“FORE” QUESTIONS FROM THE 3M OPEN
Michael Thompson earned his second victory on the PGA Tour holding off a surging Adam Long by two shots. It’s Thompson’s second victory on the PGA Tour. Also finishing in the top-5 included notable names Tony Finau, Charl Schwartzel, and Charles Howell III. Below, we answer some of the most pressing questions from the past week and look forward to the next two weeks on the PGA Tour which includes a World Golf Championship and a major championship.
What’s the Bigger Story: Michael Thompson Winning or Tony Finau Losing?
The media will probably focus more on Finau coming up short again, but let’s first talk about Michael Thompson because that is what the main story should be. Thompson was one of the promising young stars of the future last decade finishing 2nd at the 2012 U.S. Open to Webb Simpson and then winning his first tournament at the 2013 Honda Classic. But then he disappeared. He lost his PGA Tour status and went through a lot of tough times, fighting to keep his career alive. He got his card back last season and is an inspirational story of a player fighting his way back after everything seemed lost. Thompson fought back tears in his post-round interview and now becomes a candidate now for Comeback Player of the Year.
As for Finau, he continues to make money for top-10 finishes, which is great for his bank account, but not great when it comes to facing questions about when he will break this curse. Yes, he has one win on the PGA Tour, but it came in an event that played opposite the World Golf Championships where all the best players were. He has yet to win an event with a top-50 player in the field.
Finau moves into the top-15 in the World Golf Rankings with five top-10 finishes this season and will be among the favorites for the PGA Championship in two weeks despite that one win–which unfortunately has an asterisk next to it. We touched on this a lot last week–Tony has some of the best talent and potential on Tour and when he eventually breaks through, he is going to go on a run. But breaking that curse seems to be like trying to climb Mount Everest.
Is Tiger skipping next week’s WGC the right move?
Not if he intends to win the PGA Championship. Whatever Tiger’s odds are in San Francisco in 10 days, multiply by them by 100. Those are his chances of winning by skipping next week. You are not going to beat the best in the world by having just one tournament under your belt in six months, a tournament where you barely made the cut and shot 76 on Sunday. Granted he is Tiger Woods, but he is the 2020 version.
Tiger is three majors away from Jack, and it felt a lot closer when he won the green jacket in April 2019. Now that 3-major gap feels like 10. You can’t win majors if you don’t get tournament reps. He played a lot prior to the Masters that he won, but since that Masters win, Tiger’s played in just 10 official tournaments, three of which were majors and two at the Fed Ex Cup playoffs.
I don’t know what Tiger’s goals are. And I get the body is stiff and prevents him from playing a lot. Perhaps winning 18 majors isn’t a big deal to him anymore. Maybe that Masters win was like Darren Clarke’s Open Championship in 2011. It was the culmination to his career and he just goes through the motions from there. I hope that’s not the case. I hope we get to see Tiger competing in majors again. But it’s not happening next week. Like I said a couple months ago, savor the moment. We just don’t know how much time Tiger has left.
Over/Under 10 Withdrawals at the PGA Championship?
On Saturday, I would have easily said over, especially after Lee Westwood withdrew because of travel concerns. But on Sunday morning, the White House lifted the 14-day quarantine requirements for players traveling from overseas in an effort to stop more withdrawals from happening. This should keep the number of players pulling out in the single digits, although I do expect some travel concerns from European players, especially given the fact the PGA Championship is in California which is perhaps the biggest hotspot for the virus in the United States.
Westwood’s withdrawal had less to do with the quarantine at the time and more to do with the fact that America is simply not safe right now and is not taking the virus very seriously compared to the rest of the world. Others on the fence could also follow Westwood and withdraw, although it being a major championship and the chance to elevate a career in a huge way, I think in the end players will go through the coronavirus protocol and tee it up. There could be a few injury withdrawals the week of, but I will go with the under…slightly.
Is it Time to let people come to events?
This upcoming week in Memphis will be the first event where some fans will be allowed in to watch a tournament, albeit just 500 extra people. Currently, the people on site include mostly superintendents and staff, rules officials, media members, PGA Tour staff, and shot link operators. Starting this week, it will open up to players’ families and tickets handed out by tournament sponsors.
It’s a good starting point. However, we’re not even close to the point where things can start getting back to normal. This week’s event in Tennessee is a hot spot for the virus, and next week’s PGA Championship in California is also in a hotspot. The best plan is go tournament by tournament and take baby steps towards normalcy, but it all depends on the location and how serious the virus is when planning the future.
Three Foods for Thought
Dustin Johnson’s Back
DJ withdrew from the 3M Open after shooting a first round 78, citing back problems. It’s nothing new for DJ who has had some back issues in the past. It’s a huge concern with the PGA Championship just 10 days away and him clearly out of form, missing the cut badly at the Memorial and then shooting a 78 in his only round this week. I’m not sure what his status will be for the St. Jude, but I would imagine he will err on the side of caution and not hurt it before the first major of the season.
The Masters is a Major Question Mark Right Now
After moving to November because of the shutdown, The Masters is likely the one major in the most jeopardy of not happening for a couple reasons. First and foremost, Georgia is getting over 3,000 cases per day and is a huge hotspot right now in the country. It’s likely not going to get any better when November comes around and cool temperatures are in place. Secondly, Augusta National has said they do not want to play the tournaments without fans. That could be tough if the numbers in Georgia stay high.
I don’t think losing The Masters this year would be the end of the world. After all, we would only have to wait six months until the 2021 Masters tees off…that’s assuming we’re in better shape at that time. Plus, by the time November rolls around, people will be focusing more on Thanksgiving and football, not so much golf.
Two Big Weeks Coming Up for Koepka
Brooks will be the defending champion in the next two events on Tour. But can he contend? In what was a weak field at the 3M Open, Koepka didn’t even make the cut. He has struggled for the most part this season as he tries to recover from knee surgery which he has been vocal about. He obviously wants to tough it out and become the first player in the modern era to win three straight PGA Championships, but those chances right now are looking very slim. Then again, Brooks seems to get an extra pep in his step when it’s a major championship.
Two Picks for the WGC-Fed Ex St. Jude Championship
Reed won the first World Golf Championship earlier this year in Mexico and seems to play his best on the biggest stages. Since the return, he’s finished with two top-10s, both in very strong fields.
Berger won here in 2017 and has four top-5 finishes in his last five events, one of those being a win in Dallas. He missed the cut at The Memorial, but the tough conditions got the best of a lot of top players. More favorable condtions should help Berger’s ball striking which is one of the best on Tour this year.
One Final Word
Good to see you back, Michael Thompson