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Tour Rundown: Gold to Korda, Memphis is Ancer to his prayers

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The Olympic flame in Tokyo was extinguished on Sunday, but the golf fires burned brightly across the globe. A U.S. Women’s Amateur champion was crowned, and a unique format played out at the Ladies European Tour’s Spain event. The WGC-FedEx took place in Memphis, and Utah hosted the Korn Ferry Tour. Finally, the cradle of golf hosted the European Tour, but it wasn’t the Old Course that took center stage.

There are seven events to run down as August hits its stride. Have a tour with us as we look back on the first week of the year’s eighth month.

Olympic Games: Gold to Korda

Is there much more to write this year about Nelly Korda? In June, she won twice, including her first professional major, the PGA Championship. In August, the USA native claimed her second major title at Kasumigaseki, winning gold by a stroke over Mone Imani of Japan and Lydia Ko of New Zealand. In the playoff, Imani defeated Ko for the second spot on the podium. For Imani, the silver medal was a huge achievement in front of the home crowd. For Ko, the bronze was her second, as she claimed that same medal in Rio in 2016. Kudos to them, now let’s talk about the top of the podium.

The competition all week was fierce. Aditi Ashok fired 68 on day four and dropped from medal contention to fourth. Korda had 69 on day four and only a 72nd-hole bogey by Imani kept Korda out of a playoff. On day two, Nelly nearly posted 59, but a double at the last dropped her to 62. Although it was a reality check, it was not what she needed at that moment. For the first time in 36 holes, she was vulnerable. Her matching 69s got the deal one, but the Korda we saw over the second half was not the lightning bolt that snatched a massive, halfway lead.

And that’s what makes the Olympic games more than a major title. That’s why Korda has two majors and Xander Schauffele has one on the men’s side. You represent your country, and you are only one of 60 golfers in the tournament. Everything about the event is different, and it happens once every four years. Knowing that she was playing for an entire country Korda (and Imani, and Ko) found the necessary focus to complete the task at hand. Beyond third, there were no paying spots. If that’s not major pressure, I don’t know what is.

WGC: Memphis is Ancer to his prayers

The WGC-FedEx St. Jude event in Memphis had its swan song this year; it will be reborn and rebranded as a FedEx Cup playoff event in 2022. Probably the same course, but how could you possibly replicate the drama of 2021. Turns out that the course is not the easiest on which to seal anything. Just ask Harris English. The toast of the town all week, English came to the tenth tee with a healthy lead on Sunday. The U Georgia alum made double bogey at the 11th and 14th, yet still found himself in a tie for the lead. It didn’t last long, as he chopped his way up the 16th hole and made bogey at the par five. English finished one shot out of a playoff.

Just ask Cameron Smith, who stood on the 18th tee in a tie for first, and left the green in a tie for fifth. One wayward drive, one dumped recovery, one penalty stroke, one stiff wedge, and one putt added up to six, and the magic of the mullet was gone. Time for a trim, Smithy. So who was left? Guys who finished early and low, with nothing to lose. Hideki Matsuyama finished 64-63 to reach the playoff and lose. Sam Burns had 64 on Friday and Sunday, made the playoff, but once again came oh-so-close to his second win. The laurel wreath belongs to Mexico’s Abraham Ancer, who went super low on Friday with 62, then followed with 67 and 68 to reach the magic 16-under par figure. After Matsu, Burns and Ancer made par at the 18th, Ancer and Burns hit it close the second time through. Ancer went first, hit all of the hole, and drained. Burns putted next, caught 75% of the cup, and spun out to extend the playoff.

USGA: Women’s Amateur belongs to woman in high Castle

If you like the back-and-forth of match play, the title tilt between Yu-Chiang Hou of Chinese Taipei and the University of Arizona, and Jensen Castle of South Carolina and the University of Kentucky was all that. 20 of the 35 holes played were won by one of the two finalists. Castle got to two-up after 11, but Hou wont the next two to square the match. Hou stood at two-up after the morning round, but Castle won three of four to start the afternoon 18 and take a lead of her own. Her lead reached three holes with seven to play. Hou won three of those, but Jensen won two of her own. In the end, the match stood 2 & 1, in favor of Jensen Castle.

Korn Ferry Tour: Creel creeps past everyone for Utah Championship

Joshua Creel likes those KF Tour events with state names in the title. Not long after a second place finish in the Maine Open, Creel snuck past a host of players with an inward 31. His 65-64 weekend brought him past the Sunday surfer, Hayden Buckley, whose 61 looked for all the world a winner. Buckley had 29 on his inward half, and that included a bogey at the 10th! Five subsequent birdies and an eagle brought him to 22-under par, ultimately worth a tie for 2nd with Peter Uihlein and Taylor Montgomery.

It was Creel and his clean, Sunday card that finished off the competition. Seven birdies against eleven pars meant 34 holes without a bogey to close the event. His thirty-feet putt for three at the last was deadly, and elicited a double pump-growl from the champion. The effort effectively eliminated his final pursuers.

Ladies European Tour: Alison Lee secures first individual title as a professional

The Aramco team series has quietly worked its way into relevance, for a number of reasons. The events take place in London, Spain’s Costa del Sol, New York, and Jedda. They combine a four-golfer team event with an individual competition. In the team event, three professionals partner one amateur for four rounds. At Sotogrande’s Reserva Club, the Ashleigh Buhai brigade bested the Linnea Strom squad, after both quadrilaterals tied at 35-under par. In the playoff, Buhai’s par overcame Strom’s bogey.

In the individual event, the USA’s Alison Lee hoisted a professional trophy for the first time. After opening with matching 65s, Lee carried a seven-shot advantage into the final day. Her closing 71 was enough to hold off Buhai, attempting to earn the impressive indy-team double conquest. Buhai closed with 68 to finish five back, at 10-under par. Third place belonged to Germany’s Karolin Lampert, three back of Buhai at minus-seven.

European Tour: Hero Open lost in the Forrest

The top five of the Hero Open at Fairmont St. Andrews was 60% Scottish and, fortunately enough for the home crowd, a Scot claimed the title. Grant Forrest followed his Saturday 62 with a Sunday 66, and edged England’s James Morrison by one. Morrison had nine birdies on day four, including one at the par-five closer. He needed ten of them to match Forrest’s 62 and catch the frontrunner. To his credit, Forrest closed with grit and determination. After bogey at 16 dropped him out of the lead, he harvested birdie at the two closing holes to regain the top spot. The victory was Forrest’s first on the European Tour.

PGA Tour: OOOHHH, Van Rooyen at Barracuda Championship

It’s a true shame that the Barracuda Championship’s format often gets lost as an alternate-field event. Any time the opportunity to gain lots of points with one shot is available, things get exciting. Adam Schenk knows all about it. After earning 30 point total in rounds two and three to take the lead, Schenk struggled to a meager five points on Sunday and finished fourth. Andrew Putnam stood on the fifth tee with 11 points already in his pocket. His three birdie-one eagle start got him to the top of the leaderboard. From that point on, Putnam played like Schenk, which wasn’t good enough for either of them.

So which of the competitors got the job done? Try South Africa’s Erik Van Rooyen. The jogger-wearing, guitar-strumming Springbok made six birdies and an eagle against one bogey, garnered 16 points on the day, and won by five points over Putnam. The win was EVR’s first on this side of the Atlantic.

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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: 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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Ryder Cup Rundown: Day One Afternoon Fourballs

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Team Europe needs to bow its collective heads and figure out how to win a partner match. The side has one outright victory in eight matches, and at this point, halves won’t get the job done. Give the home squad four more points today, and the Cup that Samuel Ryder himself offered up might as well be inscribed with the Red White and Blue as champion for 2021.

Always good at second-guessing the decisions of the wise, we’re fine with getting everyone on the course on day one, but some pairings should not be disassembled. For Europe, why break up García and Rahm? For the USA, pick either one of Johnson/Morikawa and Cantlay/Schauffele. Well, at least those break-ups give us something about which to write.

One pair that won’t be matched at all this year, gave us the greatest excitement in 2018, the last time these matches were played. Remember Moliwood? We sure do. Read on for more about Friday afternoon’s four-ball matches.

Match 5: Wiesberger/Casey vs. Johnson/Schauffele

When Dustin Johnson is the elder statesman on Team USA, you know that a generational shift has happened. Johnson seems to have become, at least for 2021, what the Americans needed: a horse to send out first, to which to hitch the wagon, and let all the other explorers follow with great confidence. Johnson won his second match of the day, with a different partner, by a 2 & 1 margin that never seemed that close, throughout the round. When Johnson is on, he is the most impressive driver of the golf ball we have ever seen. Longer and straighter than anyone, he puts himself in position to attack any hole location. With Olympic champion Xander Schauffele as his running mate on Friday afternoon, Johnson was at his best, and Team RWB grabbed its fourth point of the day, ensuring at least a half of the opening slate.

Match 6: Rahm/Hatton vs. DeChambeau/Scheffler

If the next match hadn’t already been determined by the time Tyrrell Hatton pulled out some last-hole heroics, how the tide might have turned! Scottie Scheffler partnered fellow Texan Bryson DeChambeau as if both had multiple international caps between them, only to have their outright victory snatched by the Englishman’s late magic. The 18th at the Straits course is beguiling and muscular, but Hatton stared it down and earned the visiting team its first credits for the afternoon slate. Alas …

Match 7: McIlroy/Lowry vs. Finau/English

4 & 3 for Team USA, from Tony Finau (who learned to win again) and Harris English (who debuted this afternoon in Ryder Cup play.) For the extremely-amateur psychologists among us, this match was a delight. The fellow who should be leading Europe at this juncture (McIlroy) seems uninspired and uninspiring. Harrington’s second Captain’s pick (Lowry) lost just as his third one (Poulter) did in the morning round. If I were Harrington, I’d pair Poults and Lowry on Saturday and say Boys, get the job done. There’s not much else to try.

Finau and English absolutely owned the middle of the golf course. They made birdies at 6, 8, 9 and 10 to wrestle away Europe’s trifling, one-hole lead (earned at the fifth with a McIlroy eagle.) They added one more at the 13th to make victory seem inevitable, then road the par train for two more stops. For Finau, Fall 2021 has to have been the most satisfying and relieving stretch of his career. For the European side, more questions than answers.

Match 8: Cantlay/Thomas vs. Hovland/Fleetwood

Successful Ryder Cup pairings captivate us in a way that can partly never be explained. Seve and Xema (José María Olazábal) were the finest ever, and no matter which side you cheered on, you knew something special would ensue. The same happened in 2019, when Tommy Fleetwood partnered Francesco Molinari to four victories in France. Sadly, Molinari is not on the European side this year so it was up to Viktor Hovland to spark the bearded Englishman on to victory. For a time, the magic was there. The Euros won four holes on the outward half, to seize a three-up lead and give hope for an entire point. In the end, they gave all of them back and the unshakable Patrick Cantlay found a way to get Justin Thomas on the scoreboard. From the ninth hole on, the visitors managed just one birdie between them, and that won’t get any job done, especially one on the world stage. Time to get those putters working.

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