The PGA Tour’s future, big caddie swap, LIV’s latest exclusion | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re glad those pesky basketball brackets are out of the way so we can get to the real thing this week. But first: the golf news!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
This is the PGA Tour now.
There’s been plenty of chitchat about how non-designated PGA Tour events are going to look under the league’s new stratified structure. Coming off back-to-back Dezzies at Bay Hill and TPC Sawgrass, we headed to the Tampa metropolitan area this week with an obviously weaker field. Still, the Valspar boasted a handful of big names, headlined by Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Matt Fitzpatrick, Tommy Fleetwood and two-time defending champ Sam Burns.
On Sunday we were left with a solid look at how these quieter weeks are expected to feel. There were a series of storylines around brand-name players. Could Spieth pick up a pre-Masters win? Could Fleetwood win his first PGA Tour event? Could Webb Simpson log his first top 10 since 2021? There were also compelling storylines from relative unknowns. Adam Schenk was chasing his first win with his pregnant wife flying in to see. Cody Gribble was chasing a full-time return to the PGA Tour. You get the idea.
In the end it was Taylor Moore who got the hot hand on Sunday at the Snake Pit. (Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course remains extremely hard — and extremely fun to watch.) This is the PGA Tour’s best-case scenario for these events: A mix of big names chasing glory and no names chasing a career-changing win. If you can get them battling it out on a crowded Sunday afternoon leaderboard, even better. So far, so good.
Who won the week?
Taylor Moore’s Designated Future
Moore got hot at the right time, making four birdies in his final 10 holes to post 4-under 67, the second-best round of the day. There were levels to his reward: The $1.46 million first-place check is a good place to start. The immediate Masters invitation is pretty nice, too. And given the emphasis on being inside the top 50 for next year, Moore’s jump to No. 9 in the FedEx Cup standings may be the biggest reward of all.
Danny Lee’s Decision
On Sunday, Feb. 19, Jon Rahm lifted the winner’s trophy at the Genesis Invitational. But rumors followed another player in the field that week, Danny Lee, who missed the cut.
On Sunday, March 19, Lee lifted the winner’s trophy at LIV’s Tucson event. It was his first pro win in eight years — coincidentally also in a four-man playoff. “This individual victory, it means a lot,” Lee said. “I haven’t won since 2015. I just felt like winning wasn’t my thing, but today that just changed. It’s just good to see I’m capable of playing some good golf.”
Matthew Baldwin’s Blowout
The DP World Tour returned to South Africa this week and crowned a very deserving champion when 37-year-old Englishman Matthew Baldwin blitzed the field, posting 18 under en route to a seven-stroke win — his first on the circuit. He moved from No. 501 in the world to No. 283 in the process.
If you’re not first, you can still be second.
Adam Schenk didn’t win — he was understandably distraught after his 72nd-hole bogey kept him one shot outside a playoff — but he picked up a bundle of cash plus valuable FedEx Cup points. His haul of both money and points meaningfully increased thanks to a missed three-and-a-half-footer from playing partner Jordan Spieth. Schenk finished solo second as a result, while Spieth shared third. His companion on the podium? Tommy Fleetwood, whose chance at winning seemed to vanish with a hooked approach at the par-5 14th, turning what would have been a good birdie chance into a disappointing bogey. He finished two shots back.
It was a fantastic week, meanwhile, for Cody Gribble. Jordan Spieth’s college teammate has been through the wringer the last half-decade, trading one injury for another and leaning on his past champion status (he won the 2016 Sanderson Farms) for spot starts on the PGA Tour. That included a start at the Puerto Rico Open, where he finished T7, which got him into the Valspar. He entered the final round just two shots off the lead but stumbled out of the blocks with bogeys at 1, 2 and 5 and then a crushing double at 6. To his credit, Gribble rallied with birdies at 7, 10, 11 and 14 to climb back to a final result of T7. That would have gained him entry into this week’s Corales event in the Dominican Republic, but he was already in the field. Still, it means more points for Gribble, who sits a respectable 116th in the FedEx Cup.
Maybe next week.
Matthew Fitzpatrick made a quintuple-bogey 9 at No. 3 on Thursday and missed his second consecutive cut — and his fourth in six starts — as he continues to battle a neck injury. That 9 certainly inflated his final score, though. Marty Dou, who has been a world-beater on the Korn Ferry Tour but struggled to match that form on the PGA Tour, had a chance at his best-ever finish before plummeting 44 spots with a Sunday 80. And Keegan Bradley was among the pros hit particularly hard by whatever stomach bug was cruising through the locker room. (Turns out being mentioned in the same sentence as Jon Rahm isn’t always a good thing!)
An iconic duo is done.
NBC Sports reporter Kira Dixon noted that Sunday’s final round for Webb Simpson and longtime looper Paul Tesori ended in a particularly emotional fashion. That would have been understandable just based on their results; Simpson’s T7 result was his first top 10 since the 2021 RSM Classic. He was still inside the top 10 in the world at the 2021 PGA Championship; less than two years later his T7 at the Valspar bumped him back inside the top 150.
But there was more to the story. Simpson announced on Monday that he and Tesori are “changing directions,” ending a 12-year partnership on Simpson’s bag. In the meantime, Tesori is picking up a new loop: reigning Rookie of the Year Cameron Young.
Tesori and Simpson were together for his win at the 2012 U.S. Open at Olympic Club as well as the 2018 Players Championship and multiple U.S. Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup teams. Tesori — a former Tour pro himself — is among the best-respected caddies on the circuit.
“Not only has he been my caddie and swing coach, but one of my best friends in the world,” Simpson wrote.
It’s reasonable to be skeptical of any announced player-caddie split — who fired whom?! — but in this case it seems like Tesori had an opportunity to jump aboard one of the most desirable bags in the sport. Simpson may see the value in changing it up, too, given his recent form, though Tesori’s caddie/swing coach combo will be tough to replicate. Still, he said in the statement that Tesori and his family will always be a part of “Team Simpson.” All good, but the end of an era.
RULES AND REGULATIONS
Why no LIV players in Austin?
If you’ve taken a peek at this week’s WGC-Match Play bracket you might have noticed something: No LIV players! That’s in line with the rest of the PGA Tour’s schedule this season; LIV pros are indefinitely suspended. But you also might recall that last summer’s Genesis Scottish Open featured a mix of PGA Tour, DP World Tour and LIV pros — LIV guys can still play DP events pending ongoing litigation. And the WGCs are co-sanctioned by the DP World and Asian Tours. So what gives?! Why no LIV pros?
It’s not that none would have qualified: Cameron Smith, Joaquin Niemann, Abraham Ancer, Thomas Pieters, Talor Gooch, Harold Varner III, Mito Pereira, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed would have been included based on their world ranking. But because the PGA Tour is the circuit actually hosting the event, it can essentially reject anyone not following its rules. Here’s the explanation the Tour gave me:
The application for tournament entry for the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play (“Tournament Entry Agreement”) states that entry is subject to acceptance by the Host Tour (PGA Tour) and the International Federation of PGA Tours and may be rejected or revoked by either without liability at any time before or after commencement of Tournament play if a player fails to meet the eligibility requirements set forth in the Tournament Entry Agreement, violates any of the Tournament Regulations of the Host Tour or otherwise conducts himself in a manner unbecoming a professional golfer. In addition, all participants must agree to abide by and be governed by the PGA Tour Tournament Regulations as a condition of entry.
So, there you have it! Your Match Play brackets will be LIV-free.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
I have [sigh] once again signed up for U.S. Open Qualifying, which means I am either seven rounds away from becoming the champion at Los Angeles Country Club or one round away from struggling to break 80 because I only play competitive golf once a year and am not nearly as good as I think I should be. All depends on your perspective. I’m choosing optimism, so I’ll plan on seeing you all at LACC in a couple months.
3 things to watch this week.
1. The final Match Play.
As I understand it, there is currently no plan to have match play on the PGA Tour’s 2024 schedule. That stinks, because this event provides the most exciting weekday golf of any on the schedule. I hope there’s a way to make match play make business sense at some point going forward, but for now: Enjoy this one!
2. Arizona’s season of golf rolls on.
The LPGA Tour returns to the Grand Canyon State as the circuit’s U.S. season kicks into full gear. The LPGA Drive On Championship heads to Superstition Mountain Golf and Country Club, where eight of the top nine in the world (everybody except Lydia Ko) will tee it up.
3. The Gear Gang talks bifurcation:
I did my best to simplify the golf ball conversation last week here. But I’ll defer to our Fully Equipped experts on the details below:
See you next week!