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Monday Scramble: Top 10 favorites for the U.S. Open at Winged Foot

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Mirim Lee wins a dramatic ANA Inspiration, the Great Wall of Dinah becomes a story, Stewart Cink busts an 11-year drought, the U.S. Open heads to Winged Foot and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Highlights: M. Lee outlasts Korda, Henderson at ANA

Highlights: M. Lee outlasts Korda, Henderson at ANA

1. Mirim Lee chipped in for eagle on the final hole of regulation and then made birdie on the first playoff hole to defeat Nelly Korda and Brooke Henderson and capture her first major title at the ANA Inspiration.

TAKEAWAY: It was a wild turn of events for Lee, who seemed like an afterthought for nearly the entire final round. Henderson and Korda had taken turns carrying the lead on the back nine, with Henderson making a critical double bogey on the 13th hole before two gritty birdies on 16 and 18 to force overtime.

All Lee did on Sunday was chip in three times – first on the sixth hole, then on 16, and then again on the final hole of the tournament, after using the wall behind the 18th green as a backstop. Her final chip-in motored down the hill, clanked off the stick and dropped to get in the house at 15 under. On the first extra hole, she put her second shot behind the 18th green, chipped to 5 feet and was the only player in the group to make birdie.

Kim entered the week ranked 94th in the world, but turns out her caddie might be the best diver on the planet:

Mission Hills, 18th green

2. The logoed wall positioned behind the 18th green played a role in the outcome of the tournament, with both Kim and Henderson using the structure to their advantage.

TAKEAWAY: Though there is usually a grandstand positioned behind the final green at Mission Hills, there were no spectators allowed on-site and so the wall was artificial and highly unnecessary. Veteran players even believed the structure was moved closer to the green than usual, serving as a backstop for any second shot that wasn’t going to hold the green.

This matters because during recreational play, there’s a pond behind the green that would drown any shot coming in with too much speed.

A reachable par 5, with an island green, on the 72nd hole of a major?

Yes, please!

Instead, the wall played too big of a factor down the stretch, with Lee’s hard hook triple-hopping off the wall. She got relief from the temporary movable obstruction and chipped in for eagle.

In the final group, Henderson’s approach came in even hotter – except her shot dove underneath the bottom of the wall, like a rabbit running into its hole. Henderson, too, received a free drop (but only after her caddie and a volunteer crawled on the grass to find it!) and was able to get up-and-down for a tying birdie.

Korda didn’t hit her best third shots into the 18th hole, both times, but this was an unfortunate ending.

The wall HAS to go – the hole is infinitely more interesting without it.

Cink on Safeway win: 'This was just a really special week'

Cink on Safeway win: 'This was just a really special week'

3. For the first time since 2009, Stewart Cink won on the PGA Tour, shooting a pair of 65s on the weekend to take the Safeway Open.

TAKEAWAY: It was Cink’s seventh career Tour title and first, incredibly, in 4,074 days, since the 2009 Open – when he dashed the dreams of 59-year-old Tom Watson. Since then, Cink has struggled to rediscover his game and even dealt with his share of pain off the course, with wife Lisa battling breast cancer. (She now has a clean bill of health.)

Cink is 47 now, with an eye on the PGA Tour Champions. He had only one top-10 finish in the past two years, and he admittedly wondered if he’d ever be able to hoist another trophy.

Then came his magical week at Silverado. With son Reagan on the bag, Cink was top 25 in the field in every major statistical category, making 15 birdies to just one bogey (a nervy 5-footer on the 71st hole) over the weekend.

“This is key timing for me to get a win,” Cink said.

Winning the season opener, he’s exempt not only for this season, but through the 2022-23 campaign. He turns 50 on May 21, 2023. Key timing, indeed.

Koepka WDs from U.S. Open because of injury
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4. Two-time U.S. Open champion Brooks Koepka withdrew from this year’s championship, saying that he’s still not healthy enough to compete at the highest level.

TAKEAWAY: It was assumed that Koepka would be ready to go for the second major of the year after he withdrew before the start of the FedExCup playoffs. That’d be four weeks off and plenty of time to rest his ailing knee and hip.

Apparently not, and now his status is uncertain for any event the rest of the year, including the Masters on Nov. 12-15. Koepka clearly hasn’t been right physically all year – this, after being not right physically for much of 2019, which we later found out was largely because of a partially torn patellar tendon in his left knee.

Koepka appeared in photos on social media last week, so he’s not bedridden, but the extent of his injuries and short-term prognosis remain a mystery.  

As for the U.S. Open: The rest of the field should breathe a sigh of relief. Even when he wasn’t at his best, Koepka still found a way to climb into the mix at the PGA, sitting two shots off the lead heading into the final round. The Open is the major best suited to his grind-it-out skill set.

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5. Scottie Scheffler has withdrawn from this week’s U.S. Open after testing positive for COVID-19.

TAKEAWAY: Well, that’s an unfortunate end to the Tour’s perfect six-week run, with Scheffler testing positive for the virus in advance of the year’s second major. He is asymptomatic and home in Dallas, but it’s another blow to the event as the 24-year-old was just starting to hit his stride.

Scheffler played in the final group at the PGA and had three top-5s in his past four starts. Counting 72-hole scores, he had the second-best performance at the Tour Championship.




On the Clock: World top-3 or the field likely to win U.S. Open?

On the Clock: World top-3 or the field likely to win U.S. Open?

1.) Dustin Johnson: Playing arguably as well as he ever has, DJ rolls into Winged Foot and the toughest-man-prevails major he won in 2016. If he has driver working, again, it’s going to be hard to topple the world No. 1.

2.) Jon Rahm: He’s won on two of the most brutal setups this year, at Muirfield Village and Olympia Fields, proving to his peers (and perhaps to himself) that he now possesses the mental game to handle adversity and challenging conditions. That was the final piece.

3.) Xander Schauffele: No one played better at the Tour Championship than Schauffele, one of the game’s preeminent big-game hunters. The perfect temperament for the Open’s unique demands.

4.) Webb Simpson: Didn’t have his best stuff at East Lake, but he skipped the second playoff event largely to make sure he was fresh and ready for the U.S. Open, which he won in 2012. He’s finished inside the top 16 each of the past two years.

5.) Justin Thomas: Not the best record in this championship, other than his near-miss at Erin Hills in 2017. He shook off a few pedestrian starts with three rounds of 66 at East Lake.

6.) Collin Morikawa: Won the PGA when he matched up a hot putting week with his typically excellent iron play. That combo would work again nicely at Winged Foot.

7.) Tyrrell Hatton: Quietly had a breakout year on Tour, ranking fourth on Tour in iron play and eighth overall. Wouldn’t surprise at all to see him in the mix come Sunday.

8.) Tony Finau: Hard place to crack for the first win since 2016, but nobody has been in the mix more often over the past few years without a W. Had a fifth-place showing at Shinnecock in 2018.

9.) Matt Fitzpatrick: Up to 17th in the world, he finished third at Memorial and T-6 at the BMW – two of the most difficult tournaments of the year. The trendiest of trendy sleeper picks this week.  

10.) Patrick Cantlay: Surprising to see him fail to crack the top 30 for East Lake, but an extra week off should help fine-tune one of the game’s most consistent performers.

Others to consider: Daniel Berger: Not as sharp in his last two outings, but Boog has played as well as anyone since the restart; Jason Day: Before two terrible playoff performances, J-Day was starting to round back into form and is a danger man in any event where par is at a premium; Brendon Todd: Far from sexy, his fairways-and-greens game should put him in contention, even if the beefy par 4s are a lot for him to handle; Hideki Matsuyama: Five top-25s in seven career starts at the Open, and he looked awfully good at brutish Olympia Fields, challenging until the end; Rory McIlroy: Flashed signs of life at East Lake, recording his first top-10 since the restart, but the sleep-deprived new dad will have to dig deeper to make a run at his fifth major title.



Kisner apologizes for callous COVID-19 tweet

Kevin Kisner on Saturday inserted himself into the COVID-19 conversation with a callous remark sent in response to a tweet about the death and illness of others.

Golf Shoe in Mouth: Kevin Kisner. At 7 a.m. Saturday, Kisner replied to former NBA player and social-media personality Rex Chapman’s tweet about his current plight – his friend’s parents have died of COVID-19; his parents have been in and out of the hospital; and now his child has tested positive – with this callous tweet: “Guess they can’t follow the guidelines.” It was a horrible tweet. It was insensitive to even think that, let alone push send on it. And it was particularly naive considering it came from one of the PGA Tour’s player directors, who knew the risks of this virus and had a hand in determining the Tour’s pandemic response over the past couple of months. Little wonder he earned a stern rebuke.

Voice of Reason: Mark Calcavecchia. The first PGA Tour Champions player to publicly announce that he had tested positive, Calc unfortunately has had a tough go battling COVID-19’s many symptoms and said, in response to Kisner: “I don’t know him, but until you have it you shouldn’t really say anything.” Bingo. How about a little empathy for once?

John Daly reveals bladder cancer diagnosis

Two-time major champ John Daly revealed on PGA Tour Champions Learning Center that he has been diagnosed with bladder cancer.

Best Wishes For a Full Recovery: John Daly. Long John revealed that he was recently diagnosed with bladder cancer. Even after undergoing eight consecutive days of chemotherapy, Daly tied for 12th at the PGA Tour Champions’ Sanford International.

Coetzee survives in Portugal: 'Worst fun' I've had on golf course

Coetzee survives in Portugal: 'Worst fun' I've had on golf course

Is This the Hottest Player in the World?!: George Coetzee. Check out these recent results from the South African, who just added another title at the Portugal Masters: 2-T8-T6-T7-MC-T2-1-1.

Now THERE’s a Confidence Booster: Tommy Fleetwood. Out of sorts since rejoining the golf scene in July, the Englishman made 12 birdies in his final 29 holes – including a closing 64 – to tie for third in Portugal. Just what he needed to see before heading to New York.

At Least One Thompson Had a Sunday to Remember: Curtis Thompson. Lexi may not have been able to get it done at the ANA, but her brother Curtis, 27, won for the first time on the Korn Ferry Tour. 

That’s More Like It: Akshay Bhatia. The uber-talented teenager had missed the cut in his first six Tour starts as a fledgling pro, but he made his first paycheck count – his tie for ninth got him into the next open Tour event, in the Dominican Republic.

Caddie Swap: Cameron Champ. On the eve of the year’s second major, the big-hitting Champ has reportedly tabbed veteran caddie John Wood. After splitting with Matt Kuchar, Wood was contemplating a move to TV, but instead he’ll grab the bag of one of the most tantalizing talents in the sport.

Tweet of the Week: Michael Campbell. After Golf Digest posted its list of the most “underwhelming” champions in U.S. Open history – ouch! – the 2005 winner posted this. So good.

That Ain't Gonna Work: Phil Mickelson. In his final tuneup before Winged Foot, Mickelson hit only 12 of 56 fairways at Silverado and ranked second-to-last in the field in strokes gained: off the tee. That bold bettor who put down 45K on Lefty to win this week? Might as well have set it on fire.

Kids These Days: Rose Zhang. The U.S. Women’s Amateur champion – just 17 years old! – set the amateur record at the ANA by making birdie on the last and shooting 8 under par, clipping her final opponent at the Am, Gaby Ruffels, by a shot. What a great week for both.

Glad They Got It In: Safeway Open. With wildfires wreaking havoc on the West Coast, the Napa-area event seemed like a dodgy proposition, especially early in the week with the sky so dark and ashy that it required floodlights in the afternoon. The scene was cool and eerie and cinematic, but it’s worth remembering: There are also lives being ruined.

More of the Same: Jordan Spieth: Battling to try and make the cut after an opening 73, Spieth blew his drive wide right on his final hole of the second round, knocked it around in the trees and walked off the green with a double-bogey 7, ending his hopes of playing the weekend. Only one of his last nine starts has gone for a top-30.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Joel Dahmen. Back on the West Coast and with three top-20s in his past four starts, Dahmen was a good bet to cash in for his first career Tour title. Instead, he broke par only once and tied for 52nd. Sigh.