Tiger’s words, caddie breakups, Players winners and losers | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we didn’t win 3.6 million dollars at the Players — but we also didn’t hit a single ball in the water. (Who are the real winners, you might ask?) Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Something you might have missed.
I was in Ponte Vedra Beach last week for Tiger Woods’ Hall-of-Fame induction ceremony. No, I wasn’t sitting down with the pretty people on the ground floor nor the PGA Tour pros on floor two, but I did have an excellent view of the top of Woods’ head from the media paddock on the third level of PGA Tour HQ, pictured below:
I wrote about Woods’ speech here. But a week later, one line from the night has stuck with me:
“His continual presence has been a significant pattern throughout our relationship, whether it’s on FaceTime or school pickup or violin concerts or when we fail to teach our dogs tricks, he’s always there. And it’s been at the soccer fields and golf tournaments over the years that Charlie and I have begun to realize how famous he actually is.”
It was a humanizing moment. We know, abstractly, that Tiger Woods’ kids won’t particularly care what he did at Firestone Country Club in the 2000s. We know, abstractly, that he does dad stuff at home. These days, after all, we only see Woods every few months. There’s a lot of in-between time that he spends at home in Jupiter, Fla. and to their credit, we don’t see that at all. But we’ve never heard anything what it’s like to be the child of Tiger Woods, one of the most recognizable human beings on the planet. Sam gave us a little window into that world; it’s mostly like being the child of any other well-to-do resident of Palm Beach County. It’s school and violin concerts and soccer tournaments and hanging out with the dogs.
Sam’s speech — and Tiger’s, too — were reminders that we think about him in a very different way than she thinks about him and also in a very different way than Woods thinks about himself. There was a reason he didn’t mention major championships or professional victories in his own speech, after all, and focused on his family, his earliest golfing memories and the power of hard work instead. And it was a reminder that regardless of his comeback status, Woods still has an entire life to live.
Who won the week?
Cameron Smith’s flow
That’s flow in his hair, flow in his iron swing, mega-flow in his putting stroke. Smith was magnificent on Sunday and he was especially so because of just how unimpressive he was off the tee. I cannot remember a more dominant putting performance on such a big stage; Smith took just 10 putts to get around the back nine and nearly every single one of them was going at proper dying speed in the absolute center of the hole.
Other than his mullet, which fluttered in the Monday afternoon wind, Smith was unflappable — right until the moment he had to start talking about the victory and about his family. Then his answers turned to short, staccato sentences as he swallowed away tears and tried to hold it together.
“I haven’t seen them in 2 years,” he said, getting choked up as his mother and sister, in town from Australia, looked on. “It’s really cool to have them here. My main priority was just to hang out with them, golf was second for these few weeks. So it’s nice to see them and nice to get a win for them.”
As for the much-hyped $3.6 million first-place prize? Smith already has about as much money as he knows how to spend. Asked how he’d spend a potential $15 million FedEx Cup prize last year, he expressed uncertainty.
“I don’t know. I’m pretty set, to be honest,” he said. “I’m good. I’m good with what I’ve got. I don’t know what I’d do, to be honest. Maybe some more fishing equipment.”
After this week he can probably afford a new rod ‘n’ reel.
These guys, too.
Gold Boy’s rise to stardom
At first you hated him. Then you made fun of him. I can see you, in your living room, wondering what the point of Gold Boy even was. Surely that money could have been better spent…anywhere else?
But now? I suspect you might be starting to love him. And if he didn’t return for next year’s Players broadcast, you might even miss him. I think…
Anirban Lahiri’s mojo
At the beginning of the week, Lahiri was asked about his struggles and delivered a powerful message.
“The beauty about what we do is that you’re one week away from being a PGA Tour winner,” he said. “You’re one week away from being at Augusta. You’re one week away from having a two, three year exemption. You’re one week away from you having a different kind of conversation with me,” he said.
Here we are, a week later. The conversation around Lahiri is distinctly different. One shot short but hardly a loser.
(Also a good time to mention my podium idea but more on that later.)
There’s no element you can toss into a professional golf event to dial up the chaos like a big dose of wind. On Saturday, we the golf viewers had an incredible time watching them battle the elements. We had a sadistic type of fun watching them try to land it on the island green, for sure. But we also had fun watching Bubba Watson and Justin Thomas shape all manner of shots under the wind, riding the wind, holding off against the wind. Wind turns golf competitions into the sorts of things you can’t practice at a simulator or on a Trackman; it’s a different skill entirely. Max Homa summed it up nicely:
Kevin Kisner’s late birdie run
Kisner never seriously contended on Monday but made some extremely consequential birdies down the stretch at 15, 16 and 17 to earn several hundred thousand dollars (he finished solo fourth, which pays $980,000) earn a boatload of FedEx Cup points and even kick off his Presidents Cup qualifying run in impressive fashion.
Still deserving of mention.
Keegan Bradley’s first 70 holes
Considering Bradley played in the tougher wave and was assessed a two-stroke penalty for something I’ll simplify as pretty dumb, the fact that he was at 12 under par standing on the 17th tee was a minor miracle. He’ll be kicking himself for what happened next; Bradley hit a poor tee shot at 17 and three-putted, then made a mess of 18 en route to double bogey. If he’d hit one close at No. 17 or just made par there and found the fairway at 18, the entire tournament could have changed.
“I’m pretty bummed out, but proud of the way I played,” he said after the round. That about sums it up.
Dustin Johnson’s 63
He began the day T59. Eight birdies and an eagle later he was the proud co-owner of the TPC Sawgrass course record (63) a T9 finish and a decent consolation prize ($525,000). Shooting 29 on the final nine of your week seems like it would leave a good taste in your mouth.
Maybe next week?
The bad microwave
That’s microwave as in micro-wave, as in the little subset of golfers who seemed to play the toughest holes of the week in the toughest weather of the week. They also happened to be some of the best golfers in the world. That meant resuming their first rounds and firing tee shots into the terrifying 17th during gusty gale-force winds on Saturday — and then trying to survive No. 18, too.
This affected two threesomes of top golfers. The first threesome: Brooks Koepka, Xander Schauffele and Scottie Scheffler. The second threesome: Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and Collin Morikawa. How’d it go? Not well! Four of the six hit it in the water the first go ’round, and when they swung back to play 17 again two hours later the wind started gusting for them then, too.
Morikawa and Koepka each hit it in the water twice at 17. Schauffele hit it in the water twice at 18. All three of them missed the cut. McIlroy and Scheffler survived to make the cut on the number. And Justin Thomas played spectacularly in brutal conditions to work his way to the edge of contention — but he didn’t have enough gas to make it to the finish line, tripled 17 on Sunday and faded to 33rd.
Scott Piercy’s finish
The reason McIlroy and Scheffler were able to play the weekend? That would be Mr. Scott Piercy, who opened with a round of two-under 70 and was still two under when he stepped to the 17th hole at the end of his second round.
You know what happened next. His tee shot went long and into the water. He dropped and spun his next wedge back into the water. Now hitting five, he found the front edge of the island and miraculously got it down in two for a quadruple-bogey 7. Suddenly he was at two over par and singlehandedly shifted the cut line from one over to two over in the process.
Then he three-putted 18. Not only had he swung the cut line, he’d missed it in the process. No bueno.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
A spirited discussion.
By now you’ve seen the disputed drop from No. 16 on Monday. Daniel Berger hit a high cut that drifted into the right water and then was looking to drop up near the green, where he alleged that it crossed into the hazard. His playing partners Joel Dahmen and Viktor Hovland seemed less certain. There’s a complete breakdown here but what I’m intrigued by, a day later, is that people can look at the same shot tracker screenshot and conclude wildly different things about where the ball would have entered the penalty area.
Here’s that screenshot:
In the online commenter world I feel like I saw more people arguing that this validated Berger’s version of events. I feel the opposite way! While this agrees with Berger’s assertion that his ball started at the left side of the green, it cut right pretty quickly. Check out the shadow on the ground; that thing is headed towards the water much sooner than Berger’s attempted drop area.
But my enduring takeaway is that everyone kind of…did their job? If Daniel Berger firmly believed that he was getting hosed out of 80 yards, he had every right to argue that point. And credit to Viktor Hovland and Joel Dahmen to sticking up for the field and the line they thought was correct. In the end the spot where he dropped looks, from my 3D estimations, to be about right. (If pressed on the issue I’d guess Berger got maybe 15 yards further up than he should have but definitely within the margin of reasonable error.)
Berger spoke briefly to Golf Channel after the round and didn’t seem to hold any ill will.
“I’m confident with where I dropped and it was all settled; there were no issues,” he said. “Listen, I felt strongly that my ball crossed here, they felt strongly it didn’t. In the end, it’s a decision that you have to make between your playing partners. I’m not upset with where I dropped, it 100% was the correct place to drop, but I thought it would have been a little further up. In the end, it was the right decision.”
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
How caddies get canned.
Paul Casey provided plenty of insight throughout the week. There was what he told Viktor Hovland about playing in the Tiger Woods era:
“Guys have been talking about Tiger a lot this week, obviously, and I reminded — I think Viktor Hovland sat there, and he goes, ‘What was it like?’ I said, ‘You’ve got to remember, Viktor, I was playing 15 events over here and it was four majors, four WGCs, The Players, Bay Hill, Memorial. There wasn’t a lot of opportunity to win much. And if he didn’t win, it was Vijay or Ernie or somebody else. That’s the way it was.'”
There was his incredibly mature reaction to his pivotal tee shot at 16 coming to rest in another golfer’s ball mark:
“Oh, you need a little bit of luck sometimes, don’t you? That wasn’t very good luck, was it?
“I mean, I still — deep down I wanted to go for it out of that lie, but it felt too risky. I thought I could still make birdie and then who knows what happens over the last two. Look what happened over the last hole.
“It would have been brave, but maybe foolish to try to go for it. But it’s a shame. It was the best drive I hit all day.”
But I was perhaps most intrigued by the way he described his current caddie situation. Casey spoke with fondness about his ex-caddie John McLaren, their shared secrets and how he misses having him around.
“Johnny and I, we had some stuff — we had almost secrets, things that we’d work on, the way we would play certain shots that we feel nobody else was aware of, and we wouldn’t give that away. So it’s our IP. We tend not to talk about it.”
Casey said he and McLaren were in touch earlier in the week, but Shannon Wallis was on the bag as a short-term solution.
“I’m still looking for the caddie,” Casey said. “It’s weird. I miss him.”
As for McLaren — did Casey look to convince him to come back? His answer shed some light into how pro-caddie breakups usually go. It’s one of the most intriguing and unique relationships in sports, but why players and caddies split up can often be something of a mystery.
“No, I didn’t,” he said. “Johnny may come back. It was always a sabbatical. It was burnout. More time at home with the family. The stresses of flying back to London every weekend, and if he’s going to test positive for Covid and be in a hotel and all that stuff. It was just stressful for him. I’m sure I was stressful for him, too.
“Everybody knows that we finished our six years together better friends than when we started, which is saying a lot. In this industry that can’t always be said. We’ve seen a lot of people who are ‘mutual agreement’ or ‘taking a break,’ which we all know is code for somebody got fired.
“Just, nobody ever says that, but Johnny and I can generally look anybody in the eye and say, we’re great mates and he just wanted a break, and I fully support that.”
His temporary partnership with Wallis, meanwhile, proved quite fruitful. And Casey was the first guy to express his excitement about that.
“Really happy for Shannon being on the bag this week,” he said.
Shannon struggled with getting the bag he wants, and he was brilliant on the bag. “I don’t compare people to Johnny. That’s unfair. I don’t compare caddies. Everybody is different. But Shannon is a damn good caddie.”
It sounds like Wallis will be getting a solid percentage of Casey’s $1.3 million third-place prize money.
“It sounds silly, doesn’t it, but you know the life out here for some of the caddies,” Casey said. “When work is sparse, it’s very nice to make a big check and give a big percentage of that to the guy standing next to you.”
Well-earned for both men.
3 things to watch this week.
1. The Splash Zone
The Players is over but this video compilation lives on:
2. The Drop Zone
3. More difficult Florida golf.
It’s Valspar week, gang. Things somehow aren’t getting any easier on Tour. Snake Pit time!