Unlikely winners, Mickelson insults, closet criers, travel bans | Monday Finish

Clockwise from top left: Nelly Korda, Tony Finau, Pat Perez talking to Phil Mickelson (an old photo from 2012), Tommy Fleetwood.

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Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re still counting mail-in ballots to determine this week’s winners. In the meantime, here are our projections. Let’s get to it!

Some weeks the golf world is filled with consternation. With blown leads, bad weather, nasty comments, strife. This was not one of those weeks. This was a week for feel-good stories to poke their way through the deluge of football headlines. Comebacks. Statement victories. Heartwarming contenders. And while not everybody left this week feeling good — that’s sports, gang! — plenty sure did. Let’s buzz through the tiers, getting happier as we go:

UNCERTAINTY TIER

Murky territory, here.

Houston Open: Now what?

We’ll get to the feel-good stuff, I promise. But the week began with the Cadence Bank Houston Open wondering what’s next. With the PGA Tour’s fall future taking a distinctly different shape (a good thing, by the way) this tournament will be among those looking for a new home on the schedule. Loyal Texan Ryan Palmer summed it up: “It’s hard to tell what it will be like. I know Vegas is worried about the fall, Mexico is worried about the fall and Houston should be worried.”

Tournament organizers were bullish about pivoting to an early summer date, potentially beginning in 2024. There will be some sort of culling of events, and it will be interesting to see whether that means existing tournaments are shuffled around, repurposed or eliminated. Time will tell. But there seems to be plenty of community support around the Houston event, so here’s hoping it finds a happy home.

This week marks the 75th edition of the Cadence Bank Houston Open.
‘Houston should be worried’: PGA Tour’s new fall plans raise thorny questions
By: Art Stricklin

Linn Grant’s travel ban

Twenty-three-year-old Swedish golfer Linn Grant has played some sensational golf this year, winning four times on the Ladies European Tour (including a nine-shot victory at the Scandinavian Mixed) to lead the Order of Merit and climb to No. 25 in the world. She’s played six LPGA events, all of them international, and her four top-10 finishes in those events pushed her inside the top 60, making her eligible for this week’s CME Group Tour Championship and its lucrative payout.

But Grant won’t be able to play the CME because she hasn’t been vaccinated and therefore isn’t allowed to travel to the United States, under current restrictions. While Beth Ann Nichols had reported that was the case, Grant explained the situation in a statement released through her agent to Golf Channel.

“I understand some people want to know why I am not playing in the U.S. I respect that,” the statement read. “The simple reason is that I am not vaccinated. Regarding why, I ask the same respect back. It is something I want to keep internally with my family and team.”

Pat Perez’s feelings for Phil Mickelson

In an appearance on Claude Harmon’s podcast Son of a Butch, Pat Perez said enough about his taste for Phil Mickelson that he got everybody’s attention. Here’s Pat:

“When it comes to Phil, I have a different hate for Phil than most people,” he told Harmon. “People won’t know the story — I’m not going to go into the story again — but Phil crossed the line with me that is just uncrossable and unforgivable.

“He knows that he screwed up. He apologized for the action, but I cannot forgive him for it because I’ve known Phil for a long, long time. I’ve known the guy forever. And the fact that when he made this action, not only was it — he had intentions of doing it; he knew it was going to happen before it happened and when he did it — I was hurt, for one. I was like ‘How can this guy do this?'”

While we at the Monday Finish are huge fans of readers chasing down rumors, we’re staying out of this one. But, yeah, we’d like Pat to say more.

FEEL-GOOD TIER

They didn’t win — but they kinda did.

Lexi Thompson, runner-up

Going toe-to-toe with Nelly Korda is no easy task, but Lexi Thompson gave it a serious run on Sunday at the Pelican Women’s Championship. Korda began the day a shot behind Thompson but reeled off several front-nine birdies to draw level. Thompson fought back in style, making four birdies in a row at 5-6-7-8. And while bogeys at 11 and 12 were setbacks, she rebounded with birdies at 13 and 14 to give herself a chance down the stretch. She came up one shot short, in the end — Korda made birdies at 16 and 17 to close out a winning 64 — but was encouraged with her performance.

On the one hand, Thompson’s finish represented another near-miss in a career that has, of late, been riddled with them. But this is the feel-good section, and Thompson was talking positive post-round.

“I think in previous years if that would’ve happened I would’ve let it get to me,” Thompson said of her back-nine bogeys. “Or even after hitting it in the water I could have let that get to me. [This time] I was like, all right, snap out of it. Yeah, you’re not happy right now, but getting even more upset isn’t going to do me any good.

“So I was like, all right, let’s get the bogey, bounce back with a few birdies coming in and see where that goes.”

Memorial Park, community asset

Greens fees are on the rise and have been for several years as golf has boomed in the Covid era. That’s doubly true for high-profile courses, like PGA Tour hosts or golf destination sites. I realized last week that TPC Sawgrass fetches as much as $840 per tee time. Yowza!

It was a breath of fresh air, then, to realize that this week’s Tour host — Memorial Park, in Houston — is not just a cleverly redone municipal course. It’s a cleverly redone municipal course that can hold up to Tour pros while also actually serving its mission as a community resource providing affordable golf. Here’s the pricing for Memorial Park:

JUNIORS: $10
RESIDENTS: $21-$38
NON-RESIDENTS: $90-$140

That’s right — residents max out at $38 for a PGA Tour course. Shoutout to the decision-makers at Memorial Park for chasing affordability over maximizing profits. No doubt a wider array of golfers can enjoy the Houston Open host as a result.

Tiger Woods Szn

In this week’s Drop Zone podcast we dived into what the present and future might look like for Tiger Woods — beginning with a Tiger-filled December. You can listen at the embedded podcast below or on Apple or Spotify.

Houston Open podium

Second place is, as they say, first loser. But at the Houston Open the silver and bronze medalists were each delighted to be there. Runner-up Tyson Alexander, a 34-year-old Tour rookie, felt very much like a winner despite losing by four.

“Great week for me,” he said. “I wish Tony [Finau] would have taken the week off, but, yeah, you know, 132 players, I think one guy’s going to beat me, so that’s what it’s all about — just trying to beat as many people as possible.” Alexander moved from No. 320 to No. 162 in the world and improved on his previous high finish on Tour, which was…T64.

Third-place Ben Taylor was similarly satisfied when asked how he felt about his week.

“Accomplished,” he said. “I mean, now I’ve put myself in contention at a PGA Tour event, and I think with how well Tony played today, I think I handled everything pretty solid.”

The finish was also the best of Taylor’s career; while he’s bounced between the Korn Ferry and PGA Tours the last several years, Taylor had never cracked the top 20 on golf’s top level. Until now.

Willie Mack, closer

There were a whole slew of great stories coming out of Korn Ferry Tour Q-School. Arguably the best was that of Willie Mack III, a 34-year-old mini-tour lifer and legend on the APGA (Advocates Pro Golf Association) where he was this year’s Player of the Year.

At Q-School’s final stage it’s crucial to finish inside the top 40 — and the higher the better —  but Mack began the final round T41. No matter: He came out hot with a birdie at 1 and an eagle at 2. A bogey at 3 brought him back to reality but then he reeled off birdies at 4, 6 and 7 to torpedo through the leaderboard. Then he did something nearly as impressive, suffocating the rest of the round like an NFL team establishing the run in the second half, finishing with 11 pars in a row to polish off a 66, finish T12 and earn his card after seven previous unsuccessful missions.

Mack, who is Black, has played in a handful of Korn Ferry and PGA Tour events in recent years, making cuts at last year’s John Deere and Rocket Mortgage. He hopes a full schedule will allow him to settle into life on the Korn Ferry — and then earn his way to the big Tour full-time.

WINNERS TIER

The VIP section.

Andy Ogletree, first-time champ

Andy Ogletree had a big week in Egypt. He saw the Pyramids, for one thing. He won a professional golf tournament, for another. Both were firsts for him.

You may know Ogletree’s name from his win at the 2019 U.S. Am or his performance as low am at the Masters in 2020. You may also know him from his cup of coffee on LIV, a one-tournament stint in which he finished dead last at 24 over par that had the unfortunate side-effect of banning him from PGA Tour competition for at least the rest of 2022.

All of the above led him to the Asian Tour’s International Series event in Egypt. He shot 23 under par, beating runner-up Bernd Wiesberger by four shots to win the first-place check of $270,000. He jumped from No. 1,714 to No. 880 in the world, too. That’s big for a golfer who faces uncertain futures on both LIV and the PGA Tour.

Steven Alker, unexpected champ

If you’re not dialed into the week-in, week-out goings on of the PGA Tour Champions you may have missed the wholly improbable story of Steven Alker. The New Zealander had made a career of traveling the globe and playing whichever tournaments would have him; unlike the star-studded resumes of his compatriots on the PGA Tour Champions, Alker peaked at No. 191 in the world in 2002.

But he struck gold last year by Monday qualifying into the Boeing Classic and finishing inside the top 10, earning another start. He reeled off a string of top-10s and finally logged a postseason win, earning his card for 2022.

This year? All Alker did was win five times and earn well more than $3 million. And on Sunday he finished third place behind winner Padraig Harrington in the final event of the Charles Schwab Cup season, earning a $1 million bonus in the process.

Nelly Korda, triumphant defending champ

This one, Nelly Korda said, meant a little something extra. Why? Because she was defending her title at the Pelican Women’s Championship. Because she regained the title of World No. 1. And because this was the first victory since Korda’s lengthy absence after being diagnosed with a blood clot in her arm.

Korda got emotional as the win sunk in post-round.

“I’ve always kind of been emotional after wins. I don’t know why. I’m not a crier. People say I’m a closet crier, I guess, but every single time I have won I think I’ve had a tear in my eye,” she said.

“I’ve said it so many times, but [this year] has just been such a rollercoaster. I mean, I guess that’s life, though. There has been more downs than ups this year I think, and I think that that’s what makes this so much sweeter to me.”

Tommy Fleetwood, delayed defending champ

Fleetwood was considered the defending champion at this week’s Nedbank Golf Challenge in Sun City, South Africa. That may have felt odd considering Fleetwood hadn’t won anywhere since 2019. But because the 2020 and ’21 editions of the Nedbank were canceled due to Covid, Fleetwood came in as the man to beat. He played like it, too, piecing together a final-round 64 to get to the top of the leaderboard.

When Ryan Fox made bogey at 18, the title was his. Fleetwood’s first win in three years comes with an ascent to World No. 23 and, if this is any indication, a spot on Team Europe in Rome.

Tony Finau, three-time champ

That’s three times in 2022 and four times in 15 months. It’s also the first win of Finau’s 2022-23 season and now means Finau — who had gained a reputation for coming close and not winning — has now won an event in three consecutive seasons. And while nobody is mistaking the Cadence Bank Houston Open for the U.S. Open, Finau gapped the field over the weekend and established himself as the alpha presence on site. When he made four front-nine birdies on Sunday he stretched his lead to eight shots. Even though he gave some back coming home — his final winning margin was four — there was no questioning his dominance.

Post-round, Finau cited his five-year winless drought as crucial to the success that has come since.

“That was the most important stretch of my PGA Tour career,” he said. “I continued to believe, I didn’t give up on myself, I continued to work hard on my body and on my game and I just knew that — I was always hopeful that I could go on special runs, and I think we’re starting to see that now.”

We are indeed.

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.