Why Rory McIlroy’s a ‘funny fish,’ Max Homa’s overseas adventure | Monday Finish

Shane Lowry and Rory McIlroy at the 2023 Ryder Cup.

Shane Lowry shed more light on his relationship with Rory McIlroy — plus the pair recapped the 2023 Ryder Cup.

Getty Images

Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where every column is tech-infused. Let’s get to it!

FIRST OFF THE TEE

Camilo.

There were certain signs that the next stage of Camilo Villegas‘ career was looming. Perhaps it was already here. There was his appointment to last year’s Presidents Cup team — not as a player but as an assistant captain. There was his appearance at this year’s Wyndham Championship — not as a player but as a member of the broadcast team. His World Ranking was slipping. His status was slipping. His game had already slipped.

But there were signs that he was resisting that slippage, too. Villegas had signed up for the second stage of Q-school, a declaration that he wasn’t too proud to fight for his dreams. He signed on with a new swing coach, Jose Campra, suffering through a string of missed cuts in the hopes that something would click in the long term. He began working with a mental coach, too, preparing his mind so he’d be ready when he played his way back into the fire.

Villegas had faced a far more consequential battle, after all. In 2020 he and his wife had suffered the loss of their daughter, Mia, just before her second birthday. That life-or-death battle changed the way Camilo saw everything else. But it didn’t render golf meaningless; Villegas felt the urge to live. His renewed play began at last week’s World Wide Technology Championship, where he finished T2. That was a spirited charge that drew the love and support of the rest of the golfing world.

“I must have got 500 text messages, I didn’t even win the golf tournament,” Villegas said.

Then it all came together on Sunday at the Butterfield Bermuda Championship, where he opened 67-63 at Port Royal Golf Club and then shot 65-65 on the weekend to win by two.

“Tough to put in words right now, but wow, what a ride, man,” he said in a post-round interview. “You know what, I love this game. This game has given me so many great things, but in the process it kicks your butt. Life has given me so many great things and in the process it kicks my butt, too.”

On Sunday it was terrific to see Villegas kick back.

WINNERS

Who won the week?

With the victory, Villegas is now up to No. 75 in the FedEx Cup and has multiple years of guaranteed Tour starts ahead. Maybe he can redirect some of that Q-school entry fee cash to a rental house near Augusta National come April instead. Sheesh, what a difference a couple of weeks make.

Lilia Vu won for the fourth time this season in the Annika at Belleair in Florida, making birdie on two of her final four holes to secure a Sunday 66 and a three-shot win. She regained the World No. 1 crown in the process.

“I think the wheels were kind of falling off early in this the back nine and my caddie said to me, ‘Hey, it doesn’t matter where you hit it on the green; you can make a putt from anywhere,'” Vu said. “I think that really flipped my mindset. I was getting negative and then just flipped a switch and just thought positive thoughts, and then it just all worked itself out.”

Max Homa won the Nedbank Golf Challenge, the DP World Tour event known as “Africa’s Major,” which boasted the week’s strongest field according to the OWGR. His four-shot win over Nicolai Hojgaard capped off what he described as “a dream 10 or 11 days,” which included a pre-tournament safari. (Perfect golf prep, apparently.)

“Be the lion, not the impala,” Homa wrote post-win.

Mostly it was cool seeing Homa (and Justin Thomas) make the trek to South Africa, taking full advantage of renewed fall flexibility to play golf in a new part of the world. One of the more intriguing byproducts of LIV has been the way in which it makes the golf world think about what events should be important and where they should be played, and South Africa’s rich golfing history suggests it should be among the countries in consideration for big-time international golf.

Also, it’s one thing to travel across the globe to headline a tournament. It’s another to actually get it done. So credit to Homa, who can now make the case he’s playing golf as well as nearly any American.

Homa also made Rory McIlroy a champion in the process; Homa’s win ensures that McIlroy will win the DP World’s Race to Dubai for the fifth time in his career.

New Zealander Ben Campbell won on the Asian Tour at the Hong Kong Open, edging Cameron Smith by a shot in a LIV-heavy field that also included Peter Uihlein (T8), Harold Varner III (T8), Graeme McDowell (T12), Patrick Reed (T15) and more.

Steven Alker won the Charles Schwab Championship, the final PGA Tour Champions event of the season, earning second place in the season-long points race.

“To get second after going first last year, that means a lot just to keep the consistency,” he said. “And I get a couple of wins, it’s nice. The guys are just getting better out here and just pushing harder, so you’ve just got to try a little bit better every year.”

Max Homa
Max Homa on Sunday after his win at the Nedbank Golf Challenge. Getty Images

ALMOST-WINNERS

Close enough, right?

George Bryan sat beside his brother Wesley on Tuesday of tournament week and made a prediction.

“I’m probably going to have the most fun out of anyone in the field,” he said.

At week’s end he and his brother returned to the microphone and thought about the future.

“Dude, you’re not going to get through Q-School,” Wesley said. “Like, the fairytale’s going to come to an end at some point.”

The ribbing came at the end of a surreal week in which George — a mini-tour pro-turned-YouTuber who is now chasing pro dreams once again — had made his Tour debut and then made his first Tour cut, ultimately posting a score of six under for the week to finish T69. Wesley wound up T37 at 12 under. Next up for George? Second stage of Q-school. Hence his brother’s playful doubting.

“I think it’s given me a massive confidence boost leaving this week,” George said. “Again, I’ve said it a lot, but I’d like to show that I could compete at this level. I mean, I guess I barely made the cut or whatever, but still I beat a lot of guys that play golf for a living. As a YouTuber playing professional golf a little bit, that’s a massive confidence boost heading into Q-school.”

So far, so good — Bryan added that he’s playing better golf now than when he was focused on playing full time. Can he do both? Time will tell.

Alex Noren finished runner-up in Bermuda, logging his second PGA Tour podium in his last three starts and the fourth of his career — though he still doesn’t have a Tour victory to accompany his double-digit titles on the DP World Tour. He said he had “mixed emotions” after the near-miss but there’s no question he should be pleased with what the week says about his game.

Matti Schmid finished a career-best third place to move from No. 148 to No. 120 on the FedEx Cup points list, a crucial distinction given the top 125 at the end of next week’s RSM will retain full playing status.

Carl Yuan also moved inside the bubble, at least for now, finishing fourth to climb from No. 134 to No. 125.

And Adam Scott, who was on the continent for the Boston Common announcement, traveled to Bermuda to improve his FedEx Cup standing and prep for a stretch of Aussie events — and did so with a T5 finish.

Alison Lee finished T2 at the Annika, the latest in her impressive run to the elite levels of the game. It’s her second consecutive runner-up finish on the LPGA and she mixed in a victory in Saudi Arabia, all of which combined to elevate her to No. 27 in the world.

Emily Kristine Pedersen, among the stars of this year’s European Solheim Cup team, couldn’t hold onto her 54-hole lead but managed a T5 finish even with a Sunday 74.

Lexi Thompson ended her season with a T7, finishing a turbulent LPGA year with a strong fall that included a rousing Solheim Cup performance, an inspiring run at the Shriners cut line and a slew of LPGA top 10s.

WHAT WE’RE READING

Rory speaks.

I’ve maintained my Irish Independent subscription for the last several years for the sole purpose of reading Paul Kimmage‘s interviews with Irish pros, generally highlighted by massive year-end reviews with Rory McIlroy. While McIlroy is always happy to speak, he’s especially eager to go deep with Kimmage; there seems to be a mutual respect there that results in deep, thoughtful storytelling filled with small details and big controversies.

This year’s edition was no different; you’ve already likely come across quotes from McIlroy reliving the Ryder Cup scene with Patrick Cantlay and Joe LaCava. I fear those quotes have already lost their context, which is within McIlroy recounting the entire scene, the way he flew off the handle and the different ways in which he and Cantlay see the world. But excerpts can tend to lose McIlroy’s praise for Cantlay, whose down-the-stretch performance under pressure he described as “fantastic” and “big balls.” Several-thousand-word interviews don’t translate fully over tweets or Instagram quote graphics.

In weaving the words of McIlroy and Shane Lowry together, Kimmage provided the best understanding yet of what transpired from the European side. That was all terrific. But I was just as intrigued by the way Kimmage ran through the relationship between McIlroy and Lowry. To see them at this year’s Ryder Cup you’d have figured they’ve been fast friends their entire lives, given their golf skill and geographic proximity. There’s an affectionate banter there that feels natural, too; I cracked up at Lowry’s description of McIlroy as a “funny fish” for quoting Marcus Aurelius at the Ryder Cup. And the scene of them wandering the streets of New York after a few daytime pints, beset by adoring golf fans, was well worth recounting.

But it wasn’t always that way. There were years where they hardly spoke and their interactions were frosty due to McIlroy’s departure from the management team that continued to represent Lowry.

“I hate talking about it, and to be honest I’m happy Rory is not sitting here,” Lowry said before one particularly jarring admission, that he’d dodged McIlroy in a practice round in 2014 due to the awkwardness. That sentence revealed the gravity of Kimmage’s interview, though. To acknowledge that you “hate talking about it” and you’re glad the person you’re talking about isn’t there — and then plow on and talk about it anyway? Whatever comes next was bound to be top-notch. It seemed therapeutic, too. You can read the whole thing here.

WHAT WE’RE HEARING

TGL teams — have you picked yours?

Tiger Woods is headlining Jupiter Links Golf Club, which sounds an awful lot like an actual course but is in fact his four-player TGL team. Woods’ squad will be playing entirely home games, given the stadium is just down the road from Jupiter, Fla. They’ll also be competing with teams representing larger metro areas like New York, San Francisco and Atlanta. Does any of this matter? I’m not really sure! Most of the other competitors live in and around Jupiter, too; despite my requests they are not shipping Tyrrell Hatton to live abroad in Boston for the season. The city and identity bit will take some care to make work. (But if I’m an emerging TGL fan from, say, Chicago, I’m outraged at the Midwest erasure happening in south Florida.)

Last week we ran through the TGL’s promised innovations, which included referees and shot clocks. This week? Let’s quickly buzz through what we know about TGL rosters.

First there’s Boston Common Golf, which consists of Rory McIlroy, Keegan Bradley, Adam Scott, Tyrrell Hatton and a strong social media contingent.

The Atlanta Drive is made up of Justin Thomas, Patrick Cantlay, Lucas Glover and Billy Horschel.

Jupiter Links Golf Club is headlined by Tiger Woods, though we don’t yet know his teammates.

LA Golf Club will feature L.A. native Collin Morikawa; we don’t know his teammates either.

San Francisco and New York’s respective franchises have not named their teams nor their players, and while we know 23 of the 24 players, Jon Rahm’s replacement hasn’t yet been named either.

Keegan Bradley, Tyrrell Hatton, Rory McIlroy and Adam Scott comprise Boston's TGL team.
Rory’s LIV breakdown, Tiger’s gait, golf’s new referees | Monday Finish
By: Dylan Dethier

NEWS FROM SEATTLE

Monday Finish HQ.

It’s just a quick skip across the sky from Seattle to Las Vegas, where I’ll be headed for Tuesday’s first-ever live sporting event on Netflix. The event pairs Formula 1 stars with PGA Tour players in a match at the Wynn that promises uber-competitive people in a relaxed-but-competitive setting and, well, I don’t know what to expect but I’m excited to find out. Will report back!

WHAT’S NEXT

3 things to watch this week.

1. The LPGA finale.

It’s strange that the defending champion at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship won’t be back to defend her title, but 2022 winner Lydia Ko finished well outside the top 50 cutoff mark. Lexi Thompson won’t be there, either. But three women who have put together career years on the LPGA — Lilia Vu, Ruoning Yin and Celine Boutier — also happen to be ranked 1-3 in the Rolex Rankings and are looking to cap their years with another victory.

2. The DP World Tour finale.

While McIlroy has already locked up the Race to Dubai, the DP World Tour Championship will boast a field teeming with Ryder Cup stars. The winner in the 50-man field will take home $3 million from a $10 million purse at Jumeirah Golf Estates — but that won’t be an easy task given the field behind McIlroy includes Viktor Hovland, Jon Rahm, Tyrrell Hatton, Tommy Fleetwood, Matt Fitzpatrick, Shane Lowry and more. PGA Tour cards are also on the line; they’ll be handed out to the 10 highest points-getters who aren’t already members.

3. The PGA Tour finale.

There are still PGA Tour-adjacent events that’ll happen before the end of the year, like the Hero and the Grant Thornton. But the real accounting happens at this week’s RSM. Who’s inside the top 125 heading to next season? Who’s inside the top 60 and therefore into the field for the Sentry? PGA Tour players in distinct tiers will get to choose from distinctly different buffets beginning in 2024, and while we already have a general sense of who will dine where, we’ll know even more about who gets what access come Sunday.

We’ll see you next week!

Dylan Dethier

Dylan Dethier

Golf.com Editor

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/GOLF.com. The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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