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Monday Rap: Scottie's A Very Scary Golfer, Tiger's On To Augusta And Anthony Kim Shows Signs Of Life

Brennan Asplen. Getty Images.

We wondered what it would look like when Scottie Scheffler figured out the putter. We found out. 

The world No. 1 enjoyed one of the better putting weeks of his career en route to a tour-de-force, five-shot victory at Bay Hill. His bogey-free 66 on Sunday was the work of a man at the peak of his powers, the best ball striker in the world finally stumbling into a hot putting week after months and months of bitter frustration on the greens. The flatstick has been the lone weapon missing from Scheffler’s arsenal—he’d still been good enough tee-to-green to rack up top 10 after top 10 and remain world No. 1 for 41 consecutive weeks. But the putter kept him from running away with tournaments like he did on Sunday. 

Other players knew this. Rory McIlroy half-jokingly suggested at Riviera that Scheffler try a mallet, only to stop himself from giving advice to the only player above him in the rankings. If Scottie learns how to putt, it might be over for us all. Scheffler did indeed opt for a TaylorMade Spider mallet this week, the latest in a series of tweaks made with coach Phil Kenyon in search of a spark. They found it in Orlando. Scheffler led the field in putting on Sunday, gaining 3.89 shots in the final round alone, and finished fifth for the week. For his competitors, with major season approaching, that’s downright ominous.

“It would be borderline unfair if he starts putting really good,” said Wyndham Clark, who finished solo second. “I never want to wish ill on anybody, but if he starts putting positive each week it's going to be really hard to beat. But that's good. It's just going to push me to get better in my will ball striking and every part of the game. He's kind of the barometer right now and I've got a lot of room to catch up and get better.”

Added Shane Lowry, who witnessed it first-hand: "There's probably only a couple of players in the world that can live with (Scottie) playing like that. Not sure I'm one of them."

As for Scheffler, he was characteristically low-key and humble after the win, his seventh on tour. He’d have been well within his rights to do a little dunking given all the oxygen that’s been given to his putting struggles. That’s not his style, and he credited the breakthrough to sticking with the process. 

“I think it has a lot to do with the stuff we talked about on Monday, keeping the mind as quiet as possible. Part of the problem is just trying too hard. It's frustrating to not have the best of myself, just because I know that I can putt really well. It's not like I've been a bad putter my whole career. I've just gone through a stretch where it's been tough.”

Scheffler now heads to TPC Sawgrass to defend his title from last year’s Players, which he also won by five. You get the sense there are more five-shot wins in his future. As for whether he’s going to keep this putter around for good…that’s still a what-have-you-done-for-me-lately business. 

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This didn’t get as much attention as I'd have thought, but Tiger Woods’ decision to skip the Players Championship struck me as rather depressing. A sobering reminder of the reality he faces. 

Woods said at last December’s Hero World Challenge that, with his ankle now pain-free, he hoped to play roughly once a month. He was light on details but there was ample justification for optimism. Maybe, just maybe, he’d play the Farmers, then the Genesis, Players, Masters, PGA, U.S. Open, British Open. Perhaps throw in the Memorial or Bay Hill. It was the most upbeat he’d sounded about his health since the accident. He wouldn’t ever play a full-time schedule like he did after the back surgery—it’s easy to forget he played 19 times in 2018 and five times before the Masters in 2019—but he’d be able to be a semi-regular figure on tour. That wasn’t possible before the ankle surgery.

But is it even possible now?

By all publicly available information—which, whenever Tiger is involved, is not all the information—Woods has not suffered a setback with his leg. He looked pretty good physically in the Bahamas, walking the same on Sunday as he did on Thursday. That was never the real test, though, it being a limited-field event on a dead flat course in 80-degree heat. He opted not to play anywhere in January and make his season debut at chilly Riviera, where he struggled in round one and then pulled out less than halfway through Friday’s round. It wasn’t his leg, though, or his back, even though he did complain of spasms on Thursday. The culprit was the flu. 

Tiger fans breathed a sigh of relief. As long as it’s not the leg or the back. Then he turned up at the Seminole Pro-Am and, according to Brad Faxon’s borderline North Korean-style report, he hardly missed a shot. He even walked the course! Another sigh of relief. He’d turn up at TPC Sawgrass to being his Masters prep in earnest.

Or not. 

Woods will skip this week’s Players Championship for the fourth straight year. The question is why? Is the back giving him problems? The leg? He’s had a month to recover from that flu and from the pre-tournament ramp up he did before Riviera. Woods surely wants to be at TPC Sawgrass. He’s going to be the Vice President of the new PGA Tour enterprises. He has poured countless hours into reshaping the future of the PGA Tour. He knows the narrative that tour events haven’t had that buzz this year, and he knows what his presence at a golf tournament does in the buzz department. So why isn’t he playing? 

It’s likely some combination of the above. He’s not confident he can play 72 holes at TPC Sawgrass and still be in peak condition for the Masters. That is…not a great sign for his future prospects as a golfer. He is 48 years old with a fused back and a fused ankle. He has completed 72 holes in an official event just twice since the 2020 Masters. 

Did he really think back in December he could play once a month? Was he saying that with an eye toward the negotiation with Strategic Sports Group? (A PGA Tour with Tiger playing once a month is a more valuable PGA Tour.) Has something happened we don’t know about? It’s not clear, but perhaps it’s time we just accept that he’s on a strict diet of the majors and the tournaments that benefit his foundation. It’s going to be virtually impossible to get into a competitive rhythm playing that sparingly, and only against the strongest fields in world golf. Such is the plight of Tiger Woods the golfer in 2024. 

The good news is he has plenty to occupy his time outside the ropes. Sun Day Red. All the work left with PGA Tour Enterprises. Still, it won’t be the same next week without Tiger Woods. It never is. 

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There’s a split on the PGA Tour, and it’s exemplified by a few quotes that made the rounds this past week. On one side you have the superstars, the one-name players, the PIP winners. You know who they are. Those were the players behind the signature-event model that’s been received with mixed reviews in its second season. They’re the PGA Tour’s top draws, and they know it, and they believe that getting themselves together more often will bring more attention and eyeballs onto the PGA Tour. In turn, that means more money for everyone. 

Rory McIlroy’s leading the charger. He’s been vocal about wanting a smaller, more cutthroat global tour that features just the top 100 or so players in the world. He reiterated his stance at Bay Hill. 

“I’m all for making it more cut throat, more competitive,” McIlroy told reporters on Friday. “Probably won't be very popular for saying this, but I'm all for less players and less tour cards, and the best of the best.”

Wyndham Clark backed him up on Saturday. 

“I think it would be amazing if our tour was a hundred guys, and I kind of said this a few times, a hundred guys and we have 20 guys that get relegated every time, every year, doesn't matter who you are. It would be exciting. Because you come down to the end of the year, people are looking who is going to win the FedExCup, and then you're looking at who is not going to be here next year. So, yeah, I'm probably with Rory on that. I don't know what that number is, but I think it's just nice to elevate the product and make it to where the best players are playing on TV more often and against each other.”

Clark was hammered by comment warriors and by other players for this stance given his career arc. Clark played five years on Tour as one of those rank-and-file guys who doesn’t really move the needle. Then he got his mental game dialed and became a PIP-level guy. Of course, now that he’s in the “in crowd” he wants to close the shop. That’s how the backlash went. 

I see it differently; he’s saying even he shouldn’t be safe. What he’s advocating for is the ultimate meritocracy. Think of it like the Premier League in soccer. Everyone starts at 0 every year. The bottom three move down. The top three from the second division move up. And he’d likely tell you he didn’t deserve anything until he started winning. It wasn’t the most artful way to say it, but the harsh criticism wasn’t fair. 

The counter argument to McIlroy and Clark is that some of the better stories in recent weeks wouldn’t be possible with a closed shop. Wins like Nick Dunlap’s, the amateur who won the American Express on a sponsor’s invite. Stars differentiate themselves in part with how much better than play than the rank-and-file every week. If there’s no rank-and-file, there’s no point of comparison for starts. Lucas Glover is one of the guys tired of these limited fields (there were just 69 at Bay Hill and just 11 guys missed the cut, including Collin Morikawa, Matt Fitzpatrick and Tommy Fleetwood). 

“I don’t like the idea at all,” Glover told Adam Schupak of Golfweek. “It’s selfish and it’s a money grab…“Nothing that has happened in the last two years in golf, in my opinion, that will help the game,” he said. “I’ve yet to figure out what’s so bad out here that we had to do all the things we’ve done….“I’m 44 and I’m getting towards the get-off-my-lawn dad,” he said. “I just don’t see what was so bad out here that we had to do all this. Let’s raise some purses to make sure we keep some guys around but now we’ve eliminated a lot of playing opportunities for some really good players.”

I’m with Glover, I think. Keep the signature events with their huge purses, which will attract the top players. But there’s no reason Riviera and Bay Hill couldn’t have had fuller fields with a more legitimate cut. That’s a key differentiator between the PGA Tour and LIV Golf. And, this side of Tiger Woods, I just refuse to believe there’s any one player who’s so important that they need to be around on Saturday and Sunday even if they’re 15 shots back of the lead. On the whole, with professional golf, I don’t believe that less players makes for a better tournament. 

Making the tour itself smaller and doubling down on no-cut events is, essentially, just following the LIV Golf model. I don’t think that’s a smart move for the PGA Tour. 

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Anthony Kim showed some signs of progress in the final round of LIV Hong Kong, posting a final round five-under 65. He still finished 50th out of 54 thanks to playing the first two rounds in +8 and was 21 back of the winning number. He’ll play the Asian Tour event this week for more tournament reps before making his stateside debut in Miami. But what’s more interesting than his scores is just how incredibly off-the-grid this guy was before reemerging last week in Saudi Arabia. We’re learning the extent of his off-the-gridness and it’s genuinely admirable. 

According to Flushing It Golf, an account that’s plugged into the LIV circles, Kim hasn’t had his clubs custom fit. They’re hoping to do it before he plays Miami. I’m sorry, what?! You signed a multi-million dollar deal to play golf, a deal that was surely months in the making, and you simply never had time to go get fit? 

He also didn’t know how to use a TrackMan—DJ had to help him in Saudi Arabia. That might be even crazier. Go to any driving range at any professional event and you’ll see launch monitors everywhere. They have become a crucial tool in the modern professional’s arsenal. It’s how they check numbers, launch angles, spin rates, equipment, all that stuff. And AK, it seems, might never have used one before last week. What’s more, AK had to be reminded to drop a ball from his knees after he tried to drop it from his shoulder-height. That rule changed in 2019. 

It all begs the question: how much has this guy been practicing, if at all? What was he doing before Jeddah? Unfortunately we probably won’t get the full answer for a little while as AK has said he’s focused on golf and will tell his story when the time is right. For now we’re left to marvel at just how DGAF this guy is and wonder if LIV knew just how out of golf shape he was. You’d think a comeback like this a guy would be grinding on the range for months, getting his equipment and numbers dialed, maybe play a few mini tour events to get the competitive juices flowing again. NOPE. AK did the equivalent of pulling up to the golf course 2 minutes before your tee time and promptly ripping driver out of bounds on the first tee. I guess it’s encouraging that he still has so many tools at his disposal that he simply hasn’t used. You know, like getting the right clubs. 

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Just a wonderful comeback story out of the DP World Tour this week. The name Matteo Manassero will ring a bell with hardcore golf fans. The Italian former phenom is still the youngest player to ever win a DP World Tour event when he did so as a 17-year-old in 2010. A second win just six months later portended a superstar career. He racked up four wins by the age of 20 and did pop his head inside the top 30 in the world, but he never quite blossomed into a proper world-class player. He failed to secure a PGA Tour card and never made a Ryder Cup team. 

Then he fell off the golfing planet.

Manassero’s game completely disappeared. He couldn’t make a cut on the Challenge Tour. From 2016 through 2020 he was in the golfing abyss, dropping all the way outside the top 1,800 in the world and playing his golf on the Alps Tour, a third-tier mini tour in Europe. He was in his mid 20s, in his physical prime, and playing horrendous golf compared to the standard of his teens. But he persisted, and in 2023 achieved a semi-breakthrough by winning twice on the Challenge Tour and getting his DP World Tour card back. On Sunday, now 30 years old, he won for the first time in 11 years and did so in remarkable fashion. 

Manassero birdied his 15th and 16th holes on Sunday to take a one-shot lead only for the horn to blow. He had to wait out a rain delay just two holes away from a victory that would mean so much. When play restarted he simply birdied the final two for a 66 and a three-shot victory. He was, understandably, elated.

Awesome.

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Wyndham Clark couldn’t stay out of the headlines this week. A close-up of him addressing his ball on Saturday afternoon looked dicey even in real-time, before all the slow-mos. Dan Hicks and Luke Donald were noticeably uncomfortable. Clark was doing something that pros do all the time—putting his club behind the ball in a rough to see how it’s going to look when he addresses it. It’s a way for the player to see if he likes the way a certain club looks vis a vis the lie.

Happens all the time. Doesn’t mean it’s right. Look, there’s zero percent chance Clark was trying to cheat. You’d have to be a cheater and a stupid one, with all those cameras around, and Clark is neither dumb nor a cheater. Still, this practice should probably stop across the board and he in particular needs to be more careful. Surely he knows that after seeing the clips.

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Abraham Ancer did his best to squander a five-shot lead but ultimately won his first LIV event by beating Cameron Smith and Paul Casey in a playoff at Hong Kong Golf Club. Ancer’s in a bit of no-man’s land; his ranking has dropped so far he’s out of the majors, and Mike Weir confirmed that LIV guys won’t play in the Presidents Cup. (Which is lame and cheapens the Presidents Cup, but such are the times in professional golf.) But the $4 million probably makes that feel a bit better.

LIV’s Asian swing is now over and they’ll hold their first U.S. event in Miami in two week’s time. 

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It's Players Championship week, the crowned-jewel event of the PGA Tour. I was stunned to see they're still going with the "The Best Field in Golf" tagline. It's not that another tournament necessarily has a better field—the majors have more top-end players but Players might still strongest top-to-bottom, so it kind of depends how you determine "strong"—it's just a ballsy thing to do when so much of the public conversation is about how so many top players aren't on the PGA Tour anymore. 

Either way, always a fun week and the first truly big-time tournament of the year. From now on it's one a month through July. Players, right into major season. I'm pumped. 

Until next time, 
Dan

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