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Saudi-PGA Tour updates, Kisner’s struggles, surprising MCs | Monday Finish

This week's Monday Finish covers the good, the bad and the debatable.

This week's Monday Finish covers the good, the bad and the debatable.

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Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re coming off a maple syrup bender (aka wrote about Keegan Bradley‘s win yesterday) so this has turned this into a Tuesday Finish. Let’s get to it!

FIRST OFF THE TEE

Saudis, Tours and Framework agreements.

A comprehensive update from the biggest story in golf may actually be too big for this column, so let’s try to summarize this week’s latest in Saudi PIF-PGA Tour relations in two sentences and then direct you to more expansive resources.

1. The framework agreement between the Saudi Public Investment Fund and the PGA Tour leaked on Monday and it confirmed most of our earlier reporting — that, if it happens as written, the PGA Tour will hold control while the PIF would likely become a minority investor and a significant sponsor — while also illustrating just how little is set in stone.

2. The Player Advisory Council meeting on Tuesday reportedly went smoothly, clearing a path for significant PIF investment in the PGA Tour going forward — assuming the two sides can reach an agreement plus clear any hurdles set up by the U.S. government.

More reading: Sean Zak‘s seven takeaways from the framework agreement, No Laying Up‘s explainer, Nathan Hubbard‘s musings.

WINNERS

Who won the week?

We’re now into next week, but let’s hit the highlights.

Ruoning Yin became the world’s latest and greatest major champion with a rousing birdie putt on the 18th hole at Baltusrol. She was the less-heralded of the 20-year-olds in contention, but Yin handled the significant pressure of a crowded leaderboard better than anyone else — and became China’s second major champion in the process.

Keegan Bradley threw down an inspired performance in front of his New England faithful, building such a significant Sunday lead that he leaked a few bogeys on the way home and still won by three.

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ALMOST-WINNERS

So close…

Zac Blair threw down a mighty final-round 62 featuring eight birdies and an eagle, locking up a T2 finish that earned him 245 of the 271 points he needs to retain his PGA Tour card after missing significant time with a shoulder injury. Blair now has seven starts remaining to secure the remaining points; a top 30 should do the trick.

Scottie Scheffler finished a ho-hum T4 because that’s what Scottie Scheffler does. The World No. 1 logged his sixth consecutive top-five finish and his 18th consecutive top-12, a stretch that includes two majors and two more designated events. He’s hitting the ball ridiculously well. He’s clearly playing the best golf in the world. And his ability to show up like this every single week is nothing short of remarkable.

Justin Thomas threw down his best result in a while, bouncing back from a brutal U.S. Open week with a 64-62-67 final three rounds en route to T9. Rickie Fowler shot his career-low round of 62 at last week’s U.S. Open and then beat that with a third-round 60 en route to T13. And Rory McIlroy bounced back after major heartbreak in L.A. with a T7.

Stephanie Meadow was one miraculous swing away from a major championship playoff at the KPMG Women’s PGA before she topped her fairway wood into the pond on the 18th at Baltusrol. Miraculously, though, her ball skipped out safely to the other side, setting up a routine par and a tie for third. Yuka Saso finished solo second, a shot ahead at seven under par.

Rose Zhang stole the spotlight with five birdies in her first 11 holes on Sunday, daring fans to dream of a Zhang win in her first major start as a pro. Instead she stalled out, playing the final six holes at one over par to finish T8. She’ll be back.

NOT-WINNERS

We got a few surprising missed cuts from TPC River Highlands. World No. 2 Jon Rahm hadn’t missed a cut since the 2021 Fortinet Championship (not counting his illness-related WD from this year’s Players) but missed by two shots. Max Homa rallied with a second-round 65 but still missed the cut by one, the first time he’s missed back-to-back cuts since 2021, when he also missed the U.S. Open and Travelers in back-to-back weeks. And Tommy Fleetwood missed just his third cut of 2023, surprising after top-five finished the last two weeks. All three shot under par — just not under par enough.

More troubling: what’s going on with Kevin Kisner? The 39-year-old fan favorite (and four-time Tour winner) hasn’t been quite right in 2023; the latest sign that something’s wrong came when he withdrew after just nine holes at TPC River Highlands. The stretch he did play wasn’t great — he made two 7s and shot seven-over 42 on the back nine — and then he pulled out, citing illness.

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That was the latest in a rough stretch extending back to January. While Kisner did finish T34 at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, he’s made just one cut in 12 starts since then. In 11 of those 12 starts he has lost strokes off the tee, including a particularly driving stretch at the Masters (he lost 3.97 strokes off the tee in a missed cut) and the RBC Heritage the following week (he lost 6.13 off the tee in a first-round 79 before WDing). He’s lost strokes with his irons in 10 of those 12 starts, too. That sort of ball-striking deficit is impossible to come back from, even with a great short game.

His season-long stats tell the story succinctly: He’s 190th out of 191 in total strokes gained, 189th out of 191 in strokes gained off the tee and 186th out of 191 in strokes gained approaching the green. He’s outside the top 100 in short-game categories, too, adding up to an undoubtedly frustrating season up to this point.

It’s particularly surprising given Kisner was playing well enough last year to earn a spot on the U.S. Presidents Cup team, but even though he was inside the top 30 in the world at that point, to hear him tell it, his poor play had already begun.

Kisner split up with swing coach John Tillery last fall after a “hell of a run” and is clearly still searching for the form that earned him a sixth-place finish at this event last year.

We heard his pain at this year’s Masters when asked after a round what he’ll do to figure out his driver woes:

“Man, I go hit 8,000 drivers after this round and stripe every one of them and then push cut it in the right bunker on 1 and get pissed off for the rest of the day,” he said. “That’s pretty much how it goes.”

Here’s hoping Kisner finds something soon.

While we’re on the subject of painful WDs, Mackenzie Hughes withdrew, too, citing … ouch:

COURSE TALK

New courses, old courses, courses under fire.

Exciting announcements! Riviera is hosting the 2031 U.S. Open, capping off a half-decade in which it’ll host the Olympics, the U.S. Women’s Open and the men’s Open, too. Great spotlight for a great golf course.

Kingston Heath got the nod for the 2028 Presidents Cup, bringing elite tournament golf to one of the greatest golf courses in the world. The pride of Cheltenham, Australia will get its spotlight after a wildly successful Cup at Royal Melbourne in 2019.

And hey, if you’re looking for a pond filled with lightly-used golf balls, keep an eye out for a chance to get on Panther National, the new H20-heavy Jack Nicklaus-Justin Thomas collab course.

As for TPC River Highlands? Rory McIlroy lamented its demise. Asked whether the course has gotten “too easy” for PGA Tour play, here’s what he said:

“I don’t particularly like when a tournament is like this. Unfortunately technology has passed this course by, right? It sort of has made it obsolete, especially as soft as it has been with a little bit of rain that we had.

“So, again, like the conversations going back to, you know, limiting the golf ball and stuff like that, when we come to courses like this they just don’t present the challenge that they used to.”

Asked whether there’s anything they could do to make it tougher, here’s how McIlroy answered:

“Yeah, you can grow the rough up and hope you get some firm conditions so it gets tricky. I think the blueprint for a really good golf course isn’t growing the rough up and making the fairways tight. That bunches everyone together.

“The blueprint is something like LACC where you have wide targets, but if you miss it’s penal. This isn’t that sort of golf course. It’s not that sort of layout. It doesn’t have the land to do that.

“So unfortunately when you get soft conditions like this and you’ve got the best players in the world, this is what’s going to happen.”

What sticks out about McIlroy’s comments and the final leaderboard isn’t so much Bradley’s winning score of 23 under; it’s the fact that guys had to shoot 10 under for the week just to crack the top 40. Andrew Putnam shot 67-68-69-67; he finished T45.

It’s worth noting that McIlroy seemed in a cheery mood as he came off the course; he’d just shot six under, said he was pleased with his bounce-back post-U.S. Open and praised Bradley’s win as “amazing” and “really impressive” in front of his home fans. So it’s not like these comments were sour grapes; he’s thought plenty about this. The atmosphere at TPC River Highlands may have outstripped that of LACC. And it’s terrific having a golf course that invites such an interesting variety of winners. But he’s right that the golf course just didn’t present quite as compelling a challenge.

NEWS FROM SEATTLE

Monday Finish HQ.

I was at a wedding in Vermont, so I missed out on the Chambers Bay solstice celebration over the weekend — which unfortunately also meant I missed the orcas messing around behind the iconic par-3 15th. This place is basically booked through the summer, and with good reason…

WHAT’S NEXT

Three things to watch this week.

1. Phil Mickelson’s press conference

We haven’t heard from Phil Mickelson — not really, at least — since the PIF-PGA Tour merger. He’s scheduled to speak with media at LIV’s event in Spain on Wednesday. We’ll see what tone he takes and how the entire event feels now that the golf world is in alliance mode.

2. Viktor Hovland: The Interview!

I got the chance to sit down with Viktor Hovland for an interview around this month’s cover story for GOLF. You can read that story here plus watch our sit-down below — plus stay tuned for more next week!

3. Keegan Bradley, mischief-maker.

New England’s own.

We’ll see you next week!

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