Lydia Ko completes the comeback, Stewart Cink continues to roll, Collin Morikawa’s putter goes cold, the PGA Tour’s team event takes center stage (even if we've got a better idea ...) and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble:
Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama weren’t the only players to end significant winless droughts in a big way.
Add Lydia Ko to the list, too.
With just one LPGA title since July 2016, Ko has changed anything and everything in an attempt to get back to the top of the women’s game – equipment, coaches, caddies, trainers, even her physique. But through all of that experimentation, she’s become a well-adjusted adult with a mature outlook and a balanced game.
That’s why it appears the future LPGA Hall of Famer's best golf might still be ahead of her.
About to turn 24, Ko crushed the field at the Lotte Championship for her 16th career LPGA title, and first since 2018. Coming off a record-breaking 62 in the final round of the ANA Inspiration, Ko shot 28 under par in Hawaii – a personal 72-hole best – to win by seven. She is now 38 under par (averaging 64.4 per round!) over her past 90 holes.
“If I said I didn’t doubt myself at all, it would be a lie,” she said. “I wondered if I’d ever be back in the winner’s circle, but obviously I’m grateful for all that’s happened in my career so far.”
The Stewart Cink Express continued to roll last week at the RBC Heritage, where the revitalized 47-year-old and his caddie/son Reagan routed the field by four shots, setting 36- and 54-hole scoring records along the way, as he notched the second multi-win season of his career – and first in 17 years.
Cink’s turnaround has been nothing short of remarkable, following his season-opening victory in Napa and now his third career title on Hilton Head. It's been a total team effort: Cornell Driessen, the trainer who has helped the 47-year-old stay young; Mike Lipnick, the swing coach who has helped Cink add 11 yards of distance; and James Sieckmann, the putting and mental coach who has given Cink tips like mouthing “mountaintop of peace” to aid on short putts.
Of course, arguably the biggest factor in Cink’s resurgence – the biggest reason why he says he’s now playing with a sense of gratitude – has been his 24-year-old son, Reagan. He’s been on his bag since the season opener, missing only a few events and now postponing a job with Delta because he’s having too much fun – and too much success – looping for his dad. While joining Bryson DeChambeau as the only players with multiple wins this season, Stewart is now third in the FedExCup, well positioned to make a run at the $15 million prize.
Cink was making his 610th career Tour start last week, and yet he relied heavily on the insights and instincts of his rookie caddie. Stewart pointed out emphatically that Reagan isn’t a ceremonial caddie. That this isn’t just some joy ride as a family. That Reagan is so good at his job, he could caddie for anyone on Tour.
So what are they doing together?
“We’re creating a game plan where the golf holes capture the ball nicely,” Cink said. “We don’t want to be fitting shots into certain little places where there’s a lot of danger around. We grade all the trouble around all the hole locations based on wind direction and slope, and we come up with basically a red-yellow-green light kind of scenario that dictates what we do.”
The process is working – it’s just the fifth time since 1960 that a player age 47 or older has won multiple times in a season.
When Collin Morikawa poured in a birdie putt on the opening hole Sunday, cutting the deficit to four, he appeared to signal: Game on.
Instead, that’s as close as he got.
The reigning PGA champion squandered another stellar week of iron play with a rough week on the greens, carding a 1-over 72 in the final round to fall from the final group into a share of seventh.
Morikawa ranked second in the field in strokes gained: tee to green but 57th on the greens. That continues a disturbing trend for the world No. 4, who changed putting grips at Riviera, experienced near-immediate success in lapping the field at the World Golf Championships-Workday Championship but has once again failed to find consistency. In two starts since Concession that have tracked strokes-gained data, Morikawa has ranked 61st and 57th, losing more than a half-shot per round. At the Masters, he ranked 38th out of the 54 players who made the cut.
With a chance to put heat on Cink on Sunday, Morikawa missed twice inside 5 feet and never seriously threatened. For the week, he missed nine putts inside 10 feet. For the season, the disparity is even more striking: He's No. 1 on Tour in strokes gained: approach but 180th in putting.
“A few positives and a lot to work on,” he said afterward.
Especially on the greens.
Seven of the top 15 players in the world are teeing it up this week at the Zurich Classic, which returns to the schedule after a one-year absence because of the pandemic. Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer are back to defend their title.
Here are the five most intriguing teams:
1.) Xander Schauffele-Patrick Cantlay: Surely prepping for a Ryder Cup partnership, this duo plays a ton of practice rounds together and went 2-2 during the 2019 Presidents Cup. This is Schauffele's first start since the near-miss at the Masters.
2.) Collin Morikawa-Matthew Wolff: Part of the heralded class of 2019, perhaps Morikawa’s recent hot play can reengage Wolff, who has endured a miserable few months on Tour and is coming off a missed cut at the Masters.
3.) Tony Finau-Cameron Champ: They share a management company and, oh yeah, a prodigious appetite for distance.
4.) Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson: It’s not a guarantee that these warhorses (and former partners) will be donning a European uniform at the Ryder Cup come September. It’s time to show Captain Harrington something other than Rose's early Masters lead.
5.) Viktor Hovland-Kris Ventura: The former teammates and roommates at Oklahoma State will be a sneaky team to contend – Ventura has a ton of game and just hasn’t popped yet. Maybe being around Hovland will help get him there.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
American Explorer: John Catlin. One of the best players on the European Tour of late is also an American: Catlin, a former standout at New Mexico, who won his third event in 13 starts with a playoff victory at the Austrian Open. Catlin is just the fourth American to win three regular European Tour events, joining Mark O’Meara Bob Byman and Tiger Woods. Now inside the top 80 in the world, he’s closing in on playing a more domestic schedule back here in the States.
Maybe Next Time: Martin Kaymer. Even against a weak field in Austria, Kaymer couldn’t convert a share of the 54-hole lead into victory. He made a mess of the opening nine and then made four late birdies to salvage a third-place finish. Remarkably, his last win anywhere remains the 2014 U.S. Open.
Wrong Time for the Putter to Go Cold: Nelly Korda. Locked in a duel through 54 holes, hopes were high for a Ko-Korda showdown on Saturday in Hawaii. Instead, Korda needed 32 putts in the final round and never challenged. Still, she has a win, four top-3s and five top-10s in six starts this year.
Still the Queen: Inbee Park. A final-round 63 in the Lotte gave Park a share of second place, meaning that she’s closing in on the world No. 1 ranking – again.
Haunting: Cam Smith’s gnarly hair ... EVERYWHERE.
Just a Matter of Time: Dustin Johnson changing putters. The world No. 1 is a notorious tinkerer; after a poor putting round last summer, he opened his trunk and began sorting through an array of flatsticks, looking for the perfect one. But after his torrid run to close out 2020, he vowed to stick with his trusty Spider putter, knowing that he could make more putts with that model than anything else. Well ... not anymore, as DJ switched to a new shaft and head in his putter – a TaylorMade winged TP Bandon 1 prototype – before the final round at the Heritage. He made 145 feet worth of putts on Sunday and ranked eighth for the week on the greens. Asked about the long-anticipated change, he said: “I kept practicing, kept grinding, but it wasn’t really getting any better, so sometimes it’s just time for a change.” The only surprise is that it took so long.
Special Kind of Confidence: Billy Horschel. The Match Play winner joined many in opining that the armlock putting method should not be allowed – but what made Horschel’s comment unique was that he said it while being paired for the first two days on Hilton Head with Will Zalatoris ... who uses the armlock method!
Almighty Captain: Steve Stricker: With a bogey-free final round at the Chubb Classic, Stricker captured his sixth career PGA Tour Champions title, furthering our belief that he should offer a wedging clinic to the rest of the U.S. team the week of the Ryder Cup.
Not Worth the Wait: Si Woo Kim. The rule might be silly but it’s also pretty clear: A player can only wait 10 seconds for a ball to drop. This was more than a minute, so of course it wasn’t going to count.
Let’s Not Get Carried Away ... Yet: Stewart Cink’s Ryder Cup prospects. Even with the win at the Heritage, Cink jumped up (only) to No. 24 in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings, behind Kevin Na and ahead of Matt Kuchar. Cink has TONS of team experience, playing on nine American rosters, but not since 2010. Not even Cink is expecting a call-up this time: He was more interested in his new top-50 world ranking, so he can skip U.S. Open sectional qualifying.
TOP 10 MIXED TEAMS WE'D WANT TO WATCH
The PGA Tour’s annual two-man team event at sleepy TPC Louisiana is a reminder of just how badly it could use a refresh. As currently constituted, the Zurich is a missed opportunity.
That’s why we have a solution: Join forces with the LPGA to create a mixed team competition, with a best-ball, alternate-shot and scramble format.
Simply transforming the Shark Shootout isn’t going to cut it. The mixed tournament needs to be played during the heart of the schedule, not as part of the silly season.
So, with that mind, here are 10 teams that would make for must-see TV:
• Jordan Spieth-Lydia Ko: Teen phenoms, now the comeback players of 2021
• Justin Thomas-Nelly Korda: Two mega-talents with the built-in SoFla friendship
• Dustin Johnson-Inbee Park: When they're both on, together, they’re the perfect golfer
• Collin Morikawa-Brooke Henderson: Flushers, both of them
• Xander Schauffele-Danielle Kang: California kids who are both No. 5 in the world
• Bryson DeChambeau-Lexi Thompson: Tee it high, watch ’em fly
• Matthew Wolff-Patty Tavatanakit: Uber-talented youngsters who have flashed enormous potential
• Rory McIlroy-Sei Young Kim: The most explosive players on their respective tours
• Brooks Koepka-Jessica Korda: Oft-injured, they can share their war stories walking the fairways
• Jon Rahm-Jin Young Ko: Combined: Zero weaknesses