Taylor Moore steals the Valspar, the governing bodies crack down on distance, LIV Golf's stars disappear and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
Taylor Moore was the Valspar Championship winner no one saw coming.
There was plenty of attention paid to Jordan Spieth, of course.
Once again he took fans on another one of his patented thrill rides, weaving in and out of trouble with ridiculous recovery shots and clutch putting. But as well as he struck it for four days, he tried to trust the swing he’s been working on off the 16th tee – a low fade, with a helping left-to-right breeze – and simply mis-executed, his shot coming off the heel of a club, spinning even more in the wind and dumping into the pond.
That he scratched out a bogey was a testament to his grit and scrambling genius, and then he nearly redeemed himself on the next hole, with a ripped 4-iron to 6 feet, the closest shot of the day. But the tying birdie putt didn’t drop.
The entire sequence of events – equal parts maddening and brilliant – was the Jordan Spieth Experience writ small, the reason why he’s such an irresistible attraction.
There was a feel-good story, too. Adam Schenk was playing his 10th consecutive PGA Tour event, his ironman streak necessitated by the impending birth of his first child, due next month. Eight months pregnant, his wife, Kourtney, made the four-hour drive to Innisbrook early Sunday morning, determined to be on the 18th green if her husband secured his breakthrough victory.
Outside the top 70 in FedExCup points, the 31-year-old Schenk couldn’t afford to take too much time off, lest he slip in status and make the summer months more stressful. A high finish in Tampa would give him some breathing room – and, better yet, a win would give him the security of a two-year exemption and major invitations.
Though Sunday was his worst ball-striking round of the week, Schenk was filling it up from everywhere, dropping a side-winding birdie putt on 9 and then a 71-foot bomb on 12 that elicited the loudest roar of his career. Standing on the 18th tee, he was four strokes away from victory, but he toe-hooked a tee ball that scampered through the rough, past the fans and settled near the base of a tree.
His deflated reaction said it all:
From there, only two options remained – take an unplayable or attempt a left-handed recovery shot. Schenk chose the latter, but his ball skittered across the fairway and into the rough, making his third shot that much more difficult to control. Even with a wedge he couldn’t access the upper tier, resigning him to a bogey-5, one shot behind Moore’s clubhouse lead.
“It stinks,” Schenk said.
There were the other contenders: Tommy Fleetwood had a prime chance to claim his first U.S. title, but he left his third shot in the bunker on the par-5 14th and made bogey. Matt Wallace made a mess on the 12th green that plummeted him out of contention. Eyeing his first victory in three years, a resurgent Webb Simpson slumped to a 74.
And so, the last man standing – improbably – was Moore, who played his last 10 holes in 4 under par to sneak up the leaderboard. His rare birdies on the 15th (6 feet) and 16th holes (26 feet) pushed him in front, and then, while warming up on the range for a playoff, he received reports that no one could match his 10-under mark. Afterward, he seemed as shocked as anyone that there wasn’t a playoff.
In just his second season on Tour, Moore, 29, was tabbed as a leap candidate this year based on his stats trends and some of the form he displayed last summer and earlier this year on the West Coast swing. Four years ago, Moore nearly died from a collapsed lung following a freak incident in which he ripped the lining of his lung after violently vomiting from a stomach virus. At the time, he still held full Korn Ferry Tour status, but that incident, and the COVID super-season on the KFT, delayed his progress to the big show.
Now, with the Valspar victory, Moore joins the field next month at the Masters and climbs to 49th in the world.
“I don’t think there was any doubt internally that I was going to get out here,” he said. “I think it was more of getting frustrated how long it was taking, because I knew deep down I could be out here and compete and show everybody what I could do in this game.”
After years of teasing a distance crackdown, the governing bodies finally made clear their intentions, unveiling a model local rule that, if adopted, would go into effect at the elite level in January 2026.
The new test for golf balls would roll distance back as much as 15 to 20 yards for the longest hitters, according to USGA and R&A research data.
Powerhouse equipment manufacturers like Acushnet (Titleist) predictably fired back, as did the PGA Tour players who are paid handsomely to endorse those products. Credit to the USGA's Mike Whan and R&A's Martin Slumbers for forging ahead with a polarizing plan, even when it’s fraught with potential legal challenges. Ultimately, they determined that the distance boom needed to be curbed at the elite level, or the damage done to the game could be irreversible.
With nearly a week to digest the news, here are a few thoughts:
• The PGA Tour seems to be against the idea of bifurcation – two sets of rules, for the pros and everyone else – but ignoring the model local rule doesn’t appear to be a feasible option. Both Opens will use the slower ball beginning in 2026. The Masters’ intentions should be understood after chairman Fred Ridley’s press conference on Wednesday of tournament week. If Augusta signs off on the rollback – which seems likely, if not probable, after all of the club’s recent course changes to combat distance – then the PGA will have little choice but to follow suit, too.
That puts the Tour in a bind: Does it really want to allow a different ball to be played in weekly competition than the four biggest events of the year? That only widens the tournaments' perception gap, not closes it. The Tour’s new tagline is that the best golf in the world is played here, but it’s hard to argue that’s the case if it plays by a different set of rules than the legacy-defining events.
Something else to consider: Given LIV’s appetite for disruption, it’s easy to see the two tours differing in their choices: The Tour could go the traditional route, showing the public that it’s for serious competition only; LIV (assuming it still exists in three years’ time) could allow the faster ball, thus promoting its booming drives and anti-establishment vibe.
• Top players like Justin Thomas may have voiced their displeasure at the governing bodies’ decision, and some even have merit. But let’s be serious here: They’ll go along with the rollback. Ball testing for these guys takes weeks, if not months. They can decipher even the slightest differences in ball composition. Changes aren’t made often. And so the thought of playing two different balls throughout the course of the year? No chance. That’s too much tweaking, and too many variables, when they already have enough to worry about in their games.
• This is actually a clever bit of PR work by the governing bodies. Because let’s see how this could play out: At least two majors will use the slower ball … which means all four majors probably have to use it … which means the Tour will likely have to adopt it … and, well, if the Tour is using it, then the NCAA might have to as well, if these guys truly want to test themselves against the best in the world … and so, OK, then, if colleges are using it, then the AJGA and other junior tours might have to jump onboard too – that’d be a more accurate reflection of their young games.
And just like that, the USGA and R&A have effectively introduced a rollback at every competitive level – even if it isn’t explicitly targeting one.
• And what about us, the recreational golfers? Any changes are unlikely to affect our distance output anyway because of our slower swing speeds, but there’s nothing stopping us from continuing to use the fast ball in our friendly games. But part of the game’s appeal is that we can buy the same equipment as Rory McIlroy, and play the same courses, and see if he’d beat us by 15, 30 or 50 shots. If the Tour stars are playing the rolled-back ball, so will many of us – it’s a part of a golfer’s sick and twisted psyche.
LIV Golf members have constantly accused the PGA Tour of copying their model of bringing together the game’s best players more often, for more money.
In Year 1, the Tour’s designated-event era has undoubtedly been a resounding success: Jon Rahm has won two elevated events. So has Scottie Scheffler. Kurt Kitayama outdueled a handful of stars to nab his first win in memorable fashion.
But despite poaching a handful of major champions, Ryder Cup heroes, young international stars and former world No. 1s, LIV has yet to produce the same kind of head-to-head drama.
Sunday’s four-man playoff in Tucson included Danny Lee (winless on Tour since 2015), Carlos Ortiz (one-time Tour winner), Brendan Steele (winless since 2017) and Louis Oosthuizen (winless since 2018). Lee himself conceded that he thought his winning days might be over: “I just felt like winning is just not my thing. It’s just good to see I’m capable of playing some good golf again.”
But Lee’s cathartic victory was a stark reminder that we’ve yet to see a duel between Brooks Koepka and Dustin Johnson.
Or Cam Smith and Phil Mickelson.
Or Bryson DeChambeau and Sergio Garcia.
In other words, the stars for whom the Saudis shelled out hundreds of millions of dollars.
There are a number of theories as to why it hasn’t happened yet – rust, competitive indifference, the fact that they’re no longer among the best players in the world – but it is arguably what’s holding back LIV at this point.
The breakaway league’s stars haven’t yet held up their end of the massive deal.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Good Night, Sweet Prince: Austin Country Club. This week is ACC’s swan song at the Match Play, which is dropping off the Tour schedule for at least a year as the Tour transitions to its new designated-event era. That’s a shame, for this is one of the most fun weeks of the year, with Austin serving as the perfect venue for things to truly get weird in the round-robin format. Justin Thomas and Justin Rose are the only eligible players who aren’t turning up this week. Savor it while we still can!
Right in the Wallet: Jordan Spieth. With his chance to win gone, he missed a 4-foot par putt on the final green at Innisbrook that dropped him from a share of second place into a two-way tie for third. Inconsequential? Not really. He lost $243,000 by missing; Schenk earned an extra $162,000. It also cost Spieth some valuable FedExCup points, not a small detail since he’s still projected at (only) No. 38 in the standings, with a heightened focus this year on the top 50.
Not So Fast: Bernhard Langer. Seven holes away from becoming the all-time wins leader on the senior tour, Langer shockingly stumbled down the stretch, three-putting twice (including on the 53rd hole) to drop all the way to joint seventh at the Hoag Classic. His closing 73 allowed Ernie Els to erase a five-shot deficit and capture his first victory since 2020.
Time to Wake Up: Dustin Johnson. It’s been a quiet start to 2023 for one of LIV’s headliners, who has now finished outside the top 10 in both LIV starts this year. DJ figured to factor prominently in next month’s Masters, but his lack of reps, coupled with some indifferent form, a longer-than-usual offseason and a recently tweaked back, makes him difficult to forecast at the year’s first major: Can he simply turn it on? He’ll have one final tournament appearance next week in Orlando before making the short flight to Augusta.
Harsh: Fred Couples. One of the game’s most affable characters is actually raising the temperature in advance of what could be an awkward, acrimonious Masters. Couples called Phil Mickelson a “nutbag” and questioned why anyone would pay him $200 million to be uncompetitive, while lumping Sergio Garcia in with a group of “clowns” to jump ship. Sheesh! They’ll likely all be on their best behavior at the Champions Dinner, lest they get uninvited in future years. But perhaps it’d be wise to seat them on opposite sides of the room. Speaking of which ...
Least Surprising News of the Week: Scottie Scheffler’s Champions Dinner menu. This was predictable, and yet it still slaps:
Life Comes at You Fast: Bryson DeChambeau. Two years ago, Bryson was THE story heading into the Masters, a recent major champion who had seemingly revolutionized the game with his beefy, brawny approach. A few months earlier, he’d described Augusta National as a par-67 for himself. But DeChambeau has battled injury and equipment changes, and now he’s at risk of being something that would have been unthinkable just a short time ago – competitively irrelevant. For now, at least, he’s the weak link on his LIV team, finishing 44th out of 48 players in Tucson, and he has yet to finish better than 10th in any start on the rival circuit.
Anyone’s Fault but My Own: Matt Wallace. The Englishman has a checkered history of brutal caddie treatment, and even if we didn’t get the full answer of what was going down here on the 18th hole in the third round, Wallace issued a very clear “shut the f--k up” at one point. What happened to player accountability for a poor shot or decision?
Proper Tuneups: Anna Davis and Aldrich Potgieter. Before both players make their way to Augusta – Davis as the reigning ANWA champ, Potgieter as the defending British Amateur winner – they rolled to convincing victories in their respective divisions at the Junior Invitational at Sage Valley, one of the top junior events in the country. These kids are too legit.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Keegan Bradley. This might be cheating, but Bradley’s Wednesday WD at the Valspar was a devastating blow. The former major champion is playing some of the best golf of his career, with three top-5s already this season, but he was unable to go after coming down with an illness. He’ll look to get right this week in the final Match Play in Austin. Sigh.