Europe’s biggest stars walk away winners, Lydia Ko completes a comeback season, Adam Svensson bets on himself and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:
McIlroy looks back on season, finishing atop DP World Tour Rankings
Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm each left Dubai feeling as good as ever – even if those outside the competitive arena kept wanting to see more, more, more.
At the DP World Tour’s season-ending event, McIlroy became the first to capture the top prizes on the PGA and European tours while also being the No. 1-ranked player in the world.
It’s a remarkable achievement that speaks to McIlroy’s level of consistency over the past seven months; as caddie Harry Diamond said: “A long way from San Antonio.” It was a reference to their missed cut on the eve of the Masters, when McIlroy was searching for answers. All he’s done since then is win three times and finish worse than 18th just once.
“I don’t think I played as consistent in my entire career as I’m doing right now,” he said.
Even though McIlroy finished eighth or better in all four majors, some will undoubtedly view his 2022 as a missed opportunity, especially considering he shared the 54-hole lead at the St. Andrews Open. On the final day McIlroy flatlined with a closing 70 and could only watch as Cam Smith zoomed past him for the claret jug. But throughout this eight-year major-less drought, McIlroy has preached perspective and the value of improvement, and he put that crushing disappointment behind him, not just chasing down Scottie Scheffler for the FedExCup title but then turning his attention to Europe and also claiming the Race to Dubai, despite not winning a DP World title this year.
“I’ve been a pro now for over 15 years,” he said, “and to still try to figure out ways to try to accomplish new things – that’s what keeps me coming back.”
Rahm seemed to sense that his year was going to be defined by his major misses, too, and he was determined to change the narrative.
As much of a threat as he remains on a weekly basis, Rahm contended only once in the Grand Slam events this year, a tie for 12th at the U.S. Open when he skidded down the board with a Sunday 74. His other major finishes: T27-T48-T34.
And yet the notoriously fiery Rahm seemed to be giving himself more grace than his critics. On the course, he remained among the Tour’s statistical leaders but failed to follow up his major breakthrough at the 2021 U.S. Open. But back at home, the 28-year-old moved into a new place in Arizona and adjusted to having two kids in a span of 15 months.
“Maybe the standard I’ve set has you guys used to seeing me win more often or at least having a chance to win more often,” he said.
But like McIlroy, with the majors over, Rahm also needed to reset his goals for the remainder of the year. He wound up winning three times, on three different continents – including the DP World Tour season-ender for the third time in four years.
Proof that not all “great” years automatically come with a major trophy.
“Hopefully people can stop telling me that it was a bad year,” Rahm said.
Seven years later, Lydia Ko is once again the LPGA No. 1.
Even if she isn’t as dominant, well, she might just be a better and more complete player.
Now 25, Ko put an exclamation point on her comeback season with a hard-fought victory at the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. With the win – her third of the season – she wrapped up the LPGA’s points-based Player of the Year award as well as the Vare Trophy for the lowest scoring average for the second consecutive year.
It’s the first time Ko has claimed the POY title since 2015, when she won five times, including her first major. She is in a wildly different phrase of life now – set to be married next month, a 19-time winner and two points shy of crossing the threshold for the LPGA Hall of Fame.
“I’ve gone through my share of ups and downs,” she said of her journey over the past decade, “and I think that’s helped me to realize that, hey, we’re going to have good days and also going to have bad days. … I hope that I’ve grown more as an individual since then, and I think golf is very relatable to life in general, and golf keeps you very humble as well. It’s a continuous learning journey, but I’m excited with where I am at in life and at the golf course.”
Adam Svensson probably needed to find a new way to celebrate his first PGA Tour title – and that’s OK with him.
Fed up with the direction of his game, the 28-year-old Canadian decided a few years ago to more fully devote himself to his craft. To be a professional. He apprenticed on the Korn Ferry Tour, winning twice in the COVID era, and now he’s made good on his self-bet by winning the RSM Classic in the final Tour event of the calendar year.
With the breakthrough victory comes a two-year exemption as well as a Masters berth. Those perks sure seemed like a long way off in fall 2019, when he first lost his Tour card after finishing 167th in the FedExCup.
“I relied mostly on talent when I was younger,” he said. “I didn’t put enough work in, I wasn’t that disciplined. Two years ago I decided to give it 100% and I’ve been super disciplined. I don’t drink anymore. I go to the golf course every day. I’m up at 6. I give it 100% now. That’s the reason.”
Indeed, Svensson wasn’t going to let this second chance go to waste.
After finishing 97th in last season’s standings, he got off to a slow start this fall and needed to rally with a second-round 64 just to make the cut on Sea Island. His putter stayed hot on the weekend, going 62-66 – which included a pair of clutch birdies on the 70th and 71st holes – to seal his first Tour title.
“You can say you can work hard, but in the end you’ve got to actually do the work,” he said. “I’m just proud of myself for doing that.”
THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS …
Mighty Miscommunication: LPGA season finale. This was quite a bombshell from Golfweek’s Beth Ann Nichols, who tracked down a miffed Terry Duffy (the CME CEO and influential figure) after several players no-showed at an early-week party in Naples ahead of the $7 million finale. No players were mentioned by name, but it’s not hard to connect the dots here: The next generation (particularly the young Americans) apparently needs a refresher course on the culture of appreciation that Mike Whan helped establish. It’s commissioner Mollie Marcoux Samaan’s responsibility to ensure that a key sponsor isn’t showed up again.
And So It Begins …: Honda Classic. It was just a matter of time before a title sponsor became annoyed at being squeezed out by the new elevated-series schedule and decided not to re-up with the Tour. It’ll sting that it’s Honda – the Tour’s longest-running title sponsor – but this is one of the drawbacks of the new beefed-up slate: the Honda fell after Phoenix and Riviera, but before Bay Hill and The Players. Ouch.
Well, Imagine That: Bryson DeChambeau’s diet. Big Bryson isn’t quite so big anymore, now that he’s slimmed down with the help of a nutritionist. His physical transformation was one of the stories of the year in 2020 (ah, simpler times …) but he admitted recently on the 5 Clubs podcast that he took it way too far, his crazy diet wreaking havoc on his digestive system and causing “huge mood swings.” He’s far too talented to have this “C-game” become the norm.
See You in January: Cole Hammer. After missing out on guaranteed starts at Korn Ferry Tour Q-School, Hammer showed up with something to prove at Sea Island, grabbing the Round 1 lead with a 64 and then recording his first career top-10 with a closing 65. That was more than enough to get the former Texas star into the next full-field event on Tour … the Sony Open, in mid-January.
Well-Deserved Break: Seamus Power. Outside of names like Rahm and McIlroy, perhaps no one in the world is playing better golf at the moment than Power, who will enter the brief offseason having gone Win-T3-T5 in his last three starts, rocketing all the way to a career-best 28th in the world ranking. If this form continues in the new year, Power could be a steady force in the middle of the European Ryder Cup lineup.
Tip of the Cap: Alex Noren. Few have logged more air miles this fall than Noren, who since September has stopped off in Napa, Scotland, Vegas, South Carolina, Mexico, Houston and Dubai. All that time spent crammed in a plane hasn’t affected his game, either – he closed out the year with back-to-back top-4s, including a runner-up at the DP World Tour season-ender. A few more nights at home might be all he’s asking for this holiday season.
Batting 1.000: Andrew Putnam. He closed out a perfect fall with a tie for 21st at the RSM, giving him a Tour-high eight made cuts in eight starts this fall. He’s up to 12th in the FedExCup and, if nothing else, has given himself a head-start with the top-70 cutdown change.
Rest Up, Big Fella: Tony Finau. Fresh off his emphatic victory in Houston, Finau was the lone big name in the field in the 2022 finale on Sea Island. Except he never even made it to the starting line, withdrawing before the start of the event for precautionary reasons because of a minor knee ailment. As of now, he’s still listed in the field for next week’s Hero World Challenge.