Welcome back to the Monday Finish, where the paragraphs are pumpkin-spiced — so grab a cider donut and dive in. Fall golf is here — let’s get to it!
FIRST OFF THE TEE
The PGA Tour’s fall season has something right.
We’re exactly one week into the PGA Tour’s new-look fall season, so it’s probably a bit early to jump to conclusions. But I am into it. That’s not because it’s must-watch TV — it actually might be because nobody’s forcing you to think that it is.
For too many years the Tour’s issue was that it never stopped. Even when there was an offseason there wasn’t really an offseason. Now? There’s an offseason!
Sure, there’s still consequential golf happening. There was plenty of drama at the Fortinet this weekend. But it’s also differentiated from the regular-season consequential golf. The fall golf season means a ton to the participants, particularly those fighting for PGA Tour status. But you, as a fan, also have the Tour’s (unwritten) permission to tune in and out where you so choose. The big fellas won’t be counting FedEx Cup points until the new year. This is sicko season, meant for the diehards of diehards.
Last week I wrote about the coherence of the new DP World Tour schedule; it’s remarkably sensible both from a storytelling perspective and a travel perspective. It also meshes particularly well with the PGA Tour’s fall slate of events. This is the time of year to enjoy the Irish Open and the BMW PGA Championship in the morning and wrap up in time to get to your afternoon football — but keep Sahith Theegala’s Fortinet run on a second screen, never far away.
Hell, you could even consider stepping outside, if you so choose.
The world of men’s professional golf still has a lot to sort out. Can LIV, the DP World Tour and the PGA Tour all logically coexist long-term? Nah — something will have to give, eventually. But this fall’s schedule feels like a step in the right direction.
Who won the week?
The International Team
It’s Solheim Cup week and it’s Ryder Cup Season, which means Team Europe and Team USA are taking center stage. But New Zealander Ryan Fox singlehandedly stared down the European 12 in the BMW PGA Championship, shooting 66-67 including an up-and-down for birdie at the par-5 18th to win by one.
At the conclusion of the BMW Championship Sahith Theegala penned a rather forlorn Instagram post; his 72nd-hole bogey kept him one shot outside the top 30 that qualified for East Lake. This was the end of his second PGA Tour season, he wrote. All of this just added fuel to the fire.
But it turned out not to be the end of the season. Not really. Theegala arrived in Napa with one thing on his mind: his first PGA Tour victory. He shot 68-64-67 to build a lead. Then he kept the pedal down, making seven Sunday birdies to close out a two-shot win at the Fortinet Championship.
“I probably practiced more than most of the guys in this field leading up because I was so fired up about not making East Lake, and I was disappointed and I had a hard time putting the sticks away for a bit. I just kept reminding myself that I’m playing really well.”
That would be Korn Ferry Tour winner Grayson Murray, whose Simmons Bank Open victory was his secnod in just 12 starts this season and came after a trip to conquer a far tougher opponent than anyone else in the field: fear. A trip to see “fear management instructor” Tony Blauer helped the famously mercurial Murray to what his caddie Kip Henley attested was his best mental performance yet. Now he’s headed back to the PGA Tour for next season.
We’re feeling generous.
Aaron Rai was one of the first players left off the European Ryder Cup team, and he finished an impressive T2 at the BMW PGA Championship. But the guys on the team weren’t slouches, either.
Tyrrell Hatton finished T2. Jon Rahm finished fourth. Viktor Hovland fifth. Tommy Fleetwood sixth. Rory McIlroy T7. Ludvig Aberg held the 54-hole lead but still wound up T10 — alongside Sepp Straka and just ahead of Matthew Fitzpatrick and Shane Lowry, who tied for 18th. All 12 guys showed up and all 12 guys made the cut. Solid way to kick off next week’s festivities.
The Justin Thomas Discourse
Did Justin Thomas need a good finish at the Fortinet in order to play well in the Ryder Cup? No, he did not. But he’s probably pretty glad he played his way to one nonetheless. U.S. captain Zach Johnson must be, too.
Now that we’re clear from the fog of war that accompanied Ryder Cup picks in the thick of the FedEx Cup Playoffs, it seems more obvious that Thomas should be on this squad despite a lackluster Tour season. The Ryder Cup comes a month removed from the Tour Championship, after all. A month is enough of a reset that hot putters can cool off and cool players can heat up. That appears to be the case for Thomas, who finished solo fifth in Napa and will have a better taste in his mouth (and face fewer prying questions) en route to Rome as a result.
Lovemark’s Last Chance
You likely know the name Jamie Lovemark; the former No. 1 amateur in the world played on the PGA Tour and is a past champion on the Korn Ferry. But his past winner status ends this year and he entered the week at No. 130, which meant he needed a big week to keep his career going. He got it with a T2; he’s now up to No. 70 with two events to play. The top 75 retain full status for 2024, which means Lovemark can set his sights on another top finish and keep the dream alive.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
A familiar voice.
Roger Maltbie was back in action in Golf Channel’s presentation of the Fortinet and man, it was a pleasant surprise to hear the legendary on-course reporter breaking down the action.
Last fall, the beloved Maltbie and Gary Koch were informed they wouldn’t be part of NBC Sports’ broadcasting future. Maltbie had some poignant comments on his departure at the time:
“I would have liked to have kept going, but it’s a funny thing the phases your career goes through over the course of 31 years,” Maltbie said. “When I first started, hell, I knew every player. I was a player still. I was one of them and I was doing TV. I knew the names of their wives and the names of your kids and competed with and against them. There was a real familiarity.
“Then you go through a period where they know who you are and they know you played and so on and so forth, and then you meet a new bunch of young kids and you go on and then the later years, most of those kids don’t even know I played golf for a living, really to be honest with you. There’s a timespan to everything.”
Maltbie and Koch bid farewell at last year’s PNC Championship, but Maltbie returned at Napa, a longtime beloved site. It was good to see him, although my understanding is still that this was a one-off.
WHAT WE’RE HEARING
Rory on Augusta.
Rory McIlroy posted up on the Subpar podcast this week and gave, unsurprisingly, an insightful interview. One nugget I found particularly intriguing was his perspective to approaching the Masters — particularly his shocking missed cut this year.
McIlroy needs a title at Augusta National to round out his career grand slam. And although he hasn’t won a major since 2014 he has been playing his best golf in the biggest events of late; the last two seasons he’s finished top eight in seven of the eight majors. That Masters MC is the notable exception.
“Sometimes because it’s the one that I haven’t won the only thing I think about that week is winning it,” McIlroy told Colt Knost and Drew Stoltz. “As you know, Colt, that’s not the way to approach a golf tournament. If I look at the way I approached (U.S. Open site) LACC, you’re dissecting the golf course, you’re like okay, this is how I want to play the first three or four holes. You’re just into the tournament, you’re into your process and you’re into just figuring out how to manage your way around the golf course. I think sometimes at Augusta I’m too much of a leaderboard-watcher too early.”
He gave an example.
“This year Brooks [Koepka] got off to that really hot start and he was on the eighth green on Friday morning and I was on the first green. And I think I was even par for the tournament and Brooks had just birdied the 8th hole to go to 10 under for the tournament. So I’m like, 10 shots back and I already feel like I need to chase. I need to like, do something.
“It’s hard. You know what those leaderboards are like at Augusta, those big, white — you can’t miss them. They’re everywhere,” he added. “At Augusta I feel I sometimes get too results-oriented too early instead of just getting myself in the tournament, playing my way into contention like I do every other tournament and then going from there.”
McIlroy did tease out a new approach to majors, including Augusta National, that he’ll employ next season to get his game in the best shape and manage the hype.
“I’ve realized that to get the best out of myself I like playing my way into the major champions,” he said. “If you look at next year, I’ll probably play San Antonio going into Augusta. And then I love that Quail Hollow is directly the week before [PGA Championship site] Valhalla. The Scottish Open into the Open is nice. And the Memorial into the U.S. Open as well.”
Good news for golf fans in San Antonio. And, if the plan works, good news for McIlroy, too.
WHAT WE’RE SEEING
Kevin Kisner’s return.
Back in July, Kevin Kisner was asked when he might return to action on the PGA Tour.
We hadn’t heard a ton else from Kisner, who withdrew midway through the Travelers in June. That was just the latest in a rough stretch of tournaments; his struggles with driver were particularly glaring.
It wasn’t until late August that we got an explanation for the Travelers WD. What happened there?
“I asked [caddie Duane Bock] Dewey walking off 18 what I should do and he said, ‘you should go home,’” Kisner recalled on the Fore Play podcast. “And I was like, ‘I think you’re right.’
“He was like, ‘You’re not even into this at all. And you’re hitting terrible shots. And you’re not even making putts now because you’re only worried about your tee balls.’ And I was like, ‘you’re right.’ So that’s what we did.”
The next we heard from Kisner? An announcement ahead of the Fortinet:
He was back. As it turns out, he was back in style: He opened with a round of three-under 69. Kisner even gained strokes on the field off the tee!
It wasn’t quite so easy the rest of the week. He struggled off the tee on Friday, rallying to an even-par 72 just to make the cut.
The weekend was a mixed bag: Four-over 76 on Saturday and four-under 68 on Sunday. Making the cut was a success. Finishing T62 was no doubt less exciting. Finishing 64th of 68 in strokes gained off the tee was discouraging, too. Next week’s Ryder Cup will be a reminder that last year around this time Kisner was preparing to represent the U.S. at the Presidents Cup. This year? He’s a work in progress. He has a large contingent pulling for him.
3 things to watch this week.
1. The Solheim Cup!
It’s match play. It’s U.S. vs. Europe. For American TV-watchers it’s delightful morning golf. For in-person attendees it’s fun, tense, high-stakes. It actually feels trite to tease this in a one-paragraph summary. You should just be sure to make this part of your viewing week.
2a. The French Open
That would be the Cazoo Open De France, the latest in a nice run of DP World Tour events. Tom Kim enters as the 10-1 favorite, just ahead of Min Woo Lee and Ryan Fox. From what I can tell the only Ryder Cupper on Team Europe who’s playing this week is Robert MacIntyre, chasing some form ahead of Rome.
2b. LIV Chicago
LIV is back! If it feels like it’s been a while, that’s because it’s been a while. Bedminster was five weeks ago; now the fledgling league heads to Chicago. So does new father — and the only American Ryder Cupper playing this week — Brooks Koepka.
3. Sahith’s father
Murli had a message for his son.
“You proved to me that you are a resilient boy.”
He sure is.
We’ll see you next week!