Sam Burns closes the deal, Korn Ferry Tour grads start hot, Bryson DeChambeau puts on a power show, the caddie carousel continues to spin and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
Sam Burns is getting used to this – and that’s scary stuff for the rest of the Tour.
Last season, the 25-year-old led the Tour in 36-hole co-leads (five) and shared with Jordan Spieth the most 54-hole leads (four). He converted only one of those opportunities, at the Valspar Championship, but all of those experiences are making him more comfortable during crunch time.
Burns didn't shy away from the moment at the Sanderson Farms, where he went 65-67 on the weekend to come from behind and win his second Tour title in 87 starts.
“I think those (prior chances) were really important for me; I learned a lot,” Burns said after beating Nick Watney and Cameron Young by a shot in Mississippi. “Having that under my belt today, that experience was definitely helpful and coming down the stretch I felt a lot different than I have in the past.”
Of course, it helps when Burns struck it the way he did at the Country Club of Jackson.
His ranks for the week:
- Strokes gained: off the tee: 1st
- Strokes gained: tee to green: 1st
- Strokes gained: approach the green: 2nd
Yeah, that’ll usually work anywhere.
Burns was considered a long shot for a Ryder Cup captain’s pick last month, but during his breakout season he’d at least done enough to warrant a call from Steve Stricker telling him he didn’t make it (unlike what happened with Billy Horschel). Burns called the news “definitely very motivating and definitely kind of gut-wrenching.”
Team USA brass would be wise to get to know Burns a little better. He’s young, hungry, rapidly improving and all the way up to No. 18 in the world.
Form can be fleeting, of course, but on this current trajectory it’d be a surprise if he wasn’t on the Presidents Cup squad in 12 months.
Coming on the heels of the Tour’s super-season, the fall portion of the schedule might be a little light on star power – only two top-10 players, Louis Oosthuizen and Brooks Koepka, are teeing it up this week in Vegas – but that provides the perfect environment for some of the recent Korn Ferry Tour graduates to get acclimated to Tour life.
Several capitalized on that opportunity at the Sanderson Farms.
Five of the top 10 players on the leaderboard were Tour rookies, including 54-hole leader Sahith Theegala, the 2020 Haskins Award winner who flashed his potential in Mississippi. Theegala was holding strong, taking the lead after each of the first three rounds, until a stretch of three back-nine bogeys in four holes derailed his progress and left him in joint eighth – a disappointing result, considering his starting position, but a valuable learning experience. By virtue of his top-10, he can try to keep rolling this week at the Shriners.
“I’m excited to get back at it,” Theegala said. “This makes me hungrier and hungrier.”
Also making an immediate impact was Cameron Young, the KFT graduate who got hot last summer, winning two in a row, to lock up his card. He tied for second. Hayden Buckley, Trey Mullinax and Seth Reeves also got their seasons off to solid starts with top-10s.
Only one current player, non-Tiger Woods division, could make nearly 45,000 fans tune into a live stream of a non-PGA Tour event.
But such is the appeal of Bryson DeChambeau, who ditched his Ryder Cup uniform for a polo and shorts as he took on the biggest hitters in the game at the Professional Long Driver’s Association World Championship in Nevada.
Already the longest driver on Tour, DeChambeau has been ratcheting up his training to see how he competes against the longest drivers in the world, period.
As it turns out, pretty well.
DeChambeau launched multiple drives over 400 yards and made a spirited run in the competition, eventually falling short in the quarterfinals. The event was won by his good friend and training partner Kyle Berkshire.
With ball speed north of an eye-popping 215 mph, DeChambeau earned the respect of not just his long-drive competitors but also his peers on Tour. It only makes us wish he’d turn up to a Tour event and let it rip like this, unencumbered, just to see what would happen. In Tour events, when there’s a larger penalty for errant misses, DeChambeau has strained to produce ball speed numbers around 200 mph. One week, at some C-level Tour event, just for the heck of it, go all-out, Bryson. It’d be must-see TV.
With the PGA Tour transitioning into its sleepy portion of the schedule, two big names sent a jolt through the caddie yard.
First, Justin Thomas lured Jim “Bones” Mackay back inside the ropes, after his successful stint as an on-course reporter for NBC Sports. On the surface it wasn’t a shocking move: They've teamed up before; Thomas’ longtime caddie, Jimmy Johnson, has endured some health issues the last few years; and Mackay has made no secret that he coveted a return to a high-profile bag. But it was still a sizable shakeup for the world No. 6.
Mackay and Phil Mickelson parted ways in 2017, and Bones has been a staple of tournament coverage since then, winning over viewers not just with his keen insights but also his enthusiasm for the sport and his less-is-more delivery. But as he told colleague Rex Hoggard about why he’s returning to the Tour: “It’s Justin Thomas.”
Thomas said on social media that he “100% didn’t fire” Johnson, who earlier this year was inducted into the Caddie Hall of Fame. It was a stellar run for both caddie and player, who first linked up during Thomas’ rookie season on Tour, in 2015. Since then, they have won a major, a Players and a FedExCup title together. But all good things ...
In other caddie news, Bubba Watson and caddie Ted Scott also announced they had gone their separate ways after 15 years together. Watson can be a mercurial player but he always could count on the steady presence of Scott. In a tweet, Watson said that Scott "deserves more credit than anyone can imagine" for their success together, which included two Masters victories.
Watson is coming off a season in which he finished 81st in the FedExCup, matching the worst end-of-season position of his career. He turns 43 next month.
At the Dunhill Links Championship, Danny Willett shook off two years of average form to win on the European Tour for the eighth time. Down to 170th in the world, it was Willett's first title since the 2019 BMW PGA.
Even more interesting was what happened just below him on the leaderboard.
Tyrrell Hatton, Shane Lowry and Tommy Fleetwood – mere days after getting shellacked at the Ryder Cup – put aside that disappointment and carded top-10 finishes, on a wildly different test on three links courses.
These are world-class players competing against weaker competition, obviously, but tip of the cap to these lads after what had to have been an emotionally and physically exhausting week at Whistling Straits.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Stout Stuff: Celine Boutier. With a final-round 63 at the ShopRite that matched her career low, Boutier posted a number early and watched as a series of notable challengers (Jin Young Ko, Inbee Park, Brooke Henderson) failed to match her mark. Following a singles win at the Solheim Cup, Boutier has looked unstoppable, winning a few weeks later on the Ladies European Tour before taking her talents to New Jersey.
Better Than the Last: Nick Watney. Using a one-time top-50 career money exemption, Watney tied for second at the Sanderson Farms and is already well on his way to maintaining status for next season. Last season was a tough go for the former top-10 player in the world – at one point he missed 18 consecutive cuts, failed to qualify for even the Korn Ferry Tour Finals and dropped outside the top 600 in the world. But he reunited with swing coach Butch Harmon and is seeing the dividends of his hard work. It’s good to see; Watney is a quality character.
See You in Augusta: Stewart Hagestad. His charmed existence might not play well with those who expect Mid-Am participants to be 9-to-5 grinders who hit balls during their lunch breaks, but there’s no denying Stew has big-time game. Now 30, Hagestad claimed his second U.S. Mid-Amateur title with a dominating victory over Mark Costanza that earned him a return trip to the Masters (as well as the U.S. Open). He’s living proof there’s life after 25.
Oh, Please: Shane Lowry. The Irishman, who went 1-2 in his Ryder Cup debut in what was a historic loss for the visitors, said that Patrick Cantlay “pissed me off a little bit” when Cantlay pumped up the crowd while Lowry was trying to line up a putt. That was ironic, seeing how Lowry himself said that he was intentionally keeping quiet on concessions because he was “just trying to annoy them and get in their heads as well.” Um ... should we tell him? It didn’t work.
Why Doesn’t This Ever Happen to Us?: Guido Migliozzi. You really have to hit a wild block to find the OB right of the Old Course’s 18th – there is the whole world to the left. Ah, but that’s exactly where Migliozzi’s drive was headed, bouncing up the road down the right side ... until a particularly fortuitous bounce put him back on the right side of the OB stakes and near the green. He took advantage, getting up and down for birdie to tie for 17th.
How Low Can You Go: Alejandro Del Rey. Carding a 14-under 58 at the Challenge Tour’s Swiss Challenge, Del Rey shot the best-ever score to par round on a major golf tour. Even crazier was that it was his best round of the week ... by 10! He shot rounds of 74-58-68-70 and tied for 10th, netting a measly €3,840. But at least he’s the new record holder?
The Wait Continues: Cameron Tringale. Entering the final round one shot off the lead as he looked for his Tour breakthrough, Tringale stalled out after a third-round 62. He managed just a 1-under Sunday (the worst round of anyone inside the top 15) and tumbled all the way outside the top 10, squandering yet another opportunity to earn his first Tour victory in what is now 311 career starts. He has banked nearly $14.5 million since turning pro in 2009 – the most of any player without a win.
You Love to See It: Harris English. Fresh off his side’s Ryder Cup victory, English returned to Athens to serve as the guest picker for "College Gameday," ahead of the Bulldogs’ top-10 tilt against Arkansas. With the glittering Ryder Cup trophy in front of him, English played along with Lee Corso and had a couple of bright moments – he successfully predicted Kentucky would upset Florida – and, of course, he nailed the biggest pick of them all, as Georgia stomped Arkansas, 37-0. That was a pleasing result not just to English but also this UGA alum.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Mito Pereira. OK, look, Burns won as the oddsmakers’ favorite. And Pereira didn’t bust, tying for 31st. Still, it wasn’t quite what we were expecting from this Tour hotshot who had three top-6s in his last five Tour starts. Better weeks are ahead. Sigh.