Justin Thomas is finally back in the winner’s circle, Tiger Woods’ season is officially over, Andy Ogletree’s fun is just getting started and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble.
Welcome back, JT.
More than a year removed from his decisive victory at the WGC-Bridgestone, Thomas returned to his cruise-control ways at Medinah, building a comfortable lead with a course-record 61 on Saturday before finishing off a three-shot victory at the BMW Championship.
The win ended a lengthy victory drought that included a nearly two-month stint on the disabled list with a wrist injury, no major top-10s (including a DNP at the PGA) and a near-fall out of the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking.
But Thomas is too talented to have been shut out for this long. Sunday’s win marked Thomas’ sixth straight year capturing a PGA Tour-sanctioned event and bumped him back up to fifth in the world.
1. Suddenly, Thomas is the favorite to collect his second FedExCup title in three seasons.
Go figure, but Thomas erased a disappointing season (by his standards) with one 2,000-point swoop, moving up 14 spots to No. 1 in the season-long points race. As a result, he’ll start this week’s Tour Championship at 10 under thanks to the Tour’s brand-new staggered-start format, two shots ahead of Patrick Cantlay, who jumped to second with a runner-up finish at the BMW.
“Definitely beats the position I was in at the beginning of this week,” said Thomas, who won five times, including a major, when he collected the FedExCup title two seasons ago. “I can certainly say, a thousand percent, I’ve never slept on a Wednesday lead.”
2. As for the rest of the playoff-finale field, Brooks Koepka, the overwhelming favorite for Player of the Year, will begin the week at 7 under, followed by Patrick Reed (6 under) and Rory McIlroy (5 under).
Jon Rahm and Matt Kuchar will be among the crop at 4 under while U.S. Open champ Gary Woodland joins Dustin Johnson as part of the 3-under group. Reigning FedExCup champ Justin Rose highlights those starting at 1 under while Bryson DeChambeau and the group at even par will begin Thursday in a 10-shot hole.
The jury is still out on the changes, but, if anything, it will be interesting to see how everything unfolds in Year 1.
3. One thing we won’t see this year at East Lake is a successful title defense. Defending tournament champion Tiger Woods won’t be making the trip after yet another disappointing finish.
Woods’ T-37 showing at the BMW dropped him to 42nd in points, ending what has been a season of highs and (mostly) lows – though as Woods pointed out Sunday, he is “the one with the green jacket.” Obviously, it doesn’t get much better than Woods collecting his 15th major title last April at Augusta National. But since his Masters triumph, Woods pegged it just six times with two missed cuts, a WD and only one top-10.
It’s somewhat hard to believe, especially considering Woods had been T-20 or better in four of five pre-Masters starts this season with a worst finish of T-30, at The Players. But he just couldn’t stay healthy – neck and oblique strains, general tightness and soreness – and as a result couldn’t practice or play as much as he needed.
4. So when will we see Tiger again?
Woods said Sunday that he won’t compete again until the Zozo Championship in Japan this October. That will be his only start of the fall, though he’s also slated to tee it up alongside Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Hideki Matsuyama in a pre-tournament skins competition that week.
That means Woods will only have one opportunity to impress, well, himself. The U.S. Presidents Cup captain must announce four picks before December’s matches in Australia, and there’s quite the looming question: Will Woods give himself a nod?
5. Sixteen players who won’t need a Presidents Cup pick were officially announced Sunday upon conclusion of the BMW Championship.
On the U.S. side, the eight automatic qualifiers were Koepka, Thomas, Johnson, Cantlay, Xander Schauffele, Webb Simpson, Kuchar and DeChambeau. For the Internationals, Marc Leishman, Matsuyama, Louis Oosthuizen, Adam Scott, Abraham Ancer, Haotong Li, C.T. Pan and Cameron Smith made the team via points.
Notables yet to have their spots secured include Americans Rickie Fowler (11th in points), Reed (12th), Phil Mickelson (16th) and Jordan Spieth (27th), and Internationals Day (ninth), Sungjae Im (11th), Si Woo Kim (16th) and Branden Grace (23rd).
Let the captain’s-pick debates continue!
6. Speaking of Mickelson, Spieth and Day, they were among those who saw their seasons end at Medinah.
Mickelson’s capped his season with some excitement, though of the wrong kind. His hotel caught fire after it was struck by lightning on Saturday night, forcing Mickelson to evacuate his top-floor room and, at least for a moment, putting his final round at the BMW in doubt. (Talk about a Phireside Chat!).
Lefty ended up playing, shot 1-under 71, tied for 48th and bowed out of the postseason at No. 47 in points.
As for Spieth, he will be shut out of East Lake after another lackluster season that saw him finish 44th in points. Day finished 54th in the standings, a byproduct of posting just one top-10 post-Masters.
Even more shocking, their OWGR ranks: Day (23rd), Spieth (33rd) and Mickelson (38th).
7. While JT was leading a birdie-filled assault on Medinah, the 119th U.S. Amateur final might have been the most exciting golf played on Sunday, as Georgia Tech’s Andy Ogletree battled back from a 4-down deficit after five – making just two bogeys in 35 holes – before taking down Vanderbilt stud John Augenstein on Pinehurst No. 2’s 17th hole.
There aren’t many trophies more stunning than the Havemeyer, and Ogletree, the world’s 120th-ranked amateur who hails from a little town called Little Rock, Mississippi, is now the third Yellow Jacket to have his name engraved on it, joining Matt Kuchar and Bobby Jones.
Pretty impressive company.
8. Ogletree’s triumph at Pinehurst earned him exemptions into next year’s U.S. Open and Open Championship along with a likely invitation into the 2020 Masters, where he’ll play alongside defending green-jacket winner Woods.
Of course, Ogletree also locked up a spot on the U.S. Walker Cup team, which will compete next month at Royal Liverpool in England.
Joining Ogletree on captain Nathaniel Crosby’s 10-man team: Augenstein, McCormack medalist Cole Hammer of Texas, 17-year-old Akshay Bhatia, mid-amateur Stewart Hagestad, Stanford grads Brandon Wu and Isaiah Salinda, Florida State’s John Pak, Georgia Southern grad Steven Fisk and Duke grad Alex Smalley.
While the U.S. side will surely be the heavy favorites on paper, winning won’t be an easy task. The Americans hold a 36-9-1 all-time record in the biennial matches but have lost five of the past six cups on GB&I soil. The lone victory during that span came in 2007 at Royal County Down, where Rickie Fowler and Billy Horschel helped the U.S. to a one-point victory.
Luckily for this year’s visiting side, there’s no scar tissue. Only Hagestad has played in a Walker Cup before, as he was part of a U.S. win two years ago that was so lopsided the Americans may still be winning holes at Los Angeles Country Club.
9. The two primary venues on display last week provided the perfect juxtaposition.
Pinehurst No. 2 fairly challenged competitors, playing more than seven shots over par in stroke play before producing some great match-play theatre. It forced players to hit a variety of shots, especially around the greens with its tight lies and short-grass runoffs, while the diabolical Donald Ross greens punished poorly-struck shots.
On the other hand, Medinah No. 3 was a pushover. Despite playing at nearly 7,700 yards, the former Ryder Cup host was left defenseless because of soft conditions, modern equipment and a design/setup that failed to challenge the world’s best. Just two of the 69 players in the BMW field shot over par for the week, and Thomas won at 25 under.
Adam Scott perhaps put it best on Saturday: “They haven’t figured out yet that long means nothing to us. You can’t build it long enough. And I’m not challenging them to build a longer golf course, I’m challenging them to build smarter golf courses.”
Amen to that.