BlogPrelude to the AT&T Pebble

by Sal Johnson

From the Farmers…

Have to say, Max Homa is turning into a great player. He has been on the PGA Tour since 2014 and seems to peak like a fine wine. Now Homa has won six times, but we see that he seems to deliver the goods whenever he finds himself in contention in the final round. It started at the 2019 Wells Fargo. For the first time, he had a share of the lead going into the final round and shot 67 to win by three shots. The next time he was in the position to win was at the 2021 American Express. Homa was tied for the lead in the final round but shot 76 to finish T-21st. He stumbled one other time at the 2021 Valspar when he went into the final round just one off the lead, shot 74, and finished T-6th and seven back of the winner. Homa has found a way to deliver the goods in the final round. In the 2021 Genesis, Homa found himself a shot off the lead, shot a final round 66, and beat Tony Finau in a playoff. In the 2022 Fortinet Championship, Homa again found himself in contention three off the lead and shot a final round 65 to win by a shot. At the 2022 Wells Fargo, Homa went into the final round two back, shot a final round 68, and won by two. Four months later, Homa found himself a shot back of the lead going into the final round, shot 68, and won by a shot. This victory was a bit of good luck as Homa went into the last hole a shot back of Danny Willett. While Willett was playing the final hole perfectly and had a 3-footer for birdie, Homa blew his third shot and was off the green in three. From 32 feet, Homa holed his chip for birdie, and Willett three-putted from 3 feet to give Homa a one-shot victory.
This week at the Farmers, Homa was five back of Sam Ryder going into the final round. Homa shot 32 on the front nine and caught Ryder, who shot 37. Homa shot 34 on the back nine for a 66 and won by two shots. The point of all this, when Homa gets into contention, he finds a way to win. This was Homa’s sixth PGA Tour win, with four being in California. Homa was born in Burbank, played junior golf in California, and went to UC Berkeley in Northern California. So it makes sense that Homa would win so many times in California.
Since 1970 there have been 297 PGA Tour events played in California. Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson are the all-time California champs, winning 14 of them. Tom Watson is next at 11, followed by Johnny Miller at 10. Of those players active on the PGA Tour, Max Homa has won four times, along with Jon Rahm.
Winning the Farmers Championship was the staple of players born, raised, gone to school, or living in California. Max Homa became the 25th player with California roots to win the Farmers. He joins the list of other players with California roots, Gene Littler, Bob Casper, Billy Casper, Tom Watson, Johnny Miller, Steve Pate, Greg Twiggs, Phil Mickelson, Craig Stadler, Mark O’Meara, Tiger Woods, John Daly, Nick Watney and now Homa.
The big question is if Homa will now be the favorite at Riviera next month in the Genesis Invitational. Homa seems to win multiple times at the Wells Fargo and the Fortinet Championship, so anything is possible. Homa will have two chances to win again in California, not only at the Genesis but the U.S. Open is being played at Los Angeles Country Club. Now Homa has not played well in the majors. In 13 starts, he has made only five cuts, with his best finish being a T-13th at the 2022 PGA Championship. But Homa has some history at L.A. Country Club; he holds the North Course record of 61, shot in the 2013 Pac-12 Men’s Golf Championship. So don’t count out Homa in June.

Other notes from the Farmers
What happened to Jon Rahm?

It was bad enough that Rahm shot 73 in the first round, the first time he had a round over par in 150 days (Tour Championship). With the round, Rahm was in danger of missing the cut but shot 67 in the second round, and with his third round 66, he found himself in contention. In the final round, Rahm bogeyed his first hole and then made a double at five. He shot 39 on the front nine and with a bogey at 10, was out of the tournament. He made birdies at 14 and 17 to shoot 74 but finished T-7th. The 74 was his highest round since the Genesis Scottish Open, and we have to wonder if this will hang around. Torrey Pines is one of Rahm’s favorite courses; his worst round was 77 in the final round in 2018. After the round, Rahm said he didn’t hit the ball that badly, getting a lot of bad breaks. One of them was at five when his second shot hit the cart path, which led to a double bogey. At the final hole, Rahm got another bad break when he drove into a fairway bunker, and the ball plugged. I think he will be fine when he returns to Phoenix, but we must keep these poor rounds in our minds when deciding who to pick.

Keegan Bradley

He finished 2nd two shots back of Homa. His putting has drastically improved. After ranking notoriously over the 150 in Strokes Gained Putting, Bradley was 88th last year and 43rd this year. In putting inside ten feet, he is 58th, his best finish since joining the PGA Tour. At the Farmers, Bradley was 1st in Strokes Gained Putting and made 290 feet of putts for the week. Bradley won in October at the Zozo Championship and could be primed to win again, possibly in Phoenix. But in looking at his record, he has done very well in the Florida swing, finishing 5th last year at the Players and runner-up at the 2021 Valspar. So watch him in the coming weeks.

Collin Morikawa

He finished 3rd at the Farmers, so he was 2nd at the Sentry and 6th at the Hero World Challenge. We talked a lot about his improved putting at the Sentry T of C. He is 90th in Strokes Gained Putting, his best ranking since turning pro. We must think he may be back in the winner’s circle again. Last year he was T-2nd at the Genesis and played well in Florida. So he will be a player to watch in the future.

Sam Ryder

What can we say? For Ryder, he had control of the Farmers with rounds of 64-68. He kept in the ballgame with a third-round 72. He started well with a birdie on his first hole in the final round, but Ryder struggled with bogeys at seven and eight. Ryder didn’t drive well in the final round hitting just 7 of 14 fairways and only hitting 12 of 18 greens. When he made double at 15, it put him out of contention, and he continues looking for that first PGA Tour win. He has been runner-up twice. Ryder led after the first, second, and third rounds. It was the first time he ever led, and the question is, when will the next time that Ryder contends? Watch for him at the Honda Classic. In his last two starts, he was T-9th last year and T-8th in 2021. In 147 PGA Tour starts, Ryder has been in the top ten 16 times and with two top tens in 2023, is on his way to his best season in his six-year PGA Tour career.

Haven’t seen much of Tom Kim

Tom Kim started the year with a T-5th at the Sentry T of C, then missed the cut at the Sony Open in Hawaii, but bounced back with a T-6th at the American Express. When he showed up in Maui, he was sporting a new look wearing the swoosh logo from shoes to shirt to cap. We know that Kim hit the big times with wins at the Wyndham and Shriners, but he now has hit it financially. For Nike, sponsoring Kim is a win-win since he was born in South Korea, then his family moved to Australia and the Philippines. So he is a known name in Asia, and with his outstanding play and the fact that he speaks Korean and English, it’s a slam dunk. Kim is one of 32 players that Nike sponsors, but he is the only Asian Golfer on the Nike Team.
The Nike deal is purely apparel, as Kim has an equipment deal with Titleist, using their ball, driver, irons, and wedges. We will see Kim next week in Phoenix.

So what ever happen to Luke List?

Most of the time, when a player wins on the PGA Tour for the first time, it opens up many doors and helps boost a player to a new level. Last year Luke List won the Farmers, and it should have been his starting block. List turned pro in 2007 and has struggled ever since. After playing for five years on the Korn Ferry Tour List got his PGA Tour card in 2013, but as quickly as he earned a trip to the PGA Tour, it was back to the Korn Ferry Tour for 2014. He made it back to the PGA Tour in 2016 and has played on that tour ever since. He came close to winning. In both 2017 and ’18, he was runner-up and in third place. In 2018 he came close, but in a playoff, Justin Thomas birdied the first hole to snatch victory from his grasp. List has always been one of the longest hitters on the PGA Tour, but that didn’t translate to accuracy off the tee as he has consistently been one of the wildest players off the tee. At the same time List is an excellent iron player and has worked hard on his putting, in 2021 he was 36th in Greens in Regulation and 23rd last year. But the weakest part of his game has been putting. Since 2017 his best finish in Strokes Gained in putting was in 2018 when he ranked T-159th. At Torrey last year, he got everything together and realized what he could do when he putted well as he was 8th in Strokes Gained Putting, which helped him make 22 birdies. List also dodged some big bullets last year, as Jon Rahm, Jason Day, Justin Rose, and then Will Zalatoris missed putts on the 72nd hole that could have changed things. In the playoff, the same degree of luck was with List as he made the critical putt for birdie to win after Zalatoris missed his birdie putt. Unfortunately, List couldn’t take advantage of the momentum he had going as he was T-53rd two weeks later in Phoenix and didn’t cash a check in his next three events. He was never able to get his putter going as he did in his Farmers win, and in his next 19 events of the year only recorded one top-20 finish, T-19th at the Travelers. Things haven’t been any better in 2023. In his first 8 starts, he only recorded one top-25 finish, a T-11th at the Sentry T of C. In defending his title at the farmers, List showed some magic with a first-round 67 on the North Course but shot 75 in the second round to make the cut. He shot 73-72 to finish T-25th, but the magic he found last year didn’t make another appearance. As for the future, it is probably the same. It’s been the last 8 years of struggling with his putter, and until that gets better, we may never see list contend again on the PGA Tour.

Tell me it ain’t so, Will Zalatoris

Will is one of the top players on the PGA Tour. He is the type of player we trust will get the job done and get himself into contention. We all know that Zalatoris had back problems that ended his 2022 season early in August. He didn’t return on tour until the Sentry T of C. Zalatoris played well in Maui, finishing T-11th and then was T-36th at the American Express. In his eight rounds, he broke 70 all eight rounds, and the thought was that Will would contend at the Farmers, an event he was T-7th in 2021 and runner-up last year, losing a playoff to Luke List. In my big pick-your-pro game, I, along with many others, went with Zalatoris. He played solidly in the first round to shoot a 4-under 68 on the North Course. Zalatoris started the second round on the more demanding South Course with a birdie but then made three consecutive bogeys on the fourth, fifth, and sixth holes. He made two more bogeys on the 10th and 11th holes and a bogey on the 14th. He made a birdie on the 15th hole and a bogey on the 17th for a 77. He had an 11-footer on his final hole to make the cut and missed it. Here is the problem I have with Will’s 77. In his 191 career rounds on the PGA Tour, he only has three rounds higher than the 77, the highest being 80 in the first round of the 2018 U.S. Open. In his 77 on the South course, Will hit only 6 of 14 fairways and 8 of 18 greens, numbers we aren’t used to from Zalatoris. We told you after the Sentry T of C, that Zalatoris made some changes to his swing so that he wouldn’t push off his right side and make more of a turn than a lateral shift. He also changed his driver to shorten it by an inch and a quarter, which should help him in the future. My question is, the changes worked on the easy Plantation Course in Hawaii and also worked on the easy three courses used for the American Express. Zalatoris also made it work on the easy North course at Torrey Pines, but he stumbled when he used these changes on the first demanding course he played this year. His this a thing to worry about in future events for Will? To give him the benefit of the doubt, conditions were tough on Thursday with a lot of wind. That, along with the gruesome rough that took its toll with wayward drives, also played its part. I also was concerned with some of the short putts I saw. He has this short pop-cut stroke that is hard to watch, but my question is, is this something to worry about in the future? He will return to Phoenix and play the next week at the Genesis, so we will see, but I would be a bit weary of him until he shows he can play well consistently.

One thing to remember for next year

I had a bad feeling when I looked at the pairings with Zalatoris playing the North Course in the first round and then the South Course in the second round. Honestly, there is a big difference between the courses, as the South Course is three shots harder than the North. The thinking is that you want to play the easier course in the second round. Just look at both Jon Rahm and Tony Finau. They both played poorly in the first round on the South Course and were in danger of missing the cut. But they were able to regain themselves to make the cut and contend. Will Zalatoris played well on the North Course in the first round shooting 68 but stumbled to a 77 on the South Course. How about Hayden Buckley? He fired a first-round 66 on the North Course and then shot 80 on the South Course to go from contention to missing the cut. This year’s stats are that the North Course played to a 71.45 average in the first two rounds while the South Course played to a 74.04 average. But here is the primary stat, of the 73 players that made the cut, 40 of them played on the North Course in the second round, while only 33 made the cut played on the South Course in the second round. So write yourself a memo for next year, and look for players that will tackle the North course in the second round next year.

Is Jason Day ready to win again?

Since joining the PGA Tour in 2008 and for the next ten years, Jason Day has been one of the best players in golf. In 2016, Day spent nearly a year on top of the Official World Golf Rankings list. When he won the 2018 Wells Fargo, the sky was limitless for Day, except for one problem. Since 2012 Day has been prone to injuries. In 2012 an ankle injury caused him to take some time off. In 2014 he started to get back pain, and at the 2015 U.S. Open, he collapsed on the final hole of the second round and was diagnosed with benign positional vertigo. Despite the injuries, Day continued to play well and win. In 2015 he won five times, including the PGA Championship, and the following year won three times, including the WGC Match Play and The Players Championship. At the same time, his back was becoming a major concern. He took three months off from golf before the 2017 season, and despite the break, his game was not the same. He won twice in 2018, but his back was again a problem the following year. He was forced to withdraw from the 2019 Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was sore after a hard practice session. After an MRI revealed a tear in his L4-L5 discs, he had four injections and rested. He continued to play, and many wondered if he was a tickling time bomb. In 2020 a combination of COVID and his back cut him back. In 17 events, he still had five top-ten finishes with three 4th place finishes. Day took rest over surgery, and despite playing in 2021 and ’22, he was more interested in implementing swing changes with Chris Como to take pressure off his back. Along with his back, Day also had to endure his mother’s medical problems. In 2017 his mom Dening was stricken with stage four lung cancer, and Day got her to come to the states, and they dealt with the problem. Dening fought a good battle but succumbed after a five-year struggle in 2022. That year was tough on Day. He had two top-ten finishes, including a T-3rd at the Farmers when he was just a shot back of the List/Zalatoris playoff. After missing the cut at the FedEx St Jude Championship last August, Day started working on two elements of his game, around the green work and putting. He has also been injury and pain-free for the first time, allowing him to play more. He spent last December in the Palm Springs area at Vintage Club working hard. One crucial aspect was putting. Between 2012 and 2018, Day was one of the best putters on tour. But things slipped in 2019 when he ranked 30th in Strokes Gained Putting, and by 2021 he dropped to 95th. He was 87th last year and started working on his putting by the summer’s end. He experimented with several different putters and worked with Scotty Cameron tour reps to find a mallet shape putter that fitted his game. At the Shriners Children’s in October, Scotty Cameron sent him a new mallet putter he felt comfortable with. He finished T8th in Vegas and felt comfortable with the putter, making 14 of 18 putts in the four to eight-foot range. He continued to putt well and had a lot of good rounds finishing in the top 25 in three events after Las Vegas. He used that putter until he changed to a similar mallet Cameron before the American Express but painted with a black finish. He shot rounds of 67-64-70-67 to finish T-18th at the American Express but finished 2nd in Strokes Gained Putting. On the two rounds at the Pete Dye Stadium course, Day made 29 out of 29 putts inside ten feet, so things started to click. Day played in the Farmers and finished T-7th with rounds of 68-71-73-68. Again Day’s putting was supreme at Torrey, he was T-5th in Putts per GIR and 3rd in Strokes Gained putting. I came close to picking Day in the form of some bets, and I didn’t, unfortunately. During his excellent play at Torrey, I thought that Day would be the guy to beat this week at the AT&T Pebble Beach. Day has an outstanding record at Pebble. He has played it 13 times and finished in the top-seven eight times, including a T-2nd in 2018. He has played at Pebble for the last ten years and has been in the top-five four of his last six starts. When the player’s list came out on Friday night, I was surprised to see that Day isn’t playing at Pebble. With the new rules on the PGA Tour, Day is required to play in the WM Phoenix and Genesis. Since Day played at the American Express, he had to decide to play in either the Farmers or Pebble. Since he has won twice at the Farmers, he picked that one, thus the reason he isn’t playing at Pebble for the first time since 2012. It’s a bit disappointing because he has only played in Phoenix four times and had just one top-ten. The same with Riviera for the Genesis. He has played in it five times and only made two cuts, the best being a T-62nd in 2012. The last time he played was in 2020, when he missed the cut.


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