The USGA and Justin Thomas trade shots, Mitchell's money finish and Tiger gets credit for LPGA victory: What you missed this weekend
Welcome to the Dew Sweeper, your one-stop shop to catch up on the weekend action from the golf world. From the professional tours, trending news, social media headlines and upcoming events, here's every golf-related thing you need to know for the morning of March 4.
Mitchell knocks off heavyweights at Honda
Keith Mitchell's short game is not particularly good. Terrible, actually. But when it mattered the most, Mitchell made his flat stick sing.
The 27-year-old, who began the week 218th out of 221 players in strokes gained/putting, converted a 16-footer on PGA National's 18th hole to win the Honda Classic by one over superstars Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler.
"It was awesome," Mitchell said. "I wish I could come up with a better word than that. But just having a chance to play— coming down the stretch against Rickie Fowler and Brooks, those guys are the best in the world, and they've been out here proving themselves. I'm just pleased that I could prove myself against guys like that in such a great field and a great tournament."
Koepka—who admitted earlier in the week he was in such a bad place mentally at the 2017 Honda he nearly walked away from the tournament—made things interesting with birdies at the 16th and 18th holes, while Fowler played the final four holes in three under, highlighted by a drained 44-foot putt on the 17th.
However, the day was Mitchell's. Beginning the round one back of 54-hole leader Wyndham Clark, Mitchell looked to be out of the mix early with opening bogeys. But he bounced back with red figures at the third and ninth, adding birdies at the 12th, 13th and 15th. Tied with Koepka and Fowler on the final hole, Mitchell was forced to lay-up after his drive found the beach. Yet his approach was solid from 124 yards, setting up the putt that would grant him his first tour win.
The breakthrough gives Mitchell an invite to the Masters, which will mark his major debut. But in the midst of his sophomore season on tour, he conceded something else was on his mind.
"I've been to that tournament so many times being in Georgia and played the golf course a couple times, and it's—I mean, to be honest, the first thing I thought about was having a job for the next two and a half years on the PGA Tour," Mitchell said. "And the second thing was when I saw my mom, gave her a hug, and then everything else just kind of started sinking in."
USGA and Justin Thomas trade blows
The USGA's rollout for the latest revision to the Rules of Golf, at least at the professional levels, has been a PR disaster. A number of marquee names—including Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Tony Finau—have ridiculed many of the new guidelines. Not helping matters were conflicting pronouncements from the R&A and USGA; R&A chief executive Martin Slumbers said last week, “I think it's fair to say that it hasn't gone as smoothly as I would have liked," just days after USGA CEO Mike Davis remarked, "From my perspective, I would say by and large they’ve been a huge success." Perhaps the situation is best summed up by Finau, when commenting on an incident involving Fowler at the Waste Management Open: "This is not what the integrity of the game is about."
So yeah, it hasn't been smooth sailing for the USGA. But this weekend delivered especially choppy waters.
On Thursday Fowler mocked the new stipulated drop height by simulating a bowel movement, while Thomas said he thinks the rules "are terrible" during a press conference. Following his third round at PGA National, Thomas doubled down on the assertion after Adam Schenk was penalized for his caddie allegedly lining him up...in a bunker.
After a Twitter user suggested the new rules aren't that hard to follow, Thomas attempted to give his perspective. "Totally agree," Thomas wrote. "I more so say things in hopes that the USGA starts communicating with the current players to better the game and the sport."
A note that grabbed the attention of the USGA. The Public Relations account for the group responded in kind to the 2017 PGA champ.
"Justin, we need to talk," read the USGA statement. "You’ve cancelled every meeting we’ve planned with you, but we are reaching out again. We were at the first 5 events, and tournaments last year, and your tour has had a seat at the table for 7 years. We’d love nothing more than to give you a seat. Call us."
In itself, a retort that was understandable, the USGA finally pushing back in the face of nonstop criticism, in hopes to control the narrative. But it was a message best saved for behind the scenes. Worse, Thomas—one of the more popular faces in the sport—called shenanigans on the USGA's comeback.
“It was a little shocking,” Thomas said Sunday. “It was a little upsetting just because it was inaccurate. I haven't canceled anything, especially any meetings. But it is what it is, and all I want is the best for the game of golf and the best for the sport, and that's what we're going to continue to try to communicate with each other to get that.
“It is unfortunate. It just was—it really hurt me.”
Though both players and the governing bodies have preached patience on the assimilation period, it's clear—as the calendar turns to March—the sport remains in a contentious state with the latest jurisdiction. A period that has no end in sight.
Kitayama overcomes seven-shot deficit at Oman Open
Four months ago Kurt Kitayama was competing in the European Tour's Q-School. He's not heading back to that gauntlet anytime soon.
Kitayama, a 26-year-old American, fired a final-round 70 for a one-shot win at the Oman Open.
That score fails to convey Kitayama's roller coaster weekend. He began his third round with a quadruple bogey, and followed up with consecutive bogeys to fall seven shots off the lead. But Kitayama's day ended there by fading daylight, as the tournament was still trying to overcame a sandstorm that halted play on Friday. With 33 holes on Sunday, Kitayama answered with vigor, carding six birdies and an eagle to finish with a third-round 71. And while his competition wilted down the marathon's closing stretch, the UNLV product made birdies at Al Mouj Golf's 16th and 17th to pull out the W over Jorge Campillo, Clement Sordet, Maximilian Kieffer and Fabrizio Zanotti.
"It feels great to win," said Kitayama. "My comeback this morning helped set up this final round. I was back in contention and with it being continuous rounds it helped me cruise into the next one."
After spending most of 2018 ranked outside the top 1000 in the world rankings, Kitayama has won twice in his last nine events (his inaugural Euro win coming at the Mauritius Open) and is on the cusp of breaking into the top 100.
Parks wins thanks to assist from Tiger
Tiger Woods has 80 career wins on tour. This is the first time, however, he's been credited with an LPGA triumph.
Sung Hyun Park, who met her idol Woods a month ago, turned in a final-round 64 to capture the HSBC Women's World Championship by two over Minjee Lee.
Park began the final round four shots back of the only player ahead of her in the world rankings, Ariya Jutanugarn. The 25-year-old quickly cut into the deficit with three birdies out of the gate, while Jutanugarn appeared out of sorts, doubling the fifth and never finding a rhythm. Park only had one stumble on the day, a bogey at Sentosa Golf Club's par-5 eighth, an error that was erased with 32 on the closing nine to seal the win.
Park chalked up her performance to a heightened focus on the finish line, using an umbrella to narrow her field of vision both literally and figuratively. That, and the presence of positive vibes, acquired off the encounter with Woods at a February photo shoot.
"If Tiger is watching this interview," Park said after her win, "then I would want to say that because we met, you gave me such a good energy, that made me win this tournament."