Peeved pros, PIP snubs, plugged lies and PLAYERS | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re officially changing this column’s name to the MONDAY FINISH in honor of PLAYERS week. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
The PIP snubs are coming.
Last week’s Player Impact Program (PIP) revealed how $40 million was distributed to the following 10 players:
1. Tiger Woods ($8 mil)
2. Phil Mickelson ($6 mil)
3. Rory McIlroy ($3.5 mil)
4. Jordan Spieth ($3.5 mil)
5. Bryson DeChambeau ($3.5 mil)
6. Justin Thomas ($3.5 mil)
7. Dustin Johnson ($3 mil)
8. Brooks Koepka ($3 mil)
9. Jon Rahm ($3 mil)
10. Bubba Watson ($3 mil)
No matter how you feel about the PIP, it’s fairly pointless to argue against it, because it’s not for you or me and it’s not for No. 15 or No. 25 on the list, either. It’s for those 10 names, the rest of ’em be damned.
But there are two potential flaws I see with the program. The first is player discontent. Many of the top pros who didn’t crack the list expressed their distaste for the program before any results were announced. Patrick Cantlay objected to rewarding “attention-seeking maneuvers.” Xander Schauffele said he was “maybe a bit old-school” for the program.
When the results came out, those on the list stayed understandably silent — nobody likes a gloating winner, unless you’re Tiger Woods — while those outside the list aired some dismay.
Max Homa, golf’s most popular Twitter presence, said he finished “somewhere in the 20s” and told Golf Channel he wasn’t a fan of the program.
“Oh no, I don’t care,” he said. “I hope they blow it up at some point, or just hand the money to people. But calling it a contest is kind of – I don’t know what else the average guy like me has to do … I’d have to win three majors this year to have a chance.”
In other words, if the point of the PIP is to incentivize extra engagement from Tour pros, Homa is essentially saying not to bother.
Kevin Na, whose 2021 included starting a Twitter account and finishing third in the FedEx Cup Playoffs, tweeted some thoughts of his own.
“I’m all for paying @TigerWoods because he made us all richer but he didn’t hit 1 shot in 2021,” he wrote. “@PGATOUR how is this possible.”
Don’t let the emojis or the “haha” at the end distract you; this is a miffed man.
And then there’s Collin Morikawa, the best young star in the game, who reportedly finished just outside the top 10 and leaned into the slight, nicknaming himself “Co11in” and updating his Twitter bio accordingly.
That segues nicely into my second concern: The top 10 in the PIP looks nothing like the Top 10 in the OWGR. I understand that’s the point; to some extent these are lifetime achievement payouts for fame and eyeballs accrued over the years. But take a look at these five pros, none of whom cracked the list:
Collin Morikawa — World No. 2, Co11in. Not on the list. He seems to be doing just fine.
Viktor Hovland — World No. 3 who nearly won again on Sunday and has six top-four finishes in his last eight starts worldwide.
Patrick Cantlay — World No. 4 reportedly can’t even access his Instagram page, which doesn’t seem to be hurting his golf game.
Scottie Scheffler — World No. 5 who just won for the second time in three starts.
Xander Schauffele — World No. 7 who won Olympic gold.
That’s five of the top seven pros in the world! The list risks irrelevance, at least when it comes to on-course performance. And while I’d never suggest a PIP Curse, the list is filled with those battling to return to top Tour form rather than those currently at their peak.
Who won the week?
Scheffler capped off a weekend of survival at the Arnold Palmer Invitational in a fitting manner: With a precise iron shot from the rough on No. 18 to the left edge of the green, from which point he executed a top-notch two-putt. Gritty stuff! Two wins in three starts means Scheffler has suddenly leapt from the ranks of “best players without a win” to someone who could technically reach No. 1 in the world with a win at TPC Sawgrass. That’s big-time.
Jin Young Ko continued her complete ownership over golf as a sport by tallying four more rounds in the 60s to win the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore. Ko’s final-round 66 gave her a two-shot win and, more impressively, a record 15th-consecutive round in the 60s and 30th consecutive round under par. (That takes us back to July 2021.) She also hit 66 consecutive greens in regulation before missing the fourth green on Thursday. I’m not sure which of those three records is the most ridiculous but each of ’em makes me want to snap the heads off my clubs and use ’em as s’mores sticks. Ko is currently playing a different sport.
Ryan Brehm entered this week’s Puerto Rico Open in need of a top-two finish to keep his PGA Tour card. Top two! He finished top one, dusting the rest of the field by six shots with his wife Chelsea on the bag. With the win, the World No. 774 earned $666,000 and a two-year exemption on Tour. Oh yeah, and he’ll tee it up at the Players this week, too.
Tyrrell Hatton accomplished something weird and impressive: He shot 78 on Saturday at the Arnold Palmer and still finished T2. That sort of thing basically never happens, per Justin Ray, in part because PGA Tour courses don’t generally play as difficult as Bay Hill did on Saturday and Sunday. Hatton also posted one of just two rounds in the 60s on Sunday and jumped from 12th to runner-up as a result.
My favorite line from Hatton’s satisfied post-round remarks came in describing the 4-iron he hit into No. 16.
“I turned to [caddie] Mick and I said, ‘even I enjoyed that one,'” Hatton said.
Minjee Lee also made golf look particularly simple on Sunday in Singapore. She birdied nine of her final 12 holes including six of her last seven to post nine-under 63 and finish just two shots behind Jin Young Ko.
“It’s the first week back, so knocking a little bit of the rust off, but it is really nice to have a really low one in there,” she said. I’d say so, yeah.
Discourse and dismay!
There were two chapters to the Bay Hill course setup saga this week and then there were a whole bunch of footnotes.
Chapter 1: Death to Runoffs
Before a shot had even been struck this week, players were muttering about the lack of runoff areas around the greens, which had been replaced by thick rough. Rory McIlroy wasn’t a fan.
“There’s just so many areas that there were runoffs and sort of tight areas, which I think lends itself to the better chippers of the golf ball, and that’s been sort of taken away this year. I don’t quite understand why they’ve done that, but it’s definitely a different test than one in previous years,” he said on Wednesday.
Adam Scott played devil’s advocate, arguing that Bay Hill’s grainy Bermuda fairways aren’t well suited for bump-and-run shots around the greens.
“You know, the conditioning of the grass is so important if you have runoff areas because you really should have options,” he said. “I’m not sure Bermuda is always the best for that kind of thing. So I don’t mind if they’ve gotten rid of the runoff areas here.”
Graeme McDowell took the middle ground.
“I think when chipping becomes so difficult, it nearly levels the playing field too much,” he said. “I wasn’t sure I loved the change when I first saw it, but it’s kind of growing on me a little bit.”
From a viewership perspective, I’d say it’s nearly always more entertaining to see a pitch shot from short grass than a floppy hack from thick rough, just because of the variety of spins and trajectories players can use. Golf Channel’s Brentley Romine laid out a Twitter thread that effectively demonstrated just how different these look:
Chapter 2: How Hard is Too Hard?
On the weekend, Bay Hill got nasty — especially in the afternoons. The field’s scoring average leapt from 72.3 (Thursday) to 74.3 (Friday) and 74.1 (Saturday) before crescendoing to Sunday’s crusty finale (75.5) which inspired some exhausted players — namely McIlroy — to sound off on the conditions.
“I feel punch drunk, to be honest,” he said. “The weekend, it’s like crazy golf. You just don’t get rewarded for good shots.” He acknowledged that he was frustrated because of his own showing, a 76-76 weekend that left him T13. His main issue with the conditioning was that even his best shots weren’t leading to positive results.
“I don’t mind golf courses being penal when you miss, but it’s not rewarding good shots. I think that’s where it starts to get across the line.”
Viktor Hovland came off the course frustrated, too, feeling like he should have won the tournament but let it escape.
“Especially when you get swirling wind like this, it becomes a guessing game. You can hit great shots, but sometimes they gust up in the water or they go through the wind and you’re in the back bunker.”
Gary Woodland nearly won the tournament; here’s what he said:
“I’m glad I’m off that golf course. I’m glad I’m done. That’s where I’ll start,” he said. Asked for a comparison, he went back to the 2020 U.S. Open.
“This is as hard as I’ve seen in a long time. Conditions were brutal,” he said. “The golf course is hard enough, and then you throw out the firm greens and the wind and not much grass, ball is oscillating a little bit, it’s as tough maybe since Winged Foot, I would say. It was tough.”
And those are just interviews with the guys who were still in contention. We didn’t get official comment from the six pros who shot scores in the 80s, including Troy Merritt, who posted 87 (!) and never made worse than a double bogey.
Whether you consider Bay Hill a test of precision, patience and entertaining glorious madness or a tricked-up golf course pushed to its unfair limit is a matter of perspective. In my mind, it’s pretty simple: Pros have the right to be frustrated and I have the right, as a viewer, to enjoy that. I don’t find Bay Hill as thrilling a course as most U.S. Open tests, but I feel that way about most golf tournaments contested within the limits of the Sunshine State. As for this week? There are thunderstorms in the forecast for TPC Sawgrass, which means it’s unlikely the greens will get as firm as they did in Orlando. But the forecast calls for gusts and rain, plus an outside chance at a frost delay (!!) come Sunday morning, so we should have plenty of excitement in store nonetheless.
Appendix: Bunkers and Bryson
One area of particular frustration was the bunkers, which seemed to lead to plenty of plugged lies.
“It is what it is. Don’t hit in the bunkers,” said Hovland, who found himself in a plugged lie on No. 17 on Sunday and made bogey. “I’m not a big fan of putting more sand in the bunkers right before a tournament. Or I don’t know if they did that or not, but there seemed to be a lot of sand in there.”
“Well, I plugged in four bunkers this week. You can say they’re a hazard and you shouldn’t be hitting in them, but typically there’s not many courses we play throughout the year where it plugs as consistently as it has this week. I don’t know why that is.”
As a final note, I expressed what I thought might be a universal feeling of regret that we wouldn’t get to see The Big Golfer pound one across the lake at Bay Hill’s fifth hole (and was reminded that on the internet there are no universal feelings).
We got no such thrill at No. 6 this year. Check out the scatter plot for tee shots below:
Compare that with last year’s tournament, when Bryson DeChambeau hit the two shots in the red circle below, while McIlroy cut the corner big-time on Saturday, too (third red dot from the right). A sideshow, but an entertaining sideshow.
This year we saw 23 tee shots splash, and we saw some relatively daring lines from McIlroy and Jon Rahm. The best tee shot actually came from Rickie Fowler, who kept his in the fairway on Saturday, bent it around the corner and left himself with just 161 yards to the hole.
But on Sunday the wind and the firm fairways meant it was nearly impossible to hit the fairway, so nearly nobody did. Just 18 of 77 players (23.4%) found the short grass off the tee. That’s shockingly low.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Jin Young Ko’s warm-up routine
For obvious reasons stated above, it’d be wise to take notes here.
2. Every single shot at the Players
Come for the bonus golf, big money and best field of the early season, stay for the hot mics.
3. The Drop Zone!
We’ll see you this week in Jacksonville.