Harman’s cup of joy in Hoylake, McIlroy produces stunning Scottish finish and career breakthrough for Bhatia
By Helen Ross
When Tiger Woods won the Open Championship in 2006, he was the ultimate tactician, managing to play 72 holes at Royal Liverpool without hitting into a single one of those vexing bunkers.
Brian Harman took a page out of Woods’ book as the game’s oldest championship returned to Hoylake, finding just two bunkers on the way to his first major title. The diminutive Georgian was rewarded with an easy walk down the 72nd hole, owning a healthy six-stroke advantage.
Harman was the only player to break par in all four rounds as he won for the first time since the 2017 Wells Fargo Championship, a span of 6 years, 77 days. He only made one bogey over the first 36 holes, and even when he faltered early on the weekend, making two bogeys in his first five holes each day, he righted the ship and turned in even par to cruise home.
Harman’s putter was on point all week. He only needed 106 putts over 72 holes which was the fewest by a champion in the last 20 years. He didn’t miss a single putt from inside 10 feet, either – and he attempted 58 of those. He credited a “silly-looking” mirror that he’d picked up at tournament years ago with his improved putting of late. He found it recently in the barn at his house and when he started using it again the results couldn’t be ignored.
McIlroy’s magical finish in Scotland
Rory McIlroy only birdied the 17th and 18th holes at the Renaissance Club once during the Genesis Scottish Open. Those birdies couldn’t have come at a more fortuitus time, though, taking him from a one-stroke deficit to the 24th victory of his stellar PGA TOUR career.
McIlroy’s average proximity to those two holes on Sunday was a phenomenal 7 feet, 7 inches compared to 61 feet, 1 inch over the first three rounds. He gained 2.91 strokes on the field at Nos. 17 and 18 in the final round (compared with losing 0.98 the first three days), which was the most by a winner on TOUR since 2004.
McIlroy also was the fifth player to birdie the final two holes and win since 2019. The victory came 4,823 days after his first TOUR victory at the 2010 Wells Fargo Championship – the longest span of any winner this season – and marked his seventh multiple win season, three more than anyone since 2012.
Fowler finds his fuel to triumph once more
Rickie Fowler had to wait 4 years, 4 months and 29 days between victories. So, he might as well make it a dramatic one – making birdie on the 72nd hole and another on the first of sudden death – to win the Rocket Mortgage Classic.
The wildly popular 34-year-old had finished 15th or better in seven of eight starts heading to Detroit Golf Club so the win didn’t exactly come out of the blue. He trailed by one entering the weekend and proceeded to play his final 26 holes in 10 under – gaining 6.06 strokes on the field in the process – and post four rounds in the 60s for the first time all year.
The 61 greens Fowler hit in regulation tied for the fourth best in his 14 years on TOUR, two shy of his personal standard at the 2021 CJ CUP. The par 5s were key to the Californian who played them in 12 under and gained 4.75 strokes on the field. Fowler has now shot 12 under or better on the par 5s six times during his career – this is his second win and he’s got four total top-five finishes when doing so.
Hot putter propels Straka to victory
Sepp Straka was the poster boy for never giving up at the John Deere Classic. He opened with a 73 that left him tied for 133rd but improved by 10 shots on Friday to make the cut with ease. A career-low 62 on Sunday then gave Straka his second TOUR win – by two strokes, no less – despite a water-logged double bogey on the final hole.
That scenario that unfolded over 72 holes gave the 30-year-old from Austria several dubious distinctions. Straka is the fourth player this season to shoot over par in the first round and go on to win – and his position after the first round was the worst by a champion since 1983. Plus, he’s the fifth player to hit in in the water on the final hole and go on to win since Webb Simpson at the 2018 PLAYERS Championshi. Straka’s putting produced more positive statistics to focus on, though. He made 466 feet, 11 inches of putts at TPC Deere run which was the most by a winner this season. And on the weekend – when he was 10.7 shots better than the field – he made an average of 57 feet more putts than his peers.
Hodges goes wire-to-wire at 3M Open
Lee Hodges seized the lead with a first-round 63 and never let up in this wire-to-wire victory, his seven-stroke advantage the largest winning margin on TOUR in the last three years. The Alabama grad was the 11th first-time winner this season.
The key to Hodges win was his performance on the par 5s which he played in 12 under, tops in the field this year at TPC Twin Cities. He made 8 birdies and 2 eagles, both in the final round, and was +0.58 in Strokes Gained: Total on the par 5s, the fifth best performance in any event this year. And although Hodges was playing in just the 64th event of his TOUR career, he stood up to the pressure like a veteran and kept his foot on the gas on the back nine. He played the final nine holes in a cumulative 15 under, better than anyone in the field.
Norman wins the Barbasol
Sweden’s Vincent Norman prospered on the front side at Keene Trace in Nicholasville, Kentucky as he picked up his first victory on the PGA TOUR in just his 23rd start. He gained 8.84 strokes on the field over the first nine holes (+11.58 total) than he did on the back nine (+2.74). Norman was 15 under on the front, making 156 feet, 8 inches of putts, to 6 under on the back where he made nearly 42 feet less on the greens.
That dichotomy was particularly evident on Sunday when Norman made six birdies on the front nine but played the back in even par. He made an 8-footer on No. 18 to save and get into a playoff with England’s Nathan Kimsey that he won with another scrambling par on the same hole.
Breakthrough for Bhatia at Barracuda Championship
Akshay Bhatia took an unorthodox path to the PGA TOUR so maybe it’s only fitting that his first victory came in one of its one-of-a-kind Stableford scoring event. Bhatia, a highly regarded amateur who bypassed college and turned pro at 17, birdied the 18th hole to get into a playoff and beat Patrick Rodgers with a par in sudden death. The Stableford system awards points for birdies or better and subtracts them for pars or worse.
Bhatia, who earned Special Temporary Membership when he finished runner-up at the Puerto Rico Open, vaulted up the leaderboard with 17 points in the third round, the best of anyone in the field, that left him three behind Rodgers. For the week, Bhatia had 23 birdies, one eagle, eight bogeys and a double bogey.