the AIG Women's Open more than sufficed. There was Royal Troon in all her glory, with gusty winds humbling many of the best women in the game and showcasing the creativity and shot-making opportunities that make links golf so enticing.

But topping the leaderboard Sunday was an absolute stunner: Sophia Popov, ranked No. 304 in the world and someone who started the week without LPGA status, let alone a pedigree of contending at majors. Popov, who spent her quarantine chasing meager paychecks in Arizona on the Cactus Tour, espoused a goal of winning this year on the Symetra circuit and more recently caddied for Anne van Dam at an LPGA event earlier this month.

But she picked a great week to have a great week, not only breaking through for the biggest win of her career but doing so in emphatic fashion. The 27-year-old lost her LPGA conditional status by a shot last year, and she admitted that she considered walking away from the game. Instead, she stuck it out and managed to etch her name into the record books in a most improbable fashion.

If Johnson dominated like Secretariat (1973), Popov pulled an Upset, the name of the only horse to defeat legendary Man o' War (1919).


Tiger on 66: 'Was a much better, cleaner round'

Tiger on 66: 'Was a much better, cleaner round'

4. After a middling performance at TPC Boston, Tiger Woods' Tour Championship aspirations will ride on a pivotal week in the Windy City.

TAKEAWAY: Woods was solid but far from spectacular in his return to action, finishing T-58 and a whopping 24 shots behind Johnson. The best play of the week came in the final round, where he birdied six holes on the front nine en route to a 66. The Masters champ will need more of where that came from if he's going to get back to East Lake for the first time since his 2018 triumph.

Woods started the playoffs 49th in points, but his finish in Boston dropped him eight spots to No. 57. While exact scenarios are tough to pinpoint, there's no hiding the fact that he'll need at least a top-6 finish to have a mathematical chance to advance to the 30-man Tour Championship.

While Woods has had some big wins and memorable history at Chicago stops like Medinah and Cog Hill, this week's event will be at Olympia Fields which is a relative unknown for most in the field. Woods hasn't played a tournament there since the 2003 U.S. Open, which was won by Jim Furyk and where he tied for 20th. Without a stirring result in the 11th hour, Woods is likely looking at two weeks off before this year's U.S. Open at Winged Foot.

Koepka's injuries could linger into 2021

With a packed schedule, there's no good time to shut down for Brooks Koepka, which means his injuries - and inquiries about them - could linger into 2021.

5. One person who likely won’t be seen until Winged Foot is two-time champion Brooks Koepka.

TAKEAWAY: Koepka pulled the plug on his season before the playoffs began, withdrawing from The Northern Trust ahead of the opening round. It brought to a close an underwhelming campaign, one that saw him play six straight weeks without formulating a strong postseason push.

Part of the reason for that was his health. Koepka was a shell of his former self en route to a missed cut at the Wyndham, then cited knee and hip issues in his Boston withdrawal. The knee has been particularly troublesome over the last year, and in Greensboro he admitted to having issues getting onto his left side.

While Koepka’s season is over, his year still has two big events circled, with the first being next month’s U.S. Open. After coming within a couple shots of a rare three-peat last year at Pebble Beach, Koepka will surely be one of the pre-tournament favorites on a brutish layout. But can a few weeks of rest and practice put to bed physical issues that have hampered him for a year? Or is another surgical procedure required to get him back to 100 percent, or close to it? Time will tell. It could certainly complicate matters if Johnson – the same guy he called out at Harding Park and whose friendship has seemingly evaporated – arrives at Winged Foot with an extra $15 million in his back pocket.

 

WHAT ELSE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT ...

Tiger, Rory table playoff fireworks in Round 3

Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy struggled to a combined 5 over Saturday at TPC Boston, and they'll play together again Sunday.

The biggest moment from Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy didn’t come from their 36 holes together over the weekend. Instead, it was a candid picture of the two legends dining on post-round burgers and Diet Cokes, reminiscing on missed opportunities following the third round. It’s the sort of scene that could only play out in public in a fan-less environment, with the pandemic offering players a bit more flexibility with their on-site activities.

But both men admitted this week that it has also been difficult to find that extra element without any crowd response or roars to elicit. They’re hardly alone, as players like Paul Casey have lamented for weeks that a fan-free setting makes it more difficult to remain energized. McIlroy appears mired in a mediocre rut, with his scores good enough to make the cut but far from challenging any leaderboards. Woods got it going on the front nine Sunday, but with no crowds to fuel an early Sunday charge he fell flat over the back nine.

Six months ago, Woods and McIlroy playing together for two straight days would’ve been a must-see event. But these days the only folks watching are doing so from home – on weekend morning – and the combatants are having a tough time offering the usually electric show via satellite.

Phil heavy betting favorite in Champs debut

Phil Mickelson is listed as a 2/1 betting favorite to win his PGA Tour Champions debut, which gets underway Monday in the Ozarks.

Phil Mickelson’s notable chapter of playoff history came to a close last week, as Lefty failed to advance to the BMW for the first time in the FedExCup era. But that doesn’t mean that he’ll sit idly by while the top names battle it out at Olympia Fields.

Mickelson instead will head to PGA Tour Champions, where he’ll make his debut on the over-50 circuit this week in the Ozarks in a Monday-Wednesday event. Mickelson turned 50 in June and had seemingly thumbed his nose in recent months at the prospect of playing against the likes of Bernhard Langer and Scott McCarron instead of Woods and McIlroy. But this week gives him the perfect opportunity to test the waters, given that he’s not skipping a PGA Tour event to do so and that he still wants to remain fresh with the U.S. Open looming.

Mickelson is a lifetime PGA Tour member and clearly has no plans to slow down anytime soon. But if it were to pique his interest, he has both the game and the personality to completely take over the Champions circuit and give it a jolt of (coffee-fueled) energy in the process. This week could give a little insight into what it might be like for Mickelson to feel like a young gun once again.


Scheffler (59) didn't think about low round until No. 13

Scheffler (59) didn't think about low round until No. 13

Poor Scottie Scheffler. Shoot 59 and get overshadowed almost immediately.

Scheffler still has the course record at TPC Boston, but he became a footnote almost instantly as Johnson challenged for his own sub-60 mark and eventually ran away with the tournament. Scheffler ended up T-4.

But the soft-spoken Texan is sure to be back on another leaderboard soon, and his result last week creates some Rookie of the Year drama heading into the season’s final two events. Scheffler jumped 10 spots to No. 14 in points, while Puerto Rico Open champ Viktor Hovland moved up to No. 24. Typically the award goes to the rookie who places the highest at the Tour Championship, but if both qualify for East Lake it’ll be interesting to see if a strong postseason (without a win) could be enough to push Scheffler past the more decorated Hovland. This much is certain: more 59s will help his cause.

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ... 

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Thanks for Stopping By: Jordan Spieth. Like Koepka, Spieth's disappointing season is over following a missed cut in Boston that dropped him to 107th in points. But he's not alone in tapping out after the first playoff event: Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose, Tommy Fleetwood, Zach Johnson, Brandt Snedeker and Shane Lowry are among the notables who failed to make the 70-man BMW.

Still No Mail: Daniel Berger. Berger is up to 13th in the world after his third-place finish at TPC Boston, his fourth top-3 finish in six starts since the break, including a win at Colonial. But despite those accolades he'll be notably absent from this year's Masters field, as he was not yet qualified when the field was finalized in March.

Power of Social Media: Joel Dahmen. Kudos to one of the more down-to-earth Tour pros for making the best of a bad situation, as Dahmen missed The Northern Trust cut by a shot and put out a call on Twitter that he was in search of an area money game over the weekend. He found a match at nearby Thorny Lea, where he and fellow pro Nick Taylor teamed up to play (and lose) a $300 Nassau with a pair of followers.

Working His Way Back Up: Harris English. English was inside the top 40 in the world rankings in 2013, when he won twice on Tour, but he found himself back at Korn Ferry Finals a year ago. The veteran got his card back and put together a remarkably consistent 2020 season with 11 top-20 finishes. He then added a runner-up at TPC Boston and is now assured of a spot at East Lake, meaning he'll be back in the majors and WGCs in 2021.

Luck secures 1st KFT title with clutch par save

Curtis Luck earned his first professional victory Sunday on the Korn Ferry Tour after getting up-and-down for par on the 72nd hole.

Breakthrough Win: Curtis Luck. The former U.S. Amateur champ hung on for the victory on a tough course, taking the Korn Ferry Tour's Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship by a shot. It's his first as a pro and puts the Aussie in good shape to both earn a PGA Tour card for 2021 and snag a spot at Winged Foot next month via the KFT points list.

Better Late Than Never: Louis Oosthuizen. The South African was in great shape to make a big playoff move before a disastrous final round left him outside the top-70 number with one hole to go. After enduring an ill-timed weather delay, Oosthuizen returned to the course and birdied the 72nd hole in near darkness - snagging the final BMW spot in the process and sending Doc Redman packing.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Collin Morikawa. On the same day Johnson and Scheffler were tearing it up, Morikawa finished his week over par at TPC Boston. It was his first start since winning the PGA but still means that the 23-year-old has more wins (3) than career missed cuts (2).