Martin Laird dazzles down the stretch, Matthew Wolff climbs to new heights, Sei Young Kim nabs her first major, Bryson DeChambeau embarks on a new project and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
1. Martin Laird prevailed on the second playoff hole to win the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open for the second time.
TAKEAWAY: Laird bogeyed the final hole of regulation to drop into a three-way playoff with Matthew Wolff and Austin Cook, but Laird bounced back by burying a 20-foot birdie putt on the second extra hole to capture the Vegas-area event for the second time (2009) and win for the first time in seven-plus years (and fifth Tour title overall).
There’s been little easy about this 2020 season for Laird, who tore the meniscus in his left knee the week before the PGA Tour was set to resume in mid-June. Needing a sponsor exemption into this event, the Shriners was only Laird's fourth start back, and yet he held a share of the lead heading into each of the weekend rounds.
Laird got it done with the help of two incredible short-game shots in the final round:
This one, from a buried lie in the greenside bunker on 9:
And then this up-and-down par on 17, after a wildly errant tee shot on the watery par 3 (the hole he’d come back to birdie in the playoff to win):
2. Matthew Wolff went 61-66 on the weekend in Las Vegas but fell short in the three-way playoff.
TAKEAWAY: It’s the second consecutive runner-up finish for Wolff, whose game has made immense strides since the summer. Even he said he’s clicking now “at an all-time high,” and it wouldn’t be a surprise to see him win one of his next two tournaments, this week at Shadow Creek and then in a de facto home game for the Zozo at Sherwood.
Wolff summoned a late charge, making birdie on 15 and then pounding a 375-yard drive on 16 that set up a 10-foot eagle. Ultimately he fell short, but he’s climbed to a career-best 12th in the world ranking. (After sitting at No. 108 in June 28.)
Though a Masters rookie hasn’t won since 1979, Wolff is trending nicely toward Augusta. Jordan Spieth finished second in his first appearance there in 2014, and Wolff, still just 21, could do similar damage in his debut with his towering, right-to-left ball flight and streaky putter.
3. Sei Young Kim closed with 63 to blow away the field at the KPMG Women’s PGA Championship for her first major title.
TAKEAWAY: Kim put together a masterpiece, one of the finest final rounds in women’s major championship history, sleeping on a lead and then firing the round of the week to win by five shots over Inbee Park.
No active player has won more on the LPGA without a major title, as Kim, 27, had collected 10 victories but not a major. She was way too good to let that linger much longer. That all changed at Aronimink, where she reached 14 under par during a week when only eight players broke par over 72 holes.
4. Tyrrell Hatton captured his third Rolex Series event Sunday at the BMW PGA Championship, holding off Victor Perez in a stirring final-day duel.
TAKEAWAY: Hatton continued his breakout 2020 season by winning the European Tour’s flagship event. It was his second worldwide victory of the year, following his breakthrough at the PGA Tour’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. He also racked up five other top-6 finishes during the Tour season, ultimately finishing fifth in the FedExCup, while putting together one of the most impressive statistical seasons.
This triumph was particularly meaningful to Hatton, who was a regular visitor at Wentworth as a young fan. His mother sent him a photo Sunday morning of him walking around the course as a 5-year-old, and he said it gave him “a bit of added motivation” to get it done in the final round. He closed with 67 and held off a hard-charging Perez by four shots. With the win, Hatton moved inside the top 10 in the world for the first time.
“I always wanted to be inside the ropes playing when I grew up,” he said. “It was definitely a goal in my career to win here. It’s just a massive event, and to get over the line and win here is such a special feeling.”
5. Brooks Koepka is slated to return to competition this week at the CJ Cup.
TAKEAWAY: This will mark Koepka’s first start in two months, since he missed the cut at the Wyndham Championship and then pulled out of the FedExCup playoffs (and, later, the U.S. Open) because of lingering knee and hip injuries. He’s been rehabbing in Southern California the past few weeks and apparently is going to give it a go this week at Shadow Creek.
The CJ Cup, ironically, is where Koepka suffered the setback with his left knee that derailed his 2020 campaign, when he slipped on wet concrete in South Korea and spent the next three months on the sidelines.
After beginning 2020 at No. 1 in the world rankings, he’d slid all the way to 11th. But if the time away has allowed him to get right physically, he still could end the year with a bang with the Masters now just one month away.
WHAT ELSE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT
Even with the eight-hour time difference, Matthew Fitzpatrick had a keen eye on how Bryson DeChambeau was playing in Las Vegas. Though he wasn’t solely critical of DeChambeau, Fitzpatrick said that the swing-from-the-heels style of play was “making a mockery of the game” and that it required less skill than, say, hitting it 300 down a claustrophobic fairway.
DeChambeau took Fitzpatrick’s criticism as a compliment, and even offered to help him gain more distance off the tee so that he doesn’t feel as disadvantaged.
Where Fitzpatrick’s comments missed the mark is that it IS a skill to do what DeChambeau has done. Though he’s not Fred Funk, DeChambeau is still finding 57% of the fairways. There’s a reason why Cam Champ and Tony Finau and Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy so rarely access that extra gear – they’ll admittedly hit it off the planet. But with his one-plane swing and newfound speed, DeChambeau has found a way to hit it long and relatively straight, which gives him a massive advantage when he has only short irons into par 5s and wedges into beefy par 4s.
So don’t hate the player. Hate where the game has gone.
Speaking of DeChambeau ...
The newly minted U.S. Open champ said he was hoping to debut a 48-inch driver at next month’s Masters.
DeChambeau, who uses a 45 1/2-inch driver, started tinkering with the 48-inch model in the weeks after his U.S. Open victory and reported “staggering” distance gains, without offering specifics on exactly how much farther he’s driving it. The key, of course, will be finding the right clubhead and shaft combination to help keep the ball in play, and that’s one of the reasons why he’ll take off the next four weeks to fine-tune the next evolution of his own personal distance project.
Indeed, it was somewhat surprising to see DeChambeau eschew the next two no-cut, limited-field tournaments against loaded fields, but he believes his time is better served in the lab. He tied for eighth in Vegas despite a third-round 71.
Bring on Augusta.
Phil Mickelson won’t be at Shadow Creek this week where he won a $9 million match with Tiger Woods. Instead he’ll be putting his perfect senior record on the line when he plays in the PGA Tour Champions’ 54-hole Dominion Energy Charity Classic.
Though there wasn’t any statement from Mickelson in the press release, it’ll be curious to hear his explanation for playing in Virginia rather than with the young bucks in Vegas. After this post on social media, it’d be reasonable to assume that Mickelson may be working through a minor swing change in preparation for the Masters and may want more room to operate.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS
Now That Was Easy: Ernie Els. With a 40-footer on the final green, Els stunned Colin Montgomerie and won for the second time on the PGA Tour Champions, moving to No. 1 on the season-long points list. Looking for his third straight victory to begin his senior career, Jim Furyk tied for ninth.
Welcome Back: Trey Mullinax. It’s been a weird few years for Mullinax, who was ticketed for big things after a standout career at Alabama and then a Korn Ferry Tour win in 2016. But he’s battled a few injuries, including a freak accident last summer when he was hit in the head by one of his pro-am partner’s errant shots. Now he’s back in the winner’s circle, shooting 23 under par to win by a shot at the final Korn Ferry Tour event of the calendar year.
This Close: Will Zalatoris. Needing a two-way tie for fifth to secure special temporary membership on the PGA Tour, Zalatoris finished in a THREE-way tie for fifth, leaving him just 3.035 points shy of being able to earn unlimited sponsor exemptions the rest of the season. No matter – he’s in Bermuda, the next open available tournament, by virtue of another top-10, and it seems increasingly likely that the Korn Ferry Tour points leader won't play another event in the minors. He’s a stud.
Still in Position: Patrick Reed. Captain America’s share of third place at the BMW PGA solidified his spot atop the season-long Race to Dubai standings. It’s always been one of his goals to be the European No. 1, and he’ll have his chance if he hang on for the next few months. "Hopefully by the time we get to Dubai, I’m still in the driver’s seat and everyone is having to chase me," he said.
Get Well Soon: Nelly Korda. The top-ranked American player in the world withdrew after the first round of the Women’s PGA because of a back injury. Coming off her playoff loss at the ANA, she was only four shots off the lead after Round 1 but couldn’t play through the discomfort. Hopefully she’s back on tour soon.
Now on the Clock: Jessica Korda and Minjee Lee. Now that Kim has her first major title, it’ll be up to Korda and Lee to get off the inglorious list of active players who have won the most LPGA events (five) without a major.
What the Heck Was That?!: Patrick Cantlay. The 54-hole co-leader in Vegas, looking to become the fourth player to finish in the top 2 in the same Tour event in four consecutive years, Cantlay bogeyed four of his first six holes Sunday and slumped to a 72, tumbling into joint eighth. That closing 72 was the worst score of anyone inside the top 33.
Better Bring Your A-Game: PGA Tour. The 36-hole cut line at the Shriners fell at 7-under 135, which marked the lowest halfway cut relative to par on Tour since it started keeping records in 1970. Which means ...
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Collin Morikawa. The PGA champion hasn’t quite been able to build off his major success, now missing three of his last five cuts, including an early exit in his adopted hometown of Vegas. He’ll try to improve this week at the CJ Cup. Sigh.