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5 things we learned Friday at the U.S. Women’s Open

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Day two is cut day, and the weather made that feat even more…of a feat. Tee sheets were bumped up 80 minutes, to avoid the incoming, ominous storm. The weather did arrive, but not before the #WomenWorthWatching had finished for the day.

The weird weather brought some weird outcomes. No one would have laid any odds for this little option: two of the three golfers in Saturday’s final group will be amateurs, AND neither one will be named Zhang or Ruffels (more on that later.) Much like the Masters in November, this Open in December has delivered much oddity. That should make the weekend a blast, so strap in, get your Peacock and your Golf Channel on, and #WatchWomenWork.

Here are the five things that we learned on day two of the 75th USGA Women’s Open golf championship.

1. Turn around…every now and then I fall apart

Day two offers who collapsed after opening strong, and who turned a missed cut into two more rounds. Let’s begin with the collapses so that we end on a high note (which means, a low-score note.) Pobre Nuria Iturrioz. The Spaniard opened with 71, then crashed to a three-double, four-bogey 80. She missed the cut by those three double bogeys or any other combination you wish to order. Germany’s Caroline Masson went 71-78 and is on a plane to somewhere happy. One of my favorites, Sung Hyun Park, went 70-78 and said later. Local heroine Gerina Piller, a Texas girl through and through, added ten strokes to her opening 69 and, well, you know the denouement.

Let’s get to the happy, already! Topping the charts on this Friday in December is the USA’s Jennifer Song. Dead in the water after opening plus-six, Song rewrote the melody and signed for 68 today. She made the cut on the number. What’s even more amazing is, she made bogey at the second hole to go to plus-seven, before grinding out four birdies and 12 pars the rest of the way. In the words of Hee-Haw, Salute! Joining Song on the Never-Give-Up podium were Eri Okayama (76-69), Kana Mikashima (75-69) and Seon Woo Bae (75-68.) For all you kids out there, do try this at home.

2. Who else missed the cut?

In the Biggest-Name category, we have Nelly Korda, by one rotten chip (or putt, or drive.) In the Tallest-Name category, we have Lexi Thompson. Not even Bryson DeChambeau’s caddie could help Flexy Lexi, who missed the weekend by two of those rottens. In the Youngest-Name category, we nominate Rose Zhang. The ingenue with the stellar resume was never bad, but her twin 73s left her one shot adrift on the seas of not coming back. Georgia Hall opened with 81, and fought valiantly on day two with 68, but Saturday was never really in her plans, sadly.

3. Let’s talk about Hinako Shibuno

Shibuno is the 2019 British Open champion and came out of nowhere to win that title. She then returned to nowhere but decided to venture forth again to play in her first U.S. Open. So far, the decision looks to be a good one. Shibuno has ten birdies over two days, and has kept the bogeys to three. The USGA doesn’t do statistics like, say, the LPGA tour, so we can’t really tell you how Shibuno drove, putted, approached, and recovered. Suffice it to say, the 22-year old played great. She had every opportunity to collapse at Woburn in 2019, but she would not go away. Something tells me, she ain’t going nowhere nowhere, she ain’t going nowhere, uh-UH!

4. Let’s talk about playing for no money

That’s right. In second place sits Linn Grant of Sweden and Arizona State. She finds herself three back of Shibuno, after twin 69s. Grant has been near the top of a U.S. Open before, with less than ideal results. Her education at Shoal Creek two years ago should serve her well on Saturday. Joining her in the final pairing is Kaitlyn Papp, of the USA, Texas, and the University of Texas. After in-state favorites like Kristen Gillman, Angela Stanford, and Gerina Piller missed the cut, Papp ascended to favorite-daughter status with the snap of two fingers. In all, one-quarter of the 24 amateurs in the field made the cut, but will one of them be able to pull a Jenny Chuasiriporn (look her up) and tie for first place? Tune in Saturday!

5. Tee times to watch

It’s a given that we’ll be all over that final trio to see if Shibuno can move toward a second major title…and to see if either or both amateur(s) make(s) good on their/her promise. That group departs the first tee just after 11:35. The Jutanugarn sisters (is this a first in Open history?) match with Stacy Lewis, Team USA stalwart and super mom, and they might push each other all the way to top billing on Saturday night. That triumvirate tees off the first hole at 11:03. Finally, I stand by my prediction of a low number from Danielle Kang. She is paired with super-am Gabriela Ruffels (US Am champ in 2019, runner-up in 2020) and Jin Young Ko.

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Ronald Montesano writes for GolfWRX.com from western New York. He dabbles in coaching golf and teaching Spanish, in addition to scribbling columns on all aspects of golf, from apparel to architecture, from equipment to travel. Follow Ronald on Twitter at @buffalogolfer.

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Tour Rundown: Higgo crosses pond to claim initial PGA Tour title, Castren latest to claim first LPGA win

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This particular weekend was unique, sandwiched between two U.S. Open championships, and it was filled with events. There was much newness across the tournament board as the PGA Tour visited a new venue in South Carolina. The European Tour matched women and men in one event in Sweden, and the Forme Tour held its final qualifying school in anticipation of its season opener in two weeks.

June is a popular month for weddings, so the something new is, well, nothing new. On those notes, let’s track down what we know and what we learned in this week’s Tour Rundown on GolfWRX.

PGA Tour: Higgo crosses pond to claim initial Tour title

Last week, we watched helplessly as Lexi Thompson gave up a lead in her stretch run at the U.S. Women’s Open. This week, we had more of the same at the inaugural Palmetto Championship. Chesson Hadley came back in the morning for two shots in his delayed third round but took three. After hitting a marvelous approach into the last, he missed a wee birdie attempt and signed for par. Ominous? Sure, if you believe in portends and things of that ilk.

Hadley began the fourth round with a four-shot advantage, but the day’s play was never consistent for him. Two bogeys and a birdie had him out in plus one, and another bogey at 10 took him higher. He rebounded two holes later with birdie at twelve and, had he remained at that figure, would have won his first Tour event since 2014. Instead, golf scratched at him slowly and painfully. Hadley approached poorly to each of the final three greens, missed them all, and recovered not once. His three lost strokes brought him back to minus-10, tied with five others for second position.

In the winner’s circle, courtesy of a closing 68, was 22-year-old Garrick Higgo of South Africa. His score wasn’t the lowest on the day; that number came from Ryan Armour and Will Gordon, both shooting 64 to shoot into the top 15. What Higgo did was hold the rudder steady. He, Doc Redman, and Tyrrell Hatton were the only leaders to not make a bogey down the stretch. Fortunately for Higgo, he had one more stroke to spare at the end and emerged victorious. Countryman Wilco Nienaber might have garnered attention early on with his prodigious drives, but in the end, it was Higgo. How unlikely? No media footage on the PGA Tour Twitter feed of the lad!

European Tour: Caldwell edges Otaegui and Hewson in Sweden 

The hands-down winner for best format goes to the Scandinavian Mixed Hosted by Henrik and Annika. There may have been an ampersand in there, but we didn’t want to risk it. The two Swedish greats teamed up to host a creative event that pitted women and men at the Vallda Club in Gothenburg. Sam Horsfield of England and Christine Wolf of Austria jumped out to the opening-round lead at 64, intimating that players from both tours would contend in the event. Unfortunately for Sam and Christine, it would not be them. Wolf went 72-73-74 for a t37 finish, while Horsfield followed his 64 with 74-72-71 for a t25 placing.

On day four, Australia’s Jason Scrivener jumped up to the lead, then closed with a bogey and two doubles in his final eight holes, for a T7 result. Adrian Otaegui of Spain was excruciatingly close all day, until bogey at the last dropped him out of the lead. He finished at -16, in solo second. Alice Hewson began day four in a tie for first, but rode a front-nine 3-3-3 of pars-bogies-birdies out of the top spot. She snapped around and closed with a back-nine 33 to finish at -15, two shots out of a playoff, in third alone.

The week’s honors went to Northern Ireland’s Jonathan Caldwell. The 37-year old stood eight-under on the day, in first spot, through 14 holes. Deciding to add to the day’s drama, he finished bogey-birdie-bogey-birdie, with his three at the last gaining two shots on Otaegui, propelling him to a career-first win on the European Tour. Prior to this week, the lad from Bangor had not finished higher than fifth in his career.

LPGA: Castren latest to claim first title

Celine Boutier posted an early 64 on Sunday at Lake Merced, and jumped up 34 spots in the standings as a result. Her electric performance served notice that mid-60s rounds were available to those who dared to risk all. Matilda Castren of Finland took notice, and torched the front nine in 30 strokes, thanks to four birdies and an eagle. When it seemed that the young Fin would run away from pursuers, she settled into an eight-par stretch, allowing overnight leader Min Lee an opportunity to give chase.

Lee had turned in one-under 35, but birdies at 10 and 15 brought her within one slice of Castren. On the 17th hole, a tricky par three, Lee faltered with bogey. Although she made birdie at the last to post 69, Castren was able to match that score at 18, and finish off a stellar 65. The win moved Castren inside the top 25 in the Race to CME Globe season-long chase. A bit down the money list, but of no less importance, Lydia Ko assumed the top spot in the season-long race for the first time in five seasons. With her win, Castren became the #FirstFinLPGA champion in history.

Korn Ferry Tour: Pereira by four at the BMW Charity Pro-Am

Interstate 85 runs past Greer, South Carolina, home to BMW in the USA. There’s no test track on site at the plant, but if you listen closely, you hear engines roar down 85, past Greenville. On Sunday, a Chilean import driving a Pereira raced past 54-hole leader Justin Lower, on his way to a four-shot victory.

Pereira tallied nine birdies on the day, enough to offset his two bogies. Lower was stuck somewhere between neutral and park, and did well to count even-par 71 on Sunday. That number was enough to keep him in solo second position, but he was helpless to stop the South American’s acceleration. The 64 wasn’t even the low round of the week for the man from the thin land, as he signed for 63 on Friday. As they (or I) say, a 64 on Sunday is equal to a 60 on Thursday. Doesn’t account for Friday, but who cares?

The victory was Pereira’s second in a row (shades of Cameron Young!) and will vault the 26-year old into the top spot of The 25, if only for a time. Why? BMW was his third victory of the 2020-2021 extended season, and triggered an instant promotion to the PGA Tour.

 

PGA Champions: Kelly storms back to edge Jiménez

The unfortunate part of senior tours is the window of winning opportunities. We grow accustomed to names atop the leader board, but Father Time eventually catches them all. For two days this week, Miguel Angel Jiménez shouldered the lead at the American Family Insurance Championship. On day three, homestate hero Jerry Kelly rode a horse called 66 into town, and galloped off with the sheriff’s badge.

Jiménez played fine golf on Sunday in Madison. His card was clean, with three birdies for 69. His problem was the 11-hole string of par, from seven through seventeen. Birdie at the last elevated him from a tie for third, to a tie for second with Fred Couples, but did no more to add to his Rioja cellar. The day belonged to Kelly, although the first hole might disagree.

The lad from Madison, began with bogey at the first, courtesy of never seeing the fairway between tee and green. He settled in to seven birdies over the next seventeen holes, with the final one arriving at the 16th hole. By then, he had eased past the Spaniard into first place. Pars at the final two holes ensured his seventh win on Tour Champions. Couples had a putt at the last to force extra holes, but it stayed on the high side.

 

Forme Tour: Davison by two over Du Toit in final Q-School

We might jump the gun with this one, but it’s worth alerting readers to the imminent arrival of the Forme Tour. Billed as the stateside counterpart to the Mackenzie Tour, the Forme Tour will serve as competition ground for PGA Tour Canada players who are unable to cross the USA-Canada border, currently closed to non-essential workers. Seven qualifying schools were held at eastern and western USA sites. Eight events will be held from June through September, culminating in a tour championship in New Jersey.

This week, at The Home Course near Tacoma, Washington, Callum Davison and Jared Du Toit battled throughout the entire, 72-hole event. Each golfer birdied hole 70, and Davison followed up with another at hole 71, to reach 13-under par. Du Toit stumbled with a bogey to drop back to minus-eleven. Both made par at the final hole, with Davison claiming medalist honors. Both golfers will compete in two weeks in Georgia, at the Forme Tour’s first official event.

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 2021 Palmetto Championship at Congaree

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GolfWRX is live from Congaree Golf Club for the Palmetto Championship. This one-time replacement for the RBC Canadian Open is the third PGA Tour event contested in South Carolina this season.

Palmetto State native Dustin Johnson headlines the field (and has been doing plenty of putter testing). Brooks Koepka and Jason Dufner will be teeing it up as well. John Pak and Davis Thompson will both be making their professional debuts.

General galleries

Tuesday

Wednesday

Special galleries

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Tour News

John Pak, college golf’s top player, signs with TaylorMade

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Editor’s note: We filed this piece for PGATour.com’s Equipment Report.

With a buddy on the bag and fresh off receiving the Jack Nicklaus Award in Columbus, Ohio, on Sunday, celebrated amateur and Florida State standout John Pak is making his professional debut at this week’s Palmetto Championship at Congaree — and he’ll do so as a TaylorMade staffer, the company announced today.

College golf’s top player, Pak has played TaylorMade gear and a Titleist ball since his amateur days. And as we found out from Ryan Ressa, TaylorMade’s player development manager, who has worked with Pak since he was in his early teens, it’s not surprising Pak will continue with the same bag setup and ball combination as he joins the professional ranks.

The Scotch Plains, New Jersey, native is an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” kind of guy when it comes to his equipment, which is a trait Ressa sees among many of the game’s best. (Another TaylorMade staffer Tiger Woods, for one, comes to mind).

Ressa and TaylorMade have had a relationship with Pak for nearly a decade, and it’s Ressa’s job to not only make sure Pak is in the right equipment for his game but is also navigating the matrix of amateur competitions, college, and the decision to turn pro successfully.

According to Ressa, Pak, and other junior standouts, need new equipment, or at least a fitting, roughly every six months as their bodies and swings change.

Even so, while he’s transitioned into new fairway wood models as they’ve become available, the DNA of Pak’s bag has stayed largely the same.

“Jon is a very simple guy when it comes to equipment, and he doesn’t do a lot of tinkering outside of driver shafts,” Ressa said. “Deep down, he’s a great competitor. He just loves to compete and is focused on getting the ball in the hole. He’s stayed really, really consistent with the look of his irons, the loft of his wedges, and his bag setup. He’s been easy to work with and only needs one or two visits per year to get squared away.”

Read the full piece here.

Check out the full WITB here. 

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