Driver tosses, flubs and calls to rules officials: Sunday at the Hero was wild
Ian Finnis grabbed his iPhone, logged on to Twitter and nearly reached the 280-word character limit. The caddie for Tommy Fleetwood, Finnis was watching Sunday’s final round of the Hero World Challenge as his man was home for the week. And so bizarre were the proceedings that he felt compelled to socially share his bewilderment.
“This last 90 mins of @PGATOUR , Never seen so many players in bushes/duff chips/play left handed out of dessert/plugged in bunkers/hit in hazards/lost balls an to sum it all 2 players played the wrong tee on 9th !! #Golf,” Finnis wrote.
He wasn’t alone. After watching a player turn both himself and his club around and hit opposite-handed — on a second-straight hole — the man in the booth for NBC’s broadcast, longtime player and analyst David Feherty, phrased Sunday’s play at the Albany Golf Course this way:
“This is a comedy of errors,” Feherty said.
“It’s high entertainment, though,” announcer Steve Sands said.
“Oh, yeah, it’s great TV,” Feherty said. “I love this.”
If golf carnage is your bag, then Sunday was an early Christmas gift. There were the left-handed shots from right-handers. A driver toss from the game’s longest driver. Lost balls and rules officials calls. And players hitting from wrong tees and a player who hit five-straight chips. In the end, Viktor Hovland won, but even he didn’t escape unscathed. The Hero’s final round will no doubt go down as one of the strangest days of professional golf you’ll ever see.
Noon ET: Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson hit — from the wrong tees (and Stenson is spot-on as a comedian!)
The bizarre began when Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson, playing in the first group of the day, played from the wrong tee box, walked about 100 yards, were told of the error and took a two-stroke penalty and rehit. The 9th and 17th tee boxes were flipped on Sunday from their positions from the first three days of the event, and Spieth and Stenson played the 9th from the original spot.
But as unusual as that was, the error also gave us this from Stenson and Spieth:
12:20 p.m.: Bryson DeChambeau hits driver — then throws it
Bryson DeChambeau, the 36-hole leader at the Hero and golf’s biggest bomber, snap-hooked his drive on the 602-yard, par-5 6th, then tossed the big stick about 30 yards forward. He bogeyed the hole and played the weekend at three-over par.
“Wow, that is way left, and that hole wanders actually to the right,” announcer Jimmy Roberts said on the Golf Channel broadcast. “Actually threw his driver, we were told. Yep, there it is.”
“Can we get a distance statistic on that?” analyst Notah Begay said. “I mean, it looked like a pretty good toss — that’s on the next tee up.”
12:45 p.m. and 1:05 p.m.: Collin Morikawa loses one ball — then a second
Collin Morikawa, who began the day with a five-shot advantage, lost both the lead and two balls on a three-hole stretch on the front nine. On the 498-yard, par-4 4th, he hit his second shot over the green and into bushes, couldn’t find it and ended up playing his provisional. On the 602-yard, par-5 6th, he hooked his mud-covered second shot again into bushes, again couldn’t find it and again played his provisional on his way to his second double bogey over three holes. And his lead was lost.
“We just said, when’s the last time you saw the leader of a Tour event lose a ball. Could you lose two in three holes?” Feherty said on the NBC broadcast.
“HIs head has got to be spinning a little bit right now,” analyst John Wood said.
Notably, on the first lost ball, Wood reported that Morikawa had declared it lost and was going to play his provisional, only for playing partner Brooks Koepka to say he found a ball in the bushes, which forced Morikawa to check whether it was his.
“That was a strange one,” Wood said on the broadcast. “I didn’t know that. What happened was Collin had declared it lost immediately — he has the right to do that; he does not have to go look for it. Brooks came over and saw a ball in that bush. Once a ball is found, Collin had to identify it. If it was his, he would have had to play it and likely take an unplayable lie. The fact that it wasn’t his, at that point, declare it lost and play his provisional, which is a great place to make a five. A little strange situation — I’ve never seen that one before, but the key was Brooks saw a ball in the bush and as soon as it was identified that it wasn’t his, they moved on.”
1:45 p.m., 1:50 p.m., and 2:05 p.m.: Patrick Reed hits lefty, Brooks Koepka hits lefty, Patrick Reed hits lefty again
Over about a 20-minute stretch, Koepka and Patrick Reed, both right-handed players, hit left-handed shots, with Reed even doing it twice — while tied for the lead.
On the 632-yard, par-5 9th, Reed turned himself and his iron around and punched out from under a bush on his third shot. One group later, Koepka did it, too, albeit on his second shot.
“We are seeing some shots that you don’t normally,” Feherty said on the broadcast after Koepka’s shot. “I mean, that’s basically you just hit it with the toe of the putter just to force it onto the fairway.”
“When’s the last time you’ve seen on a Sunday, guys in the two last groups, playing it back-to-back and hitting it left-handed?” Sands said. “It’s crazy.”
“I remember the last time, and my dad was playing,” Feherty joked.
“These are not high-handicappers, David,” Sands joked back.
One hole later, Reed hit left again, this time on his third shot after his second nestled up against the trunk of a bush.
“This is amazing what we are seeing here,” announcer Tom Abbott said.
2 p.m.: Collin Morikawa is 30 yards away — and hits it 5
Morikawa, three holes after his second lost ball, was 30 yards from the green, he hit it about 5, and it dropped into a greenside bunker to boot. He bogeyed the 9th and shot a 41 on the front nine.
“Just out of nowhere,” Feherty said on the broadcast.
2:35 p.m.: Sam Burns hits not one, not two, not three, not four, but five chips
Sam Burns, tied for the lead at this point, hit his tee shot left on the drivable, 307-yard, par-4 14th, and it skirted a bunker, kicked off some hard pan and settled in some grass. From there, Burns:
— Chipped over the green;
— Chipped short of the green with a fairway metal;
— Chipped on the green with a fairway metal, but not past an upslope, and it fell back to his feet;
— Chipped short of the green with a fairway metal;
— Chipped just on the fringe with an iron;
— Dropped a 15-footer for a triple-bogey seven;
“Terrific seven,” Feherty said on the broadcast. “Not sure I thought I’d be saying that at any stage. Man, what a day.”
3:30 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.: Viktor Hovland touches sand, and officials take a look
Viktor Hovland, now in the lead after a three-hole stretch where he made back-to-back eagles and a birdie, three times flicked away sand on the green while his ball was just off it on the 189-yard, par-3 17th. While that’s legal, the first two moves came on sand that was maybe no more than the width of a tee from being off the green — and officials checked while Hovland putted for the win on the 18th.
He was eventually cleared. Had Hovland not been, he would have been hit with a two-stroke penalty — and his one-shot victory would turn into a one-shot defeat.
In a text message to GOLF.com, PGA Tour rules official Gary Young further clarified the ruling, writing: “Sand or loose soil is not a loose impediment in the ‘General Area.’ Only on the putting green.”
3:40 p.m.: Patrick Reed, a waste area and a rules official
Speaking of sand and rules officials …
It was at the last Hero, in 2019, where Reed became embroiled in a rules fiasco for moving sand in a waste bunker. So on the 471-yard, par-4 18th, when Reed hit his tee shot into another sandy waste area, and called over a rules official for a drop (an irrigation cap was interfering with his left foot), it was not without at least some interest.
Notable, too, was, as the three-minute process played out, Hovland stood in the fairway and thought about both the water to his left and his two-stroke lead on the leaderboard. Sands asked Feherty on the broadcast what that wait would be like.
“Well, as well as Viktor Hovland has played, you know, you just keep your mind in the same place,” Feherty said. “You know, you visualize the shot, try to feel the swing in your mind. It’s only a short iron.”
“And John, from the caddie perspective, if you’re Shay [Knight, Hovland’s caddie], what are you doing with your man right there in the fairway while Patrick is over there in the sand?” Sands asked.
“It’s a little frustrating, to be honest with you, because initially it looked like, well, he’s going to go quickly and no problem here, but as you wait and wait and wait, you’re thinking at this point you almost want to wait because you waited this long,” Wood said. “But right away, I would have said hey — I would have asked my guy if he wanted to go.”
4 p.m.: The man in red appears
Finally, after left-handed shots from right-handers, after a driver toss from golf’s longest driver, after lost balls and rules officials calls, after players hitting from wrong tees and a player hitting five-straight chips, Hovland was presented his trophy — from Tiger Woods, who before this week hadn’t spoken publicly since his car crash, only to do so at the Hero, along with hit balls on the range and wear his customary red shirt on Sunday.
“Strange day in the park,” Feherty said on the broadcast.