Monday Finish: Here’s what Tiger Woods’ latest photo revealed
Welcome to the Monday Finish! This is where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come. This Monday we’ve got PGA Tour popularity rankings, a pivotal Saturday on the LPGA Tour and a revealing post from Tiger Woods.
FIRST OFF THE TEE
For the best golfers in the world, what’s the difference between winning and finishing second? How ’bout third? Eighth? How much does luck factor in? And how about… predestination? After Brooke Henderson finished off her one-stroke victory at the Hugel-Air Premia L.A. Open on Saturday in Los Angeles, she stressed the importance of all of the above.
“Yeah, I definitely am a firm believer when you’re in the winner’s circle you’re getting a lot of breaks and it’s sort of meant to be,” Henderson said.
One specific moment she was referencing was her chip-in on 12, which was still carrying a little speed when it caught the left edge of the hole and snuck in for a birdie 2.
“You know, those breaks can be really small or they can be really big,” she said. “Sometimes it’s just missing a divot, or today I had tons of opportunity where the people I was playing with showed me the line on putts. They were always just a little bit behind me so I always had a read on every green. That just only happens when it’s meant to be.”
Meant to be. It’s a powerful phrase because it suggests that Brooke the player took her own agency out of the equation — that it wasn’t really up to her whether she won the actual tournament or not. The phrase also rang a bell from another high-profile winner’s interview (just a week ago, in fact), when Lydia Ko sat in Henderson’s seat.
“I think I’ve just been trying to think what’s meant to be is going to be,” Ko said after winning in Hawaii. “I just got to accept what gets thrown my way and do a good job with the things I can control.”
Golf at its highest level is generally a sport for control freaks. Successful golfers are intense individualists focused on the tiniest details of their games, their gear, their practice routines. But golf is still an unpredictable game. Every round has funny bounces. Every career has peaks and valleys. The only way to stay sane is to learn to let some things go. That’s how I interpret “meant to be.”
There can be a religious element to this mindset, too. “It just wasn’t my time. God has a plan for everything,” Henderson said of the two years between this win and her last. And there’s an element of patience, too. The mini-tours are littered with talented golfers who lack the flat heart-rate of a seasoned Tour pro.
Big-picture, though, Henderson’s interview reminded us, as did Hideki Matsuyama and Jordan Spieth in weeks before, that winning golf tournaments is extremely difficult. If your only standard for success is victories, you are going to be disappointed far more often than fulfilled. Long-term, golfers have to learn another three-word phrase: Trust the process. If you trust your process, eventually, when things are meant to be, you’ll be primed to reenter that winner’s circle.
That, folks, is how you begin to talk — and think — like a professional golfer. Let’s go to Spieth, a seasoned vet at both playing, processing and talking, for an example:
“I felt pretty comfortable even there on 17 just trusting the process and what I was doing,” he said after finishing out his win at the Valero. “Even just closing, I felt like it was — I’m supposed to do this, this is like me, this is what I do. That kind of attitude.”
Who won what?
-As referenced above, Brooke Henderson triumphed at the L.A. Open. The win was her first since early 2019 and the 10th of her career, sending her into rarer company in LPGA history. She has contended plenty since that last victory, including nine top-six finishes, but she admitted she was feeling the pressure coming down the stretch this time.
“I think as I age I’m getting more nerves,” she said. Quite the phrase for a 23-year-old. With the win, she moved back inside the top five in the world. That feels like right where she belongs.
-On the PGA Tour, Marc Leishman and Cameron Smith took the Zurich Classic title on the first playoff hole. The win for Team Mullet came when opponent Louis Oosthuizen (playing alongside Charl Schwartzel) put his tee shot in the water. In alternate-shot, that’s kind of a no-no. The playoff looked an awful lot like a Presidents Cup intra-squad scrimmage, and even though Captain Els refused to pair Leishman and Smith last time around, they now have a pretty strong case as partners.
-On the European Tour, 21-year-old lefty Garrick Higgo won for the second time in 24 starts, re-announcing his arrival to the world. He jumped to world No. 65 which guarantees he’ll be at Kiawah for the PGA in May.
-On the Korn Ferry Tour, multi-circuit grinder Tyson Alexander busted through at the Veritex Bank Championship for the biggest win of his career.
-And on the Symetra Tour Bailey Tardy, who missed earning her LPGA Tour card by $343 last season, took home the Copper Rock Championship, taking a big step in the direction of the big tour come next season.
Who came up just short?
Jessica Korda held a three-shot lead with 12 holes to play. Six holes later she trailed by three as Henderson seized control of the event.
“The wind kept dropping and then coming back up and we just — it just wasn’t happening,” she said after the round. “I don’t know. I couldn’t make anything happen today.
“You know, s— happens,” she added with a smile.
The South African team of Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen fell just short at the Zurich, inspiring this impressive runner-up stat from Justin Ray:
What can a photo teach us?
To the untrained eye, it was a blurry photo of a goateed man on crutches.
But there was so much more to learn from Tiger Woods’ Instagram post on Saturday. These seven things, for starters:
1. He’s upright.
Remember the dramatic photos from Woods’ crash? Remember just how dire things felt in that moment? The 24/7 cable news coverage? The red-and-black tribute on Tour that weekend? Let’s not take for granted the simple fact that Woods is alive and well, because it hardly felt like a guarantee.
2. His left leg looks good.
It looks skinny, but Woods has always taken grief for his skinny legs, even when he wasn’t confined to a hospital bed. But one of those original rumors was the fear that Woods had broken both of his legs. That’s clearly not the case.
3. There’s no PR agency involved here.
At least, not a particularly uptight one. I think it’s a good sign that this photo looks like it was taken with a potato phone. It suggests that whoever took it wasn’t overly concerned with how Woods looked, which suggests they were comfortable with how Woods actually did look, which suggests Woods is in fact doing fairly well! Lots of suggesting, but it’s encouraging.
4. Bugs is keeping him company.
That’s Woods’ dog Bugs, a Border Collie-Springer Spaniel mix, who has been around since at least Christmas Eve of 2015, when he was introduced to the world:
Bugs is, apparently, a well-trained dog by now. And Tiger’s rehab partner. (Sidenote: The Woods fam has a thing for dogs with cartoon names. He and now ex-wife Elin Nordegren initially got dogs named Taz and Yogi. More recently Woods got Bugs and Lola. Anyway, back to the list.)
5. He’s got golf on the mind.
Backyard golf, specifically. Google Earthers spotted Woods’ backyard course project a couple weeks ago, and Woods all but confirmed it here in the caption:
“My course is coming along faster than I am,” he wrote with a smile emoji.
The course in question is comprised of a several greens and short game areas and is referred to on his TGR website as the Jupiter Island Practice Facility, which has always cracked me up. The website shows that the facility used to consist of four practice greens and allowed golfers to hit any type of shot under 150 yards. From the description:
The facility also has a “wedge range,” where shots of 85 to 145 yards can be repeated to improve distance control from the fairway and rough. There are four putting greens that can be used as different par-3 short courses to practice scoring.
Charlie needs somewhere to practice, after all. Speaking of which…
6. Charlie’s career marches on.
Another photo of Woods surfaced over the weekend that we won’t share here just because Woods, riding in a cart driven by girlfriend Erica Herman, attending his son Charlie’s golf tournament, looked less than pleased that his presence was being documented. But the fact that he was at a tournament said promising things about his mobility and his health.
7. Tiger hasn’t missed arm day.
We know crutching around can make your arms stronger, but a close look at the pipes suggests that Woods has been in the gym working on his upper body. Another encouraging sign that he’s looking forward.
This all squares with what Rory McIlroy said after visiting Woods at home in March.
“I spent a couple hours with him, which was nice. It was good to see him,” McIlroy said. He was also encouraged by Woods’ condition, describing him as in “decent spirits,” which was a good sight to see given the severity of the accident.
“When you hear of these things and you look at the car and you see the crash, it’s like, you think he’s going to be in a hospital bed for six months,” McIlroy said at the Masters. “But he was actually doing better than that.”
McIlroy even teased the idea of Woods returning to the Masters.
“Broken bones heal, and he’s just got to take it step by step,” McIlroy said. “But I know he’d love to be here, and I’m sure he’s going to put everything he has into trying to be ready to play here next year.”
I’ll leave the speculation to you, but I’m encouraged based on everything we’ve seen here that Woods is on the road to recovery.
WHAT WE’RE WATCHING
A popularity contest.
Last Tuesday, when word of the Tour’s Player Impact Program reached the general public, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay were the first top pros to react to reporters. The gist of their commentary was basically, “Meh.”
After hearing their thoughts, I couldn’t help but feel like that made sense. These guys already make plenty of money. Would they really change their habits for a few extra bucks?
But then a couple days later I remembered that we’re talking about more than “a few extra bucks,” and I was reminded that yes, they will change behavior for specifically that reason. Marc Leishman said he’d already re-evaluated his social media strategy. Jon Rahm said he’d been considering how to get himself out there more. Justin Rose said he expected the move would facilitate more “content creation” from players.
Arguably the most tangible thing that happened last week in response to the PIP was Brooks Koepka challenging Barstool founder Dave Portnoy to a lefty competition for a $250,000 charitable donation.
Sure, if you continued to follow along the back-and-forth banter became a bit… forced. But you can see why Koepka would do it. The showdown promises to be entertaining, he’ll showcase a different side of himself and he’ll raise his profile in the eyes of Barstool’s sizable fanbase. That could help guarantee a higher payout at the end of the year.
So who do we expect to find on this year-end list? SEO specialists Love UX compiled a bunch of information on PGA Tour pros and their online footprints. You can read their entire report here. But let’s pore over a couple interesting findings:
-It’s tough for Google to determine the difference between searches for people of the same name, which means Adam Scott might benefit from users searching for Adam Scott the actor, of Parks and Rec fame. Matt Jones may benefit to a lesser extent from the same effect.
-Of the top 10 most-Googled golfers, five (Tiger Woods, Adam Scott, Rory McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Jordan Spieth) are outside the top 10 in golf’s official world ranking.
-In combined audience between Twitter and Instagram, the top four might look exactly how you expect: Woods, McIlroy, Spieth, Rickie Fowler. But the next couple might surprise you: No. 5 Bubba Watson and No. 6 Ian Poulter have built up sizable followings on both platforms.
–Stewart Cink, the OG of golf Twitter, certainly has the highest ratio of Twitter to Instagram followers: He still has 929,000 followers on Twitter vs. just 13,000 followers on Instagram. His career renaissance should help both numbers.
-As a loose prediction of who is most likely to benefit from the year-end prize, Love UX combined its metrics and came up with this list:
- Tiger Woods
- Rory McIlroy
- Jordan Spieth
- Rickie Fowler
- Bubba Watson
- Ian Poulter
- Dustin Johnson
- Phil Mickelson
- Justin Thomas
- Justin Rose
Can Koepka’s extra efforts jump him up the charts? Can world No. 3 Jon Rahm up his name recognition? Can Adam Scott can ride that Hollywood SEO juice to a healthy payday? Time will tell in this strange new world.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
The mullet stays.
Team Mullet — Cameron Smith and Marc Leishman, that is — took home the victory on Sunday. One subplot of their win was that Smith had promised his girlfriend that if he won, he’d clean up his haircut.
“I don’t know, I told the missus that I would cut it if I won, but I don’t know, it’s been, I mean everyone loves it,” he said before the tournament.
After the win he was even more certain: The hair is staying. Ironically, the win seemed to cement the cut, even though he’d promised the opposite.
“I will have to apologize to my girlfriend, it’s not going away. I mean, it’s — I feel like it’s part of me now,” he said. So that’s that.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
The sun rose before 6 a.m. this morning, which means we’re working with well over 14 hours of daylight at this point. I’m plotting trips to Gold Mountain and Gamble Sands, two bucket-list Washington courses. I’ll keep you guys posted.
Three things to watch this week.
1. Dustin Johnson’s putter.
He’s still No. 1 in the world by a healthy margin. But a stretch of four tournaments without a top-25 (including an MC at the Masters) was rather strange. Johnson looked strong with a new putter in hand at the RBC, where he rallied to a T13 finish. But how will he play at the Valspar this weekend?
2. Lydia Ko’s bounceback.
She went win-MC the last two weeks, which could mean Lydia Ko is primed for a comeback week at the HSBC Women’s World Championship in Singapore. Or it means she’s still experiencing a victory hangover. Either way, it’ll be intriguing to see.
3. Paul Casey, three-peat hunter.
Paul Casey won the 2018 and 2019 Valspar Championships before the 2020 edition was canceled. Now he’s back — and at 25-1 he’s among the favorites to win again. It’s pretty rare that we get professional golfers successfully defending their titles on Tour. How often does it happen three years in a row? Well, not very often. Unless you’re Tiger Woods:
You’re all back-to-back-to-back winners in my eyes.
We’ll see you next week!