Match play madness led an action-packed week in golf.

It was another wild week in pro golf, at three different events.

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Welcome to the Monday Finish! This is where we’ll tally the scores for the week that was and tee you up for the week to come. This week that means Ian Poulter’s match play strategy, Rory McIlroy’s coaching situation, Inbee Park, DJ-Na, video, lack of video and more.


Something you might have missed.

If you were to pick a single golfer from this generation whose name is synonymous with “match play,” it would have to be Ian Poulter. And it’s not just the fact that he shows up every two years to scream his way to victory at the Ryder Cup; he’s had plenty of success at the WGC-Match Play, too.

Poulter had already found his match play form by 2010, when he beat Justin Leonard on the first extra hole to win the Match Play at Dove Mountain. He followed that by winning the European Tour’s 2011 Volvo World Match Play. In the Ryder Cup, meanwhile, his record speaks for itself: He’s 14-6-2 overall and a ridiculous 5-0-1 in singles matches. Adam Sarson, who keeps track of such things, has Poulter’s overall career match play singles record (here) at 43-18-5. The term “match-play specialist” seems fair to apply.

So what gives? Where does the extra fire come from? How does he seemingly will himself to mano-a-mano victory? At this weekend’s WGC-Match Play, where Poulter entered off two missed cuts but advanced to the Sweet 16 anyway, he did his best to explain his match play success.

After trouncing Rory McIlroy and holding off Cameron Smith to jump out to a 2-0-0 start through two days, Poulter was asked if he’s a better putter in match play.

“Yes,” he said, simply. But why?

“Because I really — I just really hate losing,” he said. “It’s so simple. There’s only one guy on the golf course that has the opportunity to beat you, and you’re not in control in a stroke play event. You know, I guess it’s just really simple. Just hole your putts and take care of business, and you can be a real pain in the backside. I love this format.”

Poulter says he didn’t grow up playing much tournament match play, but his disdain for losing still has its roots in childhood. “It’s just like when you go out and play your brother and you really don’t want your brother to beat you. It brings all those memories back. I hated it. I hated it when he beat me occasionally, and it happened a bit, and I didn’t like it.”

In other words, Poulter’s motivation is exactly what it looks like. Even if he is, according to his own assessment, “old,” he was still full-throttle madman from Match 1 on Wednesday. After he secured a spot in the round of 16, one reporter asked him if he’d up his focus for the knockout rounds.

“I’m not sure I can ratchet my intensity up any more,” he admitted.

We’ll see come Ryder Cup season if that remains true.

(And credit to Poulter: When you beat him, he’ll raise a glass in your direction.)


Who won what?

Billy Horschel took down the WGC-Match Play title, beating Scottie Scheffler 2 and 1 in the final to secure a massive victory in prestige, points and paycheck. Horschel’s win jumped him to No. 17 in the world and up to No. 11 in Ryder Cup ranking — not to mention securing a first-place prize of $1.82 million.

The final vs. Scheffler was hardly must-see TV, in part because the pair …combined to hole exactly zero birdie putts (Seriously — there was one chip-in birdie and one conceded 34-footer. That’s it!) Nonetheless, this event always has an element of anticlimax Sunday afternoon. But that’s okay! We’re conditioned to Sunday afternoon representing a golf tournament’s pinnacle. But the WGC-Match Play peaks early, sometime during the early-round chaos of 32 concurrent matches during the week or Saturday’s elimination rounds. It’s a terrific event, even if it tends to finish with a whimper.

Inbee Park won her “tune-up” start for next week’s ANA Inspiration in a five-shot romp at the Kia Classic at the Aviara in Carlsbad, Calif. The win marked her 21st on the LPGA Tour, placing her just four behind Se Ri Pak as the winningest golfer in Korean history.

“It was my first week back out in three months or so, and I played so good,” Park said. “I mean, I couldn’t believe how I was doing out there this week.” We couldn’t either! Park immediately jumps to the top of the list of favorites for this week’s major championship. But it was particularly intriguing to hear her talk about her motivations for continuing to compete. In contrast to world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, who has said he won’t attend this year’s Olympics, Park has the event circled on her calendar.

“If there was no Olympics I don’t know, would I be here?” she asked rhetorically after her win. “I’m just asking the same question. But it has been definitely good motivation for me.”

Joel Dahmen has established himself in recent years as Tour Pro of the People; he’s among the best interviews on Tour and has a relatable everyman quality that helps him genuinely connect with those who follow the game. But his happy-go-lucky approach to the game betrays the fact that this guy has been through it. He’s a cancer survivor, a college dropout, a mini-tour grinder, a small-town dreamer. In 2018, when he qualified for his first FedEx Cup Playoffs, he laid out a very different scenario — his road not taken.

“If I didn’t have cancer, I’d be a washed-up driving range pro telling people how good I used to be,” he told the AP at TPC Boston. “I would be in my little town as an assistant pro. Everyone would love me. I’d do well in [PGA] section stuff and I’d drink too much. I’d be a woulda-coulda-shoulda guy. I’d be telling people for 50 years how good I was.”

Instead, after finishing things off at the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, Dahmen is a PGA Tour winner. Only fitting that the two people who have been there for everything — his wife Lona and his caddie Geno Bonnalie — were there with him when he did.

(You can read more about Dahmen “going through life and death” here.)


Who came up just short?

If the ANA gives us a leaderboard half as compelling as this week’s Kia Classic, we’ll be lucky. Incredibly, eight out of the world’s top 10 finished inside the top 10 at Aviara, including Korean stars (Inbee Park, Jin Young Ko and Hyo-Joo Kim), American stars (Nelly Korda, Danielle Kang and Lexi Thompson) and the prides of Australia (Minjee Lee) and Canada (Brooke Henderson). Let’s hope some of those same names come down to the wire at next week’s ANA, too.

At the WGC-Match Play, Scheffler’s runner-up finish improved his world ranking to a career-best 22, while Matt Kuchar posted by far his best result of the season and Victor Perez nearly earned membership on the PGA Tour. It was a meaningful final four for all involved.

Still, you’d be hard-pressed to find a runner-up finish that meant more than Rafael Campos‘ T2 in the Dominican Republic. Campos, a PGA Tour rookie who hails from Puerto Rico, readied a dramatic fist-pump on the 18th green as his playoff-forcing birdie putt raced towards the hole — only to suffer a brutal lip-out.

“It wasn’t meant to be,” an emotional Campos said after the round. “Whatever happened, happened, and I just wanted to give myself a chance.”


A more strategic LPGA setup?!

After going deep in an article last week, Beth Ann Nichols of Golfweek sparked an intriguing debate surrounding LPGA course setup. Compared to their PGA Tour counterparts, she argued, there were fewer reachable par-5s and courses weren’t generally set up to fully showcase their skills.

While I’m not sure I agreed with every assertion — I generally like the way women’s tournaments play, and I’d like to see the men’s game toughen up its setups rather than the other way around — Nichols’ point about increasing the number of exciting risk-reward holes and ratcheting up strategy and decision-making was an important one.

Better yet, the LPGA listened! This week’s Kia Classic featured reachable par-4s and tees up on several of the par-5s, increasing the number of looks pros had at eagle.

And coming down the stretch, tournament leader Inbee Park made an eagle 2 at the reachable par-4 16th to cement her five-shot victory.

They’ll continue to toggle with course setups, but it was incredibly refreshing to see tournament organizers keep such an open mind to the fact that they could try something different on the fly. So far, so good.


’round and ’round it goes.

Rory McIlroy has officially added Pete Cowen to his coaching staff, which means one more voice on Team McIlroy. On the one hand, this is a big deal. McIlroy is one of the greatest, most popular golfers on the planet, he’s in the prime of his athletic career and he’s been working with Michael Bannon since he was eight years old.

On the other hand, it may not be as big a deal as we think. McIlroy has always consulted with Cowen — and Bannon won’t be completely out of the picture, either. Let’s let Rory tell us more:

“Pete and I have known each other since I was 13 years old, so it’s not as if this is a new relationship. Pete and I have known each other forever. He’s worked with a lot of players that I’ve been close with over the years: Darren Clarke, Graeme McDowell, Lee Westwood. I just felt like it was a natural fit in terms of Pete knows my goal. He’s seen me grow up swinging the golf club.”

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McIlroy was particularly complimentary about Cowen’s short-game philosophy, which he called “unbelievable.” As for Bannon? This hardly sounds like a breakup.

“Michael is like a second dad to me, so Michael and I’s relationship and, I guess, agreement is still the same,” McIlroy said. “It’s just the fact that I haven’t been able to see him as much recently, and then the times that I have, because there hasn’t been much continuity there, it feels like every time we saw each other it was almost like we were trying to do too much.”

Cowen is on Tour far more often than Bannon and McIlroy is looking for someone who can help him with real-time adjustments. Here’s hoping this new coaching structure will facilitate even better golf.


A field list!

One very interesting thing is happening at this week’s Valero Texas Open: Dustin Johnson is playing. After edging out Adam Long, tying Bob MacIntyre and losing a strange match to Kevin Na in Austin this weekend, the world No. 1 made a last-minute schedule addition. After three lackluster performances in a row, the defending Masters champ has decided he wants to play the week before the tournament.

Why is this interesting? For one, the timing. Had Johnson made the weekend, he likely wouldn’t have played the Valero — hence the last-minute addition. And what that suggests is that Johnson isn’t quite where he wants to be with his golf swing, specifically his driver. The best club in his bag last November has been decidedly uneven his last three starts. It would hardly be shocking to see DJ roll into Augusta and play like a world-beater. But it’s increasingly clear that he doesn’t quite think he’s ready. Time will tell if he’s right.

UPDATE: So much for that. You have my permission to 50 percent disregard the last two paragraphs. I’m still perplexed why he signed up and then un-signed up, but here we are.


A video!

Plenty of ink has already been spilt on this Kevin Na-Dustin Johnson scenario, so I’ll just add the latest development, since Lou Brown of Twitter was kind enough to clip some video of the original moment in question.

In some re-tellings of the event, Johnson had swiped away his ball before Na even had the opportunity to give it to him. That’s clearly not the case; some eight or nine seconds elapse before Johnson lopes to his ball. But that doesn’t mean Na was intentionally gaming him, either. Anybody who has played match play golf knows you sometimes space out on immediately giving away a putt.

One final word on this: Johnson shouldn’t have swiped away his putt, as other pros including Jordan Spieth attested. Nor should Na have confronted him on the putting green so publicly. I’m guessing if he had another chance he’d have mentioned something to Johnson as they walked to the next hole. Instead the entire incident looked very awkward, drew more attention — and possibly violated rules, too. Let’s move on.


The video that wasn’t!

At the time, it was the shot of the tournament. Bob MacIntyre arrived at the 18th hole 1 down to Adam Long and on the outside looking in in terms of advancing through pool play. Instead, the entire scenario flipped with one shot. While Dustin Johnson was putting, MacIntyre’s massive tee shot rolled up the hill in front of the green, around the embankment and got so close to the hole that Johnson had to borrow a marker from the crowd to get it out of the way.

The wild combination of factors — the moment’s high stakes, the intrigue of the hole design, the fact that it happened just as the Johnson-Na match was wrapping up, the cool downslope-to-upslope slingshot thing that must have happened and the fact that it was a 371-yard tee shot to two feet — made this one of the most memorable match play shots I could imagine. The only problem? It wasn’t on video! British pro Eddie Pepperell was among those dismayed by the lack of coverage.

Instead, all we were left with was this (still extremely entertaining) clip of the ball appearing on the green out of nowhere, much to the confusion of the Brothers Johnson.

For better or worse, Sergio Garcia upstaged MacIntyre less than a half-hour later with a walk-off ace, pushing this one to the back of everyone’s mind and into the category of “best shots you’ll never see.” But it still happened. And MacIntyre is still headed to his first-ever Masters next week.


Monday Finish HQ.

I played nine holes yesterday morning at city muni Jackson Park in absolutely horrific weather. It was 40, sleeting, windy, soggy and muddy. It was still a blast for about seven holes. By the turn our fivesome retreated to the clubhouse for hot dogs and Michigan basketball. By midafternoon it was calm, sunny and delightful. Spring seems unpredictable here.


Three things to watch this week.

1. The ANA Inspiration. The year’s first major has been arguably its most compelling in recent years; this tournament feels like it goes to a playoff every time and features some incredibly dramatic risk-reward shots coming down the stretch. With some of the game’s best players getting hot at the right time this should be the event of the week. (Oh, and with the attention elsewhere, maybe Michelle Wie West will be warmed up and ready to rock…)

2. The ANWA. Yes, in a perfect world the ANA and the ANWA would have acronyms that weren’t so similar, and in a perfect world they wouldn’t happen the exact same week, but on the bright side we get an absolutely incredible fortnight of big-time golf. The best female amateurs in the game will take on the most famous golf course in the sport and it’s going to be awesome.

3. The Valero. There’s one longshot question looming over the Valero Texas Open: Will Rickie Fowler win? Because the answer to that question is at least 95% “no,” let’s focus on a question that’s more difficult to answer: Will Dustin Johnson find his form before the Masters? And then, an even more intriguing question: Does he need to? After all, once you get to Augusta National, everybody starts at 0.

(Update: Dustin Johnson withdrew on Monday afternoon, so he will not win the Valero Texas Open.)

We’ll see you next week!

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Dylan Dethier Photographer

Dylan Dethier is a senior writer for GOLF Magazine/, The Williamstown, Mass. native joined GOLF in 2017 after two years scuffling on the mini-tours. Dethier is a 2014 graduate of Williams College, where he majored in English, and he’s the author of 18 in America, which details the year he spent as an 18-year-old living from his car and playing a round of golf in every state.

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