Scottie Scheffler takes over the world, Kevin Kisner bolsters his match-play reputation, Bryson DeChambeau returns, Tiger Woods rumors begin on schedule and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:
In his old college town, Scottie Scheffler won the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin to become the world No. 1.
Boy, that escalated quickly.
Forty-three days ago, Scheffler was a promising prospect, a 25-year-old who had threatened in all of the game’s biggest events – and even authored one of the signature moments of a dominant Ryder Cup rout – but lacked an individual victory of his own despite being ranked 15th in the world.
That all changed in the course of six weeks.
First, he endured the circus in Phoenix and stared down reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year Patrick Cantlay in a playoff.
Then he survived the torture chamber that is Bay Hill on the weekend.
And finally, he navigated a quirky course and a fickle format to win seven matches in five days against 64 of the world’s best at the Match Play.
Three wins in five starts – and now he’s world No. 1, just like that, unseating Jon Rahm for the first time since last July.
“I guess I’m making up for a little bit of lost time,” Scheffler said.
Writers’ Block: Does Scheffler have staying power at No. 1? Masters favorite?
There’s much to unpack about Scheffler’s meteoric rise.
Let’s start with his match-play heroics, because he’s been beating folks, head to head, for as long as he can remember.
Scheffler went 8-3 at the U.S. Junior, including the title in 2013 over Davis Riley (who lost in a playoff at the Valspar two weeks ago)
He went 3-3 at the U.S. Amateur
He went 2-1-1 at the NCAA Championship (and nearly won the individual title in 2017)
He went 2-0-1 in his Ryder Cup debut, including a tone-setting singles victory over the red-hot Rahm
And now he has amassed a 10-2-2 career record at the Match Play, including a convincing 4-and-3 win Sunday afternoon over the ultimate horse for course, Kevin Kisner. Scheffler hit the first 12 greens in regulation and never relented against the player who had been the best at Austin Country Club since the event moved there in 2016.
“I don’t know if anybody is playing better than he is,” Kisner said. “Like I told him after, enjoy the hell out of how well you’re playing.”
Which leads us to our next examination: How did Scheffler go from winless, to a certified world-beater?
Even before this epic pre-Masters run, he’d already amassed a tidy little résumé by Year 3, with past runner-ups at East Lake and the Match Play and top-10s in all but one major. He’s been a primetime player for a few years – and all that’s different now is he has the hardware to prove it.
Statistically, there hasn’t been a massive leap somewhere. He’s been working with swing coach Randy Smith since he was 7. Half the season remains, but so far Scheffler has hit his irons tighter (83rd; now 29th) and putted better (107th; now 15th). That’s a powerful combination.
Mentally, he seems at ease, more comfortable. Winning begets winning. The confidence mushrooms, knowing it’s possible.
The importance of adding veteran caddie Ted Scott, who was on the bag for both of Bubba Watson’s Masters victories, can’t be overstated, either. They first linked up last fall at the RSM Classic, after Scheffler couldn’t slam the door in Houston, and they haven’t looked back. (Colleague Rex Hoggard explored that angle here.)
But perhaps there was just an inevitability to all of this. After all, Scheffler was the top junior player … then a standout college player (despite battling swing and injury issues) … then the Korn Ferry Tour Player of the Year … then the PGA Tour Rookie of the Year … and now a three-time winner, the frontrunner for Tour Player of the Year and the best player on the planet. That’s how these linear paths to stardom usually work, right?
“I never really got that far in my dreams, to be honest with you,” Scheffler said in a rare bit of emotion after the round. “I never made it that far. I just love playing golf. I love competing. I’m just happy to be out here.”
Good luck finding someone who doesn’t like this positive, humble champ.
As the wins piled up in Austin, there was a steady drumbeat on social media: Kevin Kisner should be an automatic selection for any U.S. cup team.
And, yes, his record in the Match Play is silly: 22-7-1, including wins in 14 of his last 16 matches. Had his putter heated up in the championship match, who knows? Maybe he would have taken down the new world No. 1, too. Instead, Kisner became just the third player to reach the final three or more times, joining Tiger Woods and Geoff Ogilvy.
But let’s slow down: Venue matters in the Match Play too, just as it does in stroke-play competitions.
Kisner has repeatedly mentioned how much he enjoys Austin Country Club, how it reminds him of his home club at Palmetto in South Carolina, how when it is firm and fiery he can use the angles and slopes to feed the ball close to the hole. After his semifinal win, he said, “Oh, God. I just love this place.” Like every player, he has his favorite stops on Tour: Colonial. Sea Island. Harbour Town. Sedgefield. Places where shot-making is rewarded. Where being a long hitter isn’t a prerequisite for success. Austin CC falls in that category, too.
Barring a strong major season (he has two career top-10s), Kisner will likely be in the mix for one of the six captain’s picks for the U.S. Presidents Cup team, but those wildcard selections should be tailored to course fit, too. Kisner knows that as a medium-length hitter, he can only hang at certain courses; at beefy Bethpage Black (site of the 2025 Ryder Cup), he said, they can “leave me at home.” But asked about Quail Hollow, he was more enthusiastic: “I can play there.” Indeed, he held the 54-hole lead at the 2017 PGA. Other than that, though, his record includes four missed cuts. To maximize their advantage, the Americans should set up the course at maximum length, with short rough and soft, fast greens. That’s not necessarily in his wheelhouse.
In the Presidents Cup, especially, the Americans are playing from a position of strength. They’ve lost to the Internationals only once, ever. They’re coming off the most dominant victory in Ryder Cup history. Their core is full of 20-something studs. They don’t necessarily need a specialist, not if in exchange they’d be overlooking a world-class player who would mesh better with Quail Hollow.
That’s why it’ll continue to be a challenge for Kisner to make another U.S. team, especially now at age 38.
The easiest solution: continue playing good golf. That’s what got him on the Presidents Cup squad in 2017, when he went 2-0-2. That’s what he’ll need this time, too.
“I’ve got to play well leading up to it – I haven’t done that,” he said with his typical honesty. “I was close to getting a pick [in 2021], and I just didn’t earn my way on the team. Looking forward to that opportunity.”
DeChambeau not ruling out surgery on hand
Bryson DeChambeau returned to competition last week at the Match Play – and his stay was predictably short.
Dealing with a fractured hamate bone in his left hand and a torn labrum in his left hip, DeChambeau said that he was still contemplating surgery but decided that he was ready to play competitively for the first time in six weeks.
It didn’t look like it.
DeChambeau managed only a half-point in three matches and was mathematically eliminated on Day 2 of round-robin play. His game did little to inspire confidence with the year’s first major now just a week away. Clearly trying to dial back his speed to protect himself, he looked in between two swings at times and sprayed driver all over the map, finding just 38% of the fairways. The Tour leader in strokes gained: off the tee last season, he instead lost strokes to the field with the big stick, ranking 52nd out of 64 players. From tee to green, he was even worse – only one player in the field posted worse numbers with his ball-striking. If big Bryson plays like that at Augusta National – where even in the best of times he’s fared no better than T-21, as an amateur – he’ll miss the cut. By a lot.
But there was some encouraging news: DeChambeau reaffirmed his commitment to play in this week’s Valero Texas Open, his second of three consecutive starts. That means he didn’t report any setbacks with either his injured hand or his hip.
Is he feeling better than anticipated? Is he able to resume his maniacal practice schedule?
Or is it all too much, too soon for his battered body, potentially jeopardizing the rest of his year?
We’ll soon find out.
THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS …
Well, Well, Well: Tiger Woods speculation. Oh, it’s definitely Worst-Ball 66 SZN, with this below report (and a few others) that suggest that Woods is at least ramping up his activity in hopes of being ready for next week’s Masters. As he showed at the PNC Championship, Woods’ greatest challenge isn’t hitting the shots – he still had plenty of pop, even at age 46. It’s the foundational aspect of walking 72 holes in competition, plus trekking around in practice rounds, plus all of the time spent standing and swinging on the range and putting green to prepare for challenging the world’s best. Just 14 months removed from his horrific accident, that’s a lot to ask … but it’d be amazing if he tried.
Welcome to the Big Leagues: Chad Ramey. With a run of four consecutive birdies on the back nine, the 29-year-old rookie won his first Tour event at the Puntacana Championship, edging up-and-comer Alex Smalley and veteran Ben Martin by a shot. It’s a life-changing title for Ramey, ranked 203rd in the world. Other than a tie for fifth in the other opposite-field event this spring, in Puerto Rico, he’d done little this year and, at No. 120 in points, was starting to sweat his status. Not anymore. Now Ramey is safe for at least two more years.
Viral Video of the Week: Ben Martin. Take four minutes out of your day to watch this clip, of the one-time Tour winner – who missed a 5-footer on the last that would have forced a playoff – reacting to his near-miss at the Puntacana. It’s heart-wrenching stuff – and he’ll probably earn a few more fans.
Major Player?: Corey Conners. The Canadian might be ready to take the next step in his career. After dispatching Dustin Johnson in the consolation match, he’ll turn his attention to improving on a major record that has been sneaky-good over the past year and a half. Starting with the November Masters in 2020, he has four top-20s in his last five major appearances, including back-to-back top-10s in the Masters. Hmmm.
Untimely Cold Spell: DJ’s putter. After playing his usual game of putter roulette at the Valspar, DJ returned to his old faithful and added a graphite shaft, apparently giving him enough of a boost to turn around his slumping game that had seen him drop outside the top 10 in the world for the first time in seven years. He coasted through group play and mowed down his first two opponents before running into smokin’ Scottie in the semifinals. Still, Johnson erased a five-hole deficit and was 1 down as he stood over his 4-footer to tie the hole on 16. He missed – and that was the theme of the morning, when he lost more than 2.3 strokes to spoil what was an otherwise encouraging week on the greens. Seemingly disinterested while playing for an extra $170,000 in the consolation match, he dropped the first three holes to Conners and lost, 3 and 1. Still: His arrow is pointing back upward for Augusta.
Last Resort: Richard Bland. The 49-year-old Englishman was the early story at the Match Play, advancing out of his group and facing off in the Round of 16 against DJ with a spot in the Masters on the line. The OWGR math can be complicated, but in this case it was rather simple: Win the match, and Bland would earn enough points to move inside the top 50 in the world and earn his first-ever trip to Augusta National, at his (relatively) advanced stage. Alas, Bland’s dream run ended, and he wound up 53rd at the deadline. Now, he has only one way in: Win this week’s Texas Open (where he’ll play as a sponsor exemption). Here’s hoping.
Stacking the Deck: Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland. Sure, there’ll be some other high-profile teams at the Zurich, but none will boast the horsepower of this duo: Nos. 2 and 3 in the world, respectively, when their partnership was announced. It’s not a guarantee that they’ll gel and cruise to victory, of course, but at least we know which team is the one to beat.
Everyone Else Playing for Second?: Jin Young Ko. The world No. 1 will take her under-par streak of 34 rounds to the LPGA’s first major of the year and the final go-round at Mission Hills. Ko is coming off a “down” week at the JTBC Classic, where she finished (*checks notes*) tied for fourth. In her last nine starts, she has been beaten by a total of 14 players and never finished worse than sixth. With her chief challenger, Nelly Korda, still sidelined because of a blood clot, Ko is the prohibitive No. 1 in Palm Springs.
What to Watch For: Augusta National Women’s Amateur. Later this week your trusty correspondent will be making the drive north to Augusta to catch the second round of the ANWA and then cover the final round at the National. All of the top women’s amateurs will be there: Rose Zhang and Rachel Heck and Ingrid Lindblad, just to name a few. Each of the first two ANWAs have been incredible theater – and there’s no reason to think this will be any different. It’s a great way to kick off Masters week(s).
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Paul Casey. In our stupid group breakdown on the Golf Central Podcast, I tabbed the Englishman – fresh off a T-3 at The Players! – to square off against DJ in the championship. Except that savvy pick went up in flames in, oh, 30 minutes, after Casey conceded his opening match after two holes because of back spasms. He tried to give it a go on Day 2 but couldn’t, and then he sat out the final day of round-robin play too, if only out of fairness to his other groupmates. Sigh. Assuming he’s fit next week, he’ll be a trendy sleeper pick at Augusta National.