Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re putting our red shirts and black pants back in the bottom drawer — but not back in the attic. Let’s get to it!
FIRST GROUP OUT
Tiger’s try-hard legacy.
What do Tiger Woods, Jon Rahm and Max Homa have in common?
The three stars of this week’s Genesis Invitational are all committed, unapologetic try-hards. There’s no attempt to be too cool for school. No deflection. No denial. All three care very much about how they do when they enter a golf tournament. They’re all in. And as a viewer, that makes for exponentially better golf viewing.
It’s not hard to trace the line from Woods to his disciples. On Sunday night, minutes after Woods had handed him the Genesis Invitational trophy, Rahm was asked what parts of Woods’ approach he admired.
“Admire?” he echoed. “All of it. Every single aspect of his game and mentality.”
Homa, also a lifelong Tiger fanatic, has doubled down on trying in recent years. He’s been open about how hard he works, how much it means and how bad he wants it. He has reaped the rewards, too; working smarter and harder has transformed him into one of the best golfers in the world. After coming up just shy on Sunday, he gave a stirring press conference:
Being a try-hard has always been one of the keys to Woods’ popularity. The way he has cared so much — fist-pumps, club-slams, cries of happiness, curses of rage — gave us permission to emotionally invest, too. I was there on Sunday as Rahm and Homa walked to the first tee, laser-focused on the task at hand, staring directly forward, locked in. Plenty of people on site and around the world were emotionally invested in Rahm vs. Homa on Sunday, and together they delivered a hell of a show.
It was nice to have Woods there to see it.
Who won the week?
Jon Rahm shot 17 under par, won for the third time on the PGA Tour in 2023 and finally completed the climb to World No. 1. If golf tournaments are campsites, Rahm is a roaming grizzly here to steal your food, trample your tent and remind you there’s absolutely nothing you can do about it.
Thorbjorn Oleson climbed back into the top 100 in the world with a four-stroke win at the Thailand Classic, part of the DP World Tour’s Asian Swing. Andy Ogletree won the International Series event in Qatar, his second win in five starts on the Asian Tour, ascending from No. 1714 in the world to 350.
Max Homa’s runner-up finish got him to a career-best No. 8 in the world. He also saved $400,000 by getting up and down for par on the 18th hole Sunday. More on that in a moment.
Patrick Cantlay was the bronze medalist in L.A.; he played the first 11 holes in five under par on Sunday before two late bogeys doomed his chances. With the result, he leapfrogged Cameron Smith into the No. 4 spot in the world.
Golf’s current Big 3 is comprised of Rahm, Scottie Scheffler and Rory McIlroy. While Scheffler got his win at Phoenix and Rahm got his at Riviera, McIlroy faded on the weekend to a T29 finish. Pair that with last week’s T32 and it’s the first time since last March that he’s logged back-to-back starts without a top 10. Is there anything to worry about? Nah. Not yet. It’s only been two PGA Tour starts since his last victory, after all. It’s just that the designated events are, in part, McIlroy’s idea. Golf fans are eager to see him contend for one.
Further down the board, the missed-cut list at the Genesis included an all-star squad of Matthew Fitzpatrick, Jordan Spieth, Hideki Matsuyama, Kevin Kisner, Keegan Bradley, Sam Burns and Billy Horschel. Those guys are looking for brighter days ahead, too.
A few notes on the week in cash:
– Rahm has earned $9.4 million since the start of 2023.
– He has never earned more than $7.7 million in an entire season.
– Homa’s runner-up finish earned him $2.18 million.
– Excluding the FedEx Cup, that’s the biggest check of his career.
– It’s more than any of his five victories, including the $1.674 million he earned from winning this event in 2021.
– It’s. February.
In other words, PGA Tour players who perform well in big-time events will be handsomely rewarded this season. Add in the PIP, the FedEx Cup, endorsement deals and appearance fees and you can get to a pretty impressive number.
The money was always going to increase thanks to the Tour’s new TV deal, but there’s no question the imminent threat of LIV forced the Tour to act more swiftly and aggressively.
LIV will pay its winner at this week’s Mayakoba event $4 million, a number that exceeds Rahm’s $3.6 million check from this weekend. And a team pool allows each player to earn as much as $750,000 if their team wins. So I’m certainly not suggesting LIV players will be going hungry anytime soon — just that there seems to be a lot of money kicking around the system at the moment. Speaking of which…
With its season kicking off this week at Mayakoba, LIV has finally finalized its rosters for the upcoming year. There has been some shuffling — Talor Gooch replaced on the Aces by Peter Uihlein! — but most of the offseason attention was focused on the identities of the six signees. Commissioner Greg Norman had teased the idea of several new recruits coming from inside the top 20 in the world. That hasn’t panned out.
Here’s the list of six new pros:
Thomas Pieters (World No. 35)
Mito Pereira (No. 50)
Dean Burmester (No. 63)
Sebastian Munoz (No. 98)
Brendan Steele (No. 124)
Danny Lee (No. 267)
Why no new big-time stars? It’s likely a combination of factors. The PGA Tour’s response helped stem the tide of pros leaving, for one thing. LIV’s massive offers of guaranteed money were enough to lure its initial batch of stars, but those payouts basically included a risk bonus — an extra cash boost for those willing to absorb the risk that came with making the jump. That level of payment wasn’t going to last forever.
Then there’s the simple fact that if a star was interested in going to LIV, he likely already would have been offered and accepted. Until the calculus changes again, I think we now know where most pros stand. Now it’s time for what PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan called “product vs. product.”
It’s not exactly strength vs. strength, however. The PGA Tour heads to Florida for the weakened Honda Classic, while LIV heads to resort destination Mayakoba, where it’s unlikely the season debut will be overflowing with fans. In other words, we’ll need more than this week to see how it goes. Still, it’ll be interesting to see where eyeballs and interest end up.
THE TIGER EFFECT
He’s back and bringing people with him.
Last year Tiger Woods only played major championships; those were hot tickets regardless of his presence. This week, on the other hand, was our first reminder since 2020 of the strength of Woods’ gravitational pull. Weekend tickets for Riviera sold out by Saturday. And because I had a few friends looking to get Sunday tickets, we were monitoring secondhand markets all day Saturday. The cheapest options hovered around $200, dipped to $140 for a bit and spiked to $280 at one point Sunday morning. Hardly scientific, but we can draw one conclusion: a lot of people wanted to get to the golf course.
Early TV returns suggest Woods’ return (plus, perhaps, a dose of designated status?) had quite the effect, too: Per Sports Media Watch, Thursday on Golf Channel averaged 959,000 viewers, a significant increase over just under 400,000 in the same window last season.
3 things to watch this week.
1. Golf…on Netflix!
An earnest aside: It was really fun and very flattering talking to some new fans of the Netflix show, Full Swing, at the Genesis. Some of your favorite golfers are in it and yes, I’m in there too.
2. LIV vs. the PGA Tour, 2023 edition.
Look, I’m not saying you have to watch any golf at all this week. The PGA Tour’s new designated events should mean that you, as a fan, can take a deep breath on weeks like this, although if you’re a LIV fan you’re likely eager to check out the new product. Regardless, with the Tour on a down week and LIV making its season debut at a former Tour site, there’s plenty to monitor for discussion later on.
3. Public golf — in L.A.!
Take that, Malcolm Gladwell: A couple GOLF staffers taking on three L.A. nine-holers in one soggy day:
We’ll see you next week!
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