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Five Things We Learned: Saturday at the PGA Championship

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Moving Day is a term applied to round three of a four-round tournament. It suggests that competitors need a solid or spectacular round on Saturday, in order to position themselves for potential Sunday victory. Among the favorites in contention after 36 holes, only Scottie Scheffler fell out of contention. The Texan suffered a par-double-bogey-bogey start, and could not recover. Three more bogeys damaged his score even more. Scheffler begins day four at seven-under par, eight shots behind the leaders.

As for those leaders, it’s a familiar pair, and we’ll get to them. We saw Justin Rose return to major-championship contention for the first time in a while. He’ll need 63 on Sunday to matter, but it’s still good to see the two-time major winner (Olympic Gold counts!) in the mix. Bryson DeChambeau carried the LIV flag into the day-four conversation, and with a low 60s score, he’ll have a chance at a second major title. Even the home-state feloow, Justin Thomas, found a way to matter. He’s on the outside, looking in, but a 60 is not inconceivable, and 11-under would certainly win the day, if not the week.

1. Xander holds the lead

There’s a burden that comes with posting a score of 62. Media, fans, and even the player hope and even expect to see it again. Xander Schauffele wasn’t on track to repeat that number of Saturday, but he stood in the middle of the 15th fairway and thought about how low he could go. Three-under par on the day, coming off birdie at 14, with a pitch to the green, and he went for the flag and missed.

Schauffele made an unanticipated mistake and it cost him two shots. His most immediate competitor was in his group and made birdie, retrieving three shots in one hole. That’s the sort of moment that goes down in history as a gut check. Schauffele’s gut responded. He leveled the wings with par at 16, then closed with birdies at 17 and 18, to returne to 15-under par. The X Man will tee off again in the final pairing, and take a run at his first major title. The fifteenth hole might loom large again in the outcome; hopefully, a lesson has been learned!

2. Morikawa can taste another PGA

For two years, Collin Morikawa was that guy. He won this tournament in 2020, then collected the Open Championship jug at Sandwich in 2021. Win two majors, and everyone heads down the career grand slam discussion. Three years on, Morikawa has the same number of majors on his dossier, and two more professional wins to show. He’s probably antsy for another major.

The California native stumbled early on Saturday. He made bogey at the two-shot second hole, then dug in with everything he had. A birdie at three balanced the card, and four more came his way. None was bigger than the three that he made at the 15th, as the leader was making double bogey in his group! Morikawa took a one-shot lead there, then closed with birdie at the last to reach Sunday morning tied at the top with Xander Schauffele.

Sunday will fill with drama, but it won’t involve just that grouping. When Morikawa tees off at 2:35 Louisville time, a move will have been made. Someone close by (one at -14, three at -13, two at -12) will be a few under par, and the thermometer will have risen. Our guess, simply, is that Morikawa will need 66 to win outright on Sunday. 20-under par should get it done, and to go down as one of the greats, he’ll need to be great.

3. Shane shares PGA record

Shane Lowry goes down as one of the most popular major champions of this era. His Open Championship win at Royal Portrush in 2019 kicked off a massive celebration of Irish pride and delight. Lowry hasn’t added to that major total of one, but the cask-chested, smile-and-a-beard doesn’t need to. He’s the sort who can take a two-man win, as he had this season with Rory McIlroy in New Orleans, and elevate its worth. He’s the sort who anchors an international side, as he does every two years in the Ryder Cup.

This week in Kentucky is different. Lowry has the chance to keep the hot hand and claim a second major title. These opportunities don’t come around that often. Lowry was fire on Saturday. He posted the first, sub-thirty nine of the tournament on the outward half. HIs six birdies and three pars gave him 29, and he looked for all the world to be the man to chase. The inward half wasn’t quite as volcanic, but the card was clean, and he came home in 33. His score matched Schauffele’s opening round, for the all-time low, 18-hole score, in PGA Championship history.

What’s to do? Make putts early. Find a way to get back in the zone and ride that spaceship to the final green. Lowry most likely needs to finish Saturday in 65 strokes or fewer, and posting 127 on a major championship weekend is unheard of. That’s why they play, though, isn’t it? Why not Shane, why not today?

4. Theegala lost, then found

As far as I was concerned, Sahith Theegala was yesterday’s news. Consecutive bogeys at five and six, supported by zero birdies through eight holes, destined him for the also-ran section of the leader board. I was frightfully incorrect.

Theegala found some inspiration at the ninth tee. Maybe it was a kick in the arse by his caddie, or by him, but a flame ignited. Theegals made the first of six birdies at the outward home hole, and posted 31 coming home. Birdie at the final hole ensured that he would tee off in Sunday’s penultimate group, with Shane Lowry.

It is often written that all should be wary of the wounded, as they fight for survival. Theegala dislocated a rib two weeks ago, at Quail Hollow. This week, he has been under the weather with some bug. With his mind focused on health, rather than score, he has done quite well. If he stays that course, one last round, he might have to do a heavy lift on Sunday, with the Wannamaker trophy in his hands.

5. The Prediction!

Despite all the kind words I’ve written about the aforementioned four gentlemen, none of them will exit Louisville with the happiest of visages. The winner, however, will not let us down in the smiles department. Viktor Hovland teed off in the final pairing last year, at Oak Hill, and had a front-row seat in the Koepka Koaster, as Brooks Koepka showed the Norwegian how to win a major championship. Rest assured that Hovland took copious notes. His frustration at a Masters missed cut in April has been channeled into his performance this week.

What will go down? Hovland will have at least one holed shot from off the green on Sunday’s outward nine. He’ll find a groove and the putter will warm up quickly. Hovland will sign for the third 62 of the week, but will have to wait as each of the final four golfers has a chance to tie at the final hole. One will, and they will head to a play-off, where Hovland will emerge in overtime.

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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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  1. George

    May 19, 2024 at 12:51 pm

    Yawn

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Equipment

Callaway Opus wedges launched on PGA Tour

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Editor’s note: This is an excerpt of an article our Andrew Tursky filed for PGATour.com’s Equipment Report. Read the full piece here.

While this is the world’s first official look at the final versions of the Opus line of wedges, Callaway staffers have actually been involved In the prototyping and design process for around two years, according to Callaway Tour Manager Joe Toulon.

“The Tour launch is basically when we’re introducing it to the Tour players officially for the first time,” Toulon said on Tuesday at the 2024 Travelers Championship. “We’ve done a lot of work with this wedge in the prototyping stages. It’s a project that we’ve really kicked off 2 years ago, when we really started digging into this category and understanding what the best players in the world look for in a wedge.”

Of course, Callaway’s research and design team has been studying the wedge category for decades, but this time around – during the design of the new Opus wedges – Callaway put more power than ever into the hands of PGA TOUR players. Toulon and team paid close attention to everything Tour players wanted from a wedge, including the look at address, the shape of the leading edge, how the club sits on the ground with the face open, the shaping of the sole, the sound, the feel, and how the wedge interacts with the turf at impact under various conditions.

Although all factors were considered, the most significant barrier to entry for Tour players is their first impression of the shape of the wedge at address.

“The shape is really something we spent a lot of time with, and getting it to look good to the majority of players – it’s something that you may not hit everybody’s eye exactly right, but this is something where we got countless hours of feedback and testing from Tour players, and this is kind of the final product,” Toulon said. “…I think one of the things that players really focus on when they set a wedge down for the first time is what it looks like at address, and what it looks like when you open the face, and we did a lot around that; the shaping and the roundness of this wedge.”

Toulon calls it the “final” product, because there were various iterations of the Opus wedges before this. Actually, these final versions of the Opus wedges are based on the sixth prototype, specifically.

“[The Opus wedge] was code named ‘S6’ during the process,” Toulon said. “We stamped every wedge out here (on the PGA TOUR) in this shape with S6, and that basically just stands for some of the shaping designs we went through. That was the sixth shape design that we settled on based on what the player feedback was. That’s really the whole story behind this wedge; tour-inspired, tour-driven. These guys out here designed this wedge. This is just the final cosmetic and final design that we went with.”

Read the full piece here.

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Your 2024 U.S. Open champion is BDC

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Opening Act: The Amateurs

There’s a balance to the universe, as Shipley gets a top USGA medal

Despite their given name, Neal Shipley and Luke Clanton played like the main attraction on Sunday. That’s not to say that their games were more elite; just similar. Case in point: Clanton played the final four holes bogey-bogey-par-bogey and lost the silver medal by two shots. Shipley closed in bogey-birdie-bogey-par and won a silver medal, to go with his runner-up silver medal from the 2023 US Amateur.

For fans of the amateur race, three were fortunate to qualify for the weekend’s 36 holes at Pinehurst. Gunnar Broin was in fine position at +3 through 36 holes, but a day-three 81 took him out of the running for the no-pay honors. He did close with 72, to finish at +16 and a tie for 70th place. Shipley and Clanton, as if scripted by Hollywood, were partnered in the 12:04 game, and would not have to look beyond their own fairway, to determine how they stood.

Shipley opened with a birdie, but gave the stroke back to Old Man Par at the very next hole. A double bogey at the tricky 8th brought him to the halfway house in 37 strokes. Clanton had bogeys at four, six, and eight, but a birdie at seven kept their low-am match even as they turned for home. Clanton found a pair of birdies at 10 and 13, but a bogey at 12 kept him even with Shipley, as they headed for the closing four. No stretch of holes could be any more disconcerting than this quadrilateral. Two par threes, sandwiched around a par five that plays as a par four, concluding with a par four that climbs uphill to a massive closing surface.

After both amateurs missed the 15th green and took three to get down, they both drove the fairway of 16, and faced 210-yard approach shots. Clanton put his shot some 50 feet from the hole, while Shipley rifled an iron to five feet. The former took three to get down for bogey, while the later drained his putt for three. In that instant, a two-shot advantage was forged. On 17, Clanton found the putting surface with his tee ball and made three, while Shipley returned a shot with another bogey four. On 18, Clanton hit a miraculous recovery iron to five feet, but his attempt to jam home the birdie for the tie was awry, and he missed the subsequent (and meaningless) putt for par. Shipley’s textbook fairway-green-two putts for par at the home hole conlcuded the mission.

The Main Event: The Professionals

It’s all  endurance, as DeChambeau claims 2nd US Open

They say that there are two types of folks that watch races: ones looking for excellence, and others that hope for crashes. We should have known that the 2024 US Open at Pinehurst #2 would end with a gut-wrenching crash. All of the elements were present: super-fast greens, surface edges that fell off into disaster, and wire grass-laden waste areas where consumate luck was the determiner for back-of-ball contact. For every Francesco Molinari moment (he of the 36th-hole ace to make the cut on the number) there were myriad stories of unfortunate bounces and pulls of gravity.

My prediction of a playoff missed by one shot. My prediction of a Matsuyama victory missed by four shots. All in all, I wasn’t far off. I made those predictions while hoping, privately, for a Rory McIlroy victory. When he took a two-shot advantage at the 12th, and preserved it at the short 13th, matching Bryson DeChambeau’s birdie three, those in the know, knew that it was far from over.

Let’s back up to the beginning of the fourth round. Let’s recall that DeChambeau held a three-shot advantage after 54 holes, which those in the know, know is nothing. One wayward swing brings double and triple bogey into the realm of the possible, and that trio of shots goes away in a gust. When DeChambeau made bogey at the fourth, his first of the day, a friend texted Bryson is imploding! True, there was much hyperbole around the place, but those in the know, knew that bogey at the long fourth was not nearly as large a speed bump as bogey at the par-five fifth, which Rory made.

Bryson DeChambeau’s front nine was a boring affair. Apart from that solitary bogey, he had nothing but par on the card. For those … all right, no more “in the know.” Eight pars is a sign of strength in the US Open. Even when McIlroy laced an iron fifteen feet above the hole, then drained the putt for two, DeChambeau didn’t flinch. Even when McIlroy added three birdies over the next four holes, DeChambeau didn’t flinch. Recall, please, that DeChambeau followed a 52nd-hole double bogey with a 53rd-hole birdie on Saturday. All who love Rory, know that controlling his emotions and preserving balance, is elusive. For DeChambeau, it was his greatest strength. They wrote and said that Ludvig Aberg had the cool of a gunslinger, but he finished 73-73 for a 12th place tie.

It was as if the denouement of the Amateur race turned into an eerie, Groundhog’s Day-effect. Over the closing four holes, McIlroy made three bogeys, while DeChambeau closed in plus-one. McIlroy’s two-shot advantage evaporated, thanks to missed putts of four and two-point-five feet on the 18th and 16th greens.

Worst of all was the iron that he played into 15. It was reminiscent of Tom Watson’s approach to the 72nd hole at Royal Troon in 2009. Needing only to put the ball on the front of the green to guarantee par and a major title at age 59, Watson momentarily forgot about adrenaline, and bounded over the green for bogey. This year, it was McIlroy’s turn. His tee shot landed in the middle of the rock-hard putting surface, and bounced, then rolled, over the target and up against a toupee of wire grass.

Thus spake Zarathustra, and thus did fate annoint Bryson DeChambeau the 2024 US Open champion. The big man from Texafornia did everything he could to give the tournament to McIlroy, but his grit and his guile would not allow that result. Few would ever have called the brawny Bryson the consumate US Open player but, in joining Brooks Koepka as the only golfer since Tiger Woods to win two of them, that might be his legacy.

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5 Things We Learned: Saturday at the U.S. Open

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If you weren’t on the edge of your seat as Saturday afternoon’s play thread unraveled, you were certainly having a good nap. Golf at Pinehurst was riveting, as birdies and double bogeys faced off in a breathaking dance. Competitors suddenly rose to heights, then fell just as quickly away to the depths. The leader through three rounds stands at seven-under par, with seven other conestants at minus-one or better. For the first time all week, the lead involves just one golfer, and there is a three-shot gap until the next players. It’s uncharted territory for the 124th US Open, and it merits a bit of investigation and explanation, along with a dash of anticipation. Five bits of information tie the third round in a splendid bow, and I’ll share those five things we learned with you, right now.

1. Holes 1 and 2 are not to be assumed

Thomas Detry’s hard work went away in the space of 35 minutes. He opened with bogey and followed with double, at Saturday’s first two holes. Pinehurst #2 can still be managed, but it’s a lot harder when you’re already three over par on the day. Neither the first nor the second is particularly daunting from a distance perspective. One plays slightly downward, and two is even more downhill, but the challenges around the green are regrettable, when not properly planned. Detry made five from the middle of the first fairway, thanks to three putts from the front of the putting surface. He followed with six at the second, victimized first by the piney sands along the fairway, then by the bunker that guards the right edge of the green. Detry fell away to two-over par after his 76, and will wonder how the formerly-benign opening sharpened its claws so quickly.

Solid Quote: Yeah, didn’t really get off to a great start. 3-putted the first. We (Detry and Caddy) kind of misjudged the yardage on the 2nd, which left us in a horrible spot. So double there.

Honestly, couldn’t have been a worse start because I didn’t really miss a shot, to be honest. We kind of misjudged the yardage. Laid up in the bunker. Kind of game over. 3-over after three, not good.

But I kind of regrouped nicely after that. The greens are a little bit bumpy, moving a little bit more. I shaved a couple of edges. Felt like I was a little bit unlucky on the greens. I’m looking forward for some redemption tomorrow.

2. Hole number three, while early, can be pivotal

The USGA was content to push the tees up a bit on the short, third hole on Saturday. It paid off, as players went after the green with their tee shots. Eagles were sparingly made, and birdies came more often than on previous days. If a player stands even or a bit under par after the opening pair, then finds birdie or eagle at three on Sunday, heartbeats will quicken and the game will be truly afoot. They’ll need to follow the leads of Neal Shipley and Cory Conners, both of whom found the putting surface in one on Saturday.

Solid Quote: Out here you can’t play defensive golf. If you (Morikawa) play defensive golf, it goes offline a little bit more, you’re 35 yards away from the pin.

3. Make your move in the round’s middle

Bryson DeChambeau picked up four shots on the card on Saturday, from holes five through eleven. The strong man from Texafornia (grew up in California, then played college golf in Texas) saved strokes at five and seven, then packed consecutive birdies at ten and eleven. The middle holes at the Deuce aren’t necessarily soft. They are attractive to scoring, especially when you’ve found a way to survive the first quartet. You gain momentum at the fourth, with the massively-downhill drive, then build opportunity with a well-planned fifth, the first par five of the day. The long holes are finished at the tenth green, but holes eleven through fourteen offer the chance to save a few more shots, before the long trek home.

Solid Quote: … on 13 I (DeChambeau) was going for the flag knowing the wind was off the right. It it went over to the left, totally fine. But I pushed it just a little bit and drew it back perfectly at the flag on 13. I knew that was in the realm of possibilities. Got a little lucky there.

Then 14 I was trying to hit it more toward Ludvig’s ball. I hit a great shot, just didn’t start out with any draw spin and the wind pushed it right towards the flag.

That’s kind of what you’re doing out here, is you’re trying to play conservative golf that gives you the opportunity to hit it close in some scenarios. That’s the best way I can describe it.

4. Hold on through the finish

Pinehurst’s number two course closes with two par threes, a par four that was built to be a par five, and an unforgettable finisher that conjures up images of fist pumps and sighs of relief. It’s hard to build a rhythm when you hit iron-drive-iron-driver over the closing quartet.

Solid quote: You (Pavon) feel like sometimes you are flying a little bit, your game, everything is going on, and then at some point you just miss one green, can see a bogey, and then all of a sudden it starts to be harder in your mind and in your game, and you still have to finish the round.

5. How do we sort this out?

With a three-shot advantage, the joystick is in DeChambeau’s hand. He forces everyone to shoot 67 or better, if he posts 70. His pairing in the final game with Matthieu Pavon is not ideal. The Frenchman has the potential to play a solid round, but his inexperience with the klieg lights of a major championship, fourth round, final pairing could lead to a high number. Does this faltering then distract DeChambeau? Perhaps. I believe that will happen, and he will post 72 on the day, finishing at minus five.

That wee wobble opens the door for the penultimate pairing. Cantlay and McIlroy will feel like the final day at a Ryder Cup, perhaps even a rehearsal for 2025 and Bethpage Black. They will be uber-focused on beating each other. The expectation will be that no other leader is better suited to handle Sunday’s pressure. Win the battle and you win the war. One of the two of them will post 68, and will reach a playoff at minus six.

The other playoff participant will come from a bit farther back. Either Hideki or Ludvig will inscribe 66 on his card on day the fourth, and will join battle for another two holes. We haven’t had a US Open playoff since Tiger Woods defeated Rocco Mediate in 2008, which means that we’ve never experienced a two-hole, aggregate score resolution.

We’ll have one on Sunday, plus one more hole. If contestants are tied after the aggregate, they move to sudden victory on the third playoff hole and beyond. After the two golfers match scores on one and eighteen, the 2024 US Open will be decided on the second playing of the first hole, and the winner will be the first male Japanese golfer to claim a USGA Open title: Hideki Matsuyama. For him, it will be fun.

Solid Quote: Yeah, I (Matsuyama) think I would be able to enjoy tomorrow if I can adjust my shot and putt well. It will be something fun tomorrow.

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