Max Homa lurked in the bushes for the first three rounds at Torrey Pines staying in contact with the leaderboard with puts and takes throughout the first three rounds. He was five shots behind leader Sam Ryan going into Saturday’s final round. His closing round 66 was enough to spare as he blitzed through the field and Ryan in a flawless fashion. As an aside, this tournament will be the only PGA tour event that ends on a Saturday probably in deference to the almighty NFlL coverage of its championship games on the following day. It seemed that Jon Rahm was bent on winning this event as he was hovering around the cut line during the second round but a sparkling 31 on the front nine at the North Course put him in the slot for weekend play. Rahm proceeded to shoot 66 in the third round to get him self into position for the title and if he won it would have placed him into the number 1 world ranking if Rory McIlroy did not win at the DP event in Dubai. As the day unfolded, Rahm couldn’t put his game altogether on Saturday as his final round 74 left him in seventh place. You have to love Rahm’s dedication and swashbuckling style as he continuously attacks difficult golf courses with his length and aggressive play. Alas, Sam Ryan couldn’t pull off a fourth round finish. Ryan led the tournament for the first three rounds and he gradually faded with a final round 75. Ryan actually had a four shot lead over Rahm after a birdie on the first hole on Sunday. Ryan is a journeyman professional who has competed in approximately 150 professional events without a victory. Ryan seemed determined but he simply seemed to be uncomfortable in the pole position and his game did not hold up on this occasion. It’s hard to win on the PGA Tour especially the first one.
AT&T Pro-AM–Justin Rose Wins
Justin Rose won the event at Pebble Beach with a Monday 9 hole finish that was flawless, defeating all the young wanabees that are fast approaching status on the PGA Tour. The event produced a spate of weather that would have you believe that the tournament was being played in Scotland. In an event that took 4 days and a few hours on Monday, Pebble experienced brilliant sunshine, rain, hail, cold temperatures, high winds coming at the players from all sides. It had to be interesting for the professionals who had to endure all of them and play with amateurs on three different courses. It took quite a bit of patience and endurance to absorb the shuttling back and forth between courses, different driving ranges and the different venues. All this and playing with amateurs who are athletes, musicians, comedians, corporate aristocracy with skill levels ranging from handicaps of 0 to 18 and beyond. It’s no wonder that the tournament only attracted 3 out of top 20 players in the world but the event was very exciting and competitive with some new personalities such as Peter Malnati arriving on the scene. The three courses are Pebble Beach, Spyglass and the Shore Course at Monterey Peninsula Country Club. The courses were in great shape despite the pummeling that the area received from record rainfall and wind in the weeks before the event. Spyglass Golf Club continues to be one of the toughest, if not the toughest, golf course on tour. At the end of the first round, the field was 90 under par at Pebble Beach, 63 under par at Monterey Peninsula and 1 over par at Spyglass Hill. This trend would continue for the next two days.
Justin Rose won this event and I believe he won it on Sunday at the 6th hole. The 6th hole is a par 5 that plays up a hill where the second shot for the professional is blind to a well bunkered green. This is a hole that Tiger Woods drove his tee shot over 300 yards to the very bottom of the hill (unheard of) during the US Open as the crowd gasped at that achievement. Rose didn’t come close to doing this. He slammed his tee shot in the second fairway bunker on the left side of the hole. At the time, he was 12 under par and I thought that this was a terrible shot and that he would be lucky to make par. The shot is daunting as it is completely blind and 240 yards away. Rose picked the ball clean out of the bunker and the shot was perfect landing on the green only 6 ft. from the cup! This is one of the best shots I’ve ever seen in a professional tournament that really mattered. Rose would make eagle and move into a tie for first and proceeded to play flawlessly and grabbed the lead for good. Rose was deliberate and completely focused–on the tee box he often asked for a camera man to be still and not disturb his concentration. Every shot was programmed and calculated. Play would be suspended on Sunday and as the horn blew with Rose on the tenth tee, Rose decided (as his right to finish a hole) to hit the this dangerous tee shot. The shot rocketed off the tee heading a bit right toward the ocean cliff but held its line to catch the right side of the fairway. Mark that ball and call it a day as play would continue to Monday morning at 8AM. Rose came back on Monday under new benign conditions and the field never threatened his position.
This tournament lacked the star quality of the PGA Tour leaders as there was no Jon Rahm, Tony Finau, Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas and, of course, exiled LIV players including former champion, Phil Mickelsen (a crowd favorite here). However, we saw a great crop of new players who played extremely well and competed fiercely down the stretch. Peter Malnati held the lead for a while and hit one of the most amazing trick shots on No. 1 in Sunday’s final round. Malnati drove his tee shot into the trees on the right from which most players would simply pitch out to the fairway. Malnati hit a screaming iron shot a few feet above ground under tree limbs to about six feet on the green where he made birdie. On the 18th, Malnati knocked his ball onto a shelf of rocks just a few feet from the ocean and extricated a par out of that mess. Denny McCarthy had a barrage of birdies shooting 29 on the front nine on Sunday and finished a few shots back. Rose simply wouldn’t let anybody back in the tournament and ended his four year win drought.
Aaron Rodgers won the Amateur Title with a 10 handicap as the AM part of the event was curtailed after 54 holes at 25 under par. There was some discussion about the veracity of Rodgers’ handicap as he played very well throughout the event. I saw him outdrive the professionals at my home hole (Spyglass No. 13) by 30 yards and drained quite a few putts.
The Event as a Pro AM
There is some consternation over the absence of the big names and leaders of the PGA Tour at the AT&T. I’ve played in many pro-ams over the years and generally professionals feel that the Pro-Am is a burden that they have to endure as part of making a living on the PGA Tour. The professionals have a genuine concern as watching amateurs muff chip shots, take three putts and generally meander around the golf course while they are trying to make a living. It’s certainly disappointing that the event has continued to lack the top names in golf over the past few years. Weather issues have been another reason to skip the event as this year as well as 2019, the tournament had to end on Monday due to inclement weather postponements during the rounds. Tiger Woods, after playing in his first few years on tour, generally skipped this event as well. My sensation is that the event planners have to start thinking about changing the format to something that can be differentiated and attract the best players. Moving the event to a different time slot on the PGA Tour schedule would eliminate the weather issues but some format changes with the amateurs should be considered.
Patio-Gate in Scotland
Just when you thought the world of golf was a stable influence on our generally unstable planet, the Links Trust at St. Andrews decided to tinker with the sacred links at the Swilcan Bridge. It was decided to install some new (I mean brand new) stonework at the foot of the bridge prior to crossing onto the 18th tee. The completed installation was considered to be efficient and in good taste and would preserve the ground near the bridge forever from the trampling by players, tourists and the live on for centuries to come.
The reaction to the modernization of the Swilcan Bridge was swift and boisterous to say the least. Putting down 21st century stonework on 14th century turf was equivalent to the opening of a McDonald’s at the Sistine Chapel or paving the inside of the Roman Coliseum for Grand Prix racing. The howls of protest came from all over the globe. Social media erupted as if the remains of Jimmy Hoffa had been unearthed from Met Life Stadium. Fortunately the Links Trust acknowledged their extreme miscalculation and the tractors are out to quickly restore the hallowed ground to its pristine state.