Monday Scramble: Cam the man in Honolulu; nerves of Steele

Ryan Lavner

Cameron Smith breaks through on his own, Brendan Steele bobbles late, Michelle Wie makes a big announcement, Charlie Woods gets the Tiger treatment and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:

1. Cameron Smith earned his first individual PGA Tour title – and second overall – with a playoff victory at the Sony Open.

In a driving rain, Smith’s short game and putting were the deciding factor. No surprise there – the Australian has never been a great ball-striker; in fact, he’s never ranked better than 81st in strokes gained: off the tee or approach. But the annoying and windswept conditions were ideal for a guy who can get up-and-down from anywhere, and after a thinned long iron into the greenside bunker on 18, he blasted out over the bunkers to 8 feet and then hearted the putt to force extra holes.

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Smith has been trending in this direction for the past few years. He won the Zurich with Jonas Blixt. He’s a two-time Australian PGA champ. He’s top-10'd in majors and WGCs. This was the next logical step, and he took advantage of Brendan Steele’s late miscues.

Champion Chats: Smith's Sony win a product of perspective

2. With three bogeys in his last seven holes, Steele coughed up a late lead and lost in the Sony playoff.

It was a brutal way to finish for Steele, a three-time Tour winner who hasn’t had a top-10 in more than two years. Staked to a two-shot lead with two to play, Steele couldn’t get up-and-down from a straightforward spot long and left of the 17th green, then waited 15 minutes on the final tee. After a perfect drive, he waited ANOTHER 15 minutes after the greens staff brought out the squeegees and Ryan Palmer neglected to hit a provisional.

That's an agonizingly long time to play the final hole with the tournament on the line, and so what happened next seemed inevitable: A rope hook with a 2-iron that sailed over the hospitality tents and near the 10th fairway, 65 yards away.

He made par on the easy par 5, then bogeyed the playoff hole after a misjudged wedge.

Afterward, Steele didn’t blame his miscues on the long wait – a 237-yard 2-iron, in the rain, from a soggy lie, isn’t the easiest shot to pull off. But the loss stung, no doubt, even for a guy in desperate need of a good week.

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steele_1920_sony20_d4_sigh

3. In his news conference Saturday night, Steele revealed why he’s quietly fallen off the past two years, failing to record a top-10 for more than two years until the Sony.

In a refreshing bit of candor, Steele explained that his downturn in form (he'd plummeted to No. 403 in the world) coincided with the addition of his first child. Fatherhood can sometimes lead to a baby bump, but instead it produced the opposite effect for Steele – rather than make golf easier because his life had a greater purpose, he found himself unmotivated and unwilling to put in the time because he wanted to spend time with his family.

So low was Steele, in fact, that during the two-month break he wondered whether he could keep his card in 2020.

That discussion helped relit his fire during the offseason and, in his first start of 2020, in his first appearance at the Sony in nearly a decade, he finished second. Better days are ahead.

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thomas_1920_toc19_d4_reed.jpg

4. A week after dueling in a playoff at Kapalua, both Justin Thomas and Patrick Reed miss the cut at the Sony.

Neither Thomas nor Reed had missed a cut since last summer, but this wasn’t a shocker.

Thomas looked, felt and sounded gassed after his harder-than-anticipated playoff victory at the Tournament of Champions. It's hard for a recent winner to dig deep, especially after getting wind-whipped for a week. Also: In his pre-tournament presser, Thomas said that Waialae’s greens were perhaps the softest he’d ever seen on Tour – and then he went out and lost more than four shots to the field on the greens.

Reed was fortunate to even make the playoff at Kapalua, given he ranked second-to-last in the field in greens hit. His ball-striking wasn’t much better a few days later, ranking 108th in strokes gained: tee-to-green, and his short game couldn’t bail him out this time.

Thomas was asked – for some reason – if there was any concern about his game.

"No. None at all," he said.

Of course not.  

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wie_1920_johnny_pregnant_announcement

5. Michelle Wie announces that she’s expecting her first child later this year.

Congratulations are in order for the newly married Wie, who turned 30 last fall. What this means for the remainder of her golf career remains to be seen.

On a conference call with reporters, Wie said that the addition to her family – she’s expecting a girl this summer – makes her more motivated than ever to return. That's interesting, seeing how last year, after another injury setback, she wondered just how much longer she could play. Even at this point she’s not fully recovered from a wrist injury that cost her the back half of the 2019 season, just the latest in a series of recent ailments.

Wie seemed to set up her post-golf plans this year by signing on with CBS Sports’ broadcast team for a select number of events. It might be the only time we see her at a tournament this year.

Both on and off golf course, Wie still dreaming big

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...

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The WTH? Moment of the Week: Trinity Forest. To the chagrin of architecture enthusiasts, the Tour is leaving the Bill Coore and Ben Crenshaw design after just three years. The tournament took a financial hit after it was plagued by poor attendance (it’s in a, uh, remote location) and a D-level field (split from Colonial and played around the PGA), and the minimalist design wasn't a huge hit with players who are used to bombing-and-gouging into Charmin-soft greens. The worse news of all: It could be headed back, for a year or two, until the new PGA course is ready, to TPC Four Seasons, which ranked annually as one of the worst on Tour.

R.I.P.: Pete Dye. The game-changing course architect had his fingerprints all over some of the most maddening, deceptive layouts in the world, none more so than TPC Sawgrass. A true genius who will be dearly missed.

Surely This Will Be Kept in the Proper Perspective: Charlie Woods. Video surfaced of Tiger’s son’s sweet swing, with his daddy caddie looking on. Let’s not get carried away here – the young Woods tied for ninth in the nine-hole event, with a 41 – but I’m pretty sure that he’s going to win at least 50 majors.

Who Said Marriage Kills Your Golf Game: Bo Hoag. A week after tying the knot, the former Ohio State standout surged into the lead during the third round of the Sony, eventually tying for ninth. It’s the rookie’s third top-20 in his past four starts.  

Well Done, Young Man: Jayden Schaper. Branden Grace earned the title, of course, but Schaper's tie for sixth at the South African Open – the best finish by an amateur on the European Tour in 10 years – was even more impressive when you consider that the bloated field was (gulp) 240 guys deep.

Give Him Some Conditional Status: Jay Monahan. Hey, he’s no Charlie Woods, but the Commish has a pure move that he put on display under the lights at TPC Sawgrass.

Hey, Remember Me?: Tianlang Guan. Just 14 when he made the cut at the 2013 Masters, Guan’s career stalled over the past few years, including an unimpactful stint at Arizona, but he now has somewhere to play for the rest of 2020: He qualified for PGA Tour China, one of the feeder systems to the big leagues.  

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Matt Kuchar. Inconsistent form over the past few months, but his history at Waialae, including a victory last year, was impossible to ignore: Six straight top-15s! So of course he wound up on the wrong side of the cut line, after a Friday 73 in windy conditions. Sigh.

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