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Monday Scramble: A Fitz-Spieth duel, rave reviews for Rahm, and questions for McIlroy

Matt Fitzpatrick and Jordan Spieth duel at Harbour Town, Jon Rahm honors his commitment, Rory McIlroy backs out, Will Zalatoris undergoes surgery and more in this edition of the Monday Scramble:


Another perfect 9-iron landed Matt Fitzpatrick his second PGA Tour title.

Just like when he closed out the 2022 U.S. Open with a once-in-a-lifetime shot, Fitzpatrick nailed a 9-iron from 187 yards that tracked toward the hole and wound up 12 inches away, stealing the spotlight from Jordan Spieth in a three-hole playoff at the RBC Heritage.

For Fitzpatrick, this was the perfect follow-up to his breakthrough major 10 months ago. As a kid, he often vacationed in Hilton Head, used the signature lighthouse headcover for his first few years on Tour, and described Harbour Town as his second-favorite course on the schedule (behind only Augusta National).

During a wildly entertaining final round, the tidy Englishman didn’t miss a shot over the final four holes of regulation, pulling ahead of Patrick Cantlay and into a tie with Spieth, who was eyeing his biggest victory in nearly six years.

In overtime, Fitzpatrick twice escaped after Spieth had two good looks that somehow burned the edge of the cup.

“It just wasn’t meant to be,” Spieth said.

With a chance to slam the door, Fitzpatrick took advantage of a perfect number into the 18th hole.

“To finish where it did,” he said, “obviously made it a little bit easier.”

Fitzpatrick moved to a career-best eighth in the world with the victory. He is teeing it up again this week at the Zurich Classic, alongside his brother, Alex, who has been grinding on the Challenge Tour in Europe.

“My plan was to enjoy today and look forward to next week,” Fitzpatrick said, “and now I can really enjoy next week.”


This year, at least, the RBC Heritage was no working vacation.

The post-Masters hangover may have been real, but there was still much to play for at Harbour Town, with the sixth designated event of the Tour season once again offering a $20 million purse, including $3.6 million to the winner.

Jon Rahm honored his commitment to play, even after his marathon Sunday at the Masters left him physically and emotionally drained early in the week. In a commendable move, Rahm pointed to the young spectators who would want to see the Masters champion show up, as he’d promised, just as Jordan Spieth did the same when he won the green jacket in 2015.

A second-round 64 put Rahm on the fringes of contention (he wound up T-15), and afterward, he seemed to understand his evolving role as an entertainer as much as a sportsman.

“People pay their hard-earned money to watch me perform. It’s my job to perform,” Rahm said Friday. They don’t care if I slept good or bad. If I feel good or bad. It doesn’t matter. As a competitor, I’m not ducking anything in that sense. I’m going to go out and try to shoot low.”

Rahm’s stance stands in stark contrast to that of Rory McIlroy, one of the architects of the designated-event model who skipped his second elevated tournament of the new year and thus forfeited a quarter (or $3 million) of his 2022 Player Impact Program bonus.

McIlroy doesn’t need the extra cash, of course, and seeing his example, players in a similar tax bracket will likely do the same calculus: Why show up gassed for a mandatory event if the penalty will cost no more than a few million bucks … or less than the winner’s checks at one of these premier stops?

Commissioner Jay Monahan has complete discretion over the allocation of the funds, and it’s best to reserve judgment, since perhaps McIlroy, after a missed cut at the Masters, had a reasonable and excused absence (he didn’t offer an explanation for his WD).

For now, at least, the optics are poor: All of the Tour’s biggest stars are supposedly aligned – which is critical in this bridge year – but the de facto spokesman appears to be the only one who hasn’t followed through.

McIlroy’s pre-tournament press conference at Quail Hollow promises to be interesting.

Zalatoris out rest of season after back surgery

Will Zalatoris was shut down last week after undergoing a microdiscectomy that doctors hope will end the discomfort in his lower back.

It was another frustrating setback for the 26-year-old Texan, who missed the last four months of 2022 because of two herniated discs. Believing he was on the road to recovery, he ambitiously logged seven starts at the beginning of the year but was unable to go last week at the Masters, when he experienced pain and stiffness while warming up for the opening round.

Doctors opted for surgery, which Zalatoris said will keep him out until the fall.

That’d mean the world No. 10 will miss the next three majors, as well as the Ryder Cup (just as he was forced to skip the Presidents Cup last fall).

“As much as I hate not being able to play the rest of this season,” Zalatoris wrote on Instagram, “I am happy that I am already seeing the benefits of the procedure. Playing and living in pain is not fun.”

Here’s hoping he gets back to 100% quicker than anticipated – Willy Z’s career was just taking off last summer.



Back Again: Team golf. The two-man Zurich event might not be a ratings bonanza, but it’s still a cool departure from the monotonous norm of 72-hole stroke-play events that dominate the Tour schedule. Headlining the field this year are the defending champions, Xander Schauffele and Patrick Cantlay, as well as Collin Morikawa-Max Homa, Sam Burns-Billy Horschel, Tom Kim-Si Woo Kim, Sungjae Im-Keith Mitchell, Sahith Theegala-Justin Suh and (*wipes eyes*) John Daly-David Duval.

Salute: Jon Rahm. Apparently, there’s no need for an in-round walk-and-talk when the best player on the planet goes straight from the course to the booth to kick it for a half hour while the final groups come down the stretch. Why listen to a tower announcer when Rahm can eloquently break down the leaders’ games and walk us through their decision-making process on a tricky layout? It’s these kinds of invaluable insights that can make an upgraded television product even better. It took a little nudging, but these guys are finally getting it: To turn the Tour into an entertainment product with massive financial rewards for the best performers, they have to pitch in, too. Respect to all involved, especially Rahm, whom no one would have blamed for crashing at his rental house and awaiting his Monday morning flight home. Getting more of these chatty guys in the booth soon (Rory, Spieth, Homa?!) would be a home run.

Worth the Wait: Spencer Levin. Playing his 343rd Tour-sanctioned event, Levin is finally a winner. After Monday qualifying into the Korn Ferry Tour event in Texas, the 38-year-old legend stormed from behind with a Sunday 63 to take the title. Having last played the big tour full time six years ago, Levin jumped all the way to No. 11 in points, putting him in line for a Tour return with the top 30 guaranteed cards at the end of the season. (Also: shoutout Nocatee neighbor Brett Drewitt, who coughed up a five-shot lead but moved to No. 2 in points, all but locking up his card.)


More, More, More: Elevated events at interesting tracks. Claustrophobic Harbour Town has always asked different questions of players, which made it such a treat to have nearly all of the Tour stars in attendance last week at the RBC. Not surprisingly, the top of the leaderboard was a ball-striking bonanza. There are other considerations in play, of course, but the Tour should be prioritizing its most unique venues with its new designated-event model. Pebble Beach and Colonial fit that bill and should be atop any 2024 wish list. For the Tour’s mini-majors, we need to see the best fields on the best courses.

Tip of the Cap: Jimmy Walker. Now seven years removed from his late-blooming major season, Walker snagged the halfway lead at Harbour Town in what could be his final season on Tour, since he’s playing this year on a top-50 money-list exemption. Walker couldn’t keep pace with the top players over the weekend, but the performance should remind him of the good stuff that’s still within. With four months to go, he’s now No. 125 in points.

Hype Machine (And For Good Reason): Gordon Sargent. Despite missing the cut, the reigning NCAA champion turned plenty of heads in his Masters debut, and he followed it up last week against kids his own age, going 66-64-66 to win by eight shots at the Mason Rudolph. The Vandy sophomore is the realest of real deals.


Major Season: Chevron Championship. After the typically disjoined start to the LPGA season, the year’s first major is finally upon us, with a new date (no longer the week before the Masters) and a new venue (Carlton Woods in Texas). We’re already four months into the new year, but this will be among the first times that Lydia Ko, Nelly Korda, Jin Young Ko and Atthaya Thitikul go head-to-head. Yes, please.

Blown Pick of the Week: Cameron Young. Rolling with new caddie Paul Tesori, Young came into the Heritage (where he was T-3 a year ago) fresh off a finals loss at the Match Play and then a T-7 in his second Masters appearance. Though he led the field in driving distance, he was nearly last in accuracy and struggled once he got on the teeny greens. That was a recipe for a finish outside the top 50. Sigh.