Jon Rahm wins at home, Satoshi Kodaira rallies, Brooke Henderson impresses, Kelly Kraft stews and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:
Each of the top players has a weakness – iron play, accuracy, short putting, temperament – but Jon Rahm might be best positioned for success.
He has proven, with five wins in just 15 short months, that he can triumph anywhere and everywhere.
Winning on one of the most difficult courses on Tour (Torrey Pines) and one of the easiest (PGA West), taking the title when it’s blustery (Ireland) and dome-like (Dubai), Rahm can now add another line to his increasingly impressive résumé, outlasting the field and steeling himself to capture his home open in Spain.
There will be rough patches, of course, since these stars are not machines. But it’s worth noting that the 23-year-old Rahm has missed only one cut since the U.S. Open.
He brings it every time he tees it up, often giving himself a chance to win, wherever that may be.
1. Rahm didn’t rise in the rankings after taking the Spanish Open title, but that doesn’t mean it wasn’t a significant victory.
Playing his home open for the first time, he closed with 67 to hunt down Paul Dunne and Nacho Elvira and win for the second time this year. A week after finishing fourth at the Masters, Rahm flew 14 hours and still shot 20 under par.
For now Rahm remained at No. 4 in the world, even with the victory, but he’s expected to leapfrog Spieth in two weeks. Math!
2. To many players, a home open is as important as any event outside of the majors. At age 23, Rahm became just the fifth Spaniard to win the Spanish Open over the past 40 years, joining Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia, Alvaro Quiros and Miguel Angel Jimenez.
“It’s truly been the hardest Sunday I’ve ever had in any tournament that I’ve won, because the crowd wanted it so much and I wanted it so much,” he said afterward. “You can tell how excited everybody is. I felt that tension; I felt that stress. I felt everything magnified.”
3. So Rahm was able to handle the pressure of trying to win at home. Elvira, it seems, could not.
Tied for the lead with two holes to play, Elvira missed on the 71st hole the only place he could not – left, in the water. He still would have had a chance on the home hole, but he yipped a 3-footer for a deflating double bogey.
He finished third, three shots back. Dunne, the 54-hole leader, wound up in second.
4. Satoshi Kodaira erased a six-shot deficit on the final day at the RBC Heritage. In difficult conditions he shot a 5-under 66, then waited around to see if his 12-under 272 would be enough.
Locked in a playoff with Players champion Si Woo Kim, Kodaira made two pars before rolling in a 25-footer for the win on the third extra hole.
The Heritage was just his 15th career PGA Tour start.
“To win this quickly is a big surprise to me,” he said.
5. Never heard of Kodaira?
He’s a six-time Japan Tour winner who has never had a top-25 in a major. (Though he tied for 28th at the Masters.) Last year, he won twice and ripped off 13 other top-10s on the Japanese circuit to soar up the world rankings. He entered the week at No. 46 and now is all the way up to 27th – ahead of guys like Xander Schauffele, Tony Finau, Patrick Cantlay and Daniel Berger.
Clearly, he has a ton of game. He finished the week ranked sixth in strokes gained: off the tee and seventh in the tee-to-green statistics.
“This course is very similar to the courses in Japan – a little bit shorter and a shape course,” he said. “I felt very comfortable.”
6. Kodaira benefited from Kim’s horrible day on the greens.
Entering the week ranked 209th out of 210 players on Tour in strokes gained: putting, Kim predictably looked lost at times. Holding a slim lead down the stretch, he missed putts of 4, 7, 5 and 6 feet over the last four holes to drop into the playoff. In overtime, he also missed a pair of 20-footers.
It was all part of a round in which Kim lost nearly three strokes to the field on the greens and holed a combined 33 feet of putts. With stats like that, it was a miracle he was even in contention and able to shoot even par on Sunday.
“Rather than it being nerves,” Kim said through a translator, “I think with the weather, it kind of slowed the greens down and affected them, how I made the putts. But I tried my best and the putts didn’t drop.”
As sweet as Kim’s swing appears, there’s a reason why the two-time Tour winner has also missed 22 cuts over the past three seasons.
7. Six Sunday birdies helped Dustin Johnson salvage a respectable showing in his Palmetto State homecoming.
A new RBC ambassador, Johnson was playing the Heritage for the first time since 2009. He had missed the cut in his two prior appearances at one of the most claustrophobic courses on Tour, failing to even break par in a round, but he’s a different, more well-rounded player now. He shot rounds of 69-69-72-67 to tie for 16th.
He’s had significantly more success at the other RBC event on the schedule – the Canadian Open, the week after The Open, where he has a pair of runners-up and another top-10 in five starts.
8. With Lydia Ko’s game on the fritz, it looks like Brooke Henderson could be the young star to rule the game in 2018. The 20-year-old Canadian won for the sixth time on the LPGA, battling strong winds and winning by four shots at the Lotte Championship. She already has three other top-10s this season.
Henderson is a joy to watch, the rare female talent who is unafraid to grip-and-rip the driver and to attack flags even when she’s clinging to a narrow lead. It’s a stark contrast to Ko, who captured 14 tour titles with steady, methodical, consistent, almost boring play.
Henderson is just two wins shy of tying Sandra Post for the most wins by a Canadian player in LPGA history.
9. It took the PGA Tour a while to finally get on Keith Pelley’s level, and the selections will probably be more Darius Rucker than Drake, but tournament officials should be applauded for trying something different next week at the Zurich Classic: walk-up music on the first tee.
With one week left to commit, here are some of the notable groups: Justin Thomas-Bud Cauley, Jon Rahm-Wesley Bryan, Jordan Spieth-Ryan Palmer, Justin Rose-Henrik Stenson, Patrick Reed-Patrick Cantlay, Sergio Garcia-Rafa Cabrera Bello, Tommy Fleetwood-Chris Paisley, Jason Day-Ryan Ruffels, Graeme McDowell-Ian Poulter, Bubba Watson-Matt Kuchar.
10. Those who think the PGA Tour Champions is just a carefree hit-and-giggle must not have watched Saturday’s 36-hole finish.
Forced to complete two rounds in one day because of severe storms expected to hit the area on Sunday, the over-50 set played a marathon Saturday that went even longer, with Steve Flesch, Bernhard Langer and Scott Parel battling it out in a playoff.
Perhaps it was no surprise, then, that it was a 50-year-old, Steve Flesch, who emerged from the pack, taking the Mitsubishi Electric Championship after a 38-hole day. At least they got to use carts at hilly TPC Sugarloaf.
“I know I’ll sleep great,” Flesch said, “but mentally I’m more exhausted than physically.”
He won in only his sixth career senior start, after previously failing to record a top-15 this season.
“You never know if you’re ever going to win again,” said Flesch, who hadn’t won anywhere since 2007. “Honestly, it’s been harder than I anticipated winning on this tour. The guys are so good. That Langer guy is hard to beat.”
Not all missed cuts are the same. Just ask Kelly Kraft.
Fighting to play the weekend at the Heritage, Kraft’s tee shot on the par-3 14th had just begun its descent when it drilled a bird. His ball dropped short of the green, in the water, and led to a double bogey. He missed the cut by one.
“It wouldn’t been in the middle of the green,” he said. “It might have been close. I got screwed.”
At this point, you just hope that the bad break doesn’t cost Kraft down the road, or at least evens out over time. He entered the week at No. 85 in the FedEx Cup standings.
This week’s award winners …
Stay Hot: Luke List. In 16 starts this season, he now has nine top-25s and a trio of top-5s – a tie for fifth at the CJ Cup, a playoff loss at Honda and now a tie for third at the Heritage, where he finished one shot out of the Kim-Kodaira playoff.
Running On Fumes: Ian Poulter. Playing his sixth consecutive week, the Englishman crashed back to Earth with a final-round 75 while staked to the overnight lead. After winning just two Tour events in 240 career starts, he was seeking his second title in the past three weeks.
Back to the Drawing Board: Live Under Par. Saying goodbye to “These Guys are Good” after two decades, the PGA Tour rolled out its new advertising campaign, which was supposed to highlight the Tour’s younger, fan-friendly approach. A sampling on Twitter shows just how much it missed the mark, but even more of a forehead-slapper was the fact that, in the UK, to “live under par” means that you feel like total crap. Oops!
Psycho Scorecard of the Week: James Hahn. Not good in golf, but, man, Giancarlo Stanton would love to hit for the cycle right about now:
Interesting Friday the 13th. Completed golf’s longest cycle on the PGA Tour in my first 8 holes. Eagle, birdie, par, bogey, double, triple. I’d like to thank all my sponsors for helping me achieve greatness. pic.twitter.com/qNIWlKw7Ir
— James Hahn (@JamesHahnPGA) April 13, 2018
Not Quite Tiger-Esque: Paul Casey. His Tour-leading streak of 29 consecutive cuts made came to an end at the Heritage. Too bad, because he was only 113 short of catching Tiger’s amazing run.
Leading Amateurs: Hogan Award finalists. The final vote isn’t for another month, but right now Ole Miss’ Braden Thornberry, Oregon’s Norman Xiong and Texas’ Doug Ghim should be considered the frontrunners for amateur golf’s most prestigious award.
Place Your Bets: PGA Tour. The Tour said last week that it would support legalizing sports betting, falling in line with other major sports leagues. One thing to watch: Fan behavior is already an issue, and that could be exacerbated if, say, a spectator has 50 benjis on a JT head-to-head victory.
Lunch of (Masters) Champions: Patrick Reed hits Chick-fil-A.
Look who we had the pleasure of serving today at our Sawdust Road Chick-fil-A Drive Thru!! Welcome home to the 2018 Masters Winner- Patrick Reed with his beautiful wife!
Green jacket Chick-fil-A pic.twitter.com/QEp8yWZcDv
— CFA THE WOODLANDS (@thewoodlandscfa) April 11, 2018
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Luke Donald. His form stunk heading into Harbour Town, but rarely has that mattered – since 2009, he was 9-for-9 with five runners-up and a pair of third-place finishes, reason enough for many one-and-doners to pick him. Then he opened with 76, and even though he rebounded with a Friday 67, it still wasn’t enough to make the cut. Sigh.