Monday Leaderboard: A $240,000 mistake

Welcome to the Monday Leaderboard, where we run down the weekend’s top stories in the wonderful world of golf. Grab an Arnold Palmer, pull up a chair, and try not to think about getting docked a quarter of a million dollars for being late …

1. Niemann: The new Masters favorite?

Joaquin Niemann won his second LIV Golf tournament of the season on Sunday, taking down the LIV Jeddah event with a steady -17 performance, four strokes ahead of Charl Schwartzel and Louis Oosthuizen. Niemann is currently +2800 to win the Masters (Scottie Scheffler leads the field at +850), per BetMGM, but that’s likely to change in the coming weeks.

Niemann is undoubtedly one of the hottest players on the planet right now, but when asked about his current streak, he responded, “How is that possible? I'm [ranked] like 100 in the world,” an obvious shot at the Official World Golf Rankings system that doesn’t count LIV Golf tournaments. (Niemann is actually ranked No. 72.)

Niemann has played well enough that the Masters has extended him a well-deserved invitation for this year. But like so many other LIV players, he’s carrying a chip on his shoulder almost as large as the paychecks he’s getting to play in the breakaway league. It’s clear that LIV players are better than their OWGR rankings. But it’s also clear they knew the risks of jumping from the PGA Tour in search of fatter purses — and their declining rankings and closed major pathways are part of the cost of those big checks. Complaining — or “joking” — about it won’t change a thing.

2. Hannah Green reverses collapse, wins with hot finish

Three years ago at the HSBC Women's World Championship in Singapore, Australia's Hannah Green stumbled on the final day with back-to-back three-putt bogeys to lose by a stroke. This year, she reversed that, birdieing the final three holes to come from behind and defeat France's Celine Boutier by a stroke. Japan's Ayaka Furue had held a two-stroke lead coming into Sunday, but the field chased her down by the turn. Past major champions — Green won the 2019 KPMG Women's PGA Championship — have won all four LPGA events this season.

Taylar Sievert / Yahoo Sports
Taylar Sievert / Yahoo Sports

3. LIV Golf: Big paychecks mean costly penalties

Another side-effect of those massive LIV Golf paychecks: If you drop even one position down the leaderboard, you’re missing out on an extra six figures or so of winnings. And if you drop that position because of your own mistake, well, that’s gotta burn.

See: Adrian Meronk. One of LIV’s newest signees, he got dinged for slow play on Sunday in Jeddah, taking a one-stroke penalty for spending more than two minutes preparing for a shot. The penalty dropped him from a tie with Jon Rahm for fifth place into a six-way tie for sixth place, which resulted in a loss of $240,000 for Meronk. Now that is a penalty. Perhaps we could apply that to other slowpokes, like the person in the Starbucks line who waits until the front to read the menu, or the fool who’s on their phone when the traffic light turns green. A nice quarter-million penalty would pick up their pace, pronto.

4. The PGA Tour waits 'til Monday

The PGA Tour's bad luck with weather continued on Sunday, as the Cognizant Classic — the new name for the Honda Classic — suffered through a three-and-a-half-hour delay that pushed the finish to Monday. Perhaps no one had more reason to be frustrated than Erik Van Rooyen, who shot an astounding 28 on the opening nine but then cooled off after the delay; he finished with a 63 and the clubhouse lead. The delay pushed the tournament's conclusion to Monday, and Austin Eckroat held on for his first win on the PGA Tour, the latest in a run of first-time winners (and newly minted Masters invitees).

5. Anthony Kim brings up the rear

After more than 11 years wandering in the wilderness, Anthony Kim has returned to golf, playing a bit like a man out of time. (He’s been away so long that he didn’t know the somewhat-new rules for searching for lost balls or making drops, for instance.) His three rounds ranged from wretched to kinda decent. Yes, he finished DFL, 33 strokes behind Niemann and 16-over par, but if there’s something to build on, it’s this: He played the second two thirds of both Saturday and Sunday in even par, suggesting an ability to steady himself after horrendous starts.

The verdict on Kim is a split one. On one hand, it’s great to see him back once again, and he displayed enough glimpses of decent form to make his fans hope that better days are ahead. On the other, extending a lucrative season-long invitation to a player who’s clearly not ready for prime time doesn’t do much to cut against LIV’s vanity-golf reputation. Perhaps Kim will improve enough to be in the mix, or perhaps this will be just a quick coda to one of golf’s great what-ifs. Either way, it’ll be worth watching.

The mulligan: McIlroy’s very bad day

The Bear Trap bit Rory McIlroy hard on Saturday, devouring whatever faint hopes he had of winning the Cognizant and forcing him into an ugly shot for the ages. McIlroy’s approach shot on 16 — the heart of the Bear Trap — trickled into the water, forcing him to take off a shoe and attempt a recovery. It didn’t go well:

McIlroy ended the hole with a nasty triple-bogey and a damp foot. Not great. Better to get those chunks out of the way now, though. McIlroy still has plenty of time to get right before the Masters.