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Monday Scramble: Major season ends with a fiery finish on a cold, December day

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A Lim Kim posts a legendary finish, Amy Olson nearly writes a storybook ending, Lee Westwood turns back the clock, Matt Fitzpatrick wins in Dubai and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

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1. A Lim Kim became the latest major winner from South Korea, rallying from five shots behind with a frenetic finish to capture the U.S. Women’s Open.

TAKEAWAY: The shots Kim hit into the final three holes at Champions Golf Club – 2 feet on 16, a foot on 17, 10 feet on 18 – will go down in tournament lore, as her three birdies in a row thrust her ahead of Amy Olson and into the record books as a major champion.

Watch all 3 of Kim's closing birdies for victory

Take a look at all three of A Lim Kim's closing birdies that propelled her to victory at the U.S. Women's Open.

Making her major debut, Kim, 25, is yet another unlikely champion, ranked 94th in the world – the lowest position of any U.S. Women’s Open winner since the rankings were established in 2006. She was making just her third career LPGA start and first in the U.S.; she’d failed to finish inside the top 50 previously. Her only two professional wins had come on the KLPGA. She didn't even have a Wikipedia page!

Wearing a mask on the course, as she had all week, Kim’s closing 67 was the lowest final-round score on a day when the wind chill dropped feels-like temperatures into the mid-30s. Beginning the day in ninth place, she authored the biggest final-round comeback, by position, in tournament history. She won at 3-under 281.


Olson emotional after birdie putt to close USWO

Olson emotional after birdie putt to close USWO

2. Playing through grief after the loss of a family member over the weekend, Amy Olson lost a late lead on the back nine and tied for second at the U.S. Women’s Open.

TAKEAWAY: It was an emotional end to the week for Olson, who learned Saturday night that her father-in-law had passed away suddenly and unexpectedly. She likely benefitted from the storm that blew through the Houston area and postponed the final round Sunday, when the emotions of the loss were still so raw. As a result she could get more rest and had a full day to try to process the unthinkable tragedy – to make no mention of trying to regroup for the last day as she attempted to win her first major title.

On Monday morning, Olson came out and played some of the best major-championship golf of her career. Shaking off three early bogeys in a row to take a two-shot lead on the back nine, she glanced at the leaderboard for the first time on the 13th green and saw that Kim was making a charge. At least she looked – that’s one of the reasons why she lost the 2018 Evian, after not knowing where she stood until the 72nd hole. That day she asked her caddie her position, was told one ahead, and proceeded to make double bogey to lose.

Olson dealing with tragic family loss at USWO

Amy Olson, in second place at the weather-delayed U.S. Women's Open, is experiencing a sudden family loss.

This time, Olson did little wrong over the closing stretch – in fact, she striped her 4-hybrid on the par-3 16th. But her tee shot landed past the flag and bounded over the green, into a tricky lie in the rough. She caught too much ball with her pitch and left her 15-foot par save short, falling two shots behind Kim. Needing to hole out her approach on the final hole, she settled for a closing birdie and a share of second place.

Afterward, the emotion began to pour out, as she wiped away tears on the 18th green.

“I had no idea what to expect,” she said later. “I felt very weak and helpless the last couple of days. I believe the Lord just carried me through. It just makes you realize how much bigger life is than golf.”


Westwood, 47, is Europe’s No. 1 for third time

Westwood, 47, is Europe’s No. 1 for third time

3. Lee Westwood became the oldest winner of the Race to Dubai, finishing second at the DP World Tour Championship to claim the season-long prize.

TAKEAWAY: At 47 years, seven months and 20 days, Westwood is the oldest player to become European No. 1 – a remarkable 20 years after he first earned what was then the Order of Merit title. That's the longest span in tour history.

Though he entered the week at No. 4 in the standings, guaranteed to take the Race to Dubai if he won the tournament, Westwood’s fitness was in doubt because of a lingering back injury. That ailment knocked him out of the first leg of the Dubai doubleheader, and he only got in limited practice while being worked on by the tour physiotherapists.

Westwood closed with three consecutive rounds of 68, but he still seemed poised to finish third in the standings as he watched the final few holes from the players’ lounge. That’s when Laurie Canter, running in a tie for second with Westwood, made a mess of the par-3 17th – carding a double bogey after twice failing to find the putting surface from short and left of the green. That miscue put Westwood in line for the $3 million prize.  

Closing in on 50, Westwood thought his Ryder Cup playing days were over, especially after serving as a vice captain in 2018. His Dubai conquest won’t count toward qualification, but after becoming European No. 1 he should figure heavily in captain Padraig Harrington’s plans if he remains in top form by next fall. Westwood vowed to be ready. 


Fitzpatrick reflects on second career win in Dubai

Fitzpatrick reflects on second career win in Dubai

4. Matthew Fitzpatrick won the DP World Tour Championship for the second time, pulling away with a final-round 68 to win by one over Westwood.

TAKEAWAY: It was Fitzpatrick’s first title in 27 months, since the 2018 Omega Masters. He also won the European Tour’s season-ender in 2016. Since 2015, he is 71 under par in this event – 14 shots better than any other player in that span. He also rose to a career-best 16th in the Official World Golf Ranking.

Tied for the lead heading into the final round, Fitzpatrick birdied the first four holes, and five of his first seven, to storm out front. He played his last 11 holes in 1 over par, the lone blemish coming on the par-3 17th, when he needed a 6-foot save for bogey after missing the green and racing his first putt well past.

After beginning the week at No. 16 in the standings, Fitzpatrick vaulted all the way to second, just behind Westwood. Finishing third was Patrick Reed, whose bid to become the first American to win the Race to Dubai was slowed by a 71-70 weekend after holding the 36-hole lead.

Viktor Hovland, who traveled about 8,500 miles after winning the Mayakoba Classic, tied for third in Dubai, two shots behind.


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5. Harris English and Matt Kuchar won the QBE Shark Shootout for the third time, shattering scoring records in the process.

TAKEAWAY: Who knew that Georgia and Georgia Tech alums could coexist so nicely? For the third time, English and Kuchar hoisted the trophy in Naples, this time after finishing at a whopping 37 under par and winning by nine strokes.

“That’s laughable,” Kuchar said afterward. “It’s hard to fathom just how good of golf that was.”

The 37-under total broke their own record (34 under) and they now have become the first team to win three times, claiming titles in 2013, 2017 and ’20.

The way English is flushing it, it'd be a massive surprise if he didn't win at least once in 2021. His ball-striking improvement over the past year has been remarkable.

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...

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Still Smiling?: Hinako Shibuno. Leading by four at one point Saturday, the 2019 Women’s British Open winner – nicknamed the “Smiling Cinderella” – carded closing rounds of 74 to tumble out of the lead and into solo fourth. Her final round was an almighty struggle but she was able to salvage her score with two late birdies.  

Strong Defense: Jeongeun Lee6. The 2019 winner tied for sixth, the best result by a defending champion since Karrie Webb went back to back in the early 2000s.

Much Ado About Nothing: Two-course major setup. Though there was much fanfare about the fact that, because of limited daylight, both courses at Champions Golf Club needed to be used for the U.S. Women’s Open, it didn’t make too much of a difference, at least not statistically. Players at Jackrabbit averaged a 36-hole total of 147.13; Cypress was only slightly harder, at 147.19. Mud balls were a major issue over the weekend, but well done to the USGA on presenting a fair 36-hole test amid difficult circumstances.


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Right on Target: Matt Wallace. According to the end-of-year world ranking projection, it’ll be Matt Wallace who grabs the coveted and final 50th spot, securing an invitation to the 2021 Masters. Just missing out: Erik van Rooyen, which means he’ll have to crack the top 50 by late March.

More of the Same, For Now: Limited fans on the PGA Tour. The Tour sent a memo to players outlining its plans for the first few months of the new year. Kapalua will have limited corporate hospitality but the Sony Open, American Express, Farmers Insurance Open, AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and Genesis Invitational all will have limited or no spectators. The lone exception on the West Coast swing will be the Phoenix Open, which as of this writing is capping attendance at 8,000 per day – a far cry from the usual 500,000 fans a week that usually pack TPC Scottsdale. Things will probably open up more in Florida, because of course.

Video of the Week: European Tour. Kudos to the European Tour video crew – and the players and, most importantly, Dr. Ellie – for this wonderful tribute to the front-line workers who have been risking their lives to tackle the coronavirus pandemic for nearly a year.  

Best Wishes: Tom Weiskopf. The former Open Championship winner and noted golf-course designer reportedly has begun treatment for pancreatic cancer. Here’s hoping for a speedy recovery.