Patrick Reed blocks out the noise, Bryson DeChambeau comes close (again), Justin Thomas kicks away a 54-hole lead, the Premier Golf League moves out of the shadows and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
1. Less than a week after Brooks Koepka and Peter Kostis called him out publicly for cheating, Patrick Reed birdied three consecutive holes late in the final round to win the WGC-Mexico Championship.
TAKEAWAY: Reed has always thrived amid chaos, dating back to his college days, when he helped lead a deeply divided Augusta State squad to back-to-back NCAA titles. What happened in the sandy area in the Bahamas will likely be a permanent stain on Reed’s record, and fans, players and media types have struggled to move on because of both Reed’s bizarre rationale afterward and the Tour’s case-closed mentality. The better Reed plays (and there's no signs of him slowing down), the more they're likely to keep lashing out.
The irony, of course, is that Reed is an exceptional player who fans should gravitate toward – from his background as a Monday qualifier-turned-Tour winner, to his Ryder Cup heroics, to his dazzling short game and putting in an era of big bombers. A cursory glance of social media Sunday night suggests that’s not the case, however, and likely never will be.
Reed insists that it doesn’t bother him how he’s viewed. That he just wants his golf to speak for itself. That he wants to be a role model for the "next generation" and his own kids. Oh, if only it were so simple.
2. With a bogey on the 71st hole, DeChambeau surrendered a late lead and finished second at the Mexico Championship.
TAKEAWAY: Big picture, it was another encouraging result for DeChambeau, who is still only six starts into his body makeover that has seen him add roughly 25 pounds of muscle. The gains are undeniable: For the third consecutive start, he was ranked inside the top 5 in strokes gained: off the tee, significantly gaining distance and turning his driver into a weapon. In that regard, mission accomplished. He's been validated.
But DeChambeau rose to prominence – and won four times worldwide in 2018 – on the strength of superb iron play, too, and to that end he’s still a work in progress. Just like last month in Dubai, when he bogeyed the last four holes when tied for the lead, he hit some suspect shots down the stretch in Mexico. He didn’t birdie the par-15 15th. He missed the 16th green with a wedge. He spun his approach back to 60 feet on 17, leading to a costly three-putt. And then he couldn’t nestle his second shot close on 18 with a short iron (and then hit a dreadful birdie putt).
“I’ve just got to work on that,” DeChambeau said. And you better believe that he will.
3. Justin Thomas was unable to convert his 54-hole lead into a victory, stumbling to a 73 in the final round.
TAKEAWAY: Thomas’ 73 was the worst score of anyone who finished inside the top 28. It was a rough day all around: He hit six fairways, found only 12 greens (including a costly water ball on No. 7) and holed just 33 feet worth of putts.
For a player who has a strong record as a closer (eight of 11 previously), this is the second time that he’s coughed up a third-round lead in Mexico. That’s not altogether surprising: It’s a tight course, and he couldn’t play with a chaser’s freedom. Still, it's a missed opportunity for a player who has won twice this season and could have stamped himself as the early Player of the Year favorite.
4. Viktor Hovland won his first PGA Tour event Sunday, ramming home a 30-footer on the final green to win the Puerto Rico Open.
TAKEAWAY: The much-ballyhooed Class of 2019 delivers again, with Hovland joining Matthew Wolff and Collin Morikawa in the winner’s circle less than a year after leaving Oklahoma State. Those three young stars are lumped together, of course, because they joined the pro ranks the same summer, but they each bring something different to the golf landscape. Wolff is the most explosive, Morikawa the most consistent and Hovland the grittiest – a quality that will serve him well in the majors.
That resolve was on display during the final round in Puerto Rico, where Hovland overcame a double-flubbed chip on the back nine by pitching in for eagle on 15 and then pouring in the long birdie on the final green.
Though the opposite-field win doesn’t come with a Masters invitation, Hovland moved to 60th in the world rankings. He needs to be top 50 the week prior to the Masters to get in – or, you know, he could just win again.
5. Rory McIlroy was the first star player to criticize the proposed Premier Golf League, saying that he’s “out” on the idea of an alternative tour.
TAKEAWAY: Though it's a major hit, McIlroy’s absence alone isn’t a death knell for the Premier Golf League – and he added that, if everyone else bolts, he likely wouldn’t have a choice but to join. But the PGL now doesn’t have much margin for error to get this thing off the ground.
There’d seem to be little chance that the sport’s biggest star, Tiger Woods, would sign a contract for 18 events. Other American stars also have little interest. If you don’t have Tiger or Rory, and a host of other notable names, do you even have a tour?
Right now, it’s pretty easy to discern who is at least intrigued by the idea and is gathering more info – Phil Mickelson, Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Reed are among those who have played in Saudi Arabia and haven’t shot down the concept publicly – and we should reach a tipping point here sometime in the next few weeks.
Another important point on this: The PGL is promising what is essentially a World Golf Championship event – strong field, no cut, big purse. It has everything except the real reasons why we watch WGCs or any other tournament of significance: There’s no tradition on a startup circuit. There’s a reduced competitive element, with only 54 holes. And the best players in the world won’t be tested on the best venues, rather whichever course has the fattest wallets.
Besides the prospect of generational money, why would anyone want to sign up for that?
This Week's Award Winners ...
He Can Really Roll It: P-Reed. Check out these putting numbers in Mexico: 454 feet made, 45 one-putts and a remarkable 11.82 strokes gained on the greens. That’s how he’s able to rise to No. 8 in the world despite being a below-average driver (124th in SG: off the tee).
Getting Sick of This: Rory. That’s six consecutive top-5s worldwide for the world No. 1, but he’s understandably frustrated. At Torrey, Riviera and Chapultepec, he had good chances to win and couldn’t deliver.
The WTH?! Moment of the Week: Sungjae Im’s lucky bounce. OK, so Sungjae is good, but he’s not this good – so good that his tee shot bound for the pond ricochets off the water and lands safely on the green. So what gives? Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott explained on Twitter: “There’s a masonry floor in the hazards near the edges. It’s shallow enough to have the ball hit apparently.” Yes, apparently.
Sheeeesshhhhh: Steph Kyriacou. The 19-year-old amateur blew away the field at the Ladies European Tour’s Australian Classic, shooting 22 under par (!) and finishing eight shots ahead of Ayean Cho – who is the 35th-ranked player in the world.
Was It An Anomaly?: Jordan Spieth. Though he looked stellar in finishing ninth at Pebble Beach, that result stands out as the outlier in his early 2020 results: T55-MC-T9-T59-T58. He’s back down to 54th in the world and could be on the bubble for the 64-man WGC-Match Play if he continues to finish well down the leaderboard.
Gotta Feel For Him: Josh Teater. Hovland ripped out his heart in winning the Puerto Rico Open, and Teater’s teary interview afterward was a harsh reminder that chances to win don’t come around too often for a 40-year-old with 193 career starts and just 14 career top-10s.
Can't Play Them All: Honda Classic. Not surprisingly, the Honda continues to get pinched by the condensed schedule, with Tiger, Rory and JT skipping their hometown event. The headliners this year are Brooks Koepka, Rickie Fowler and Gary Woodland, but with just 46 world-ranking points to the winner, it's the weakest Honda field in a decade.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Dustin Johnson. With two wins in three years there, he was the presumptive favorite in his return to Mexico, but he blew up spectacularly with an opening 76 and could only muster a T-48. Sigh.