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Tour Rundown: Fate rewards Nordqvist, Finau answers the call

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Part of the USA watched as Hurricane Henri moved through the Atlantic Ocean, destined for the upper east coast and metro New York. The PGA Tour wisely postponed round four of its first playoff event. The only guy who truly hated that decision was Cameron Smith, he of the mullet. The Aussie signed for 60 on Saturday, and must have been ready for more, but had to wait a bit longer. In the interim, the LPGA crowned a champion, and three other tours identified winners. How did Smith and Company fare on Monday at The Northern Trust? Roll on with us to this week’s edition of Tour Rundown to find out.

LPGA: Fate rewards Nordqvist with British Open title

I’m a big believer in fate, and I believe that Anna Nordqvist’s playoff loss in the 2016 US Open was an ethical breach by the USGA. The Swede has enjoyed mighty success, but the loss due to an indefensible vagary must have stung like a thousand bee stings. Eyes were not on her in the run-up to this week at Carnoustie, which is precisely the way champions like things. Would it be Nelly, or Georgia, or Ariya, or some unexpected challenger like Lizette, or Madelene, or Nanna? Well, it rhymed with Nanna, so let’s get to it.

Nordqvist’s recipe for a third major title had few ingredients. First, hang around through 36 with a pair of 71s. Then, light up the course for the week’s low round by two shots on Saturday, three better than anyone else in contention. Finally, play rock-solid on Sunday and let the rest of them make mistakes. Wags and pundits will contend that a third round should not figure into the annals of greatness, but the Swede’s seven-birdie, zero-bogey effort on moving day merits consideration. No one else had better than 68, which meant that Nordqvist gained more than those three shots on the challengers. On Sunday, she went out and posted just one bogey, well offset by four birdies.

On her heels were former Open champion Georgia Hall, who parlayed two eagles and three birdies into a closing 67. Alas, it was one shot away from forcing a playoff. Madelene Sagstrom, a fellow Swede, stood tied with the champion as she played the 72nd hole. A disheartening bogey at the home hole dropped her into a tie with Hall for 2nd. Has fate returned something stolen to Nordstrom the Great? I say yes!

PGA Tour: Northern Trust answers the big question in PGA Tour Golf

Five years ago, in March, Tony Finau won in Puerto Rico. Two years on, he was selected to the USA Ryder Cup squad, still with one victory. On and on, the months came and went, with high finishes, close calls, but no second victory to accompany the first one. Finally, after five years of chasing drives and finishing putts, Tony Finau has won again. Finau defeated Cameron Smith on the first extra hole to claim the first playoff event of 2021. He’ll again play for the USA at the Ryder Cup next month. For now, he has the FedEx Cup in his scope.

Finau played in the penultimate pairing on Monday, after the final round was postponed a day. While his fellow competitors spun their wheels a bit, Finau caught lightning on the inward half. He notched three birdies coming home, but no shot was more important that the approach he hit to the par-five 13th hole. From 218 yards, Finau ripped a skyscraper over water, to three feet for eagle. His inward 30 gave him 65 on the day, highlighted by a clutch up-and-down for par at the last hole.  Jon Rahm, playing behind Finau, made a pair of bogies coming home, to finish third by himself.

Only Cameron Smith, tied for the lead with Rahm at day’s start, could catch him. Smith’s birdies at 16 and 17 forced a playoff, but went OOB on his extra-hole tee shot to end his hopes. THAT question no longer lingers, and it’s time for the BMW in Maryland, to see who takes charge of the FedEx Cup playoff chase.

European Tour: Veerman wins Czech Masters as others fade 

It’s a shame that headlines and ledes often shuffle 63 holes aside, in favor of the events of the closing nine holes. At the Albatross Resort in Praque, one could make a case for shuffling the initial 69 holes aside, as the fireworks (fierce and fizzled) took place over the final triumvirate of holes. In the mix were Johannes Veerman of the USA and Tapio Pulkkanen of Finland, along with major champion Henrik Stenson of Sweden. Each of them would give what Sean Crocker (also USA) did at the 18th: make birdie to back-door his way into a tie for second.

At the par-three 16th hole, both Pulkkanen and Veerman made birdie two, while Stenson’s tee ball met a watery demise, along with his chance at victory. At that juncture, the Fedora-wearing Pulkkanen held a one-shot advantage over Veerman. All of that went away as the Fin finished bogey-double bogey, while Veerman made a pair of pars. Pulkkanen fell into the aforementioned tie for second, while Veerman raised a European Tour trophy for the first time. Stenson concluded the week in a tie for fourth spot.

Korn Ferry Tour: Boise Open is Siggnificant victory for Greyson

This oldest of the AAA Tour events (so many sponsors over the years to cue up … Hogan, Nike, Buy.Com, Nationwide, Web.Com) has seen brilliant finishes over the years. This year, JJ Spaun made birdie at the last to reach 18 under par, but he didn’t win. England’s Aaron Rai came to the last with the lead, made double bogey, and he didn’t win. And Stephan Jaeger, who finds himself in contention nearly every week, made par at the 72nd hole, but he didn’t win!

Back in May, Greyson Sigg broke through in Knoxville for his first Korn Ferry Tour title. At Boise, he notched victory number two into his persimmon. The UGeorgia alumnus is on his way to the PGA Tour for 2021-2022, but rolling on to the big tour with two titles certainly gives more confidence than one. At Knoxville, Sigg opened with 61, closed with 66, and held off … yup, Stephan Jaeger. At Boise, Sigg followed the same recipe: put yourself in position and let the other guy make the mistake. Rai muscled his approach over the green, chipped from the rough behind and then, in front of, the final green, and fell to a tie for second with Spaun.

PGA Tour Champions: Pampling cues up Boeing Classic for first Champions win

I always think back to Twin Peaks when I consider the pacific northwest. Strange things can happen there. Who would expect the daring Woody Austin to play Sunday’s final nine in +1, including bogey at the par-five last, when birdie would have earned a playoff spot? Who would anticipate that Jim Furyk, after touring the front in a commanding minus-three, would play that same back nine in the same +1, with one bogey and seven pars? That final hole wasn’t impossible. Billy Mayfair and Alex Cejka made birdie and eagle, respectively, in the final 60 minutes of the tournament. Strange things, indeed.

So let us introduce Rodney Pampling, Australian by birth, golfer by choice, as your Boeing Classic winner for 2021. Pampling won three times on the PGA Tour, and played his final half in 4-3-2. He posted four pars, three birdies, and two bogies. Those numbers jumped him ahead of the aforementioned Mayfair and Furyk, along with Tim Herron, all of whom tied for second at 11-under par. Pampling’s closing 66 got him to 12 deep on the week. He wasn’t the only golfer to reach that figure, but he was the only one to take up permanent residence there.

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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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