Rory McIlroy called Keith Mitchell's shot, Abraham Ancer slays the biggest bird and Vegas is the new Palm Springs
He has perhaps the prettiest swing in golf, he is impossibly talented, he might be the most universally liked player in the world—and yet it’s time to attach yet another superlative to Rory McIlroy’s name: He can see the future.
On Wednesday, McIlroy was asked about the depth of fields on the modern PGA Tour. He responded with an anecdote about playing alongside Keith Mitchell in the final pairing in the final round of the Wells Fargo Championship in May: “People wouldn’t maybe pick a Keith Mitchell to win a tournament at the start of the week, but you play with him in a final round on Sunday—he stopped me in my tracks. I was like, He’s a hell of a player.”
Sure, it might be a coincidence that the No. 137 player in the world, coming off back-to-back missed cuts to start his 2021-22 PGA Tour season, just happened to channel ’01 Tiger immediately after McIlroy hyped him up. But such a logical explanation has no place on the Internet, so we’re going to credit this one to Clairvoyant Rory. By “this,” we mean Keith Mitchell’s 62-64 start at The Summit Club, where he has a five-shot lead over a field chock-filled with the best players in the world. He’s 18 under through two rounds on a golf course that is comically overmatched. If the weather stays as benign as it’s been, the winning score could end up beginning with a 3.
Is Las Vegas the new Palm Springs?
A few months ago, my colleague Joel Beall wrote a fantastic piece with a simple premise: What would a tour pro shoot at your course? The tour pro was Bubba Watson. The golf course was Starfire Golf Club, a 6,100-yard course in Scottsdale. The answer: something really, really low. Watson didn’t play his best and shot 62. The Summit Club is not Starfire; it's 7,422 yards (though it plays much less given the elevation) and rated nearly four shots over par from the championship tee. But the high-roller hangout was decidedly not designed for a PGA Tour event, and it’s showing.
Birdies are flowing like the river that does not exist in Las Vegas. Through two rounds, just six of the 78 players in the field are not under par. Two straight 68s would have you in a tie for 27th. It’s worth repeating, Keith Mitchell is 18 under par through 36 holes. At the Open Championship, Jordan Spieth summed up his love of links golf with a subtle dagger at the desert: “Instead of just a driving range shot in Palm Springs, there’s always some shot you have to play that gives you a little bit of an advantage.” Given the scoring this week, and the fact that Sungjae Im won last week’s Shriners Children’s Open at 24 under, we’re wondering if Las Vegas is coming for Palm Springs’ title as the personification of the Toothless PGA Tour Layout.
Look, it’s a birdie fest out there. The faster you accept that, the more enjoyable the weekend will be. If you’re not a fan of this type of target-practice golf, may we suggest firing up the coffee machine and watching the European Tour event at Valderrama?
Honest Abe pulls off the rarest shot in golf
The birdies and eagles were becoming passé at The Summit Club, where the strong field is piling up red numbers at this first-time tour venue. So Abraham Ancer decided to really stand out late in the second round, and pull off the rarest of big birds in golf—the albatross.
Dustin Johnson nearly holed his own albatross earlier in the round, but that one came in pretty hot on the flagstick and ricocheted away. This Ancer iron from 250 yards featured just about as peaceful and scenic as an adventure that a shot can take, riding the slope of much of the 14th green before falling in the cup with some pace. Feast your eyes:
A total outsider has a chance for a life-changing week
In non-COVID times, this event is held on Jeju Island in South Korea. The title sponsor, CJ, is a Korean conglomerate. It comes as no surprise then that there are 11 players in the field from South Korea. One of those is Seonghyeon Kim, a 23-year-old ranked 190th in the world. The reigning Japan PGA Championship winner sits in a tie for second after a second-round 63 and now has a legitimate chance for a life-changing week. Obviously, a win would solve every eligibility problem. But a top-10 would likely get him into the Bermuda Championship, and a top-five would put him in great shape to chase a PGA Tour card through non-member points and/or qualify for the Korn Ferry Tour finals. No pressure, kid.
Collin Morikawa stuck in neutral at home
Collin Morikawa is a member at The Summit Club. You may have heard. You may have heard more than 50 times. Whenever a PGA Tour player has a "home game," the general consensus is that he has a better chance to contend than he might otherwise. When that player is as accomplished as Morikawa, and the course is holding an event for the first time—it was the perfect storm for the ol’ home-field advantage narrative.
But if you paid attention to the pre-tournament press conferences—what, not everyone does that?—you’ll have noticed how each player downplayed any such advantage. These guys do this for a living. They’re constantly turning up to courses they’ve never played before and winning. Familiarity only goes so far. We’ve seen it time and time again, and we’re seeing it once more with Morikawa’s performance this week. Despite a birdie-eagle finish, the two-time major winner sits right in the middle of the pack at the halfway mark. The good news: he’ll get to sleep in his own bed tonight. Seeing as this is a home game and all.