Jon Rahm beats the field of the year, Jack Nicklaus reveals a COVID-19 diagnosis, Tiger Woods returns to competition, Bryson DeChambeau misses the mark and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
1. Jon Rahm opened up a huge lead at the Memorial before hanging on for a three-shot victory over Ryan Palmer.
TAKEAWAY: It was a wild final round for Rahm, who led by eight shots as he headed to the back nine at Muirfield Village. A few errant shots trimmed that advantage to three as he headed to the par-3 16th, where he missed left of the green. We know what happened next: Rahm hit what he called the best short-game shot of his career – a delicate pitch that trickled into the cup for a momentum-changing birdie, giving him just enough cushion to play the closing two holes.
Video replays would later show Rahm's ball moved slightly, leading to a two-shot penalty. That turned his birdie into a bogey. And it turned his five-shot victory into a three-shot advantage.
No matter. The result was the same. But it still was bittersweet: "It’s unfortunate to have an asterisk on an unbelievable shot,” he said.
2. With Rahm's victory and Rory McIlroy finishing outside the top 30, Rahm became the No. 1-ranked player in the world for the first time.
TAKEAWAY: It was a matter of when, not if, Rahm would ascend to the top spot, his immense skills a rare combination of power and touch. The only thing holding Rahm back – or so it seemed – was his maturity, but he's made huge strides in that area and keeps his on-course combustions to a minimum. Married and now 25, he has developed into a well-rounded individual with a worldly perspective. (Read up on his thoughts on the pandemic.)
Rahm is the third-fastest to reach No. 1 after turning pro, behind only Tiger Woods and Jordan Spieth. Rahm's route to the top was extra sweet, as he beat a Memorial field that was the strongest regular-season field on record.
3. Jack Nicklaus revealed that he and wife Barbara had tested positive for COVID-19 in March.
TAKEAWAY: It was a stunning admission from Nicklaus, who, like his wife, turned 80 this year and is in the high-risk age group for the virus. On CBS, Nicklaus said he had mild symptoms (cough, sore throat) that “didn’t last very long,” while Barbara was asymptomatic.
Earlier in the week Nicklaus raised eyebrows when he said that he planned to shake the hand of the Memorial winner on 18, as is the tradition. Now we knew why: He had recovered and had the antibodies; though, the CDC has cautioned that those individuals might still be able to get the virus again.
In the end, Nicklaus opted for a fist bump.
4. In his first start in five months, Tiger Woods closed with 76 and finished in a tie for 40th.
TAKEAWAY: There was a little bit of everything in Woods’ first action since Riviera: Typically crisp iron play (5th SG: approach); an injury scare; a rally to make the cut; and plenty of poor putting. It added up to a week in which he broke par only once (71, Thursday).
Woods ranked 56th out of 74 in putting, saying afterward that he wasn’t used to playing as much break compared to his practice sessions in Florida. He said his “swing feels good,” even though he appeared to not have much pop in his bat, with a clubhead speed around 110 mph and ball speed that rarely eclipsed 170. That might have worked on the firm, fast fairways at Muirfield Village, but he’ll need to ramp it up and carry the ball farther in what should be cooler, damp conditions at TPC Harding Park.
Woods would say only that we’ll see him again “soon,” but it seems unlikely he’ll tee it up in two weeks at the WGC in Memphis. Should he play it? Definitely. His game isn’t ready to contend against the world’s best. But he seems committed to limiting the strain on his brittle body.
5. Bryson DeChambeau’s torrid run came to a screeching halt with a missed cut at the Memorial.
TAKEAWAY: Entering the week Big Bryson was the betting favorite after stringing together seven consecutive top-8 finishes, including a resounding victory in his most recent start at the Rocket Mortgage Classic, where he led the field in both driving distance and putting.
Conventional wisdom suggested he’d be even more comfortable at a place like Muirfield Village, which tips out at 7,500 yards and offers generous landing areas – especially if a player can carry bunkers and doglegs, like DeChambeau does.
Clearly, he didn’t have his best stuff, as he shot rounds of 73-76. But his early exit (and another caught-on-camera moment of petulance) will provide even more ammunition for critics who believe that his brawny game won’t translate to golf’s stiffest tests, when there’s firm, slick greens and ankle-deep rough. This is a player, after all, who doesn’t have a finish better than 15th in a major. We’ll find out soon enough whether he has the goods when he takes his aerial attack to TPC Harding Park.
WHAT ELSE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT ...
Reason No. 5,295 why golf is the greatest (and most idiotic) game: Dustin Johnson’s performance at the Memorial.
Fresh off a win three weeks ago at the Travelers, DJ was rested and ready to attack Muirfield Village, where he’s had six top-20s, including a tie for eighth last year.
In his most recent start, he’d beaten everyone in the field. At the Memorial, he beat exactly ONE (poor David Lingmerth).
His consecutive rounds of 80 marked the worst 36-hole score of his Tour career.
But if there’s anyone who can shake off a clunker, it’s Johnson.
It doesn’t look like Davis Riley will have to wait until fall 2021 for a PGA Tour card after all.
The 23-year-old stud won his second Korn Ferry Tour event of the year on Saturday, making birdie on three of his last five holes to take the title in San Antonio. That virtually guarantees him of being among the top 10 at the end of this season, which means he’ll have conditional status on the 2020-21 PGA Tour and be eligible for opposite-field events.
But an even bigger incentive is also within his grasp: With one more win – his third – he’ll earn an instant promotion to the PGA Tour. He’ll have 11 more opportunities this year, and you have to like his chances to nab win No. 3.
As we wrote in this space last week, at least one of the Tour’s biggest hitters is trying to add more length after watching DeChambeau’s recent gains.
Tony Finau said he was “inspired” by watching DeChambeau bash his way to success on Tour and vowed to let it rip even more often. During practice he dialed it up to 206-mph ball speed, but that type of unhinged power needs to be used sparingly and applied, for now, at courses more forgiving than Muirfield Village.
Wrote more in this story last week, but Finau has adopted that three-quarter, 75-percent swing on purpose, to keep the ball in play more often. But that conservative approach has negated what should be his greatest advantage, so it’s refreshing to hear that he’s going to air it out more often in 2020 and beyond.
The early returns are positive: Last week Finau ranked seventh in the field off the tee.
It’s worth monitoring going forward.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Going Under the Knife: Muirfield Village. Beginning this week, Jack’s Place will be shut down as they begin work on a major renovation project that will involve all greens and bunkers being rebuilt. The par-5 fifth, which played as the easiest on the course, will also be redesigned to expand the landing area and converted to a par 4 for tournament play. Some greens and tees will also be moved to enhance the challenge. Buckle up for 2021.
Tip of the Cap: Chad Mark. The director of grounds at Muirfield Village was the MVP of this Columbus fortnight, as he delivered two wildly different and spectacular tests while pushing the best players in the world to the breaking point. It was perfectly judged and well-executed.
Comeback: Xander Schauffele. Eight over par at one point, Schauffele strung together three consecutive rounds of par or better to rocket up the leaderboard into a tie for 13th. Pro's pro, grinding like that.
Money Maker: Matt Fitzpatrick: Difficult conditions are the easiest way to separate players, and Fitzpatrick took advantage with a closing 68 that was the round of the day. As a result, he finished in solo third – a nice payday for both Fitzpatrick and temporary caddie Jim "Bones" Mackay, who was filling in for the Muirfield Village fortnight.
Officially a Concern: Brooks Koepka. The four-time major champion hasn’t looked like himself this year, and it’s becoming clear that he doesn’t feel like himself either. Koepka, who tied for 62nd at the Memorial, revealed that he had an MRI last week on his bothersome left knee and that “nothing has changed,” insinuating he’s still not 100 percent. Then he added, “We’ll figure it out when we’re done,” but there’s little time this year to undergo any other procedure to alleviate the discomfort. The U.S. Open is in late September. The Masters is in early November. And then the new year is right around the corner. Ugh.
The King of Subtlety: Phil Mickelson. Boy, he sure has a way of making sure his branded coffee is perfectly in view of the cameras even while on the green. If only his golf were as good as his marketing – he tied for 54th.
Quote of the Week: Jack Nicklaus. On the telecast, Jack was asked his thoughts on the increasing driving distance on Tour, and once again he delivered: “The USGA’s gotta wake up sooner or later, the R&A. They can’t keep burying their head with this. They watch TV. ... Guys, stop ‘studying’ and do something, will you please?” And studying is exactly what they’re planning to do, through at least the end of the year, citing the industry’s struggles through the coronavirus pandemic. So Nicklaus will probably be saying the same thing next June, too, unfortunately.
Tweet of the Week (as usual): Eddie Pepperell. Hmmm, wonder who he could be sub-tweeting here?
You Might Have Missed: Taylor Pendrith. The Canadian has now ripped off three consecutive top-3 finishes on the Korn Ferry circuit, moving him up to No. 3 on the points list. But with graduation delayed until 2021, he needs to start converting those into Ws if he wants to get his card even quicker.
Calling for Backup: Justin Thomas. In the third round, when the heat index crept above 100 degrees, Justin Thomas’ regular caddie Jimmy Johnson felt lightheaded and had to hand off the bag to Thomas’ father, Mike. Though he felt better, Johnson didn’t caddie for JT in the final round, either, when it was just as hot. Thomas tied for 18th.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Webb Simpson. ’Twas not a great week for the FedExCup leaders, including Simpson, who came in rolling with two wins and three seconds in the past year. Instead, he got beat up early and often, packing up his bags after rounds of 76-74. It was only his second missed cut since March 2019. Sigh.