The Webb Simpson and Tony Finau show, McDowell and Mickelson shine in Saudi Arabia, and Kobe tributes continue
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 Feb. 3.
Coronations are never a given in sports, as Webb Simpson reminded a television audience surely diminishing rapidly by the minute on Sunday afternoon.
The Super Bowl was beckoning, and Tony Finau, a superstar in waiting, potentially No. 1 in the world, according to some precincts, was unable to close it out. Simpson was a prohibitive stumbling block.
Simpson, a former U.S. Open champion now No. 7 in the World Ranking, birdied the final two holes of the Waste Management Phoenix Open to force a playoff, then defeated Finau with another birdie on the first extra hole.
“I definitely didn't give him the tournament,” Finau said, an accurate assessment. “He took the lead from me early and I got it late, but unfortunately, it’s how the cookie crumbles today.”
Simpson is an interloper among the bombers, accuracy his calling card. To wit, the hole-in-one he made Saturday on the 12th hole.
Simpson has finished first, second, third and a tie for seventh in four starts in this wrap-around season. It is the kind of run expected of Finau, who is stuck on one PGA Tour victory, in the Puerto Rico Open nearly four years ago.
Earlier this week, Golf Channel’s Brandel Chamblee called Finau a superstar in the making. “It’s not a matter of if, it is when Tony Finau is going to turn the afterburners on,” he said.
And on Sunday, Bubba Watson said, “Tony, gosh he’s so good. What a talent he is. He makes one and then he’s off to the races. He could be the number one player in the world at any moment.”
When is still unknown, and at any moment is not this moment.
McDowell, Mickelson impress
The second Saudi International became newsworthy for something other than the controversy over players choosing to participate in an event in light of Saudi Arabia’s human-rights issues.
Graeme McDowell, 40, a former U.S. Open champion, won by two over Dustin Johnson for his first European Tour victory since 2014, and Phil Mickelson, 49, tied for third, his best finish since winning the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am a year ago.
“It's been 10 years [nine, actually] since I won a U.S. Open, ten years probably since I played the best golf of my life,” McDowell said. “I feel like I'm moving back in the right direction. I've got my head around what I'm trying to do with the swing and what I'm trying to do with the golf ball again, thanks to Kevin Kirk, who I started working with last August, and Pete Cowen who has been by my side for many, many years.”
McDowell, who began the week ranked 104th in the world, had made it a goal to get back inside the top 50 and to show his young kids how good he is rather than telling that how good he was.
“My big goal this year was to be back in the top 50 in the world, back competing in the big tournaments,” he said. “I'm very excited that it’s happened a little faster than I expected, but hopefully it’s laying some foundations down for having a big year.
“Called my kids right off 18 green. They were jumping around the house. My little boy was shouting, ‘Daddy, you won.’ That's the kind of stuff I’m excited about.”
Mickelson, meanwhile, played exceedingly well only days after missing the cut in his hometown event, the Farmers Insurance Open, his second straight MC.
“It was sure fun coming down that back nine with an opportunity, with a chance,” Mickelson said. “I haven't felt that in a while. I haven't been my best since I won Pebble a year ago, and I'm excited to go back there next week with a little bit of momentum.
“I feel like I have been playing well but yet I haven't had the results. I missed a couple of cuts and this week I really started to put things together and it's a great week to build off of. I've had a good week.”
Kobe tributes continue
The death of Kobe Bryant the previous Sunday continued to resonate at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.
Each day at the 16th hole, Justin Thomas wore a Kobe jersey from Bryant’s high school days at Lower Merion in Philadelphia.
"I've had it for probably four or five years,” he said. “That's just always been one of my favorites. I have a lot of jerseys. It's always been one of my favorite ones just because Kobe has always been my favorite and not many people have a Lower Merion jersey. A true fan knows what it actually is. It also goes a little better with the outfit than purple and gold.”
Finau wore a Kobe Bryant jersey at the 16th hole all week, and on Saturday nearly made an ace. “I had a perfect number for a sand wedge and go ahead and fire right at the pin. Damn near made it,” he said. “So that would have been pretty sweet with the Kobe jersey on. But I like that shot. That was pretty nice.
“I've been through tragedy before in my life. You definitely don't want to wish that on any family. But it confirmed to me how important family are, my family, my kids. And again, it's a sad time for the Kobe fans and his family. We're thinking about him.”
On Sunday, the tournament painted the two numbers Bryant wore with the Lakers, 8 and 24, in front of the 16th green, while also featuring the numbers on the flag there.
And in one other tribute featuring Bryant's numbers, the pin at the 16th hole was placed 24 paces on, and 8 from the left.