Golf Capital: Hataoka’s breakthrough ahead of PGA, Bubba gets third 2018 win

@hamishneal

It’s a triple treat at the head of the men’s tours with wins for Matt Wallace and Bubba Watson in Germany and the USA respectively whilst Japanese teen Nasa Hataoka won in Arkansas to claim her first LPGA Tour victory. With the Women’s PGA Championship on in Illinois it’s a big week in golf.

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Opening Drive 

 

Two-time Masters champion, and column pick, Bubba Watson won for the third time in 2018 on the PGA Tour as he secured a victory in the Travelers Championship. Watson’s final round seven under 63 saw him claw back the six-shot deficit her had sitting in a tie for sixth coming into the final round at TPC River Highlands.

 

Overnight leader Paul Casey’s four-shot lead became five early in his final round before he eventually shot two over 72 finishing up in a tie for second with Stewart Cink, JB Holmes and Beau Hossler.

 

A crowded leaderboard in Germany has finished with Matt Wallace picking up his third European Tour crown with victory in the BMW Championship in Pulheim. 20 players were within three shots of the lead on Saturday night and Wallace’s triumph came courtesy of a final round 65 but he had plenty to chase after Thorbjorn Olesen shot an 11 under 61 early in the day. Having been seven shots off the lead at Golf Club Gut Laerchenhof Olesen’s run nearly saw the Dane claim his sixth European Tour victory before he finished in a tie for second with German Martin Kaymer and Finn Mikko Korhonen.

 

19-year-old Nasa Hataoka triumphed comprehensively by six strokes to claim her first LPGA title in stunning fashion in Rogers, Arkansas winning the LPGA Arkansas Championship. Hataoka was co-leader before the final round of the 54-hole event at Pinnacle Country Club but scooted clear with an eight-under 63 to finish at 21 under with American Austin Ernst back in second on 15 under.

 

Player Performance Notes

 

Kildeer, Illinois hosts the third women’s major of the year with the Women’s PGA Championships at Kemper Lakes Golf Club. Three-winner Inbee Park, 2016 champion Brooke Henderson and 2017 victor Danielle Kang all feature here.

 

Under 20: Ariya Jutanugarn. The Women’s US Open winner leads a stack of categories this season including putting on the LPGA and coupled with her prodigious long hitting she’ll look to claim her third career major. Such is the Thai golfer’s form she is on pace to become the first USD3 million earner in a single LPGA season (in addition to her two wins this year she has eight top ten finishes.)

 

20 to 50: Nasa Hataoka. Last week’s winner Hataoka wasn’t a shock win despite her age. Four of her previous five starts before the win in Arkansas resulted in top ten or better finishes. The youngest ever winner of the Japan Women’s Open is clearly a talent on the rise and four of the last six women’s major winners were first-time LPGA major victors.

 

20 to 50: Brooke Henderson. The Canadian only fell narrowly short of going back-to-back last year and this will be her second full attempt to win a major this year after withdrawing from the Open due to her grandfather’s death. She won in April and has four other top ten finishes this year.

 

50 to 100: Danielle Kang. The defending champion from Olympia Fields in Illinois was fourth at the US Women’s Open recently and has a handful of top ten finished since the victory last year so has been thereabouts.

 

Greens in regulation

This week the European Tour resumes the Rolex Series with the Open de France taking on special significance as Le Golf National is the Ryder Cup venue later this year. American Justin Thomas is among the first-timers at the Paris venue ahead of the September showpiece which was won last year by England’s Tommy Fleetwood.

 

In America the US PGA Tour sees the Quicken Loans National, won last year by Kyle Stanley, take place at TPC Potomac in Avenel Farm, Maryland. Tiger Woods features in this event which is linked to his foundation.

 

Tap in

 

Two-time major winner Jiyai Shin has made an incredibly generous donation to grow golf in Australia after her win at the Canberra Classic in February. In late May Shin, whose win marked her 50th professional triumph in winning the co-sanctioned Ladies European Tour event, donated the $22,500 winner’s purse to the Australian Ladies Professional Golf Next Generation program which will help fund future editions of their Rookie Camp. The 30-year-old, who has since won again on the LPGA tour of Japan, has amassed in excess of USD6 million on the LPGA alone in her career so it is not as if the former world number one would need the cash but it’s a great gesture nonetheless from the South Korean.

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Golf Capital: Koepka beats the USGA, again, plus farewell to a champion.

@hamishneal

American Brooks Koepka claimed his national open for the second year running with a one stroke triumph in the second major of 2018 – the US Open. It was a week of controversy in New York and elsewhere So Yeon Ryu won her first LPGA title of the year with a two-stroke triumph in Michigan.

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Opening Drive

Brooks Koepka survived the carnage of Shinnecock Hills to claim back-to-back US Opens on Sunday having recovered from on opening round of 75 (five over) before going 66-72-68 to beat home Tommy Fleetwood by one stroke with half-way leader Dustin Johnson a further stroke back.

 

A rampaging 63 by Fleetwood early on Sunday set the marker on the final day as the seven-under made the leaders work before Koepka made some clutch putts in the final nine to shut the door on those out on the course.

 

Se Yeon Ryu won for the first time since June 2017 when she shot a final round 67 to beat Germany’s Caroline Masson with Kiwi Lydia Ko in third.

 

This week the US PGA Tour is in Connecticut for the Traveler’s Championship with the LPGA Tour venturing to Arkansas for the tournament won by Ryu last year the Arkansas Championship. The European Tour resumes in Germany with the BMW International in Pulheim’s Gut Larchenhof course.

 

Player performance notes
Looking at some players of interest this week on the PGA Tour. Treading carefully the week after a major it’s to Cromwell and the TPC River Highlands track in Connecticut for an event won last year by Jordan Spieth – the Traveler’s Championship.

 

Under 20: Patrick Reed.  The Masters champ rallied for a fourth place finish in Southampton at the US Open and was only three back from Spieth here last year.

 

20 to 50: Daniel Berger. Second behind Spieth last year here. Berger led for part of the US Open and has a good record of repeat form at familiar venues having won the St Jude Classic in 2016 and 2017.

 

20 to 50: Xander Schaufelle. The American was T14 at this tournament last year on debut at the courses before winning the Greenbrier two weeks later. That was coming off a fifth-placed US Open finish and he was T6 on the weekend.

 

20 to 50: Bubba Watson. The two-time Masters champion is also a dual winner at this tournament but his form has subsided in the last three months since posting wins in the WGC Match Play and Genesis Open in LA. He’s also not played a large volume in that period
Greens in regulation

 

On the winner in Long Island. Koepka, 28, has now won every year since he turned professional in 2012. A career which started out via the European Tour’s second tier Challenge Tour has not only seen him yield ten wins in total but his two major wins are also accompanied by a victory in Turkey in 2014 in what was a Race to Dubai feature European Tour event so he’s had a habit of winning big tournaments. Koepka, who has also won twice in Japan, now moves to number four in the world and the diversity of his major wins (16 under at Erin Hills in Wisconsin last year to plus one this year) show he is not a one-dimensional player.

 

Away from the winner the two biggest controversies were the course and Phil Mickelson, whose career slam prospects look increasingly like they will fade into the fescue after another US Open without the win.

 

Mickelson, on the par four 13th on Saturday, raked back a putt as the ball was rolling away to salvage a horror hole and incurred a two-stroke penalty in doing so. Mickelson eventually finished 15 strokes from Koepka but could have easily been disqualified if the USGA choose to do so. The American could also have withdrawn himself, a prospect thrown up by some fellow professionals including Australian Scott Hend, but Hend also notes it would have put the pressure on the USGA around the course set-up. The vagaries in the USGA’s explanation don’t sit well and if any of the leaders had made a similar move on Sunday it would have been an interesting precedent to monitor after what happened on Saturday.

 

The tournament was impacted by the course set-up, overly so in some cases with a few pin placements causing havoc. It felt as if a series of players were disadvantaged depending on the draw (see Fleetwood, Tommy.) However, the leaderboard did feature star names and deserving players. It’s also difficult to say Koepka didn’t work hard for the win.

 

For those that enjoy seeing professionals struggle after the last month of 23 under , 20 under, 15 under (with a playoff) and 19 under as the winning scores on the PGA Tour having the winner of a major come in at one over is certainly something which offers a point of difference. But USGA boss Mike Davis does seem to enjoy the celebrity of the role a little too much but at some point it isn’t a good look to have greens getting watered just after the last group on Saturday is going through them.

 

Tap in

Sad news to finish the week with the passing of Peter Thomson, not only a multiple major winner but a member of the Sport Australia Hall of Fame.  From 1954 to 1965 Thomson claimed the British Open five times. This was an era which also saw Gary Player, Arnold Palmer and Bob Charles claim the claret jug which underscores the quality of the period.

 

A course designer as well in his career Thomson was a prolific winner with 84 titles. This included wins in the German, Hong Kong, Indian, Italian, Spanish Opens plus the Australian and New Zealand opens, each on multiple occasions.

 

There is a great Movietone video on The Open Twitter account of one of Thomson’s triumphs. Take a look.

 

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Golf Capital: Johnson’s Memphis title, Shot Clock stories

@hamishneal

With the US Open coming up this week Dustin Johnson jumped back into the number one spot with a win in Memphis, Annie Park claimed her first LPGA victory and Finland’s Mikko Korhonen won the Shot Clock Masters six strokes, the same margin of victory as Johnson.

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Opening Drive

Coming into the final round Johnson co-led the St Jude Classic by five strokes with fellow American Andrew Putnam but his four under round capped by a hole-out eagle with his approach to the par four 18th gave him an eventual winning margin of six strokes at TPC Southwind with JB Holmes four strokes behind Putnam.

Annie Park started the final round of the Shoprite LPGA Classic in New Jersey four strokes adrift of Sei Young Kim but ended up at 16 under one clear of Sakura Yokomine. Park’s eight under 63 on Sunday helped her climb the leaderboard but not before Yokomine’s 10 under 61 which matched Kim’s second round score as the best in the three-round tournament. Canadian Brooke Henderson, who withdrew from the US Open recently due to the passing of her grandfather, is the defending champion at this week’s Meijer LPGA Classic in Grand Rapids Michigan.

Finishing at 16 under Mikko Korhonen was the only player to shot sub-70 each day at Diamond CC near Vienna to win the inaugural Shot Clock Masters. Scot Connor Syme put in a meritorious effort to finish second closing with two rounds of 69. The time-focused event was another recent first in the European Tour.

 

Player performance notes

From Erin Hills in Wisconsin to Shinnecock Hills Golf Club in New York the 118th US Open is the golfing highlight for this week with Brooke Koepka the defending champions in the second men’s major of the year. Last week our closest pick was Phil Mickelson (T12)

Under 20: Justin Thomas. The American is on a great run of form stretching back to the Tour Championship last year when he was second. In that period (15 starts) he hasn’t finished worse than T22 and includes two wins. Ranked eighth for driving distance the PGA Championship winner will have a big advantage on many others here.

20 to 50: Phil Mickelson. In with Mickelson again for the second week running. The 47 year-old was second here in 2004 when the Long Island venue last hosted the Open (won by Retief Goosen) and this is the major he is yet to win with six (!) second or tied-second place finishes stretching back to 1999.

20 to 50: Adam Scott. The Australian had to qualify for this event after dropping out of the year top 60 and he did play here in 2004, albeit missing the cut. Stories of players qualifying then winning are in recent open history (see Campbell, Michael 2005) and Masters winner Scott is genuinely top class.

500 to 1000: Sam Burns. The Louisiana native has rocketed up the rankings mixing Web.com and PGA Tour starts this year including a second tier win in April. He;s gone from 1812 this time last year to 167. I’m mostly drawn to his 11th position in the driving stats on a course that is longer than previous editions here.

 

Greens in regulation

As it is the Open there are plenty of great stories from a range of the qualifying events and amateurs. Garrett Rank, current NHL referee, is in the field after making it out of one of the sectional qualifiers last week. Canadian Rank officiated in three play-off games this season so we are not talking about one of the also-rans in the refereeing ranks. Some great insight on the competitors can be found here by sportinglife.com’s Ben Coley.

 

Tap in

Reflecting on the Shot Clock Masters from Austria it was interesting to note how players used the time extensions and also how the clock timings are set aside with longer allowances for a lost ball. The latter when the veteran Miguel Angel Jimenez was well in contention on Friday.

This tournament was the first individual event to be subject to these conditions (it has been used in the team Golf Sixes events) but it took until the third round when three players (Clemens Prader, Grant Forrest and Andrea Pavan) fell foul of the shot clock.

Two more dropped a stroke in Sunday after time violations with Austrian Markus Brier (approach on seventh) and Swede Oscar Stark (putt on the fourth) going one second (!) over the allotted time

The issue, as noted last week, is whilst the half an hour or so average round time was shaved off across some of the rounds in Atzenbrugg this weekend it won’t have an impact on the players it’s targeted at until it’s enforced across the respective tours.

 

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Golf Capital: Ariya’s stunning Shoal Creek triumph and the US (Men’s) Open beckons

@hamishneal

 

It was a Sunday of two playoffs in the USA, but one which didn’t look likely with nine holes to go as Ariya Jutanugarn won the US Women’s Open in dramatic fashion as Bryson DeChambeau secured victory at the Memorial in Ohio. On the European Tour Thorbjorn Olesen earned a one stroke triumph over Italian Francesco Molinari to secure the Italian Open – his first Rolex Series triumph.

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Opening drive

It was a difficult manner in which to claim her second major but Thailand’s Ariya Jutanugarn eventually prevailed late on Sunday at Shoal Creek to win the US Women’s Open after a four-hole playoff over Hyo Joo Kim at the Alabama venue.

 

Following rain delays Jutanugarn ended up playing 50 holes over the weekend to win the title – 28 holes on Saturday (the end of her second round then her third) before the 22 holes on Sunday which included the final round plus the four play-off holes.

 

As if the volume of work wasn’t big enough the 22-year-old came back from a back nine implosion on the final day when she saw a seven-stroke lead evaporate as she shot 41 across the back stretch to fall into the extra holes. The playoff started with a two-hole aggregate playoff before the sudden death holes, which Jutanugarn parred both after up-and-downs out of the sand.

 

This week sees the LPGA move to New Jersey with the Shoprite LPGA Classic presented by Acer at Stockton Seaview near Atlantic City.

 

Californian Bryson DeChambeau edged out fellow American Kyle Stanley first and then South Korean Byeong-Hun An after the trio finished at 15 under to win the Memorial at Muirfield Village in Dublin (no not that one), Ohio.

 

A closing round 64, which included an up-and-down par on the 18th, gave Thorbjorn Olesen his first win since 2016 to claim the European Tour’s Italian Open. The Dane was somewhat of a villain at Gardagolf as Molinari was bidding for back-to-back home opens plus back-to-back triumphs following his triumph the week earlier in England.

 

Player Performance Notes 

 

The FedEx St Jude Classic at TPC Southwind in Memphis is an interesting prospect with the US Open at Shinnecock Hills in New York a week away. Here are some players with interesting prospects this weekend after we got the winner home last weekend in Birmingham.

 

Under 20: Brooks Koepka. Hamppered by injuries since his US Open triumh last year Koepka has played only 14 times since that win but he has returned in great form after been off from most of January until May with a T42, T11 and second place finish in Texas recently.

 

Under 20: Phil Mickelson. Lefty has won this year and has good form at the Tennessee tournament with having not finished worse than 11th in his last five goes here, including a second two years ago.

 

50 to 100: Matt Jones. The Australian, who admittedly hasn’t won since 2015, has been in great form recently with a T13 at the Byron Nelson and he did finish T5 at the Web.com Tour Championship last year which might be a good guide for an event missing some big names the week before a major.

 

100 to 200: Braden Thornberry improved each round (71-69-67-65) to finish T4 here last year. Recently we’ve seen top amateurs raise their game on tour and Thornberry (who still intends to return to colleague for his senior year should also be buoyed by the fact he has qualified for the US Open.

 

Greens in regulation

It was major winners, recent European Tour winners and gun amateurs highlighting those competing for spots in next week’s US Open (the men’s version) across two countries early this week. With nine venues going in the USA and one (Walton Heath) in Surrey, England there was a host of qualifiers who many would be surprised were even needing a last chance to make this major.

 

Chief amongst those was 2013 Masters winner Adam Scott. The Australia, who was ranked 12 in the world this time last year, has dropped to 62 and feel just outside of a guaranteed slot

Joining Scott is rising Australian Lucas Herbert who might be one of the big stories out of the qualifier. After a recent third-placed finish in Sicily the Victorian gained one of the four spots on offer at Portland Golf Club in Oregon winning by four strokes.

 

Tap in

Daimond Country Club in Atzenbrugg, Austria hosts the inaugural Shot Clock Masters. The basics of the modified format at what was once the Austrian Open sees a shot clock in play on every shot.

The official European Tour shot time allowances will be in force: a 50 second allowance for a “first to play approach shot (including a par three tee shot), chip or putt” and a 40-second allowance for a “tee shot on a par four or par five, or second or third to play approach shot, chip or putt.” There are two ‘time extensions’ (which are similar to time outs) allowed per player per round plus a buggy with each group will have a mounted clock to allow people to track the time.

Of all the modified formats this is the most transparent in it’s focus but on face value it’s no Golf Sixes in terms of ongoing drama. The fact it comes after two Rolex Series events on the European Tour and the week before the US Open means it lacks big stars plus whether players notoriously linked to slow-play would ever enter these tournament makes the motivation (and possibly the sustainability of this event) the most dubious of the fresh formats which have commenced in recent years on the ET. The jury is out until Sunday in Austria.

 

 

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