2021 Northern Trust Final Round: Patience, Experience Could Suggest Which Players Own an Edge for a Monday Finish
Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images. Pictured: Jon Rahm.
JERSEY CITY, N.J. – The last time there was a Monday finish on the PGA TOUR, Tiger Woods was the winner.
It was two years ago, at the 2019 Zozo Championship, when perhaps only the inevitable was delayed, as Tiger gave the Heisman to the field and parlayed a three-shot, 54-hole lead into a three-shot victory.
We can’t glean too much intel from a guy who’s won 82 times, procuring titles in every type of conditions with all sorts of uncommon variables. He remains golf’s ultimate outlier, so any correlation to characteristics such as patience or mental fortitude for others trying to win on a Monday seems pointless.
With such a conclusion looming at the Northern Trust due to an impending tropical storm, I examined every Monday finish over the past decade – all 19 of ‘em – to see if there are any clues to uncover for this one, with Jon Rahm and Cameron Smith tied for the lead, one shot clear of Erik Van Rooyen and two ahead of Justin Thomas and Tony Finau.
Here’s one clue: It helps to be Tiger.
That’s because Mr. Outlier himself has the most Monday victories over this span. In addition to the aforementioned Zozo win, he took home both the Arnold Palmer Invitational and Farmers Insurance Open in 2013, one day later than scheduled.
He’s hardly the only all-timer to accomplish a Monday win.
The list of 16 unique names – well, 17 if you separate Smith and his 2017 Zurich Classic partner Jonas Blixt – includes seven major champions. In addition to Tiger, Zach Johnson is the only other player with multiple Monday titles during this time; others include Phil Mickelson, Keegan Bradley, Jason Day, Padraig Harrington and Sergio Garcia.
Perhaps there’s another clue in there: Maybe the same composure and perseverance needed to win a major is what’s needed to procure a win on the fifth tournament day.
If so, there’s an advantage for Rahm – as if the world’s No. 1-ranked player needed another one – who is just two months removed from winning his first major at the U.S. Open. Among the rest of the contenders inside the top 10, only Thomas and Shane Lowry have previously won a major.
Let’s not dismiss names like Van Rooyen and Tom Hoge so quickly, though.
While the recent list of Monday champions is littered with star-power, it also includes the likes of one-time winners Cody Gribble, Austin Cook and Brian Stuard.
What does it all mean? Probably nothing at all, I’ll readily admit, though it was fun reliving those memories.
Instead, let’s listen to the leaders themselves on how they plan to prepare.
“I always think it's hard to back up a really good round, so maybe the day off will help me out,” said Smith, who posted a course-record 60 on Saturday, nearly making a final-hole birdie attempt for a 59. “Yeah, I don't know what I'm going to do [Sunday]. I've never been in this situation. Probably just a little bit of a rest. A round like this usually takes it out of you a little bit, the adrenaline, the highs and the lows. Sleep in. Maybe a little bit of gym and come out Monday firing.”
Meanwhile, Jon Rahm believes he has some insider knowledge on how to deal with a Sunday void of any golf to play.
“I can't repeat this enough to myself: If COVID quarantine has taught us anything, it's what to do the whole day cooped up in a room,” explained Rahm, who’s twice been forced to withdraw from tournaments after testing positive.
“We're at a hotel, so instead of me getting up to get food, I can room service the food, and hopefully the fitness center and spa and some of the amenities at the hotel are open and we can take advantage of it," Rahm continued. "At the same time we have a four month old in the room that needs a lot of attention. Take a lot of walks around the hotel, I don't know, but it's definitely going to be a fun family day.”
The reality is, there’s no analytic to measure Strokes Gained: Monday, because it’s such a rare occurrence in PGA TOUR events.
We can take a stab at betting those we believe own the greatest amount of patience and focus, but even that remains subjective.
Perhaps it just comes down to the player with the most talent.
If that’s the case, with as high as he’s been launching his iron shots this week on what should be an ultra-soft Liberty National track, it’s hard not to like Rahm to continue his summer of excellence.
Besides, as he said, he knows how to deal with waiting around by now.