Augusta National's secretive changes, John Smoltz's controversial putter, and Lee Westwood's hangover
Welcome to another edition of The Grind where we’re still getting over the Jeopardy GOAT Tournament being over. What drama. What intensity. What a finish. It was everything the NFC Championship Game wasn’t. But while I’ll miss Ken Jennings and Jeopardy James (Brad Rutter was the Green Bay Packers of this spectacle) trading safe brain blows, I’m comforted knowing the answer to the following clue: This GOAT returns this week to the site of eight total wins as a pro, including his most heroic major title on a broken leg. Who is Tiger Woods?!
Back! But before Tiger tackles Torrey Pines, there’s plenty of other things to talk about. Allow this Alex to be your host as we discuss it all.
Andrew Landry: As the old saying goes, beware the golfer who has missed five consecutive cuts, including his last one by 12 shots. Or something like that. This is a guy who hadn’t broken 70 in 10 rounds, but wound up shooting 26 under over four rounds to win the American Express.
Landry looked like a struggling golfer once he took a six-shot lead on the back nine at PGA West’s Stadium Course, but two closing birdies capped a second career PGA Tour title and gave us this adorable celebration:
I’m such a sucker for that stuff now that I’m a dad. And that helped me get over the fact that Landry potentially cost me a lot of money. More on that later. . .
Lee Westwood: Last year, co-worker Chris Powers wagered on Westwood to win the British Open and dubbed it “Westy’s Last Stand.” But after that impressive run at Royal Portrush, the 46-year-old is anything but done. With a two-shot win in Abu Dhabi, Westwood won for the 25th time on the European Tour and became the third player to win in four different decades on the tour. The guy is so old he’s found a way to avoid bending over to pick up his golf ball:
But while he can still hit iron shots like he did as a young man, apparently, he can’t handle celebratory booze as well:
If Westwood ever won the British Open, he might not survive the after-party.
John Smoltz’s golf game: For a second consecutive year, the MLB Hall-of-Famer won the celebrity portion of the Diamond Resorts Tournament of Champions (Congrats to Gaby Lopez for winning the LPGA portion in a 7-hole playoff). Smoltz, 52, continues to make his claim as the best celebrity golfer, but now that Tony Romo is done with football, we might need a special Celebrity Golf GOAT tournament pitting them against each other.
John Smoltz’s putter: We were all over this a year ago, but Golf Twitter finally took notice over the weekend. See if you can spot what’s different!
The answer is both, Luke. This thing looks ridiculous, but it’s completely within the rules so you can’t fault Smoltz for using it. That being said, the USGA might want to look a little more closely at this. If you can’t use an alignment aide for a full swing, I’m not sure how this is legal.
Backstopping: Now this definitely isn’t legal, but somehow it’s still happening on pro tours. Not only does Kevin Na not mark his ball for some reason—and yes, he had plenty of time to do so before Russell Knox backpacked to the bottom of a giant cave to hit his bunker shot—but he yells, “Hit my ball!” as Knox’s golf ball is en route.
Guys, there are no assists in golf. And there are almost always cameras watching you. So please stop doing this before it really affects a tournament.
Scottie Scheffler’s Sunday: My New Year’s resolution is to make at least one $10 bet for each PGA Tour event that I talk about on the gambling segment of the Golf Digest Podcast. I know, it’s a TERRIBLE New Year’s Resolution. That being said, it nearly paid off for the second full-field event of the year as Stephen Hennessey, Chris Powers and I all plunked a Hamilton down on Scottie Scheffler and he took a share of the 54-hole lead with a four-shot cushion over third place. We were practically counting our $350, but of course, it wasn’t meant to be because of Andrew freaking Landry. I don’t think I can make another golf bet for awhile after that close call. . . Kidding! THIS is the week. In fact, with four top 10s in the first eight starts of his rookie campaign, maybe I go back to the well on Scottie. . .
Augusta National’s potential changes: We’re sure that whatever work went on over the summer at ANGC was done impeccably—and quickly—but why change anything about the course at all? Especially with the most famous par 5 in the world? There has been talk of lengthening No. 13 for years, but as Lou Stagner spotted over the weekend during a Google Earth search (Gotta love modern technology!), the process seems to be well underway:
Yes, thanks to modern technology, this par 5 has essentially been turned into a par 4, but who cares? They’re all playing the same course during the Masters. Also, if anything, doesn’t that put even more pressure on players to post a red number there? In any event, this is my favorite hole to watch golf on in the world, and I really hope that doesn’t change. I also really hope I’m able to see inside the new structure behind the 5th hole. Whatever it is, if it’s anything like the new Media Center, it must be spectacular.
The PGA Tour heads to Torrey Pines for the Farmers Insurance Open, AKA that tournament where Tiger Woods always starts his year (check) and that week always filled with Rickie Fowler commercials (check). Regarding the latter, we have some very good news. The new spots featuring Fowler, or rather undercover caddie Richard Flower, are quite good. Check them out:
Also starting his 2020 golf schedule after a busy football season is Jim Nantz and the rest of a re-tooled CBS crew. So don’t be surprised if Jim refers to Nick Faldo as “Tony.”
Random tournament fact: Rickie Fowler has missed the cut four of his last six trips to Torrey Pines. That doesn't stop Farmers from playing his commercials over and over on the weekend, though.
RANDOM PROP BETS OF THE WEEK
—Tiger Woods will backstop for someone this week: 1-MILLION -to-1 odds
—Tiger Woods will win this week: 12-to-1 odds (Actual odds)
—Tiger Woods (assuming he stays healthy) will win this year: LOCK
PHOTO/TWEET OF THE WEEK
This was Brooks' comeback after Bryson took a dig at his abs. Game, set, match, Brooks. But when it comes to abs, neither of them touch this soon-to-be-65(!)-year-old:
There's no way the timing of that video wasn't on purpose. Well played, Greg.
VIRAL VIDEO OF THE WEEK
Tim Herron made a hype video announcing his arrival on the senior tour. Not surprisingly, it’s hysterical:
QUOTE OF THE WEEK
“I don’t know. I really don’t feel like I need Twitter in my life right now. Maybe I’ll reach the mid-life crisis like Phil just went into and we’ll see.” —Viktor Hovland proving again why he’s already one of the best in the interview room.
THIS WEEK IN PHIL BEING PHIL
Young Viktor might have a point.
THIS WEEK IN PGA TOUR PRO-WAGS PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF AFFECTION
Brandon Hagy recently got married and shared this sweet wedding video:
Amazing discipline by the big hitter to not launch a few drives toward those rock formations.
THIS AND THAT
Happy 80th birthday to 18-time major champ and ice cream mogul Jack Nicklaus. I made a list of 19 underrated moments in his career for the occasion. . . . Also underrated? Jack's run on the senior tour:
Phil Mickelson has his work cut out for him when he turns 50 in June. . . . Speaking of the geezers, congrats to Miguel Angel Jimenez for winning the Mitsubishi Electric Championship. Although, he ruined the whole Ernie Els winning his PGA Tour Champions debut storyline. . . . Rory McIlroy has a chance to overtake Brooks Koepka as World No. 1 this week. Not sure who has better abs, though. . . . Congrats to Tommy Gainey on winning the Bahamas Great Exuma Classic. From the Operation Santa's Naughty List to the top of the Korn Ferry money list, it's been one wild month. . . . And finally, the Houston Astros deserve to be stripped of their 2017 World Series title and 2019 World Series appearance (Yes, I’m a bitter Yankees fan), but kudos to Major League Baseball for cracking down hard on those involved in cheating scandals. Hopefully, the PGA Tour is paying attention.
RANDOM QUESTIONS TO PONDER
When are the Yankees getting their 2017 and 2019 World Series rings?
Which PGA Tour pro would fare best on Jeopardy?
What will Phil do next at 80?