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Gure Txapelduna! Jon Rahm Rodriguez claims 2021 U.S. Open title

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The amateur statistician in me is overwhelmed by the fact that NO ONE shot lower than 67 on any given day, and that either 2, 3, or 4 golfers shot that number each day. The linguist in me is thrilled that Spain and the Basque Country have their first US Open champion. The human being in me continues to marvel at how professional golfers can put themselves through the agony of major-championship competition, knowing that the outcome is likely to be gut-wrenching and heart-rending. Professional sport is a fierce cauldron of emotion and exertion and unexpected brilliance. How else to explain the finishes of Harris English (third) and Guido Migliozzi (fourth) at Torrey Pines? They weren’t the story, however. They never should have been there, save for what was already alluded to above.

Jon Rahm played a near-perfect round of golf. He opened with birdies at one and two, and he closed with birdies at 17 and 18. In between, he traded a birdie and bogey and added 12 pars. The brilliant Basque hit eight fairways, and a massive 14 greens in regulation. Only Edoardo Molinari and Rikuya Hoshino were better on the day with approach play, and that was by one more GIR each. It was what the Spaniard did with his flat stick, that made the difference. Rahm putted brilliantly, taking 28 putts on the day. You might expect 28 putts from someone who hit 10 greens in regulation figures, but not from someone who ranked so high. In contrast, the aforementioned Hoshino (31 putts) and Molinari (34) putted more in line with a high GIR tally. Most importantly, Rahm stayed out of trouble.

That could not be said for the mercurial Bryson DeChambeau. After nine holes on Sunday, the defending champion looked to be in prime position to hoist the winner’s medal for a second consecutive year. Two of the tri-leaders (Hughes 77 for T15 and Henley 76 for T13) had fallen off the pace, and the third (Oosthuizen) was plodding along near par. Then came the inward half, and a grotesque tally of two bogeys, a double and a quad for the Californian nee Texan. DeChambeau drove the ball horribly, finding just three of the 14 fairways on the day. His putting was five higher than the eventual winner, and he simply lost his hold on his game. That’s the US Open; it turns the winds and the tide instantly against the sailor.

If a professional golfer were given the option of contending or not in major events, with no guarantee of victory, each golfer would accept the challenges and the inevitable heartbreak. Three of four men’s major championships have been completed this year, and Lodewicus Theodorus Oosthuizen has finished T26, T2 and 2 in them. Known to the world as Louis, Mr. Oosthuizen has much satisfaction and much frustration on this Sunday evening. He outplayed everyone who mattered from tee to green in round four at Torrey Pines, but he couldn’t buy enough putts (four more than Rahm) to close the deal. Some will point to a wayward drive at the penultimate hole and say That’s the one that did it, but it’s always the body of work that paints the portrait. On this day, as last month at the PGA, and at the Masters in 2012, Louis Oosthuizen was in the hands of the fates until the very last moment, but his number simply did not come up.

That one hole might be the best way to sum up the tribulations of those who fell short. For DeChambeau, it was the double at 13, as it was for Morikawa. Rory’s double came one hole earlier, at the long 12th. Brooks didn’t have a double on the card, but his bogey at twelve forced him to go for broke. He performed admirably for a few holes, with birdies at 13 and 15, but the Open never lets you truly go for broke and get away with it, unless your name is Johnny Miller, and that happened once. And the aforementioned English had seven birdies on the day, but he also made bogey at three of his first four, and added a fourth later on. For Rahm, that one hole turned out to be the 4th. Unlike the others, he kept the hole in front of him and never bit off too much. Although he made bogey, he never threatened anything higher. And that is one way that, in hindsight, you win a U.S. Open.

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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.

2 Comments

2 Comments

  1. not ron

    Jun 21, 2021 at 4:53 pm

    i like how ethnic pride is praised as long as youre not a white person.. then youre a bigot…

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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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5 things we learned Saturday at the British Open

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For a third consecutive day, Royal St. George’s golf course provided ample opportunity for golfers to make moves up the leaderboard. As with all potions and recipes, knowing the proper amount of each ingredient was critical. For many, knowing which ingredients to leave out, and which ones to incorporate, was also decisive. Too many drivers, too much draw, too great a risk into a particular green, all resulted in lost shots and descents. By day’s end, most of the expected players were still in contention, ensuring that Sunday’s march across the storied links of RSG, sandwiched between Prince’s and Royal Cinque Ports, will be memorable.

Our memory is fading, but we do know five things that we learned today. Share them with us, won’t you?

1. Driving Suez

As Bryson DeChambeau continued his search for a new realm of golf performance, his climb up the leader board stalled. He made a double at nine and a bogey at 13 and stepped to the tee of the 14th at Sandwich at 3 over on the day. With nothing to lose, the scientist proceeded to bang driver OVER the crossing hazard known as Suez Canal. The carry was measured at 340 yards to find fairway, and DeChambeau’s tee ball ended 366 from its point of origin. His wedge approach barely missed its tiny target front left, ending in the guarding bunker. With a deft touch, Bryson got up and down for his first birdie on the day. Given the glee of the online announcers, we bore witness to a first-ever event with that swing of the driver.

2. Louis, Collin, not fade away

Louis Oosthuizen and Collin Morikawa began day three in the same pairing, separated by a pair of strokes. Morikawa began to fade with bogeys on two of his first five holes. Recalling that he was a PGA champion just a few years back, the young Californian reset and rebounded. He played the final 13 holes in minus 4, posted 68 on the day, and made up a stroke on the leader.

Oosthuizen’s front nine was ideal. He turned in 33 thanks to birdies on seven and nine. At that point in the round, the top challenge to the South African’s lead was Jordan Spieth, who also turned well on day three. Oosthuizen struggled a bit coming home carding two bogeys and one birdie, but Spieth struggled more. That will be discussed further on. As for Louis, the 2010 Open champion, his birdie at 16 renewed his lead over Morikawa. The two will partner for a second consecutive day on Sunday, and odds favor one of them to depart with the Claret Jug’s suitcase.

3. Who else remains?

Despite closing with three bogeys on his last eight holes, Jordan Spieth sits just three behind the 54-hole medalist. He has been the most impressive when it comes to making birdies of all the leaders. What he needs to solve for Sunday is how to continue this while eliminating that. “That” would be the bogeys, the lost shots, the anxious, hurried swings. His three major titles suggest that he knows how to do this, but it has been since 2017 that he hoisted major hardware. On Sunday, he might do so again.

Corey Conners and Scottie Scheffler are the most intriguing new names on the leader board. Each has played with composure and expertise — not just this week but over the past 18 months. And they’ve done so in other major championships. They’ve suffered the lumps, bumps, and bruises of also-rans and almost-weres along the way, and both appear ready to shed that baggage at Sandwich.

4. Who went away?

Dustin Johnson did. As quickly as he ascended on Friday, he derailed on Saturday. Not in fabulous, dramatic fashion, but little by little. He ended 3 over on the day and minus 4 for the week. As little as 2 under on the day would have seated him in one of the final two groups on Sunday, but 2021 was not to be DJ’s year at the Open. Rory McIlroy came and went even quicker. He was 4 under on the front nine, and 3 over on the back. His woe-ridden face, sagging shoulders, and quickened pace said it all: The tournament was his for the taking, and he forgot how.

Brooks Koepka, Emiliano Grillo, and Andy Sullivan also struggled on Saturday, as did the aforementioned Bryson DeChambeau. The common thread was trying too much and not accepting what the course offered. The wind was up, but not to a flamboyant degree, just enough to topple wayward strikes toward sand and higher grass.

5. Who wins on Sunday?

This guy. Two Open titles in the same year.

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