Phil’s Masters surprise, red-hot PGA Tour sleeper, Greg Norman speaks | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re taking St. Pieters in this week’s Match Play. Primed for an upset victory. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Something you might have missed.
Matthew Fitzpatrick is very, very quietly stringing together the best season you’ve never thought of.
Where does this “season” begin? Not at the Ryder Cup, where Fitzpatrick still has yet to earn a point across two competitions. But let’s begin just after that, with the 27-year-old’s next start at Valderrama. He won. After two lackluster starts on the PGA Tour, he nearly won again, finishing T2 at the DP World Tour Championship in Dubai.
That form seemed to carry over into 2022, where Fitzpatrick has made five starts and quietly finished inside the top 10 in four of them. Sunday’s T5 marked his best result yet, which is why he’s been flying under the radar, just outside contention. But Fitzpatrick’s PGA Tour stats page will tell you he’s been pretty good at, well, everything.
Thus far in the season (using just four measured tournaments, to be fair) Fitzpatrick ranks inside the top 30 in strokes gained off the tee, approaching the green, around the green and putting. That’s incredible. He’s fifth in strokes gained tee to green and, given his prowess once he reaches the green, he’s leading the Tour in total strokes gained at 2.053 per round.
What does this mean? That’s for you to decide — in golf, past performance isn’t always indicative of future results. But if you haven’t thought about Fitzpatrick since Whistling Straits, I’m here to remind you that he’s currently playing the best golf of his life.
Who won the week?
Sam Burns’ giant putt
Folks, the last time someone from LSU beat Alabama with a long-range 3 in overtime was when Drew Alleman kicked a game-winning field goal to beat the Tide 9-6 on Nov. 5, 2011.
Alleman’s 25-yarder was technically longer than Sam Burns’ 32-foot bomb. And his winning effort was celebrated by the entire state of Louisiana, all at once, where Burns was greeted by his wife, his agent and a White Claw-wielding Joel Dahmen. But still!
The best way I can explain the position Burns now occupies in the golf world is that he has surpassed Dustin Johnson, Bryson DeChambeau, Jordan Spieth and Brooks Koepka in the world ranking. Since the beginning of 2021 he has three PGA Tour wins plus three additional podiums. And even if he had already arrived on the world stage, Sunday made it official: Sam Burns is upper echelon. He’ll be at East Lake. He’ll be on the Presidents Cup team. He’ll be on the first page of your betting sheets. He’s one of those dudes.
And he still hasn’t made his first Masters appearance.
These guys, too.
Davis Riley’s snowman response
If Davis Riley‘s response to making an adventurous, disastrous, calamitous triple-bogey 8 at the 5th hole was to curl up in a ball in a sunny, out-of-the-way bunker, we’d hardly have blamed him.
Instead he rallied, playing the rest of the challenging Copperhead course in two under par and making a gutsy 2 at No. 17 to work his way into a playoff. Sure, he got Burnsed once he made it that far. But losing to a 32-foot birdie putt on the second playoff hole when it’s your first time in contention ain’t too shabby.
“Yeah, very solid week. A lot to build on. No, I can’t hang my head about anything,” he said. He’s right.
Brooks Koepka’s final round
After firing six-under 65 on Sunday to climb from T45 to T12, Brooks Koepka was miffed at how easy the Copperhead Course had played for the final round.
“I think the pin positions aren’t very tough, if I’m honest. I think some of the pin locations are kind of center of the green,” Koepka said. “It’s definitely gettable today, which is, it’s kind of weird.”
Gettable for you, Brooks. The rest of the field? Not so much. Sunday marked the highest scoring average of the week, Koepka’s score was the best of the day by two shots and that T12 marked his second-best result of the season. When you’re playing well, golf seems easy. Especially when you’ve got Koepka’s ceiling.
Still deserving of mention.
Justin Thomas’ golf game
From tee to green, Justin Thomas was the best golfer in the field this week. He continues to play what feels like “disappointing” golf and finishing inside the top five. In eight PGA Tour starts this season Thomas now has eight made cuts, six top-10s and two podium finishes. Thomas played arguably his best round of golf at last week’s Players Championship, where he shot three under par in horrendous weather and finished a season-worst T33. Thomas hasn’t won. He’s done everything shy of winning, though.
Luke Donald’s Valspar record
The last few years haven’t been particularly fruitful for Luke Donald, who has spent most of his time on Tour missing cuts. But not at Innisbrook. Donald’s T9 in 2019 was his best result of the year. His T16 this week is his best result since last spring. Perhaps fueled on by Henrik Stenson’s selection as Ryder Cup captain, Donald rallied with a 67-68 weekend. Credit to him.
Maybe next week?
Wesley Bryan’s near-miss
“Pros chasing status on medical extensions” is a particularly niche corner of the niche golf world. But OG trick-shot artist turned PGA Tour winner Wesley Bryan sat on the brink Sunday morning, needing a finish of solo 51st or better to keep partial status for next season.
He finished T62 instead, ultimately falling two or three (I’ll let the human calculators among you decide which) shots shy of his goal. Here’s hoping for a Bryanaissance come next season.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
The pools for this week’s Match Play in Austin.
What jumps out? Five initial impressions:
I’m ready for Jon Rahm-Patrick Reed.
I’m ready for Scottie Scheffler to take on all of England.
I’m ready for Group 11, established ball striker paradise.
I’m ready for Maverick McNealy to make a hell of a 64 seed.
I’m ready for Bryson vs. Bland.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
Greg Norman on a press tour.
It got lost in the shuffle given Greg Norman‘s many and varied press appearances last week (following the release of the LIV Golf schedule) but perhaps the most direct and relevant question came via the bunkered podcast. The UK-based show pressed Norman on his ties with Saudi Arabia given its record of human rights, specifically the murder of journalist and U.S. resident Jamal Khashoggi in 2018.
Norman didn’t take the question head on but came as close as we’ve seen him to addressing the topic.
“What happened to [Jamal] Khashoggi was reprehensible,” Norman told bunkered. “There’s not a person on this planet who would not agree with me. It’s reprehensible. But, at the end of the day, we’re not political. We’re here for the sport of golf and to build it out, and make the fanbase grow the game of golf across all platforms the best way we can.”
It’s not clear to me that LIV can avoid being political. When you’re a startup being funded by a controversial foreign government, it’s all political. That’s not to say it’s simple. You can read (and listen) more here.
WHAT ELSE WE’RE HEARING
Phil out at Augusta.
On Monday evening, the rumors swirled for just a few moments before they were officially confirmed by Augusta National: Phil Mickelson won’t be playing this year’s Masters.
We knew Mickelson was taking a hiatus following a series of interviews in which he first shredded the PGA Tour and then disparaged the people behind the funding for LIV Golf Investments, leaving himself stuck in an awkward in-between. Following the release of those interviews, Mickelson released a letter apologizing to those who may have been affected by his actions and announced he’d be stepping away from the game. We haven’t heard from him since.
On Monday, several media outlets noted that Mickelson was listed on the Masters website under “Past Champions Not Playing.” According to Augusta National, that came from Mickelson himself, who informed the club he wouldn’t be playing. The club directed further questions to Mickelson’s team.
That doesn’t exactly satisfy our curiosities, of course. We’re left in limbo, just as we were after Jay Monahan’s interview last week in which he didn’t say Mickelson was suspended but also didn’t say Mickelson wouldn’t be suspended. It’s plausible that Mickelson was encouraged to take some time away from this year’s Masters but the final decision was left up to him. Rumors are likely to continue swirling.
While we’re on Masters rumors, one noteworthy name still on the invited player list: Tiger Woods. I’m not saying there’s a chance, but if you want to say that, I’m certainly not going to stop you…
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
Happy first day of spring, gang! In our collective golf minds, spring golf means flowers, green grass, Augusta National. In reality spring golf means courses just starting to open, temperatures in the 50s on a warm day, golf balls plugging in the mud and so on. But it’s officially springtime which means it’s officially golf season. Happy to be here!
3 things to watch this week.
1. Friday in Austin.
Elimination day at the WGC-Match Play is one of the most underrated days on the PGA Tour schedule.
2. No. 1 back on American soil.
Jin Young Ko returns to stateside LPGA Tour play at this week’s JTBC Classic. She has been a buzzsaw of late, hitting basically every green and winning basically every tournament. This week’s event at Aviara marks a tune-up before next week’s Chevron, the first major of 2022.
3. Sam Burns and Davis Riley doing the Birdie Dance.
You’re welcome. I think?
See you next week!