Hideki Matsuyama summons a stirring charge, Russell Henley comes up agonizingly short, PGA Tour stars sign up for a new Netflix docuseries and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble.
The first multiple-time winner of the 2021-22 PGA Tour season is – improbably – Hideki Matsuyama.
Five down to Russell Henley at the turn on Sunday, Matsuyama sliced into his deficit with a series of clutch putts and a shot that, even on Jan. 16, is destined to be remembered as one of the best of the year.
Facing a 277-yard second shot into Waialae’s home hole, Matsuyama hammered a 3-wood into the setting sun. Though he couldn’t follow the ball’s ascent, he apparently didn’t need to – it was stiff, 2 ½ feet away, a kick-in eagle to complete the miraculous comeback.
“To be honest I didn’t even see it,” he said. “But everybody started cheering, and I knew it was good.”
That followed another memorable swing on the final hole of regulation, when Matsuyama posted up on the far-right side of the tee box, swung out of his shoes and pummeled a drive across the dogleg – the first time in his career, he said, that he made that type of unhinged swing. Whatever. He knew he likely needed an eagle on the reachable par 5 (turns out a birdie was good enough to force overtime), and he was going for it. There appears to be a newfound freedom with Matsuyama during crunch time, a product, perhaps, of unburdening himself with a major breakthrough last spring.
It was Matsuyama’s second victory of the season, after his emotional triumph in front of the home fans at the Zozo Championship last fall. At the Sony, in an event that historically promotes the growth of Japanese golf, Matsuyama delivered again in front of the partisan crowd. He was typically excellent with his ball-striking but he paired it with his best-ever week on the greens. For the first time in his Tour career, he led the field in putting, gaining more than 7 ½ shots on the field (7.54). Yes, that was most likely a statistical anomaly for a player who entered the week ranked 205th in putting and has lost strokes each of the past three seasons ... but if not ... look out.
That unconscious putting performance lifted him to a 63-63 weekend and his eighth career Tour title, tying him with K.J. Choi for the most wins by an Asian male.
Henley, meanwhile, dropped to 1-for-6 when holding a 54-hole lead – and this one will be particularly tough to take, even for a guy who already admitted that he has a difficult time sleeping on the lead.
Leading by two heading into the final day, he shot 65 in the final round, finished the week ranked in the top 3 in strokes gained: approach and putting, and still lost in a playoff.
Henley went out in 29 to stake himself to a five-shot lead. It was a clinical display:
- 2nd hole: 6 feet for birdie
- 6th hole: 2 feet for birdie
- 7th hole: 8 feet for birdie
- 8th hole: 3 feet for birdie
- 9th hole: 3 feet for eagle
He seemed to be lapping the field, but there’s a reason why tournaments are 72 holes and not 63. It’s hard to win. And as Henley drew closer to the finish line, the worse he played.
Suddenly, he had 10-footers to save par, not for birdie. He developed a two-way miss off the tee. He engaged in even lengthier discussions with his caddie. His body language exuded stress.
He didn’t make a single birdie coming home (though his potential game-winner on the 72nd green burned the edge) and twice found the fairway bunker off the tee on 18, forcing him to lay up. His final two hours of sloppy play allowed Matsuyama to hunt him down and eventually overtake him.
“I don’t know how long it will take to get over it,” said Henley, who is still searching for his first win since 2017. “I definitely take confidence from the tournament, but it really stings to not come away with the win. That’s just part of it.”
With filming for the first season already underway, Netflix released the names of the players who have committed to appear in the new docuseries tracking the life and times of some of the PGA Tour’s best players.
Sure, it’s missing a little star power, some for obvious reasons. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson won’t appear. Neither will Bryson DeChambeau, who has started his own content creation company. Jon Rahm and Rory McIlroy said no, too.
But the list of names who allowed behind-the-scenes access is deep, spanning the unsurprising (Rickie Fowler) to the unheralded (Mito Pereira). Here are the guys we’re most interested in watching up close and personal:
1.) Harry Higgs/Joel Dahmen/Max Homa: They’re already unfiltered voices in the sport, and the freedom the series will grant them – with reportedly no editorial control from the Tour – makes their appearances even juicier. The challenge for producers will be differentiating them, since they tend to be lumped together as the Funny Golf Twitter Guys. Here’s guessing this trio will be the stars of Season 1.
2.) Brooks Koepka: For years King Koepka has resisted the notion that he’s merely a golfer. He wants to be seen as a jock (and a famous one at that), and so here is an opportunity for him to reach an entirely new audience. Never shying away from beefs – DJ, P-Reed, Rory, Bryson – it’d be a surprise if he wasn’t totally uncensored and uninhibited, taking shots at any and everyone. Buckle up.
3.) Jordan Spieth: Formerly nicknamed the “Golden Child,” we don’t know much about Spieth, now 28, away from the course. It remains to be seen how open and accessible he’ll be with the cameras, but even the slightest glimpses behind the curtain will help create a fuller picture.
4.) Dustin Johnson: Boating. Island hopping. Paulina. Golf’s coolest cat, now for all to see.
5.) Daniel Berger: On camera he may come off like a young DJ in training, but with even more cockiness. His public persona is about to get a massive bump.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
The Hangover is Real: Cameron Smith. A week after setting Kapalua ablaze, Smith recorded six bogeys and a double and missed the cut at the Sony. A silver lining, however: Through two rounds, Smith ranked second in strokes gained: off the tee, the same category that he led at the star-studded Tournament of Champions. If he’s threading the needle on both the wide-open Plantation Course and the claustrophobic Waialae, yeah, that bodes well, because that’s historically been a major weakness.
What If We Told You ...: Seamus Power is on a mini-heater. How about a little respect for the Irishman, who has 11 top-20s in his last 18 starts, a run that included his first Tour title at the Barbasol Championship and now a tie for third at the Sony. Outside the top 450 in the world when this stretch began, he’s all the way up to No. 49 – ahead of boldfaced names like Adam Scott and Stewart Cink.
Back for the Second Time: Tim Tucker. Bryson DeChambeau’s former caddie, who split with the mercurial star on the eve of the Rocket Mortgage, resurfaced last week at the Sony, where he hopped on the bag for up-and-coming Canadian Adam Svensson, guiding him to a T-7 showing. It’ll be interesting to see whether this becomes a long-term gig – Svensson has a lot of potential, and Tucker had previously said he was retiring to work on a shuttle-service project at Bandon Dunes.
Ah, Now That’s More Like It: A full(er) slate of golf. During the third week of the new year, we’ll have a wider sampling of action: Rory McIlroy makes his 2022 debut in Abu Dhabi (along with world No. 2 Collin Morikawa), Jon Rahm and Patrick Cantlay are among those playing dome golf in the California desert, the best from the LPGA (including top-ranked Nelly Korda) will kick off their seasons at the Tournament of Champions, the Korn Ferry Tour gets going in the Exumas – oh, and the over-50 set gets underway, too, in Hawaii. Hallelujah.
Entering the PIP Race: Kevin Na and Grayson Murray. The two traded barbs on social media, with Murray chiding Na for his continued slow play before Na came in for the kill shot. In the PIP era, these types of clap-backs and mini-feuds will become more common – even if this one was a little uncomfortable, given Murray's recent public battle with mental health and alcoholism.
From the No-Surprise Department: College stud departures. This will continue to happen as long as there's a system that puts players in an awkward position to choose the pros over their teammates. Duke’s Gina Kim and Arkansas’ Brooke Matthews, two of the best players in the country, announced last week that they were forgoing the remainder of their senior seasons to begin their LPGA careers. Of the seven college players who earned status via Q-Series, five have bolted early. They’re in desperate need of some sort of beefed-up PGA Tour University system for the women – that’s the only way the stars will stay in school.
Oldie But Still Nasty: Jim Furyk. In the mix after Day 1 at the Sony was the 51-year-old Furyk, who became the oldest player to shoot 62 or better in a Tour event since they began tracking those statistics in 1983. He crashed back to earth with back-to-back rounds of 72 but, hey, at least the grizzled veteran still showed there’s some magic left.
Whatever Works: Michael Thompson (T-5). He started growing this bad boy last July, but we're already itching thinking about how it's going to feel come the heat and humidity of the Florida swing.
You Love to See It: Dawgs on top. The same week that the Bulldogs won their first college football national title in 41 years, all 10 Georgia alums who were in the field at the Sony Open made the cut – a cut that matched the lowest in tournament history. Surely that’s some sort of record, and we’re here for it. No wonder Kevin Kisner and Co. call it the “UGA Tour.”
Age is Just a Number: Ratchanon Chantananuwat. The 14-year-old, trying to become the youngest player, male or female, to win a professional event that offers world-ranking points, took the lead in the final round of the Asian Tour’s Singapore International before fading on the back nine. He finished third, an incredible achievement for a kid who is probably just an eighth- or ninth-grader.
No Biggie: DeChambeau’s injury. A few days after pulling out of the Sony citing wrist soreness, DeChambeau said that the injury to his left wrist was no cause for concern and that his early exit was precautionary. Instead, he signed up for next week’s Farmers Insurance Open, which he said would serve as a (gulp) nice tune-up for the Saudi event.
RIP: Tim Rosaforte. Never before has a golf journalist flooded Twitter timelines, but the reaction to Rosie’s passing last week illustrated just how massive his reach and impact was. To this scribe, he was a warm, gentle presence who was quick to compliment and even faster to help. He was a pioneer in the biz, the first golf reporter to seamlessly transition from the magazine pages to the tube. Just 66, he had so much left to give before that awful, insidious disease took over. Prayers up to the entire Rosaforte clan.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Webb Simpson. Rounding into form at the end of what was an otherwise disappointing 2021, Simpson couldn’t keep cooking at Waialae, where he’d been among the best (with nothin’ but top-4s) without a win in his last three appearances. This time, he stalled out on the weekend and wound up in a tie for 61st (out of 65). Sigh.