Tony Finau's reign of terror continues, Henrik Stenson plays like a winning captain, the PGA Tour regular season wraps up and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
Tony Finau tried to tell us.
As his close calls and near-misses and sour Sundays piled up, Finau seemed to be the only one who wasn’t worried about the winless drought.
He told us to be patient. That his time was coming. That, one of these weeks, if he kept putting himself in position, it’d all come together.
“I’m very optimistic. I’ve always been that way,” he said. “I’ve always had hope and faith that things will turn out if I just keep working hard and putting myself there.”
Finau’s patience, persistence and performance is paying off.
With a chance Sunday to win in back-to-back weeks, Finau put on another clinical display, blowing past the field at the Rocket Mortgage Classic to convert the first 54-hole lead of his career. He’s the first to win regular-season events in consecutive weeks since Brendon Todd in 2019. He’s the first since Justin Thomas in 2017 to win in consecutive weeks by three or more shots.
This is the version of Finau we always knew was possible: Driving it on a rope, flagging iron shots, rolling in putts, swaggering all over the property.
Now, after years of being oh-so-close, he’s starting to realize it, too.
Over the past two weeks, Finau has doubled his Tour win total (from two to four).
He has made 47 birdies to just four bogeys.
He’s found 79% of his fairways.
He’s hit 88% of the greens.
His scoring average is 66.13.
Was it unfortunate timing that this hot streak came after the major season was over? OK, sure. Now 32, he’s playing the best golf of his life. But it may still prove to be a fruitful run. These two weeks have lifted him from No. 30 to No. 7 in the FedExCup; with the way the postseason format is structured, his current form will put him in line for a massive payday (to go along with the more than $2.5 million he just banked).
On Sunday night, while reflecting on his productive but ultimately winless years, Finau dropped a line that reminded us of why he’s so special.
“They say a winner is a loser that just kept on trying, and that’s me to a tee,” he said. “How many times do I lose? But I won’t give up, and I’m only here as a winner because I chose not to give up and just kept going.”
Because we weren’t on the ground last week at Trump Bedminster, we’ll point you in the direction of those who were (here and here). Based on that reporting, the third LIV event looked, sounded and seemed like a political spectacle, with a little golf thrown in.
Despite all of the bluster, despite all of the promise of disruption, despite a slew of signings that are now reportedly approaching $1 billion, it’s still too early to gauge whether LIV is a success or a failure as a legitimate golf product. A better reflection of what the rival tour will really be – set 48-man fields, 12 sponsored teams of four players – is coming in 2023. It’d be wise to hold off on any declarative statements until then.
Last week, there were more player unveilings (Bubba Watson), with plenty more rumored soon. There were more eyebrow-raising comments. There was more historically meaningless golf. And, of course, there was more news.
In a delicious bit of irony, Henrik Stenson, down to No. 173 in the world and without a top-10 on Tour in three years, won the 54-hole event just a week after being stripped of the European Ryder Cup captaincy. For that victory, he was well-compensated: a $4 million first-place prize, in addition to the $375,000 for being a part of the second-place team, in addition to the hefty signing bonus that apparently was enticing enough that he was willing to give up on his career dream of leading Team Europe.
“There might have been a little bit of extra motivation in there this week,” Stenson said afterward. “When we as players have that, I think we can bring out the good stuff. I certainly did that this week.
“I guess that’s been a little bit of a theme over the course of my career, I think, that when I really want something, I manage to dig a little bit deeper, and a lot of times we manage to make it happen.”
Some early validation?
His was a legacy-altering decision.
Stenson’s one-week haul was nearly double what Finau brought home for two trophies, but in the process the 46-year-old Swede surrendered a title for which there is no price tag. Each LIV defector's rationale is different, and Stenson chose money over one of the greatest honors bestowed upon a player. Only he knows if he'll come to regret it.
Stenson continues to quibble with how his brief Ryder Cup tenure ended. He said that he didn’t resign the captaincy; it was taken from him. He said he had worked it out with LIV Golf to continue to assume both roles; Ryder Cup Europe clearly had other ideas. Because he’s been so evasive on some of the finer details surrounding his decision to accept the role in March, it leaves the impression that the former Open champion had leveraged the captaincy for a sweeter deal with the Saudis. If so: Ick.
Ryder Cup Europe has found their (new) man anyway: Luke Donald, who was named as Stenson’s replacement on Monday. The classy Englishman was in the mix this spring but was ultimately passed over for Stenson, a move that reportedly left him steaming since it was well-known that Stenson had been deep in talks with the Saudis when the league, at least in early March, seemed to be more rumor than reality. It was always a possibility that he could be lured back – especially with his profile set to be raised.
Donald, though, will do a fine job. He’s respected and well-liked by his peers. He’s organized. He’s in touch with today’s top players. He’ll know what a successful cup team looks like, having only played for them throughout his career. And in golf’s culture war, he’ll be decidedly pro-DP World Tour. He said last week that LIV reached out to him about joining the league – not as a player, but as a broadcaster. He took that as a slight.
“I would live up to my word and see it through, let me put it that way,” he told Golfweek last week, before taking a shot at his former teammate.
“I wouldn’t be doing a Henrik.”
A PGA Tour regular season unlike any other has reached its conclusion.
The Wyndham Championship is the 44th and final week of the regular Tour slate.
It’s also the last season that No. 125 will be the cutoff mark for status in the regular-season finale. In a marked change beginning next year, the FedExCup playoffs will be available to just the top 70 players. Those 70 will be fully exempt for the following season; everyone outside that number can improve their status in the fall, after which the top 125 will be fully exempt for 2024.
Here are some players who are on or near the number the bubble this week (note: listed rankings are from the eligibility list):
Chesson Hadley (No. 121): Last year’s bubble boy is once again living on the edge. It’s the third year in a row that Hadley has been in this position heading into the regular-season finale, so at least the stage won’t be unfamiliar to him. Last year, he jumped from 132nd to 125th with a final-round 62 at the Wyndham.
Rickie Fowler (123): For the second year in a row the fan favorite is in danger of missing the Tour postseason. The Rocket Mortgage ambassador came unraveled in the second round in Detroit, carding a 74 to doom his hopes of a late playoff push. With Saturday off, he was spotted on the range, working on his game. Fowler is still exempt through 2022-23 because of his win at the 2019 Phoenix Open, which was added to his exemption from winning the 2015 Players and subsequent victories.
Austin Smotherman (125): He’s the man on the cut line thanks to an underwhelming season in which he’s recorded just a single top-10 in 24 starts. That came last month at the opposite-field event in Tahoe. He shot rounds of 74-73 last week in Detroit to squander another opportunity to earn some much-needed points.
Danny Willett (127): The 2016 Masters champion also needs a decent week in North Carolina, though his tie for seventh two weeks ago at the 3M at least lightened his burden. His Masters exemption runs out after this season.
Francesco Molinari (133): The 2018 Open champion will miss the playoffs after he withdrew from the Wyndham field before the start of tournament week. It was yet another lost year: one top-10 in 17 events, his world ranking now tumbling outside the top 150. He's still exempt through the 2024-25 season, but his window might have closed.
Harry Higgs (138): He’s failed to build off his breakout year, finishing better than 69th just once since mid-April. Fans will be trying to push this popular player across the finish line this week.
Zach Johnson (142): Next year’s Ryder Cup captain needs to conjure some of his old magic to make the playoffs. He was inside the top 20 with one round to go in Detroit, but he backed up with a Sunday 75 that dropped him all the way to T-49. He has zero top-10s this season and won’t be fully exempt next season unless he uses some of his career exemptions.
Brandt Snedeker (168): Another vet with work to do. In need of a huge week, he doesn’t have a top-20 finish since the Valero in early April. Like Johnson, he isn't fully exempt next season either.
Harris English (182): Not a huge surprise, after he missed a significant portion of the season following hip surgery. He's fully exempt for next season, but it’s still a bummer that he wasn’t able to capitalize on his career-best form from 2021.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
How to Break Out: Ayaka Furue. A seven-time winner on the JLPGA, the 22-year-old from Japan landed her first LPGA title in improbable fashion, carding a tournament- and course-record 62 in the final round to leapfrog proven LPGA talents Lydia Ko and Celine Boutier to romp to a three-shot win at Dundonald Links. That’ll set her up nicely for this week’s Women’s Open, the (sigh) final major of the year on any tour.
Flat Weekend: Lydia Ko. Just when it looked like the former teen phenom was in full flight, carding back-to-back rounds of 65 to soar into the halfway lead, Ko failed to get anything going on the weekend. As those around her pushed deeper into the red in benign conditions, Ko could muster only a pair of 71s and tied for fifth – an anticlimactic end to what was a sterling start. Though she has only one win to show for it, her 2022 campaign has been excellent – and now she has five top-5s in her last six starts heading into Muirfield.
All the Feels: Patty Tavatanakit. Not much has gone wrong so far in this 22-year-old major champion’s career, but Patty T has been in the midst of a rough patch, missing her last five cuts dating to April. When she finally played her way into the weekend at the Scottish Open, well, the emotions overtook her. Good for her for showing how much it meant to get off the schneid – she’s way too talented to be held down for long.
Style Points: Tom Kim. Well, that’s one way to secure your PGA Tour card. Kim, who last month accepted special temporary membership after his high finish at the Scottish Open, took it deep again at the Rocket Mortgage, carding a course-record-tying 63 in the final round to secure full-member status for next season. With four picks at his disposal, Captain Immelman could do worse than looking Kim’s way for next month’s Presidents Cup.
So Close It Hurts: Cameron Young. With yet another second-place finish at the Rocket Mortgage, Young became the seventh player in the last 40 years to record five or more runner-up finishes in a season. At least he’s wrapped up Rookie of the Year honors?
Double Stud Alert: Wenyi Ding and Caleb Surratt. They were the highest-ranked juniors in the field, and they met in the final – rare stuff! Ding, an Arizona State commit, built an 8-up lead in the scheduled 36-hole final and, significantly, became the first Chinese player to win the boys’ Amateur. Surratt, who will play collegiately at Tennessee, has impressed all summer long, never finishing worse than ninth in his last nine amateur starts, though he’ll surely be disappointed by the final result in the biggest junior event of the year.
Another One: Bubba Watson. Long rumored to be bolting, the mercurial left-hander was the latest to sign up for LIV Golf, making the announcement over the weekend even though he won’t compete until early 2023 as he recovers from surgery on his right knee. (He’ll serve as a non-playing captain the rest of this year.) Winless since 2018, Watson has rarely factored over the past few years but he remains a name with which most golf fans are familiar; he finished 10th last year in the Player Impact Program standings despite another sub-par season inside the ropes, largely because of his name recognition and (seriously) TikTok prowess. At 43 he's long past his prime, but Watson, who has served as an assistant/volunteer captain at Ryder and Solheim cups in recent years, actually seems like a good fit for LIV as it leans into the team aspect.
Still the Weak Link: Phil Mickelson. The same week that Forbes listed the 52-year-old Mickelson as the highest-paid athlete in 2022 (while using some reported estimates and approximations in relation to his nine-figure signing bonus), he showed just how much he had fleeced the Saudis. Fresh off a vacation following The Open, Mickelson finished 35th in the weak 48-man field, continuing his awful play since returning from his self-imposed hiatus. In three LIV appearances and two majors this year he is a whopping 42 over par. He is the richest member of the rival league – and, sadly, also among the worst players.
Staying Put: Charles Barkley. One of sports media’s biggest personalities, the NBA Hall of Famer flirted with joining LIV Golf as a broadcaster but decided to remain in his current gig with TNT (though it was unclear whether LIV ever actually extended an offer by Barkley’s July 28 deadline). Even though Barkley didn’t ultimately jump aboard, his brief dalliance and strong support of the rival tour was all the PR they could have hoped for.
You Love to See It: Sean Crocker. A former hotshot at Southern Cal, Crocker has taken the unconventional route to this point, going across the pond (a la the young Brooks Koepka) to cut his teeth professionally. It hasn’t been an easy journey for the American, with missed cuts in 34% of his starts, but the payoff was immense Sunday at the Hero Open where he prevailed for his first DP World Tour title – a victory that vaulted him to 133rd in the world. Once he finds some consistency, he has the game to make some noise. Having taken the long road, it's clear how much this one meant to him.
Racking up the Twitter Likes: Eddie Pepperell. Everyone’s favorite Twitterer because of his smart takes and self-deprecating style, Pepperell has been open about his recent struggles, so it was satisfying to see him contend deep into the final round of the Hero, his closing 65 putting him just one shy of Crocker’s mark. This was a player who finished 2018 at No. 35 in the world but nearly tumbled last month outside the top 600. Here’s hoping the upward trend continues – the game is better when this colorful character plays a part.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Kevin Kisner. Almost all of the big names hit, so this is a bit of a deep dive, but there were reasons for optimism last week with Kiz. In the past month he had ended a surprisingly sour stretch with back-to-back top-25s, including in his most recent start at The Open. He sported a tidy record at Detroit Golf Club, too, with a sub-69 scoring average and consecutive top-10s. That wasn’t enough to overcome a sluggish start, his rounds of 72-71 leaving him a few shy of the cut line. He’ll try again this week at another happy hunting ground at Wyndham. Sigh.
In Our Thoughts: Steve DiMeglio. This may have popped up on your social feeds last week, but the longtime scribe at USA Today/Golfweek recently was diagnosed with stage-4 rectal cancer that has spread to his liver. Chemotherapy is set to begin next week. DiMegs has a long road ahead, but he has the entire golf community rallying behind him. You’d be hard-pressed to find a more beloved, one-of-a-kind figure on the range or in the press tent. Send some positive vibes his way.