Golf
Jason Sobel, ESPN Senior Writer 25d

Weekly 18: Comebacks, controversy highlight a wild week in golf

Golf, PGA Tour

A big comeback, a big victory at the big Four-O and a big controversy were just some of the happenings that dominated this week's golf headlines.

This edition of the Weekly 18 sheds light on those stories and more.

1. Entering this weekend, here's what we'd learned so far during the new 2017-18 PGA Tour season: It looked pretty similar to the 2016-17 campaign that just ended. Three weeks into the schedule, we'd already witnessed Brendan Steele repeat in Napa, Pat Perez continue his resurgence in Malaysia and Justin Thomas build on his recent POY award in South Korea. This weekend finally broke the status quo and offered the first surprise of the season. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson led the WGC-HSBC Champions by a half-dozen strokes through 54 holes, which should've served as a warning sign to American golf fans that they could sleep through the night and let the inevitable take place in China. Well, it didn't. Johnson shot a birdie-free 77, Justin Rose shot a 67 and -- a month into the schedule -- we were offered out first sharp left turn of the season.

2. How unlikely was Rose's come-from-behind win? Forget that he was trying to chase down a world-beater. It was tied for the third-largest final-round comeback in PGA Tour history. The only two that were bigger: Paul Lawrie's 10-shot turnaround at the 1999 Open Championship (assisted by Jean Van de Velde) and Stewart Cink's nine-shot escape at the 2004 MCI Heritage.

3. Yes, Rose knew exactly how improbable that victory was. His telling quote in the aftermath? "I feel like I stole this one." That might be true, but he's not giving back that trophy -- or the paycheck.

4. Not gonna lie: I had a bunch of Johnson-related winning numbers all queued up for this column before the final round. Might as well not let 'em go to waste here. Here's one: Johnson was seeking a win for the 11th straight season to start his career. That number -- should he attain it -- will rank fourth, behind only Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Tiger Woods. Decent company. Here's another: Although it's not the "real" Grand Slam, Johnson made a strong run at the WGC Slam this year. Already in possession of the so-called career WGC Slam, a victory this week would've given him 3-of-4 in those championships this year. The other one he didn't take? The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he finished T-17 in August. One more: The following says less about Johnson than another guy who used to be kind of decent when it came to WGC events: With five career WGC victories, Johnson ranks second, owning two more than the third player on this list -- and still trails the leader by a baker's dozen. For as much as Tiger Woods' long-time dominance at majors is celebrated, his supremacy at WGCs doesn't get nearly enough credit. While his 14 career majors came in 76 opportunities for an unprecedented 18.4 winning percentage, his 18 WGC titles came in 45 starts -- a ridiculous victory rate of 40 percent.

5. Speaking of Woods, I jokingly suggested in this column a few weeks ago that his growing propensity for posting swing videos to social media might've been borne from pure boredom. It's becoming increasingly obvious that isn't true. Tiger isn't much for subtleties. Posting these videos is his way of shooting a red flare into the sky, letting everyone know that he's working his way back toward competitive golf. I'm not as convinced as his former swing coach, Hank Haney, that he'll play the upcoming Hero World Challenge, which begins Nov. 30, but if I had to place a bet right now on whether he'll be in that field, I'd pretty quickly let it all ride on "yes."

6. This is not a coincidence: The Hero has already announced 16 of the 18 players in its field. The other two spots remain unfilled. Let's just say I don't think it's because they're waiting on a firm commitment from Anirban Lahiri.

7. Shugo Imahira is the world's 98th-ranked golfer and was afforded a chance to tee it up amongst some of the game's best at the WGC-HSBC Champions this past week. And he did, for two days -- until he was disqualified for failing to show up for his third-round tee time. According to reports, Imahira had the wrong starting time for his round. This being a no-cut event, he didn't walk away empty-handed. Despite the DQ, Imahira still cashed last-place money for the week -- a cool $43,000.

8. Eighteen months ago, Danny Willett won the Masters Tournament, his first major title, ascending to ninth in the world ranking afterward. His struggles since have been well chronicled, as he has not won since then and has dropped to 78th in the world. His recent results have been an alphabet soup of MCs and WDs -- all of which didn't make it too surprising when he tweeted Saturday that he'll be shutting it down for the remainder of the year due to a damaged left rotator cuff. He signed off with "#devastated," which is probably the only way to put it for a player whose future seemed so bright just a year-and-a-half ago.

9. Yuxin Lin is a 17-year-old lefthander from China. Remember the name. On Sunday, he finished birdie-eagle to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championship, which comes with a few pretty nice perks. He'll be in the field for both next year's Masters Tournament and the Open Championship. Lin already speaks fluent English, the result of going to an American school beginning in fourth grade, and his swing coach is Boyd Summerhays, who also works with Tony Finau, among others.

10. Annika Sorenstam retired at age 38. Lorena Ochoa at age 29. No LPGA player had won after turning 40 since Catriona Matthew nearly six full years ago. All of which makes Cristie Kerr's victory at the Sime Darby LPGA Malaysia this weekend -- just a few weeks after her 40th birthday -- so special. The win is Kerr's 20th career LPGA title and on a tour that trends even younger than the increasingly millennial-dominated PGA Tour, it's worth celebrating more than most others. After draining a 35-footer on the final hole to win by a stroke, Kerr said, "What a way to win. I always said I wanted to get a win in my 40s and I got it pretty quick."

11. The USGA announced this past week that for the first time, the U.S. Women's Open will be held at Pebble Beach in 2023. I love this move -- all the way around. The USGA gets to hold its pre-eminent women's event on one of the game's best landscapes, the competitors get to test their games on a venue that for too long has been a men's-only tournament site and the course itself will showcase the biggest stars on the women's side of the game. For an event that will truly benefit from a special host, this feels like a win-win-win scenario.

12. In conjunction with that announcement, the USGA also released the news that the 2027 U.S. Open will be played at Pebble. If you're scoring at home, here are the next 10 venues for what should be the toughest test in golf: Shinnecock, Pebble, Winged Foot, Torrey Pines, The Country Club, Los Angeles Country Club, Pinehurst No. 2, Oakmont, Shinnecock (again) and Pebble (again). Notice a trend? There isn't a Chambers Bay or Erin Hills to be found in that mix, as the USGA has ostensibly decided to eschew its "experimentation" at new venues in favor of the old diehards.

13. It takes a big-time controversy for a Central Massachusetts Division 3 boy's golf tournament to become the sport's biggest news of the week -- and that's exactly what happened. Here's the Cliff Notes version: Emily Nash, a junior from Lunenberg High School, playing for the boys' team because her school doesn't field a girls' squad, shot 75 at Blissful Meadows Golf Club in Uxbridge, Massachusetts, from the same tees as the male competitors and posted the best score by 4. However, because she was only eligible for the team portion of the competition and not the individual tournament, she wasn't deemed the champion and isn't eligible to advance to next week's state championship. Instead, she was later told, her score could help her qualify for the girls' state tournament next spring.

14. The story quickly went viral, making headlines around the world. It was billed as an injustice of the worst kind, a girl beating the boys fair and square, yet losing out on the title. The boy who won, Nico Ciolino, from the Advanced Math and Science Academy, thoughtfully tried to give his trophy to Nash, only to have her decline the offer. Within days, the story had been reported everywhere. Even LPGA players put together a video voicing support for Nash. Few stories in golf have resonated like this one during the past year -- especially ones that don't concern some of the world's best players.

15. On Thursday, I spoke with Pete McCauliff, the athletic director at Lunenberg, who shined some light on the situation and downplayed any perceived controversy. "I don't think people quite understand what happened," he told me. "We knew this rule. It became a big controversy because one of the [tournament] volunteers was outraged. But Emily was only competing in team part and not the individual part of the tournament." He continued by telling me about Emily in glowing terms -- about what a hard worker she is, both on and off the golf course, and what a terrific asset she is to both the team and the school. He then offered this position: It's a lot better to have a girl compete for her school on the boys' team than not competing at all because there is no girls' team. He spoke passionately about the situation.

16. Thursday was also the day that Emily's father, Bob Nash, reportedly posted a statement to Golf Channel's Facebook account. "Emily was not made aware that she couldn't win the tournament until after the round was over," he wrote. "Her coaches were made aware of this rule before the tournament started and decided it was best not to inform Emily until after the tournament ended. ... Emily has no problem with the way things unfolded [Tuesday]. She only wishes she was made aware in advance that she was playing in a tournament she could not win."

17. The real winner of this tournament notwithstanding, the aftermath yielded plenty of losers. Tops on this list is the Massachusetts Interscholastic Athletic Association, which botched the rule from the beginning and, according to statements, has yet to see any error in its ways. Next are the adults who didn't properly communicate the rule to Nash, leaving themselves trying to explain it away after the fact. Even if it wasn't the most egregious injustice we've ever seen, it was a bad look for nearly everyone involved on an official level.

18. And so it's ironic that the girl who beat all the boys and wasn't deemed the winner winds up the biggest winner in this entire scenario. She's become a household name in some circles over the past week -- and you can bet that whatever the future holds for this high school junior, she'll have plenty of new fans rooting her on.

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