East Lake complaints, Hovland’s message, coaching changes | Monday Finish
Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where we’re Venmo-requesting Viktor Hovland $1 million — just in case he’s in a giving mood. Let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
Is the Tour Championship actually broken?
The Tour Championship format is not perfect. I would like that on the record. It’s very weird converting FedEx Cup points into strokes before the start of a PGA Tour event. That’s not how this currency works. Mulligans cannot be purchased. Nothing can be converted to strokes. And the only thing strokes convert to is money — and that only comes after four rounds. This format can be confusing, too, when the guy who shoots the lowest score for the week doesn’t necessarily win. That’s not very golf. So yeah, I understand your objections.
But here’s my hot take on the matter: I … actually don’t think it’s that bad.
When Scottie Scheffler birdied three of the first six holes on Thursday to open up a five-shot lead, you could feel the inevitability of a Scheffler blowout win looming. Sure, he’d be a fitting, deserving champion. But it wouldn’t exactly be appointment viewing if he was up a touchdown and just held on for the last three rounds.
The moment highlighted the difficulty of designing the perfect Tour Championship. If you give the No. 1 seed too great an advantage, he’ll keep playing the terrific golf that got him there and run away from the field, leaving zero narrative tension in his wake.
But what if the Tour Championship was just winner-take-all? Then you’d introduce the possibility of, say, Adam Schenk lifting the trophy. I’d be thrilled for Schenk, but he wouldn’t necessarily feel like a proper season-long champ.
This format settles somewhere in the middle. Scheffler didn’t run away with the trophy. Far from it! He made triple bogey on No. 15, lost his lead before Thursday was done and wound up T6 by week’s end, with his four-round total lower than just six of his 29 competitors. In other words, the result was hardly a foregone conclusion.
Nor did Viktor Hovland run away with things. Collin Morikawa was tied for the lead after the first round and played in the final pairing on Saturday after beginning the week at just one under par. Sure, Hovland opened up a six-shot lead on Saturday when he shot 66 and Morikawa shot 73. But by the 14th hole on Sunday he faced a 24-foot par putt just to keep his lead from shrinking to two over a hard-charging Xander Schauffele.
He made the putt. And then he birdied 16-17-18, inflating the final winning margin to 5. But how well they’d each played was remarkable; even in stroke play they’d have been seven shots clear of the third-place finisher. This was going to be a two-horse race regardless of the format. Sometimes we get blowouts. But through five playings of this version of the Tour Championship we’ve seen great duels more often than not.
In 2019 the Tour Championship gave us Rory McIlroy buzzing past Brooks Koepka after a summer in which things had gone the other way around.
In 2020 Dustin Johnson started in the lead and held off Schauffele, Justin Thomas and Jon Rahm to stay there, previewing his upcoming Masters win in the process.
In 2021 Patrick Cantlay and Rahm traded blows down the stretch; Cantlay took the title by a single shot.
In 2022 Rory McIlroy chased down Scottie Scheffler in another one-on-one duel, turning a six-stroke deficit into a one-shot win.
And in 2023 we got a duel between two of the top five or six players in the world. Hovland shot 63. Schauffele shot 62. Neither made a bogey.
I’m open to a creative solution that would improve things. I’m down to work in match play, if there’s a way to avoid the drudgery of just two matches (a final plus a consolation) on Sunday afternoon. I’m game to move the finale to different venues each year if that’d help the spark (and sponsors would cooperate). I’m open! But you’re also allowed to enjoy the Tour Championship for what it is. Because Viktor Hovland was an incredibly deserving champion and Xander Schauffele pushed damn hard en route to runner-up. We could do a lot worse.
Who won the week?
Viktor Hovland won the Tour Championship, he won the FedEx Cup, he won $18 million, he won for the second week in a row and he won the hearts and minds of golf fans everywhere. I’d say kudos to Viktor but he seems like he doesn’t need anything else at the moment.
Megan Khang bogeyed No. 17 at the CPKC Women’s Open, which meant she stepped to the 18th tee down one chasing her first win in 191 tries on the LPGA Tour. Bad news: there had only been four birdies on No. 18 all day.
But that’s didn’t seem to faze Khang. She striped her tee shot. And then she flagged her approach, stiffing an iron to five feet before pouring that in for birdie to force a playoff with former World No. 1 Jin Young Ko.
Her putting stroke was steady. But she came off the course trembling.
“There were definitely nerves. I was shaking signing my scorecard. I triple-checked that scorecard to make sure everything was correct,” she said.
As it turns out, par was enough. Ko got in trouble off the tee in the first playoff hole and never recovered, leaving Khang to two-putt from the fringe for the win.
“Eight years is a long time,” she said. “It’s great to get the first.”
Chan Kim hadn’t won on the Korn Ferry Tour until last week. Now? He’s won twice on the Korn Ferry Tour! Kim won the Albertsons Boise Open, playing the entire week (!) without a bogey en route to a 66-62-64-64 showing. The win moves him to No. 2 on the KFT’s points list, locking up his PGA Tour card for 2024. Well earned.
Trish Johnson won the U.S. Senior Women’s Open, making par at No. 18 to hang tight to a one-stroke victory at Waverley Country Club in Portland, Ore.
Gross co-winners, things of that nature.
Xander Schauffele finished second on the Tour Championship leaderboard and T1 in the secret gross leaderboard, earning $6.5 million in the process. In five years of this format, Schauffele has now finished runner-up three times. He’s had the low gross score twice. And that’s ignoring 2017, when he won the tournament.
He sounded understandably concerned about the renovation coming to East Lake before next year’s event.
“The guy that’s going to come, Andrew Green, he said he’s going to take out a lot of trees and it’s a little concerning, to be honest,” he said. “I’m not a member here. I hear members are excited. But as a Tour pro, we talk about distance and all those things, but the thing that we can’t do is hit it through trees. So when you start taking a bunch of trees off a property it definitely can change how it plays. And I’m hoping that East Lake keeps its teeth. Because when it plays hard you shoot 10- or 12-under you’re going to win this golf tournament.”
The showing also means another sort-of win for Schauffele, who has spent the last few years racking up victories that are slightly difficult to put in a box. A sampling of wins that aren’t quite PGA Tour individual victories:
2020 Tour Championship, low gross
2020 Olympics gold medal
2022 Zurich Classic team win (with Patrick Cantlay)
2022 J.P. McManus Pro-Am winner
2023 Tour Championship, tied for low gross
It was a spectacular cap to a solid season for Schauffele, who hasn’t missed a cut since the 2022 Masters. Splendid.
It’s nice when losing still means winning.
Scottie Scheffler had a strange end to a spectacular (but strange) season by finishing T6 at the Tour Championship, a whopping 16 strokes behind Hovland. You already know the statistical breakdown that’s coming now: Scheffler hit it pretty well (though his approach numbers were worse than usual) but had the worst putting numbers in the field, losing 5.5 strokes for the week just on the greens. Credit to him for not publicly snapping any flatsticks by this point, either over his knee or the knee of the next reporter to pry on the subject.
And Jon Rahm, who entered the playoffs as FedEx Cup No. 1 and is the frontrunner to win Player of the Year, finished T18 after an uncharacteristic five-over-par weekend, the second-highest score in the field. The World No. 3 logged his fourth win of 2023 by the second week of April and finished runner-up at the Open but finished the season with a bit of a whimper. It still seems like a safe assumption that he’ll gear back up by the Ryder Cup.
Who’s working with who?!
I met Hovland’s coach-slash-confidante, Joe Mayo, at East Lake. He agreed to chat as long as it wasn’t an interview; he’s keen to stay behind the scenes. But Hovland shouted him out post-win anyway.
“When he came on board he had no idea how I played, what I was doing, what it looked like. So he kind of had a fresh set of eyes,” he said. “Yeah, he’s just brought a lot of math and physics to my golf game and we’ve just applied that, put a lot of hours in, and funny enough it works.”
It sure does.
When I arrived at the driving range on Monday afternoon of the Tour Championship, Hovland and Mayo were on one end of the range — less than 24 hours after his win at the BMW, I might add — and at the other end of the range was Tom Kim and his coach, Chris Como. I didn’t realize that pair was working together but it seems like good news; Como has done some really impressive stuff with Bryson DeChambeau, Jason Day and Si Woo Kim in very recent memory. Tom Kim logged a T2 at the Open shortly after they began working together; he finished top 10 at the BMW, too. Bright times ahead.
NEWS FROM SEATTLE
Monday Finish HQ.
After spending the start of the week in full sweat mode at the Tour Championship I zipped back to run Hood to Coast, a big ol’ relay race in Oregon that starts at Mt. Hood and finishes (you guessed it!) at the coast, where we took a chilly, triumphant plunge into the Pacific.
I’d never done anything quite like this before but it was infectious to be around such a positive collection of people all striving for something, a bunch of unabashed try-hards on an adventure, with completion far more important than competition. In golf I often marvel at the sight of a jam-packed driving range, everyone seeking self-improvement and enlightenment. This was like that but everyone cheering for each other. Good times. (And good that the Tour Championship streams to rural Oregon, too.)
3 things to watch this week.
1. Viktor talks money.
Never change, kid.
2. Viktor talks about his haters.
Sorry if you’ve seen this interview already; when we ran it originally I didn’t realize he’d win three of his next eight starts. We’ve really been milking this thing. But this clip was particularly fun, on Hovland’s self-image, his public image and his unknowability:
3. The PGA Tour offseason…
It’s here! That doesn’t mean there’s no golf going on. But it does mean the top dogs will be a little bit quieter. And perhaps the Monday Finish will be, too. But I like being here, breaking it down with you guys. Thanks for reading all season and for reading what’s next to come, too!
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