Sergio Garcia throws a dagger on the 72nd hole, Aaron Rai goes low in Scotland, Mel Reid becomes the latest popular LPGA winner, a Korn Ferry Tour player wears his lucky trousers and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:
1. Sergio Garcia stuffed his final approach to 2 feet to win by one shot over Peter Malnati at the Sanderson Farms.
TAKEAWAY: This was Garcia’s first PGA Tour victory, surprisingly, since his breakthrough at the 2017 Masters. Since then he’s become a father to two young children, gone through a series of equipment changes and continued to struggle with his putting.
Last season he was ranked 187th in putting and couldn’t settle on a grip or method. But last week in Mississippi, with an assist from his wife, Angela, Garcia committed to putting with his eyes closed the entire week – something he’d tried, inconsistently, over the past three or four years.
To be clear, Garcia didn’t light it up on the greens at the Sanderson Farms. He was good, not great. He ranked 28th in the field in strokes gained: putting, but he missed only once inside 5 feet the entire week and made four putts longer than 15 feet to build some confidence. That’s the key, and Garcia knows it: “With an average, or just above-average putting week, if I’m playing the way I played this week, I can give myself a chance of winning almost every week.”
As usual, it was the Spaniard’s long game that separated him. He ranked first in strokes gained: off the tee and tee to green – continuing rock-solid performances in those areas during the 2019-20 season – to shoot 19 under par.
These two sweet shots, in particular, underscored another stellar ball-striking week:
His 5-wood to 3 feet on 14 to set up a tying eagle:
And then his 8-iron into the home hole:
2. With the victory in Mississippi, Garcia has now won a worldwide event in 10 consecutive years.
TAKEAWAY: That’s tied for the longest active streak among the top 100 players in the world, along with Justin Rose, who has yet to win in 2020. How fitting that it came after Garcia fell out of the top 50 in the world ranking for the first time since 2011. He’s back up to 38th.
Are his major-winning days behind him? In 13 major starts since the 2017 Masters, he hasn’t finished better than 21st and missed nine cuts. His putting, eyes closed or open, will continue to give him fits on occasion. But he’s a flusher – he was fourth last season in strokes gained: tee to green – and that hasn’t changed with age.
Garcia’s Ryder Cup record is sensational (22-12-7), but he turns 41 in January and is part of the old guard that needs to play well in 2021 to earn a spot ahead of Europe’s next wave of talent.
There is one men’s major left this year and it happens to be one with which Garcia is very familiar.
3. Aaron Rai won for the second time on the European Tour, firing a final-round 64 and then defeating Tommy Fleetwood in a playoff at the Scottish Open.
TAKEAWAY: After a runner-up finish at the Irish Open, Rai, a 25-year-old Englishman, was one better to capture his first Rolex Series title and move inside the top 100 in the world. It was a heartbreaking finish for Fleetwood, who missed a pair of 3-footers over the last four holes, adding even more ammunition for critics who say he struggles in crunch time.
Also left to rue the finish was Robert Rock, who hadn’t won on the European Tour since 2012 and in recent years has been a highly sought-after swing coach, with a stable of nearly 20 players. Rock birdied 16, made a clutch par save on 17 and then made a sloppy bogey on the final hole to miss out on the playoff by a shot.
4. Mel Reid shot 67 in the final round to hold off a trio of challengers and win the ShopRite LPGA Classic.
TAKEAWAY: It’s the first LPGA title for a six-time Ladies European Tour champion and three-time Solheim Cupper. Reid has been a pro for 13 years but didn’t play her rookie season on the LPGA until 2017. She’s had a couple of close calls but was known mostly as a talented 33-year-old who could have accomplished more.
“It changes your life, honestly,” she said. “These are the best players in the world. The LPGA, in my opinion, is the best tour, the tour you want to be on if you want to be the best in the world. To win out here – people look at you a bit differently. It’s tough to win out here, I can tell you that. Just to get it done is a huge relief, and I’m ecstatic.”
Reid was a winner by two shots over former NCAA champion Jennifer Kupcho, who matched a career best with her second-place finish. She now heads into this week’s KPMG Women’s PGA with a ton of confidence.
THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS …
Whatever Works: Evan Harmeling. Wearing the same outfit as he did in the third round – yellow shirt, blue slacks – Harmeling’s superstition paid off with his first Korn Ferry Tour title, outdueling Kevin Dougherty in a playoff at the Savannah Golf Championship. Harmeling, 32, who played his college golf at Princeton, hadn’t finished better than 14th in any of his 15 prior starts during his rookie Korn Ferry Tour season.
Not for the Faint of Heart: Scottish Open third round. It’s saying something when Ian Poulter called the sloppy conditions at Renaissance Club “as tough a day as I’ve seen on a golf course in 21 years as a pro. It got unmanageable, really.” He simply tried to hold onto his clubs after impact. He burned through five gloves. The course staff was squeegeeing greens as the final groups played the closing stretch. Little wonder Rock, the 54-hole leader, declined to talk to the assembled press afterward, perhaps peeved that he even had to continue in that slop.
Fun While It Lasted: Stewart Cink. The Safeway Open champ once again had his son, Reagan, on the bag in Mississippi, but they agreed that Cink needed a top-5 finish at the Sanderson Farms to extend their partnership for another week. Cink tied for 12th, meaning that he’s going back to his usual looper, Kip Henley, and Reagan is returning to his regular job at Delta. Their winning memories, at least, will last a lifetime.
The Race Is On: Rory McIlroy. In an Instagram story last week, Rory announced that it’s “Speed SZN” and appears to be tinkering with his approach to gain more distance, after watching what Bryson DeChambeau did to Winged Foot at the U.S. Open. And just to show that it’s not all about bulking up, the 5-foot-9-inch McIlroy cranked up to 186 ball speed to produce a 340-yard carry. We’re here for this.
Happy Trails: Paul Lawrie. The 51-year-old announced his retirement from the European Tour after playing in last week’s Scottish Open. Lawrie has been battling a bad back in recent years and realized he can’t hang with today’s young guns. He’s a one-time major winner, at the 1999 Open, which, unfortunately, will long be remembered as the championship that Jean van de Velde spectacularly blew and not the one that Lawrie – with a spectacular closing 67 and fine playoff run – won. His name is still on the trophy, and he’s handled himself with grace and dignity in the two decades that have followed.
Quote of the Week: Peter Malnati. Listen to the wise words of Malnati, one of the game’s best dudes, after shooting a 63 in Mississippi to finish second – his best finish on Tour in eight months: “This is my dream job, and I get to to do it every day, and it beats me up and it’s so hard, and the competition out here is so strong, and you fail so much. To have a day like today – it just felt awesome. I feel like I won the tournament. I probably won’t, but I feel like I did, and it’s amazing.”
Coming to a Pro Circuit Near You: Takumi Kanaya. The top-ranked amateur in the world announced his intention to turn pro and will make his debut later this month on the Japan Tour, where the 22-year-old already has status for this season by virtue of a victory last fall. He’s a big-time talent who is hoping to be on the European Tour no later than 2022.
Tough Break: Lucy Li. The newly turned 18-year-old was one shot back at the Symetra Tour event when the final round was canceled because of unplayable course conditions. That robbed her of a chance to grab her first W of the season, but she settled for her third top-5, moving her to No. 6 on the money list. Even though the 2020 and ’21 seasons were merged, there’s still an opportunity for five Symetra players to earn LPGA cards for 2021.
Back in Action: Bryson DeChambeau. The newly minted U.S. Open champ will tee it up this week at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open. He had planned to begin testing a 48-inch driver, so it’ll be interesting to see if Big Bryson is even longer in Vegas.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Scottie Scheffler. Making his season debut after a positive COVID-19 test knocked him out of the U.S. Open, Scheffler looked a little rusty in Mississippi, finishing in a tie for 37th – his worst result since early July. He’ll be cookin’ again before long.