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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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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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Ryder Cup Rundown: Sunday Singles

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2021 signified a seminal switch in many ways for both sides of the Ryder Cup exhibition matches. Farewell was bid to a number of golfers who had represented their colors over the years, and welcome was offered to others who donned team kits for the first or second time.

Whistling Straits was an appropriate venue for this upgrade to Ryder Cup 3.0. In appearance, it is a blend of both competing units. It looks for all the world to be an Irish or Scottish links, and yet it lies along the shore of Lake Michigan, well within the continental United States.

Sunday’s singles matches began with Europe in a 5-11 deficit needing nine points in 12 matches to retain possession of the cherished chalice. There was a prior blueprint for such a comeback, and it was written in 2012, also on midwestern U.S. soil. At Medinah Country Club near Chicago, the Euros erased a 6-10 deficit in singles. They would need to go one point better to hold bragging rights until 2023 when the matches are played in Italy for the first time.

Match One: McIlroy vs. Schauffele

Rory McIlroy arrived on the 11:04 flight to Haven, Wisconsin. He looked none the worse for wear. Still, the local authorities have been alerted to apprehend the imposter who somehow maneuvered into partner matches over the past two days and lost a passel of points to the American side. Inserted into the leadoff spot on Sunday, McIlroy took down American strongman Xander Schauffele with relative ease. The Northern Irishman played 3-under golf through the 16th green, and claimed a 3 & 2 victory over the 2020 Olympic gold medalist in golf. Schauffele managed to win a pair of holes on the day, but his two-over effort would only have been victorious in a hurricane. Would McIlroy’s headlamp heroics charge up his teammates? If not today, maybe tomorrow. In his words: “I love my teammates so much. I should have done more for them this week.”

Match Two: Lowry vs. Cantlay

Ever wonder why nicknames are never self-awarded? Now you do. Patty Ice wanted no part of an Emerald Isle double victory to begin Sunday at the Straits. For those who follow golf intimately, Cantlay should have been a generational talent since 2012 or so, but life brutally inserted itself into the equation. Bowed but not broken, bent but not laid flat, Cantlay re-emerged and at age 29, has reclaimed his lofty position in the world of golf. On Sunday, a stretch of three birdies and a par erased Lowry’s early, 1-up lead, and placed the Californian in a dominant position. Lowry, always a fighter, chipped two holes from the margin as the home stretch beckoned. In true Ice fashion, Cantlay won three consecutive holes from 14 on and claimed the first of 3.5 needed points for a Team USA victory.

Match Three: Rahm vs. Scheffler

If the man formerly known as Captain America wants to claim he should have replaced someone on this year’s USA side, it won’t be fellow Texan Scottie Scheffler. Opponent Jon Rahm played the opening quartet of holes in even par — and found himself a quick 4 down to the Ryder Cup rookie. If you’ve played Whistling Straits, you know that those four holes aren’t so easy to par, much less birdie. Rahm won a hole back at the fifth but gained no momentum over the next five holes, which were halved in pars. Spain’s Atlas was exhausted after carrying the team on his shoulders for two days and simply could not mount a charge against Team USA’s other raging rookie. In the end, it was Scheffler by 4 & 3, and a point number two of 3.5 for the home squad.

Match Four: García vs. DeChambeau

The Ryder Cup may never again see a start like this one: 345-yard drive to green, 41-foot putt for eagle, DeChambeau by one. The #BigBangTheory had the good fortune to face Sergio García who, like the aforementioned Atlas Rahm, had carried the continent for 48 hours. García won four holes on the day, but he also lost seven. You cannot lose seven holes and hope to win, unless astronomical odds are in your favor. After the first-hole fireworks, DeChambeau claimed the second and fourth holes with García winning three and five. There was no quit in either dog, but #CaptainPhysics claimed another pair as the front nine closed, to claim a 3-up lead heading into the second side. The pair exchanged four consecutive holes midway home, and BDC ended it with par at the 16th. Half a point to go for Team USA.

Match Five: Hovland vs. Morikawa

14 of 18 holes were won outright in this tilt. Hovland won two, then Morikawa won four, then they traded, then Hovland won three and Morikawa one, then they traded the last two holes. The match was halved, and it provided Team USA with the half-point it needed to claim the Cup. It also marked what might be a great rivalry for future cups. Morikawa (California) and Hovland (Oklahoma State) came out together, and although Morikawa has two majors to Hovie’s none, there’s a sense that Hovland has what it takes to be a major champion. Let’s raise a glass to the potential of these two as Ryder Cup standard-bearers for a few decades.

Match Six: Casey vs. Johnson

Grampa Dustin, tell us again how you went 5-and-oh in 2021! I’ll pull up a cushion and listen. Reality check number one came when DJ was identified as the old man on Team USA for this playing of the Ryder Cup matches. Reality check number two came when we remembered how great he can be. DJ coached Collin Morikawa into Ryder Cup comfort over the first two days while simultaneously adding to his legacy. DJ might have had a few spirits to cast off in Haven (remember that PGA Championship b.s.?) and he sent them packing. Casey was a solid opponent on day three, but despite owning the forearms that Tiger envied, the Englishman came up just a bit short against South Carolina’s tallest icon.

Match Seven: Wiesberger vs. Koepka

There stands a very good chance that Bernd Wiesberger will make the European side for next year’s matches. In the interim, the Austrian should go and get a full-chest tattoo of some fierce and mythical creature, like a Krampus. I don’t know that there is anything about him that strikes fear into Team USA, and I suspect that he’ll need it in 363 days or so. The match was even through fifteen holes, true. Koepka seemed to toy with the super collider until the moment he chose to strike. I may be spitballing here, but that’s how it looks from this bluff. Perhaps that was Harrington’s bluff as well: pit someone so non-controversial against Koepka to lull the Florida Man into a malaise. Hey, it almost worked. Brilliant!

Match Eight: Poulter vs. Finau

Ian Poulter added a 2021 Finau Roadster to his massive collection of unique sports cars. Experts say it is a one-of-a-kind model, improved over the 1.0 edition, and worth the price Poulter paid. The Englishman seems to embody the spirit of the Ryder Cup better than any other European golfer. He hasn’t claimed a major championship like Danny Willett, and he doesn’t have loads of tour wins like Westwood and Casey, but every two years, Poulter comes alive. Sad to say that 2021 might have been his last. Poulty doesn’t have the length to compete in partner events, but he is crafty enough to post 4  under in singles and let the other guy make mistakes. That’s precisely what he did with Utah’s favorite son, and it resulted in a second win for Team Blue during Sunday singles play.

Match Nine: Hatton vs. Thomas

Between us, Tyrrell Hatton is tightly wound. Perhaps it’s the three sets of double consonants in his name, but there needs to be a loosening from this vantage point. Tension simply doesn’t get the job done in Ryder Cup, and that might explain the Englishman’s half-point-in-three-matches performance. Facing Justin Thomas is no small task, even if the Kentuckian’s beer tolerance currently stands at one foamy light beer (intel arriving soon). When it takes 14 holes for your opponent to make a birdie, unless it’s the third flight at your local muni, you’re in a good position. Thus it was for Thomas, and thus did another point go up in the RWB column.

Match Ten: Westwood vs. English

The best meme from Sunday is Harris English’s putter grip. The man has how much money and that’s his putter wrap? Other than that, it’s great to see the other old man, Lee Westwood, win a singles match in what might be his swan song in Ryder Cup play. We’ve seen Westy for three decades, it seems, and he’s always given us cause and pause for enthusiasm. On day three, Westy stood two down to Harris English with four to play … and won three of those holes to take the match. Isn’t that what the Ryder Cup is about? Cheers to you, Lee, on competing in 47 matches over the years, more than any other player.

Match Eleven: Fleetwood vs. Spieth

It can’t be called anything beyond disappointing for Fleetwood, and mildly disappointing for Spieth. Both came into this Ryder Cup with high expectations for leading their teams to victory. Fleetwood never found the partner that he had in Molinari, and Spieth was the victim of bad luck and great play by opponents. It’s fitting that their Sunday match should end in a tie. Spieth was two up after six, but Fleet won the next two to square the match. From that point on, it was a match of pawns. Each won two more holes, but could never put the opponent away.

Match Twelve: Berger vs. Fitzpatrick

If I told you that Matt Fitzpatrick won four holes in a five-hole span on the back nine, you probably could not fathom that he somehow lost the match. Well, he did. By the 11th hole, Daniel Berger had a two-up lead. Fitzy won 11 and 12 to square the match, then lost the 13th. He rebounded to win 14 and 15, and stood tall with three to go. That’s when Berger played one-under golf to the end, winning the 16th and 18th holes. The 18th is miserable and unforgiving, and anything less than your best, results in bogey. Both hit cracker drives, and then Fitzpatrick the 16-handicap golfer showed up. Chunk into the stream and away went hopes for … anything. Berger landed safely on the frog hair and two putts later, had another hole won and another RWB point on the board.

Closing Arguments

The final tally was 19 USA and 9 Europe. That’s a lot of wound-licking for one side and much chest-thumping for the other. If the two worst moments were Brooks swearing and American fans bloated with beer, we did all right.

It will be interesting to see how Rome 2023 shapes up. Molinari should be back in form, and perhaps Renato Paratore or Guido Migliozzi will enhance their stature and join Moli on the team.

Golf is enjoyed in Italy but is not the country’s passion. Perhaps something will change over the next 24 months.

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Ryder Cup Rundown: Saturday Afternoon Fourballs

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Evidently, either clubs or apparel, or perhaps the entire Team Europe Europe plane, were delayed en route to Sheboygan; one, some, or all finally cleared customs on Saturday afternoon. Better late than never, goes the saying. That’s one way to look at the fourballs that finished in the gloaming along Lake Michigan’s Wisconsin side. The other is to say that Team USA broke even, and preserved its six-point advantage, ahead of Singles Sunday.

Attempting to figure out which interpretation is proper, is akin to determining how this putt by Jordan Spieth failed to fall.

Match 13: Rahm/Garcia vs. Koepka/Spieth

The oversized-in-every-way Koepka lost twice to Spain’s modern armada on Saturday, and he did so with two different partners. He and Jordan Spieth fell to Europe’s dominant 2021 partnership by 2 & 1. They played well enough to tie, for sure, and if luck had fallen their way, well enough to win. Sometimes it’s more about luck and rub of the green, than it is about skill. Saturday’s second match sure felt that way.

That’s not to take much away from Rahm and García. Rahm’s two late birdies brought Team Europe from even to two holes up, and García put the finishing touch on the masterpiece with a gritty par on the diabolical 17th. The pair was four-under on the day. That number normally doesn’t win fourball matches, but when you are finishing a second-consecutive, 36-hole day, and you’ve carried your side, it’s good enough. Do Rahm and García have enough in the tank to win singles points on Sunday? They have no alternative. Europe needs both points to have a shot at a comeback.

Match 14: Lowry/Hatton vs. Finau/English

The coronation of the firm of Finau and English was put on hold by Shane Lowry’s earth-shaking putt for par. After sitting out foursomes both days, Finau and English faced Lowry once again, albeit with a different partner. After licking his wounds from a 4 & 3 spanking the day before, the 2019 Open champion returned with renewed vigor. The golf wasn’t the greatest in match 14, and one hole was unbelievable halved in bogey. Hey! It’s the Ryder Cup, and the pressure is torrid. Team Europe won two holes in this match, and none after the 11th. Team USA won just one hole, and it came at number 13. Bizarre? You bet, but just one more unequalled tale to emerge from the world’s greatest team golf event.

Match 15: Hovland/Fleetwood vs. Scheffler/DeChambeau

There’s currently a two-man race to determine the most-maligned European team member. If you’ll pardon our forthright opinion, it’s Rory McIlroy. He has proven to either be star-crossed or unpartnerable, depending on how you look at things. McIlroy appears to have a case of Tiger-itis, when it comes to international team events. He’s lost three matches thus far, in the company of Ian Poulter (twice) and Shane Lowry (once.) Is that germane to this match? Only in that it take the spotlight off Viktor Hovland and Tommy Fleetwood. This pair tied a match on Friday afternoon, and Hovland lost twice in foursomes. He’s a rookie, though, and not expected to carry the weight of a Union, as is McIlroy. As for Fleetwood, has he jumped the shark? He has no individual major yet, and his regular-event winning has waned.

Now that we’ve done our best to take credit away from the American duo, let’s return what is rightly theirs. Scheffler and DeChambeau each made birdie on two holes of a four-hole stretch (14-17) while their counterparts made none, turning a one-hole deficit into a 3 & 1 victory. That was some play by Team Texas, and they might have made folks forget about that other Texan (Patrick Reed) who was not named to this year’s side. Lots of talent in that Lone Star state, it seems.

Match 16: Poulter/McIlroy vs. Johnson/Morikawa

It seems that everyone wants to play against Poulter and McIlroy, who have yet to find form. Likewise, no one wishes to draw Johnson and Morikawa, who have yet to lose it. The outclassed visitors won a single hole in this match, the awkward fifth hole. Neither made birdie at the short, two-shot sixth, making putts for birdie (Johnson) and eagle (Morikawa) unnecessary. Poulter has never looked more appropriate for the Champions Tour, and McIroy has never appeared more uninspired. It’s unlikely that either will find form in time for Sunday’s singles matches, as no roborant awaits, and that’s a shame. It would be exquisite to have day three matter, but at this juncture, its appearance is more a formality.

 

 

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Ryder Cup Rundown: Saturday Morning Foursomes

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A funny thing happened between 2018 and 2021: Europe forgot completely how to play foursomes golf. The format that gave the Old World its greatest triumphs has seemingly slipped away from its consciousness. For the second consecutive day, Team USA won three morning matches where each player hit half his normal complement of shots. This wouldn’t matter if the European squad had countered in fourball matches, but they didn’t, or haven’t yet. They’ve one afternoon left to turn the tide, or their flight home will be about one bottle of ketchup lighter — the official weight listed for the trophy on the @RyderCup website.

Here’s our rundown of the third band of matches at Whistling Straits.

Match Nine: Rahm/García vs. Koepka/Berger

Sporting of the Spaniards to spot the Seminoles the morning’s first three holes, wouldn’t you say? For an hour, fans of Team USA seemed certain that the powerful Iberian pairing had finally met its match. Wins on holes 1 through 3 and 5, countered only by a lost-hole 4, gave the RWB a three-up lead. What had happened overnight, many wondered. Wonder no longer. Serigo and Jon countered with thrusts of Toledo steel, winning seven of the next twelve holes, to dispatch the hopeful Floridians. Papa Padraig has to wonder why his other pairings cannot match their intensity and efficiency. Unlike Friday, when he split them up in the afternoon matches, Harrington decided to keep el duo together for afternoon fourballs.

Match Ten: Casey/Hatton vs. Johnson/Morikawa

And the band played on. The match that we all want to see, but won’t, is Johnson and Morikawa (or Johnson and anyone, really) against the Spaniards. If only the English pair had played like the English fought against the Spanish armada, it might have won against the invincible Americans. Each of the first eight holes were won: six by the American and two by the Europeans. That 4-up lead didn’t last, however, as Casey and Hatton countered. They won three holes to reduce the lead to one, including the sublime hole-out by Casey from the wastesands. In the end, the Americans parried with a 15th-hole birdie and two more pars, and held on for a 2 & 1 victory.

Match Eleven: Hovland/Wiesberger vs. Thomas/Spieth

This may have been the oddest pairing of the morning, one that punters everywhere would have avoided like ranch dressing on chicken wings. Match rookies Viktor Hovland and Bernd Wiesberger against the featured American team? It almost worked. After six holes, Team Blue had a three-up lead, but then gave it all back. By the eleventh tee, Team Red had leveled the match. The Blues grabbed the eleventh to reclaim the lead, but ran out of gas in the home stretch. The final five holes were won, one by the Euros and four by the Yanks. After struggling on Friday morning, Thomas and Spieth appear to have found their stride and caught a second wind.

Match Twelve:  Westwood/Fitzpatrick vs. Cantlay/Schauffele

The fourth match of morning the second featured much less exchange of won/lost holes. Only 10 of the 18 were claimed by either team. The Europeans led by one after six, but the Americans won four of the next five to gain a three-hole advantage. Back came the Englishmen, with wins at 12 and 16. Trouble was, the Californians also won hole 15, and the match was finished at the 17th green. Ryder Cups are won by hot putters, and no one is putting better than Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele.

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