PGA Tour schedule secrets, unlikely winners, one brutal lip-out | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re changing our clocks to Eastern Standard Time, putting on our Mickey Mouse ears and dialing up Lynyrd Skynyrd on Spotify. It’s Florida Swing Season! Let’s get to it.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Schedule Secrets: Jack tells all!
Among the benefits of being Jack Nicklaus is that you’ve accomplished so much in your personal and professional life that you aren’t worried about letting a secret or two slip.
So it was to our benefit that Nicklaus dropped a few hints about the 2024 schedule to the Associated Press over the weekend.
This week there was plenty of hand-wringing about the future of the Honda Classic, given its position on the schedule. Nearly every top pro skipped this week’s event because it’s sandwiched directly after two back-to-back designated events (the WM Phoenix Open and the Genesis Invitational) and directly before two more (the Arnold Palmer Invitational and the Players Championship).
But according to Nicklaus, there’s a good chance next year’s event draws a better field.
“Next year’s schedule are Pebble and L.A. are their elevated tournaments,” Nicklaus said. “Phoenix is not. Then they go to Mexico, then they come here. So, we will have players next year. And then they’ve got Bay Hill and Players. The tournament’s going to be just fine.”
His musings hardly constitute an official schedule release, but let’s dive into what Nicklaus says there.
1. The WM Phoenix Open won’t be elevated next year.
2. The AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am will be elevated.
3. The Mexico Open will become a part of the West Coast Swing.
4. The Honda will still kick off the Florida Swing.
If Nicklaus is correct, the fallout will be pretty simple. The WM Phoenix Open will have a weakened — though still likely strong — field. The top pros will flock to Pebble Beach. The Mexico Open will follow the Genesis Invitational, sending some pros down the coast to Puerto Vallarta. Some top pros will take that as an off-week and the Honda (which will have a new sponsor next season) will draw a relatively stronger field as pros kick off their Florida Swing.
This makes sense geographically and it makes sense in the rhythm of the schedule. Nice work, gang.
Who won the week?
Chris Kirk’s bounce-back
By bounce-back, I’m first referring to Chris Kirk‘s performance in the Honda Classic’s playoff on Sunday evening. Kirk led for most of the final round until he pushed his approach shot into No. 18 in regulation and could only watch in horror as it bounced off the rocks and into the water, leading to bogey.
The playoff got off to an inauspicious start when his tee shot ended up directly behind a tree. But after he advanced that down the fairway to appropriate lay-up position, Kirk stuffed a wedge shot to kick-in range. That would prove to be the difference in his win.
But bounce-back would also be an appropriate term for Kirk’s personal life. In the immediate aftermath of his win he expressed just how thankful he was for his sobriety, referencing the spring of 2019, when he took time away from the game in order to get help for his alcohol abuse. He touched on the subject again in his post-win press conference.
“I owe everything that I have in my entire life to my sobriety. I wouldn’t be doing this for a living anymore. I probably wouldn’t have the family that I have currently anymore,” he said. “I came really close to losing everything that I cared about.”
Kirk has been in contention more and more lately; he finished third at the Sony Open and T3 at the American Express. It was gratifying to see the 37-year-old’s hard work rewarded with a victory.
Let’s include Marcel Siem as an add-on here; the 42-year-old German won the Hero Indian Open for his first DP World title in more than eight years. You could see the emotion spilling through here:
“This means a lot because two years ago I wasn’t even sure if I could still compete, and now I’m a winner again.”
Lilia Vu’s comeback
Before she erased a six-shot deficit with a final-round 64 to log the first win of her LPGA Tour career, Lilia Vu wasn’t sure it would ever happen. She’d made it to the top tour in 2019 with high expectations following an eight-win career at UCLA but found things more difficult than she expected. Every shot felt like life or death. She lost control of her mind and then her game. She fell back to the Epson Tour. She considered law school.
Now that feels like ancient history. Vu’s final round included one run of five birdies in a row as she chased down Thai pro Natthakritta Vongtaveelap en route to a one-shot win. So what was the difference?
“I think it was all a mindset change,” she said. “I feel like technically my golf game got better, too, but it was all mindset.”
Think positive, folks. Pair that with a world-class golf game and you, too, could set your sights on this year’s Solheim Cup.
Charles Howell’s greenbacks
43-year-old Charles Howell III outclassed the rest of the LIV field in the first event of the circuit’s second season, shooting 16 under par to beat Peter Uihlein by four. He pocketed $4 million for the victory. Howell also led his Crushers GC team to victory, earning another $750,000 ($3 million split four ways) in the process. It would be disingenuous to suggest that the money was the only thing that mattered for Howell, though — the win meant plenty, too:
“I’ve played a lot of golf tournaments in my life, and I haven’t won a lot of them,” he said. “And you have the doubts and the feelings, will you ever win again?”
Eric Cole finished second at the Honda, a career high for the 34-year-old PGA Tour rookie. It looked like he might be a winner, too, until his birdie putt at the first playoff hole did something rude:
Ryan Gerard played his way into this week’s event via Monday Qualifier — and then went on to finish T4. That was the best result for a qualifier since Doc Redman’s runner-up result at the 2019 Rocket Mortgage. Because he finished top 10, Gerard is into this week’s Puerto Rico Open, too.
And it’s been a little while since we’ve seen Jin Young Ko in top form. But the former World No. 1 finished the Honda LPGA Thailand with a round of 8-under 64, tied for the low round of the week. Ko’s T6 result was her best since finishing fourth at the U.S. Women’s Open last June. (It was her first top-10 since last July.)
“I cried a lot last year in front of my parents,” she said. “But, yeah, golf is a lot of ups and downs so we have to focus on my game and try to get better and better.”
Webb Simpson was in line for his best result in a long, long time when he opened with rounds of 71-70-66 to enter Sunday T31. Then he struggled to a Sunday 77 that included three double bogeys and just a single birdie, dooming him to T74. For years, we’d gotten used to Simpson as a mainstay near the top of the Tour, but it’s been a rough go of late: he had just one top-15 finish all of 2022 and now hasn’t logged a top 50 in his last 12 starts.
And thanks to the AP’s Doug Ferguson for this one: Phil Mickelson has never been outside the top 300 in the world rankings as a professional golfer until this week. When he won the 1991 Tucson Open as an amateur, he leapt to No. 164 in the world and never looked back — until now. Mickelson has primarily been competing on LIV, which still receives no points from the OWGR. He’s likely to continue falling until the Masters.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
Last week, pool reporters were summoned to the White House for a trip to Ukraine accompanying President Biden. But it’s apparently unwise to email state secrets like that one, so instead the email subject line read “Arrival instructions for golf tourney”. (More details here.)
Well, fellas, I frequently receive emails with subject lines almost exactly like that one, so it’s been stuck in my brain. And now I’ve had multiple vivid dreams in the last few days where I show up to a golf tournament’s media center only to be whisked away by helicopter to some unknown war zone.
3 things to watch this week.
1. A Netflix star on the Drop Zone!
Geno Bonnalie, caddie to Joel Dahmen, won hearts and minds in his Netflix appearance. He joined us on this week’s Drop Zone, which includes one epic story from early in their time together. You can listen on Spotify or Apple Podcasts.
2. Rory at Bay Hill.
It’s time for the World No. 3 to get in gear. First because he’s our best remaining hope to drive the green at No. 6. Second because he’s been absent thus far in terms of contending for designated events, a system he helped set up. I expect a better one this week.
3. Drive to Survive, Season 5
If you’ve already finished Full Swing, it’s the logical next step…