Tiger Woods’ Masters plans, Scheffler’s secret, Kisner’s attitude | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re not using spices on our food this week in honor of ultimate late bloomer and World No. 53 Mr. Richard Bland. Let’s get to it!
FIRST ON THE TEE
Something you might have missed.
Scottie Scheffler didn’t explicitly call it his secret to success, but he didn’t have to. Scheffler beat Kevin Kisner in the finals of this weekend’s WGC-Match Play to climb to No. 1 in the world. He has now won three of his last five tournaments. How? At every turn, he has emphasized that the key to his success is something simple but elusive: gratitude.
What does that mean in practice? It means that the World No. 1 is still grateful he was to be able to attend this event (and listen to Rory McIlroy‘s contact on the driving range) in 2016 as a fan.
“The tickets were pretty hard to come by so we were pretty fortunate just to come out here and watch,” he remembered over the weekend.
It means that for Scheffler, the dream was never being World No. 1. As he said Sunday night, he never got this far in his dreams. (An incredibly corny line that he delivered so earnestly I choked up just watching.) The goal was just to be on Tour. To play golf for a living. That was the dream.
“I grew up wearing long pants to go practice because I wanted to be a professional golfer,” he said. “The rankings never really crossed my mind. It was always just about being out here and competing.”
And it means that even with this success, Scheffler is trying his darnedest not to ratchet up his own expectations.
“Maybe y’all’s expectations of me [will change],” he told reporters Sunday night. “I don’t place too many expectations on myself. Like I said, I just like being out here and competing. I’m fortunate to have the opportunity to do that, and I look forward to doing it as long as I can.”
Simple. Grateful. And really good at golf. The recipe seems be working for Scheffler.
Who won the week?
Scottie Scheffler, World No. 1
If it seems like a shock that Scheffler is now the top-ranked male golfer in the world, that’s fair. After all, we typically get some time to get used to the idea that a golfer is going to take over the top spot; they’ll spend some time ascending from No. 3 up to No. 2, and so on.
Not Scheffler! He entered the top 10 on Super Bowl Sunday, improved to No. 5 with a win at the Arnold Palmer Invitational and then leapfrogged Patrick Cantlay, Viktor Hovland, Collin Morikawa and Jon Rahm to take over the top spot.
For a couple years now we’ve been musing on Hovland and Morikawa as young guns likely to make a charge for the top spot. We missed the boat on Scheffler, who is 25 years old (Morikawa is also 25; Hovland is 24) because he didn’t come straight from college, because his game wasn’t jaw-dropping and possibly also because he looks like he might fall over every time he hits a golf ball. But now he’s done it; Scheffler has become the first of his generation to climb the mountaintop.
He joins some elite company. The list of men’s World No. 1s this millennium is relatively short:
Once the confetti gets cleared, the inevitable next question is how long Scheffler can maintain his position. Of that list, Thomas has held the title the shortest (five weeks total). Scheffler will be guaranteed at least two weeks; he can’t be overtaken at this week’s Valero Texas Open. But once the Masters hits, it’s open season once again. After all, check out how close the standings are:
8.29 avg. pts — Scottie Scheffler
8.22 — Jon Rahm
7.81 — Collin Morikawa
7.58 — Viktor Hovland
7.05 — Patrick Cantlay
This is hardly a math column but I know enough to know that a Masters win would shake those rankings up pretty significantly. In other words: Enjoy it while you can, Scottie!
An LPGA rookie sensation
Nineteen-year-old Thai golfer Atthaya Thitikul entered the final round at the JTBC Classic trailing by six. Then she fired the best round of the week, an eight-under 64, to post the clubhouse lead. When Nanna Koerstz Madsen three-putted 18, the two went into a playoff, and Thitikul took the title.
With the win, Thitikul becomes the youngest LPGA Tour winner since 18-year-old Brooke Henderson took down the Cambia Portland Classic in 2016. We’re keenly aware of these LPGA teen sensations — think Lydia Ko, who ascended to No. 1 in the world at 17 — but they don’t actually come along as often as we might think.
Scheffler wasn’t the only grateful winner on Sunday.
“It’s just crazy in my mind right now,” Thitikul said. “I cannot believe that I became an LPGA winner.”
My friend Mitch
Celebrate your Ws!
So close, and yet…
Keegan Bradley, viral sensation
It was the video snippet that launched 1,000 quote tweets. Oh yeah, plus a war of words between a putting method and Paige Spiranac. What a world. But Keegan Bradley going through his Aimpoint progressions and ultimately lipping out a short putt was exactly the genre of video that is bound to strike a nerve with golf fans who wish the whole thing just went a little bit quicker.
An incredible [checks notes] 1.7 million people on Twitter had watched the video as of this posting. But wait! Bradley struck back, literally, with one of the most ridiculous shots I’ve ever seen on the PGA Tour, a stinger-slice through the trees at No. 18 that trickled up to three feet and set up a match-tying birdie.
It immediately went into the Pantheon of “Best Random Golf Shots” along with, well, I’m not sure, which is kind of the point. The others are so random we probably don’t remember them.
So why is Bradley in the “Almost-Winners” camp? There are levels to this one. He went 0-1-2 this week, extending his “winless” streak at the WGC-Match Play to 15 matches, dating back a decade. He’s now 0-9-6 in those matches. Two ties feels like progress, though — right?
An emotional Ben Martin
Professional golf involves a significant amount of emotional suppression. Ben Martin missed a short putt to get into a playoff in the Dominican Republic on Sunday — and then it all came pouring out.
Jin Young Ko, again
She didn’t win. But after opening with a first-round 65 to take the lead at Aviara, here’s what World No. 1 Jin Young Ko said:
“My swing and putting, not bad, but not good.”
How’s that for high expectations? Ko finished T4, which means that in her last nine events she has won five times and finished no worse than T6 in any other event. Her good days are obviously special; her level of play on “bad days” is arguably more impressive.
Kevin Kisner’s attitude
Kisner came into the WGC-Match Play with a clear directive.
“Yeah, just trying to be really annoying,” he said after winning his first match on Wednesday. “When you’re really annoying it can get under their skin.”
He kept the peskiness — and terrific quotes — up all week.
After his match with Justin Thomas: “He’s got plenty of money in the bank and I’m not too concerned with his well-being.”
After winning his match against Adam Scott despite going three down with four to play: “It gets tiring whenever you’re in the fairway and on the green every time and you hoop a few putts. They get sick of that quickly.”
Before his final match with Scottie Scheffler: “I want to keep staying annoying out there and see what happens.”
You get the idea. Kisner loves Austin Country Club. He loves match play. He loves being, as he says, a 5’10, 160-pound underdog. And we love watching him be all of the above.
Maybe next week.
Your golf brackets
It felt like there was a real push to make WGC-Match Play brackets a real “thing” for a few years. But unlike March Madness, everyone’s brackets flamed out spectacularly because of the randomness of match play and the tight dispersion in talent. In other words, there’s nothing particularly “shocking” about a 64 seed beating a No. 1. This year, Richard Bland and the gang made sure that if you did fill out a bracket, it was probably busted before you left pool play.
Bryson DeChambeau’s reappearance
He literally was a not-winner this week, going 0-2-1 in his return to competitive golf. Bryson DeChambeau hadn’t teed it up since his WD from the Saudi International, and he looked rusty in his return, hitting it all over the map at Austin Country Club. That’s no big deal in and of itself; plenty of great players didn’t advance through pool play. But it will be interesting to see how DeChambeau looks at the Valero this week as he tries to ramp up and push through injuries in time to rebound for the Masters.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
Tiger Woods’ comeback plans.
We’re typically on high alert when it comes to Tiger Woods and whether he is or isn’t playing in big-time events. Speculation on Woods’ various returns from various hiatuses, injury and otherwise, predates my time in this industry. But his potential return at this year’s Masters has snuck up on us a bit.
During his most recent public appearance at the Genesis, Woods downplayed his readiness for any PGA Tour-level competition. But he also didn’t rule it out. At the risk of bringing myself into this, I thought there might be some daylight where Woods himself was considering a return at Augusta National. And when all the [gestures generally] Phil Mickelson stuff happened, I floated the idea that both Woods and Mickelson might resurface together at the Masters.
I’d encourage you to browse the replies to see how unrealistic that seemed to people a month ago. As it turns out, I was very wrong about the Mickelson bit. I may prove to be wrong about the Woods bit, too. But all indications suggest that he’s doing his best to get ready for Augusta. What does that look like?
Largely rumors, anonymous sources and Zapruder-style videos. But that doesn’t mean it’s untrue.
This one, capturing Woods at Medalist, made the rounds:
But I’m not sure that shows us much we didn’t know already. The question wasn’t whether he could play at Medalist. The question was whether he’d deem himself tournament-ready for walking Augusta National.
Golf Channel’s Todd Lewis added that he believed Woods “will exhaust every effort” to play.
SiriusXM’s Taylor Zarzour said on PGA Tour Radio Florida sources told him Woods and his are planning to head to Augusta this week to test out his ability to play.
The Fried Egg added to the reports that Woods’ caddie Joe LaCava has been seen in Florida and that the pair have been walking Medalist this week.
Where does this leave us? The most likely current scenario is that Woods himself doesn’t even know whether or not he’s playing. He’ll test the waters. He’ll see what it’s like to walk Augusta National. And he’ll play if he thinks he can contend. It’s fairly simple but endlessly intriguing. By the time you read this, more information will likely be available.
Three things to watch this week.
1. First major of the year!
The Chevron Championship is returning to Mission Hills for the final time. That means one last chance to appreciate a dynamic setting for a dynamic tournament. Here’s hoping the event comes down to a properly dramatic conclusion on the risk-reward par-5 18th.
2. A sneaky-stacked Valero Texas Open field
Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, the defending Masters champ Hideki Matsuyama himself, plus an on-the-mend Bryson DeChambeau are all playing in San Antonio this week. Keep an eye on San Antonio resident Abraham Ancer, too…
3. The Drop Zone. This week’s podcast was particularly fun, recapping the Match Play and introducing a few new segments. Plus we’ve got a special guest coming later this week! You can click the embed below or find it on Apple Podcasts or Spotify.