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Monday Finish: Tiger’s health, Spieth’s blunder and 10 surprising sights from the Hero

Tiger Woods served as tournament host — and he stole the show, too.

Welcome to the Monday Finish, where we’re ordering red blade collars for everyone on our Christmas list.

I spent much of this week down in the Bahamas for the Hero World Challenge, and what began as the chillest event on the PGA Tour turned in some delightful chaos by week’s end. If a typical week on Tour is a box of Lucky Charms, the Hero is just the marshmallows. Team Tiger sifted through the best available players, put on a nice December tournament and only mostly stole the show himself. Here are 10 things I saw, heard and smelled from Albany. Yes, that’s just “Albany.” The “Golf Club” part is implied.

(And here, as an accompanying listen, is a podcast in which Sean Zak interrogates me about my time on the ground, on Apple or Spotify🙂

1. Tiger’s arms

There was plenty of anticipation for Tiger Woods to enter the media center on Tuesday at 9 a.m. local time. How would he look? How would he walk? What would he say? But the very first impression when he walked through the door was biceps-related. Every day has clearly been arms day. I mean, check out the difference from this year’s Hero World Challenge compared to the 2020 Masters:

That’s going from strong to like, whoa. Woods has arms the size of most Tour pros’ thighs. What does it mean? Partly it’s just a curiosity. But it also speaks to the fact that Woods has clearly been interested in getting better, and stronger, and recovering however he can. It means he’s been in the gym for months, even though the work he can do on his legs is obviously restricted. It means he’s been doing a lot of crutching.

“I built a really nice house, but I didn’t realize how big it was until you start putting crutches on,” Woods said with a grin. “Yeah, there were times where I had to take breaks, but I’ll tell you what, though, there’s a point in time where my triceps got pretty jacked, so that was a lot of fun.”

The implication there is that his arms have now begun to shrink in size. I don’t know if that’s humble-bragging or just stated fact, but it’s clear there’s been more than Call of Duty and chipping contests going on in the Woods household this year.

2. Tiger’s swing

Last Sunday the golf world was whipped into a collective frenzy at the sight of Woods hitting a single golf shot. On Monday the same golf world was subdued by Woods’ own words, suggesting just how far away he was from returning to competition. Some of the headlines that emerged essentially suggested that Woods was done. On Tuesday he reiterated caution, slow progress, patience, etc. — but the same day he was spotted at the back of the range, sending 3-woods. The golf world returned to a state of frenzy. Not only would Woods be coming back, he may well win next year’s Masters, etc.

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Unsurprisingly, the truth lies somewhere in the middle. Woods is both further along than we thought at the beginning of last week and not as far along as short swing highlights would lead you to believe. The good news is he’s hitting every club in the bag, he’s gaining speed and the very presence of the best golfers in the world served as inspiration; Woods’ range sessions this week were his most aggressive and comprehensive yet.

The reason for caution is that we should listen to Woods himself when he says he’s not yet halfway back to where he needs to be. And we’d do well to remember that social media videos are highlight reels, too. They didn’t show Woods resting between every few shots, short on endurance. They didn’t portray the fact that Woods is only swinging at something like 80 percent of his typical game speed. They didn’t show that off-camera, he runs out of walking endurance pretty darn fast.

Two things can be true at once: Woods can play in next week’s PNC Championship with his son Charlie and he can also be pretty far from competition-ready. Progress, though. Big-time progress.

3. Morikawa’s delayed coronation

Sunday’s finale was filled with strangeness, but the biggest-picture strangeness involved Collin Morikawa, who began the day with a five-shot lead. This was promising to be a big week for the 24-year-old; he’d gotten engaged, played some terrific golf and was on the brink of snagging the title of World No. 1 for the first time in his career. All he’d have to do would be to close out a five-shot lead. No problem, right?

But when things start going wrong here, Albany can turn into a bit of a house of mirrors. Consider that Daniel Berger, Abraham Ancer and Rory McIlroy held the first-round lead and finished T7, T14 and 18th, respectively. Consider that Bryson DeChambeau held the 36-hole lead and finished T14, too. The lead is hardly a guarantee here — it’s just a spotlight for when decidedly weird stuff begins to happen. That was the case with Morikawa, whose lead was five shots until he lost a golf ball at No. 4. Then, staring down a mudball in the fairway at No. 6, he pulled 3-wood, took a rip and watched it hook left — only to disappear again.

Suddenly his five-shot lead wasn’t just shrinking; it was gone. By day’s end, the coronation would be officially rescheduled. The title of World No. 1 will have to wait until 2022. In the meantime Sam Burns, who had been captaining the chase pack behind Morikawa, was suddenly the solo leader. But we know what happens to leaders…

4. The six-chip debacle

This fall, Sam Burns has been playing like one of the hottest players in the world. How? A pretty lethal combination of doing everything well. Off the tee he’s No. 15 in strokes gained. Approaching the green he’s even better at No. 4. His strokes gained numbers around and on the green are less remarkable (62nd and 96th) but they’re still better than Tour average. And so it made sense that he would be the one to close out the fall season with a victory.

He was in position to do just that as he stared down an eagle chip from the left side of the 14th green on Sunday. His tee shot had been wayward but left him with plenty of green to work with; the only problem was the awkward lie. Plus there was a tricky slope lurking just past the flagstick…

Sure enough, Burns’ chip came out low and hot. It skittered past the hole and down the hill, leaving an awkward short-sided pitch shot. Burns tried to putt it up the slope first with a fairway wood, but his attempt lacked energy, reached the green and then turned around and came back to his feet. He tried a similar bump-and-run play up the hill again — but this time it didn’t even make it as far before trundling back towards him. One more try with the fairway wood yielded the same result. Burns was going full implosion.

Now he was hitting his sixth shot on a hole where much of the field was making eagle and birdie. This time he selected wedge, chopped it into the bank and watched it come up short yet again. The only difference was this one was short enough that it never built up momentum to come all the way back down the slope again. Instead it stopped on the fringe, and from there Burns pulled putter and holed it for a nightmarish triple-bogey 7. One drive. Six shots from around the green. Zero shots from on the green. Tournament over.

5. Spieth, Stenson and the wrong tee

By now there’s a good chance you’ve seen that Jordan Spieth and Henrik Stenson each incurred two-shot penalties for playing from the 17th tee as they played the ninth hole on Sunday. The actual results of the penalty were likely immaterial — the two were destined for 19th and 20th place regardless — but their reaction in a brief press appearance afterwards was good-natured and hilarious.

Stenson began the session in wonderful deadpan, explaining that they’d walked to the tee that had been used all week for No. 9 and teed off without noticing that it had been repurposed at No. 17 for the final round.

“We kept our heads down after finishing out on hole No. 8 and walked to the 9th tee box like we did on Wednesday, Thursday, Friday, Saturday and put the ball down and hit some beautiful tee shots. Then when we went down to the hole, went down to the balls, the rules official said, did you hit off the right tee box? And then we looked back and we saw that there was another one forward and left. So obviously they switched things around and put 17 on the 9th tee box today and 9 was in a different place and we didn’t pay attention being first out and just motoring along. Yes, it was just go back and reload. It was only two shots each, so it wasn’t a big deal. Then we just kind of carried on from there.”

Spieth added that he hoped for mercy given the low-key nature of the tournament — but he was swiftly corrected.

“I actually didn’t think we were going to get penalized because it’s a charity event, but then I realized there’s world ranking involved and all that,” he said.

Stenson had another potential solution in mind.

“My question was if we could just finish 19th and 20th and leave after 9, but that wasn’t an option, either,” he said.

Asked if he thought it was an easy mistake to make, Stenson flipped the question back on the reporter.

“I’m a little offended by that because then you think I’m really stupid. So it’s like, I think it was fairly easy to make.”

Spieth then admitted the wrong tee bit was just one dysfunctional part of their teeing experience.

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“We got up there, I teed it up first and it wasn’t my tee, so [his caddie] Michael told me it’s not my tee. Then Henrik hit. Then I teed up too far in front [of the tee marker] and he told me to scoot back. So all in all we were so focused on where we were teeing off,” Spieth said.

Stenson shook his head.

“Now you’re really, you’ve just spoiled the whole thing,” he said. “Like, look at these guys, they don’t know who’s going to hit. Once they figured out who’s hitting, one guy’s trying to tee up in front and then they both hit from the wrong tee box. It’s like, I guess we got what we deserved.”

Then he wrapped up the session.

“Let’s just leave it. A little note on the tee box would have been helpful, and I will make sure I tee it up on the right tee box in the future because I don’t think I’ve ever done this before. Hopefully, you haven’t either. Have a nice Christmas everyone and we’ll see you in the new year.”

With that, they were off. Everyone was chuckling. And they each left with a fine consolation prize, too: Spieth earned $100,000 for last place, while Stenson earned $101,000 for 19th.

If you’re going to play from the wrong tee, not a bad time to do it.

6. One curious rule

Another fascinating nugget from the week came, ironically, with Jordan Spieth’s caddie Michael Greller wondering about a potential rules violation.

On Friday morning, Spieth was finishing pre-round preparations on the putting green. PGA Tour media official Jack Ryan and a scoring official stood behind the tee and were musing about how far it was to carry the waste area on the right.

The official asked Greller how far it was to carry.

“Is there some rule where if I tell you, I get in trouble?” Greller responded.

“No,” the official responded. “In fact, you could shoot it with a laser right now and it wouldn’t matter.”

I hadn’t quite thought about that. He explained further: distance-measuring devices are barred from PGA Tour competitions, but only during actual rounds. A caddie could shoot distances pre-round with a laser and not be penalized. In fact, a caddie could stand on the first tee at the beginning of the round and gather information before their player began his round. An intriguing loophole.

The official pointed out that the Tour wouldn’t allow caddies to walk inside the ropes with other groups in the morning before an afternoon tee time, say, to get distances. But I could see Greller’s wheels turning as he considered the possibilities anyway.

7. Worst putt ever?

After a ho-hum opening-round six-under 66, Rory McIlroy’s week really took a turn for the worse. He finished 18th in a 20-player field and no single shot better summed up that futility than this one:

Typically when someone putts off a green there’s a slow trickle involved — and a moment of, “Oh, no.” Not this one. McIlroy zoomed this thing off a cliff. Never a doubt.

8. Tiger’s yacht cart

When photos emerged from Woods hitting balls on Sunday I noticed that his golf cart said “PRIVACY” on the side. I was immediately intrigued. Not only is Woods’ yacht named Privacy — his golf cart is, too?

But I was quickly corrected and educated. I’d missed the “T/T” in front of the type on the cart, which means “Tender To.” So the cart is actually serving the purpose that any support vehicle would to a yacht. Sometimes that would mean a dinghy used to get to your boat. In this case it’s a golf cart. This are the details of life in the yacht world, folks.

9. More golf is coming!

On Thursday morning I got briefed on the details of PGA Tour Live’s move to ESPN+, and if you’re a big Tour fan this was exclusively good news. I promise I have zero incentive to praise this venture other than to say I’m excited at the possibilities of more golf, more people working on that golf, a more comprehensive look at the tournament and all for a lower price. A few bullet points:

-4,300 hours of coverage (up from just over 1,000)

-Available to the 17.1 million subscribers of ESPN+

-Just $6.99/month, down from $9.99

-A “Main Feed” that operates pretty much like a typical broadcast, cutting between holes and groups, rather than just one marquee threesome (though that will be available too).

-Talent including Stuart Appleby, who made a couple iconic Golf Channel appearances last winter.

You can read more details here and get ahead of the game by getting ESPN+ here. This feels like a concrete step towards a better viewer experience. Now let’s hope they deliver on these promises!

10. Hovland’s sand escape

Viktor Hovland’s final round was spectacular. His eagle-eagle-birdie run at 14-15-16 was especially spectacular. But the biggest potential turning point came at No. 17, where Hovland moved some sand from the edge of the green by his ball before rolling a birdie putt. NBC reported that PGA Tour rules officials were in television trucks reviewing’s Hovland’s sand-moving, because according to rule 13.1c, you can move sand or loose soil on the green but not off the green.

Crisis averted! Hovland had apparently only removed sand from on the green itself — but it was an intriguing rules lesson nonetheless. I stored it away with “you can use your rangefinder on the first tee” as intriguing golf world miscellany. Hovland closed things out with two bogeys, doing exactly what he needed to secure the win and add to his legend as the Resort Prince, with wins in Playa del Carmen, Puerto Rico and the Bahamas but none in the mainland U.S.

For the entire field, life was good on island time.