Nick Taylor hangs tough at the Crosby, Phil Mickelson makes a run at Pebble title No. 6, golf's governing bodies prepare for battle, Rory McIlroy assumes the No. 1 ranking and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
1. Nick Taylor won on the PGA Tour for the second time, holding off Phil Mickelson to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am.
TAKEAWAY: It’s difficult to say which of Taylor’s feats was most impressive: That he led wire to wire across three courses; that he out-Mickelson’d the living legend by holing out twice in the final round; or that he shot 70 in 40-mph gusts on a firm, fast Pebble Beach. Macho, all of it, and it added up to Taylor’s first Tour victory since his 2014 Sanderson Farms title.
The 31-year-old Canadian has spent the majority of his career living on the edge, never finishing higher than 93rd in the FedExCup. That stress, at least for now, is gone. Though he won’t ever be mistaken for a world-beater, Taylor now can play with the freedom of being exempt on Tour through 2023.
2. Playing in the final group, Mickelson shot 74 Sunday and finished alone in third – his fourth top-3 in the past five years there.
TAKEAWAY: Mickelson’s title bid ended on the eighth hole. Trailing by two, his 2-iron tee shot on one of the hardest par 4s in the world was mis-flighted and traveled only 180 yards, leaving him 248 to the hole – so far back that he had to walk up to the edge of the cliff to get his bearings. He rifled a long iron into the middle of the green, but there was no chance he’d be able to stop it on the baked-out putting surface. It bounced over the back and led to a double bogey. After a two-shot swing on the ninth hole, Taylor had a five-shot cushion with nine to play.
Even with a few final-round miscues, it was another momentum-building week for Mickelson. Mired in the worst slump of his career, he’s shown improved play off the tee and posted back-to-back top-3s, moving to No. 55 in the world.
It’s reasonable to wonder how much he’ll have left in the tank this week at Riviera: This is his fifth tournament start in a row, and that stretch includes hosting duties (AmEx), a pair of 8,000-mile flights (Saudi Arabia) and title contention (Pebble).
3. Mickelson says that, if the USGA extends to him a special exemption to this year’s U.S. Open, he “won’t accept it.”
TAKEAWAY: Conventional wisdom suggests that Mickelson, a six-time runner-up, would receive at least a few exemptions, given his stature and impact on the game. But he’s also an immensely prideful player, and he didn’t want to accept what he said would be a “sympathy spot.” Fair enough, and it might be a moot point anyway, if he continues to play like this – all he needs to be is top 60 on May 18 to automatically qualify.
It’s the third time recently that the soon-to-be 50-year-old has (prematurely) scoffed at the thought of a handout: Last fall, when he said he wasn’t playing well enough to be considered for a Presidents Cup captain’s pick; last month, when he said his only chance of a Ryder Cup spot was qualifying on his own; and now this, in response to the conundrum at Winged Foot, site of one of his most heartbreaking defeats.
4. After two years, the USGA and R&A released the findings of their comprehensive Distance Insights Report.
TAKEAWAY: Now begins the waiting game, as the governing bodies will gather more intel over the next nine to 12 months on possible remedies to one of the game’s thorniest issues. Implementation, of course, would take several years, if not decades, longer.
Most interestingly in their initial report, the USGA and R&A said they’d explore a “local rule” that would allow tours and other organizations to use specified equipment in their tournaments without going fully down the bifurcation route. The governing bodies maintain, steadfastly, that they do not want two sets of rules.
Why? Because golf’s kingmakers still cling to the antiquated idea that amateurs want to play the same equipment as the pros. How many recreational golfers actually use 70-gram, extra-stiff driver shafts, butter-knife irons or other assorted custom gear?
Bifurcate, people, because we basically already have.
5. It’s official: Rory McIlroy is the No. 1-ranked player in the world, supplanting Brooks Koepka.
TAKEAWAY: This is McIlroy’s first time in the top spot since the week of Sept. 14, 2015. That's a lifetime ago in golf: The top 11 in the world consisted of guys like Henrik Stenson, Jim Furyk and Zach Johnson.
McIlroy’s ascension could be the start of a musical-chairs type theme the rest of the year, with Koepka, Jon Rahm and Justin Thomas all likely to challenge for the top ranking in 2020.
That includes this week at the Genesis Invitational at Riviera, where nine of the top 10 players in the world (no Webb Simpson) will tee it up – by far the best field of the early season.
This Week's Award Winners ...
Progress!: Jordan Spieth. Final-round performance has been a trouble spot, but Spieth’s 67 at Pebble was the lowest score on a brutal day as he vaulted all the way to joint ninth (and was his lowest score to par on a Sunday since the 2018 Masters). Though only two rounds were measured, Spieth ranked first in strokes gained: tee to green and approach.
Viva la Mexico: Spieth. With a clutch chip-in on his 72nd hole, Spieth moved inside the top 50 in the world and qualified for next week's WGC-Mexico Championship. He'd hinted that he might skip the event, since it'd be five in a row, but how do you turn down free world-ranking points at this stage?
Back, Back Again: Jason Day. Speaking of rebounding players, Day’s solo fourth was his best finish since his victory in May 2018 at Quail Hollow.
One and Done: Ernie Els. The losing Presidents Cup captain doesn’t want another turn in 2021, which makes sense. He gave it his best at Royal Melbourne, came up just short, and doesn’t want to lead the squad when it gets blown out next year at Quail Hollow.
Video of the Week:
Hard Work Pays Off: Bryson. Presumably the voting took place over the past few months, because the beefed-up DeChambeau was one of 25 men to be named to Sports Illustrated’s most fit athletes list. Only a matter of time before he holds this over Brooks’ head.
The WTH?! Moment of the Week: Jason Enloe. The head coach at SMU resigned last week amid a nasty legal battle with his in-laws – the Mahan family – and the ongoing grief of losing his wife in summer 2018. Read the details of the lawsuit; it’s all-around ugly.
Go Get It, Young Man: Min Woo Lee. On the same track where sister Minjee won in 2014 and ’18, the 21-year-old became the youngest winner on the European Tour since 2001 (Aaron Baddeley) when he prevailed in windy conditions at the Vic Open.
Staying the Course: Hee Young Park. A few months ago, Park thought about giving up the game – that’s how badly the one-time LPGA champion didn’t want to go to Q-Series to regain her status. Instead, she fought through it, finished second, and then came out in the fourth event of the year and won the Vic Open in a playoff – her first title since 2013.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Graeme McDowell. OK, so it's always a risk to roll with a recent winner, especially one who triumphed 8,000 miles away, in Saudi Arabia, so perhaps it wasn’t a surprise to see G-Mac shoot 3 over across the three courses and miss the 54-hole cut. The 2010 U.S. Open champ also had a pair of top-10s in this event, so this was slightly disappointing. Sigh.