Patrick Cantlay and Xander Schauffele take care of business, the Zurich becomes ripe for change, Greg Norman gets embarrassingly denied and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:
Go figure: Pairing two of the game’s most consistently excellent players turned out to be a winning combination.
This season, Cantlay ranks seventh in strokes gained: total while Schauffele is 17th.
In other words: They do everything well, across the board.
That makes for a formidable duo.
And golf’s newest bromance delivered again at the Zurich Classic, where Cantlay and Schauffele set the 72-hole scoring record by shooting 29 under and becoming the first team to go wire to wire.
Ahead by five shots heading into the final day of alternate shot at TPC Louisiana, the SoCal kids kept their cool when their advantage was trimmed to one. After a closing bogey, they wound up two clear of Sam Burns and Billy Horschel.
First partnering at the 2019 Presidents Cup (at the suggestion of assistant captain Fred Couples), Cantlay and Schauffele are 4-2 in cup competitions, including an eye-opening 4-0 in alternate shot, the format that has long been the Americans’ undoing in team events. At the Zurich, they played off each other for a record 59 in best ball on Day 1, followed it up with 68 in alternate shot, and then put the tournament on ice with a back-nine 28 in windy conditions on Saturday. They were able to make three Sunday bogeys and still comfortably cruise to the title.
Cantlay’s bounce-back was particularly impressive. He was rightfully steaming as he left Hilton Head eight days ago; he had a prime chance to win outright on the 72nd green, then had a buried lie in a bunker in the playoff against Jordan Spieth. In the first third of the new year, he had played plenty of good golf (five top-10s) but had little to show for it, including two playoff losses.
“Sometimes it’s just how golf is,” he said in his pre-tournament interview, “but you just keep knocking on the door – and eventually, the door will fall down.”
Even in the team format in which he shared the load, the Zurich was further proof that Cantlay was in top form. He became the first player since Dustin Johnson in 2020 to win the week after a playoff defeat.
“I think any time you can share success,” Cantlay said, “I think that makes it just a little sweeter.”
Writers’ Block: Schauffele/Cantlay the best team of this generation?
Schauffele is a phenomenal player. His metrics jump off the screen. He’s factored in all of the majors and starred on the biggest stages. He’s lived in the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the past few years.
But he has also amassed one of the most bizarre résumés of any elite pro.
Technically, he now has five PGA Tour wins.
• The 2017 Greenbrier, which had one of the weakest non-opposite event fields of the season;
• The 2017 Tour Championship, which featured only 30 players, but they were also the best 30 players of the Tour year;
• The 2018 WGC-HSBC Champions, another limited field with an eclectic mix of international players;
• The 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions, featuring a winners-only field of 33 mostly rusty players in the first event of the new year;
• And the 2022 Zurich Classic, which he teamed up to win with world No. 4 Cantlay.
Though they weren’t Tour victories, he also won the gold medal at the 2021 Olympics (against – you guessed it! – another limited field) and received the winner’s allotment of world-ranking points for having the lowest 72-hole score at the 2020 Tour Championship (even if he wasn’t credited with an official win).
This is truly strange stuff from which we can draw no logical conclusion.
Afterward, Schauffele didn’t seem sure how to process this latest achievement, even if he – technically – notched his first Tour win since 2019.
“It’s interesting,” he said. “I obviously found a really good partner. He played unbelievable golf this week, made me feel comfortable. He brought the best out of me on the course.
“Yeah, there’s a lot to take from this week. But for the most part I’m just kind of worrying about enjoying it right now.”
Other takeaways from Zurich week:
• Horschel continues to thrive at TPC Louisiana, where he won as an individual in 2013 and again as part of a team with Scott Piercy in 2018. In the past two years with Burns, a Louisiana native, the duo has gone T4-2. That’s why Horschel said this after the round: “I’m a betting man, and if I could bet on golf and ourselves – obviously, we cannot on the PGA Tour – I would put some money on us that we win this event in the next five years or so.” It’s hard to disagree.
• The best team on paper finished a disappointing tie for 29th. Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland – the first top-5 players to be paired together for the event – failed to shoot a best-ball score lower than 65 and got lapped.
• Should what happened at the Zurich offer the Presidents Cup captains any future guidance? A couple of teams sure hope so. Defending champions Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman never really factored (T-21), but South Africans Branden Grace and Garrick Higgo were in the final group Sunday and finished a respectable tie for fourth. It was a much-needed boost for both players, who haven’t had their best stuff this year. And we know captain Trevor Immelman was paying attention: He organized a team dinner earlier in the week, and he was on the call for CBS Sports over the weekend. “One of the goals coming into the week was to show him, Listen, we’re still here,” Grace said. Added Higgo: “Our shapes work together. We play the same ball. I think everything about our games fit quite nicely.”
• One format change that would inject some life into this event: Switch to match play over the weekend. Play both formats (best ball and alternate shot) over the first two days, then cut to the low 16 teams. Have them square off in an elimination bracket over the weekend, 1-16, with two matches each day. That format change might not produce the most deserving winner – look at the NCAA Championship, for example – but it’d be better cup practice and would add some excitement to an event that has unfortunately become a sleepy watch.
THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS …
Delusions of Grandeur: Greg Norman. Over the past few days news leaked that Norman wanted to play in the 150th Open Championship at St. Andrews, which would mark his first Open appearance in 13 years. “If there’s a moment in time that I would consider going back and teeing off one last time,” he said, “maybe this is it.” Except, um, that’s not how it works. He’s 67; the past-champions threshold is 60. He had no intentions of trying to qualify. And as a two-time Open winner he’s not-so-subtly hoping for a special exemption … except the R&A has lined up behind the established tours in the fight against the Norman-led rebel circuit and even came out with a statement stating it has no intention of handing out any additional invites. Ouch. So, sure, we, too, intend to play in the 150th Open – and have just as good of a chance of getting in as Norman.
Tick-Tock: LIV Golf invitational series opener. Today is the deadline for players to submit a conflicting-event release to tee it up in the LIV tournament outside London. As of now, Robert Garrigus (world No. 1,053) is the only Tour player who has publicly acknowledged that he asked for a release, though there are some surely waiting until the last minute to avoid the public scrutiny. Since there is precedent, the Tour will likely green-light these releases, just as they do for other (cash-grab) events in Singapore or Saudi Arabia or South Africa. Where this will get interesting is when the LIV series heads to the U.S. for four consecutive events beginning in July. Tour guidelines stipulate that they cannot grant releases to conflicting tournaments in North America. That sound you hear is the cha-ching of the lawyers’ billable hours.
She’s Human!: Jin Young Ko. Trailing by two shots late in the third round of the LPGA’s LA Open, the world No. 1 made a mess of the 17th hole, trying and failing twice to extricate herself from the barranca. She eventually took a drop, made the first quadruple bogey of her career and left herself with too much ground to make up. Perhaps the blunder (the caddie should accept some blame too) affected her on the final day, too: She shot 75 – the worst score of anyone inside the top 50! – and plummeted all the way to a tie for 21st. After her historic heater, she has now finished outside the top 20 in each of her past two events. Instead, it was Nasa Hataoka who won her sixth LPGA title, sailing to a five-shot win at Wilshire.
Historic Achievement … But, Um, With an Asterisk: Jay Haas. It was incredibly cool to see the Haas family – Bill, a longtime Tour player who has endured a few lean years, along with this 68-year-old dad Jay – duke it out and make the cut together at the Zurich. The Tour said that Haas became the oldest player to make the cut in a Tour event, besting Sam Snead’s record by a year. But let’s be serious here: Haas obviously received some help (and probably a lot of it) from his son on the 7,450-yard track with the team format. This should be appropriately noted in the Tour record books! Now, if Haas really wants to hold a record on his own, he should chase after Mark Brooks’ 803 career Tour starts – even if, at No. 799, he’s highly unlikely to do so, since the selfish pursuit would take a spot away from another pro. The Zurich week will prove to be memories for a lifetime for this golfing family.
Home W: Pablo Larrazabal. With a sizzling 62 on the final day, Larrazabal stormed to victory at the ISPS Handa Championship. His seventh DP World Tour title vaulted him to No. 68 in the world, his best ranking in seven and a half years. The 38-year-old has been playing some sneaky-good golf over the past few months: Five of his last six starts have gone for T-6 or better, including two wins.
Page Six, Golf Edition: DJ and Brooks’ WAGs. According to social media, Johnson is officially official with Paulina Gretzky, tying the knot in Tennessee after being together for eons, while at the same time Koepka’s fiancée Jena Sims had her bachelorette bash in Aruba. The timing may or may not have been coincidental, but it sure was interesting given the oft-discussed nature of the lads’ relationship.
Welcome Back: Steve Stricker. The 2021 U.S. Ryder Cup captain will make his first start in several months at this week’s Insperity Invitational after being hospitalized and losing 25 pounds after what he said was a non-COVID-related illness. It’s been a tough road of late for the 55-year-old Stricker, but it’s good to see that he’s on the road to recovery and able to resume his senior career.
Anchored: Pebble Beach. The USGA announced that the iconic venue will be the third anchor site for the U.S. Open, along with Pinehurst and Oakmont, with a couple more announcements “down the road.” The next logical step is to have some sort of Shinnecock/Winged Foot blend, or both, as USGA staples for the next two decades. They’ve proven to be complete, compelling tests of golf, even for this generation that is longer, stronger and better than ever. And setting up shop in New York’s media hub is always a sound plan.
Slump-Buster?: Jon Rahm. A weak field has assembled for the non-WGC version of the Mexico Open, with the world No. 2 the clear and only headliner. (Honorable mention goes to … Tony Finau? Maybe?) The strength of field will check in around 34 points to the winner – or the fewest to date this year for a non-opposite-field event. So if Rahm, winless since the 2021 U.S. Open, can’t take THIS one …
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Scottie Scheffler and Ryan Palmer. Apparently, Scottie 2 Hottie only wins individual events. The winner of four of his last six, the newly minted Masters champion never could really get it going with his fellow Texan, as the duo sputtered to a T-18 finish in Scheffler’s first start since Augusta. In hindsight, perhaps it was easy to see this one coming: Palmer hasn’t been in his best form this year (FedExCup rank: 129) while Scheffler was easing back into his new life as a major champion. Onward!