Cut Line: Budding Woods-McIlroy rivalry good for game

By Rex HoggardAugust 22, 2014, 3:36 pm

This week’s edition focuses on opportunities, from the looming possibility of a great rivalry between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to what added up to a lost season for many of the PGA Tour’s up-and-coming players.

Made Cut

Rivalries. While it certainly lacks the subtle discomfort that defined Tiger Woods’ decade-long rivalry with Phil Mickelson, and maybe it’s a little too chummy for some, but there is no denying that Tiger’s budding rivalry with Rory McIlroy is good for golf.

Woods and McIlroy joined Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show" on Monday where the two traded friendly barbs, and Tiger even referred to the current world No. 1 as the “little fella.”

Not to be outdone, McIlroy shot back when Fallon asked the Northern Irishman what was going through his head before he hit the ball, “I just try to pretend to be Tiger Woods. What would Tiger do?” he smiled.

While this has been a largely one-sided rivalry with McIlroy winning all four of his majors since Woods last hoisted a Grand Slam trophy, the implications and possibilities are clear.

Woods has always been at his best when he has been pushed, and no one in his career has had the potential to push as hard as McIlroy.

Fit for kings. While it may not have the ring of Turnberry or Royal Birkdale, news this week that the Ladies’ Golf Union will hold the 2017 Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns Golf Links is an inspired choice.

After stops at some of the game’s most storied venues in recent years, the event was played at Royal Birkdale this year and St. Andrews in 2013, officials have wisely colored outside the lines to bring Kingsbarns into the fold.

What the Fife-area layout lacks in history, and some purists will argue that it is not a true links course, it makes up for with stunning views of the North Sea and proximity with the course located just 10 minutes from St. Andrews’ city center.

There is only one real rule when hosting a major championship – location, location, location.

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Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A course half full. According to a release issued by Rio 2016 this week the golf course that will host the Olympic Games is 59 percent complete.

According to Cut Line’s math that’s 10.6 holes which seems like progress – we’ve played plenty of 10.6-hole rounds in our day – but this update doesn’t exactly fill folks with confidence that the Gil Hanse design will be at its best when golf returns to the Games in August 2016.

The release went on to say the grass needs “around 11 months to grow.” But last month Rio 2016 unveiled a “tentative” test event calendar and golf’s “test” event, which will likely be a PGA Tour Latinoamerica tournament, was scheduled to begin Aug. 15, 2015.

Construction on the Olympic course began in April 2013, which adds up to a layout that is 59 percent complete after 15 months of work with a “test” event scheduled in less than 12 months.

You do that math.

Playing through. In the hectic final moments of the PGA Championship officials made the curious decision to have Rory McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger join Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson in the day’s penultimate group and play the 72nd hole as a foursome.

With darkness fast approaching there was nothing surprising about having McIlroy and Wiesberger hit their drives on the par 5. Where things get curious is when the two were instructed by officials to also hit their second shots before Mickelson and Fowler completed the hole.

“I was OK with Rory hitting up off the tee and checked with Phil prior to them doing that and he was OK with that,” Fowler said this week. “But we had no intentions or didn't say anything or were going to allow them to hit their second shots into the green, so I'm not sure where the guys at the PGA got that idea.”

“It is what it is and kind of unfortunate. It would have been nice to hit my putt and have a little bit of a better look at it.”

Fowler said he was still waiting to talk with PGA officials about the decision, and added that it likely didn’t have any impact on the outcome of the event. Wanting to finish the year’s final major before nightfall is understandable, but major championships are no place to start cutting corners.

Missed Cut

Lost opportunities. With the Tour’s first full wrap-around regular season in the books, accountants in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., can start crunching the numbers, and there is one total that is particularly troubling.

The final 10 players from last year’s new qualifying system averaged 17.6 starts during the 2013-14 season, and, even more concerning, not one of those 10 finished inside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup point list.

Compare that total to the same group in 2012, a combination of Q-School and the Tour graduating class, which averaged 19.8 starts and featured three players advancing to the playoffs.

The issue of limited playing opportunities for the Tour Finals graduates has been a hot topic all year, and officials have zeroed in on a number of factors, including a large number of players using the “major medical exemption” category this year.

“We have had an uptick (in the major medical category), and it has put some pressure on the access to the Tour players coming up; as has the last year or two, the use of the one-time exemption for all-time money,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said this week at The Barclays. “So we are just evaluating it.”

That, however, doesn’t exactly add up either. There were 23 players listed in the major medical category this year compared to 18 in 2012.

Whatever the issue the circuit needs to find an answer. The future of the Tour may depend on it.

The company line. Finchem was also asked, again, about the Tour’s curious decision to comment on Dustin Johnson’s non-suspension late last month.

Johnson announced he was “taking a leave of absence from professional golf” and a day later reported that he had been suspended for failing a drug test, his third failed drug test according to the report. The Tour, which has a policy of not commenting on disciplinary issues, responded saying that Johnson had not been suspended.

“We reserve the right to comment on anything we want to comment about if we think it’s important to do so. In that case, we felt like the information that had floated in the media was incorrect and needed to be corrected,” Finchem said Tuesday.

The Tour continues to cling to the “go ahead and ask, we won’t tell” policy despite strategies by every other major professional sports organization to make disciplinary action public.

In this the circuit seems more interested in protecting its brand than its players. While Tour officials continue to claim otherwise, full disclosure and transparency is a powerful deterrent.

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials phoned Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial. 

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Kelly, Sauers co-lead in Hawaii; Monty, Couples in mix

By Associated PressJanuary 19, 2018, 3:52 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii - Fresh off a solid performance on Oahu, Jerry Kelly shot an 8-under 64 on the Big Island on Thursday to share the first-round lead at the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

The 51-year-old Kelly, who tied for 14th at the PGA Tour's Sony Open last week in Honolulu, birdied five of his final seven holes to shoot 30 on the back nine at Hualalai. He won twice last season, his first on the over-50 tour.

Gene Sauers also shot 64, going bogey-free amid calm conditions. Thirty-two of the 44 players broke par in the limited-field event, which includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Rocco Mediate and Colin Montgomerie were one shot back, and Fred Couples, Kevin Sutherland and Kirk Triplett were another shot behind.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, was in the middle of the pack after a 69.

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Rahm (62) fires career low round

By Will GrayJanuary 19, 2018, 12:03 am

The scores were predictably low during the opening round of the CareerBuilder Challenge, where the top-ranked player in the field currently sits atop the standings. Here's how things look after the first day in Palm Springs as Jon Rahm is out to an early advantage:

Leaderboard: Jon Rahm (-10), Austin Cook (-9), Andrew Landry (-9), Jason Kokrak (-9), Brandon Harkins (-8), Martin Piller (-8), Aaron Wise (-8), Beau Hossler (-8)

What it means: Rahm is coming off a runner-up finish two weeks ago at Kapalua, and he picked up right where he left off with a 10-under 62 at La Quinta Country Club. It marked his lowest career round on the PGA Tour, and it gave him a one-shot lead heading to the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Cook is the only player within two shots of Rahm who has won already on Tour.

Round of the day: Rahm got off to a fast start, playing his first seven holes in 6 under, and he made it around La Quinta without dropping a shot. The 62 bettered his previous career low on Tour by two shots and it included an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole to go along with eight birdies.

Best of the rest: Cook was a winner earlier this season at the RSM Classic, and he's now in the mix for trophy No. 2 following a 9-under 63 on the Nicklaus Tournament Course. Like Rahm, he opened with a seven-hole stretch at 6 under and turned in a scorecard without a bogey. He'll now head to the more difficult Stadium Course for his second round.

Biggest disappointment: Patrick Reed blitzed the three-course rotation in Palm Springs en route to his first career Tour title back in 2014, but he's unlikely to repeat that feat after opening with a 2-over 74 on the Nicklaus Tournament course. Reed made only one birdie against three bogeys and was one of only 32 players in the 156-man field who failed to break par in the opening round.

Main storyline heading into Friday: Rahm deserves the spotlight, as he entered the week as one of the event's headliners and did nothing to lose that billing in the opening round. But the pack of contenders is sure to keep pace, while players like Phil Mickelson (-2) will look to put up a low score in order to build some momentum heading into the weekend.

Shot of the day: Wesley Bryan's 7-under 65 on the Nicklaus Tournament course was helped in large part by an eagle on the par-4 10th, where he holed a 54-degree wedge from 112 yards away. Bryan went on to birdie the next hole amid a five-hole stretch of 5 under play.

Quote of the day: "Shot 10 under par. There's not much more I can ask for." - Rahm