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Monday Scramble: Phil Mickelson could be the Champions G.O.A.T., if he wanted

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Sungjae Im dusts the field for win No. 2, Phil Mickelson drops down to beat the seniors again, Brooks Koepka and Bryson DeChambeau monetize their beef and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

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A winner in his 50th PGA Tour start, Sungjae Im is now a winner in his 100th event, too.

With a dazzling 62 on Sunday at TPC Summerlin, the South Korean stormed from behind and left little doubt who would take the title at the Shriners Children’s Open. Im won by four shots over Matthew Wolff, turning what had been a tight race (seven players within four shots) into a runaway.

Since breaking onto the Tour in 2018, Im has been so steady and dependable that he still feels underrated. Playing as much as anyone worldwide, he has reached the Tour Championship in each of his first three seasons (finishing 20th or better), and he’s well on his way to doing so again after his stirring victory in Vegas.

Im is still just 23 years old – younger than Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland, Sam Burns, Scottie Scheffler, Will Zalatoris and practically every other player for whom much is expected. Among the top 30 in the world rankings, only Joaquin Niemann, 22, is younger. But Im continues to deliver, only this time with a new home base (Atlanta), a new caddie in Billy Spencer and a new trainer. For the Tour’s ironman, he realized the importance of better strength and conditioning.

“We’ve been working really hard,” he said, “and I’m glad it all turned out well.”


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Here are some other noteworthy happenings from the first of two weeks in Vegas:

• Playing in the final group, Wolff was unable to keep pace with Im and settled for his second consecutive runner-up at the Shriners. In 12 career rounds at TPC Summerlin, Wolff is a whopping 58 under par, but he has little to show for it other than the $1.4 million earned. As confident as he’s ever been, Wolff mishandled his greatest weapon in the final round and paid the price: On Sunday he ranked last in strokes gained: off the tee, losing more than three strokes to the field while finding just four of 14 fairways.  

Still, it was a massive leap forward for Wolff, who has been open about some of his mental-health struggles this year. Other than his surprising run at the U.S. Open, it was, by far, the worst year of his young career, and he said he’s now in a better spot. “Just maturity-wise and mentally, I’m just a much stronger and more complete person,” he said. That was good to see.

• Sam Burns finally ran out of gas.

In a tie for third heading into the final round, just two shots back, Burns could muster only a 1-over 72 on Sunday that matched the worst score of anyone inside the top 40. (The final-round scoring average was 68.9.) As a result, he tumbled all the way outside the top 10, to joint 14th.

Burns was bidding to become the first player to win his first two events of a season since Tiger Woods in 2008.

• Olympic silver medalist Rory Sabbatini (again: what a strange thing to type) went out in 28 on Sunday and tied for third. It was his best result on Tour since the 2019 Rocket Mortgage. ... Marc Leishman begins his 2021-22 campaign with back-to-back top-4 finishes. In two events he has matched his entire output from last season. ... Rookie Hayden Buckley has two top-10s in his first three starts as a Tour member. ... Brooks Koepka shot over par in each of his weekend rounds and tied for 67th out of 72 players. His last five results: T54-T31-T22-WD-T67. It’s definitely not Major SZN. ... Rickie Fowler took nearly two months off to regroup following his worst season, and in his first event back ... he missed the cut by one. Frustrating.


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And so continues Phil Mickelson’s strange limbo.

Not consistently competitive against the young bucks on the PGA Tour but perhaps not challenged enough by the PGA Tour Champions, the 51-year-old Mickelson finds himself in an odd spot, stuck between two circuits.

Mickelson’s stunning, history-making victory at the PGA Championship in May didn’t just make him exempt through at least the 2025-26 season, it imbued him with the confidence that, with the right training and focus, he can still summon his best against the game’s top talents. That magical week at Kiawah, of course, was the outlier: Over the past 16 months he has just a single other top-25 finish in a full-field event. He just failed to make a Ryder Cup team for the first time since 1993. Post-50, he was already looking ahead to other interests – the broadcast booth, perhaps – but this out-of-nowhere major victory will keep him on Tour for the foreseeable future. He’s still ranked 35th in the world, after all, even if based almost entirely on one victory.

As for his foes on the senior circuit? They haven’t provided much resistance just yet. In four tries, Mickelson has three victories on the PGA Tour Champions, his latest coming over the weekend at Jim Furyk’s event in Jacksonville. In those events Mickelson is 58 under par (12 rounds), with a scoring average just north of 67. He said he’s having fun out there, lots of fun, but he remains hesitant to commit to a fuller schedule. He continues to use them, mostly, as a training ground.

"I don’t feel like there are tournaments on the regular tour that are really exciting for me to get out and play," he said, "so it’s fun for me to get out here and work on a few things that I’m trying to improve on and play with guys that I know."

That’s a shame, because the Champions Tour offers Mickelson a unique career-capper. For all of his legendary achievements, Mickelson never reached world No. 1, never won Player of the Year, never claimed a FedExCup. He was always obscured by Tiger Woods’ considerable shadow. But with continued good health and motivation, he could not just eclipse Hale Irwin’s 45 senior wins but Bernhard Langer’s 11 major titles also seems in reach.

Second for so long, Mickelson could be the greatest senior player ever, setting marks that seemingly would never be touched. He just needs to have the desire to achieve them – and that part, for now, seems to be the challenge.


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The Brooks-Bryson feud – whatever was left of it – is officially over.

That’s the only way to read what had been rumored for months and became official last week, that the two superstars will cash in and star in a 1-on-1 duel the day after Thanksgiving in Las Vegas.

To be clear, this does not mean that their beef was entirely manufactured for monetary gain. There was genuine dislike flowing in at least one direction, and their rift became so petty, and then so nasty, that PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan had to step in and declare that “Brooksy!” taunts would no longer be tolerated.

But their rivalry is over, at least in any meaningful way. Koepka and DeChambeau realized, perhaps smartly, that they could monetize their antagonism. By signing up for this match they’ll both enjoy massive paydays and boost their standing in the Player Impact Program. But it still feels like we’re being cheated, like there's unfinished business, like this is some weird, cheap, easy out. This rare golf feud should have been settled on the course, on an important Sunday, and not in some 12-hole, silly-season event that will feature some canned trash talk and awkward silence.

Whatever happens next – both in the match and the months that follow – must be viewed through the lens that they’re doing it solely to pad their pockets. They’ve made that decision, and that’s fine. We’ll all watch regardless. It’s just a dissatisfying end to their years-long conflict.

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ... 

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Change is Coming: ANA Inspiration. With the announcement that the old Dinah Shore is no more, the LPGA is ushering in a new era that will see a new venue (Houston area), a date change (later in the spring, to avoid conflicting with the ANWA/Masters) and a new platform (weekend coverage on NBC). That’s the price of doing business, we s’pose – the move will come with a 60% purse increase, to $5 million – but it’s a shame the LPGA is sacrificing one of its only traditions in the process. As the LPGA's former boss Mike Whan put it:

On Another Level: Jin Young Ko. The current world No. 2 is on a serious heater, winning the Founders Cup for her third victory in her last six starts. (She also sprinkled in a T-2 and T-6 in that run.) With a closing 66, Ko also posted her 14th consecutive round in the 60s, tying the longest streak in LPGA history. Nelly Korda (T-19), who tweaked her Achilles' tendon in New Jersey, better pick up her pace or she’ll be passed at season’s end.

You Love to See It: Tiger Woods sighting. The most famous golfer of all time has been virtually MIA since his serious car accident earlier this year, even no-showing at the Ryder Cup despite his obvious behind-the-scenes role for Team USA. That’s why it was great to see him surface on social media over the weekend at a junior event. Naturally, the sight of Woods left more questions than answers: He has a sleeve over his injured right leg, but does he still need help walking longer distances? He has a club in his hands, so is he simply resting on it or is he able to hit balls, too? Hopefully we’ll learn more information in early December at the Hero World Challenge, his exhibition in the Bahamas that – you’d think – he’d show up to if physically able.

Welcome to the Big Leagues: Symetra Tour graduates. Following the season finale, the LPGA welcomed 10 new players to its tour, headlined by leading Symetra money winner Lilia Vu. The other players making the leap: Fatima Fernandez Cano, Casey Danielson, Sophia Schubert, Ruixin Liu, Maude-Aimee Leblanc, Amanda Doherty, Allison Emrey, Morgane Metraux and Rachel Rohanna.


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A Spanish Celebration ... Sort Of: Rafa Cabrera Bello. With a Tiger-like +220 odds to win his home open for the third consecutive time, Jon Rahm shockingly struggled to a T-17 finish against a weak field. Instead, it was his fellow countryman, RFB, who shook off the disappointment of losing his PGA Tour card and sailed to the playoff title, his first on the European Tour since 2017.

Everyone Else Playing For Second?: Rose Zhang. Yeah, we all knew that Queen Rose was the truth, but she’s making this college thing look a little too easy. Two starts, two wins, as she’s threatening to do some ridiculous stuff during her time at Stanford. The only good news for her competition is that she’ll have some other tournaments that take her out of the college ranks, for now.

Get Well Soon: Cameron Champ. The big hitter has only played sparingly since his slump-busting victory at the 3M this summer, and now we know why – he’s been dealing with a left-wrist injury. To let it properly heal, he said, he’ll shut it down for the rest of 2021.   

The Fall Classic: CJ Cup. In what will almost certainly be the strongest field of the fall slate, the second half of the Vegas doubleheader will feature 24 of the top 30 in the world ranking, with a whopping 68 world-ranking points to the winner. Among those teeing it up: Rory McIlroy, Dustin Johnson, Collin Morikawa, Jordan Spieth and Justin Thomas (with new caddie “Bones”), The alternate list begins with Ryan Palmer ... the world No. 40. Yikes.

More Fun with Numbers: A world No. 1 up for grabs. Color us surprised by this, because Rahm has been the best in the world in 2021 and it hasn’t been particularly close. But the CJ Cup field is so strong that Dustin Johnson can return to the No. 1 spot with a win this week, provided Rahm finishes outside the top 15 during the European Tour event at Valderrama.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Will Zalatoris. Not a splashy intro to his first season as a Tour member, but he’d still racked up back-to-back top-15s. Then he came to Vegas, where he was one of the tournament favorites, and his 2-under start wasn’t enough to stick around for the weekend. Surely better days are ahead. Sigh.