Monday Finish: Tiger Woods’ future, Riviera’s 10th hole and why ‘dumb advice’ paid off
Welcome to the Monday Finish! This is where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Something you might have missed.
The central contradiction of Sunday’s Genesis Invitational winner Max Homa is that the thing that first made him famous to a general audience — his ongoing Twitter bit roasting swings of everyday golfers — is basically antithetical to the way he actually approaches golf.
Online, Homa will launch good-natured barbs suggesting his followers should quit the game, that they can’t get any worse, that they should put their clubs in the garage and lock the door. But on Sunday afternoon, in real life, Homa illustrated the power of positive thinking.
On the tournament’s 72nd hole, Homa suffered one of golf’s greatest possible indignities. He lipped out a three-foot putt. To win the golf tournament. With millions of viewers watching at home. And childhood hero Tiger Woods watching in person. It’s easy to imagine another golfer reacting with a slammed club, a loud curse word or some form of creative self-beratement.
Instead, Homa — with a few encouraging words from his caddie, good pal Joe Greiner — strode off the green, head held high, signed his scorecard and snagged his iPhone from his bag.
First he called his wife, Lacey.
“I think I choked a little bit,” he admitted.
But Lacey often sends Max off with bits of advice before his rounds. Sometimes, he says, it’s “really dumb” or “really random.” They’re almost always out of left field. But on this call, she reminded him of the particularly prescient advice she’d offered him that morning.
Homa went down to the driving range to hit a few balls before the playoff against Tony Finau. Then, as he was about to walk back to the 10th tee, CBS cameras captured him on his phone again, grinning.
“I have a group chat with some of my best friends from when I was living in southern California, in Long Beach,” Homa explained. “And the dude that was the best man in my wedding — all week, he was asking if anybody was going to make a hole-in-one on 10, and we told him he’s an idiot. It’s not ever going to happen.
“So right before I left the range I texted him and said, ‘Pete, has anybody made a hole-in-one on 10 yet?'”
Homa hardly threatened a hole-in-one on the ensuing tee shot. But the same optimism that he took to that tee (Maybe this will go in the hole) helped him out when he arrived at his ball minutes later and found it nearly stymied against the trunk of a tree.
You know what happened from there.
During his gleeful post-round press conference, Homa was asked about the American Express in January, where he shared the 54-hole lead only to fire a final-round 76 to drop from contention. The reporter asked what he’d learned from that “failure” a month ago. Homa offered a gentle correction.
“That’s only a failure if you don’t learn from it,” he said. “I didn’t fail, I learned a lot.”
Homa is golf’s Ted Lasso. He works constantly on practicing relentless positivity. If he’s nervous, he’ll recite things he’s grateful for. If he’s feeling down, he tries to think of happier thoughts. On paper, that sounds like it could make him boring or robotic. In practice, it’s the exact opposite. It makes him human.
It’s easy for anyone who plays much golf to slip into negativity, cynicism and frustration. That’s true at your local course and it’s true on the PGA Tour, too. Homa’s hardly immune to those instincts. He’s just trying his best to resist them, one positive thought at a time.
It seems to be working pretty well.
Who won what?
Homa’s victory at Riviera was particularly satisfying because it happened at his favorite tournament in the world, in his favorite city in the world, hosted by his favorite golfer in the world. Asked where a win at the Genesis fell on his bucket list, Homa didn’t downplay anything.
“1-A, 1-B, 1-C,” he said. “I don’t know if I could ever do anything cooler in golf than this.”
You could just about see him floating.
Who came up just short?
Before Sunday’s final round, oddsmakers had set up the finale at Riviera as something of a two-man battle. Could Sam Burns hang onto his two-shot lead? Or would Dustin Johnson chase him down?
It didn’t quite pan out that way. Burns was in the driver’s seat before sniping his tee shot at No. 12 into the trees down the left side. And even though his ball actually ricocheted miraculously back into play, it marked the beginning of a late slide. His lead went from three to two to one and suddenly he was on the outside looking in as Finau and Homa headed to extra holes.
Burns was understandably brief in his post-round comments. How would he describe his day?
“Just didn’t play well enough.”
Where did things change?
“I didn’t drive it well enough to really score the last seven holes.”
What did he learn about his game?
“I think I have a lot of areas I need to improve and I feel like it really showed today.”
Solo third is still the best result of Burns’ career to this point, so he’ll have plenty of positives to take away, despite the obvious disappointment.
Johnson’s round was even more surprising; the betting favorite entering the day made five bogeys in a stretch of eight holes and never seriously contended.
Patrick Cantlay, another blue-chipper in contention, went out in two-over 37 and didn’t make a birdie until No. 11, eliminating any possibility he’d win.
Jordan Spieth, who entered the final round five shots back, needed a flashy finale to play his way into the mix. But the sparkling iron play that has helped him contend each of the last three weeks deserted him on the weekend, as he lost four shots to the field approaching the green over the final two rounds. Still, his T15 felt like another positive sign.
Several Sunday chargers merit a mention. Cameron Smith flew out to five under through 11 holes, said he hit it as well as he has in three or four years and finished fourth alone. Jon Rahm and Viktor Hovland shot 66 and 67, respectively, to crack the top five. And Francesco Molinari, who is a newly-minted member of Riviera, shot a Sunday 67 at his home course to jump to T8 — his third top 10 in four starts.
And then there was Tony Finau. When Homa stuck his approach shot on No. 18 to three feet, it felt like just another case of Finau coming up on the wrong side of another player’s stellar performance. He’d shot 64, after all, the best round of the day by two shots. Had Homa buried that birdie putt, there’d be zero room to criticize Finau’s play or question his Sunday killer instinct.
Instead the putt lipped out and they went to extra holes. Finau hit a stellar tee shot off No. 10 but made a disappointing par when his birdie putt ran out of gas. Then he hooked his tee shot into the left bunker on No. 14, the second playoff hole, and jammed a must-make par putt through the break. In hindsight, he probably wished Homa had just finished things on 18.
Credit to Finau for his optimism afterwards.
“I played really nicely today and I think that’s going to be the big takeaway of the week from me,” he said. “Anytime I’ve had a chance to win, I haven’t been the guy that went low, and today I was, so I can take a lot of confidence from that. That’s something that I wanted to happen today to just prove to myself on Sundays that I can put myself in the thick of it and shoot a number and I was able to do that this week.”
His last three tournaments, Finau has finished T2, T2, 2. Onward!
That’s Riviera — Riv for short.
Every time the Tour comes to Riviera, the question surfaces of why the first hole is a par 5 and not a par 4. It’s 503 yards and plays dramatically downhill, so it’s not too long. For the week, the hole played to a scoring average of 4.28, which is certainly closer to four than it is to five. No. 12, a par 4, even played to a higher stroke average all week (4.30).
So it is a par 4, for all intents and purposes. But so what?! If par is mostly a way for us viewers to keep track of where players stand relative to one another, it’s fun to have early birdies. And, as British pro Eddie Pepperell pointed out, there’s something to the psychological challenge of needing to make birdie right out of the gate.
Fun fact: During Saturday’s challenging third round, the par-5 1st hole measured 5×05 yards and played to an average of 4.27. The par-4 10th hole measured 304 yards and played to an average of 4.03. That’s 201 extra yards for less than a quarter of a stroke…
Let’s talk about that 10th hole, though. Just five years ago, it was basically a 50-50 split between players laying up vs. going for the green. Check out the scatter plot this year:
Sometimes we get too focused on Bryson DeChambeau‘s protein shakes and forget that the strategic element driving his chase for gains is rooted in golfers being more aggressive off the tee. It’s hard to put an exact number on who was going for the green vs. laying up, but by my count (looking at golfers whose tee shots carried less than 230 yards) just 11 players laid back on purpose all week, and none in the final round. Those players actually did pretty well; they combined for five birdies, five pars and just one bogey. It’s too small a sample size to mean much, but those 11 players averaged 3.64 strokes, lower than the 3.88 weeklong average for all players at No. 10.
Just because everybody was going for the green, meanwhile, didn’t mean that everybody started hitting that green. Just five tee shots ended up on the putting surface all week, and No. 10’s only eagle came when Sergio Garcia holed out a 44-yard bunker shot.
In fact, for the week, just 60.5% of pros hit the green in two. It’s tempting to call it the world’s most impossible par 3. Whatever you call it, No. 10 remains must-see TV.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Whether we like it or not.
When defending champion Adam Scott showed up to the Genesis with salt-and-pepper lettuce positively spilling out the back of his hat, it marked the latest development in notable Aussie hairstyles on Tour.
“All the shops are closed where I live and I don’t trust myself with the clippers,” Scott explained. “I’m going to have to definitely tidy it up — but Cameron’s definitely got me covered as far as growing mullets goes.”
The Cameron he’s referring to is, of course, the mega-mulleted Cameron Smith, who showed up with freshly trimmed sides to go along with his flaxen mane and blonde mustache and damn near won the golf tournament. He may have delivered the quote of the week to go along with his fourth-place finish.
“I think it looks a bit better,” he said of the mullet’s latest iteration. “My girlfriend doesn’t like it. My mom doesn’t like it. Not many females in my family like it, but I’m thinking all the boys love it, so I’m gonna keep it, I think, for a little bit.”
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
He’s back …?
We heard directly from Tiger Woods on Sunday’s CBS broadcast for the first time in a while. The tournament host joined Jim Nantz as the leaders played the back nine, and he looked notably tired while offering distinctly mixed signals about his immediate golf future.
“I’m feeling fine,” he said. “A little bit stiff.” He added that he has an upcoming MRI that will dictate his next move, but in the meantime he’s doing “mundane stuff” in the gym to progress his rehab.
So will we see Woods in tournament action before the Masters?
“I don’t know what the plan is,” he said.
Will we see him at the Masters?
“God, I hope so,” he said. “This is the only back I got so I don’t have much more wiggle room left here.”
Woods is managing the public’s expectations. In recent weeks we’ve heard that he’s hitting golf balls at Medalist, so he may be further along than he’s letting on. But he’s certainly not at full throttle. Let’s hope he gets there in the next six weeks.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
When the wind comes out of the north, the second floor of the driving range at Interbay Golf Center is among the coldest places in the world. But when it comes from the south, golfers in training are completely protected by the structure’s rear wall. On Sunday that meant, despite temperatures in the low 40s, I turned on TopTracer and played 18 holes at Kiawah Island while the Genesis played on my phone just a few feet away. Now I’ve truly lived.
Three things to check out this week.
1. The LPGA returns.
This week’s Gainbridge LPGA kicks off the first full-field event of the season and signals the beginning of the season in earnest. Jessica Korda won the Tour’s 2021 premiere back in January, but she’ll be in good company at Lake Nona in Orlando: Six of the top seven top-ranked women in the world will be on hand vying for the title.
2. Annika’s back, too.
Annika Sorenstam is playing the Gainbridge, marking her first official LPGA start in more than a dozen years. Seriously — her most recent appearance came in 2008. We’ll be dialed in on her comeback.
3. World Golf Championships – Workday Championship at the Concession.
I just wanted to type that entire name to give myself a good chuckle. But I’m psyched for this week’s event, which is being held at Concession, a first-time Tour venue in Bradenton, Fla. Better yet, I’ll be there in person, covering the tournament’s star-studded field all week for GOLF.com — plus delivering an on-site Monday Finish just a week from now.
We’ll see you then!