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Tour Rundown: August cruelty | Flying away with the winning Piot

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The ides of August passed by on Friday the 13th, but the middle of the eighth month was fortunate for six champions. A second U.S. Amateur champion was crowned for 2021, and five professional winners secured titles across marvelous venues. The Scottish Open visited the newish Dumbarnie Links for the first time on the LPGA/European Tours, while venerable, vicious Oakmont hosted the premier amateur event for the fellows. Other sites included Sedgefield, Canyon Meadows, Indian Creek, and London. If you’re not an architecture maven, we’ve got facts and numbers to crunch for you. Have a read of this week’s Tour Rundown, as we round up six separate events.

PGA Tour: August is the cruelest month at Wyndham

1:35 – Si Woo Kim in house at -15. Five golfers on course at -15.
1:45 – Kim and Adam Scott in house at -15. Four golfers on course at -15
2:05 – Branden Grace birdies 18 to join Kim, Scott, Kevin Kisner, Kevin Na, and Roger Sloan at -15
2:06 – Russell Henley misses a four-feet putt and makes bogey at 18 to fall out of first place for the FIRST TIME ALL WEEK!
2:10 – Six-way playoff for trophy commences.

1st Playoff Hole – Everyone makes par. Scott misses Henley-esque putt for the win. Playoff continues.
2nd Playoff Hole – Kevin Kisner makes Henley-esque putt for the win.

When six golfers play off for the title, the preceding 72 holes seem unimportant. What was most odd about the conclusion to the Wyndham was:

  • Henley putted brilliantly all week … until he didn’t, when it mattered most.
  • Scott had made 53 consecutive putts inside five feet … until he missed the most important one.
  • Kisner is a strong, match-play golfer. Hopefully he will build on this win and catch Ryder Cup captain Steve Stricker’s eye during the upcoming playoff season. Kisner will need at least one FedEx Cup playoff win to move into the top ten.

Here’s hoping Henley rebounds with a victory soon. This one stung, stung, stung.

LPGA: Scottish Open sees maiden win for seasoned American

From 2009 to 2011, Ryann O’Toole went from Futures Tour to Big Break to LPGA to USA Solheim Cup side. Without a doubt, she was an odd and unexpected selection in 2011, although she performed well with a 2-0-2 record. For the next decade, O’Toole ground out a living on tour, never winning and never being fitted for another Team USA kit. That will probably change soon, as O’Toole put on the performance of her career this week in Fife.

The Dumbarnie Links aren’t all that far from St. Andrews, but they are much newer than all but one course in the auld toon. O’Toole, Ariya Jutanugarn, and Charley Hull began day four of the Scottish Open in a tie for first, with pursuers galore in the kingdom of golf. O’Toole jumped up early with birdies at 1, 3, and 4, to take the lead. She didn’t look back, and she didn’t ever see Old Lady Bogey on the day. Sure, there were a few, nervy putts for par, but she made them all. On the day, the California native posted eight birdies for 64, and held a determined Atthaya Thitikul at arm’s length. Thitikul made a pair of bogeys on the inward half, and fell back into a tie for second with Lydia Ko, whose 17th-hole eagle two brought her to 14-under par. O’Toole’s three-shot victory stamps her as a favorite for this week’s Open Championship at Carnoustie.

To the victor, comes the shower!

Korn Ferry: Pinnacle Bank Championship by the Skinns of his teeth

If you shot 65 or 66 on Thursday, you were at the top of the leaderboard, but you weren’t in a long-term relationship. The best that group did was a tie for 15th on the week. 67 was the magic number for Thursday. Those who shot 67, finished 1st, 4th, and 9th. Interesting, no?

David Skinns of England has banged his head against golf’s doors and walls since he graduated from the University of Tennessee in 2003. Last month, Skinns nearly broke them down at the Colorado Open, where he lost in a playoff for the title. This week, Skinns opened with one of those 67s, then posted 67-69 to enter day four with a shot at the title. Germany’s Stephan Jaeger, who had been there before, suffered an uncharacteristic malaise on Sunday and dropped to 4th position. As the leaders descended, Skinns made his move. He had six birdies on the day for yet another 67, and avoided a full-on Jared Wolfe comeback. Wolfe signed for the second-low round of the day (65) and moved up 17 places, into a tie for second with Zecheng Dou.

Skinns entered the week 46 on the race for a PGA Tour card. Today’s win will sneak him onto the PGA Tour for the first time. Quite the week, no?

European Tour: Cazoo Classic to Scotland’s Hill

Imagine that someone told you that your eight-under par effort on Sunday, which followed on the heels of your Saturday six-under, simply wouldn’t be good enough. That you would make five consecutive birdies over the final nine holes, yet you would come up short. Welcome to the world of France’s Alexander Levy. Despite playing the weekend in 130 shots, Levy’s 15-under total was one shy of the 16-deep tally posted by Scotland’s Callum Hill.

Everyone began day four in hot pursuit of Denmark’s Rasmus Højgaard. The Great Dane regressed to OK Dane, as Sunday brought an even-par 72, dropping him into a tie for third. England’s Richard Bland started strong, fizzled through the turn, then bravely rebounded, to equal Højgaard and two others. Hill had the benefit of a final-group pairing, and knew precisely what Levy had done earlier. Hill’s three-under effort on the inward half was just enough to secure an initial European Tour title at the age of 26.

PGA Tour Champions: Shaw Classic

Sometimes, the unheralded ones win. The Shaw Classic of 2021 was always going to be that way. You had the Billys, Mayfair and Andrade, attempting to snare a victory and return to the glory days of their youth. You had Steve Flesch, a solid but underrated lefty, running the show down the stretch. And then came Doug Barron, he of the one Tour Champions victory in 2019, with his eagle at the 11th. Nice they said, something that will ensure a top-five finish for the journeyman. For four consecutive Barron pars, that seemed to be his destiny.

With three holes to play, Barron caught lightning in a bottle. He birdied 16, then 17, and ripped his long approach onto the par-five 18th in two. Two putts later, Barron had reached 18-under par. Behind him, Flesch lost his momentum, playing the same stretch in plus-one. He would finish solo second, tied for his best result of the campaign. The victory moved Barron from 23rd to 16th on the season race for the Schwab Cup, ensuring that he will be exempt once more when the tour returns for 2022.

USGA: U.S. Men’s Amateur flies away with a winning Piot

Crunch these numbers: 34 holes were played in Sunday’s final match, and 2o of those were won outright by one of the two finalists. Oakmont Country Club’s stern, championship layout does that to a golfer. One minute, you’ve won three out of four holes to take a two-up lead, as Ohio’s Austin Greaser did to open the afternoon round. The next, you’ve lost four consecutive holes and find yourself no longer three-up, but one-down, as happened to the very same Greaser, later in the afternoon.

It’s somewhat inappropriate that both James Piot and Greaser were in the finals of the premier men’s amateur event in the USA. Neither was highly recruited out of high school, and both have played with chips on their shoulders ever since. Piot has thrived at Michigan State, while Greaser has come into his own at the University of North Carolina. As the twosome turned to their fourth and final nine holes on the day, Greaser held a three-up advantage.

At that point, Piot found an untested gear. He rattled off three birdies in four holes, and his par-five at the 12th (their 30th) was good enough for a win. After the 32nd hole was halved, Piot made a killer par at the mammoth 15th hole (their 33rd) for a fifth win in six holes. Pars at 16 and 17 brought the match to a close. Greaser’s putt for birdie hit the edge and spun away, leaving Piot as a 2 & 1 winner of the Havermeyer trophy.

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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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