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Cut Line: 'Crosby' rises again; Romo a no-no?

By Rex HoggardFebruary 9, 2018, 8:08 pm

In this week’s edition, the stunning views and stars return to Pebble Beach, the USGA doubles down on distance and a sponsor exemption sparks a social media storm.

Made Cut

Return of the Crosby. Just six years ago, the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am had the lowest strength of field (210) of any full-field West Coast PGA Tour event.

When this week’s rankings are released, the tournament formerly known as the Crosby will be among the year’s deepest fields, with five of the top 10 players in the world including Nos. 1, 2 and 3: Dustin Johnson, Jon Rahm and Jordan Spieth.

It’s telling that within the friendly arms race that exists among tournaments to produce quality fields, it was just a few subtle but meaningful changes that put the event back on the path to relevance.

In 2010, officials ditched the much criticized Poppy Hills layout for Monterey Peninsula Country Club, which is consistently voted among the circuit’s most popular stops. The event also contracted its field from 180 players to 156, alleviating much of the congestion and delays that had plagued the tournament.

Although neither change was ground breaking, they’ve made a world of difference.

Something to smile about. Last fall, Gary Woodland told Cut Line that 2017 was the “toughest year of my life,” a period that included the tragic loss of one of his wife’s unborn twins and ongoing health issues with his son, Jaxson, who was born 10 weeks premature in June.

At the time, his trip to East Lake for the Tour Championship was an impressive accomplishment considering everything he and his wife, Gabby, had been through.

Last Sunday Woodland took another step in the healing process, outlasting Chez Reavie to win his third Tour title at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

“It puts it in perspective. It was obviously a long year for us. I’m really happy; one, to be holding him and also to be where I’m at,” Woodland said.

Victory can never change what the Woodlands have gone through the last 12 months, but it was inspiring to see the family have something to smile about.

Tweet of the week: @MavMcNealy (Maverick McNealy) “Hey @McIlroyRory – can we wager a signed golf ball on our father-son match this week @attproam?”

The first-year professional is playing this week with his father, Scott, who is the co-founder of Sun Microsystems and currently the executive chairman at Wayin; while McIlroy set out with his pater familias, Gerry. The challenge drew only silence from the Northern Irishman’s camp. McIlroy must have taken his Tour-mandated integrity training.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

A line in the fairway. Maybe this is all talk. Maybe this is just a chance for the USGA to clear the air. Maybe it will be business as usual for the next decade.

But that’s not the way it sounds.

At the USGA’s recent annual meeting, executive director Mike Davis appeared to double down on his ongoing chorus of concern over how far modern players hit the golf ball.

“We all love hitting the ball far, but distance is all relative,” Davis told Golf.com. “I remember watching Jack Nicklaus, when he really got a hold of one maybe it went 280. That was the long ball then, and the long ball now is a lot longer.”

Davis also made it clear this isn’t just a Tour problem, and that distance is an issue at every level. It’s all a much different tune than what golf’s rule makers were singing at this time last year when they released the annual driving distance report.

Among the highlights of that report, officials said the average launch conditions on Tour – clubhead speed, launch angle, ball, spin rates, etc. – have been “relatively stable since 2007.”

A year removed from that assessment, the buzz words have changed from “relatively stable” to “unsustainable.”

Sign of the times. World No. 1 Dustin Johnson announced this week he’d signed an endorsement contract with Royal Bank of Canada (RBC). He also announced he’d be playing the Canadian Open and the Heritage.

RBC is the title sponsor of both the Canadian and South Carolina events. Unlike the European circuit, the PGA Tour doesn’t allow appearance fees, but RBC has created a workaround that everyone is comfortable with by signing players – like Johnson, Matt Kuchar and Jim Furyk – to endorsement deals with the understanding they will play the events sponsored by the company.

While the endorsement, and accompanying agreements, follow the letter of the Tour law, it’s beginning to feel like an appearance fee by another name.


Missed Cut

Crossover appeal. Nothing rattles the social media experts like a wild-card sponsor exemption, and news this week that former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo will play the Puntacana Resort & Club Championship in March drew plenty of opinions.

The first-year Tour event will be played in the Dominican Republic and opposite the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. Having Romo, who is playing this week’s AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am to a zero handicap, in the field might be the only chance for the tournament to draw any interest.

Still, there were those who declared the move a gimmick and a blow to the event’s competitive integrity.

There were many of the same concerns last year when NBA all-star Stephen Curry played the Ellie Mae Classic on the Web.com Tour. Although Curry missed the cut, he posted respectable rounds of 74-74.

Tournaments regularly use sponsor exemptions to increase an event’s exposure, and giving Romo a spot in the field, however unpopular it might be in some circles, has already accomplished that.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 23, 2018, 4:45 pm

Tiger Woods is making his third start of the year at the Honda Classic. We're tracking him at PGA National in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.


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J. Korda fires flawless 62, leads by 4 in Thailand

By Associated PressFebruary 23, 2018, 12:48 pm

CHONBURI, Thailand – Jessica Korda shot a course-record 62 at the Honda LPGA Thailand on Friday to lead by four strokes after the second round.

Playing her first tournament since having jaw surgery, Korda made eight birdies and finished with an eagle to move to 16 under par at the halfway point, a 36-hole record for the event.

''That was a pretty good round, pretty special,'' she said. ''Just had a lot of fun doing it.''


Full-field scores from the Honda LPGA Thailand


Korda is the daughter of former tennis player Petr Korda. She leads from another American, Brittany Lincicome, who carded a 65 to go 12 under at the Siam Country Club Pattaya Old Course.

Minjee Lee of Australia is third and a shot behind Linicome on 11 under after a 67. Lexi Thompson, the 2016 champion, is fourth and another shot behind Lee.

Korda is making her season debut in Thailand after the surgery and is playing with 27 screws holding her jaw in place.

She seized the outright lead with a birdie on No. 15, the third of four straight birdies she made on the back nine. Her eagle on the last meant she finished with a 29 on the back nine, putting her in prime position for a first tour win since 2015.

''The best part is I have had no headache for 11 weeks. So that's the biggest win for me,'' she said. ''Honestly I was just trying to get on the green, get myself a chance. I birdied four in a row and holed a long one (on 18). I wasn't expecting it at all. It was pretty cool.''

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Simpson, Noren share Honda lead after challenging Rd. 1

By Doug FergusonFebruary 23, 2018, 1:25 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. - Tiger Woods had what he called ''easily'' his best round hitting the ball, and he didn't even break par at the Honda Classic.

Alex Noren and Webb Simpson shared the lead at 4-under 66 in steady wind on a penal PGA National golf course, and felt as though they had to work hard for it. Both dropped only one shot Thursday, which might have been as great an accomplishment as any of their birdies.

''When you stand on certain tee boxes or certain approach shots, you remember that, 'Man, this is one of the hardest courses we play all year, including majors,''' said Simpson, who is playing the Honda Classic for the first time in seven years.

Only 20 players broke par, and just as many were at 76 or worse.

Woods had only one big blunder - a double bogey on the par-5 third hole when he missed the green and missed a 3-foot putt - in an otherwise stress-free round. He had one other bogey against three birdies, and was rarely out of position. Even one of his two wild drives, when his ball landed behind two carts that were selling frozen lemonade and soft pretzels, he still had a good angle to the green.

''It was very positive today,'' Woods said. ''It was a tough day out there for all of us, and even par is a good score.''

It was plenty tough for Adam Scott, who again stumbled his way through the closing stretch of holes that feature water, water and more water. Scott went into the water on the par-3 15th and made double bogey, and then hit into the water on the par-3 17th and made triple bogey. He shot 73.


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Rory McIlroy was at even par deep into the back nine when he figured his last chance at birdie would be the par-5 18th. Once he got there, he figured his best chance at birdie was to hit 3-wood on or near the green. Instead, he came up a yard short and into the water, made double bogey and shot 72.

Noren, who lost in a playoff at Torrey Pines last month, shot 31 on the front nine and finished with a 6-foot birdie on the ninth hole into a strong wind for his 66.

The Swede is a nine-time winner on the European Tour who is No. 16 in the world, though he has yet to make a connection among American golf fans - outside of Stillwater, Oklahoma, from his college days at Oklahoma State - from not having fared well at big events. Noren spends time in South Florida during the winter, so he's getting used to this variety of putting surfaces.

''I came over here to try to play some more American-style courses, get firmer greens, more rough, and to improve my driving and improve my long game,'' Noren said. ''So it's been great.''

PGA champion Justin Thomas, Daniel Berger and Morgan Hoffmann - who all live up the road in Jupiter - opened with a 67. There's not much of an advantage because hardly anyone plays PGA National the other 51 weeks of the year. It's a resort that gets plenty of traffic, and conditions aren't quite the same.

Louis Oosthuizen, the South African who now lives primarily in West Palm Beach, also came out to PGA National a few weeks ago to get a feel for the course. He was just like everyone else that day - carts on paths only. Not everyone can hole a bunker shot on the final hole at No. 9 for a 67. Mackenzie Hughes of Canada shot his 67 with a bogey from a bunker on No. 9.

Woods, in his third PGA Tour event since returning from a fourth back surgery, appears to be making progress.

''One bad hole,'' he said. ''That's the way it goes.''

It came on the easiest hole on the course. Woods drove into a fairway bunker on the par-5 third, laid up and put his third shot in a bunker. He barely got it out to the collar, used the edge of his sand wedge to putt it down toward the hole and missed the 3-foot par putt.

He answered with a birdie and made pars the rest of the way.

''I'm trying to get better, more efficient at what I'm doing,'' Woods said. ''And also I'm actually doing it under the gun, under the pressure of having to hit golf shots, and this golf course is not forgiving whatsoever. I was very happy with the way I hit it today.''

Woods played with Patton Kizzire, who already has won twice on the PGA Tour season this year. Kizzire had never met Woods until Thursday, and he yanked his opening tee shot into a palmetto bush. No one could find it, so he had to return to the tee to play his third shot. Kizzire covered the 505 yards in three shots, an outstanding bogey considering the two-shot penalty.

Later, he laughed about the moment.

''I was so nervous,'' Kizzire said. ''I said to Tiger, 'Why did you have to make me so nervous?'''

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Players battle 'crusty' greens on Day 1 at Honda

By Randall MellFebruary 22, 2018, 11:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Tiger Woods called the greens “scratchy” on PGA National’s Champion Course.

Rory McIlroy said there is “not a lot of grass on them.”

Morgan Hoffmann said they are “pretty dicey in spots, like a lot of dirt.”

The first round of the Honda Classic left players talking almost as much about the challenge of navigating the greens as they did the challenge of Florida’s blustery, winter winds.

“They looked more like Sunday greens than Thursday,” McIlroy said. “They are pretty crusty. They are going to have a job keeping a couple of them alive.”

The Champion Course always plays tough, ranking annually among the most challenging on the PGA Tour. With a very dry February, the course is firmer and faster than it typically plays.

“Today was not easy,” Woods said. “It's going to get more difficult because these greens are not the best . . . Some of these putts are a bit bouncy . . . There's no root structure. You hit shots and you see this big puff of sand on the greens, so that shows you there's not a lot of root structure.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos


Brad Nelson, PGA National’s director of agronomy, said the Champion Course’s TifEagle Bermuda greens are 18 years old, and they are dealing with some contamination, in spots, of other strains of grasses.

“As it’s been so warm and dry, and as we are trying to get the greens so firm, those areas that are not a true Tifeagle variety anymore, they get unhappy,” Nelson said. “What I mean by unhappy is that they open up a little bit . . . It gives them the appearance of being a little bit thin in some areas.”

Nelson said the greens are scheduled for re-grassing in the summer of 2019. He said the greens do have a “crusty” quality, but . . .

“Our goal is to be really, really firm, and we feel like we are in a good place for where we want them to be going into the weekend,” he said.