Brooks Koepka settles in nicely as the world's best, Rory McIlroy fades, Collin Morikawa becomes the latest young-stud winner, Jin Young Ko takes advantage, Tom Watson says goodbye and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
The critics are running out of reasons to knock Brooks Koepka.
Doesn’t care about regular-season events? Nope, just won the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational.
Only a one-dimensional masher? Nah, just led the field in scrambling and putting at TPC Southwind.
Such a boring personality? Uh, he got choked up while discussing his new perspective after visiting the kids at St. Jude a few years ago.
Koepka works intelligently and efficiently, believes fully in his skills, and remains honest with himself and the media.
He’s the game’s best player – and the total package.
1. In one of the most anticipated final rounds of the season, Koepka snuffed out any drama with a relentless bogey-free round of 5-under 65. He erased a one-shot deficit by the third hole, then kept the pressure on by holing a number of momentum-saving par putts. For the second time in three days, he needed only 24 putts. He made only one bogey over his final 42 holes, even as watery TPC Southwind became firmer and faster.
Here's colleague Rex Hoggard, on Koepka's status-cementing title.
2. With one week left to go in the regular season, Koepka probably has already wrapped up Player of the Year honors – again.
• Three wins, including a major and a WGC.
• Top-4s in all four majors.
• The No. 1-ranked player in the world and atop the FedExCup standings.
Nothing in the playoffs should change the fact that Koepka once again ruled the Tour.
3. Of all the times for Rory McIlroy’s putter to go ice cold, this was just about the worst possible.
A week after he laid an egg in the opening round of the most important major of his life, McIlroy surged into the lead in Memphis on the strength of a Saturday 62. That set up a final-round showdown, for the first time, with Koepka, the No. 1 player in the world who has eclipsed McIlroy in the events that matter most.
Though not a major, a WGC title could have at least sent a statement to Koepka. Instead, McIlroy retreated, carding just a single birdie, firing the worst score (71) of anyone in the top 10 and then declining to talk to the media afterward.
There are some obvious weaknesses in his game – wedge play certainly comes to mind – but at this point his issues seem more mental than physical.
Say it with us now: Ugh.
4. Three weeks after Matthew Wolff’s breakout win, it was Collin Morikawa’s turn in Reno. He shot a bogey-free 65 on Sunday to win the Barracuda Championship, earning fully exempt status through 2021 and securing spots in 2020 at Kapalua, Players and the PGA (among others).
Having already locked up his card for next season, Morikawa wasn’t going to be eligible for the season-ending playoffs without a win. This took care of that – and he’s now 47th in the standings, despite having only six pro starts.
"The gates are open," he said.
5. Wolff has all the flash, but it’s Morikawa who actually has had the better summer.
Yes, he’s only six starts into his pro career. Yes, it’d be hard to sustain this level of play over the entire season. But, good grief, here are his stats and where he’d rank on Tour, keeping in mind that he's seeing these courses for the first time:
Collin Morikawa's stats and where they'd rank on the PGA TOUR:— Sean Martin (@PGATOURSMartin) July 29, 2019
Scoring average: 67.9 (1st)
Greens hit: 74.1% (1st)
Birdies per round: 4.9 (1st)
SG: Approach: +1.42 (1st)
SG: Total: +2.29 (2nd)
SG: Putting: +0.19 (100th)
The kid's not even riding a hot putter!
6. One of the new aspects of the Tour’s reimagined schedule was the introduction of the Wyndham Rewards Top 10, which featured a $10 million bonus pool to be split among the 10 best regular-season performers. The working theory was that those in the mix would be compelled to add the regular-season finale in hopes of grabbing the additional $2 million in bonus money, but ... um ... that didn’t pan out.
Paul Casey was the only player in the top 10 of the FedExCup standings to sign up. They got a commitment from Jordan Spieth, but that was just because he was desperate to get back to East Lake, since he sits 66th in the standings and needs to make a move.
Instead, for the foreseeable future, the Wyndham will appeal only to those clinging to life on the top-125 bubble. No top player is going to sign up for six starts in a row – which is what he’d be facing with The Open, WGC, Wyndham and then three consecutive playoff events.
7. It also didn’t help that, in Year 1, the race was already decided.
By virtue of his victory in Memphis, Koepka cleared $9.5 million in earnings and clinched the top spot in the Wyndham standings to bank the extra $2 million (and also locked up the $1 million Aon Challenge). The win also kept him atop the FedExCup standings – and so he's now in line for the $15 million first-place payout.
Got all that?
He's about to get paaaaaaaaid, with the possibility of a $30 million on-course season.
8. Jin Young Ko put herself in position to win the LPGA player of the year after capturing her second major title of the year, but it wasn’t without a little help.
Hyo Joo Kim was leading on the back nine at the Evian, but her bid was undone on the par-3 14th, where her tee shot plugged in the lip of a greenside bunker and her hack-out rolled back into a footprint. She splashed onto the green and three-putted for triple bogey, opening the door for Ko, the ANA winner who fired a final-round 67 to win by two.
Tough break for Kim. Impressive win by Ko.
9. Maybe Lexi Thompson will join Stacy Lewis in protesting the Evian.
It was two years ago that Lewis, ranked 16th in the world at the time, decided not to play the LPGA major in France because she didn’t like that the event was played in September. Twice in the past five years the event had been reduced to 54 holes because of the weather, and tournament officials finally decided to move the event from the fall to July for this year’s event.
So Lewis came back, but now it appears Thompson isn’t happy.
Checking in on Lexi's week at the Evian pic.twitter.com/ttbYEXMdwf— Ryan Lavner (@RyanLavnerGC) July 26, 2019
The American star played terribly, shooting rounds of 77-72 as she continued her DJ-like run of major misses, but she also took exception with the shoddy course conditions, saying that she was “thankful” to miss the cut.
Over the weekend, she tried to issue an apology, saying that there was some “confusion” regarding the source of her frustration and that she didn’t “mean it in a mean way at all,” but you can judge the above screenshot for yourself.
Thompson had a point – the course, in spots, wasn’t in good enough condition for a major – but last we checked, everyone had to play the same layout.
If you’re reading this website, you’re probably familiar with the format for the USGA amateur championships – 36 holes of stroke-play qualifying, followed by a single-elimination match-play bracket.
Pretty standard stuff.
But apparently that schedule of events was a surprise to one of the U.S. Girls’ Junior participants, 15-year-old Kelly Xu.
“I learned about match play last night by Googling it,” she told the USGA. “I definitely like it!”
Apparently so – she knocked off 2017 champion Erica Shepherd before eventually falling in the Round of 16.
Still, that’s quite a crash course on the eve of a big match – learning about the rules and the strategy and the possible gamesmanship, especially against someone as seasoned (and talented) as Shepherd.
There’s something to be said for a little competitive ignorance, but this is next-level stuff.
This week's award winners ...
End of an Era: Tom Watson. The final round of the Senior Open was the last time that Watson will play either the Open or the U.S. Senior Open. He’ll go down as one of the true links masters, a five-time winner of the Open Championship and a three-time Senior Open champ.
Golden Oldie: Bernhard Langer. Just when you thought Langer might be fading, he shot 66 in the final round of the Senior Open to surge to the top of the leaderboard and capture his 40th PGA Tour Champions title, putting him within five of Hale Irwin’s record. Langer now has an incredible eight consecutive seasons with multiple victories.
Good Changes: PGA Tour schedule. The newly released schedule for 2019-20 shows a few notable changes, but here’s the biggest one with the Olympics on deck next summer: The WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational will now be played two weeks after the U.S. Open and two weeks prior to the year’s final major. That’s exactly where it should be.
Time for a Ban: Sergio Garcia. After video surfaced over the weekend, purportedly showing Garcia taking a chunk out of a tee box at TPC Southwind, the time has come for the tours to crack down. The dude's out of control.
Rules are Rules: Mark Wilson. He was trending toward a 50th-place showing anyway, but part-time Tour player/part-time broadcaster Mark Wilson disqualified himself before the final round of the Barracuda because he was using an old greens-reading book with larger scaling from 2014 – which are now outlawed in the new Rules of Golf.
Welcome to the Show, Kid: Akshay Bhatia. The 17-year-old left-hander announced that he’ll make his pro debut at the Safeway Open this fall. The kid is raw, really raw, but intriguing.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Dustin Johnson. It might finally be safe to say that DJ is in a slump. The defending champion at TPC Southwind, Johnson experimented with different putters and grips, and spent longer than usual on the range, and none of it really mattered. He finished 20th, which marked his fifth consecutive finish of 20th or worse. It's his worst streak since early 2013.