- How big of an upset was Andrew Landry's win? Thoughts on the Zurich Classic's team format? Rory's chances at Augusta? Expectations for Brooks Koepka's return?
I hadn't really heard of Andrew Landry until he picked up his first PGA Tour victory this week at the Valero Texas Open. Where does he rank among this season's unlikely winners?
Guys like Landry are what these "smaller" tournaments are all about. (Yes, I know Valero was a full-field event, but Sergio Garcia was the only top-20 player in the world to tee it up and no one in the field started in the top 10 of the FedEx Cup standings). We've had our fair share of elite winners this year—Rory McIlroy, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, etc.—and it's always awesome to watch a player pick up his first win. It's a life-changing moment for him, as Landry is now exempt for the Players, WGC-Bridgestone, PGA Championship, next year's Tournament of Champions in Maui and the Masters. Ah, the Masters.
Landry also made $1.1 million, and while he wasn't exactly struggling financially before the win, that's the largest paycheck he's received in his life by far. At 30, he's been a pro for nine years, the majority of which he spent toiling on the ultra-unsexy minitours. Sunday was just a massive day for him and his family.
While Landry was unknown to many casual fans, he sorta flashed on the proverbial radar back in 2016, when he played himself into the final pairing of the U.S. Open at Oakmont. He would go on to shoot 78 that day—the final group on Sunday in a U.S. Open at Oakmont is about as tough a proposition as there is in golf—and returned to the relative obscurity of the Web.com Tour, where he played well enough to earn his card for this season. Then he almost won the CareerBuilder Challenge before losing to Jon Rahm in a playoff, so he's not exactly a nobody.
Valero didn't exactly have an elite field, but still, Landry was certainly not one of the guys you'd peg as a potential champion. He missed four straight cuts before finishing T-42nd at the RBC Heritage and was ranked 114th in the world before his Texas triumph. So where does he rank? There are a couple guys who were ranked higher before their victories—Ryan Armour, Austin Cook, Brice Garnett, Ted Potter Jr.—but those were either Fall Series events or opposite-field events. Except for Potter Jr.
Potter Jr. topped a field that included McIlroy, Rahm, Jordan Spieth, Phil Mickelson and a number of other world-class players to win the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. In the final round, he was paired with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and beat him by three to secure the victory. It wasn't his first PGA Tour victory, but Potter Jr.'s triumph in one of the premier non-major, non-WGC events, when you consider who he had to beat to get the win, is still the biggest upset of this PGA Tour season so far.
I'm not sure how I feel about the team format (best ball Thursday and Saturday, alternate shot Friday and Sunday) at this week's Zurich Classic of New Orleans. Gimmicky or refreshingly different?
Refreshingly different, for sure. It's pretty clear what the Tour is doing here—they're trying to inject some life into the moribund stretch between the Masters and the Players, and they're trying to appeal to a wider audience simply by doing something that isn't a 72-hole stroke play event.
Case in point: this year, like in baseball, each team will have a walk-up song when they make their way to the first tee. Just like the distinctly non-country club atmosphere at the Waste Management Open, this move definitely has vibes of a dad trying to be "hip" in a heavy-handed manner. But at least they're trying. One of the biggest challenges for the PGA Tour will always be trying to broaden the audience for non-majors with some sort of spark, and this is an earnest endeavor toward that end. The players have also spoken positively of the experience, which explains why the field is so much deeper than last year. Justin Thomas, Patrick Reed, Justin Rose, Henrik Stenson, Brooks Koepka, Bubba Watson, Spieth, Rahm and Garcia are all in the field.
Plus, the Tour has a level of self-awareness when it comes to the Zurich. While there are FedEx Cup points up for grabs, the tournament doesn't count toward the Official World Golf Ranking, and the winner doesn't receive a spot in the Masters. They're not taking this event too seriously, and neither should you. Just enjoy it for what it is: something different.
Rory McIlroy expressed supreme confidence that he will win the Masters "sooner rather than later." Do you think he was trying to convince himself that he'll complete the career Grand Slam, or do you think he truly feels that way?
It's impossible to know what's going on inside someone else's head, and I'm generally against writers trying to hypothesize someone's "true" feelings. But Rory has every reason to believe he'll eventually complete the career Grand Slam and finally slip on that green jacket. He has five straight top-10s at Augusta and has had a legitimate chance to win the tournament more than once.
It's also worth remembering that he is only 28 years old. He's younger than Rickie Fowler and the same age as Tony Finau and one year older than Reed. He only seems older because he's been a factor what seems like forever, breaking through as a 21-year-old and remaining one of the world's best since then. Because of his prodigious talent, it feels like he should already have at least one green jacket by now, but in the grand scheme of things he's still really young. He'll have about 15 more realistic chances to win the Masters.
As his blistering final-round 64 at Bay Hill reminded us, Rory's best might be better than anyone else's. He's too good—and his game fits Augusta too well—to not give himself more chances on Sundays in the future, and one of these years he'll convert. I'm still absolutely all-in on Rory winning the Masters.
Brooks Koepka is back in the field this week after a 15-week absence due to a wrist injury. What are fair expectations for his return?
First and foremost, it's great to see Koepka back on Tour after that sort of mysterious injury. Remember, he has no idea how he hurt it and said it just started bothering him all of a sudden. Somehow, he hasn't fallen far in the world rankings at all—he was seventh when he last played and will enter the Zurich ranked ninth. Perhaps that's evidence of the imperfect nature of the rankings, but that's a discussion for another time.
This is the perfect week for him to come back, too. There isn't a whole lot of pressure on him this week simply because he has a partner. If he's not razor sharp—and he probably won't be, given all that time off—he can lean on Marc Turnesa a bit. It's an ideal tournament for him to get some reps before big events like the Players and the U.S. Open.
As far as expectations go, he's going to make his fair share of birdies this week. He was fifth in birdie average last season and said he feels like he can win this week. But the objective for this tournament is just to get back in the swing of things and complete four rounds pain-free. If he does that, it's a success, full stop.