Monday Scramble: Viktor Hovland's wins makes it a power trio in OWGR top 15

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Viktor Hovland hits another walk-off, Christiaan Bezuidenhout goes back to back, a Texan wins in Texas, the European Tour readies for its finale and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Hovland overcomes nerves to win second Tour title

1. Viktor Hovland poured in a 12-foot birdie putt on the final green to beat Aaron Wise and capture the Mayakoba Golf Classic in the final PGA Tour event of 2020.

TAKEAWAY: Hovland may have said afterward that he doesn’t yet feel comfortable in pressure situations, but he would have fooled us – it’s his second walk-off win of the year, following his 30-foot bomb to steal the Puerto Rico Open in February.

Since then, Hovland said he’s made significant strides in every aspect of his game, working with swing coach Jeff Smith to add more speed and power off the tee; going to a 10-finger grip (instead of interlock) inside 40 yards to help release the clubhead; and implementing the AimPoint Express method on the greens to help better read his putts.

Already a fabulous ball-striker, Hovland’s completeness was on display in Mexico as he shot 20-under 264. The gains he’s made over the past nine months have been “super exciting,” and even weeks with less than his A-game are still cashing checks and collecting points. He now has earned world-ranking points in 17 consecutive events – the best streak of any player – and seems like a lock for the European Ryder Cup squad next fall.

The lads will be lining up to partner with him.

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2. The much-ballyhooed college class of 2019 has smashed expectations during a breakout 2020.

TAKEAWAY: Though the talented trio of Collin Morikawa, Viktor Hovland and Matthew Wolff was able to earn full status for the 2020 season despite being just a few months removed from college, few could have seen this type of instant success.

Collin Morikawa, 23, won the PGA Championship, in addition to the Workday Charity Open in a playoff over Justin Thomas.

Hovland, 23, won twice on Tour, cementing his position as one of the top young Europeans.

And Wolff, 21, though he didn’t win this year, tied for fourth in his major debut at the PGA Championship and held the 54-hole lead at the U.S. Open before finishing in second place.

All three are major threats, ranked inside the top 15 in the world and could square off, head to head, at Whistling Straits, site of next year's Ryder Cup.

3. It was yet another close call for Tony Finau, who tied for eighth after challenging for much of the week at Mayakoba.

TAKEAWAY: The only positive takeaway for Finau is that at least now the Puerto Rico Open curse is broken.

It was another forgettable back nine on Sunday for a player who has been criticized for his final-round performance. A day after he shot a birdie-less 38 coming home to fall five shots back, Finau let another early rally go to waste by making bogey on the 16th and 17th holes. Only one shot behind on the back nine, he wound up in joint eighth, five shots back.

That's not going to help the narrative.

Finau now has 34 top-10s since his one and only win at the 2016 Puerto Rico Open. That’s more than DOUBLE any other player during that span (Tommy Fleetwood and Kevin Streelman, with 16). Oy.

Bezuidenhout: Winning South African Open an 'unreal' feeling

4. A week after running away with his second career European Tour title, Christian Bezuidenhout did it again, romping to a five-shot victory at the South African Open.

TAKEAWAY: The South African has now won by a combined nine shots over his past two starts, becoming the first European Tour player to win consecutive tournaments on the circuit since Justin Rose in 2017.

Even more impressive: He's the first European Tour player since Ian Woosnam in 1990 to win back-to-back tournaments by four or more shots.

Bezuidenhout’s latest triumph was never really in doubt, even as his comfortable cushion got trimmed to two shots as they made the turn Sunday. He ended up making three birdies in a row to start the back nine and cruised to the win. With his third European Tour title of the season, he’s now up to 35th in the world rankings.

More immediately gratifying is the fact that he’s now cracked the top 5 in the season-long Race to Dubai standings heading into the season finale this week in Dubai. He’s still trailing Patrick Reed, Tommy Fleetwood, Collin Morikawa and Lee Westwood, but at least now Bezuidenhout has an outside chance to close the year as European No. 1.    

Texas native Stanford takes VOA title
Texas native Stanford takes VOA title

5. Texan Angela Stanford warmed up for this week’s U.S. Women’s Open by edging a pair of former world No. 1s for the Volunteers of America title.

TAKEAWAY: There’s something special about watching this 43-year-old grinder compete, as she won for the seventh time on the LPGA but the first in front of her parents. Waiting for Stanford on the 18th green was her mother, Nan, who has been battling cancer for years.

Stanford is the first over-40 player to win on the LPGA since Cristie Kerr in 2017. This was her first title since that out-of-nowhere major breakthrough at the 2018 Evian.

Now, Stanford will head to the Women’s Open in Houston, where she’ll be one of seven Texans in the field.   

Also worth noting: Inbee Park and So Yeon Ryu finished second to Stanford at the VOA. According to stats guru Justin Ray, they have the two best scoring averages at the U.S. Women’s Open since 2010.

 

THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ... 

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RIP: Peter Alliss. One of the best to ever step in a commentary box, Alliss, 89, passed away recently. Judging by the outpouring of posts on social media, Alliss had a profound impact on those who love the sport, and we’ll dearly miss his occasional pop-ins in the booth, full of color and humor. Be sure to check out his Hall of Fame speech if you missed it (or want to watch it again). A legend.   

Just a Reminder: U.S. Women’s Open and Dubai finale. The golf year isn’t done yet, not with the crown jewel of the LPGA schedule and the European Tour’s season finale on deck. For the latter, Patrick Reed (No. 1 in the standings) and Morikawa (No. 3) are venturing across the pond to try and become the first Americans to win the top European prize.  

Speedy Recovery: Cristie Kerr. The LPGA veteran was forced to withdraw from last week’s tournament after suffering undisclosed injuries that sent her and her caddie to the hospital for treatment. Kerr’s husband told Golfweek that Kerr and her caddie were involved in a golf-cart accident in dark conditions. It’s not yet known whether Kerr, the 2007 U.S. Women’s Open champ, will be able to play this week in Houston.

Welcome Back?: Nelly Korda. The top-ranked American in the world appears set to return this week at the USWO, her first start since withdrawing from the KPMG in early October because of a back injury. She’s on the pre-tournament interview schedule for Tuesday, so we should learn more about the ailment that’s kept her out of competition.

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Rivalry Match: JT vs. Charlie Woods. In a playful bit of banter last week, JT revealed that Woods’ 11-year-old son Charlie loves to take on Thomas and talks trash just like his pops. (It’s also interesting to note that, at 27, Thomas is closer in age to young Charlie than Tiger, who is soon to be 45.) It’s a good bet they’ll be paired together early at the PNC Championship, so hopefully the hot mics capture all the juicy smack. Speaking of which ... 

Not Hiding His Disappointment: Justin Thomas. The world No. 3 closed out his year with his sixth consecutive top-15 finish, but he was steaming as he came off the course following a Sunday 69 that slipped him down to T-12: “I’ve got to figure out what’s going on on Sundays, because I’ve played really terribly, to be honest, the last three, four, five Sundays having a chance to win. So I’ve got to figure that out.” That might be a little harsh, but that’s what makes JT so great – he burns HOT.

Endangered: Rickie Fowler’s majors streak. By missing the cut at the Mayakoba, Fowler is guaranteed to finish the year outside the top 50 – losing an automatic invitation to the Masters. He can still get to Augusta by winning or cracking the top 50 in late March. If not, his streak of consecutive majors played will end at 41.

Eckroat
Eckroat

Go On, Young Man: Austin Eckroat. The Oklahoma State senior fired a final-round 65 at Mayakoba, becoming just the third amateur since 1983 to shoot 65 or better in the final round of a non-major. The tie for 12th should give him another boost in the season-long PGA Tour University rankings, where he already sat fourth and, with the spring semester to go, is in line to receive Korn Ferry Tour status.  

Confirmed: Future Open dates. We already knew the next two Opens were going to be played at Royal St. George’s and St. Andrews, but the R&A locked in Royal Liverpool for 2023 and Royal Troon for the ’24 edition. The next open date is 2025.

So Much For That: So Yeon Ryu retirement rumors. The 30-year-old South Korean was making her first LPGA start since February, and the time away from the tour led some in her home country to wonder whether she was about to hang up her spikes. Instead, she said she just wanted to spend the break with family, and she returned with a vengeance – sharing the 54-hole lead before finishing in a tie for second at the VOA.

Controversy!: Jeev Milkha Singh Invitational. Local favorite Karandeep Kochhar was in the mix for the title but was assessed a one-shot penalty after he was deemed to have accidentally made his ball move on the 17th hole. There was some confusion about what actually happened – one reporter said it appeared as though Kochhar’s ball was stepped on during the preliminary search, before Kocchar even arrived on the scene – and a rules official cleared him of any wrongdoing. That’s when the matter was taken to another committee of some club members, after which he was docked a shot. He had this to say to the Times of India afterward: "I am convinced decision has gone against me as the (tournament committee) wanted to have a playoff with a player of Lahiri's stature for their own interests. I will appeal against this via email to R&A, which governs the rules of golf, and will seek an apology from the Tata Steel-PGTI for what they have done to me." Whoa! He won in a playoff Monday, but hard feelings remain.

Tweet(s) of the Week: Geno Bonnalie. Joel Dahmen’s caddie was typically hilarious last week, tapping out messages to track Dahmen’s progress in Mexico that included a “oh no I shanked it!” reaction to a shot that was 7 feet away; a club pose over a shot that wildly missed a green; and a Happy Gilmore-hockey-split-grip that actually worked. If you’re not following Geno, you’re missing out.

Gotta Give Him Credit: Dustin Johnson. The newly minted Masters champ, fresh off a vacation, beamed in from home (in green jacket and Masters tie!) as the guest picker for ESPN’s “College Gameday,” with his alma mater, Coastal Carolina, in a big game against BYU. Not surprisingly, he picked his college team to win – and he was the only one of the “experts” to call the game correctly. Respect.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Brooks Koepka. After a lost 2020 season, things were finally starting to look up for Koepka, who declared his health a non-issue and showed signs of promise with his game, finishing in the top 7 in each of his past two starts, including the Masters. But he never got cooking on a course that demands accuracy, not power, and a sloppy three-putt late in his second round kept him one shot adrift of the cut line, ending his year two days early. Sigh.