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

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We learned that 2020 was as kind to the the golfers at Champions Golf Club, as it was to the rest of humanity. We learned that sadism still has a place on the tournament set-up committee of the USGA. We learned that there is little to no hope of the fourth round finishing on schedule on Sunday. All in all, December in Houston is proving to be little better than July in Houston, just the opposite end of the weather spectrum.

It was a rough go on Saturday for the world’s finest female golfers. Just two golfers broke par on the day, and it’s a certainty that the high-ringer score would be much more impactful than the low one. In fact, two holes (1 and 15) recorded zero birdies on the day. It’s almost humorous that Chella Choi had an ace at the 180-yard 12th. That there was even one moment of perfection on such a foul day, is little consolation.

We did learn five things on this Saturday of the 75th U.S. Women’s Open, and here they are.

1. Ji Yeong Kim2 posted a round for the ages

Four birdies. Zero bogies. Fourteen Pars. The only things that Ji Yeong Kim2 didn’t do on Saturday were win the tournament (that chance comes tomorrow) and birdie 1 or 15 (no one else did, either.) To make complete sense of her round, is impossible. To understand its value, consider that Kim started the day on the other side of the draw, the one that teed off on the back nine. At dawn, there were 33 golfers ahead of her. At dusk, only two. Kim2 is tied with Moriya Jutanugarn for 3rd place, two back of Amy Olson (second place) and three behind third-round leader Hinako Shibuno. Hae Ran Ryu was the only other golfer to shoot below par on Saturday, and she managed just one stroke below the dais.

2. How about them amateurs?

There are still three amateurs inside the top 15, a tremendous feat. One of them is not Linn Grant. For the second time in her young career, Grant entered the final 36 holes with a chance at victory. For the second time in her young career, Grand shot herself out of contention, with a woeful day-three showing. In complete contrast, Kaitlyn Papp maintained a semblance of composure, returning only three strokes to Old Lady Par. She rests in a tie for 5th, just four shots out of first. Sweden’s duo of Maja “House of” Stark and Ingrid Lindblad sit tied for 15th at +2. They won’t win on Sunday, but one of them could claim low amateur, should Papp falter.

3. Hinako Shibuno preserved her lead, just barely

Hinako Shibuno was unable to increase her three-shot advantage on Saturday. In fact, the Cypress Creek course took most of it back. Shibuno made three bogies and one birdie on day three, moving to four-deep, just one shot ahead of North Dakota’s Amy Olson, the day-one leader. After making 10 birdies over the first two days, Shibuno showed that she can hold on when the well dries up. Another 74 might be enough to win tomorrow. It would keep her under par for the week, but I don’t think that it will get the job done. Shibuno will have to be sharper to claim a second career major title.

4. The golf course got away again

It’s not Shinnecock Hills yet, but it might be by tomorrow. The sayers of the USGA had to have an idea that weather would play a role in the event. What were they thinking, that 1974 Winged Foot was a nice throwback? That bogey golf would keep viewer interest up in December? The USGA had an opportunity to showcase women’s golf at a time of year when it is an afterthought, and failed miserably. Let’s hope that the Olympic Club in 2021 offers a manageable set-up, or at least a plan B. After all, Olympic has a proven record of providing awkward event conclusions.

5. Prediction time

It’s a super-safe bet that Danielle Kang will not call me anytime soon to be her life coach. My unwavering support ends today, after Kang super-struggled to a 79. What I do know is this: there is no clear favorite to win on Sunday, but there are so many players for whom a victory would represent a lifetime achievement. There’s Lydia Ko, trying to regain her teenaged dominance. How about Moriya Jutanugarn, who would love to step clear of her sister’s long shadow? Amy Olson, for one, who has been here before and misfired, and would love to put those memories away in a closet. I’ll take Yealimi Noh for the win, however. Noh played well last week at the VOA, and will have enough good shots and putts left to hold on while the golfers around her falter.

 

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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.

4 Comments

4 Comments

  1. Ethan

    Dec 13, 2020 at 1:24 am

    Questionable takes.

    4: The idea that golf should be showcased with -16 or more under par over four round courses or else its a failure is a sad idea of golf. The ability to overcome hard golf courses and post the lowest score should be celebrated.

    The men’s US Open this year was hyped up of people waiting to see people face a difficult course and for scores to be high. The LPGA and USGA should not be criticized differently.

    5: Kang is 1st in the CME race and 3rd on the money list year. Support should stay strong.

  2. Nick

    Dec 12, 2020 at 10:54 pm

    I don’t know if the course got away from them. Cypress is a long, hard golf course. The USGA does not play preferred lies, so everyone has to play the same course. I’m pretty sure Jackie Burke would tell the players to suck it up and go play.

    • Ronald Montesano

      Dec 15, 2020 at 11:09 pm

      I’m not certain that “preferred lies” has anything to do with everyone playing the same course. The rules of golf dislike LCP because there are no mud balls on sand-based courses. Golf on farmland is a different animal, so not playing LCP actually made Saturday more random and less like playing the same course. Does that make sense?

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Tour Photo Galleries

Photos from the 3M Open

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GolfWRX is live from the 3M Open in Blaine, Minnesota.

In addition to 13 general galleries from the range and putting green at TPC Twin Cities, we have in-hand shots of TaylorMade’s new MG3 wedge and 300 Mini Driver. Additionally, we have a look at Mizuno’s new Pro 225 iron and plenty of “new and/or interesting” in the putter and putter cover department.

Check out links to all of our photos below!

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3M Open betting tips and selections

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Welcome to the first week of a new installment of betting tips from Andy Lack, staff writer and host of the Pick of the Pup Golf Show, a weekly golf betting podcast.

We’ll kick things off with the 3M Open. The PGA Tour travels to the TPC Twin Cities this week in Blaine, Minnesota, a course known for its generous fairways and an abundance of water hazards. That’s right, water comes into play on 14 holes on TPC Twin Cities, so avoiding big numbers and still taking advantage of scorable opportunities will be of paramount importance.

Let’s dig into my outright selections.

Bubba Watson (35-1, DraftKings)

The 12-time PGA Tour winner is quietly putting together a run of some incredibly impressive golf. Watson has now made seven cuts in a row, with four top-20s, including a contending performance at the Travelers, and a sixth-place finish at the Rocket Mortgage.

The main reason for optimism is the return of his approach play. Watson gained 5.3 strokes on approach in his most recent start, good for his best iron week since October. Iron play has proven to be paramount at TPC Twin Cities, with top-10 finishers gaining an average of 4.5 strokes on approach across two editions.

35-1 is a fair number on the two-time Masters champion, who is trending positively in the ball-striking department.

Emiliano Grillo (40-1, William Hill)

Emiliano Grillo fits a similar profile of Watson, a ball-striking extraordinaire who has shown recent top-end ability on approach. Over his last 36 rounds, the former Frys.com Open champion ranks second in strokes gained approach, ninth in proximity from 200 yards plus, and third in birdies or better. In my cumulative ranking of approach stats, Grillo laps the field as the best iron player teeing it up this week.

As is always the case with Argentina native, the putter is a concern, yet Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa may have shown Grillo the roadmap by finishing first and second here with nuclear irons and a field average putter.

Keegan Bradley (50-1, BetMGM)

While Grillo might slightly outpace Keegan Bradley in iron play, the former PGA champion is not far behind. Over his last 36 rounds, Bradley ranks third in strokes gained approach, fifth in proximity from 200 yards plus, and third in opportunities gained.

Prior to the Open, where he missed the cut by a stroke, Bradley gained 5.5 strokes on approach at the Rocket Mortgage, and 4.3 at the Travelers in his prior two starts. The Vermont native has lost strokes on approach just once this season.

Bradley has a bankable skill-set I can trust, and 50-1 feels a fair price in a field lacking an abundance of elite talent.

Doug Ghim (66-1, BetMGM)

Find a narrative. Stick with it. I’m selecting the best iron players in this field and praying that one of them putts well. One of them has to right?

Over his last 36 rounds, Ghim ranks fourth in strokes gained approach, first in proximity from 175-200 yards, and first in greens in regulation gained. The University of Texas product was a highly touted amateur who feels primed for a breakthrough on a larger stage.

The irons have been elite from day one, and we’ve seen slow, yet progressive improvements with his driver and putter. I’m willing to bet this is the week it all clicks.

Jhonattan Vegas (70-1, DraftKings)

While Vegas is known more-so for his off the tee prowess than his iron play, I have a hard time passing up on the big-hitting Venezuelan on a wide open track where he can really let the driver loose.

Over his last 36 rounds, Vegas ranks 22nd in birdies or better gained, ninth in greens in regulation gained, and fourth in driving distance. While he may not possess the same approach chops as Grillo, Bradley, or Ghim, Vegas’ irons are certainly trending in that direction.

The three-time PGA Tour winner has gained over 3.5 strokes on approach in three consecutive starts. Sign me up.

Scott Stallings (150-1, BetMGM)

This feels like a big number for Scott Stallings, who was 70-1 just a week ago at the John Deere Classic, and a popular selection at that.

While the 55th-place finish at the John Deere might have disappointed some, his ball-striking remained solid and he simply couldn’t buy a putt. Stallings has gained strokes off the tee and on approach in three consecutive starts.

Unlike some of my other selections, the three-time PGA Tour winner carries a more reliable putter as well. Stallings’ position on the betting board had the biggest discrepancy from my numbers. This was a must-bet for me.

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Morikawa solves Royal St. George’s for 2021 Open Championship title

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It’s known that Ian Fleming wrote a great bit of his James Bond series of tales from a cottage near Royal St. George’s, in Sandwich, England. It’s less known that the selected site for the pivotal match between Bond the hero and Auric Goldfinger the villain, took place at a renamed RSG. Fleming christened his links Royal St. Mark’s. Finally, on a sad note, the elected club captain Fleming passed away mere weeks before he would assume the position, and so his portrait does not hang on the walls of the RSG clubhouse. On this 18th day of July, 2021, a new captain did not play his way in. Instead, a Champion Golfer of the Year was recognized for the 15th time at this links and for the 149th time overall.

It would be interesting to ask the competitors if they considered Sandwich to be a putter’s course. My guess is that they would say “no.” More than that, it played this week as an approach course, and then as a driving course. Since writers and fans lead mundane lives, they like to fish around for a weakness in a player, forgetting that every golfer that tees it up is world-class.

With Collin Morikawa, they suggest that putting is not his strong suit. They forget that he worked with Mark O’Meara months back, adjusting his grip on shorter putts. He ultimately adopted the modified pencil, or modified saw, grip that he used with great success all week.

On Sunday, as his playing partner and others struggled around him, and as Jordan Spieth surged, Collin Morikawa made putt after putt of all lengths, shapes, and flavors. At week’s end, his average of 1.54 putts per green in regulation was exactly .01 behind the tournament leaders. So much for a weakness.

Flip the script to Morikawa’s perceived strength: his approach play. Over the course of the week’s four rounds, the eventual champion hit this percentage of greens in regulation: 72-83-66-77. Over the 72 holes, he putted for birdie or better three-quarters of the time. Unless you’re the world’s worst short-game practitioner from off the green, and on it, for that matter, those numbers are in your favor.

Morikawa knew instinctively when to land a ball dozens of yards shy of the putting surface, and when to fly it to the crevice. He found shelves and hollows all week long, and he was one of two golfers all week to post four rounds in the 60s. For the unfortunate Jordan Spieth, his quartet of sub-70s was not enough to sequester the Claret Jug for a second time.

Intangibles? He had them, too. Deep breaths, closed eyes, anticipated trajectories — it all led to trust and execution. When he got in trouble, as happens with champions, Morikawa joined his vision with the land, found a trace, and followed it back to safety.

Congratulations to the 2021 Champion Golfer of the Year, on his second major tournament victory. Let the pundits predict if and when Collin Morikawa will complete the career grand slam, and how difficult it will be for him to win a U.S. Open and a Masters.

For now, leave them to their augury and their conjecture. There is no better walk in golf than this one, and Louis Oosthuizen, who lost out to Morikawa this year, does know. He walked it in 2010, at the home of golf. Today, it was the turn of someone else, someone we may be fortunate to watch play and smile for many years.

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