Cut Line: Change is the only constant

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2014, 5:42 pm

After just one week it’s already been an eventful offseason with the Royal & Ancient Golf Club ending 260 years of all-male membership, Steve Williams possibly ending an eventful career and Billy Horschel ending the season with a week to remember.

Made Cut

Royal reversal. Things move slowly at the Royal & Ancient, but on Thursday, change arrived with the speed of a long-awaited announcement.

Royal & Ancient Golf Club secretary Peter Dawson announced the results of a vote that overwhelmingly reversed the club’s all-male policy. The measure was approved by 85 percent of the club’s 2,400 members.

“Times move on and I think all of them probably realize it’s a bit ridiculous in this day and age,” said Laura Davies, who has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the first 15 or so memberships that will be offered to women following Thursday’s vote.

For Dawson, who is set to retire in September 2015, the vote is sure to define his legacy. He may not have been an agent of change at the club or as chief executive of the R&A, which runs the Open Championship and oversees golf everywhere in the world except the United States and Mexico, but he subtly helped shape the future of both organizations.

Billy Ho. It was a good week for Horschel & family.

He began on Sunday at the Tour Championship when he held off Rory McIlroy and a host of other challengers on his way to his second consecutive victory, and his third top-2 finish in his last three starts, as well as the FedEx Cup.

That adds up to $12.8 million in cash and deferred prizes, which will come in handy after his wife, Brittany, gave birth to the couple’s first child on Wednesday.

Horschel won’t have much time to celebrate, however, as he’s scheduled to leave with the U.S. Ryder Cup team on Sunday . . . wait, never mind.

Tweet of the week.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

End of an era? It was not a surprise that caddie legend Steve Williams and Adam Scott announced this week the two were ending their “professional relationship,” but it does leave a few open-ended questions heading into next season.

Williams told reporters late last year he planned to cut back his schedule in coming seasons and seems destined to ride one of his race cars into his New Zealand golden years, but there will likely be no shortage of players who would be interested in working with the newest member of the Caddie Hall of Fame.

Scott clearly wasn’t interested in a part-time arrangement and is now in the market for a bagman. The world No. 2’s bag is sure to draw plenty of attention. As one Tour caddie told Cut Line this week, “There were a lot of guys going to Kinkos this week to dust off the resume.”

Mixed messages. It was a good news/bad news deal for Tiger Woods, who announced a new title sponsor (Hero) for his World Challenge on Monday.

Although Woods said shadow swinging without a golf club is the extent of his golf activities since the PGA Championship, his ailing back that has slowed him for most of this season is starting to improve.

“Some days I'm making bigger gains than others. Same days I'm backing off a little bit,” said Woods, who is scheduled to play the World Challenge in December.

“We're pretty much past the strength phase now, and I've got my strength where I want to have it, now I just need to get my fast twitch going and get my speed back, and that's going to take a little bit of time.”

Woods was also asked about McIlroy’s comments last week that he and Phil Mickelson were, “getting into sort of the last few holes of their career.”

“I thought it was funny. I mean, Phil has less holes to play than I do,” Woods laughed.

Well played.

Missed Cut

On Points. To be clear, this is not a D.A. Points problem. This is a PGA Tour problem. Unfortunately, Points found himself at the epicenter of a policy snafu that doesn’t seem to have an easy solution.

Points, who is exempt next year on the PGA Tour via his victory at the 2013 Shell Houston Open, decided to play this week’s Tour Championship to help bridge an offseason gap that spans two months. That’s when things got interesting.

It was brought to Points’ attention that his play at the secondary tour’s finale could impact the final money list and possibly keep someone from earning a Tour card.

“I thought unless I finish in the top 4 or 5 it wouldn’t make a difference [with the final money list], but then guys were on me about it,” said Points, who withdrew from the event on Wednesday. “I understand that and that’s not why I’m here. I’ve got a lot of friends who are playing in this. I’m not here to keep anybody from getting a job.” Tour president Bill Calfee told Cut Line that the issue will likely be addressed again, but added, “We felt like it would be hard to tell that player he couldn’t play based on that criteria. We shouldn’t be in the position of denying a player an opportunity to make his living playing golf.”

The wrong fit. In hindsight, perhaps U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson would have picked Horschel instead of Webb Simpson. Maybe even Chris Kirk may have gotten the nod had the picks been announced two weeks later.

Whatever the outcome of next week’s matches, however, the one thing the PGA of America should revisit is when the captain’s picks are made - which occurred nearly a month before the team sets out for Scotland this year.

This week Watson offered a familiar logistical refrain, “There are so many different things that go into it, just getting the players over there and getting ready.”

For the record, the entire team will be catching a chartered flight out of Atlanta on Sunday and if this is about uniforms, then the question is do you want the best team in Scotland or the best-dressed team in Scotland?

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

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

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''