Masters money, Spieth’s mental mistakes, Tiger’s chip | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re far enough off property to issue a brief statement: pimento cheese just isn’t very good. It’s Monday Finish: Masters Edition. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Jordan Spieth came off the course on Sunday afternoon having signed for a rollercoaster final-round six-under 66. The score catapulted him from T20 to T4 — but it came with a side of mixed emotions.
Objectively, there was no question it was a terrific way to cap off his week. Spieth made nine birdies. He finished one shot out of second place. His 66 meant his sixth top-five finish in 10 Masters starts. But Spieth couldn’t quite help ruing what could have been.
He’d bogeyed No. 18. That’s an easy place to start. Spieth had birdied No. 17 to get to 8 under par and was in line for the clubhouse lead before his bogey — combined with playing partner Phil Mickelson‘s birdie — flipped their places on the leaderboard. So while Spieth’s 66 was the second-best round of the day it was also just the second-best round in his two-man pairing.
“I just hate bogey on the last hole. It’s the worst feeling,” he said. But he added something else interesting: regret.
“I should have done a lot better in those first three rounds,” he said. “I made a tremendous amount of mental mistakes. To be this close now, it’s nice, but it also almost frustrates me more because I really — I made some mistakes I don’t normally make out here, and it was more decision errors than anything else.”
I appreciated the accountability it took to admit he’d made mental mistakes. A couple that come immediately to mind: a dubious decision to go for No. 13 in two from the pine straw (he ended up in the water) and a lengthy back-and-forth with Michael Greller when caught in the woods at No. 5 (he made double). Spieth explained that he only had a target on “50 percent” of his shots in the first three rounds, which seems low by about 50 percent. And he theorized that he lacked mental sharpness because he’s been playing too much golf.
He has been playing a lot of golf. The Masters marked his eighth start in 10 weeks. And while finishing T4 is hardly evidence of burnout — perhaps the opposite! — if someone like Spieth is wondering about playing too much, other pros are likely doing the same. With the Tour’s new designated-event structure, pros have been trying to find the correct playing cadence. Some have additional responsibilities outside the designated events, too: Spieth is sponsored by AT&T and would be unlikely to skip the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, for instance. That became the first event in this whirlwind stretch.
I don’t think Spieth was making excuses nor pointing fingers. He was thinking out loud, which meant giving us temporary access to his brain, which seems like one of the busiest and most interesting places in golf.
“This is a year that’s a bridge year for us on the PGA Tour. So I want to keep playing the elevated events as well as the other events that I really love to play. So I knew that was going to happen this year, but [my schedule] should be decided for me in the future, which would be a good thing.”
On Tuesday, Spieth heads to Hilton Head for his title defense at the newly-designated RBC Heritage. That’s another interesting wrinkle to the question of scheduling: Should we be playing designated events the week after major championships? Staging a big-money, big-name event post-Masters feels anticlimactic. Rory McIlroy‘s surprise WD was a reminder that this may not always work. But it’s also tough to force pros to play a big-time event the week before the Masters; many guys don’t want to prep that way. I’m eager to see next year’s schedule for a whole bunch of reasons, but this push-pull is one of them.
Who won the week?
The Masters is so outsized in its importance that, as someone who spends a lot of time thinking about golf, I can’t help but hope the winner will be a “deserving” champ. That’s bogus, of course. Every player in the field is deserving because they’ve qualified to get there and it’s a four-day competition, not a lifetime achievement award. But it’s tough to think of a more satisfying winner than Jon Rahm, who has been near the top of the game since his arrival on Tour some seven years ago and continues to trend upward.
It shouldn’t be forgotten that Rahm battled for two-plus days on the much tougher side of the Masters draw, suffering through wind and rain and sludge but refusing to yield. In the end, his four-shot victory showed he was the best player this week by far. The fact that he’s the best player in the world was bonus.
Nearly, nearly there.
It’s hard to make sense of Phil Mickelson‘s T2. Has he won three Masters? He has. Did he win a major just two years ago? He did. But he’s also a 52-year-old who has finished inside the top 10 just once — a T8 at LIV Chicago — since then. He hadn’t logged a top-25 result in his four most recent LIV starts. And his four major starts since winning the 2021 PGA looked like this: T62-MC-MC-MC. Just a year ago, Mickelson didn’t even attend his favorite tournament of the year; he was dealing with the fallout from his LIV comments and spent the week skiing in Montana instead. Given the man, the moment and the context, Mickelson’s Sunday 65 is one of the more remarkable rounds I can remember, his birdies at 17 and 18 punctuated the whole thing in style and I’m still trying to make sense of it all.
Brooks Koepka‘s T2 had levels to it as well. He began Sunday’s 30-hole adventure with a four-stroke lead. He began Sunday afternoon’s final round with a two-stroke lead. And while his opening tee shot sailed so far left it ended up in the middle of the ninth fairway, some of his other misses were little ones. At No. 2, his birdie putt looked halfway down before it lipped out. Par. At No. 4 his tee shot looked dead on line before catching the top edge of the front bunker. Bogey. At No. 6 his tee shot was right on line but sailed directly over the hole and over the green, too. Bogey. He was just a little bit off, and a little off with your game can quickly mean a large amount off on the scorecard. His final-round 75 is the latest in a string of disappointing final rounds while in contentions at majors (think 2019 U.S. Open, 2020 PGA Championship, 2021 PGA Championship). But the fact that a T2 somehow feels disappointing marks a massive step forward considering Koepka’s best major finish last season was 55th.
Other almost-winners: Spieth re-established his Masters mojo and finished T4 with Russell Henley plus Spieth’s former Ryder Cup partner Patrick Reed, whose T4 elevates him from 70th in the world to 45th and has him in better position to qualify for future majors. Cameron Young‘s good continues to look plenty good, too, even if he’s not fully satisfied with a T7.
This wasn’t their Masters.
There’s been plenty of recent talk about the merits of a cut. Perhaps the strongest effect of the cut is cementing the abject failure of a missed weekend. Rory McIlroy entered the week with higher expectations than anybody and finished the week at five over par, missing the cut by two and leaving more disappointed than anybody. While he was saved by the weather horn from talking to media post-round, his WD from this week’s RBC said it all.
Tiger Woods put together another made cut at a major, a testament to his game and to his willpower. But overall the week felt like a step in the wrong direction; Woods acknowledged that his leg aches more this year than it did a year ago. I don’t want to overreact to his Sunday morning WD; he played through heinous weather on Friday and Saturday and had slipped to the bottom of the leaderboard anyway. There was nothing to be gained from slogging through 29 holes on Sunday. But it was a reminder that at the moment, Woods needs everything to line up for him to play a full week of golf. I’m not sure we’ll see him at Oak Hill but let’s hope he gets that opportunity at least once more this year.
Max Homa entered the week at World No. 5. He even entered Sunday at even par, just a stroke behind Mickelson. But he continued a string of what he called “disappointing” Masters with a final-round 78 that left him T43. He was hardly the only one to plummet on Sunday; Jason Day was inside the top 10 and at the edge of contention heading to No. 9 before making double bogeys on four of his next five holes. He birdied No. 18 to shoot 80 and finished T39.
There’s plenty of it. Is there enough?
The four major championships are the biggest events of the year. The Masters is the biggest. That’s generally accepted among golfers and golf fans, too.
But that has traditionally meant that the majors pay out the best, too. And as golf has entered its recent big-money arms race, that’s no longer the case. Sunday marked the first major championship purse we’ve seen since LIV and the PGA Tour started firing money at their membership like it was coming from a t-shirt cannon. And the Masters did announce a purse increase from $15 million to $18 million, a modest gain that saw the winner’s share climb from $2.7 million to $3.2 million. That’s an incomprehensible sum of money for a week’s work. But it’s also less than the winner of LIV’s Orlando event a week before the Masters (Koepka earned $4 million) and it’s less than the winner of this week’s RBC ($3.6 million).
Look, I get this is the world’s grossest discussion. And the Masters has enough cachet that it could play for free and guys would still show up. But the four majors have suddenly gotten swept up in this arms race and are going to have to decide whether to try to keep up and deliver more of their revenue back to the players — or let their prestige speak for itself. I don’t think we’ve heard the last of this debate this year.
SHOT OF THE WEEK
An homage to Tiger.
When he gets some time to look back at it, Sahith Theegala said Sunday’s final-round 67 was the most enjoyable of his entire life. One big reason? His chip-in at No. 16, which came from long and left of the green and called to mind Tiger Woods’ iconic chip from 2005.
He took us through the moment post-round.
“Oh, my God. You should have seen how many people said, ‘Do it for Tiger,’ ‘Tiger chip-in,’ and all that stuff when I was over there,” he said. “I just wanted to get it anywhere on the green because I had kind of a muddy lie and yeah, it was gross over there.
“But yes, I can’t wait to watch the replay because I don’t know what I did. I don’t even know the angle the ball took. I was just blacked out when I hit the chip because I was just so happy to get it on the green.”
Theegala is just 25 years old. His first Masters memory? That chip-in, naturally.
He was understandably giddy post-round; finishing top 12 means he’s secured his spot in the field for next year. But he was excited as a golf fan, too:
“Oh, yeah, we’re going to go back to the house and watch it. I love that we finished so early; I have two hours of Masters coverage to watch.”
3 things to watch this week.
1. Sleepy Spieth.
He’s acknowledged his fatigue. Now he’s up against the PGA Tour’s best players in an RBC title defense — how will he fare?
2. Bombers at Harbour Town.
This week’s venue is decidedly different from Augusta National and from most other places the Tour brings its biggest events. But Harbour Town’s tight targets demand precision over power and typically produce a leaderboard populated with some less obvious suspects. With big-time points and money on the line, whose career trajectory could change this week?
3. Tiger and Rory.
This isn’t something to watch this week as much as it is this month and beyond. After his Monday WD from the RBC, we’re unlikely to see McIlroy again until the Wells Fargo Championship. And we’re unlikely to see Woods until the PGA Championship or the U.S. Open. They’re the Tour’s two biggest stars and its behind-the-scenes engine. What will they do next?
You know what the Monday Finish will do next, though: We’ll see you next week!