Two seniors win big, the Presidents Cup teams are finalized (for now), the European Tour plays in the dark, Eddie Pepperell adds to his legend, Matt Kuchar returns to Mexico and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
For those who think the PGA Tour Champions is simply a sunset cruise for aging warriors, make sure to catch Scott McCarron’s acceptance speech at the Charles Schwab Cup Championship.
He thanked his mentors. Choked up. Attempted to describe how much the season-long title meant to him.
McCarron is 54 years old. He had a solid but unspectacular PGA Tour career, winning three times but never rising higher than 20th in the world ranking. He wasn’t Bernhard Langer or Colin Montgomerie or Retief Goosen, Hall of Fame talents who now get to scratch their competitive itch on the over-50 circuit. For McCarron, it’s more personal. It’s a late-career opportunity to become the player he always dreamed he could be.
Finally, in 2019, he played the best of anyone on the PGA Tour Champions, better than his more heralded peers who were always a step ahead of him over the past 25 years. That's inspiring stuff.
1. McCarron only came away with the Charles Schwab Cup after a wild finish in the season finale.
Jeff Maggert birdied the final hole of regulation to force a playoff with Retief Goosen, then things got really wild.
Goosen, who has a history of short misses under pressure, yanked a 4-footer on the first extra hole that would have netted him not just the tournament but also the cup.
Then, after both players made birdie on the second playoff hole, Maggert lined up his 123-yard approach.
That meant two things: Maggert was the Charles Schwab Cup Championship winner, ending a winless drought that extended to 2015; and McCarron, standing on the patio with Langer and Jerry Kelly, sipping red wine (what a perfect embodiment of senior golf), was the season-long champ.
2. That McCarron nearly coughed up the Charles Schwab Cup was a story in itself.
He’d earned three titles and 14 top-10 finishes, spending 21 consecutive weeks in the top spot, but he’d struggled to find his game lately and felt the pressure coming down the closing stretch of the season.
In the playoffs he finished 17th, 43rd and then tied for 27th in the season finale – his longest streak all season without a top-10 – to imperil his position in the top spot.
He narrowly escaped with the title.
“The pressure of winning this trophy got to me a little bit, and I didn’t play as well as I had been playing,” said McCarron, who had finished second, third and fourth in the season-long race over the past three years.
“I put so much pressure on myself to win this thing. When you’re only shooting for the prize, your arrows don’t shoot straight.”
3. The Presidents Cup rosters were finalized last week, with only mild surprises.
For Ernie Els, he had no choice but to take veteran Jason Day and a pair of hot rookies, Joaquin Niemann and Sungjae Im.
For his fourth and final choice, Els went with Adam Hadwin. With so many rookies on the roster (six), he couldn’t afford another newcomer that he’d have to break into international team competition. But there was something else, too. Since the final spot likely came down to Hadwin, fellow Canadian Corey Conners and Ben An, then consider this:
Conners and An were ranked 181st and 182nd, respectively, in strokes gained: putting. Hadwin was 45th – and these events usually come down to which team holes the most putts. (More thoughts on the Internationals here.)
4. Tiger Woods’ choices were even more straightforward, if only he had to weigh performance and not personality.
Tony Finau and Gary Woodland had played well enough this season to warrant obvious consideration, while Woods himself, as a playing captain, was a no-brainer after his win at the Zozo.
As for the fourth spot: Patrick Reed was the clear choice, too, based on how he’s played over the past few months. He’s finished outside the top 25 only once in his past 14 starts. But, as usual, there’s more that goes into it than just his golf, and Reed was thought to be radioactive after his comments about his teammates and captain following the 2018 Ryder Cup.
But if any captain can successfully bring Reed back into the fold, it’s Woods. He respects Reed’s grind. He understands he’s only 29 and will be a fixture on U.S. teams for the better part of the next decade. And he knows that Reed will play his heart out for him, and that the other U.S. team members (many of whom grew up idolizing Woods) will follow the captain's lead.
5. There’s another storyline to monitor with the matches only a month out.
Few details have emerged about Brooks Koepka’s health after he reaggravated his knee injury last month. With how much he prioritizes the major championships, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Koepka sit out the exhibition and focus on being 100-percent healthy for 2020.
If that’s the case, Woods will have another captain’s pick. He said that the call to Rickie Fowler was the toughest to make, which would seem to suggest that Fowler is the de facto first alternate. But now even Fowler’s spot looks iffy, after he pulled out of this week’s Mayakoba Classic because of a bacterial infection that he contracted while on his honeymoon. Fowler hasn’t played in two months and is reportedly considering adding Sea Island in an attempt to show Captain Woods that he’s on the mend.
Kevin Kisner and Kevin Na are lights-out putters who would also be good options in the event that Koepka isn’t green-lighted for competition and Fowler isn’t sharp enough.
6. The Turkish Airlines Open offered the biggest first-place prize in European Tour history – a cool $2 mil – and so naturally it came down to a six-man playoff that eventually was played under flood lighting.
Tyrrell Hatton was the big winner, chipping in for birdie on the final hole of regulation and then prevailing on the fourth extra hole against Matthias Schwab.
The lights flipped on for the third extra hole, and by the time Hatton was posing for pictures with the trophy, there was a full moon.
The victory was Hatton’s second Rolex Series title and vaulted the fiery Englishman to No. 6 in the Race to Dubai standings and into the top 30 in the world, sealing his Masters berth for 2020.
7. It was the first six-man playoff on the European Tour since 2003, but the stakes were higher than usual.
With so many players vying for the title, there was more than a $1.5 million disparity between first and second place.
Tough break for the playoff losers, and in particular Schwab, the 54-hole leader who missed a 4-footer on the fourth extra hole to collect “only” $430,590.
8. Only two events remain in the European Tour season, with the Nedbank Golf Challenge (10,000) and DP World Tour Championship in Dubai (12,000) offering the most points of the season.
In theory that'd create the most volatility for a top player to make a late-season push, but just five of the top 10 in the rankings are teeing it up in South Africa. That group includes Bernd Wiesberger, who will have a golden opportunity to pad his nearly 400-point lead over Jon Rahm.
9. Hey, look who’s a winner again: Hosung Choi, who you might recall was a thing that happened earlier this year.
It’s been a mostly quiet year for Choi, which is hard to imagine for such a flamboyant talent, but he’s missed eight cuts and withdrawn from three events. (Maybe for throwing out his back?) Anyway, he popped up again over the weekend with a win at the HEIWA PGM Championship in Japan.
That’s not insignificant. He should jump inside the top 170 in the world and banked about $366,000 – or higher than 18 European Tour events this year.
Naturally, Choi was INTO IT as he battled for the title, sinking this putt (and pulling off this spin move) as he made a go-ahead birdie on 17:
THE WTH? MOMENT OF THE WEEK
Eddie Pepperell can expect a fine from the European Tour after his embarrassing mishap in Turkey.
Playing out the string in the third round, Pepperell starred in his own “Tin Cup” moment when he launched several shots – probably four or five – into the pond on the fourth hole, eventually running out of balls. That’s grounds for disqualification for failing to complete a hole.
What led one of golf’s most colorful characters to snap? He’s not saying – “Nothing to add, really” he told Golf Digest – but at least a day later he’d rediscovered his sense of humor.
When the European Tour’s social-media account sent out a video of Hatton finding the green on the watery par 5, Pepperell responded: “Ahhh, that’s how it’s done.”
TAKE A BOW
This week's award winners ...
Good Luck This Week ... Because You’re Going to Need It: Matt Kuchar. Ah, yes, it should be an interesting return to Mexico for Kuchar, whose cheapness was a major storyline earlier this year in the wake of reports that he stiffed his local caddie after winning in Mayakoba. There’s a long New York Post story out on the 12 months that have followed, including an update on El Tucan, and this figures to be a deliciously awkward week for the smiling assassin.
Greatness Must Wait, Part 1: Akshay Bhatia. It’s a long career, but for the 17-year-old left-hander, it’s gotten off to a rotten start. After missing his first three cuts as a pro on Tour, Bhatia also bombed out of the second stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, setting him up for plenty of uncertainty in 2020.
Greatness Must Wait, Part 2: Lucy Li. As expected, the much-ballyhooed 17-year-old turned pro, forgoing any college eligibility. Because she doesn’t yet meet the LPGA age requirement, she’ll have to toil for a year on the Symetra circuit, where she has status in 2020.
She Got Next: Ai Suzuki. The five-time winner on the JLPGA this season earned her first title on the big tour, winning the Japan Classic by three shots. With the victory she earned an automatic promotion to the LPGA, but she’s unsure whether she’s ready to make the leap because of the language barrier. “It was my dream so I feel like I want the challenge,” she said.
At Least You’re Good at Golf: Justin Thomas. In a very cool move, JT was tabbed as the guest picker on ESPN’s popular “College Gameday” show ... but he didn’t have the best luck with game picks. He went 5-7 (though he did correctly pick the Minnesota upset), which is a worse pick percentage than rapper Jeezy.
When the Punishment Doesn’t Fit the Crime: Spirit International. The U.S. women's team was disqualified from the friendly competition when Americans signed an incorrect scorecard. The issue? One of their birdies was attributed to the wrong U.S. player in the best-ball format. Awfully harsh.