Punch Shot: Upset picks, cup favorite with two to go

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 13, 2017, 11:45 am

After a one-week hiatus, the FedExCup Playoffs return for the BMW Championship outside of Chicago. GolfChannel.com senior writers Rex Hoggard and Ryan Lavner were asked on the conversational tool Slack, Which player, if any, will be hampered the most by the break: Dustin Johnson, Justin Thomas or Jordan Spieth?

The two took it from there. No moderator necessary.

Lavner: No player will be affected by the off-week – they won’t lose all of their ability because they put away the clubs for a few days, and all three needed a little break. I do, however, think it was good for Spieth. Motivation is never an issue for him, but with back-to-back runner-up finishes in the playoffs, and being thisclose to putting it all together, it was a nice reset.

Hoggard: I wouldn't think the break would impact any player considering how much golf they have been playing lately, although Johnson returning to an event where he is the defending champion (the BMW was played at a different venue last year) can only fuel his confidence.

Lavner: You're really going to play the defending champ card? He tied for seventh the last time this event was held at Conway Farms (2015).

Hoggard: OK, he's finished first-T-18 in his last two starts and looks like the guy who was unbeatable earlier this year. That work?

Lavner: Fair enough, but if we're looking at the favorites for this week, he'd be third on my list, behind Thomas and Spieth, in that order.

Hoggard: Would say all three of those players would be co-favorites for the foreseeable future until Rory McIlroy, Jason Day, et al, rediscover some form. Dark horse would be a more interesting topic?


BMW Championship: Articles, video and photos

Current FedExCup Playoff points standings


Lavner: The dark horse for this week is Patrick Cantlay. He opened these playoffs with back-to-back top-15s, continuing what has been a remarkable comeback season. It's been so impressive, in fact, that I thought he should have been one of Captain Stricker's wildcard picks for the Presidents Cup.

Hoggard: Glad you shared your views on Cantlay being a pick. Maybe Stricker could have selected Bigfoot as well? Cantlay has been a solid story, but I will be interested to see how Kevin Chappell responds after earning his spot on the team and playing well in New York.

Lavner: All right, the BMW marks the halfway point of the postseason. We know all about the top five, and how it mirrors the top five in the world ranking (shameless plug: read my story!), but who outside the magic number could crash this playoff party?

Hoggard: Have to go with Paul Casey on this one. Although he's probably going to be a bit distracted after the birth of his second child this week, the dude has done everything except win in recent weeks with top-5 finishes at four of his last six starts.

Lavner: No doubt, he's been a machine in the playoffs the last two years, but to win the FedExCup he is going to have to win at least one playoff event. That's a lot to ask of a guy who has one career victory on Tour.

Hoggard: Agreed, and his finish in Boston (T-4) seemed to suggest his bridesmaid status is starting to become an issue. Should also mention Marc Leishman as a possible party crasher. It was a tough finish for him in Boston, but he is always overlooked/underrated.

Lavner: Criminally underrated. I would throw out Justin Rose as a potential outsider. It hasn't been the best year for him since that crushing loss at Augusta, but he has consecutive top-10s in the playoffs and his record at East Lake is so good (four consecutive top-6s) that he just needs to give himself a chance to cash in.

Hoggard: There are no shortage of guys who can change the script, but it's hard to imagine how this doesn't come down to the (current) Big 3 of Spieth, Thomas and Johnson. To be honest, I'm not sure our conversation three weeks from now if, say, Leishman wins the season-long race, will be overly kind. Playoffs should identify the best, and right now those three are the best.

Lavner: But with apologies to Bill Haas and Brandt Snedeker and Billy Horschel, it hasn't always done that, right? As the cup moves into its second decade, are we finally OK with how this whole thing works?

Hoggard: From a general perspective (the top players competing in large markets during a time of year they normally wouldn't), the playoffs have been successful. Details, however, are always difficult for fans, players and media to understand. The Tour could help this along by simplifying the process.

Lavner: And how would you do that? I'm fine with the cutoffs for the top 100, 70 and then 30, but the Tour Championship needs a serious makeover. I would suggest a five-day event: three rounds of stroke-play qualifying, then a match-play bracket for the top 8 and the shot at $10 million. Might get a dud championship match, but at least the format would be something different.

Hoggard: The Tour has spent a decade considering a similar kind of head-to-head finish at East Lake with little success/interest, so I'm not sure we will see any significant changes there. The circuit will, however, need to tinker with the field sizes and points distribution when the schedule makeover starts in 2019. If there are only going to be three playoff events, which seems likely, there will need to be more volatility.

Lavner: Except volatility isn't a good thing for a "season-long race," which the FedEx is supposed to be. If DJ or Thomas or Spieth get bumped in the first event, then everyone is livid (and rightfully so).

Hoggard: Not sure there would be that much volatility, but there will need to be a way for those who just make the playoffs (either top 125 or top 100 on the points list) to advance. Under the current format that's not going to happen.

Lavner: Well, that's why those in Ponte Vedra get paid the big bucks, to figure out these sorts of dilemmas. Let's wrap it up with this: With two weeks to go, who is your pick to win the cup?

Hoggard: There is something strangely concerning about Spieth's finishes in the first two post-season starts (back-to-back runner-up finishes), but he continues to be the most consistent player and he has won the season-long race before. That experience will be the difference.

Lavner: I don't know about "concerning" – he got beat by the better players that week. But I, too, am going with Spieth. He has the most to gain over these two weeks, and he should come out firing on venues where he's had prior success. Or maybe that's just wishful thinking, because a Spieth FedEx title would (will?) make for a very compelling Player of the Year vote.

Hoggard: I like your thinking, but I'm pretty sure Thomas wrapped up POY with his victory in Boston, according to the players I've spoken to. See you after East Lake.

Lavner: Seems that's a Slack convo for another day.

South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

The fourball results:

LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.

 

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.

Video, images from Tiger, DJ's round with Trump

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 9:50 p.m. ET

Images and footage from Tiger Woods and Dustin Johnson's round Friday at Trump National in Jupiter, Fla., alongside President Donald Trump:



Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.



Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''


Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open


Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''