PONTE VEDRA BEACH, FLORIDA | One of the saddest modern realities is the emergence of “alternative facts.” These “facts” – aka fictions – have clouded the realm with so much disinformation that it’s hard to distinguish what is real and what isn’t.
Scottie Scheffler winning the Players Championship last week is a fact. Everyone else lost, though the value of their finishes beyond money is subjective.
The disinformation bug unfortunately hit PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan in one of his and the tour’s key talking points as it presented the hard sell for the newly approved designated events model for ’24. In backing the legitimacy of limited-field, no-cut events, the commissioner as well as Rory McIlroy erred in using the King and the Bear as examples.
“In fact, Jack Nicklaus won 17 times in that format. Arnold Palmer won 23. Tiger Woods won 26,” Monahan said. “To me, those wins, those, the format did not diminish those accomplishments as we sit here today.”
In FACT, Nicklaus won only seven no-cut events and Palmer only four. The erroneous info was due to a faulty PGA Tour database that too often lists only the players to make the cut and not the entire fields.
Well, let’s move forward with only subjective analysis of the Players Championship:
BIRDIE: Scheffler. The only man to survive the 1-2-3 grouping (Jon Rahm withdrew with stomach issues and Rory McIlroy left with driver issues) emphatically reclaimed his world No. 1 rank as his Masters defense looms. The talented Texan simply hides in plain sight practically every week on tour.
BIRDIE: Tyrrell Hatton. The volatile Englishman was coasting to a middling finish halfway through Sunday’s final round before shooting 29 on the back including five consecutive closing birdies to finish solo second.
$$$$$$: The 17th hole: The sheer volume of cash lit on fire by players marching off the infamous island green on Sunday after rinsing balls in the water was staggering.
BOGEY: Min Woo Lee. The crowds embraced Minjee’s little brother with “WOOOOO!” chants as he soared on Saturday. The noise turned to groans Sunday as a couple of 7s sent him tumbling from a tie for the lead. But a T6 is making the most of sneaking into the field at the top-50 deadline. BTW, when he plays his sister off the same tees (no strokes), his only concession is not using driver.
BIRDIE: Tom Hoge. An opening 78 would derail most players, but Hoge eked into the weekend and then broke the Players course record with a 10-birdie 62 on Saturday. He went from booking plane tickets home Saturday morning to finishing T3 Sunday.
BOGEY: Justin Thomas. As he did before winning in 2021, Thomas barely made the cut. But he had no chance of rallying this time with a balky putter ranking near the bottom of the field in strokes gained (-4.974) and instills little confidence in his Masters chances.
EAGLE: Jordan Spieth. Fixin’ to exit stage right sitting square on the cut line when his tee shot was destined to get wet on his final hole Friday, Spieth’s ball hit a fan and bounced back into the ninth fairway. Instead of bogey or worse, Spieth ended up chipping in for eagle from 26 feet in the rough and stuck around for a bonus T19 payday.
DNP: Cameron Smith. The banished reigning champion who lives a few miles away hinted he might show up as a spectator. Smith did come inside the Sawgrass gates and reportedly played The Yards, a nearby nine-hole course with its six-hole par-3 and popular “Beer Loop.” He doesn’t seem too unhappy.
BOGEY: Rory McIlroy. One month before the Masters and the Ulsterman is desperately searching for a new driver to replace his beloved 2022 model that just got too worn and hot. It wasn’t working off the tee at Sawgrass, where he missed a lot of fairways, his second cut since his 2019 win and sixth in 13 Players starts.
BOGEY: LIV Golf. The rival league has enough money to hang around on life support for years, but it’s never going to get any better now that the PGA Tour has built a scheduling model that is vastly more compelling and meaningful. LIV will become a depository of trending downward also-rans who can’t make the designated cutoffs.
BIRDIE: Designated model. In general, the new designated-events model and scheduling concept was well received (don’t ask James Hahn) and holds great promise. But considering the gaffe regarding Jack’s and Arnie’s numbers, the data about the enhanced FedEx Cup points value needs greater scrutiny to ensure fairness.
BOGEY: WGHOF selectors. There were some worthy choices announced this week, including Pádraig Harrington, Tom Weiskopf and the original LPGA founders, but notably absent from the crowded class of 2024 is venerated instructor Butch Harmon. Fix that glaring omission next time.
WD: Jon Rahm. As if the marquee-lite leaderboard the first two rounds wasn’t enough, the world No. 1 withdrew from the headlining 1-2-3 pairing before the second round started with a stomach ailment. Perhaps the only thing that can stop him this season is bad sushi.
BIRDIE: Eric Cole. Laura Baugh’s and Bobby Cole’s boy keeps on making a name for himself, turning a barely made cut into a T27 in his debut in a Players he wasn’t even qualified for two weeks ago until his playoff loss at the Honda Classic.
OTHER: Max McGreevy. After a pretty sharp 69 in his Players debut round, McGreevy saw his week spiral out of control Friday with a Players record-worst 89 including two triples, three doubles and six bogeys. He did finish with a birdie on No. 9 to avoid 90.
QUINTUPLE: Aaron Wise. He was rolling along fairly well Thursday, just 1-over through 16 holes, before his finish sank him. He rinsed a full sleeve in the water on three consecutive tee shots on 18 before making par on his fourth ball to tally an imperfect 10.
BOGEY: Lucas Herbert. The Australian grumbled as he walked from official scoring having turned in cards of 82-85 (23-over) including every score from 2 to 9 – including a straight flush of double or worse with 5-6-7-8-9.
BIRDIE: Jason Day. Not only has the 2015 PGA champion resurrected his game to get back into the OWGR’s top 50, he got into contention with a pair of 70s despite having to play with the aforementioned Wise and Herbert 43 strokes behind him. “I just didn’t try and pay attention too much to how those guys were going; I know that they struggled, and I just feel bad for them,” Day said.
ACE: Hayden Buckley. The 11th hole-in-one in Players history on the iconic 17th hole on Thursday solicited the perfect over-reaction. “I think a lot of people made fun of me the last time I made a hole-in-one in Vegas my rookie year; I didn’t have much of a reaction,” he said. “I had friends and my wife in the crowd, so I had to entertain them a little bit.”
ACE: Aaron Rai. The English golfer spun one in on 17 as well Saturday, marking the first time the hole yielded multiple 1’s in the same Players. Rai’s feat was wedged in a birdie-ace-birdie finish that suddenly thrust him into contention heading to Sunday. Alas, he made a triple bogey on the 17th in the final round, sliding to a T19 finish.
ACE: Alex Smalley. This is getting redundant. There were 10 aces at 17 in 40 years and then three in four days when Smalley high-hopped one for a dunk at the dangerous Sunday pin. Time to start making these guys hit hickory sticks and gutta percha balls again.
BIRDIE: Chad Ramey. The 30-year-old shot 64 on Thursday to become the first Players debutante to hold the first-round lead since Mackenzie Hughes in 2017. Ramey got to 10-under before reality hit with two water balls and a 7 on No. 17 Friday. His similar 68-76 weekend left him T27.
BIRDIE: Adam Svensson. Like Ramey, the Canadian was a Players rookie and he shot 68-67 to take the 36-hole lead. His 75 Saturday included a triple bogey-7 on 14 that would have made a 15-handicap proud, but his T13 finish was commendable.
BOGEY: Tiger Woods. Why can’t we have nice things? Even without being at Players, Woods made headlines over court filings from his former live-in girlfriend, Erica Herman, revealing a bad break-up gone worse. Happy Masters buildup.
BIRDIE: The goat. The most coveted logo – a golden goat silhouette as homage to the original “groundskeepers” at the Sawgrass Stadium Course – is available only during Players week to exclusive Players Club patrons. It’s an IYKYK kind of status thing.
BIRDIE: Hideki Matsuyama and Sungjae Im. The Presidents Cup teammates are rounding into shape nicely with the Masters coming up. The 2021 green jacket winner from Japan finished solo fifth, and the 2020 Augusta runner-up was T6.
BIRDIE: Jerry Kelly. At 56 years, 3 months and 16 days old, the Senior Players champ was the oldest player to make the cut at the Players, finishing T54. The previous oldest was Arnold Palmer (55 years, 6 months, 19 days) in 1985.
BOGEY: Pace of play. The last time a cut was determined on a Friday in a PGA Tour event played on one course was last November at Mayakoba. That streak would have extended even without a weather suspension Friday as players did not complete Thursday’s first round at Sawgrass despite sparkling weather.
BOGEY: PLYRS. Sometimes you can’t even buy a vowel if you wanted to. Trendy favorites are the big block-letter, all-caps caps letting you walk around with a typo on your forehead. No thanks. Here’s hoping this illiteracy doesn’t spread to the MSTRS.
BIRDIE: Steve DiMeglio. The longtime golf writer for USA Today and Golfweek trekked around the course and media center with his brother at TPC Sawgrass for four days despite 15 grueling rounds of ongoing chemotherapy since he was diagnosed with cancer after covering the 150th Open Championship. Players, tour officials, colleagues and even fans were thrilled to see him out.
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