Monday Finish: Rory McIlroy’s magic drive, Nelly Korda’s stress and ‘severe’ pins
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.
Whenever I’m on site covering a golf tournament, particularly on a Sunday, I feel a constant multi-directional pull. If I’m out walking the course with one of the groups of contenders, I might miss something from another group. I could also monitor the whole thing from the TV broadcast — but if all I’m doing is watching the broadcast from the media center, what’s the point in being on site?
Because I’m not always on site, when I am I try to strike a happy medium, spending as much time as possible outside the media center actually watching golf, chatting with players and immersing myself in the scene in ways that are more difficult to do through a TV screen or video chat. So when I experience something in person that I know I wouldn’t have been able to from my couch at home, I get a small thrill. All of which brings us to the 13th tee on Sunday afternoon.
Calling the back tee at No. 13 “visually intimidating” is a wild understatement — take a peek at the photo above and you’ll see what I mean. But if you’re Rory McIlroy and you’re a handful of shots behind leader Collin Morikawa, you’re eager to pummel driver and leave yourself just a mid-iron into the par-5. So that’s what he tried to do.
Instead McIlroy’s tee shot began hooking a bit too much. The further left you go, the more lake you have to carry, and this one veered dangerously left.
“Go,” he pleaded. “Get up, get up, get up. Oh, no.”
But then, as McIlroy’s TaylorMade hit the surface of the water, something strange happened: his ball skipped over onto the other side. Everyone was in disbelief. Plenty of golfers have seen balls skip across the water, but to see a medium-flighted draw driver bounce to safety? There was nothing common about that.
McIlroy tracked his ball to a bush on the far side of the water. From there he punched out to the fairway and then hit the green with his third. Two putts later he was in with par.
Because McIlroy was on the wrong edge of contention, I don’t think the TV broadcast showed the tee shot — or, if they did, cameras didn’t catch the skip, marking a small, insignificant victory for in-person viewing. After the round, once slightly more pressing questions had been posed, I asked McIlroy how he’d managed the Houdini act.
“Just lucky. I can’t believe I had a birdie putt on that hole. I thought it was just going to be a re-tee,” he said. “Yeah, I got fortunate there, I was happy to walk away with a 5.”
The moment was relatively inconsequential, likely the difference between McIlroy finishing T6 or T10. But it was a quirky moment from a tense final round: Rory McIlroy skipped his driver across the water at the 13th hole. Maybe there is some magic in that Tiger Woods Sunday Red after all.
Who won what?
–Morikawa won the WGC-Workday. I wrote about his victory here, and how fitting it was that on a day the golf world was honoring Tiger Woods, a golfer crafted in his image would bring home the trophy. Morikawa led the field in Strokes Gained: Approach, which is nothing new for the 24-year-old, who, like Woods, is a wizard with an iron in hand. Morikawa and Woods are now the only players to win a major and a WGC before the age of 25.
–Nelly Korda took down a strong field at the Gainbridge LPGA at Lake Nona in Orlando. Her three-stroke victory comes on the heels of sister Jessica Korda‘s win at the Tournament of Champions, making them the first sister-sister duo to win in consecutive weeks since Annika Sorenstam and her sister Charlotta in 2000. Funny timing, because Annika made her first start this week in 13 years — and, just for good measure, it was Jessica’s birthday, too.
–Branden Grace won the Puerto Rico Open, edging out Jhonny Vegas with a wild eagle-birdie finish at 17 and 18. The victory was particularly emotional for Grace because his father, the man who introduced him to golf, died last month of the coronavirus.
“It was an emotional day,” Grace said after his round. “I thought about him a hell of a lot out there.”
Who came up just short?
At Concession, a smattering of contenders came up just short, including a trio at T2: Billy Horschel, who played one of his best tournaments in several years. Viktor Hovland, who overcame a quadruple-bogey to notch his sixth top-six finish in seven starts. And Brooks Koepka, who appears to be so back that he’s talking like Ricky Bobby.
“I mean, I lost,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if you finish second or in last, you didn’t win.”
At Lake Nona, a thrilling leaderboard played out behind Korda. Lydia Ko held the 36-hole lead and continued the strong form she showed last year with a T2 finish. Joining her at 13 under was Lexi Thompson, who has quietly strung together a nice stretch of results: She’s gone T5-T7-T2 her last three starts.
In Puerto Rico, Vegas finished just outside the playoff — but the true local favorite was Rafael Campos, who possessed the 54-hole lead but couldn’t make enough birdies on Sunday.
Variability is the name of the game.
If it felt like there were an unusually high number of crooked numbers at Concession, that’s because there was.
For reference, Riviera Country Club, which is notably difficult, extracted 97 double bogeys and five “others” from the field at last week’s Genesis Invitational. This week, in a smaller field at the WGC-Workday, players made 110 doubles and 26 “others” — and the greens weren’t even close to full speed! As a fan of chaos on Tour, I’m in.
There were also plenty of birdies, which led to the possibility of three-shot swings or, if Viktor Hovland was involved, even more.
Because Concession stepped in as a last-minute fill-in to the Tour schedule, they played things relatively safe with the greens, with a couple notable exceptions.
“I think this course has been really well received this week,” McIlroy said after his round. “Maybe there was a couple of greens that are a little severe, a couple pin placements over the weekend that were a touch severe.”
One of the greens that McIlroy is undoubtedly referring to was the front-left pin on 13 on Saturday, which yielded four double bogeys and two bogeys just in the final five groups.
For the most part, Billy Horschel explained, the Tour focused on keeping the course setup “fair,” which he suggested doesn’t always happen at the U.S. Open.
“I think the superintendent would have loved to have seen the greens be a little firmer, a little faster. I’m sure he wasn’t happy 18 under won, but it’s such a fine line of maybe a foot faster or a little bit firmer and some of these pin locations become pretty stupid and we look pretty stupid. And you don’t want to make us look stupid when we hit good golf shots. You’ve seen when that happens at a certain major and we don’t need to do that on the PGA Tour.”
I’d push back on Horschel’s “you don’t want to make us look stupid” take. Professional golf is an entertainment product, after all, and I quite enjoy watching the world’s top golfers struggle with unfamiliar challenges. Sure, if everybody is taking five chips to get on the green, like Rasmus Hojgaard did en route to a 10 at No. 7 on Sunday, maybe that’s a problem. But there’s plenty more wiggle room the Tour could explore if they return to Concession.
Speaking of fun and chaos: The short par-4 12th was a blast. Check out where players hit their tee shots over the course of the week — and what scores they made from there.
Basically, players that laid up off the tee were very likely to make par, with a few birdies scattered in. Players who went for the green, on the other hand, were much more likely to make birdie or eagle — but those player made more bogeys and doubles, too, if they missed in the woods left of the green or the treacherous bunker to the right. Any short par-4 with a complex risk-reward equation is fun by me.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
Nervously and anxiously.
Tiger Woods injury updates. Murmurs of an accident involving Woods trickled out on Tuesday morning, and then the news seemed to get worse and worse in the hours that followed and photos of the wreck emerged while Woods went through hours of intensive surgery.
Since then the news, limited though it has been, has largely felt positive. Woods’ injuries weren’t life-threatening. His surgeries were successful. He was responsive and in good spirits. And then he sent a tweet on Sunday thanking players and fans for their support wearing red and black. It was an unusually heartfelt sentiment for Woods’ social media channels.
As for the mystery of the crash itself? I don’t know anything more than you do, and this isn’t a particularly useful place to speculate. What I can do is direct you to this USA Today article on potential causes, which does an effective job sifting through what we actually know about the accident and what we can deduce. It’s smart and informative without making any unfair leaps. And I can tell you we’ll be waiting and watching from here, too, hoping for the best.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
Nelly Korda might not have looked particularly fazed during a three-shot romp at Lake Nona, but in her post-round remarks she stressed just how, well, stressed she’d been all round. Korda attributed her emotional post-round interview to that same feeling.
“It was just the stress, honestly. I was so uptight and stressed today,” she said. “It may not have looked that way, but if you just heard my conversations with my caddie today you would’ve known how stressed I was because I was not hitting it well. I didn’t feel very good. I just grinded through it.”
I feel stressed just reading that. Korda credited her caddie Jason McDede with diffusing some of the tension with positivity.
“He was really important today, honestly. I would not be where I am without Jason. Sometimes I do get a little annoyed when he’s too positive,” she said. “He kept me calm and is someone I can vent to. He even said, ‘If you need to snap on someone, snap on me. So sometimes it’s really good to get it out.'”
Who wore what?
There’s already been so much focus on the red and black Tiger Woods tributes in other stories that we don’t need to run it all back here, but instead I wanted to share comments from two players who didn’t wear red but really wanted to. It’s fascinating to think that the two players in the final pairing were each stressing about their outfits Sunday morning. The power of Tiger Woods.
First, Billy Horschel, who wrote “TW” on each side of his hat:
“I don’t have red and black in my repertoire of clothes, at least I don’t think I do, so there was — I knew that actually the outfit I wore yesterday was supposed to be worn today and I sort of switched it up because this [points to red-and-blue striped shirt] is the closest thing I have to having some red.
“You know, I just put T-Dub on the side of my hat, black and red, to show my support. I would have loved to have worn black and red. I thought about maybe calling my sponsors to see if maybe I could wear some Nike clothes just for one day, T-Dub’s clothes.”
Then there was Collin Morikawa, whose red Adidas shirt didn’t quite make it in time:
“With all the weather stuff and everything, I think it got stuck in Memphis. I was literally — we got the tracking number, I was checking it last night, I was checking it this morning. J.J. even went down to the distribution center.
“Actually, before all this stuff happened with Tiger, I was going to wear yesterday’s outfit for today. But after we found out some guys wanted to wear red, I wanted to wear red, I had these black pants, it worked out perfect. You know, my agent said even though the shirt wasn’t there, go out and play like Tiger would with the lead. I think I did.”
We’d be inclined to agree.
Finally, I’ve included two bonus ‘fits from on site, free of charge. They’re both terrific in their own way.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Can the Kordas keep it going? Both Nelly and Jessica will tee it up in Ocala at the Drive On Championship and if recent history is any indication, at least one of the two will be in contention come Sunday.
2. Is Bryson gonna try it? Bryson DeChambeau is in the field at Bay Hill, where he’s said he’ll try to drive the green on the par-5 6th hole, if the wind is correct. This feels like a video-game cheat code and I’m beyond fascinated to see how it plays out.
3. What will Jordan Spieth do? After contending in his last three starts, golf’s most interesting man is back for more…
And we’ll be back next week!