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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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Watch: Tiger's Saturday birdies at Honda

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 8:07 pm

Tiger Woods looks in complete control of his iron play at PGA National.

Four back to start the day, Woods parred his first seven holes before pouring in his first Saturday birdie via this flagged iron from 139 at the par-4 eighth:

Woods hit three more quality approaches at 9, 10 and 11 but couldn't get a putt to drop.

The lid finally came off the hole at No. 12 when he holed a key 17-footer for par to keep his scorecard clean.

One hole later, Woods added a second circle to that card, converting this 14-footer for a birdie-3 that moved him back into red figures at 1 under par for the week.

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O. Fisher, Pepperell share lead at Qatar Masters

By Associated PressFebruary 24, 2018, 5:13 pm

DOHA, Qatar - Oliver Fisher birdied his last four holes in the Qatar Masters third round to share the lead at Doha Golf Club on Saturday.

The 29-year-old Englishman shot a 7-under 65 for an overall 16-under 200. Eddie Pepperell (66) picked up shots on the 16th and 18th to catch his compatriot and the pair enjoy a two-shot lead over American Sean Crocker (67) in third.

David Horsey (65) was the biggest mover of the day with the Englishman improving 31 places for a share of fourth place at 12 under with, among others, Frenchman Gregory Havret and Italian Andrea Pavan.

Fisher, winner of the 2011 Czech Open, made some stunning putts on his way in. After an eight-footer on the par-4 15th, he then drove the green on the short par-4 16th for an easy birdie, before making a 12-footer on the 17th and a 15-footer on the 18th.

Like Pepperell, Fisher also had just one bogey to show on his card, also on the 12th hole.


Full-field scores from the Commercial Bank Qatar Masters


''I gave myself some chances coming in and thankfully I made them,'' said Fisher, who has dropped to 369th in the world rankings.

''You can quite easily make a few bogeys without doing that much wrong here, so it's important to be patient and keep giving yourself chances.''

Pepperell, ranked 154th in the world after a strong finish to his 2017 season, has been a picture of consistency in the tournament. He was once again rock-solid throughout the day, except one bad hole - the par-4 12th. His approach shot came up short and landed in the rocks, the third ricocheted back off the rocks, and he duffed his fourth shot to stay in the waste area.

But just when a double bogey or worse looked imminent, Pepperell holed his fifth shot for what was a remarkable bogey. And he celebrated that escape with a 40-feet birdie putt on the 13th.

''I maybe lost a little feeling through the turn, but I bounced back nicely and I didn't let it bother me,'' said the 27-year-old Pepperell, who hit his third shot to within four feet on the par-5 18th to join Fisher on top.

The long-hitting Crocker is playing on invites on the European Tour. He made a third eagle in three days - on the par-4 16th for the second successive round.

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Tiger Tracker: Honda Classic

By Tiger TrackerFebruary 24, 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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Uihlein fires back at Jack in ongoing distance debate

By Randall MellFebruary 24, 2018, 4:32 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Wally Uihlein challenged Jack Nicklaus’ assault this week on the golf ball.

Uihlein, an industry force as president and CEO of Titleist and FootJoy parent company Acushnet for almost 20 years, retired at year’s start but remains an adviser.

In an interview with ScoreGolf on Friday, Uihlein reacted to Nicklaus’ assertions that the ball is responsible for contributing to a lot of the troubles the game faces today, from slow play and sagging participation to the soaring cost to play.

Uihlein also took the USGA and The R&A to task.

The ball became a topic when Nicklaus met with reporters Tuesday at the Honda Classic and was asked about slow play. Nicklaus said the ball was “the biggest culprit” of that.

“It appears from the press conference that Mr. Nicklaus was blaming slow play on technology and the golf ball in particular,” Uihlein said. “I don’t think anyone in the world believes that the golf ball has contributed to the game’s pace of play issues.”

Nicklaus told reporters that USGA executive director Mike Davis pledged over dinner with him to address the distance the golf ball is flying and the problems Nicklaus believes the distance explosion is creating in the game.

“Mike Davis has not told us that he is close, and he has not asked us for help if and when he gets there,” Uihlein said.

ScoreGolf pointed out that the Vancouver Protocol of 2011 was created after a closed-door meeting among the USGA, The R&A and equipment manufacturers, with the intent to make any proposed changes to equipment rules or testing procedures more transparent and to allow participation in the process.

“There are no golf courses being closed due to the advent of evolving technology,” Uihlein said. “There is no talk from the PGA Tour and its players about technology making their commercial product less attractive. Quite the opposite, the PGA Tour revenues are at record levels. The PGA of America is not asking for a roll back of technology. The game’s everyday player is not advocating a roll back of technology.”

ScoreGolf said Uihlein questioned why the USGA and The R&A choose courses that “supposedly” can no longer challenge the game’s best players as preferred venues for the U.S. Open, The Open and other high-profile events.

“It seems to me at some point in time that the media should be asking about the conflict of interest between the ruling bodies while at the same time conducting major championships on venues that maybe both the athletes and the technology have outgrown,” he said. “Because it is the potential obsolescence of some of these championship venues which is really at the core of this discussion.”