BlogPrelude for The Amex

by Sal and Jason

Another great field at the American Express

After years of struggle to get a great field, the opposite has happened. Even though the event is not a “signature” event, it still is getting a lot of marquee names to play. 12 top-30 in the world rankings will play with four of the top ten. Led by the world’s number one ranked player in the world, Scottie Scheffler, it will be interesting to see how he plays.

Scheffler will be playing in his fifth Amex and, after finishing 3rd in his first start in 2020, has struggled since, missing the cut in 2021, finishing T-25th in 2022 and T-11th last year. So it will be interesting to see if Scheffler could bounce back and play like he did in. A sad part of American Express history is that in the last 22 years, six players have won the Amex eight times, and five of them won’t be playing. Four of them have dominated the event winning six of them. Of the four, Bill Haas, who won in 2010 and 2015, is the only player taking part this year. Because they have gone to LIV golf, Phil Mickelson, who won in 2002 & ’04 and was once tournament host, Hudson Swafford, who won in 2017 and ’22, and defending champion Jon Rahm, who won in 2018 and last year, won’t be in the field. Also on LIV golf and not playing this week is Patrick Reed, who won in 2014, and Pat Perez, who won in 2009. Still, the field is very strong with 22 top 50 players in the field, along with Sentry Winner Chris Kirk and Sony Open winner Grayson Murray.

Look back at last week’s Sony Open:

What I find striking about Grayson Murray’s win is that he is the second player who has dealt with Alcohol abuse; last week’s Sentry winner, Chris Kirk, also fought the demons of alcoholism. When Murray turned professional in 2015 and entered the Korn Ferry Tour, there was a lot of promise that he would be successful. In his first year on the Korn Ferry Tour in 2016, he had eight top-ten finishes, including a 3rd at the Albertsons Boise Open and runner-up at the Digital Ally Open, losing a playoff to Wesley Bryan. Then, in the last event of the year, he won the season-ending Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship, earning his PGA Tour card for 2017. In his rookie year, he won the Barbasol Championship, and things looked like he was on an upward ride on the PGA Tour. Despite being very long off the tee, there wasn’t much about his game. For years, he has been wild off the tee, and in Greens in regulation, he was in the bottom 15% of that stat. His putting wasn’t that great, and he scrambled each year to hold onto his PGA Tour card. He was 66th in his rookie year, but in 2018, he dropped to 119; in 2019, he was 214. Murray’s life was a mess as alcohol was getting him in more trouble off the course.

In October of 2022, while playing in Bermuda, he ran head-on into a car and suffered injuries to his face, hands, and knee, which required 50 stitches. Murray missed more cuts than making them because his game was suffering, and he was playing both the PGA and Korn Ferry Tours. He was in a terrible place when his family and friends talked him into entering a treatment facility in 2021. He returned to golf in 2022 to mixed results but was working with the challenges of sobriety. At the end of 2022, he realized he was about to turn 30 and had very few solutions left other than to become a much better player. Now for the drinking part, Murray hasn’t had a drink since the Mexico Open last year. He says that he shot a first-round 68 and then went on a drinking binge. He barely woke up the next day before his tee time, had to drink to get rid of the jitters, and then shot 79 to miss the cut. “I did not want to go through that ever again,” he told the media, “and that was the last time I had a drink.” Murray knew then he had to stop, which he did. Shortly after that, with hard work, good things started to happen.
In May of 2023, he won the AdventHealth Championship on the Korn Ferry Tour and a few weeks later was T-3rd at the UNC Health Championship. On the PGA Tour, he was T-6th at the John Deere Classic and T-7th at the Barbasol Championship. In September, he won the Simmons Bank Open, and finally, he had some solutions that opened some doors. The victory helped seal up a top 30 spot on the Korn Ferry Tour rankings and an automatic PGA Tour membership for 2024, which kicked in at the Sony Open in Hawaii.
Greyson shot rounds of 69-63-64-67, and his key stats were hitting 57 of 72 greens to rank T-2nd and playing the par 5s in nine under. He was 1st in Strokes Gained Off-the-Tee, 5th in Scrambling, and 29th in Strokes Gained Putting. He was first in Strokes Gained Total.
In the final round, Murray’s game was sluggish. Sure, he didn’t drop any shots, but going into the last hole, he only had two birdies at 9 and 10. He was a shot back of playing partner Keegan Bradley and Byeong Hun An, who was finished. Greyson hit a terrible tee shot on the 72nd hole to the right and in the rough, forcing him to lay up. From 78 yards out, he hit a wedge to within 2 feet for a tap in birdie. When Bradley missed his birdie putt, the three men returned to the 18th tee for the playoff. Another wayward tee shot left, which caught some trees and only went 244 yards into the left rough, left Murray with no choice but to lay up again. Murray got it down the fairway and was lucky when An and Bradley hit terrible second shots. From 106 yards out and just before he swung it, his caddie Jay Green said to Murray, “Show me something.” The wedge wasn’t great as he pulled it left and 39 feet from the hole.

But Murray showed “something” when he drained the putt for birdie and watched Bradley and An miss their putts, An from just four feet. It differed from the outcome that many thought would happen an hour earlier. Still, Murray won and, with that victory, moved him into the higher echelon of the PGA Tour, where he will be able to play in almost every tournament and major. On top of that, he will have a year in 2025 of full exemptions and a chance to show us his true potential. The big question will be whether he can carry this wave into better things or stay the way he is. Frankly, for him to get better, he will have to work on his game. As I said, his stats aren’t great, so he needs to work hard on every facet of his game. So we will see what happens, I am not holding my breath thinking that Murray is the next great thing on the PGA Tour.

For others, so close at the Sony:

The final round of the Sony was packed with a lot of intrigue and promise, as a dozen players went into the final nine just two back of the lead.

Russell Henley – For many, it looked like Henley would be the man. He went into the final round T-13th and five back of the lead. With birdies at 2, 5, and 6 and an eagle at nine, Henley’s front nine 30 got him close. But with birdies at 11, 12, and 13, he took the lead thanks to making 131 feet of putts on his first 13 holes. So with 13 feet for birdie at 14, he could have extended his lead. He didn’t make it. At the next hole, he was able to get up and down from a greenside bunker, but one of the blows he had was three-putting 16, missing a four-foot par putt. He parred 17 and needed a birdie at 18, but a poor drive and then missing a ten-foot birdie putt did him in. The sad thing for Henley is if, by chance, he had two putts at 16 and made birdie at 18, he would have won and gotten the first-place check of $1.49 million. Instead, he fell into a T-4th and only won $373,500. Henley will likely win in 2023; he is playing too well and has been remarkably consistent. He will play well in Florida, and his game is well-suited for Augusta National. If he follows how he played last year, look for Henley to do well from the PGA Championship through the Tour Championship.

Keegan Bradley – Just like with Henley, this was Bradley’s event to win. He was in total control after making a bogey at 4. He eagled the 9th and had birdies at 12 and 15. His birdie at 15 came at the same time as Henley’s bogey at 16, so Bradley was at 17 under and with the lead. He made routine pars at 16 and 17, setting up a golden opportunity at 18.

During the week, he played the two par 5s in 8 under, so he was under par on the 18th in his previous three go-arounds. But a poor drive at the 72nd hole put him in the right bunker. He laid up and, from 96 yards, hit it 26 feet away. When he missed it was the first time all week he wasn’t under par on a par 5. So he was given a second chance in the playoff, and this time, after a great drive, duck hooked his second left of the green, chipped up, and missed from 17 feet. Sorry, when he plays all the par 5s under par and then makes two pars on the hole, that is why he loses. Still, this is the start of a great year for Bradley. He has improved his putting, and I see great things of him at the Farmers, Arnold Palmer, and Wells Fargo.

Byeong Hun An – at 32 years, it’s hard to believe, but he has played full-time on the PGA Tour since 2016 and, in 182 starts, still hasn’t won. Sure, he has five runner-up finishes and three top-three finishes. He played consistently on Sunday, and his last 11 holes were six under par. He was the first to finish at 17 under par and, in the playoff, had four feet for birdie.

Who knows if when Murray made his 39-footer, that did something to An, but it meant another loss for him when he missed the four-footer. Do we ever see An winning? Of course, he is too consistent of a player not to. He has played in 182 events and needs to be in the right place at the right time. I don’t think An is the type of player who does the dramatic shot to take victory, I believe that An will have to stumble onto a victory by finishing early and having others unable to catch him.

Carl Yuan – It looked for a while like Yuan would be the first Chinese winner on the PGA Tour. But a pulled tee shot at 17, which led to a bogey, and then his inability to make birdie at 18, doomed his chances as he finished T-4th.

At 27, Yuan played his first year on the PGA Tour in 2023 after spending three years on the Korn Ferry Tour. He didn’t play well in 2023, but with his T-6th finish in the Sanderson Farms and 4th at Bermuda, he finished 126th in the FedEx Cup. Unfortunately, that was one spot outside of earning his full card for 2024. Yuan had to adjust his plans. Instead of going to Q-school for improved status for 2024, he got some good news. With Jon Rahm going to LIV golf, the rest of the players in the standings would move up one spot. As a result, Yuan’s jump was among the most meaningful because he kept his full status for 2024. Will he keep it? He is off to a great start. But Yuan needs a lot of improvement. In 2023, other than driving distance, where he ranks 47th, the rest of his stats are very dismal and paint a picture that unless he improves things like his play on greens missed and putting, he will again have to scramble to make the top 125.

Look at what is coming up:

Daniel Berger – Is making his 2024 debut at the American Express. It will mark Berger’s first start since the 2022 US Open, where he missed the cut. In the winter of 2021/22, Berger started getting pain in his back. 2021 was terrific; he won at Pebble Beach, had eight top-ten finishes, and was 11th in the FedEx Cup standings. He played in the Ryder Cup, and things were looking for 2022 to be even better. He was T-7th at the Hero and T-5th at the Sentry, but the pain worsened. Berger thought he could play through it, but that made it worse. After the 2022 Masters, he had an MRI, and it didn’t show any problems, so he continued to play. He finished T-5th at the Memorial, but things got so painful that sitting was a problem. He played in the US Open but missed the cut. Berger followed what doctors told him to take four months off, but after that, he was still in pain. In talking to Luke Donald, he suggested a Canadian Doctor who specializes in Biomechanics. Tests revealed a bulge in his lower disc and deep bone sensitivity, and he followed a rehabilitation program set up by the Canadian Doctor. So, for the last year, he has been rehabbing the back, and it feels good now; no pain and he feels safe to rejoin the PGA Tour. Now, the question mark is when he can return to the level he used to be. He has not played competitively for 18 months, and everything has changed.
An example of the problem is Will Zalatoris, who had surgery last April and is returning. His first start was at the Hero World Challenge last month, and Zalatoris opened with an 81 and shot 68-79-71 to finish last. He played last week at the Sony and missed the cut with rounds of 76-69. We know that players like Zalatoris and Berger were great, but it may take a few weeks or possibly months before it all comes back and clicks for them.

Lucas Glover – So when Lucas Glover finished his 2023 season at the Tour Championship, there was a lot of hope that the 44-year-old had found the magical cure in his putting. For Glover, it was a dream summer, thanks to using a new LAB putter and a new putting grip. He figured it out and went T-4th at the Rocket Mortgage, T-6th at the John Deere, and 5th at the Barbasol Championship. Then he won the Wyndham and the following week at the FedEx St. Jude Championship, and many thought he would become the next great superstar. Glover has been a superstar from tee to green for years but has had one major problem. In over a decade, he was in the top 50 in Greens in Regulation most years and was always in the top 50 in Strokes Gained Tee-to-Green. So the thought is that if he could magically find that extraordinary putting stroke, he would then be in contention in more events. So when Glover had his dream putting summer, it was like Cinderella at the ball. The only problem, just like in Cinderella when the clock struck midnight, for Glover, the reality of his putting has raised his old past. In the fall events, he was T-59th at the World Wide Technology Championship, T-45th at Bermuda, and 12th at the Hero World Challenge. In all three events, the putting was mixed; it was alright, but not how it was in the summer. But when the tour started at Kapalua, Glover was again struggling with his putter. At the Sentry, he was T-29th, but in Strokes Gained Putting, he lost half a shot and ranked T-37th. The next week at the Sony, he shot 71-68 to miss the cut. Again, putting could have been better; he missed a putt under two feet, one under four feet, and one under five feet. Glover isn’t playing this week or next but will return at the AT&T Pebble Beach.

Ludvig Aberg – So what has happened, talking about the Lucas Glover Cinderella? Could we also be seeing the clock strike midnight for Ludvig Aberg? Last year, after the fall start to the 2023 season, Seamus Power, Taylor Montgomery, and Thomas Detry were the big players, but when the calendar year turned to 2023, those players faded. Since Ludvig Aberg turned pro back in June, he has been as close to perfect as possible. He won twice, on the European Tour at the Omega European Masters, and won on the PGA Tour at the RSM Classic. Aberg played so well that he even made it onto the European Ryder Cup team. Aberg won the last event of 2023 at the RSM Classic and, with fellow Swede Sagstrom Madelene, finished 3rd at the Grant Thornton Invitational. After that, Ludvig took some time off, spending the holidays in the snow of Sweden. But while he was in Sweden, we saw pictures of Aberg practicing and playing golf in the snow, and we thought that he would be good when the Sentry rolled around. But that never happened; yes, he opened up with rounds of 69-70 at Kapalua, and with the scores low, he was T-46th in a field of 59. Things didn’t get any better for Aberg when he shot 77 in the wind, and a final round 63 did bring him up to finishing T-47th. He flew over to Honolulu and played in the Sony Open. He was not sharp as he finished T-30th. So what’s up? Is it just a case of not liking the wind of Hawaii or courses on the Pacific? He is taking this week off and returns next week at Torrey Pines for the Farmers, and I am not worried. I feel Aberg is a keeper, he will be awesome this year, and we have to give him a few more starts before we hit the panic button on Aberg.

Chris Kirk – Whatever happens to Chris Kirk and the talk of the “Hawaiian Slam?” Since the Sentry was moved to Maui in 1999, only two players have won the Sentry and Sony back to back. Ernie Els did it in 2003, and Justin Thomas did it in 2017. For Kirk, the hard one to win was the Sentry, so he was looking forward to the Sony, an event where he was runner-up twice and 3rd in 2023. Kirk played great opening up with a par of 66s to be in contention over the weekend. He shot 33 on the front on Saturday to get to ten under, but shot 34 on the back nine, but was just three back of the leaders going into Sunday. Kirk couldn’t get it going early; he made a bogey on three of his first six holes and despite birdies at 8 and 9, a bogey on 10 finished things. Kirk shot even par 70 and, with all of the low playing going on in the final round, dropped into a T-18th. We have to think we have yet to see the last of Kirk again; watch for him in the Florida swing, which he does well in.

Comments

  1. hans@sbs.co.kr says

    I think Carl Yuan’s rule application on 72nd hole at the Sony open got some issue. Affirmative witness could be applicable but I think he had to find his original ball first.

  2. Hans, that whole thing was weird. Since a PGA Tour rules official signed off on it, guess it stands but I too thought that you had to find the ball. Golfchannel didn’t do a good job on either interviewing the rules official or Yuan about what happened. It was we saw the shot, Hicks said there was out of bounds and then all of a sudden we see Yuan take a drop and Hicks told us that this is what the PGA Tour rules official came up with. They really needed to follow up on the issues and Golf Channel just gave an explanation of why it happened, but it really needed to interview the rules official who made the call.

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