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Monday Scramble: What to watch for as U.S. enters as massive Presidents Cup favorites

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The much-discussed Presidents Cup arrives, Max Homa defends in improbable fashion, Robert MacIntyre makes a statement, Cam Smith remains #GoodAtTheGame and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

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Bryson DeChambeau was correct last week when he said that the PGA Tour is only “hurting themselves” by not allowing LIV players to compete at Quail Hollow.

And we get it: The International team has been decimated by defections. Cam. Niemann. Louie. Abe. Put those boys on the visiting side, yeah, they’re still underdogs – but there’s a lot more intrigue over the outcome. After all, that crew could build on the momentum of 2019, when they took a lead into the final day against the stacked Americans and lost a tense match.

Now?

Now, it’d be one of the greatest upsets in the history of the sport if this International team prevails. The U.S. is competing at a team-friendly ballpark, in front of partisan fans, with a truly astounding world-ranking gap (12.08 vs. 47.91).

We hope it's entertaining and competitive ... but in case this gets outta hand early, here are some things we’re most interested in watching:

Presidents Cup capsules: Meet the U.S. team

The14th edition of the Presidents Cup is set for Sept. 22-25 at Quail Hollow. Here's a closer look at the U.S. team.

Does the U.S. squad let up?

Much of this U.S. team was donning the red, white and blue last fall when the Americans authored the most emphatic beatdown in the history of the Ryder Cup, 19-9. When they last hosted a Presidents Cup, in 2017, the score was 14 ½ to 3 ½ after Day 3. They lead the overall series, 11-1-1.

With such an on-paper mismatch, it’s human nature to get complacent or lack motivation. Another four-, five- or six-point victory won’t change anyone’s competitive legacy.

But that’s not how these dudes are wired. They want domination. Humiliation. History.

Is that what we see this week?

Presidents Cup capsules: Meet the Internationals

The14th edition of the Presidents Cup is set for Sept. 22-25 at Quail Hollow. Here's a closer look at the International team.

Is Tom Kim ready for the spotlight?

The 20-year-old South Korean was one of the late-season revelations, nearly winning at the Scottish Open before a sensational performance to score his first Tour win at the Wyndham. He’s rocketed all the way to 21st in the world.

But he also played a lot in that stretch – seven weeks in a row, bowing out of the FedExCup Playoffs after the second leg. Now he’s had a month off to regroup and reset, and the International team is going to have to count on the uber-talented rookie to play at least four matches, possibly five, if they have any hopes of an upset. He needs to stand out, right away.


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The Scottie Scheffler-Sam Burns team

That’s what we’re anticipating, at least. They’re as close as any two players on Tour – even more than the Cantlay-Schauffele bromance – and they happen to be at the height of their powers.

This is a chance for them to make their mark, together, and lay the groundwork for another partnership next fall in Italy. Burns was rather infamously left off the 2017 U.S. Walker Cup team so this will be his first go-round in team play since (checks notes) the Arnold Palmer Cup the same year. He’ll be comfortable and confident alongside Scheffler, who might feel as though he has unfinished business this week after his Tour Championship collapse.


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BillyHo and Homa

Horschel finally made a U.S. cup team after being close-but-not-quite over the past decade. It’ll be his first time in team competition since the 2007 Walker Cup, when he rankled his opponents with his, uh, fiery on-course demeanor. Horschel was quick to remind that he’s 15 years older, a Tour veteran, calmer and more mature – not that guy anymore. But the intensity of match play can fire up even the most stoic characters. (Remember Cantlay last year?) It’ll be fun if, in some way, Horschel is transported back to, you know, that guy.

As for Homa, this was his main goal all year, and he accomplished it. He won twice last season. He’s playing great currently, obviously. And though he admits that he sometimes feels as though he doesn’t belong, this is an opportunity to show everyone – including himself – that he’s at the tippy-top of the game now.

Speaking of Max ... 


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Homa defended his title in Napa after a horror-show finish from Danny Willett.

Homa looked like he was destined to finish just short when he went for the hero play from the bunker and didn't reach the 18th green. At that point, it looked like it was over: Leading by a shot, Willett was already on the green, looking at a 3 ½-footer for birdie to seal the victory.

But then some strange things happened.

Short-sided in the collection area, Homa chipped in for birdie, another clutch moment in a rapidly expanding highlight reel:

And then Willett, trying to win for the first time on Tour since the 2016 Masters, hammered his birdie try, catching the left edge and running another 4 feet past. All of a sudden, he needed that comebacker to force a playoff – and he rimmed that, too, a shocking three-putt from 4 feet that dropped him from one shot ahead to one behind on the last green.

“Just a shame how I finished,” Willett said, “but that’s golf. We’re going to do it again another day.” Indeed, he was all class afterward.

Meanwhile, this was Homa’s fifth victory, and third in the past year. He’s coming into his own: He’s an elite player, proficient throughout the bag, growing increasingly confident and comfortable in this position. He entered the week as the betting favorite, and, for perhaps the first time, he viewed it as a privilege and not an expectation or burden. And at the end of the week, well, he walked away with the trophy.

“It’s a little bit like a dream,” he said, “and then oddly enough, a little bit like this is where I’m supposed to be. I work very hard – I work very, very hard. I give pretty much everything I’ve got into being as good as I can at this game.”

And now he’s seeing what he can become.

Next stop: Charlotte.


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Robert MacIntyre ended a disappointing stretch with an impressive victory that undoubtedly got the attention of the next European Ryder Cup captain.

The left-handed Scotsman, who didn’t have a top-10 since February and felt “down and out” just a couple of months ago, denied a host of worthy challengers by prevailing in a playoff at the Italian Open over U.S. Open champion Matt Fitzpatrick. Also in the top 5 were Rory McIlroy, multiple winner Victor Perez and PGA Tour winner Lucas Herbert.

Talk about an audition.

All eyes last week were on Marco Simone, which will host the next Ryder Cup. The rough was gnarly. The fairways were tight and the greens undulating. It’s not the greatest test of golf – but it should provide a proper setting for the biennial matches. On the back nine alone are a pair of drivable par 4s, plenty of natural amphitheaters for the home crowd and a dramatic closing stretch.

So much of the current discourse is about who will or won’t be there in fall 2023. The European side appears ready to move on from the Westwood-Poulter-Garcia era, but in their absence needs to be a handful from the next generation. Maybe the Hogjaard twins. Or first-timers like Seamus Power, Sepp Straka and Adrian Meronk. And, of course, a player who was close to making the 2021 roster: Bobby Mac.

The sweet swinger was on the verge of breaking into the top 40 in the world last year but it’s been a rough go for the past six months. He’s seen a few signs of improvement lately and this was the payoff: A final-round 64 that netted him, by far, the biggest title of his career.

As for that Ryder Cup team? MacIntyre called it his “No. 1 priority.”

“This is what I want,” he said. “This is my only goal for the season is to make that Ryder Cup team. I think I’ve made a good start.”

Luke Donald surely agrees. The last two events have been won by players (first Shane Lowry, now MacIntyre) who the Europeans will be counting on this time next year.

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ... 

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Victory No. 4: Cam Smith. New tour, same great player, as Smith cruised to a three-shot victory in the fifth event of the inaugural LIV season that earned the Australian another $4 million in what has already been an insanely lucrative year. Smith, who debuted with the rival league earlier this month, said that he felt more pressure at his first event in Boston than at any tournament this year, including (gulp) the Masters, Open and Players. “I feel as though I needed to prove to myself, and probably more so to other people, that just because I’ve changed tours doesn’t mean I’m a worse player for it," he said. "I’m still out here to win. That’s where we’re all here for.”  

Just a Matter of Time?: Rory McIlroy. Indeed, it feels inevitable that McIlroy will – at some point – ascend to the top spot in the world rankings again. Even with what appeared like his C-game, he was a shot off the lead heading into the final round of the Italian Open and wound up fourth. He rarely has poor performances anymore: Since the Masters, he has finished worse than 19th just once (a missed cut following a long, post-Open break). Slowly but surely, he’s closing in on Scottie.

Taking Advantage: PGA Tour members. Willett and Justin Lower finished outside the top 125 in FedExCup points, relegating them to an upcoming season of conditional status … but they were bailed out when the final wave of LIV defections were finalized after the Tour Championship. That once again made them full-fledged members for this season – and they took advantage with strong performances in the leadoff event, with Willett finishing second (in heartbreaking fashion) and 54-hole co-leader Justin Lower dropping to joint fourth. Just like that, they’re in good shape for the next 11 months.

More Like It: Rickie Fowler. Just like last year, when an auspicious performance in a fall event heightened expectations for a comeback season, Fowler is off to another good start this time around. He tied for sixth in Napa – his first top-10 since (you guessed it) the 2021 CJ Cup. This was his first event with a new caddie (Ricky Romano) and just a month into his work with on-again/off-again swing coach Butch Harmon, with whom Fowler worked when he played his best golf. A good sign: At Silverado, he ranked eighth in strokes gained: tee to green. Hmmm.


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About-Face?: Phil Mickelson. Less than a week after LIV CEO Greg Norman said he wasn’t interested in a truce with the PGA Tour, Mickelson called on the Tour to reach some sort of resolution with the upstart league. What that looks like, of course, no one is really sure. Also of note was that Mickelson said that he was considering dropping out of the antitrust lawsuit against the Tour, now that his LIV bosses have joined the case. That’d be a bit of a head-scratcher – without the heft of some marquee players involved, it’s hard for LIV to argue these guys have been aggrieved.

The LIV Experience: Brooks Koepka. He hasn’t been heard from much since he – to use his own words – sold out and joined LIV (22nd this week!), but he was requested following the second round. After dismissing the oft-hyped team component as the “team thing,” he said the biggest difference between the PGA and LIV tours was … the caddie treatment? “They’re treated like human beings. Coaches, staff, everybody – it’s a big difference,” he said. Caddie Ricky Elliott, after all, is one of Koepka’s best friends.

Friendly Fire: Bryson DeChambeau. An overzealous marshal nearly decapitated Bryson as he tried to get back under the ropes after an errant drive. Just as eyebrow-raising was the on-air comment from broadcaster David Feherty, given the tour’s Saudi connections: “Off with his head!”

 

And if you're thinking, Oh, big deal. Well, it was to Bryson, as you can tell from this full-speed version and DeChambeau's VERY NSFW reaction (double warning: NSFW):

Let’s Do It Again: Dunhill Links. A few weeks ago there were more shots fired in the press tent than on the course, what with 18 LIV players angering the European tour’s best by showing up at the circuit’s flagship event despite not being welcome. The Dunhill isn’t on par with the BMW PGA, but there’ll still be double-digit LIVers in the field for the pro-am event at St. Andrews, Kingsbarns and Carnoustie. The pressers will – again – be interesting.  


McClean
USGA


See You at Augusta: Matthew McClean. The 29-year-old optometrist from Belfast became just the second international player to win the U.S. Mid-Amateur, defeating fellow Irishman Hugh Foley in the championship match to earn exemptions into two of the year’s first three majors.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Maverick McNealy. This was nearly the site of the Stanford product’s breakthrough victory last fall, when he was overtaken late by Homa, but he didn’t get nearly as close this year. Fresh off another strong season, he opened with a surprising 75 in Napa and missed the cut – not the type of start he was looking for to begin the new campaign. Sigh.