Cut Line: Big makes and big misses in 2016

By Rex HoggardDecember 10, 2016, 12:39 am

It’s only apropos that 2016 was the year of the monkey. In our bookend Cut Line we applaud the U.S. Ryder Cup team for getting the monkey off their backs at Hazeltine National, and arraign the USGA for what could best be described as rules monkey business.

Made Cut

Long live The King. Rory McIlroy had just put the finishing touches on an $11.5 million payday at the Tour Championship in September when news of Arnold Palmer’s death surfaced.

Initially stunned by the news, McIlroy was told by a PGA Tour media official he could wait to comment, but the Northern Irishman shook his head emphatically.

There was no need to wait.

“No, no. Look, Arnie put the game on the map. I don’t think any other sports person in any other sport did for their profession what Arnie did for our game,” the emotional FedEx Cup champion insisted. “I wouldn’t be here playing for this ridiculous amount of money without him and I was just fortunate to spend some time with him.”

It was just one of thousands of tributes paid to the 87-year-old legend in the days and weeks after his death, but for McIlroy it was important to tell the world what Palmer meant to him and the game.

Arnie would have approved.

Up to the task. Whatever you want to call the task force-turned-committee there’s only one word for the results the group produced: success.

The task force that was formed in the wake of the U.S. loss at the 2014 Ryder Cup was reactionary, many said, and left no wiggle room if things didn’t go the American side’s way in ’16. In quiet circles, Europeans chuckled at the idea that the secret sauce to winning the matches could be found in a conference room.

But along the way the American players took ownership of their team room. They tabbed Davis Love III to lead the U.S. side again, overhauled the selection system and, most importantly, created a process every player could believe in.

Love & Co. dismissed the idea that the American victory at Hazeltine National was somehow vindication for everything the task force set out to do, reminding all that the changes were about the next 16 matches not just the ’16 matches.

That’s how ethos are altered and legacies are built, whatever you call the agent of change.

Tweet of the Year: @WestwoodLee (Lee Westwood) “No pressure there then lads!”

The Englishman was referring to a tweet sent out, by Golf Channel, with a quote from Love prior to the matches: “This is the best golf team, maybe, ever assembled.”

The quote, taken in full context, was a hypothetical explanation of what Love would tell his team before the matches, but it ended up on the European team’s bulletin board.

Love’s team may not have been the best “ever,” but they were certainly unrivaled in 2016.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Brazil or bust. The golf course would never be completed in time. Rio wasn’t safe for athletes or fans. The Zika virus would be the lasting legacy of the Olympics.

The headlines in the weeks before this year’s Games told a dire story, and high-profile no-shows from the likes of world No. 1 Jason Day, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth didn’t help to make golf’s return to the Olympics an unqualified triumph.

Despite the setbacks, the logistical and security concerns, despite the mosquitos – for the record, we saw exactly one during our fortnight in Rio – golf’s return was largely a success.

Six medals were doled out to players from six different countries, the competitions were compelling and the athletes unharmed.

What remains to be seen is how all that work will benefit the game in the long term. Interest in golf in undeveloped countries has increased, but according to various reports the Olympic Golf Course has not exactly lived up to its lofty billing.

Getting golf to Rio was difficult. Making sure that return means something may be even more challenging.

Pelley’s play. European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley is young and engaging, some might even say avant-garde; and along with incoming PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan he represents a fundamental shift to a more forward-thinking power base in the game.

It turns out Pelley is also a bit of a gambler.

Last month Pelley and the European Tour unveiled a new Rolex Series, a seven-tournament series with larger purses that officials hope will stem the talent drain of young players to the U.S. tour.

Although the initiative was largely applauded, Pelley conceded that a $7.7 million shortfall for three of those events will be subsidized by the tour and Rolex in 2017. Nor does the current version of the Series do anything to shore up the weak part of the Continent’s schedule (February-May).

Pelley has impressed since taking office last year, but his challenge now is delivering on all that promise.

Missed Cut

Open season. Two national championships, two rules snafus. It’s not exactly the kind of scorecard the USGA had hoped for in 2016, but at the association’s two biggest events, the U.S. Open and U.S. Women’s Open, the final outcome was marred by curious rulings.

At Oakmont in June, Dustin Johnson was penalized a stroke when officials decided he caused his golf ball to move on the fifth green during Sunday’s final round, even though Johnson said he’d done nothing wrong.

A month later, it was Anna Nordqvist who was penalized when officials said she grazed the sand while playing out of a fairway bunker during a playoff.

Both incidents were glaring, high-profile examples of how archaic the Rules of Golf have become to a modern audience, and USGA executive director Mike Davis assured a group of club professionals last month in New York that change was coming.

A bit of that fresh look arrived this week when the USGA and R&A announced a new local rule that eliminates the penalty when a ball is accidentally moved on the putting green.

It was a good start, but the “modernization” of the rules needs to continue.

Swoosh-ed. In August, Nike Golf announced it was getting out of the hard goods business and would focus on footwear and appeal.

As to why the Swoosh was unable to make its club business work despite having the game’s, and perhaps all of sport’s, most influential pitchman for well over a decade is best left to those with a better grasp of the category.

But it’s the immediate aftermath of Nike Golf’s move out of the hard goods business that is so difficult, not for the players like Tiger Woods who must now find new equipment, but for the dozens of engineers and technicians who lost their jobs.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.