Friday, March 1, 2024

Morning 9: Hovland’s 61 | Dunlap wins US Am | Brooks out of Ryder Cup auto spots

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Playoffs are cutthroat. Sahith Theegala made bogey on the 72nd hole this week, after posting birdies on holes 69, 70, and 71. That bogey dropped him from T10 to T15, and cost him a spot in the Tour Championship. One stroke, after all the practice and competition from last October to Sunday. Emiliano Grillo, Tyrrell Hatton, Jordan Spieth, and especially, Sepp Straka, did their best to drop out of the top 30, but somehow, they found a way to secure the 27th to 30th spots, and a berth in the big-money event in Atlanta.

The U.S. Amateur concluded in Colorado, and the simultaneous women/men events in Northern Ireland celebrated two distinct champions. The Korn Ferry and Tour Champions also served up trophies to event winners. Late August is a busy time for golf so, with a tip of the cap to Nick Dunlap, the new U.S. Amateur champion, let’s run down the pros and their results in this week’s Tour Rundown.

PGA Tour @ BMW Championship: Hovland storms back to claim playoff win

Not since Shigeki Maruyama, the smiling assassin, has a golfer grinned in both defeat and victory, as does Viktor Hovland. On Sunday, Hovland came home in 28 strokes, making birdie on all holes but the par threes on the inward half. His 61 jetted him past third-round, co-leaders Matt Fitzpatrick and Scottie Scheffler, and everyone else in the field. After a season of disappointing, final rounds in the PGA Championship and other events, Hovland was able to bury those memories with one stellar scorecard.

Neither Fitzpatrick nor Scheffler played poorly on Sunday, but each had a pair of bogeys that they could ill afford to admit. With Hovland on a tear, it was keep up or settle, and no one could keep up. The tour now moves on to Atlanta, where Hovland will begin the week two shots behind front-runner Scheffler, in the pro-rated Tour Championship.

LPGA/LET @ Handa World Invitational: Did anyone see Pano coming?

Imagine that you’re 18 years old, on the cusp of 19, and you’re playing in the Handa World Invitational. Imagine that you post a final-round 66 that includes nine birdies. Imagine that you tie for the top spot with two other golfers, go into a playoff, and ultimately make birdie on the third extra hole to win your first tour title. Welcome to the world of Alexa Pano. The young Floridian eschewed college golf for the professional ranks and this week’s result makes the decision appear justified. Pano began the week with 76, but improved each day, to 70, then 69, before Sunday’s stellar round. She began the day four shots behind England’s Gabriella Cowley, one of the playoff participants. Cowley closed birdie-eagle after a lackluster day, to find herself in overtime with Pano and Germany’s Esther Henseleit. Both Cowley and Pano made birdie at the first extra hole, then battled twice more before Pano ended things with a two-putt.

Korn Ferry Tour @ Magnit Championship: Chan can and did!

Chan Kim did quite a thing this week in New Jersey. Kim began the week in 54th position, 24 spots away from the PGA tour card awarded to the regular season top 30 on the Korn Ferry tour. On Sunday, he played a back-nine, four-hole stretch in five under par to separate from third-round leader Taylor Dickson and secure a Korn Ferry title. With the win, Kim moved up 42 spots, into the top 15. His future got a little brighter, thanks to his brilliant, closing 64 on Sunday. As for Dickson, fate could not have been much crueler. His runner-up finish was enough to elevate him to 31st on the regular-season money list, exactly one spot and 23 season points away from the same tour card. Dickson will have another opportunity to secure a tour card during the three-week playoff run, but he would certainly love to have less pressure as the tour heads to Idaho and the longest-running event in tour history, the Boise Open.

DP World Tour @ Handa World Invitational: Mr. Brown is back in town

Daniel Brown played so magnificently through the opening 54 holes, that he found himself in one of golf’s cursed positions: the six-shot advantage with one round to play. For those who remember the 1996 Masters, those sorts of leads are never safe, and in that event, Nick Faldo was the beneficiary of a historic collapse. Alex Fitzpatrick, in a second-spot tie with Wilco Nienaber with one round to play, cut Brown’s lead to two but could get no closer. The younger Fitzpatrick brother has been on a tear the last month and secured a runner-up spot this week in Northern Ireland. After a bit of a blaise start, Brown righted the ship and cruised to a five-shot win. Eddie Pepperell regained form this week and closed with 68 to secure a full podium for England. The tour moves onto the European mainland next week, for the Czech Open.

PGA Tour Champions @ Shaw Charity: Duke reigns by narrowest of margins

This week on PGA Tour Champions was one for the numerologists. Runners-up Thongchai Jaidee (66-69-62) and Tim Petrovic (62-66-69) posted identical rounds in differing sequences. Champion Ken Duke, one slim shot ahead, signed for 66-64-66. However, there’s always more to the story than statistics, so let’s dive deeper on Duke. PGA Tour Champions is the fourth tour on which Duke has won, and this victory was his first on the second-chances tour. The 54-year-old didn’t go super low, as did his closest pursuers, but he never left the mid-60s, and that made all the difference. On Sunday, Tim Petrovic failed to make birdie on the par-five closer. Jaidee and Duke made four at the last, and if it weren’t for the bogey at 14, Jaidee would have had 61 and a tie at the top. Duke had a pair of bogeys on the outward half, but more than made up for those stumbles with six birdies on the day. The victory moved him from 40th to 21s in the season-long Schwab Cup race, meaning that he might get to extend the season a bit more, come October, assuming his victory celebration didn’t cause any damage!

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