Lightning struck twice for Russell Knox on Ballyliffin’s 18th green, though The Starter hopes apple tossing isn’t part of European Ryder Cup criteria. Sei Young Kim is one of only three people that can tell you what going 31-under par feels like. And amid the buzz over a potential Tiger-Phil showdown, has it passed its freshness date?
1. Russell Knox dials long distance – twice – to win Irish Open. The Scotsman curled home a 40-foot bomb to get into a playoff with Ryan Fox, he struck again from nearly the same spot on the first extra hole. That followed a runner-up finish last week in France. Are you watching, Thomas Bjorn?
2. Sei Young Kim shatters LPGA’s scoring mark. The 25-year-old Korean never let up over 72 holes at the Thornberry Creek LPGA Classic, finishing at 31-under-par 257 for a nine-shot romp. The previous mark of 261 was shared by Kim (2016) and Annika Sorenstam (2001), both set in Phoenix.
3. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson in talks to play $10 million duel. Plenty of details still need to be ironed out – date and locale, for instance – but Mickelson affirmed to reporters that their repartee at Sawgrass wasn’t just idle smack. Had this been 10 years ago, of course, it would have been must-see viewing.
THIS WEEK’S LINEUP
PGA Tour: John Deere Classic
Course: TPC Deere Run
Where: Silvis, Ill.
Defending: Bryson DeChambeau
European Tour: ASI Scottish Open
Course: Gullane GC (Composite)
Where: Gullane, Scotland
Defending: Rafa Cabrera Bello
PGA Tour Champions: Senior Players Championship
Course: Exmoor CC
Where: Highland Park, Ill.
Defending: Scott McCarron
LPGA Tour: Marathon Classic
Course: Highland Meadows CC
Where: Sylvania, Ohio
Defending: I.K. Kim
Web.com Tour: Utah Championship
Course: Oakridge CC
Where: Farmington, Utah
2017 champion: Brice Garnett
In Russell Knox’s first two starts on European soil this year, he shared runner-up honors in France before his winning heroics at the DDF Irish Open.
He’ll need to add to that to lock down an an automatic spot on Europe’s Ryder Cup squad.
Knox still remains four slots away from automatic qualification by either of Europe’s qualifying points lists. Four qualify on points earned in European Tour starts, with four more via world ranking points earned during the qualifying period.
The good news is that Knox zoomed to No.8 on the European Tour list, but still needs to leapfrog Thorbjorn Oleson, Jon Rahm, Alex Noren and Francesco Molinari. He’s 12th on the world list, with Ian Poulter and Sergio Garcia among those ahead of him.
EUROPE’S WORLD POINTS STANDINGS
1. *Justin Rose (1) 290.39
2. Jon Rahm (2) 278.63
3. *Tommy Fleetwood (3) 257.00
4. Alex Noren (4) 237.56
5. Rory McIlroy (5) 229.02
6. *Tyrrell Hatton (6) 207.81
7. *Francesco Molinari (7) 193.69
8. Paul Casey (8) 153.44
9. Matthew Fitzpatrick (9) 141.78
10. Sergio Garcia (10) 140.90
11. Ian Poulter (11) 137.62
12. Russell Knox (21) 134.58
* already top four via European Tour points
Somehow separated from his clubs on his flight from France to the UK, Graeme McDowell opted to withdraw from Open Championship local qualifying than play with a rented set. With six slots to be filled from the Irish and Scottish Opens, he’d roll the dice that way.
Now it’s down to one week and three slots. McDowell fell well short at Ballyliffin, with Ryan Fox, Andy Sullivan and Zander Lombard booking places.
Over at The Greenbrier, four tickets were punched by Kelly Kraft, Brandt Snedeker, Jason Kokrak and Austin Cook. One slot remains available via the John Deere Classic.
Retief Goosen did earn a berth via local qualifying, grabbing the last of three slots awarded at Prince’s.
STAT OF THE WEEK
In eight visits by the PGA Tour, The Greenbrier has established itself as something of a hunter’s paradise. Every winner has come from off the pace in the final round, with Kevin Na turning a one-stroke deficit Sunday into a record five-shot romp.
As it turns out, though, it’s not just the 54-hole leader that has been hexed at the Old White TPC. No one who has held any share of the 18- or 36-hole leads has prevailed there, either.
STAT OF THE WEEK II
Zach Johnson owns six top-three finishes at the John Deere Classic, including the 2012 crown and a trio of runner-up showings. He also was fifth at last year’s edition, his second-best finish in what was an off-year for the Iowa native.
Going back to 2007, Johnson has shot par or better in 41 of 42 rounds at TPC Deere Run, the lone exception a 75 in the third round of the 2008 edition. He’s a combined 150-under par spanning those 11 years.
HOLE OF THE WEEK
No.1, Gullane Golf Club (Composite)
Par 4, 390 yards
2015 average: 4.22 (2nd toughest)
Dubbed “Windygate,” members and visitors encounter this as the second hole on Gullane’s No.1 course. But with the Scottish Open utilizing a hybrid layout that pulls in two holes from the No.2 course next door, entrants don’t get the chance to ease into the round.
Don’t be taken by the 390-yard measurement on the scorecard. The hole plays between two dunes almost directly up the slope of Gullane Hill – a rare formation for links golf that rises some 200 feet to its summit on the No.6 tee box.
The hole features just one bunker, but it doesn’t really need any more. Its positioning between dunes makes everything feel somewhat claustrophobic – a narrow fairway, with a slight dogleg left, leading to a skinny green.
When the Scottish Open last visited in 2015, Rickie Fowler was happy to par No.1 all four days on his way to victory. Raphael Jacquelin birdied it twice on the way to sharing runner-up honors.
Among its victims, though, were former Open Championship winner David Duval (8) and Ryder Cup hero Paul McGinley (7). Those were tame compared to Oliver Farr’s 10 in the second round.
2015 Scottish Open: no eagles, 48 birdies, 313 pars, 98 bogeys, 18 double bogeys, 7 higher
AN OPEN OF THEIR OWN
Forgive the U.S. Senior Women’s Open if this week’s lineup skews a little old even for the “senior” designation. Some of the game’s greats literally have been waiting decades to see this championship make its debut.
It’s why JoAnne Carner will tee it up at age 79. Sandra Palmer is 75; Jane Blalock is 72. In all, 10 players coming to historic Chicago Golf Club are age 65 or older.
“They waited about 10 years too long, but better late than never for some of us,” Palmer told Golf Digest. “I’m mainly doing it because it’s history and I want to be a part of it.”
The U.S. Senior Open was established in 1980, as a new seniors’ tour was in its formative stages – and not coincidentally right after Arnold Palmer turned 50. Roberto de Vincenzo won the inaugural edition, but the USGA got its payoff when Arnie the 1981 title.
Carner, Pat Bradley and others began floating the idea of a Senior Women’s Open around the turn of the century, but the U.S. Golf Association was hesitant over concerns there would be enough quality players to fill a 120-woman field. The green light finally came three years ago.
If you’re looking for a favorite, Laura Davies and Juli Inkster are still regular competitors on the LPGA circuit. Davies even shared runner-up honors at the Founders Cup back in March.
DID YOU KNOW
Sei Young Kim not only shattered the LPGA scoring record at Thornberry Creek, she matched the record on any tour for lowest 72-hole final score against par. Ernie Els also got to 31-under in blitzing the 2003 Mercedes Championship, played on Kapalua’s par-73 Plantation Course.
The mark does come with an asterisk, though. Steve Stricker played his first four rounds of the 2009 Bob Hope Classic in 33-under, back when that event still went five rounds.
Kim’s raw score of 257, meantime, is exceeded by just eight totals on any of the world’s top-tier circuits. Stephan Jaeger holds the record when he shot 30-under 250 at the Web.com Tour’s Ellie Mae Classic in 2016; Justin Thomas is next with the PGA Tour mark of 253 at the 2017 Sony Open.
The Ladies European Tour record also gets special designation: Dale Reid and Trish Johnson both carded 249s at the 1991 Eastleigh Classic, but that was just 11-under on a par-65 course.
“I had the apple in my hand here and I just saw someone at the last minute. … I almost nailed Robert Karlsson’s caddie in the head and I was just like, ‘That was on (TV)?’ Wow, tough one. But then I buried the putt,” Russell Knox, who before Sunday’s heroics in Ireland had to live down an apple-tossing shank Friday. (He held onto the apple core too long and sent it sailing behind him.)