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Monday Scramble: Phil Mickelson admits, it’s not about the SGL; it’s about Tour ‘leverage’

Tom Hoge does Jordan Spieth things (to Jordan Spieth!), Harold Varner III walks off in Saudi Arabia, Bryson DeChambeau and Phil Mickelson make more headlines off the course, and more in this week’s edition of the Monday Scramble:

Hoge felt comfortable at Pebble Beach, secured victory

First, all credit to Tom Hoge, the gritty Texan who absolutely flushed it on the back nine to snag the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Seven of his final nine approach shots dropped within 20 feet of the flag – including a kick-in on his 70th hole of the day that proved the pivotal shot – and he made six birdies in his last 13 holes. Simply, he went out and won it, with no backdown.

It was a long time coming. Hoge, 32, won the second OWGR event he ever played, on the Canadian Tour, and then went 0 for his next 285. Little wonder his reaction on the 18th green Sunday was so understated.

“It’s been so long since I won I anything,” he said, “that I guess I forgot how to celebrate.”

At least it gave us reason to bring back this viral clip. Safe to say Tiger Woods knows who he is now.

Hoge might finally have his long-awaited title, but this year’s Clambake will always be remembered for the play of Spieth – the good and the bad, as well as the insanely dangerous.

A week after he was in the hospital with a bacterial infection in his stomach – he has lost weight and still can’t keep down much food – Spieth reignited his love affair with Pebble Beach. Trailing by 11 at the halfway point, he fired a Saturday 63. He then authored a final-round clinic: striped drives, flagged irons, holed putts, all with his usual running dialogue. He was rolling.

On the 17th tee Sunday, he was staked to a two-shot lead. He struck what he said was his best shot of the week, a pured 8-iron that soared through the afternoon sky. “In the air, I was thinking this might lip out,” he said. But a cool wind turned slightly back into him. Instead of scaring the hole, his tee shot hit the lip of the bunker and dropped back into the sand. He splashed out to 5 feet and hit his par putt with too much pace. Bogey. Behind him, Hoge birdied back-to-back holes. Just like that, the tournament was over.

Still, all anyone seemed to want to talk about was what Spieth did on Saturday. It might have been the most dangerous shot ever hit in PGA Tour competition. It’s hard to recall another one more heart-stopping.

Spieth’s ball came to rest within a few inches of the steep cliff on Pebble Beach’s notoriously treacherous eighth hole. Remember: This was the third round of an event in February. Spieth was more than a half-dozen shots off the lead. In the grand scheme of things, it didn’t all that much matter. He could have taken a penalty for an unplayable lie. He still could have saved bogey. It would have been a minuscule blip in a long season.

But Jordan Spieth’s play, in good times and bad, has always felt like he’s walking a tightrope – and here he was, literally, on the edge of disaster. Here he was, thinking about taking on a shot that could have ended catastrophically if he’d lost his footing or his balance and toppled over the edge of a 68-foot cliff. CBS’ on-course reporter Colt Knost, Spieth’s good friend, said he wouldn’t try it, not with so little room to operate and the ball on a downslope. Spieth’s loyal caddie, Michael Greller, three times tried to talk him out of it, at one point saying, “I just don’t know what to do myself.”

Nonsense. Spieth grabbed a club and decided to take it on.

In the rarest of hold-your-breath moments in golf, he launched his approach over the cliff (and over the green) and then sprinted back to safety. He called it the most nerve-wracking shot of his career, and he wasn’t being dramatic. It left him feeling anxious as he walked toward the green. His parents were out at Pebble watching the action. So was his wife; this was his 2-month-old son’s first time on the course. That shot could have gone awry, with tragic consequences.

“I just saw the blimp shot from overhead,” he said afterward, “and it really bothered me.”

On the course, at least, he shook off the scare. What followed was a classic Spiethian par save, and a course-record-tying 63. He played the hole more conventionally the next day: fairway, green, two putts, a stress-free par. He and his celebrity partner, Jake Owen, both had a good laugh, recalling the brief moments of terror.

The episode reinforced one unassailable truth: There’s no one in golf quite like Spieth, the nonstop thrill ride. Win or lose, he’s always heart-pounding entertainment.

What an unexpected finish to the Saudi International, the controversial event that now has a hugely popular champion.

One of several players who needed a release just to play in the Asian Tour event in Saudi Arabia, Harold Varner III drained a 92-foot eagle on the final hole to nip Bubba Watson and capture the biggest title of his career.

It was Varner’s second pro win, and first since 2016. It was significant not just because it’d come on the heels of several close calls and dispiriting finishes on the PGA Tour. Or because the Saudi featured 20 of the top 50 players in the world. But with the victory, Varner moved inside the top 50 for the first time in his career. Now 45th, if he maintains that position through March 28 (or wins a Tour event in the next month-plus), he’ll play in his first Masters.

Asked what this will do for his confidence moving forward, Varner said, with his typical swagger, “This sounds so bad, but I’m just as confident as I was when I teed it up this week as I will be next week. I believe I can win. I’ve just got to keep focusing on the stuff that I’m good at, and that’s just not caring what anyone thinks or what they think of me.”

Despite a light résumé Varner has always carried himself like a five-time major champ, and that unwavering inner belief helps explain how he was able to blossom out of tiny Gastonia, North Carolina. How he starred at East Carolina. How he has built a career that is now seven years deep on the PGA Tour, with no end in sight.

“I’ve never questioned my ability – the only people that question it are the people that sit right in here, and they’re like, Man, he needs to be winning,” Varner said in his winner’s press conference. “But I don’t march to anyone’s beat in here. I do what I’m supposed to do, and things come.”

Like Ws. Thrilling, emotional, career-changing Ws.

As is seemingly the norm these days, Bryson DeChambeau had another drama-filled week in Saudi Arabia.

His golf? Ah, nah, that was as nondescript as ever. He hobbled his way through an opening 73 and then pulled out before the second round, citing injuries to his left hand and hip.

It’s what DeChambeau said (and didn’t say) that generated plenty of attention.

Once again he declined to talk to the media, leaving many to speculate on the severity of his injuries. As we wrote here, it’s reasonable to wonder whether his intense training and endless pursuit of speed is finally taking its toll, but DeChambeau later attempted to quell that firestorm, saying on Instagram his issues weren’t the result of hitting it far but rather an unfortunate fall earlier in the week.

“Everyone needs to chill,” he wrote.

Even if he really did injure his hip in a freak accident, it doesn’t explain why he has been plagued by wrist soreness in the first three events of the year. Or why he was seen clutching his back in pain at Torrey Pines. DeChambeau vowed to return in a “few weeks,” bigger and stronger than ever, but at this point his body is begging for a break. The Masters is only two months away. This is the time to get right.

But there’s more: Last week the Daily Mail reported that DeChambeau had been offered $135 million to serve as the poster boy for the new Saudi-backed Super Golf League. He commented (again, only on social media) that the report was “wrong,” though he didn’t specify which part, the nine-figure amount or the actual offer. If Ian Poulter was reportedly given a $30 million offer sheet (and if Dustin Johnson laughed at the idea that his was even in the same ballpark), then it’s not outrageous to think that DeChambeau could command that ridiculous sum. In any case, he’ll remain one of the main attractions for the proposed SGL, along with Lee Westwood and Phil Mickelson. Speaking of Phil ...


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In Phil Mickelson’s scorched-earth attack on the PGA Tour, most focused on his claim that the Tour showed “obnoxious greed” in controlling the players’ media rights – and also pointed out the irony in golf’s $800 million man, who once was caught up in an insider-trading case and at age 51 is still eyeing nine-figure payouts from the Saudis, whining about opportunity.

How rich.

What was just as notable was this quote, when asked in a press conference about the impact of Golf Saudi’s involvement in the sport:

“As a player we’re very appreciative of the support ... as well as creating some leverage for players to have a leg to stand on and try to make the work environment better on the PGA Tour, and we’re very appreciative of everything they’ve done.”

Isn’t ... isn’t he saying the quiet part out loud?

Isn’t he saying that the main goal in all of (motions hands wildly) this is to use the would-be threat to improve the PGA Tour product?

That’s important. The Saudis are offering generational wealth, of course, but Mickelson’s public remarks were an acknowledgment that few are actually enticed by what the SGL is proposing, competitively: 54-hole events, limited fields, shotgun starts, a vague team component. Used to handcrafting their schedules to suit their games and preparing for the biggest events, the game’s superstars would instead be spanning the globe for a slate full of juiceless three-rounders with little history or tradition at stake. That’s not how these guys are wired.

Would a 51-year-old Hall of Famer really want to play that mandated, worldwide schedule, at this point in his career? Would Westwood and Poulter and DJ be drawn to that, too?

Apparently not, since Mickelson is suggesting that the Saudis’ involvement is all about creating “leverage.” That it’s all just a power play to compel the Tour to fork over some of its millions (or billions, as he claims) in digital rights back to the players.

So, the question: Which side blinks first?

THIS WEEK’S AWARD WINNERS ...

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The Time is Now: Leona Maguire. The former Duke star and standout for the victorious European Solheim Cup team, Maguire claimed her first LPGA title in impression fashion, shooting 18 under to win by three at the Drive On Championship. Early in her career she’s proven herself to be a sweet, shy, stone-cold killer. It’s easy to envision her as a top-5 player in the world for a long, long time.

All Class: Bubba Watson. It’s been a trying few years for Watson, who has been open about his struggles with anxiety, but in the most unlikely of places it looked like he’d earn a comeback victory. His birdie-eagle finish in Saudi Arabia (punctuated with an emphatic fist pump on the 72nd green) looked like it’d be enough for him to claim his first title since 2018, but he was overshadowed by Varner’s theatrics. So torn up was Watson that he ... well, he jogged all the way back to the 18th, to greet and embrace Varner, showering him with adoration. Afterward, they dined together. Good stuff from Bubba.

Gotta Respect It: Beau Hossler. Without full status on the big Tour, Hossler came to the 72nd hole not trying to protect his position but rather trying to win the tournament. Needing an eagle to force a playoff with Hoge, Hossler tried to hole his greenside bunker shot but wound up taking a bogey, dropping from a share of second place to solo third. The difference in prize money: $174,000, and some costly FedExCup points. It still marked Big Beau’s best finish since 2018 – and it put him in this week’s Phoenix Open field.

Hey, Someone Had to Say It: Bill Murray. For the past however-many-years we’ve seen the same thing, the same jokes, the same act. Are people really clamoring for this? Yawn.

Brooks’ Next Target?: Phil Mickelson. After his feud with Bryson fizzled out following a lame match, perhaps Koepka is zeroing on his next opponent, taking a jab at Mickelson over his “obnoxious greed” comment. Commenting on Instagram, your favorite troll’s favorite troll tapped out, “Dk (don’t know) if I’d be using the word greedy if I’m Phil....,” with the pondering face emoji. Yep, this tiff has the potential to be far more entertaining.


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The Family That Stays Winning: Nicolai Hojgaard. With a 24-under week, the 20-year-old Dane rolled to another win on the DP World Tour, keeping pace with his brother, Rasmus, as a three-time winner as a professional. The twins are both inside the top 100 in the world and – you’d imagine – ready-made Ryder Cup partners for the next decade.

How’d That Work Out For Ya?: Joel Dahmen’s hater. Earlier in the week Dahmen quote-tweeted a nasty message from a degenerate who claimed to have bet $1,000 on Dahmen to miss the cut, punctuating his tweet with, “Hey f--k you.” That ... that didn’t cash. Not only did Dahmen make the cut at Pebble, but he played much of the final round in the lead and wound up in joint sixth. That payout: $293,625. Take that, bro.

He Gone: Mark Lye. The former PGA Tour player and longtime analyst, appearing on the PGA Tour’s own radio network on SiriusXM, said that he would rather shoot himself than watch women’s sports. It was an odd and offensive rant, particularly since Lye was trying to compliment how compelling the LPGA has become in recent years. Nevertheless, it stirred memories of Hank Haney’s comments about South Korean players, and a SiriusXM spokesman said that Lye will no longer appear on the air.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Maverick McNealy. The Mav Bandwagon was full last week at Pebble, and for good reason: He’s made steady, significant improvement with his ball-striking; he had top-5s each of the past two years there; and he entered the week in good shape, at No. 18 in the FedExCup. But after a promising start, the Stanford product couldn’t push much deeper, stalling out and tying for 33rd. Better days are ahead for the player we tabbed as a breakout candidate this year.