Tony Finau keeps winning, intrigue grows around the Player Impact Program, Nelly Korda makes a statement and more in this week’s Monday Scramble:
The pro game is getting younger and younger, but Tony Finau – at 33 – is better than ever.
With one win in his first 188 official starts on the PGA Tour, Big Tone now has four wins in his last 30 appearances.
Even if he only improved to 12th in the world, that run — which began at the start of the 2021 FedExCup Playoffs — has put Finau on par with at least some of the sport’s biggest names in terms of wins, with the likes of Rory McIlroy, Scottie Scheffler and Patrick Cantlay, who claimed all four wins in the same period.
At the Cadence Bank Houston Open on Sunday, Finau led by eight strokes at one point and sailed to a four-stroke victory. It was, statistically at least, the best performance of his career:
- 1st hit in fairways
- 1. taken in the open
- 2nd place in strokes won: putting
- 2. in strokes won: from the tee
- 4. in strokes won: tee shot to the green
According to stats guru Justin Ray, Finau is only the sixth player in the last 15 years to win while ranking in the top five in those areas.
In the third round, Finau hit all 13 fairways for the first time in his career. Praised for his insane speed and effortless power, Finau now describes himself as a “precision player” who has managed to hone his immense gifts. A few years ago it would have been unfathomable to think he could lead the field in accuracy.
“That was probably the best driving week of my career,” said Finau afterwards. “And it’s a deadly combination when I feel like this is also the best putting week I’ve ever had.”
It seems like forever since critics (even in this area) wondered if amidst all these near misses, Finau would ever realize its monstrous potential. He called the past few years the most important of his career because his confidence and confidence have never wavered, even as disappointments piled up and outside noise increased. Credit to both Finau and swing coach Boyd Summerhays for targeting weak areas (accuracy, short iron play, putting) and becoming a much more versatile player.
Another move – majors, a POY season – could come in 2023.
“I always had hope that I could take part in special runs,” said Finau, “and I think we’re starting to see that now. I’m starting to put together a full game, which is really exciting for me.”
Rory McIlroy broke the News (to The Associated Press) that he finished second to Tiger Woods in the second annual Player Impact Program.
That came as no great surprise: even with limited action, Woods remains the game’s pre-eminent needlemaker, while McIlroy, the reigning FedExCup Champion, featured prominently both on the course and behind the mic.
Who comes next is even more intriguing.
LIV Golf poached five players from the 2021 roster, which was no small feat as these were the players deemed most popular by the tour’s own metrics. These were the players the Tour ranked as the most valuable to their brand – and now they’re playing for the opposing team.
The final leaderboard, which now includes 20 players vying for a $100 million bonus pool, could be released as soon as this week.
It is reasonable to assume that Jordan Spieth will take third place on the list. But then …?
Justin Thomas finished sixth in 2021, but he won a major that year and, while not as forward-looking as McIlroy, still helped carry the tour banner. Finau should crack the top 10 for the first time.
Where does Scheffler end up? He won the Masters and was named Player of the Year, but like Cantlay a year ago, he keeps to himself and doesn’t have a huge online presence.
How about Xander Schauffele? He’s one of the best players on the tour but he prefers to let his clubs do the talking. Does he increase viewership when he’s in the running?
Max Homa and Billy Horschel have both risen in profile this year and appear – at least from this spot – to be ideal candidates for a top 10 finish. Did Tom Kim’s recent star turn catapult him up the standings?
With Phil Mickelson, Bryson DeChambeau, Dustin Johnson, Brooks Koepka and Bubba Watson all gone, others must fill the void. That’s why we’re about to learn how important Jon Rahm, Will Zalatoris, Cameron Young, Viktor Hovland and others are to the Tour brand.
Those who perform worse than expected may feel left out by the Tour’s proprietary system, which aims to better recognize on-track performance and now takes on added prominence with guaranteed appearances at the more upscale events.
If history is any indication, the PIP rankings will be a guide for LIV as it seeks to expand its roster for 2023 and beyond.
Has had a turbulent year gave a known result.
Nelly Korda is back at the top of women’s football.
The American star returned to first place after defending her title at the Pelican Women’s Championship after denying Lexi Thompson the long-awaited title at 64.
Korda wasn’t even sure if she’d be able to play this season after missing four months with a blood clot in her left arm. She finished second twice this summer but missed her last two cuts and appeared poised to continue her 2021 breakout campaign with a winless season.
Then came the pelican and a rousing final lap that gave her a one-shot victory over Thompson, who has now had nine second places since her last win in 2019 – by far the most of any player on the tour.
As for Korda, she reclaimed first place in the Rolex rankings, beating 19-year-old Atthaya Thitikul, whose reign lasted just two weeks. Korda spent a total of 29 weeks at the helm, most recently in January of this year.
“It feels really good to be at the top,” she said on the 18th Green Sunday.
THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS…
late bloomer: Stephen Alker. Before turning 50, the New Zealand journeyman had banked just over $2 million in his career. Fifteen months ago, he had no particular status and was qualifying for senior events on Monday. But now, in his first full season, he’s the top dog and biggest earner on the Tour. He won the Charles Schwab Cup and nearly $5 million on Sunday. What a remarkable turnaround.
Go out in style: Padraig Harrington. At the PGA Tour Champions season finale, Harrington set the all-time 72-hole scoring record of 257 on his way to a runaway seven-shot win at the Charles Schwab Cup championship. Alker may have won the top prize, but Harrington made his mark as player of the year. He won four times and in four fewer starts than Alker.
It’s the season: Tiger Woods. As for no surprises, Woods committed to playing as one of the tournament’s three invited sponsors at his season-ending show in the Bahamas. That should mean three straight weeks of TW: the hero, the match, and then the PNC with son Charlie. Would we prefer all tiger time in the heart of golf season? OK sure. But at a sleepy time of year we won’t complain.
It’s more like this: Tommy Fleetwood. The England flusher has been in a mysterious winless drought since 2019, but at the Nedbank Challenge he was back where he belongs – in the winners’ circle. With tears in his eyes, it was the sixth DP world title for the world-class player, who now plays full-time in the USA. He’s back in the top 25 in the world.
bounce: Andy Ogletree. The former US amateur champion became a social media punching bag after playing the first LIV event, finishing last and then being banned from the PGA Tour for hitting the opposition circuit. Just when it seemed he might have hit rock bottom, he played excellent golf at the Asian Tour event in Egypt, shooting all four rounds for 66 or more (including a 62 on the last round), earning him his first pro win and brought home an A for the next few years if his ban from touring is not lifted.
Official Official: PGA Tour University upgrades. The Tour Policy Board is expected to give the green light this week to a proposal that would ensure the top senior in the Tour’s PGA Tour University rankings would automatically receive a post-NCAA season Tour card, as well as the Added a direct path for all “accelerated” underclassmen who dominate collegiate and amateur play. That’s a great move… that doesn’t go nearly far enough. The top 3 need tour tickets immediately if they really want to shore up the pipeline.
If you only halfway understand the rules: Mark Hubbard. Heading towards a missed cut in Houston, Hubbard decided to add a 15th bat to his bag (a driver with a different spinning head), believing, he said, that he would be lining up for a maximum four-shot penalty as he did finished his last event of the year. Ah, but because he never officially ruled out any other stick, as soon as he hit the extra large stick he clearly broke rule 4.1c and immediately DQed. What a strange one.
Last file: Golf season 2022. This week before Thanksgiving we will wrap up the PGA Tour (RSM), DP World (Dubai) and LPGA (CME Globe) before we can all catch our breath together…at least until the Holiday Exhibition SZN. This last week is a great week for golf.
Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Sam Burns. He’d finished seventh in both of his past two years at Memorial Park, but this time he wasn’t ready to play. He opened with an ugly 77 in the first round and then decided to retire when he had five holes left in his delayed second round, making for a disappointing end to an otherwise impressive 2022 season. Sigh.