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5 things we learned Friday at the U.S. Open

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Some golfers played 24 holes on Friday to ensure that the woodsman’s axe would fall and the 36-hole cut would take place on schedule. Louis Oosthuizen closed out his opening 67 with three pars, joining Russell Henley atop the leaderboard. Sebastian Muñoz wasn’t so fortunate. He made double at the par-5 ninth to drop to even on the round then ballooned to a 77 to miss the cut by two. So cruel, this game. For every Muñoz, however, there is an Akshay Bhatia. Let’s enjoy his clutch performance at the last, and count the five things that we learned on Friday at the U.S. Open.

1. Bland on the run

Check my Twitter feed. At 2:10 pm, EST on this Friday of U.S. Open 2021, I indicated to @acaseofthegolf1 that I would utilize Bland on the run rather than the trite Anything but bland, in honor of Sir Paul McCartney’s recent birthday. There you go. What’s that? Who is Richard Bland? He’s an English bloke, a man who amassed seven birdies against three bogeys on day two and jumped to 6 under par for a time. He made bogey at his penultimate hole, else he would be at minus 6 on the week. Bland won his first European Tour event last month after years of attempts. He came close in 2002 at the Irish Open, where he lost in a playoff. Since then, it’s been grind, grind, grind. He cannot possibly win this thing, given that better Brits like Monty, Poulty, Westy, Casey, and Lukey have not. Rosey did win it, however, so maybe Blandy can do so, after all. What’s he got to lose?

2. Speaking of guys we haven’t seen in a minute…

That two-time Masters champion, Bubba Watson, matched Bland’s 67  with an eagle at the 18th. He moved into fourth place, two behind Bland. That Louis Oosthuizen got up early (see lede) to finish round one, struggled a bit through round two, but rallied through the hangover, and birdied two holes down the stretch to finish at even on the day, one back of Bland. That Jon Rahm played more solid, post-COVID-19 golf, posting 70 for minus 3. Rahm lowered his bogey total from three to two on day two, and that’s the key to winning U.S. Open championships. And one more? How about first-round, co-leader Russell Henley, also known as second-round co-leader Russell Henley? He followed his 67 with 70, led for his own minute, and will tee off in the final pairing with Richard Bland.

3. Calling mid-60s round

Six rounds of 67 have been posted, followed by five more at 68. Yes, this is the U.S. Open, but these are the world’s best golfers, on a course that they know very well. Someone will find a way to reach 65 today, mark my words. That 6-under round will do someone a lot of good, but it won’t win the tournament. Nothing wins the tournament on Saturday.

What will allow that magical round to happen? In the first place, the golfer will drive the ball in play on all three long holes, and will not err laterally with his second. Birdies or better on all three par-5 holes will be necessary to offset the occasional bogey on Torrey Pines’ long-for-your-and-me par 4s. By shooting that number on Saturday, the lead pack after 54 holes will know that it can be done, and will chase the same number down on Sunday.

4. Right brain, meet left brain

I cannot move farther without recognizing the two sides of Matthew Wolff. On Thursday, the young Californian painted his scorecard like a creative kindergartner. He amassed eight birdies and countered them with three bogeys and two doubles. On Friday, Wolff played nothing like that foundling. His game was controlled, his numbers were almost boring, but he improved by two shots to 68 and a tie for third, at 4 under par. The Oklahoma State product isn’t driving the ball that well, but he is finding his way to the putting surface. A 43 percent fairways-hit statistic is countered by a nearly incomprehensible 75 percent greens in regulation that ranks him first. The only way to explain his rise is that blend of confidence and arrogance that successful golfers have. Wolff tees off in the penultimate grouping with the resurgent Oosthuizen, who looks to improve upon last year’s T3 at Winged Foot, and last month’s T2 at Kiawah.

5. Saturday’s fun pairing

I cannot resist the third-last pairing of Bubba Watson and Jon Rahm. Gerry Lester Watson tied for 18th at the 2009 U.S. Open, his best career finish in this event. Since then, even as he won two Masters and established himself in the upper echelon of the game’s talent, the US Open became an enigma. Not hard to imagine why; the long lefthander adds a mercurial temperament that doesn’t square with a USGA set-up. Torrey is different, and Watson has a long-ago triumph here, over Phil Mickelson of all golfers, in his memory bank. Watson makes birdies, including five in his final seven holes on Friday. He’ll need to churn out another half-dozen on Saturday and Sunday each, to take a run at a coveted, second unique major title. No one knows what goes on in Bubba’s mind, least of all Bubba. That’s when he plays his best.

Paired with him is the game’s great in waiting, Jon Rahm. Much has been written of his unfortunate disqualification from the Memorial, and in truth, a parkland course in middle America has no bearing on the next 48 hours. Rahm has shed the mentors and is his own man. What type of champion will he become? El gran Vasco has eight birdies and five bogies over the first 36 holes, and has kept the ball mostly in play through the green. His long-game numbers are fine, but it’s the way he rolls the ball that has kept him in the game. Is that a great recipe for a brush with immortality? Probably not, unless he keeps it up. Saturday will show us the depth of Rahm’s mental fortitude.

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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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  1. Steve Hjortness

    Jun 19, 2021 at 11:45 am

    Extraordinarily well written article. Well done Ron.

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2021 Tokyo Olympics men’s golf betting tips and selections

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59 golfers will be making the trek to Tokyo this week for the men’s Olympic golf competition. This will be the fourth golf event in the history of the Olympics. It was played in Paris in 1900, St. Louis in 1904, and then after a 112-year hiatus, Olympic golf returned in 2016, as Justin Rose took home the gold medal in Rio. The Olympics will be a four-day stroke play event with no cut, similar to many World Golf Championships and shorter field events that make up the Asian swing of the PGA Tour.

While there is no hard data from professional competition on the host course, Kasumigaseki Country Club, we can responsibly draw comparisons to other courses that host professional tournaments. Kasumigaseki is a Charles Allison design with bent-grass greens and zoysia fairways. Famed architect Tom Fazio gave the course a total facelift in 2016, and from all of the course flyovers and information we have at our disposal, it features similar elements to other Fazio designs/re-designs such as Firestone Country Club, Quail Hollow, and Shadow Creek.

Playing as a par 71 and tipping out to 7,447 yards on the scorecard, length off the tee will certainly help here. Along with distance, I am primarily looking for players with experience navigating large and undulating greens, as well as elite long iron snipers and those who are capable of going low in benign scoring conditions.

Let’s dig into my outright selections!

Olympics men’s golf betting picks

Viktor Hovland (12-1, FanDuel Sportsbook)

The Norwegian sensation rated out as the number one player in my model this week due to his elite long iron play, length off the tee, expertise with his wedges, and ability to make birdies in bunches. Over his last 36 rounds, Hovland ranks inside the top-10 in strokes gained approach, strokes gained off the tee, proximity from 200 yards plus, proximity from 125-150 yards, and birdies or better gained.

With a 12th-place finish at Shadow Creek in the fall, and a third-place finish at Quail Hollow this spring, the two-time PGA Tour winner should be right at home on another tree-lined Tom Fazio course featuring large and undulating bent-grass greens.

Patrick Reed (16-1, DraftKings Sportsbook)

While concerns about Patrick Reed’s recent travel schedule are certainly valid, I’ve found reason to believe that the Olympics has his upmost attention. Reed is only in the field this week as a result of Bryson DeChambeau’s withdrawal due to a positive COVID-19 test, and despite learning this while in the midst of competing in the 3M Open, Reed jumped at the opportunity to represent his country.

The man deemed “Captain America” for his Ryder Cup heroics, has also experienced some incredible success on bent-grass greens, and tops this entire field in three-putt avoidance. While Augusta National is far from a perfect comp to Kasumigaseki, Reed always plays well at the Masters, and he is coming off a 14th-place finish at Sherwood in October and a sixth-place finish at Quail Hollow in April. I expect the nine-time PGA Tour winner to certainly be a factor come Sunday afternoon in Tokyo.

Shane Lowry (22-1, DraftKings Sportsbook)

After an understandable hangover from his life-changing 2019 Open Championship win at Royal Portrush, Shane Lowry is back to playing some incredible golf this season. The Irishman has made the cut in every major this year, and recorded top-15 finishes at The Players, PGA Championship, Memorial, and most recently, The Open Championship in his title defense. One through-line we can draw from Lowry’s historical results is that he always plays his best golf on the biggest stage.

Lowry is a bankable selection in stronger-field events because of his elite approach play. The five-time worldwide winner has gained over 1.3 strokes on approach in every measured start since March. With a win already under his belt at the Fazio re-designed Firestone, I expect Lowry to add a gold medal to his already impressive resume.

Abraham Ancer (25-1, DraftKings SportsBook)

Ancer is a player who I rarely bet as he has still yet to record his first PGA Tour victory. With that being said, this feels like a logical breakthrough spot for the University of Oklahoma product.

Ancer has already finished runner-up at Quail Hollow this year, and I love the idea of a soft Augusta as a comp course for Kasumigaseki, where Ancer contended as well. More recently, Ancer has also recorded top-10 finishes at the Valspar, Travelers, and PGA Championship. His ball striking remains elite, and he is one of the better putters in the field as well, ranking sixth in strokes gained putting and third in three-putt avoidance over his last 36 rounds. Bent-grass has also historically been his best surface. I firmly believe that Ancer will be in the mix this weekend in Tokyo.

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Tour Rundown: Major victories and a Champ returns to the winner’s circle

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As the Olympic games opened in Tokyo, two major championships were decided around the golf world, and three other events kept our eyes glued to screens everywhere. We watched a swashbuckling Spaniard dunk an approach for albatross on Saturday, and the world’s finest women worked overtime in France to determine a winner. Even with the loss of Bryson DeChambeau and Jon Rahm to positive COVID tests, Olympic golf is coming during this golden period for 2021 golf viewing. Let’s run down what we know, and let’s take you along for the ride this week.

LPGA: Evian Championship to Lee, and it’s her first!

Jeongeun Lee6 would have taken any of her first three scores on Sunday. She wouldn’t have been picky. She didn’t need the 61 that Leona Maguire posted on day four. She didn’t need the 66 that Amy Yang signed for, and she didn’t need the 68 that Inbee Park registered. In fact, all she needed was one stroke better than the 71 she had on the final day of the Evian Championship. Unfortunately for Lee6, her five bogeys from holes three through nine were too much to overcome, even with birdie at the closing three holes. She finished in a tie with Minjee Lee at 18-under par, and the two went off to sudden death to determine who would claim the year’s final major title.

Minjee had turned in minus-three, and imagined that her top competition was Yealimi Noh as Lee6 faltered. Minjee came home in minus-four, with birdie at four of her final five holes. Imagine her surprise when Noh failed to make birdie at the closing hole, and finished one back of Lee’s 18-under total. Imagine her further surprise when Lee6 completed her comeback with birdie, necessitating a playoff. Away they went, returning to the 18th hole. Off a bit of a sidehill lie, with the ball below her feet, Minjee laced her second to within a dozen feet. Her eagle attempt caught an edge, and she tapped in for birdie. Lee6 was not so fortunate, and her bogey meant that Minjee Lee had finally earned a major women’s title.

Champions Tour: Senior Open trophy makes its way to Wales

After doing nearly everything right on Saturday, Stephen Dodd of Wales did quite a few things wrong on Sunday. The Welshman can be forgiven, as these weren’t household chores with no eyes upon him. Dodd was the third-round leader of the Senior Open championship, played at perhaps the finest course on this year’s roster of sites, Sunningdale. Dodd was paired with Wisconsin’s Jerry Kelly, but Kelly didn’t have his best stuff on Sunday, ending in sixth position.

Miguel Ángel Jiménez electrified Sunningdale with his opening-hole albatross on Saturday. On Sunday, the Spaniard only made birdie at the par-five first. However, he went on to post his best round of the week, with a 65 that brought him to 12-under par. Northern Ireland’s Darren Clarke was after a Senior Open title to match his 2011 Open title, but bogey at the 10th and 16th knocked him out of first, into solo third. And then came Dodd.

The pride of Wales had a bogey on each nine holes on Sunday. He had two birdies on each half as well, and none was more important than the twelve feet he traversed over the final green. With victory in sight, Dodd’s understated demeanor never wavered, and he calmly stroked the putt for four into the cup, for his fourth senior title and his first-ever major. Well done, Dodd.

PGA Tour: 3M Open means third time a Champ

When you sign for a clean card, good things happen. Cameron Champ wanted that clean, Sunday card, even after he pull-hooked a drive into North Dakota on the 18th hole. Even after he chunk-fuzzed a recovery pitch into the rough. Even after he had to lay his third up on the par five closer. Champ stuck his fourth inside three feet and tapped in for par, a third consecutive 67, and a two-triumph over a triumvirate of worthy challengers.

Jhonattan Vegas led early in the week, then put on a Sunday charge with an outward 32. His birdie barrage stalled, he made a few bogies, and ended at minus-13. The South African tandem of Charl Schwartzel and “Hard Luck” Louis Oosthuizen joined Vegas in the runner-up position. Schwartzel had 67 and three 68s on the week but, like Vegas, spotted the day-four card with too many blemishes to chase Champ down. As for Louis, Mr. Seconds nearly holed his third at the last for eagle and minus-fourteen. It lipped out and he settled for yet another, runner-up finish in his star-crossed 2021. No one is playing better than Louis, but everyone seems to clip him in the end. Perhaps his day is coming soon.

The victory is Champ’s third on the PGA Tour, following wins at Sanderson Farms in 2018 and Safeway in 2019. Folks were quick to baptize him as the next, great hope, but Champ is progressing at a moderate, healthy pace. Having just turned 26, he can look ahead to 15-20 years of championship-calibre play.

Korn Ferry: Wu commerce claims Price Cutter and Tour promotion

Dylan Wu was in fine position as the P-Triple-C headed down the home stretch on Sunday afternoon. A lightning delay had postponed what seemed inevitable for a time, but the former Northwestern Wildcat sat on a front-nine 31 and a healthy lead over his nearest pursuers. Mother Nature’s pyrotechnics awakened Wu’s playing partner, Alex Kang and others, and the inward half became a battle to the finish line.

The biggest move came from Taylor Moore. After turning in minus-three on the day, Moore posted six consecutive birdies to open the back nine. He added a seventh at the closing hole for 29 and 62, to reach 25-under par. Moore’s onslaught, impressive as it was, might have always been too late for top spot. Wu was in command of his game, making par after par, with the occasional birdie (11 and 16) sprinkled on top.

After making three bogies in his opening 68, Wu made zero over the next 54 holes. That’s some impressive golf, and it was enough to earn him an inaugural Korn Ferry Tour victory and a move to 12th on The 25 money list. Beginning after the FedEx Cup playoffs on the PGA Tour this August, Wu will make his debut on the big circuit as a card-carrying member. Playing partner Kang ultimately finished in a tie for fourth position, one behind third-place Taylor Dickson, who closed with 64.

European Tour: Wales Open title heads to the Iberian peninsula

Nacho Elvira had lost two previous playoffs on the European Tour. Winless on the big tour since turning professional, he was not all that thrilled about facing a third one at the Cazoo Open in Wales. His opponent was Justin Harding, who had won in March at the Magical Kenya Open. Harding was riding a wave, while Elvira had handed back a sizable lead over the final 18 holes. Things didn’t bode well for the Spaniard, but that’s why they play the playoff.

Elvira began the final round with a six-shot advantage over Harding and Mikko Kornonen of Finland. While the leader went 3-3-3 over the front nine (3 of each bogies, pars, and birdies), both Harding and Korhonen turned in the kind of halves that state that winning is on their minds. By the time they reached the 15th tee, all three were tied at the top. Adding to the drama, each made birdie at the par four hole. Harding made par at the closing triumvirate, and finished at 16-under par. Korhonen stumbled at the 17th with bogey, and could not gather a birdie at the last to tie the lead. He finished alone in third spot.

Elvira added another birdie at 16, to reclaim the lead, then gave it back with a wretched bogey at the par five closing hole. Thus did the Spaniard and the South African return to the 18th tee for sudden victory. It was over quickly, but not in the manner that some might expect. The fellow on the rise, faltered with bogey. The man treading water, emerged and survived. With par on the playoff hole, Nacho Elvira claimed his first European Tour title at the age of 34.

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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!

Tuesday

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Special galleries

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