Short hitters thriving at Sherwood and other takeaways from Round 1 of Zozo
The last few months of professional golf would lead you to believe that the sport is quickly becoming a bomb-and-gouge fest, making it harder for the short hitters to contend on a consistent basis. Sometimes, though, the right course comes along to bring everybody back into the mix.
Sherwood Country Club, which hosted Tiger Woods' Hero World Challenge from 2000 to 2013, is one of those courses, as the leader board is showing through 18 holes of this week's Zozo Championship.
Here are our takeaways from Day 1.
The short hitters are THRIVING
One glance at the top of the Zozo Championship leader board through 18 holes will show you this is not going to be a week where guys can overpower the place. This is target golf, bringing the players who don't wail away at it back into the mix. Sebastian Munoz (120th on tour in driving distance) leads at eight under. Brian Harman (139th) is two back, as is fellow Georgia Bulldog Kevin Kisner (133rd). Lanto Griffin (83rd) is also at six under, and so is another Dawg, Harris English, who is the biggest hitter of this bunch, averaging 310 yards off the tee (which ranks him 50th on tour). There are plenty more precision-over-power guys in the hunt, too, which is good to see. Plenty of birdies will be made, but making them requires strategy at the Jack Nicklaus design.
Matthew Fitzpatrick can't stop hitting 'sh-t shots' (his words, not ours)
Well, we should clarify, they are his words, but they're from last week at the CJ Cup. The Englishman was asked last Friday about what he needed to do to stay in contention on the weekend at Shadow Creek, and he said he had to "stop hitting sh-t shots." Fitzpatrick has had numerous chances on both the European Tour and the PGA Tour this past year, but his rounds are often undone by one or two poor holes, which are hard to overcome.
He was unable to avoid the sh-t shot once again on Thursday at Sherwood, where he went out in 30, then made a birdie at the par-5 11th to grab the solo lead at seven under. Four holes later, he had fallen back to four under thanks to a bogey at the par-3 12th and a double bogey at the signature par-3 15th, where he rinsed his tee shot. At the 18th, he lipped out a four-footer for par, settling for a three-under 69. Brutal. Rubbish, as Fitzpatrick would call it. To have any chance this week, he simply cannot afford any more "sh-t shots."
Tyrrell Hatton is on another level right now
Surely, the "jet lag" and hectic schedule would finally catch up to Tyrrell Hatton this week, right? Yeah, not even close. The Englishman continued his ridiculous run of form with a seven-under 65 in his opening round, pulling him within one of solo leader Sebastian Munoz. He's simply on another level right now. That's it. That's the takeaway. Let's list his last nine scores, dating back to the first round of the BMW PGA Championship: 66-67-69-67-65-68-73-65-65.
This run is legitimately hard to fathom, and it will be equally hard to fathom when and if he doesn't win this week. To play the way he's playing for three straight events and only come out with one win would show just how absurd the level of play is on these tours. We're not saying he won't win, but he basically needs to replicate what he's done the last nine rounds just to have a chance. Nuts.
Tiger and Phil are ... not going to win this week
As they've both proven somewhat recently—Tiger at the 2019 Masters and in this event last year, and Phil on the PGA Tour Champions—they can still play at a high level and even win. But man, it's becoming tough to watch them on the weeks when they aren't at their best. We don't want to sound harsh, but neither guy has looked like they belong out there for a few months now. Yes, Mickelson did finish T-2 at the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational, but if you take that out he has five missed cuts and a high finish of T-24 in his last 10 starts. As for Woods, he's had one official top 10 since last year's Zozo win, a T-9 at the 2020 Farmers Insurance Open, which might as well have been three years ago.
On Thursday, Mickelson actually finished quite strong, playing his final eight holes in four under to shoot ... even par. Woods stumbled to a four-over 76 on a course at which he won his Hero World Challenge five times. Not great, Bob. We sincerely hope they can both make some noise at Augusta National next month, because the Masters is always good when both, or either of them, are contending. But it's not looking likely.