Cut Line: Bubba Hall worthy ... already?

By Rex HoggardApril 18, 2014, 2:18 pm

Before we embark on the bulk of the major championship season, Cut Line takes one final look back at the year’s first Grand Slam gathering and what is missing for this year’s Tour graduates.

Made Cut

Bubba Golf. It’s not as though Bubba Watson needed to “validate” his first Masters victory – green jackets have a tendency to keep the second-guessing to a minimum – but his bookend victory on Sunday certainly lifted the free-swinging southpaw into a new category.

Fifteen of the 17 players with multiple Masters victories are in the World Golf Hall of Fame (Tiger Woods being the other exception), and talking with some of Watson’s contemporaries this week at the RBC Heritage it seems he may have already punched his ticket to St. Augustine, Fla.

“I’d say he should be (in the Hall of Fame),” Jason Bohn said. “That’s pretty special to have two green jackets and, what, six Tour victories? I’d say he should make it.”

And for those who think it may be a tad early to start talking about Bubba’s Hall chances, consider that at 35 he will eligible for induction in just five years.


50 is the new 30. On Sunday at Augusta National the possibility loomed that the Masters could have been won by the youngest player ever (Jordan Spieth, 20) or the oldest (pick a senior; there were plenty to choose from).

While Jack Nicklaus’ record of 18 major championships looks relatively safe at the moment with Tiger Woods on the extended DL following back surgery, the Golden Bear’s mark of being the oldest to win the Masters (he was 46 in 1986) appears in serious jeopardy.

Sunday’s leaderboard read like something from the Champions Tour with Miguel Angel Jimenez, 50, finishing in fourth place, four strokes behind Watson; Bernard Langer, 56, tying for eighth; and Fred Couples, who at 54 is a leaderboard staple at the year’s first major.

“The people, they take care of themselves. They are being more healthy,” Jimenez said on Sunday. “If you don't want to be here at 50, you shouldn't be here. I love the game, I love competing, and probably that is the reason.”

As an aside, can you imagine how much fun the Mechanic’s Champions Dinner would be?

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Aggregate issues. If Tour golf is little more than entertainment we get it.

The new three-hole aggregate playoff for The Players Championship combines the risk-and-reward thrill of TPC Sawgrass’ final three holes with the nerves that come with winning one of the game’s most prestigious events.

Lost in this recent move to distinguish The Players from all the other circuit’s stops, however, is the fact that there must be some competitive integrity to go along with all those cheers.

“The No. 1 goal is to finish on Sunday and doing things to stop that are problematic,” said Paul Goydos, who lost a sudden-death playoff at The Players in 2008. “That would be my first question to the Tour. What are you going to do if it’s 8 (p.m.) and we have a playoff?”

There have only been four playoffs in Players history and officials plan to schedule for a potential overtime, but the Tour should be prepared to endure a lot of Monday morning quarterbacking the first time the event doesn’t end on Sunday.

Silent pines. It’s Mother Nature’s fault, really.

Six consecutive days of glorious spring weather combined with enough frayed nerves to page Dr. Charles Rich – the Park City, Utah neurosurgeon who performed Woods’ microdiscectomy earlier this month – delivered one of the more subdued Sundays in recent Masters history.

Missing from this year’s proceedings was the traditional two-way traffic, faltering leaders being passed by charging challengers on the back nine, in large part because of perfect conditions that delivered the fieriest greens many players could remember.

The closing loop scoring average (37.05) on Sunday was the highest it’s been in the last seven years and the top five finishers played the final nine in a collective 1 under par. That’s not exactly rattle-the-pines theater, but then if they were all special ...

Missed Cut

Opportunities lost. Dwindling playing opportunities for Tour graduates is nothing new, but Tuesday’s meeting of the Player Advisory Council at Harbour Town did indicate a slight shift in thinking among the Tour frat brothers.

Because of a larger-than-normal number of players using medical and career money exemptions, the graduates have been squeezed this season. Consider that the players who earned three of the last four Tour cards from fall’s Tour Finals (Will Wilcox, Matt Bettencourt and Kevin Foley) have a combined 16 starts this season.

By comparison, Jimmy Walker, No. 2 in earnings this season, already has 14 starts.

One suggestion at Tuesday’s meeting was to reduce the number of exempt players from the money list from 125 to 115, or even 100. The difference now is that it was the players who were suggesting such a dramatic move, not Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

“It was good to see it coming from the players this time instead of the Tour,” said one member of the PAC.

The only way to have a good idea is to have a bunch of ideas.

Tweet of the Week: @joshbroadaway1 ( Tour player Josh Broadaway) “(Nick) Faldo . . . REALLY? Get back in the booth and give the guys a chance to play that are trying to keep their job!”

Faldo, who won the 1984 RBC Heritage and played this week’s event for the first time since 2006, will certainly draw more interest to Harbour Town this week than say, Hudson Swafford, the first alternate who spent Thursday waiting for a tee time that never came. But on the same week the Tour addressed reduced playing opportunities for Tour grads it also didn’t seem like the best timing.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.