Golf Grades! From Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa to TV coverage and golf course, how’d the week go?
We had Sunday morning golf. Wild momentum swings. Lead changes galore. We had eagles and bogeys and long putts. We had a playoff and a worthy champion. And all of that before 3 p.m.! How to grade the week? Let’s start with the winner.
Justin Thomas Collin Morikawa down the stretch: A+
After Justin Thomas holed his ridiculous eagle putt at No. 15 to get three shots clear of the field, this golf tournament was over. Over! Thomas had played his previous eight holes in seven under par — Surely one of golf’s best closers wasn’t going to look back now.
But Morikawa hung tough. He made par at 16 to Thomas’ bogey, birdied 17 to Thomas’ par and (barely) wiggled in a two-footer for par at 18 while Thomas made another bogey. Three tough golf holes and a series of delicate shots executed all in a row under pressure to close out a 66 — and, after another searing iron shot on the third playoff hole, the biggest win of his young career.
Really quick, let’s review Morikawa’s four most absurd shots from Sunday at Jack’s place:
– At No. 4, he hit the dead-center of the pin and missed a hole-in-one by, I dunno, not very much!
-At No. 5, he hit a searing approach shot from 235 yards to inside three feet, setting up a kick-in eagle.
-At No. 14, he pulled driver (Thomas laid up) and hit it to inside 15 feet, setting up a disappointing (hah) two-putt birdie.
-At No. 18 (the second time) he needed to make a 24-footer just to extend the tournament — and he did.
That’s an easy A+ in my book!
The Justin Thomas rollercoaster: B-
Thomas’ day was distinctly tougher to evaluate. Let’s start with the good stuff: Through seven holes on Sunday, he was three shots back of the lead and scuffling big time. Eight holes later he had a three-shot lead after playing an absolutely spectacular stretch in seven-under including that eagle at 15. Add in the fact that he made a 50-footer on the first playoff hole and you’ve got a pretty good day, right?
Well, sort of. When you’re holding a lead, it’s important to start fast and slam the door at the finish. Thomas bogeyed two of his first three holes and he bogeyed two of his final three holes in regulation. He missed a nine-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole. He bogeyed the third playoff hole. In all, he lost a lead and lost the tournament despite playing some ridiculously impressive golf. For one of the best players in the world, that’s B-minus-ish material.
Viktor Hovland’s long game: A-
Hovland continues to be an absolute joy to watch. He’s the right mix of goofy 22-year-old and relentless ball-striker. He led the Workday field in strokes gained off the tee and strokes gained tee-to-green. He also took the outright lead with a couple early birdies on Sunday. But a couple uncharacteristic misses — finding the water with a short iron from 145 yards at No. 6 and barely pushing his tee shot at 14 to find the water again — cost him a chance at contending. Still, he remains one of the hottest players in the game as well as probably the only Tour pro to drive his car to every event since the restart.
The finish: B+
We’re talking about the all-encompassing finish here. There were amazing moments throughout the tournament’s conclusion — Morikawa’s birdie at 17, Thomas’ 50-foot birdie on playoff No. 1, Morikawa’s 24-foot answer, etc. But there was an eeriness to the empty scene in front of Muirfield Village’s clubhouse, so we’ll tick off a half-grade for that. We’ll tick off another half-grade for ending on a two-putt par. Overall, an incredible duel between two stars from different sub-generations of golf’s future.
Morikawa’s short putting at the end of tournaments: D
Look, golf is a game of results, so maybe it’s unfair to downgrade for made putts. But standing over an 18-inch putt to send the tournament to a playoff, Morikawa hit the sort of putt you’d expect an amateur to hit under similar pressure.
“Yeah, that my heartbeat must have skipped a billion times. We talk about comfort; just a bad putt. But that’s when it really shouldn’t happen. But thankfully it caught the hole. The hole was very kind to me.”
It would be easier to write off if Morikawa hadn’t lost the Charles Schwab by lipping out a short par putt in brutal fashion. It’s good for his sanity, his win total and his bank account that this one caught the correct half of the hole.
Live TV coverage: F
I’m not talking about the announcers or the broadcast — this is purely a comment on the fact that the most exciting finish of the golf restart was only broadcast live through streaming on cbssports.com.
Look, I’m not here to pretend I understand all the finer points of broadcast contracts (and I certainly understand that Golf Channel couldn’t continue to broadcast the golf, as Molly Solomon explained). I’m really not here to point fingers at all. I’m just here to say that it felt weird and unsatisfying that golf’s best product wasn’t available to the masses in real time and required going to cbssports.com, watching ads, dealing with buffering and everything that goes along with a streaming product.
Even during the playoff, the jumpy, in-and-out pacing from golf shots to dead time was weird. There were stretches when it felt like Kevin Streelman was giving the realest live coverage. That’s not good for golf or for its fans during a time when it has the opportunity to attract eyeballs from across the sporting world.
Tournament setup: C+
Look, it was good. The golf course is fantastic, arguably the best regular Tour stop (that title likely belongs to either Muirfield Village or Riviera). One mini-gripe would be that this was supposed to be the week things started to get tougher — but the leaders finished at 19-under (and Thomas reached 21-under down the stretch). Still, that’s largely weather-dependent and comes from a need to protect the golf course for next week; I get that.
My realer gripe comes from a lack of variety thrown into the golf course’s setup. Pushing the tee forward at No. 14 was a fantastic wrinkle, but I’d have loved to see a few more changes tossed into the proceedings so it felt a bit less like Memorial Lite.
No. 14 from the up-tees: A
Tournament organizers made one really good call, which was to play the 14th hole from a forward tee that gave players a tantalizing decision to go for it or lay up.
The hole’s cleverness was perfectly illustrated by the tournament’s final group. Viktor Hovland, needing a spark, went for the green with driver, pushed it just a touch, found the water and effectively ended his chances. Justin Thomas laid up with a mid-iron, wedged it close and made his birdie putt. And Collin Morikawa pulled off the hero shot with driver, holding his tee shot on the green some 14 feet away for another birdie. Better yet, you can see the scatter plot of tee shots on No. 14 Sunday and see that it’s a pretty even split between players who laid back and went for the green. That suggests a cool balance.
The only disappointment with No. 14 was that we didn’t quite get to see it in a playoff. Had Thomas’ final par putt found the bottom of the cup instead of just the lip, he and Morikawa would have had some decisions to make.
The Rickie Fowler behind-18-green appearance: A
Look, this just made me laugh, simple as that. I think it’s genuinely cool that Rickie Fowler comes to the 18th green to watch his friends finish out; it shows that he likes to watch golf and he’s there to support his buddies, both things to aspire to. But seeing him recording something on his phone, holding a Coke, still dressed in orange — it all just felt very Rickie.
The Jordan Spieth Comeback Tour: D
T10, T68, T54, MC. Jordan Spieth’s four starts since the restart do not ultimately inspire confidence in his return to greatness. We’ll continue to watch all-too-closely in hopes of some sort of reversal.
Tony Finau’s entry into the Great Golf Speed Race: A-
It feels like a bit of a shift that a guy like Tony Finau is taking the training wheels off and torpedoing drivers in preparation for his return to the PGA Tour, clearly some sort of answer to Bryson DeChambeau’s transformation (and win last week). Finau’s legendary speed made the rounds on social media, as did his home-course 59. Now it’s time to see it on the course.
Tiger Woods’ return: A
Maybe this should read as “the anticipation of Tiger’s return,” because with Woods, we should always believe it when we see it. But Woods should be arriving on property Monday or Tuesday this week and the show will be on.
The Tour has been chugging along again without fans, without majors — heck without even TV, this week. But for better or worse, once Tiger Woods gets re-involved everything else still feels like a bit of a secondary storyline. A rising tide lifts all boats, and even if Privacy isn’t making the trek up to dock on the banks of the Scioto River this week, the rest of the Tour should see a lift at one of its greatest annual tournaments.
We’ll be here to grade it out.