The Starter: Shoal Creek Shines, Muirfield Too, Plus Rory, Rosey, and Whatnot

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As long as Justin Rose had to tinker with his schedule, he might as well win. Meantime, The Starter notes Sunday success has been elusive for Rory McIlroy of late, notwithstanding that win at Bay Hill.

And the U.S. Women’s Open takes place this week, where the outlook seems brighter for Shoal Creek than the defending champ.


THREE HEADLINES

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1. Justin Rose makes right pick by winning Colonial. The English pro explained from the outset he entered the Fort Worth Invitational to fulfill a PGA Tour rule requiring players to tee up in one event they hadn’t played in the past four years. After his near-record victory, he’ll be going back frequently.

2. Francesco Molinari outduels Rory McIlroy for Europe’s BMW PGA title. Give credit to Molinari, who went his final 44 holes at Wentworth without a bogey. But there’s also a distressing pattern in play for McIlroy, who twice has coughed up Sunday leads this year and closed with a 74 at the Masters.

3. Slow start, record finish for Paul Broadhurst at Senior PGA Championship. The English pro wasn’t sure he’d even survive the cut after his opening 72 at Harbor Shores. But his Sunday 63 was the best ever by a winner in the event’s 79-year history, and his 265 total tied the tournament mark.


THIS WEEK’S LINEUP

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PGA Tour: Memorial Tournament
Course: Muirfield Village Golf Club
Where: Dublin, Ohio
Defending: Jason Dufner

LPGA Tour: U.S. Women’s Open
Course: Shoal Creek Club
Where: Shoal Creek, Ala.
Defending: Sung Hyun Park

European Tour: Italian Open
Course: Gardagolf Country Club
Where: Brescia, Italy
Defending: Tyrrell Hatton

Web.com Tour: Rex Hospital Open
Course: TPC Wakefield Plantation
Where: Raleigh, N.C.
2017 champion: Conrad Shindler


RANKINGS REPORT

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Francesco Molinari’s triumph at the BMW PGA Championship turned into a catalyst for major movement in Europe’s convoluted Ryder Cup qualification process, with Ross Fisher on the losing end of the reshuffle.

Molinari, who wasn’t among the top 25 on the European Tour points list before Wentworth, jumped all the way to No.4 and just inside the cut line for the first quartet of automatic qualifiers. Rory McIlroy’s runner-up finish also moved him up to third, with Fisher and Jon Rahm bumped out.

Rahm found a soft landing on Europe’s world points list, though, where he sits second behind Justin Rose. The top four in world ranking points who didn’t qualify off the European Tour points list also get automatic berths.

Fisher, though, stands No.14 on the world list – well behind recent PGA Tour winners Ian Poulter and Paul Casey, among others. His best bet would be to get back in via European Tour points, where he only needs to make up two spots.

EUROPE’S WORLD POINTS STANDINGS
1. Justin Rose* (1) 270.14
2. Jon Rahm (2) 248.36
3. Rory McIlroy* (4) 216.99
4. Tyrrell Hatton* (3) 176.18
5. Tommy Fleetwood (5) 164.04
6. Alex Noren (7) 155.71
7. Francesco Molinari* (23) 152.61
8. Sergio Garcia (6) 126.63
9. Matthew Fitzpatrick (9) 119.46
10. Ian Poulter (8) 118.90
14. Ross Fisher (14) 97.86
* already top four via European Tour points


HISTORY SPOTLIGHT

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Shoal Creek Club, which hosts this week’s U.S. Women’s Open, will always hold an uncomfortable spot in golf’s history as the catalyst that forced many clubs – and the sport’s governing bodies – to take a hard look at membership policies.

The fact that the U.S. Golf Association is back – for a second time, in fact – should indicate that Shoal Creek has rectified its past.

It was shortly before the 1990 PGA Championship that club founder Hall Thompson hit a flash point when he told a reporter that Shoal Creek wouldn’t be pressured into accepting black members. “This is our home,” he said, “and we pick and choose who we want.”

Though it was too late to relocate that PGA Championship, the USGA, PGA Tour and PGA of America soon had anti-discriminatory policies in place for clubs seeking to host tournaments. Some clubs chose to separate themselves, most notably Cypress Point (Pebble Beach Pro-Am) and Butler National (Western Open).

Shoal Creek’s path to redemption began in 2008, when the USGA brought its U.S. Junior Amateur to the Alabama club. A senior major soon followed, as the Regions Tradition played there annually from 2011-15.


STAT OF THE WEEK

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Sung Hyun Park’s title defense at the U.S. Women’s Open faces some daunting recent history, with 16 years now passed since the last defending champion recorded even a top-10 finish.

That performance belongs to Juli Inkster, the 2002 champion who finished eighth a year later at Pumpkin Ridge. Since then, the best finish by a returning titleholder was 11th by Michelle Wie three years ago at Lancaster (Pa.) Country Club.

Wie is one of five defending champions, though, to crack the top 15 in her return. At the other end of the spectrum, two missed the cut and two more finished outside the top 50.


STAT OF THE WEEK II

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Sunday’s Senior PGA Championship gave Paul Broadhurst the second senior major title of his career, both of which began with a round over par.

The English pro opened with a 3-over-par 75 at the 2016 Senior Open Championship at Carnoustie, finding himself seven shots behind Woody Austin’s pace after Round 1. Broadhurst, though, responded with rounds of 66-68-68 to eventually win by two.

Between Carnoustie and Sunday at Harbor Shores, no PGA Tour Champions winner had started out with an over-par round.


HOLE OF THE WEEK

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No.16, Muirfield Village Golf Club
Par 3, 201 yards
2017 average: 3.37 (toughest)

It wasn’t that long ago that Jack Nicklaus described No.16 as nothing more than “a nice way to get from 15 green to 17 tee.”

In other words, nothing special – especially when held up against the set of pivotal holes that existed on either side of the 16th.

No longer. No.16 now stands as an annual rival to Muirfield Village’s dramatic 18th in terms of most difficult. Last year, it was the toughest par-3 on the entire PGA Tour – including the majors – and ranked 10th overall.

With the 2013 Presidents Cup slated for Muirfield Village, Nicklaus determined that he didn’t want matches ending on something of a weak hole. The green was repositioned and a pond inserted front and left of the putting surface, creating a visual challenge for the golfer.

The new hole also has shown a flair for the dramatic, most notably Tiger Woods’ chip-in on the way to the 2013 Memorial title.

2017 Memorial Tournament: no aces, 26 birdies, 228 pars, 107 bogeys, 25 double bogeys, 4 higher


DID YOU KNOW

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Built as a way for Jack Nicklaus to give back to his hometown, Muirfield Village Golf Club celebrates its 45th edition this year as host of the Memorial Tournament. It also holds the distinction as the only place that has welcomed all three match-play showcases in U.S. professional golf.

Muirfield Village was the stage for the pivotal 1987 Ryder Cup, in which Europe captured its first win on U.S. soil behind a group that became the continent’s nucleus. Seve Ballesteros, Bernhard Langer, Nick Faldo, Sandy Lyle, Jose Maria Olazabal and Ian Woosnam would combine for 18 major titles.

Things were much better for U.S. hopes at the 1998 Solheim Cup, when Dottie Pepper and Juli Inkster sparked a 16-12 American victory, and the 2013 Presidents Cup as Tiger Woods won four of five matches in an 18 ½-15 ½ U.S. triumph.


OFF KEY IN NASHVILLE

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Country music star Jake Owen became the latest celebrity to try his hand at high-level tournament golf. His performance fell short of the Steph Curry standard, though, more along the lines of a Jerry Rice or Tony Romo.

Owen carded rounds of 86-86 at the Web.com Tour’s Nashville Golf Open, the worst score of each day that left him 16 shots behind the next man to complete 36 holes. He didn’t manage any birdies, carding 14 bogeys, four doubles and ending his stay with a triple bogey.

“I’m so humbled by these guys out here and how hard they work,” Owen told his Twitter followers. “Thanks for putting up with me boys. I’m forever grateful.”

Owen is no slouch, carrying a plus-2.6 handicap. But as most pros will tell you, tournament golf is a different beast. Curry’s 74-74 at a Web.com event last summer was something of a rarity – Rice missed three cuts in the same event some years back; Romo shot 77-82 this year in the Dominican Republic.


END QUOTES

“Thursday night I rang my travel agent and checked what flights were available on Saturday. … It’s not very often you shoot 66 on a Friday, better it Saturday and then better that Sunday. So yeah, it’s been a special week.”
– Paul Broadhurst, discussing his Senior PGA Championship turnaround from an opening 72.


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