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Jon Rahm and Sei Young Kim win big, Brendon Todd crashes back to Earth, another player punches his ticket to the Masters and more in this week's edition of the Monday Scramble:
It’s not often that the PGA Tour has the sleepiest season finale.
But think about the thrilling ends to the PGA Tour Champions, European Tour and LPGA seasons, and Rory McIlroy’s deeply important victory seemed like a snoozer.
Jeff Maggert, remember, holed out from the fairway to take the seniors’ tour championship.
Sei Young Kim rammed home a 25-footer on the final green to take home the biggest prize in women’s golf.
And Jon Rahm splashed out of the bunker to 4 feet to deny Tommy Fleetwood and win the $5 million Race to Dubai double dip.
Stout stuff, and heart-pounding drama from some of the game’s absolute studs.
1. All of the points projections came down to the simplest scenario for Jon Rahm.
“You dream of making birdies on 18 to win a tournament,” he said.
And that’s what he proceeded to do. On the closing par 5, Rahm hammered a drive, then pured a 4-iron that didn’t get touched by the wind. His ball wound up in a tricky lie, on the downslope of a greenside bunker, but there was still plenty of green to work with.
“All I had to do was land it before the into-the-grain part,” Rahm said.
It came out perfect. To 4 feet. To win.
2. Rahm took a big risk during the European Tour’s closing stretch.
After winning in Spain, Rahm took off the next six weeks, bypassing some of the Rolex Series events. Yes, he was No. 1 at the time, but he fully expected to drop to fifth in the standings – needing to win Dubai, and get some help, to earn the season-long title. Instead, there were more scenarios available to him in the third spot. Not that he needed them.
“I never regretted it,” he said, “and I’m glad I did it because I came here much more calm and in a much better frame of mind, very relaxed, very rested, both mentally and physically. And I think that showed this week.”
Rahm will defend his title next week at the Hero World Challenge and then get married. With how the schedule lays out in 2020, he doesn’t figure to have another six-week break again.
3. Rahm might only be 25, but he’s wise beyond his years.
Greeting his soon-to-be wife Kelley on the 18th green, he grinned: “Wedding gift.”
Major brownie points.
It was a reference to the $5 million he just pocketed for winning both the tournament and the Race to Dubai.
Smart guy, especially someone who said the last time he thought he was making a big purchase, he bought an Xbox.
4. Some of the biggest names on the LPGA competed for the biggest prize in women’s golf history, and the drama didn’t disappoint.
Danielle Kang charged up the leaderboard with a Sunday 65. Charley Hull birdied five of her last seven holes. But it was Sei Young Kim who scored the biggest prize, rolling in a bending 25-footer on the 72nd hole to earn $1.5 million and win the CME Group Tour Championship.
5. Kim’s heroics on the final green cemented her standing (if there was any question) that she’s the best player without a major.
This was her third LPGA title of the season and the 10th of her career; only three South Koreans have more. This year she won shootouts and slugfests, and against stiff competition, showing an adaptable game that has contended in all five majors (she has top-10s in each) but to this point has yet to convert. Give her time. She’s still just 26 and uber-talented.
6. The CME Group Tour Championship offered the biggest prize in women’s golf history, but also a free-for-all format that could have felt unsatisfying if not for Kim’s signature moment on the 72nd hole.
As tense as the proceedings were in the end, the main protagonists weren’t the headliners of the 2019 season. That’s a potential issue in what was supposed to be the culmination of a “season-long race.”
The LPGA would be wise to cut the field size in the season finale, from 60 to 30. Whittling the field would allow them to get creative with the format and ensure that the best players duel for the ultimate prize.
How about a staggered stroke start, like the Tour Championship? What about a match-play bracket on the weekend, after a stroke-play qualifier?
It’s too prestigious of a title – and too large of a purse – to give No. 1 Jin Young Ko and No. 60 Stacy Lewis the same chances of winning.
7. The Brendon Todd Era is officially over, and what a glorious period it was.
Before Todd’s out-of-gas 72 that left him tumbling out of the lead and into fourth place at Sea Island, he was without a doubt the hottest golfer on the planet. Yes, the same Todd whose career had spun out of control because of the full-swing yips, and who had won back-to-back tournaments and was in line for a third after a Saturday 62 that made him 68 under par across his last 12 rounds.
Two late birdies helped salvage a respectable day, but Todd lacked the energy to win for a third time in four weeks. Still, for a player who a year ago was contemplating a career change, he’s now in the pole position in the FedExCup standings. What an amazing turnaround.
8. Did Woods err in making another captain’s pick too soon?
It’s reasonable to wonder whether that was by design.
By announcing that Rickie Fowler would replace an injured Brooks Koepka on the U.S. team, Woods accomplished three things: He gave Fowler about a month to get his game in shape; he bought himself another month to figure out pairings; and Woods didn’t have to face the potentially awkward scenario of leaving at home a guy who had just ripped off three straight wins in the fall.
It seemed as though Woods was always going to take Fowler with that fill-in spot. He said the call to Fowler was the toughest to make. Fowler was 11th in points during the qualifying period. And he’s a friend and frequent practice-round partner in South Florida.
The move reeked of nepotism, but one that also made sense: Fowler is a proven commodity (albeit a rusty one), while Todd would largely be an unknown to the rest of the American team and has little match-play experience as a pro.
If Todd was “deserving” of a pick, as many suggested, then he should have played better over the past year. He’d be the first to admit that.
Now Todd can turn his attention to bigger goals, like making the Ryder Cup squad in 2020.
9. A career-best round helped propel Tyler Duncan to another career best: a PGA Tour title.
Duncan surged into the mix on Sea Island with a Friday 61, then birdied three of his last four holes (including a 25-footer on the last) in breezy conditions to force a playoff with Webb Simpson.
Simpson has quietly been playing some of the best golf of his career (he’s up to 11th in the world), but the Presidents Cupper fell on the second playoff hole after Duncan sank a 15-footer for birdie.
It was Duncan’s first four-round victory since ... the 2011 Indiana Amateur. He never won on Latin America or Korn Ferry Tour, and even lost his card last season on the PGA Tour before regaining his playing privileges through the Finals.
10. The Masters field is starting to fill up.
Duncan became the sixth Tour winner this season to earn a spot to the 2020 Masters, following Joaquin Niemann, Sebastian Munoz, Cameron Champ, Lanto Griffin and Todd. Last year only three players from the fall slate earned a tee time at Augusta.
A few more spots will be up for grabs next month with the year-ending top-50 invite.
THE WTH? MOMENT OF THE WEEK
Kudos to the European Tour’s social media team, because we’d forgotten all about Little Billy until he resurfaced in last week’s instantly memorable video.
Whatever happened to Little Billy? pic.twitter.com/IKykOUzfio
— The European Tour (@EuropeanTour) November 22, 2019
Little Billy, of course, was the huge viral hit from THREE years ago when he did "Little Interviews" with the tour’s biggest stars.
Their batting percentage in these clips is now 1.000.
TAKE A BOW
This week's award winners ...
Select Company: Jin Young Ko. She’s now one of four players to win the Player of the Year award, Vare Trophy and money title while holding the No. 1 world ranking. Hopefully Ko fares better in 2020 than winless Ariya Jutanugarn did in her encore season.
Ah, Common Sense: Pace-of-play policy. Colleague Rex Hoggard has the news that the Tour’s pace-of-play policy (set to go into effect after the Masters) will focus more on individual slow players and not groups. Finally.
Captain Clutch: Rikard Karlberg. Needing to hole a 30-footer on the final green to secure his 2020 European Tour card, the Swede did this:
— European Tour Q-School (@ETQSchool) November 20, 2019
Best News of the Week: Donnie Darr. After battling colon cancer last year, the Oklahoma State assistant coach was declared cancer free. Awesome.
Tweet of the Week: Mike Lorenzo-Vera. For those who missed it, McIlroy put on an absolute clinic in the opening round in Dubai, firing an easy 64 on a rain-softened course to sit one shot off the lead. That round included a majestic eagle on the 18th hole, where he bombed a drive and then, from 286 yards, rocketed a 3-wood to 5 feet. That set up a second-round pairing with Vera, who tweeted this after seeing the highlights:
— Mike Lorenzo-Vera (@MikeMlv) November 21, 2019
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Harris English. After losing his card, English had found a nice groove this fall, cashing four top-6s in five starts, but he swung and missed in his hometown tournament. Rounds of 71-69 left him on the wrong side of the cut line. Sigh.