Phil’s spicy take, one pro’s million-dollar dilemma, another pro’s costly 8 | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re starting to think we might not qualify for this year’s FedEx Cup Playoffs. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
When winning’s enough.
When we celebrate golfers winning tournaments there’s always an inclination to project forward. The win itself isn’t enough; our instinct is to make it the beginning of a trend. One win will soon become three, there’s plenty more to come, this is just the start, etc.
So it’s nice when a win is so obviously meaningful enough that it can stand fully and completely on its own. Enter Céline Boutier at this week’s Amundi Evian Championship. The 29-year-old became the first French player to win the sport’s only French major championship, fulfilling a longtime dream. So in her winner’s interview, when the inevitable question came — what does this mean for the rest of your season — Boutier was right to shut it down.
“Oh, I think nothing else matters, now that I have this trophy,” she said. “So I’m really good for the rest of the year.”
Who won the week?
For the second consecutive week we saw a runaway golfer win a major championship by six strokes. But unlike in Brian Harman‘s victory at Royal Liverpool, Boutier had the home crowd on her side.
“I was definitely very nervous going into the first tee, but I tried to frame it in a positive way,” Boutier said. “I feel like I’ve played this tournament seven times already and I have never been able to handle the pressure well.”
She birdied No. 1. Then she birdied No. 2. She birdied No. 5. And she never looked back.
The weekend weather at Royal Porthcawl — arguably Wales’ best course — made things extra spicy for the men’s Senior Open Championship. Finding the fairway looked hard. Finding the hole looked even harder. Scores ballooned; Alex Cejka and Padraig Harrington wound up in a playoff at five over par. His take reminded us why links golf rules (at least, rules to watch from home):
“I played on the European Tour for many, many, many years over here, but I forgot how difficult and how different the golf game is,” he said. “Being 20 years in the States and playing in sunshine and on easy courses when it’s perfect weather — then you come here, everybody’s struggling.
“I’m just glad — I think we all are glad that it’s over. It was a brutal week. Even the caddies, everybody is drained. Everybody is sore. But I’m glad it’s over and I’m here.”
What better way to answer a six-shot win from a University of Georgia Tour pro than a seven-shot win from a pro from the University of Alabama? Okay, nobody is going to mistake the 3M Open for the Open Championship, nor Lee Hodges‘ win for Brian Harman’s. But man, what a win it was! Hodges led wire-to-wire and, when pressed ever so slightly on Sunday, responded by striping two separate fairway woods to set up eagles.
He capped things off with a wedge to kick-in range, finishing off a round of four-under 67, seven strokes clear of the field. Respect.
(Also shoutout to Alabama alum Davis Shore, who won PGA Tour Canada’s Osprey Valley Open!)
Nearly their week.
The nearest golfer to Lee Hodges on Sunday was J.T. Poston. That was true geographically — the two comprised the final pairing — but also on the leaderboard, where Poston did more than anyone else to push Hodges to the finish. In fact, Poston stepped to the 18th tee just three shots off the lead. Given the volatile nature of the watery finisher, plenty of scenarios were still in play. We just didn’t see this one coming.
Poston’s tee shot settled on the bank down the right side, safely above the water’s surface but well below his feet. His only chance at the win was a miraculous eagle and he had a comfortable cushion to play with; third place was still three shots further back. Why not give it a try?
To Poston’s credit, give it a try is exactly what he did. He unsheathed his hybrid, assumed a squatting stance and took a rip. Unfortunately the ball came out low, as it tends to when it’s that far below your feet. Poston rooted for it to go. Every assembled fan did, too. But then something strange happened: the ball didn’t quite have the height to carry to the green and instead ricocheted off the stone wall guarding its front. The carom sent it soaring in the sky, perplexing both Poston and the broadcasters. But a gasp from the crowd redirected their attention: it had actually landed on the massive floating 3M sign in the water before sliding off the edge to its watery grave.
Any chance at the win was gone. That was okay; it’d been a long shot anyway. Now it was time to focus on securing solo second. Poston dropped in the fairway, laid up to 100 yards and settled in to hit the green, two-putt and be on his way.
You can already predict what happened instead. Poston’s approach came up short and left, leaving him in the fairway some 30 feet from the hole. He drew putter from there but his effort came up five feet short. And then, well, yeah. He tapped in for 8 and a three-way tie for second. Poston hadn’t made a bogey in 55 holes, and technically he still hadn’t made bogey. But now he was walking off with a costly triple.
Just what did it cost? Solo second would have earned him $850,200, while a three-way tie for second made him $590,200. Nobody is weeping for Poston clearing over half a million for a week’s work, but it’s still $260,000 less than he would have made with double bogey or better. Arguably more important, though, are the points he sacrificed. Poston would have earned 300 FedEx Cup points for solo second. Instead, with the split points, he earned 208.3.
Why is that a big deal? Because Poston, like many of his peers, is fighting for a spot in the top 50 in the year-end FedEx Cup standings, a cutoff that would earn him a spot in next year’s designated events. He entered 3M Open week in 60th place. Now he’s 49th. But solo second would have yielded 91.7 additional points, leaving him 38th instead, well inside the top 50 cutoff. From there he could have set his sights on the the top 30 and the Tour Championship rather than focusing on who was nipping at his heels.
Again, credit to Poston for going for the win! We love that. But it hurt to watch what happened next and I had neither emotional nor financial investment in his showing. It just felt like he deserved better.
(Martin Laird and Kevin Streelman, on the other hand, must have relished the chance at a few dozen extra points as their T3s improved to T2s…)
Brooke Henderson’s title defense
A year ago Brooke Henderson won the Evian to earn the second major title of her career. This year? She didn’t repeat but did the next best thing, triumphing over everyone except Boutier. Were it not for Boutier, in fact, we would have witnessed an exciting finish with a dozen golfers within three strokes of the lead and Henderson heroically on top. Instead it’s the third runner-up finish of her major championship career and, remarkably, the 15th top-10. She’s also trending upward at majors this year, going from T23 to T15 to 12th to solo second. That only leaves one spot for improvement at the Women’s British Open…
Padraig Harrington’s comeback
Padraig Harrington rallied with a two-putt birdie on the 72nd hole to force a playoff against Cejka but was ultimately let down by an awkward lie, a poor chip and a runner-up finish on the second playoff hole. He was left thinking two things. The first was some dismay about his eagle putt on the final green, which lacked the pace to challenge the hole.
“I hit a tentative put on the 72nd hole, which, look — you’ve got a chance to win the tournament. You’ve got to hit a great putt, and at the end of the day, I was trying to not hit a bad putt and I should have been trying to hit a great putt,” he said.
The second thing? He was bummed about his chipping, which let him down all week but most acutely in extra time.
“I chipped really poorly all week,” he said. “All week, I had a terrible time. I don’t think I’ve ever played a tournament where I’ve chipped this badly. I took several double-bogeys where I would normally be taking pars. So it was a bad week with the chipping. So disappointing there. It happens.”
Not quite their week.
Justin Thomas’ Cup chances
I’m not saying he doesn’t have a chance at making the Ryder Cup team; Justin Thomas certainly has the benefit of the doubt when it comes to his presence on the U.S. side. But he did himself no further favors with a missed cut at the 3M Open. (Fellow Ryder Cup hopeful Cameron Young MC’d at two under par alongside him.) Now he needs to work just to earn a spot in the FedEx Cup playoffs; he’s sitting 79th in the standings and only the top 70 make it to Memphis. That means we’ll be seeing a determined Thomas in North Carolina this week.
It’s one thing to suffer through the elements when you’re, say, Cejka, winning the third senior major of your career, or even Harrington, fighting to the finish. It’s a whole other thing when your game deserts you in the misery, like beloved Scotsman Colin Montgomerie, who made three doubles and a triple on Sunday en route to an 88 that sent him from T20 to 68th. Patrik Sjöland still scored one stroke higher, making just three pars en route to 89.
WHAT WE’RE READING
You won’t be surprised to hear that Phil Mickelson has an opinion on a development in the golf world. You might be mildly surprised to hear the specifics of this one, though. Mickelson took to Twitter (Now called X, I guess? Whatever.) in response to returning commissioner Jay Monahan‘s memo to PGA Tour players. Let’s break each of the four sentences in Mickelson’s tweet for proper comprehension.
1. “What a colossal waste of time.”
Yowza! Them’s fighting words. And they’re words that signal a sharp contrast to Mickelson’s feedback on the day the PGA Tour/Saudi PIF agreement was first announced, when he took to the same app to proclaim it an “awesome day” with a smiley face. Something’s changed!
2. “Not a single player on LIV wants to play PGA Tour.”
Also fighting words! And a fairly significant development. I’m not sure this is 100 percent true — Patrick Reed is among those who has recently expressed interest in playing Tour events — but it’s interesting perspective. Jon Rahm said something similar ahead of the Open, suggesting that LIV pros may not actually want to return. So what happens if a pathway back to the Tour opens up and no LIV guys want to take it?
3. “It would require a public apology and restitution to LIV players for paying millions to Clout media to disparage all of us.”
This is where Mickelson loses me. Is he fair to call out the hypocrisy of the Tour condemning LIV’s Saudi funding only to strike a deal with the same funding source a year later? Absolutely! But I’m not sure what the “millions to clout media” refers to, exactly. There’s a sense of persecution from many of LIV’s top stars — they feel like they’ve been criticized too harshly for leaving — and that frustration tends to get redirected towards the media. I’m not sure who Mickelson is referring to here; perhaps his comment is aimed at the most vocal LIV critics in the media, folks like Eamon Lynch and Brandel Chamblee. But there’s nothing conspiratorial going on and those guys aren’t being paid millions to disparage LIV. They’re just saying and writing what they believe. I guess I’d like some more specifics from Mr. Mickelson here because this feels disingenuous.
4. “A better topic is future sanctions for the many players who now come to LIV”
Now we’re back to an interesting hypothetical. It’s still not clear if the PGA Tour and the PIF will reach the next stage of their agreement. But whether they find resolution or not, it feels increasingly likely with every passing day that LIV will at least continue into 2024. And because some LIV pros’ contracts end at this season’s conclusion, there will be spots available. Will PGA Tour pros be lining up to fill them? If so, who will they be?
A million-dollar dilemma.
In the LIV era it feels almost quaint to talk about the paltry sum of one million dollars, but let me be the first to remind you that a seven-figure check is actually still quite a lot of money! For a million bucks you could buy a foursome at Pebble Beach every day for an entire year. Alternatively you could just buy a golf course; we found listings for well under a million in a half-dozen states here. A million dollars still travels.
And that’s what Stephan Jaeger nearly secured on Sunday.
If you don’t know Jaeger, he’s a 34-year-old German pro with $4.5 million in career PGA Tour earnings. He’s never finished in the top 30 in a major but has spent the last couple years as a competitive member of the PGA Tour. He entered this week at No. 61 in the FedEx Cup standings. But he also entered this week at No. 1 in the Aon Risk-Reward standings.
What is that and why is it important? Here are the basics: Every tournament the Aon Risk-Reward Challenge picks one hole. Every player automatically submits his two best scores from the week on that hole and those are put towards a season-long average. At the end of the season the pro with the lowest average takes home a cool million. The rest of the top five entering this week — Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Scottie Scheffler, Patrick Cantlay — are all securely inside the FedEx Cup’s top 25 in the FedEx Cup. But Jaeger was an outlier at the top, entering the 3M at -.889 strokes under par, playing 45 “challenge holes” in 40 under par. Talk about picking your spots! Over four days he needed two birdies on the par-5 18th at TPC Twin Cities to maintain his lead.
When he made birdie on 18 in the first round it put him on the precipice of an interesting dilemma: If he made another birdie, should he skip the Wyndham Championship and collect the $1 million prize?
Hatton, his closest competitor, wasn’t slated to play Wyndham anyway. Nobody else in the field was close enough to have a realistic statistical chance of catching him. And at No. 61 in the FedEx Cup, he’d be unlikely to slide all the way outside the top 70…
He’d have to at least think about it, right?!
But then Jaeger made par on Friday. He made bogey on Saturday. And on Sunday, despite leaving himself just 227 yards left from the fairway, he found the greenside bunker and failed to get up and down, walking away with a disappointing par and robbing us of a bizarre risk-reward calculation about whether or not to play the final event of the Tour’ regular season.
Now Jaeger is down to No. 64 in the FedEx Cup, which means he’s got plenty to play for at Sedgefield Country Club. A berth in the playoffs, for one thing. But he’ll be hunting an eagle and a birdie at No. 15*, too, which by my unofficial calculation would be enough to get him that million dollars anyway.
*Assuming they use No. 15 again, like they did last year
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
I stopped home in Massachusetts for a couple days following the Open. I got out for a sweltering 18 at Taconic with my brother and two buddies, finishing as darkness fell. This isn’t news from Seattle so much as it is news from home: some things are timeless, and playing golf with my brother and my buddies ’til it’s dark? That connects me at 31 to me at 13. Here’s to more.
3 things to watch this week.
1. Phil Mickelson speaks?
I’m not sure he’ll say anything at all but LIV is back in action at the Greenbrier. That means several more chances for LIV’s highest-profile player to expand on his latest PGA Tour-PIF musings. The same goes for his peers and for his boss, Yasir Al-Rumayyan, who has been a fixture at LIV events and holds some significant details on any deal’s progress.
2. LPGA Links Szn
That’s right, gang: This week is the Women’s Scottish Open at Dundonald Links. Next week’s the Women’s British Open at Walton Heath. The week after that the LPGA heads to Northern Ireland to play Castlerock. Your morning links-golf-watching routine continues.
3. Viktor Hovland.
Golf’s happiest pro, Viktor Hovland, is back on vacation in northern Norway. Watch the second video without grinning. Just try.
We’ll see you next week!