Monday Scramble: DJ's back and fans are coming with him to Houston

Ryan Lavner
·8 min read

Brian Gay turns back the clock, Darren Clarke has another reason to celebrate, Dustin Johnson returns, Will Zalatoris says farewell to the Korn Ferry Tour and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Gay on Bermuda playoff win: ‘This is absolutely insane’

1. Brian Gay became the latest 40-something winner on the PGA Tour, winning the Bermuda Championship in a playoff over Wyndham Clark.

TAKEAWAY: Talk about a surprise. Gay, who turns 49 next month, had played positively dreadful over the past few months since the Tour restarted, missing nine cuts in 11 starts and finishing no better than 27th. Though he isn’t a big draw, Gay said he missed the energy of the crowds and uncharacteristically struggled on the greens.

Much like Stewart Cink before him, Gay could have been excused for looking ahead to the PGA Tour Champions. But he wants to stay among the young bucks as long as possible, despite averaging just 288 yards off the tee.

“I’ve tried to do some things in the gym and stuff with my swing to get some more distance to try to stay out here longer,” he said. “I want to stay past turning 50. Right now I feel like I want to play out here.”

Brian Gay, 48, wins playoff in Bermuda for first Tour title since 2013

At a course where Gay tied for third a year ago – his last top-10 on Tour – he closed with 64, including a stuffed wedge on the final hole of regulation, to tie Clark at 15 under par. In overtime, Gay poured in a 12-footer for birdie and watched as Clark missed his 10-foot attempt.

It’s Gay’s fifth career Tour title, and first since the 2013 American Express. At 48, he's the oldest Tour winner since the start of the 2015-16 season.

“It’s definitely the most surprising victory, considering how I’ve played the last six months,” he said.

Now he’ll bridge the gap until he becomes Champions Tour eligible.

Clarke breaks through on senior tour: ‘To actually get it done feels great’

2. Darren Clarke held off Bernhard Langer and Jim Furyk to win for the first time on the PGA Tour Champions.

TAKEAWAY: Remarkably, this is Clarke’s first victory – anywhere – since his breakthrough at the 2011 Open Championship, a span of nine years and three months. Now 52, Clarke was making his 40th start on the senior circuit but on Sunday became the sixth first-time winner on the tour this season, joining Brett Quigley, Ernie Els, Jim Furyk, Shane Bertsch and, of course, Phil Mickelson.

Clarke finished a shot ahead of defending champion Bernhard Langer, who remained four victories shy of tying Hale Irwin for the most senior titles all-time, and Jim Furyk, who won each of his first two senior starts and now has four top-10s in five tries.

Unfortunately for Clarke, he won’t be in Phoenix this week for the Charles Schwab Cup Championship because his 90-day visa expires on Wednesday. His fallback option sounds pretty good, though: "I’m going to have to sit at the beach bar called Flippers down in Abaco Club (in the Bahamas), drink some sea breezes, watch the boys on the big screen up there. When everybody makes a birdie, I’ll go cheer and have another sea breeze or a Kalik Light."

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3. Dustin Johnson will make his first start in more than six weeks at the Vivint Houston Open.

TAKEAWAY: The world No. 1, who hasn’t played since the U.S. Open, has been recovering the past few weeks after testing positive for COVID-19. Though he was feeling better a few weeks ago, Johnson reportedly still lacked energy and it’ll be interesting to hear about his health when he speaks to reporters later this week.

The timing couldn’t have been worse, as his positive test result knocked him not only out of the CJ Cup, but also the following week’s Zozo Championship at Sherwood, where Johnson is a member. Instead, he’s pegging it this week at Memorial Park, a course he’s never seen, as his one and only tune-up before the Masters.

Prior to the break Johnson had been cooking, with five consecutive finishes of T-6 or better. Let’s hope for minimal signs of rust this week, because he’d be a top 3 favorite for the Masters. His finishes there over his past four appearances – T-6, T-4, T-10, T-2 – suggest he’s finally getting a good handle on Augusta National, and prior to this setback he was in some of the best form of his career.

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4. The PGA Tour welcomes back fans in earnest this week at the Vivint Houston Open, where a maximum of 2,000 spectators a day are expected to stream through the gates at Memorial Park.

TAKEAWAY: It’s the first time since March 12, the opening round of The Players Championship, that fans have been allowed at a Tour event in the U.S. Last week’s Bermuda Championship also saw a limited number of spectators, but it’s a different environment – the event isn’t well attended in normal circumstances, and Bermuda has virtually no active coronavirus cases.

That isn’t the case in the States, of course. Those attending this week’s event will need to be screened at the gate and wear masks at all times. It’ll be fascinating to see how volunteers space out the fans who gather to watch DJ and Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau. We'd expect players to keep a safe distance between themselves and the fans – there's a major next week, after all, and there's little reason to take any unnecessary risks.

If all goes well this week, it’s reasonable to expect even more fans to attend tournaments in the first quarter of 2021.  

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ... 

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The Sky is Blue: Will Zalatoris. The betting favorite in Bermuda despite not having any PGA Tour status, Zalatoris tied for 16th to secure special temporary membership for the remainder of this super-season. But unlimited sponsor exemptions isn’t the end goal for this young stud – it’s locking up a card long term. He’s in great shape with 334 non-member FedExCup points.

Tip o' the Cap: Fred Funk. In one of the most remarkable feats of the year, the 64-year-old chipped in on his final hole of the day and made the cut in Bermuda, becoming just the fourth player since 1970 – joining Sam Snead, Jack Nicklaus and Tom Watson! – to play the weekend at a Tour event when 64 or older. Even more amazing: Funk did it while averaging 235 yards off the tee over the first two rounds.

Welcome Back: Ollie Schniederjans. Part of that heralded high school class of 2011, the Hatless Wonder has fallen on hard times of late, dropping back to the Korn Ferry Tour for the 2020 season. He’s playing well this summer and, in Bermuda on a sponsor exemption, he placed third to record his best finish on Tour since 2017. He's another candidate now for special temporary membership; a solo eighth-place finish this week in Houston would get it done.

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Wear Your Hard Hats, Fans: Phil Mickelson. After toying with the idea of tuning up for the Masters against the seniors, Mickelson instead will make the trek to Houston. If his driving is as erratic as it was at Sherwood, when he ranked last in the field in strokes gained: off the tee, spectators might want to run for cover. Phil will be looking to let it rip with Augusta on his mind.

Clutch: Callum Shinkwin. Needing a late surge at the Cyprus Open, the 27-year-old Englishman made birdie on the 17th hole and then jarred a 50-foot eagle putt on the final hole to force a playoff with Kalle Samooja. Another birdie in overtime gave Shinkwin his first career European Tour title.

Good While It Lasted: John Daly. A remarkable story was unfolding early at the Champions Tour event, where Daly opened with a career-best 8-under 64 to share the early lead. Unfortunately he ran out of gas and finished in a tie for 26th, about a month before he begins chemotherapy treatments for bladder cancer.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Harold Varner III. Banking a T-13 recently at the Shriners, you’d have thought Varner’s piercing ball-striking would be a good pick in the howling winds of Bermuda. Apparently not, since he self-immolated during a Friday 80 to miss the cut by a bunch. Sigh.