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Duel In Dublin

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After a lengthy run through Texas the PGA Tour emerges in Ohio this week with a riveting field set to face off at The Memorial Tournament.

Phil Mickelson made a great charge in the last few weeks, closing the gap on the lead of Tiger Woods in the Official World Golf Rankings, and accordingly, much attention will fall on the pair this week in Dublin.

This time last year Phil was dealing with family matters and in his absence Tiger shook down the Jack Nicklaus/Desmond Muirhead collaboration for a final round 65 and his 4th tournament title. That included what appeared to be an unprecedented performance by Woods that saw him hit 14 of 14 fairways on the tree-lined layout. (He had actually last hit the stat in 2003 at the Arnold Palmer Invitational) It was the first win in the tournament for him since his three year consecutive winning streak from 1999 through 2001.

Whether he can transform his driving from the poor display he had at Quail Hollow back to 2009 Memorial-like numbers is hard to fathom but the man who still holds World’s #1 ranking said in a press conference Wednesday prior to the Memorial Skins Game that he is ready to go.

“Life is moving forward. The last 6 months were pretty tough,” admitted Woods who looked relaxed, mixing in several self-effacing jokes with the media corps. “I’m now starting to get into a routine of playing.”

That included 54 holes in a single day over the weekend at Isleworth alongside Arjun Atwal.  “We played in carts..and fast.”

As for two of Tiger’s latest issues – his coaching separation and his neck injury Tiger revealed little on Wednesday other than that he has no plan of a replacement coach right now and he will continue to work with videotape to re-establish his swing. He is obviously still recovering form the neck injury, challenging one media member that he did not have to tell him how good or bad the neck currently is but asserted, “I’m good enough to play.”

With the U.S. Open on the horizon Tiger has his eyes on his 15th major win and the conditions at Muirfield Village, announced Wednesday as the host for the 2013 Presidents Cup, will provide great preparation. “It will be nice to get four rounds, get in contention and win this thing. I would like to see where my game is at going into the Open.”

And so will the rest of the field, many will be tangling with Woods at Pebble Beach later this month.

That includes a number of players that should garner close attention this week. Among them will be Rory McIlroy definite contender considering his win on a similar layout at the Quail Hollow Championship. It will be his first start at The Memorial so that might be the mark against him earning his 2nd PGA Tour win this week.

Only 2nd to Tiger in wins at The Memorial is Kenny Perry who returns for his 22nd appearance. In those showing he has 3 wins and 6 top-tens among his tally. He has made the cut in his last 16 trips to Muirfield Village.

The winner this week will have to be out on a favorites list for the U.S. Open in a few weeks. They will also have the luxury of earning just over $1,000,000 for the win – just enough to get them a nice room at The Lodge when they head to the Monterey Peninsula.

With many of the top players and the 2010 winners in the field this week, it should be a nice run to Sunday to see who can add a Gray Jacket to their wardrobe and a much-cherished tour title to their resume.

This report provided to GolfWRX.com by Flagstick Golf Magazine (www.flagstick.com)

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Can you believe it? Professor Xavier won the 2024 PGA Championship

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PGA Championship Sunday is a multi-tiered celebration. It begins with the identification of the top PGA professionals in the USA, and their naming to the USA side for the PGA Cup competition. This biennial event pits the best club professionals from Great Britain and Ireland, and the USA. Beginning with this year’s low PGA professional, Braden Shattuck, and his fellow cut-maker, Jeremy Wells, and concluding with last year’s darling, Michael Block, ten golfers were selected to represent the stars and bars at Sunriver Resort in Oregon.

The next bit of intrigue is a bit larger, in news terms. Who would hoist the Wannamaker Trophy, the largest of all the men’s major vessels, as the 2024 PGA Champion? Would it be a former major winner like DeChambeau, Lowry, or Morikawa? Or, would a first-timer prevail, perhaps with the last name of Hovland, Theegala, or Schauffele? After his third-round 73, we knew that the grand slam of golf would not happen in 2024 for Scottie Scheffler, but we admired his moxie.

For those architecture luddites who proclaim that if it ain’t Raynor, it ain’t golf, we hear you, but we don’t side with you. Major-championship golf needs courses like Valhalla, with odd, stone-lined, island greens, alongside forced carries over water. A little thick rough is all right, from time to time. Quail Hollow might have some rough in 2025, but there is no doubt that Aronimink in 2026, and PGA Frisco in 2027, will play lean, fast, and firm. Be patient; you’ll get what you crave.

Valhalla gave us all the drama we needed, waaaayyyyy more than we had at Augusta in April. This first-gen bloke from California made birdie on his first hole, to jump into a tie for the lead. This leader of mutant super heroes took the lead back, and held it for most of the day. Some muscular physicist entered the fray, alongside a fan of Norwegian death metal music. Let’s be honest: that’s quite a mixed bag, and could we ask for anything more? Nah. Here we go, then, with the one thing we learned on Sunday at the PGA Championship.

Sahith Theegala began the day with a longish putt for birdie on his first hole of the day. If he had stuffed his approach and made the same score, he might have made believers of us. As it was, that was the last hurrah for the young Californian. He gave the stroke back at number two, and failed to find any balance nor momentum on the day. Five bogeys and three birdies gave him 73 on the day, and he dropped from solo third to T12. There’s still a bit of learning on how to close a major championship for Theegala, but he has time.

On the other end of the spectrum, Shane Lowry figured to have the poise to make a run at a second major title. The pride of Ireland started well, standing minus-two through four holes. Unfortunately for Shamrock Shane, he didn’t make another birdie until the 14th hole. His 70 kept him inside the top six, but seven strokes off the winner’s pace.

Collin Morikawa and Thomas Detry each arrived at four-place-tie station on different horses. Morikawa began round four in a tie with Xander Schauffele, at minus-sixteen. Morikawa did not have his “A” game on this day, and his “B” game wasn’t good enough to keep him in contention. Detry bounced back from a Saturday 70 with 66 on day four. He moved up six spots on Sunday, almost as magnificent a jump as Billy Horschel, who climbed from 29th to 8th with 64. The T4 was a ringing success for Detry, his best major finish ever. For Morikawa, it was another gut punch, suggesting that his major wins in 2020 and 2021 were more fortune than fame.

Death Metal merchant Viktor Hovland came to the last hole at 19-under par. His game is built around power, and birdie should have been a possibility for the Norwegian nightmare. His drivefound the left side of the fairway, but his approach was more foozle than flame, and was fortunate to find the right tongue of fairway, short of the green. He pitched to 10 feet, but missed the putt for birdie. Knowing that the tournament was lost, he proceeded to miss from three feet and finished in solo third. If there was one bit of consolation, the missed tap-in mattered not at all in the final tally.

Bryson DeChambeau made his bed when he defected from the PGA Tour in 2023. Like Hovland, he challenged for the 2023 PGA Championship in Rochester, at storied Oak Hill, before ultimately offering a golf clap for winner Brooks Koepka. DeChambeau did everything that one might do on Sunday, save win the tournament. Unlike the other contenders, the 2020 US Open winner signed for a clean card on day four. His seven-birdie 64 was the day’s low round, matched by the aforementioned Billy Horschel, and England’s Jordan Smith. Knowing that he had to make a 72nd-hole birdie to pressure the leader, DeChambeau hit a marvelous pitch from thick rough, to ten feet. Unlike Hovland, he converted the birdie and went to the scorer’s pavillion at 20-deep. Only a birdie from the final pairing could ruin his day.

Xander Schauffele, along with the other Olympic gold medal winners, gets a major win from this writer. Olympic Gold is akin to immortality. From his peers and from the rest of the media, it may not count quite so high. Affirmation comes from winning one of the four big ones. The men’s tours have the fewest major events, so their value escalates. Schauffele had come close before, and two weeks ago, he faded against Rory McIlroy in the final round at Quail Hollow (next year’s PGA Championship site, doncha know?!)

On Sunday, Schauffele was a lion. He made seven birdies on the day, and survived a bogey at the benign tenth, a straightforward par-five hole. He followed the bogey with a pair of birdies, to reclaim the lead. It wasn’t until DeChambeau made birdie at the last, that the outcome was in doubt. With gravel in his belly, a boy named Xander rose up and kept his ball dry at the last. He pitched to six feet, and rammed the winning putt into the back of the hole. In a flash, all the unwanted finishes washed away: Xander Schauffele was, finally, the owner of a grand slam tournament title.

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Five Things We Learned: Saturday at the PGA Championship

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Moving Day is a term applied to round three of a four-round tournament. It suggests that competitors need a solid or spectacular round on Saturday, in order to position themselves for potential Sunday victory. Among the favorites in contention after 36 holes, only Scottie Scheffler fell out of contention. The Texan suffered a par-double-bogey-bogey start, and could not recover. Three more bogeys damaged his score even more. Scheffler begins day four at seven-under par, eight shots behind the leaders.

As for those leaders, it’s a familiar pair, and we’ll get to them. We saw Justin Rose return to major-championship contention for the first time in a while. He’ll need 63 on Sunday to matter, but it’s still good to see the two-time major winner (Olympic Gold counts!) in the mix. Bryson DeChambeau carried the LIV flag into the day-four conversation, and with a low 60s score, he’ll have a chance at a second major title. Even the home-state feloow, Justin Thomas, found a way to matter. He’s on the outside, looking in, but a 60 is not inconceivable, and 11-under would certainly win the day, if not the week.

1. Xander holds the lead

There’s a burden that comes with posting a score of 62. Media, fans, and even the player hope and even expect to see it again. Xander Schauffele wasn’t on track to repeat that number of Saturday, but he stood in the middle of the 15th fairway and thought about how low he could go. Three-under par on the day, coming off birdie at 14, with a pitch to the green, and he went for the flag and missed.

Schauffele made an unanticipated mistake and it cost him two shots. His most immediate competitor was in his group and made birdie, retrieving three shots in one hole. That’s the sort of moment that goes down in history as a gut check. Schauffele’s gut responded. He leveled the wings with par at 16, then closed with birdies at 17 and 18, to returne to 15-under par. The X Man will tee off again in the final pairing, and take a run at his first major title. The fifteenth hole might loom large again in the outcome; hopefully, a lesson has been learned!

2. Morikawa can taste another PGA

For two years, Collin Morikawa was that guy. He won this tournament in 2020, then collected the Open Championship jug at Sandwich in 2021. Win two majors, and everyone heads down the career grand slam discussion. Three years on, Morikawa has the same number of majors on his dossier, and two more professional wins to show. He’s probably antsy for another major.

The California native stumbled early on Saturday. He made bogey at the two-shot second hole, then dug in with everything he had. A birdie at three balanced the card, and four more came his way. None was bigger than the three that he made at the 15th, as the leader was making double bogey in his group! Morikawa took a one-shot lead there, then closed with birdie at the last to reach Sunday morning tied at the top with Xander Schauffele.

Sunday will fill with drama, but it won’t involve just that grouping. When Morikawa tees off at 2:35 Louisville time, a move will have been made. Someone close by (one at -14, three at -13, two at -12) will be a few under par, and the thermometer will have risen. Our guess, simply, is that Morikawa will need 66 to win outright on Sunday. 20-under par should get it done, and to go down as one of the greats, he’ll need to be great.

3. Shane shares PGA record

Shane Lowry goes down as one of the most popular major champions of this era. His Open Championship win at Royal Portrush in 2019 kicked off a massive celebration of Irish pride and delight. Lowry hasn’t added to that major total of one, but the cask-chested, smile-and-a-beard doesn’t need to. He’s the sort who can take a two-man win, as he had this season with Rory McIlroy in New Orleans, and elevate its worth. He’s the sort who anchors an international side, as he does every two years in the Ryder Cup.

This week in Kentucky is different. Lowry has the chance to keep the hot hand and claim a second major title. These opportunities don’t come around that often. Lowry was fire on Saturday. He posted the first, sub-thirty nine of the tournament on the outward half. HIs six birdies and three pars gave him 29, and he looked for all the world to be the man to chase. The inward half wasn’t quite as volcanic, but the card was clean, and he came home in 33. His score matched Schauffele’s opening round, for the all-time low, 18-hole score, in PGA Championship history.

What’s to do? Make putts early. Find a way to get back in the zone and ride that spaceship to the final green. Lowry most likely needs to finish Saturday in 65 strokes or fewer, and posting 127 on a major championship weekend is unheard of. That’s why they play, though, isn’t it? Why not Shane, why not today?

4. Theegala lost, then found

As far as I was concerned, Sahith Theegala was yesterday’s news. Consecutive bogeys at five and six, supported by zero birdies through eight holes, destined him for the also-ran section of the leader board. I was frightfully incorrect.

Theegala found some inspiration at the ninth tee. Maybe it was a kick in the arse by his caddie, or by him, but a flame ignited. Theegals made the first of six birdies at the outward home hole, and posted 31 coming home. Birdie at the final hole ensured that he would tee off in Sunday’s penultimate group, with Shane Lowry.

It is often written that all should be wary of the wounded, as they fight for survival. Theegala dislocated a rib two weeks ago, at Quail Hollow. This week, he has been under the weather with some bug. With his mind focused on health, rather than score, he has done quite well. If he stays that course, one last round, he might have to do a heavy lift on Sunday, with the Wannamaker trophy in his hands.

5. The Prediction!

Despite all the kind words I’ve written about the aforementioned four gentlemen, none of them will exit Louisville with the happiest of visages. The winner, however, will not let us down in the smiles department. Viktor Hovland teed off in the final pairing last year, at Oak Hill, and had a front-row seat in the Koepka Koaster, as Brooks Koepka showed the Norwegian how to win a major championship. Rest assured that Hovland took copious notes. His frustration at a Masters missed cut in April has been channeled into his performance this week.

What will go down? Hovland will have at least one holed shot from off the green on Sunday’s outward nine. He’ll find a groove and the putter will warm up quickly. Hovland will sign for the third 62 of the week, but will have to wait as each of the final four golfers has a chance to tie at the final hole. One will, and they will head to a play-off, where Hovland will emerge in overtime.

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Five Things We Learned: Friday at the PGA Championship

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Early on Friday morning, a vendor working for the PGA Championship was struck and killed by a tournament shuttle bus. Nearly at the same time, as he arrived for his second round of tournament play, Scottie Scheffler attempted to detour around the scene, and was arrested, booked, then released. Somehow, Scheffler returned to Valhalla and played his second round of the tournament. Despite the jokes and memes of some in the golf industry, the tournament took a back seat to life and humanity on Friday morning. Our prayers are with the family and friends of the vendor, as well as with all involved.

Day two of Valhalla’s fourth PGA Championship did not see a repeat of the record-setting 62 posted by first-day leader, Xander Schauffele. The low card of 65 was returned by five golfers, when play was suspended by darkness. Five golfers still on the course, were on the positive side of the expected cut line of one-under par, while 12 more either had work to do, or knew that their week had come to an end.

The best 70 golfers and ties would advance to the weekend. 64 golfers figured at minus-two on Friday evening, with another 15 at one-under par. The most likely scenario saw those at even par, headed home. The formula was simple: finish under par and stick around. Play resumed at 7:15 on Saturday, to sort through the last six threesomes. Before the night turned over, we learned five important things to set us up for a weekend of excitement and excellence. It’s a pleasure to share them with you.

1. The 65s

On Thursday, three golfers etched 65 into the final box on their card of play. On Friday, nearly twice that number finished at six-under par for the round. Collin Morikawa moved from top-five into a spot in the final pairing. The 2020 PGA Champion at Harding Park teed off at the tenth hole, and turned in minus-two. He then ran off five consecutive birdies from the fourth tee to the eighth green, before finding trouble at the ninth, his last hole of the day. Bogey at nine dropped him from -12 to -11.

The same score moved Bryson DeChambeau from 11th spot to T4. Joining the pair with 65s on day two were Matt Wallace and Hideki Matsuyama (each with 70-65 for T11) and Lee Hodges (71-65 for T16.) Morikawa, Matsuyama, and DeChambeau have major championship wins in their names, while Wallace has been on the when to break through list his entire career. Hodges epitomizes the term journeyman, bu the PGA Championship is the one major of them all when lesser-known challegers find a way to break through.

2. The Corebridge team of PGA Professionals

Last year’s Cinderella story, Michael Block, did not repeat his Oak Hill success. Block missed the cut by a fair amount. Of the other 19, however, two were poised to conclude play and reach the weekend’s play. Braden Shattuck had finished at one-under par, while Jeremy Wells (-2) and Ben Polland (-1) were inside the glory line, each with two holes to play.

With three holes to play on the front nine, Kyle Mendoza sits at even par. His task is simple: play the final triumvirate in one-under par or better. If Mendoza can pull off that feat, and if the aforementioned triumvirate can hold steady, the club professional segment of the tournament will have four representatives in play over the weekend.

3. Scottie Scheffler

In his post-round interview, Scheffler admitted that his second round, following the surreal nature of the early morning’s events, was made possible by the support he received from patrons and fellow competitors. The new father expressed his great sadness for the loss of life, and also praised some of the first responders that had accompanied him in the journey from course to jail cell. Yes, jail cell. Scheffler spoke of beginning his warm-up routine with jail-house stretches.

Once he returned to Valhalla, Scheffler found a way to a two-under, opening nine holes. He began birdie-bogey-birdie on holes ten through twelve, then eased into a stretch of pars, before making birdie at the par-five 18th. His second nine holes featured three birdies and six pars, allowing him to improve by one shot from day one. Scheffler found himself in a fourth-place tie with Thomas Detry, and third-round tee time in the third-last pairing. Scheffler’s poise illustrated grace under pressure, which is the only way that he could have reached this status through 36 holes.

4. Sahith!

It’s a little bit funny that the fellow who followed 65 with 67, is nowhere to be found on the video highlight reels. He’s not alone in that respect, as Thomas Detry (T4) was also ignored by the cameras. Theegala has won on tour, and has the game to win again. The Californian turned in four-under par on Friday, then made an excruciating bogey at the par-five tenth. He redeemed himself two holes later, with birdie at the twelfth hole.

Theegala is an unproven commodity in major events. He has one top-ten finish: the 2023 Masters saw him finish 9th. He did tie for 40th in 2023, in this event, at Oak Hill. Is he likely to be around on Sunday? Yes. Will he be inside the top ten? If he is, he has a shot on Sunday. If Saturday is not a 67 or better, Theegala will not figure in the outcome of the 2024 championship.

5. X Man!!

After the fireworks of day one, Xander Schauffele preserved his lead at the 2024 PGA Championship. He holds a one-shot advantage and will tee off in the final pairing on Saturday, with Collin Morikawa. Eleven holes into round two, Schauffele made his first bogey of the week. The stumble stalled his momentum, as he had played the first ten holes in minus-four. Will the run of seven pars at the end signal a negative turn in the tide of play for Schauffele? We’ll find out on day three. One thing is for sure: minus twelve will not win this tournament. Schauffele will likely need to reach twenty under par over the next two days, to win his first major title.

 

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