Rory’s reasons, Tiger’s caddie, richest golfers | Tuesday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, which we’re writing on Tuesday this week. Why? We’ll get to that. For now, consider this the column of the future. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Tiger and Joe.
Interesting news broke on Tuesday from on site at the Wells Fargo Championship when Dan Rapaport reported that Patrick Cantlay had enlisted Tiger Woods‘ longtime caddie Joe LaCava as his looper for the week. This was a particularly intriguing revelation given Cantlay had parted ways with looper Matt Minister after the Zurich Classic two weeks ago. Sure enough, Todd Lewis confirmed on Golf Channel that LaCava would be working with Cantlay on a “full-time basis.”
Look, I’m excited for what’s next for Cantlay and LaCava. I am! I think they’re a natural fit, Cantlay’s one of the best players in the game and I find him one of the more intriguing, too. Maybe LaCava will be the ingredient that gets him into contention at more major championships. But there will be time for LaCantlay talk beginning this Thursday. In the meantime, what this seems to suggest is that the Tiger-Joe era is…over. Or, if not over, at least indefinitely suspended. After all, Woods is facing a lengthy recovery from his most recent surgery and, assuming he returns, it will be in an extremely limited capacity. And it’s not like LaCava could suddenly just ditch Cantlay, his full-time boss, if Woods decided he was ready to play next year’s Masters. Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg told Lewis that he would “kinda see that not happening” given his new employment status.
LaCava told on-site reporters that he wasn’t actively looking but when Cantlay asked, he checked with his longtime employer.
“When this opportunity arose, I checked with Tiger,” LaCava told PGATour.com. “And he said, ‘You’re crazy not to take the job, go forward, go win some tournaments, go have a great time.'”
The exchange immediately brought me back to 2018, when Woods finally returned after just 19 events in the previous four years. LaCava had been there in the meantime, patiently waiting. Asked about that loyalty for ESPN’s documentary Return of the Roar, he delivered a particularly poignant line.
“He basically said to me, look, if you wanna go find another guy to work for, I’m okay with that,” LaCava said. “If I could live another hundred years, I’d wait another hundred years. I was never not going to work for Tiger as long as he was going to have me. I just wanted to work for him and no one else. And I think that helped a little bit, knowing that he had a friend that thought that much of him, as a person and with his game.”
Who won the week?
Tony Finau went viral after his Mexico Open victory thanks to an extremely dad video of the PGA Tour winner seemingly caddying for his sons on the adjacent par-3 course later that night. It was a cute shot and a reminder that Finau is a family man first and a professional golfer second.
But in media availability Tuesday he set the record straight: He wasn’t just caddying. He was playing alongside his sons just as he had every night that week.
“Hopefully my boys are enjoying it like I was when I was a kid, just being with my dad and my brother,” he said. “It’s just special to be with them no matter what. If I would have finished second I would have been with them still. My boys were counting on me and that’s something that I take pride in just as a father.”
More importantly, though: he was winning there, too.
“Man, I cleaned house last week,” he said. “I beat up on my boy fortunately all week on the par 3 and then was able to take the trophy at the Mexico Open. It was a good all-around week in golf for me.”
The LPGA headed to Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, meanwhile, where Hannah Green delivered the putt of the week to earn her way into a playoff — one that she’d eventually win, snapping a four-year drought.
Delivering with a fist pump in Sunday red and black! It doesn’t get much better than that.
Checking in on the World Top 3.
All eyes are on the World No. 3 this week not only because he won the last time the Wells Fargo Championship was held at Quail Hollow but because he’s gone missing from the public eye since an early exit from the Masters.
Rory McIlroy finished out his second round just before play was suspended at Augusta National, mercifully spared a post-round press conference by the incoming weather. His absence drew plenty of attention at the following week’s RBC Heritage, where he skipped his second designated event of the year and took some heat in the process; he’d been a vocal proponent on the best players showing up for the top events and this absence seemed to undercut that message.
Lewis caught up with McIlroy during Tuesday’s practice round, who gave a relatively simple explanation: the run-up to the Masters and the disappointment of a missed cut overwhelmed him post-tournament.
“I needed a break for me,” he said on Golf Today. “Obviously after the disappointment of Augusta and then — it’s been a pretty taxing 12 months mentally. So it was nice to just try to disconnect for a little bit, get away from it. It’s nice to come back refreshed and we’re on a pretty busy run here now until after the playoffs, so I’m excited to get going.”
McIlroy added that he was in a “better headspace” than in the days following the Masters.
“That run-up to Augusta is always a stressful enough couple weeks just trying to make sure everything’s in the right order and making sure your game’s in shape,” he explained. “I think for me it was a nice reset because I still had to realize there’s still three majors this year, there’s a ton left to play for. I guess it was like, not a new beginning in a way but it was like, okay, I’ve played great golf up until then. I need to leave the last 12 months in the rearview and focus on what’s ahead of me and I think the last three weeks has helped me gain that perspective and put me back on the right track.”
As for the World Nos. 1 and 2? Jon Rahm played last week’s Mexico Open (finishing second to Finau), while Scottie Scheffler‘s been off since Hilton Head. But neither is showing up for this week’s Wells Fargo; they’re choosing to utilize their single skip for the year.
Next year there are no one-off events; the designateds will be clumped together. There will be unlimited skips allowed, too, if players choose to take them. Those in the know have talked about this as a bridge year; the weirdness around Rory’s absence illustrates that and the names missing this week does, too.
Rahm and Scheffler aren’t the only top-50 Tour pros skipping this week: Will Zalatoris and Hideki Matsuyama are out with injury while Billy Horschel, Tom Hoge, Russell Henley, Justin Rose, Lucas Herbert and Aaron Wise are absent, too. There’s plenty of golf left this season, after all.
Bonus Roll Call: Bronte Law and fellow Brit Jodi Ewart Shadoff were none too pleased when their would-be teammates Georgia Hall (battling a foot injury) and Charley Hull (dealing with an illness) had pulled out from this week’s Hanwha Lifeplus International Crown, leaving Team England scrambling for two more pros in the four-player event.
“Didn’t get any sort of message from the two that decided to not play,” Law said. “Was disappointed about that. But it’s beside the point now. We’re here, and this is our team, and this is Team England.” She added that anyone “with some level of decency” would message teammates to tell them of their absence.
“Not find out from other players on tour who have heard things from them saying things at the tournament last week. I don’t think that that’s a lot to ask for.”
Ewart Shadoff added that her schedule this year has been “all based around being here this week because it means that much to me to play for England.”
So, yeah. Not sure they’ll all be splitting a vacation rental in Cornwall this summer.
MONEY MONEY MONEY
Who’s making bank?
Forbes released its list of highest-paid athletes for 2023, which they defined as the period between May 1, 2022 and May 1, 2023. Well, gang, guess what else happened in that time period?! There’s a reason there weren’t any golfers on last year’s list (yes, Woods is finally off) but two on this year’s.
While Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi rank first and second, each raking in more than $130 million, new LIV signees Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson came in neck-and-neck at Nos. 6 and 7. Johnson’s “on-field” earnings came in the form of a massive signing bonus plus a preposterous $35.6 million in prize money (including an $18 million season-long prize). Sure, his off-field earnings shrank from $29 million to $5 million, but his total of $107 million suggests he made up for that and then some.
As for Mickelson? The 52-year-old had a turbulent 2022 but it included him crossing the $1 billion mark in pre-tax earnings. Forbes had him at No. 7 with $104 million in “on-field” earnings plus another $2 million off the course. There’s no question one of his most satisfying paychecks came at Augusta National, of course.
Forbes estimated that Mickelson received $200 in guaranteed money from the Saudis while Johnson got $125 million — with half of that paid up front.
3 things to watch this week.
1. RORY’S PUTTER
There will be enough attention on McIlroy this week that you’ll see plenty of his putter, and his driver, and his irons, too. But he’s gone back to the Spider, the weapon that he says guided him to an all-time putting season in 2022.
Oh yeah, keep an eye on his wedges, too: Jonathan Wall has a scoop on McIlroy’s new lob wedge and the reason he was testing four of them on Tuesday.
2. TEAM CHAMP
It’s the first Hanwha Lifeplus International Crown since 2018, and the format sounds really fun. So what’s the deal? Eight countries break into teams, four players each, and they compete Thursday-Sunday at TPC Harding Park in San Francisco. There are four teams in Group A and the other four in Group B, and the top two teams from each group advance to the semifinals on Sunday, where the format switches from all better-ball to two singles matches plus one alternate-shot (foursomes) match. Spicy!
3. FATHER-SON U.S. OPEN?
Cameron Kuchar is best known as his father Matt’s PNC Championship partner. But it turns out the 15-year-old can hold his own in stroke-play, too, after shooting three-under 69 to bust his way through Local Qualifying. Given Matt has to make his way through Final Qualifying, too, I can’t help but wonder if the two signed up for the same site — and if they could both make it through for an unusual family summer vacation to L.A. Country Club.
We’ll see you next week!