Kevin Na goes nuts, Jon Rahm continues his rampage, Cheyenne Knight wins one for her late-brother, and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
There are only a handful of courses on which Kevin Na can compete each season. He readily admits this.
He’s short by Tour standards. He’s not overly accurate. And he doesn’t hunt flags.
But what can’t be measured with Na is his fight, and that grit has defined his career ever since he turned pro at 17. He had one win in 16 years. He lost three playoffs. He’s been passed by in today’s bomb-and-gouge era.
And yet he’s still playing the best golf of his life, taking advantage of the few courses where he can win. TPC Summerlin is one of those courses, and last week he had a record-setting performance on the greens and out-dueled the sixth-ranked player in the world in a playoff.
After recording just one win in his first 369 Tour starts, Na now has three wins in his last 30.
That’s a credit to a guy who is maximizing his talent.
1. That old adage “drive for show, putt for dough” has fallen out of favor in recent years, as the stats show that the game’s preeminent hitters have taken over the sport.
But for one week, at least, Na reaffirmed that it’s still hard to beat an insane week on the greens.
Na holed 558 feet and 11 inches worth of putts at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open in Las Vegas, where Na lives. That bested the previous Tour record, set by Ben Martin at the 2015 Colonial (551 feet, 2 inches).
The biggest difference? Martin finished 10th that week.
Na won – despite ranking 51st in strokes gained: tee to green. He gained a whopping 14 strokes – 14 strokes! – on the greens.
2. This, of course, is becoming Na's thing, to nearly beat the ball to the cup in a glorious act of showmanship. But imagine the embarrassment had this putt on the 72nd hole peeled away from the cup or lipped out? Gotta appreciate his guts, if nothing else.
3. As this clip showed, Na was thinking about the Presidents Cup immediately after his victory, and why not?
Of the list of possible wildcard picks for captain Tiger Woods, Na is the only one with two victories this calendar year. Na has a world-class short game, a red-hot putter – two key attributes in a match-play format – and an on-course temperament that could drive his opponents batty.
“Hopefully he’s keeping an eye on me,” Na said.
Woods better be, because right now Na is his best choice for Team USA.
4. Patrick Cantlay didn’t figure to have much of a chance at another title in Vegas ... at least until they hit the back nine at TPC Summerlin.
That’s when Na butchered the 10th hole and made triple bogey, cutting his lead to a single shot. Cantlay took the lead for the first time after Na made another mess on 16.
But on the par-3 17th, Cantlay made a critical error. With only a 9-iron, he came up well short of the green and kicked back into the pond. He needed to hole a slippery 5-footer for bogey, dropping back into a tie for the lead.
Asked about the miscue afterward, Cantlay said: “Hit it really solid and must have caught a gust.” In any case, short and left was the one mistake he couldn’t afford to make.
His putt on the final hole of regulation somehow stayed out, and then he missed a 5-footer for par on the second extra hole to come up short.
Cantlay’s record in three starts in Vegas is spectacular (1-2-2), but on the verge of stardom, this near-miss will sting.
5. Brooks Koepka’s season began with a missed cut in Vegas, but the more interesting story was his revelation that he underwent a stem-cell procedure on his knee following the Tour Championship. Even though he won three times, including another major, Koepka said that he played on a partially torn patella tendon since March, and that his wrist still wasn’t 100 percent.
Throughout his career Koepka has made a point that he’s not a ball basher, but still: “I finally feel good enough where I can actually practice and feel prepared coming into golf tournaments. ... It’s nice to feel good for once.”
Koepka said he only has five or six years left in his prime, and he’s motivated to inflict even more damage – especially now that he’s “pretty close” to 100 percent.
6. Why doesn’t Jon Rahm win more often?
It’s a question routinely asked about one of golf’s most blindingly obvious talents, the 24-year-old Spaniard who now has captured nine titles worldwide. That includes his title defense Sunday at his home Spanish Open, a five-shot victory that didn't even feel that close.
Since the U.S. Open, Rahm has finished in the top 13 in 10 of his 11 starts. That consistency launched him up the world rankings, but to date his signature win remains the 2017 season finale in Dubai. Yes, he’s won a few Rolex Series events, but he remains without a WGC title and, of course, a major.
When will his strong weekly performance translate into something bigger? It might just be a matter of time. This is some pretty heady company:
7. Entering the final full-field event of the LPGA season, Cheyenne Knight was in danger of losing her card – only the top 100 retain their playing privileges, and she was 120th in the standings. She didn’t have a single top-25 finish on tour. She was the victim of a bizarre flying-divot penalty that could have proved costly.
But none of that seemed to matter Sunday at the Volunteers of America Classic, where she fired a bogey-free final round to win by two.
So much for sweating out Q-School.
The former Alabama All-American dedicated the victory to her late brother, Brandon, who was killed by a drunk driver 11 years ago. Brandon’s football number was 33; it’s now part of Cheyenne’s Twitter username, as a way to honor him.
Her winning score Sunday in Texas, about 65 minutes from where she grew up?
WTH? MOMENT OF THE WEEK
If you thought Phil Mickelson’s dream start in Vegas was too good to be true – his opening 65 was his lowest round in eight months – well, we’ve got some news to share.
Indeed, it was.
But once Mickelson found the desert at TPC Summerlin, he only had more opportunity to dazzle with his recovery shots. There was this amazing escape in the second round, but nothing compared to this DRIVER OUT OF A BUSH in Round 3.
Of course, he ranked nearly dead-last in putting and shot 74 on Saturday on a day when the scoring average was an incredible 67.75.
Mickelson finished 61st, which means he still doesn’t have a top-35 since the Masters.
TAKE A BOW
This week's award winners ...
Too Much of a Good Thing?: Bulky Bryson. After the final round, DeChambeau said that he plans to get stronger – much stronger – during the rest of the fall, so much so that he said that he’s going to “look like a different person” with so much more muscle mass. If you’ve seen Bryson in person, you know this: The dude is built like a rock. It’ll be interesting to see if his bigger body produces bigger results in 2020, because he’s trying to, in his words, “make sure the neurological threshold is just as high as the mechanical threshold.”
RIP: Max Homa’s troll. You come at the Twitter king, you best not miss:
Well, That Worked Out: Mind Muangkhumsakul. Her LPGA card was imperiled after she was disqualified from the Symetra Tour Championship because she missed her pro-am tee time. She ended up making it on the number, so hey, no harm, no foul.
Not Every Made Cut is the Same: James Hahn. In his first start back on Tour since an elbow injury, Hahn made a quintuple bogey late in his second round that appeared to doom his chances of playing the weekend. Except then he played his last four holes in 4 under – including a 10-foot eagle on the last – to make the cut. He tied for 68th.
Speaking of Returns ...: Graham DeLaet. A hearty welcome back to the bearded Canadian, who finally returned to the Tour for the first time since fall 2017 after undergoing another microdiscectomy – the same surgery that upended Woods’ career. DeLaet was understandably rusty, with rounds of 75-72, but he didn’t seem to care afterward:
Was But a Matter of Time: Rahm. With his second European Tour title of the year, the burly Spaniard leapfrogged Open champion Shane Lowry and took the lead in the season-long Race to Dubai standings.
Not Ideal: Houston Open. After taking a year off, the new fall slot (preceding the Asian swing) for the Houston-area event hasn’t paid off with one of the weakest fields in recent memory. None of the usual suspects will be there – not Phil, not DJ, not Koepka, not even Texan Jordan Spieth, who will make his season debut the following week at the CJ Cup. Houston, we have a problem.
Uphill Climb: Akshay Bhatia. The 17-year-old is learning that there’s a big difference between elite amateur competition and the PGA Tour. He missed his third consecutive cut, as he’s quickly blowing through his allotment of exemptions without anything to show for it. He’ll need to play better soon – he has second stage of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School next month, and that’s a more logical way for him to access the big tour. Eventually.
Congrats?: Tony Finau. In the third round Finau became the first player in the ShotLink era to shoot 62 or lower while also losing strokes putting, according to PGATour.com’s Sean Martin. Finau missed five putts inside 15 feet – which means he could have gone stupid-low.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Koepka. The world No. 1 had a spotty record at TPC Summerlin, with a tie for fourth in 2014 and solo second in ’16, but his season got off to a sluggish start with rounds of 70-71 to miss the cut – and lose to his kid brother, Chase. Sigh.