Monday Scramble: Keegan Bradley revels, Brooks Koepka reveals in victories

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Keegan Bradley denies Rickie Fowler, Brooks Koepka reignites his career, Sergio Garcia calls it quits on the Ryder Cup and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

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There was a slump-busting victory at the Zozo Championship – just not by the player that many anticipated.

Keegan Bradley, who hadn’t won in four years, seized the lead early, steadied himself with a clutch birdie on the 71st hole and hung on for a one-shot victory in Japan. His triumph (the fifth of his Tour career) led to a sweet moment afterward, when he phoned his wife back home in the States:

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Bradley’s reemergence is a story worth celebrating: His career was derailed by the anchor ban, but he is back inside the top 25 in the world ranking for the first time since summer 2014. He was 21st on Tour last season in strokes gained: total, meaning the dude has been playing good golf for a while. Now he has the payoff.

Bradley's personal narrative delayed the comeback story of Rickie Fowler, who was trying to end his own four-year winless drought. Once one of the game's premier players, he had tumbled all the way to 160th in the world, but this season looked and felt like a fresh start: The 33-year-old recently cleaned house, changing caddies (Ricky Romano) and coaches (back to Butch Harmon). In a small sample size his iron play and putting are much improved, and results-wise, he’s also seen some early returns.

That Fowler stalled out with an even-par 70 Sunday and dropped to 2-for-9 with a share of the 54-hole lead wasn't a total surprise; it all seemed like perhaps too much, too soon, but it was an encouraging showing nonetheless. A stepping stone. Progress. It was his second top-6 finish in three tries this season.

Rickie Fowler comes up one short, settles for 'bittersweet' T-2 at Zozo Champ.

“It’s finally in a position where we’re building momentum and building more confidence,” said Fowler, who is also in the field this week at the CJ Cup in South Carolina. “I feel like in the last few years there would be times where we’d kind of take a step forward and never able to build momentum for more than one week at a time. But we’re finally in a position where things are starting to snowball and head in the right direction all together.”

We'll learn soon whether this was another tease or if Fowler is truly back on track. Here's hoping it's the latter.

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With his career in clear decline, Brooks Koepka scored an emotional victory at the final individual LIV event of the year.

Koepka was one of the most controversial signees with the rival tour, making an abrupt U-turn following the U.S. Open after signaling that he wanted to remain loyal to the PGA Tour. The reason was simple – boatloads of money – even if he didn’t express it publicly. He had previously trashed the upstart league, saying that those who went were sellouts, and now here was big, bad Koepka chief among them.

Apparently, there was a reason why he was looking to cash in.

He thought he might be done.

It has been a difficult few years for the four-time major champion, whose slew of injuries finally appeared to have caught up with him. He suffered significant damage to his right knee in spring 2021 (when he described blowing out his knee as “my foot was pointed that way, almost backward and sideways”) but he still returned to grind out three top finishes in the majors. He didn’t come close to topping a leaderboard this year, however, and downplayed any injury concerns, even though a source close to Koepka relayed this spring that he was considering surgery to repair a torn labrum in his hip. Koepka confirmed as much last week in Saudi Arabia.

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Of the trying year-plus, he said, “I didn’t know if my career was over for a half-second. I told Claude I wasn’t sure whether I was going to play.”

That’s Claude Harmon III, the swing coach with whom Koepka has experienced the most success. In a sign that he was ready to reclaim his game, Koepka teamed back up with Harmon a few months ago and soon earned his first title anywhere since the 2021 Phoenix Open.

It’s hard to assign much meaning to this title; this is a Hall of Famer for whom the majors are the only true barometer. He's admitted as much. But his emotional post-round interview suggested it was an important victory, at least personally. It reminded him of what it felt like to reach the top.

“It’s been a long road, I’m super excited,” he said. “We got the band back together.”

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Sergio Garcia just made Luke Donald’s job a whole lot easier.

Veterans like Lee Westwood, Ian Poulter and Garcia have blasted their former home circuit ever since moving to LIV while still maintaining that they want to continue to “support” the DP World Tour – even though the league they’ve signed up with could destroy the tour in the process. Their intentions weren’t exactly pure: They wanted to play a handful of European events so they could remain eligible for the Ryder Cup, both as players and future captains.

Westwood and Poulter stood little chance to make any upcoming teams, but Garcia, 42, was an interesting case. He hasn’t been competitive in more than a year but was one of Team Europe’s lone bright spots in the 2021 matches (going unbeaten with fellow Spaniard Jon Rahm) and ranked as the all-time points leader. In form or not, Donald could theoretically still use someone with Garcia’s foursomes pedigree and experience. Perhaps looking out for his own best interests, Rahm has been consistent over the past few months that he wanted Garcia in Rome.

That matter is up to a judge – a court case is on the books for February – but Garcia handled the situation himself last week. He failed to meet the tour’s four-start minimum and is set to lose his European tour membership.

Predictably, he tried to play the victim card afterward: “When I see that so many people are against [him playing] … if the team is better without me, I’d rather be out of it,” he told Sports Illustrated. “I don’t want to be something that hurt the team. I love the Ryder Cup too much. That’s the way they want it. I’m just helping out.”

And that's how Donald should view it, too.

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...

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Awwwwkward: Adrian Otaegui. Folks on social media noticed that the DP World Tour’s official account had gone conspicuously quiet about the tournament leader at Valderrama, even though Otaegui had set the 54-hole scoring mark and was lapping the field at the Andalucia Masters. The tour had little choice but to celebrate the latest winner on Sunday, of course, but perhaps there was a reason for its muted response – Otaegui became the first LIV player to win on the European tour (he made three LIV starts) and was part of the rebel crew that sued the circuit for the right to play in July. Yep, that'll do it.

Semantics: Phil Mickelson. In a pre-tournament clip that went viral, Mickelson claimed that he never gave an interview to author Alan Shipnuck, who published Mickelson’s infamous comments that the Saudis were “scary motherf---ers” to get into business with but that he was overlooking the country’s horrid human-rights record because of the leverage it afforded him. They talked, of course, because Mickelson apologized, but whether it was an interview remains a point of contention between them; Mickelson has claimed that the conversation was private and off the record while Shipnuck has offered his own side of the story. That's for them to hash out. To golf fans, it shouldn't really matter: Those remarks laid bare Mickelson’s true feelings, no matter what he wrote in scripted apologies or utters now in agenda-driven interviews. Given that context, it’s hard to take what he says seriously.

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#Legend: Fred Couples. Fresh off serving as an assistant captain at the Presidents Cup, the 63-year-old didn’t just beat his age at the SAS Championship – he beat the living daylights out of the entire field. Couples birdied 12 of his last 14 holes Sunday to fire a 60 to sail to a six-shot victory, his first on the senior tour in more than five years. It’s the lowest final-round score in the history of the PGA Tour Champions and gave Freddie his 14th career title.

IOU: Chase Koepka. If the Koepkas won the team title in Saudi Arabia, Brooks promised that he’d buy his younger brother a Lamborghini. So, um, be on the lookout for a lime-green Lambo cruising the streets of Jupiter. “It’s all right,” Koepka shrugged. After all, he banked another $4.5 million on Sunday.

New Home: Peter Uihlein. The former No. 1-ranked amateur never splashed on the PGA Tour like many thought he might, failing to keep his card each of the past four seasons; during the recently completed campaign, he missed more cuts (eight) than he made (seven) and didn’t record a single top-25. Uihlein said LIV appealed to him because he didn’t much care for the “lone-wolf” life of a Tour pro, and he enjoys the team aspect that makes him feel like he’s back in Stillwater. Is he playing better because he’s facing worse competition, or because he’s happier? Only he knows for sure. He just finished third in the individual LIV standings, netting him another $4 million bonus – or roughly as much as he pocketed in his entire Tour career ($4.043M in 126 starts).

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Up for Grabs: No. 1 ranking. For the first time since March, there could be a change at the top of the world rankings. According to the projections from OWGR guru Nosferatu, Rory McIlroy could ascend to the top spot and supplant Scottie Scheffler depending on their respective performances this week at Congaree. Scheffler hasn’t won since the Masters while McIlroy continues to rack up high finishes. It's felt inevitable, but perhaps Scottie is primed for a late-year stand.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Hideki Matsuyama. It was a quiet homecoming for Matsuyama, who shot just 3 under par across four days and tied for 40th in his title defense at the Zozo. Prior to last week, the only player who had beaten him in two Tour events in Japan: Tiger Woods. That all changed this year, much to the chagrin of the partisan crowd. Sigh.