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Matt Jones trounces the Honda field, Brooks Koepka suffers another setback, Aaron Wise learns a few hard lessons, Rose Zhang dazzles in her debut and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:
The depth of the PGA Tour was on display again at the Honda Classic.
Matt Jones has finished outside the FedExCup top 125 more times (seven) than inside (six). He had just a single top-10 in his past 10 starts. He was losing strokes to the field from tee to green this season.
And yet, as he played his practice rounds at PGA National, he had an overwhelming feeling that this was his week. He texted his friend: “If someone beats me this week, they’ve cheated.”
“I was pretty confident going into the week,” he said, “which is not normal for me.”
But sure enough: Jones opened with a 9-under 61 – the best round of the season, as he beat the field scoring average by more than 10 shots. He followed it up on Saturday by becoming the only player in the last six groups to break par. And then, after sleeping on a big lead, he salted the tourney away with a 2-under 68 to win by five shots, the second-largest margin of victory on Tour this season.
“Something just clicked for me,” he said.
It’s Jones’ second career Tour title, and it opens all sorts of doors – most notably, his first Masters appearance since 2014. That year he flew into Augusta fresh off his playoff victory at the Houston Open and didn’t have much time to prepare. This time, he’s going to take off two weeks and get there early, to map out his plan of attack.
He’s not just happy to be there. At 40, he wants to contend.
Brooks Koepka has gone back under the knife.
The four-time major champion posted a cryptic tweet on Sunday night alluding to yet another setback, and his management team confirmed a Golfweek report that he underwent surgery last week for a dislocated right kneecap and ligament damage. He apparently injured his knee while with his family after the WGC-Workday Championship at The Concession, where he tied for second.
Though Koepka hasn’t officially ruled out a return at the Masters, that procedure typically takes at least a few months to fully recover.
It’s a bummer, because he’d finally seemed to turn the corner with his health and knee. He won the Phoenix Open and reported last month that he was feeling as good as ever physically.
Winning on the PGA Tour is hard. Just ask Aaron Wise.
The 2018 Byron Nelson champ was back in position at the Honda, where he opened with consecutive rounds of 64 to match the 36-hole tournament record. Ah, but there was a long way to go. After opening up a six-shot lead during the third round, he was three behind at the end of the day. He played his last 13 holes in 7 over par. On Sunday, he rebounded once again, getting within a shot of the lead early, but then closed with a 41.
Wise is a hugely talented player, a former NCAA champion (2016) and Tour Rookie of the Year (2018). He’s only 24. But his putter is a major liability, and it doesn’t appear to be getting much better. Entering the Honda he was ranked 216th (!!!) on Tour. Though he held up OK through two rounds at PGA National, that weakness showed up in the pressure situations. In gusty conditions he hit only seven greens in regulation in the third round – the second-fewest of any player in the field – and couldn’t be bailed out by his short game, taking 30 putts and losing two strokes to the field on the greens. Sunday, there was much of the same: nine greens hit and 30 putts, including a ghastly four-putt on the 10th green (with three swipes from 4 feet) for a tournament-killing triple bogey.
Here’s hoping someone can turn Wise into merely an average putter, because he definitely has the goods otherwise.
THIS WEEK'S AWARD WINNERS ...
Auspicious Debut: Rose Zhang. The reigning U.S. Women’s Amateur champion, still just 17 and competing as an amateur, lost in a playoff in her first start on the Symetra Tour. It was her first tournament start since December, when she shut it down for a few months to rest her ailing left wrist. She’ll be the prohibitive favorite next week at the Augusta National Women’s Amateur.
A Radical Idea: Move the Honda Classic to the fall! Each year since 2014 the Honda has gotten weaker in terms of strength of field, as the dozens of local South Floridians have to weigh whether to take a break during a crowded quarter of the season or get beat up by notoriously difficult PGA National. That decision now appears clear – they’re taking a pass. So why not move the event to the late fall, when the weather will still be nice, in hopes of attracting more of the SoFla fellas?
Good Thing He Picked Up the Phone: Brandon Hagy. An alternate into the Honda field, Hagy didn't get into town until about midnight Tuesday, only learned he was into the event the next morning and then somehow reined in his power game at PGA National to finish second. It was an important week, as he rose 101 spots in the FedExCup race, to No. 77.
Long Time Coming: Justin Harding. The winner at the Kenya Open didn’t have a top-10 since September and hardly resembled the guy who had started to come into his own in 2019, with his maiden European Tour title and a top-12 finish at the Masters. At that time, he thought a victory was bound to happen – it was just a byproduct of continued solid play. That’s why he showed some genuine emotion after title No. 2 on Sunday: “I’ve been through a dip in form in terms of mixed results, and it was nice to get over the line this time around. Winning isn’t everything, but I think being in the winner’s circle again means a little more to me than I actually thought it did.”
Maybe We Should Try That?: Roberto Diaz. Staked to the lead heading into the final day of the Korn Ferry Tour’s Louisiana Open, Diaz said this: “If I don’t win, I don’t care.” Surely he cared, of course – a win would have moved him into the top 10 on the points standings, bringing him one step closer to the PGA Tour. But a dose of perspective is a good thing. Win or lose, he was still going to be with his wife and newborn son. “I’ve never felt this way,” he said ... and then he went out and won, by a shot over Peter Uihlein.
High Road: Rickie Fowler. During the Honda Classic, where he tied for 65th, Fowler was asked about the recent comments by CBS analyst Nick Faldo, who suggested that Fowler’s many commercial interests were getting in the way of his game. Fowler didn’t take the bait, and he delivered this classy response:
Worth the Read: Geno Bonnalie. Joel Dahmen’s colorful caddie penned this Twitter thread on his past earnings as an up-and-coming caddie, and how it might not be glamorous – but could still be fulfilling.
Out of Gas: Lee Westwood. To be honest, we could see this one coming: The soon-to-be 48-year-old, fresh off back-to-back weeks in final-round contention, and after 54 holes at Augusta National earlier in the week in cold, difficult conditions, coming unglued during a Friday 78 to miss the cut at the Honda. At least he had a few more days to rest before the Match Play.
Not Tiger’s Neighbor ... Yet: Phil Mickelson. Last week he told the Palm Beach Post that he’s yet to build on his lot in South Florida, saying only that it’s still his “plan” to move from California and that he didn’t really want to say more. Oh, and his tie for 25th at the Honda was his best finish since the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational last summer.
Another Fitzy in the Mix: Alex Fitzpatrick. Matthew’s younger brother, Alex, a former Walker Cupper who plays at Wake Forest, earned a spot in the 2022 Valspar by virtue of his win last week at the Valspar Collegiate. Dude’s got a lot of game – just like his big bro.
You Gotta Want It: That college golf lifestyle. This clip caught our eye, and not just because it’s from our old college stomping grounds in Athens. Hope the ladies packed an extra pair of socks ...
TOP 5 MATCHUPS WE MOST WANT TO SEE THIS WEEK
The round-robin format always makes for a compelling (if not complicated) round of matches on Friday, but there are few things better in the sport than some good ol’ fashioned win-or-go-home duels over the weekend. Regardless of how the bracket shakes out (it gets unveiled at 11 a.m. ET Monday), here are five matches we most want to see:
Bryson DeChambeau vs. Rory McIlroy: This matchup would have an even juicier subplot after McIlroy’s recent admission that chasing DeChambeau’s distance gains is what threw off his game.
Jon Rahm vs. Patrick Reed: In what could be a Ryder Cup singles preview, it’d be fun to watch these two emotional players square off, with Rahm wholly unafraid of getting under Reed’s skin – and vice versa.
Collin Morikawa vs. Viktor Hovland: Hovland’s match-play pedigree is well-established, but we’ve rarely seen Morikawa in this format – his team never reached the match-play portion of the NCAAs, and this event was canceled last year because of the pandemic. Whoever misses a green first loses?
Dustin Johnson vs. Tony Finau: For Finau to take the next step, he needs to score a big win against a top opponent – even if it’s not in the finals. That positive affirmation could be enormous.
Justin Thomas vs. Jordan Spieth: They’ve battled in the NCAAs, they’ve been partners in the Ryder Cup – but here would be the ultimate measure of where Spieth stands in his comeback against the newly minted Players champion.