Collin Morikawa hangs tough against Justin Thomas, Tiger Woods returns to action, Brooks Koepka tries to run the table, Tony Finau joins the speed race and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
1. On a wild Sunday at the Workday Charity Open, Collin Morikawa staged a late rally, holed a must-make putt in overtime and then prevailed on the third playoff hole against Justin Thomas.
TAKEAWAY: It was Morikawa’s second career title, but first against a strong field – last summer he won the opposite-field Barracuda Championship. At age 23, he’s already established himself as a premier player on Tour, and his latest performance vaulted him to 13th in the world ranking – one spot ahead of Tiger Woods – just 13 months removed from college and despite a 40-event minimum divisor that is weighing down his position.
In the final round, Morikawa closed in on Thomas with assassin-like accuracy – eight of his approaches finished within 10 feet of the flag. (Little wonder he now leads the Tour in strokes gained: approach.) Just as gutsy: One down on the 14th hole, Morikawa pulled driver on the drivable par 4 and threaded the needle through an eight-yard gap, giving himself a look inside 12 feet for eagle. The kid has the goods.
His short game and putting eventually will need to be improved – peep this near-miss from 2 feet on the final hole of regulation – but he still needs to be considered one of the game’s biggest threats, week in and week out.
2. Up by three with three to play, Thomas made two late bogeys to fall into a playoff, which he eventually lost.
TAKEAWAY: At 8-for-12 with the 54-hole lead, JT is one of the game’s best closers, and yet this was the second time this year that he’s looked shaky in the lead position. At Kapalua, Thomas was two clear with three to play, only to make a mess of the final few holes and drop into a playoff. He eventually prevailed, but this time he wasn’t as fortunate.
In a wild first 11 holes Sunday, Thomas went from three ahead to two behind to one in front. He appeared to deliver the kill shot on the 15th – a 5-wood from 248 yards to 25 feet, for eagle, the end of a stretch of 10 consecutive one-putt holes – but then made soft bogeys on two of the last three holes. His chances ended when his tee shot on the third playoff hole was stymied behind a tree, leading to another bogey.
“It’s completely unacceptable,” he said afterward of his closing stretch. “I’m upset. I’m disappointed. But at the end of the day, it’s over with now, and I just need to take some time to build on it and figure out what I can do better.”
A ticked-off JT is a danger man these next two months. All six of his made cuts this calendar year have gone for top-10s, as he's back in the top spot in the FedExCup.
3. Tiger Woods will return this week at the Memorial Tournament following a five-month absence from the Tour.
TAKEAWAY: The last time Woods played a Tour event, at Riviera in mid-February, he labored through a last-place finish (among those who made the cut). He sat out a handful of usual starts because of back stiffness but said that he would have been healthy enough to defend his title at the Masters. Whether he would have contended is another matter.
Woods’ 2019-20 season began promisingly, with a record-tying victory at the Zozo Championship, but we’ve barely seen him. That’s partly because of a reduced schedule to lighten the load on his 44-year-old body. And because of injury. And because of the pandemic. But Woods has played only three times this season – Thomas’ total: 12 – and other than an exhibition at his home course, he’s been MIA for the past five months.
There is plenty of meaningful golf still to play this calendar year, beginning in four weeks at TPC Harding Park, where Woods won a WGC event in 2005.
Is he ready for this big-tourney stretch? We’ll begin to find out this week.
4. After committing and then de-committing from the Memorial, Brooks Koepka was a late addition to this week’s event, vowing to “run the table” through late summer.
TAKEAWAY: At No. 156 in the FedExCup race, Koepka is running out of chances to improve his playoff positioning, if he’s going to qualify for the postseason at all. He had the weekend off at the Workday despite a furious rally over the back nine, making five birdies in his last seven holes – including a 40-footer on the last – to sweat out the cut line. “You’re a pro,” he said. “You just sack up and do it.”
Koepka’s decision to re-add the Memorial is a small sign of desperation, as he’ll now play five in a row through the PGA Championship, where he’ll be trying to become the first player to win three straight PGAs in stroke play. He didn’t want to play the biggest tournament at the end of a long stretch, but circumstances change.
His season-long goal remains the Tour Championship, but he’ll likely need to pick up a win over this upcoming stretch to return to Atlanta.
WHAT ELSE WE'RE TALKING ABOUT ...
After months of speculation, the Ryder Cup was rescheduled for next September.
The surprise was not that it happened but that it took this long to finalize. A Ryder Cup without fans was never a realistic option, but the event could have been played with, say, 50 percent capacity. Not even that scenario could be guaranteed as the coronavirus pandemic continues to rage throughout the country.
Pushing back the event 12 months will have a profound effect on the future of the teams (shameless plug: read more here!), but it’s best for all involved. A 2021 Cup at Whistling Straits will hopefully be bigger and better than ever.
Made this point last week on the Golf Central podcast (wow, another shameless plug: subscribe here!), but it’ll be interesting to see if the big hitters access that "extra gear" a little more often now that we're in the Bryson Big Bombs era.
On social media Tony Finau put his awesome power on display, hammering this tee shot that registered a ball speed of 206 mph. (He also shot 59 in practice, if you’re interested.)
But the larger point remains: If there’s little penalty for long but wayward tee shots, why wouldn’t guys like Finau and Dustin Johnson and Cameron Champ go full bore, like Bryson does?
Finau, on that question:
And it's worth repeating: Bryson's raw power is even more impressive when you consider how relatively accurate he's driving it. The same might not be true for Finau, DJ and the rest. They haven't trained their muscles and honed their swings to go that hard, that often.
The Memorial, with its 5-inch-plus rough, isn’t the place to let it fly with reckless abandon. But favorable venues remain on the schedule.
You don’t see this often: Viktor Hovland has ranked first in strokes gained: tee to green each of the past three weeks.
And didn’t win!
Hovland became the first to lead that all-important stat since tracking began in 2004, but the 22-year-old couldn’t close the deal Sunday at Muirfield Village despite being one of three players to hold the solo lead during the final round.
The reason? His putting. In the final round he ranked 63rd (out of 67) on the greens.
His second win shouldn’t be far away. He now has 20 consecutive rounds of par or better – the second-longest streak on Tour, behind Daniel Berger (32) – and has finished in the top 25 in all five events during the restart.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Solo Act: Marc Warren. Carrying his own bag at last week's European Tour event because his caddie didn’t receive his COVID-19 test results in time, Warren pulled out a one-stroke victory at the Austrian Open for his first title since 2014. This doesn't mark the end of his looper's tenure, however: "Hopefully this is the one and only time," Warren said. "No matter what I say, I do enjoy the caddie’s company."
All Good Things ...: JT’s bogey-free streak. Even on a softer, slower Muirfield Village, Thomas went 55 holes before his first dropped shot of the week. His bogey at No. 2 Sunday – alas, after having only 136 yards for his approach – matched Scott Hoch (1987 Memorial) as the longest stretches to begin a tournament at Jack’s Place without a dropped shot.
A Little Perspective, Perhaps?: Tiger-Morikawa comparisons. Much was made of the fact that Morikawa now has more wins (two) than missed cuts (one), and that’s impressive – the same was also true, like, three weeks ago, before he had his first-ever weekend off at the Travelers. He’s also the first player since Woods to pick up his second win before his second missed cut. Keep in mind Woods won FORTY-THREE times before his second MC.
Clutching Up: MJ Daffue. Needing a birdie on his final hole to make the cut, the Monday qualifier stuffed a wedge to 2 feet, then took advantage by firing a 7-under 65 in the third round to surge into the top 10. He eventually tied for 22nd, by far his best career result.
The Future Is Now: Workday final group. The pairing of 27-year-old Thomas, 23-year-old Morikawa and 22-year-old Hovland was the second-youngest group of players in the top 3 after 54 holes in a Tour event since 1983, when they first began tracking these stats. The youngest? Last year’s 3M, with Matt Wolff, DeChambeau and Morikawa.
Missed Opportunity: Muirfield doubleheader. Instead of trying out something different for the first of two at Jack’s Place – Flip the nines! Stableford scoring! – the Tour decided to “mix it up” by cutting the rough a half-inch shorter, slowing down the greens and making the 14th drivable. Bummer.
Shoutout: La Canada High School. The high school in eastern Los Angeles produced a pair of winners Sunday: Morikawa and David Lipsky, who is eight years older and cruised to a four-shot win at the Korn Ferry Tour event.
Watch Out For: Patrick Cantlay. His final-round 65 portends well for this week’s Memorial, where he’s the defending champion. After sitting out the first few weeks of the restart, the 10th-ranked player in the world has now gone T11-T7.
Stirring the Pot: Brooks Koepka. Some took it as an oh-so serious accusation of ’roid rage, but this seems more like Koepka having fun at a familiar foe’s expense. The Tour NEEDS rivalries like Brooks-Bryson, even if there’s almost no chance they’re paired for the early rounds this week.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Rose. The 2010 Memorial champion had seven top-10s at Jack’s Place and had already posted a pair of top-15s during the restart. That didn’t help last week, where the former world No. 1 had a disastrous two rounds, shooting 74-80 in primo scoring conditions to miss the cut by a mile. Sigh.