Cut Line: Court for Vijay; Rest for Rory

By Rex HoggardMay 19, 2017, 8:35 pm

Saturday is Moving Day in golf, but there’s already been plenty of movement this week, including the PGA Tour’s season-long points race entering its second decade with momentum, Vijay Singh finally get his moment in court and distance-measuring devices making their professional debut.

Made Cut

FedEx future. Lost within the frenzied happenings of what turned out to be a busy week at TPC Sawgrass was the PGA Tour’s announcement that FedEx had signed on to sponsor the circuit’s season-long points race through 2027.

When that current contract is completed it will mark 21 years for the playoffs, which means there’s a good chance there will be a Tour player whose only point of reference in professional golf is the season-long competition.

Tour commissioner Jay Monahan said last week there’s already 68 percent of the Tour whose earliest memories of pro golf involve the playoffs, and as the event inches toward that 21-year mark that association is only going to grow.

“What we forget, here we are at The Players after 40-plus years, you go to other events that have been around a long, long time, the cup is only in its 11th year,” Monahan said. “It’s still embryonic, but you get out 20 years and look at the trajectory of big events over time and it starts morphing and growing. That’s where strength is created. We always knew it would take time.”

After last week’s announcement, time is certainly on the Tour’s side.

Tweet of the week: @Lexi (Lexi Thompson) “Honored to announce my partnership w/ [SEAL Legacy Foundation] by fulfilling a lifelong dream & skydiving w/ 4 Navy SEALs into my Pro-Am.”

Although Thompson’s entrance from 10,000 feet for her pro-am on Wednesday at the Kingsmill Championship was impressive, her decision to team with the SEAL Legacy Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to providing support to families of wounded and fallen U.S. Navy SEALs, was truly inspired.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Down Range. In March, the USGA and R&A unveiled a list of proposed changes to the Rules of Golf that included the possible use of distance-measuring devices (DMDs) in competitions.

At this week’s BMW Charity Pro-Am on the Tour, players are being allowed to use distance-measuring devices during competition rounds. The rule maker’s reasoning for the proposed change was that, “distance is public information a player may get from anyone; and on most courses, this information is found on sprinkler heads, markers, posts, etc.”

Officially, the idea that by allowing the use of DMDs it will also help speed up play, which has become a particularly hot take in recent months, is not mentioned in the USGA’s announcement, but it has been implied.

This week’s event on the Tour will be an interesting test of that theory, but if player reaction to the concept of DMDs speeding up play is any indication the powers-that-be shouldn’t have high expectations.

Holding court. On the same day Vijay Singh moved into contention at last week’s Players with a second-round 68, a New York Supreme Court judge ruled that his lawsuit against the Tour should go to trial.

Four years after suing the Tour for what Singh claimed was the circuit’s reckless administration of its anti-doping program, judge Eileen Bransten paved the way to a possible legal showdown when she partially denied the Tour’s request for summary judgment regarding Singh’s claims the circuit breached its implied covenant by suspending him for his use of deer-antler spray before consulting with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

“We are very pleased. We think this is a great victory for Vijay and all the members of the PGA Tour,” Singh’s lawyer Jeff Rosenblum said. “I think it’s a victory for all pro golfers and future pro golfers that the Tour will be held accountable for its actions when it acts unreasonably and unfairly.”

At the heart of this issue is the damage that Singh claims was done to his reputation by the Tour’s decision to suspend him, a sanction that was later withdrawn after the circuit consulted with WADA.

Any time golf ends up in court it’s not great, but as Rosenblum points out, the lawsuit is a chance for the Tour to refine an anti-doping policy that – without the protections provided athletes in other sports by unions and collective bargaining agreements – probably needs some tweaks.

Missed Cut

More rehab for Rors. When he bolted TPC Sawgrass last week following a tie for 35th, Rory McIlroy was cautiously optimistic the rib ailment that slowed him at The Players was nothing serious and an MRI on Monday confirmed that there was no new injury.

But news on Friday that McIlroy, who missed seven weeks because of a rib injury earlier this year, would skip next week’s BMW PGA Championship was still unsettling.

“Having had a reaction to my earlier rib injury, I have been advised to take a conservative approach to my recovery . . .,” McIlroy said in a statement. “It’s a disappointing decision to have to make, but I have to ensure I make a full recovery. I will now continue the process of preparing my game for the U.S. Open and the rest of the season.”

Although the cup still seems half full for the world No. 2, back injuries have taken a toll on the game’s best this season, with world No. 1 Dustin Johnson missing the Masters with an ailing back and Tiger Woods announcing in April he’d undergone his fourth back surgery. If the collective isn’t as calm as McIlroy we’ve certainly come by our anxiety honestly.

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Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

“I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

“We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.