Cut Line: Fun reigns and a Twitter storm

By Rex HoggardApril 28, 2017, 3:32 pm

In a trailblazing edition, Cut Lines takes a deep dive into new formats, new decisions regarding the use of video replay and new leadership at the PGA Tour.

Made Cut

The new normal. This week’s Zurich Classic of New Orleans is the first official team event on the Tour since 1981 and next week’s GolfSixes tournament on the European Tour will be an entirely new way to experience professional golf.

For a game that’s often criticized for being mired in its stodgy traditions, the new formats are a bona fide break from the traditional 72 holes of stroke play.

“We were talking about it on the range with a couple of other guys, and I think this would be fun if we had a couple of these events a year,” Jordan Spieth said this week at TPC Louisiana. “I think you’d still see a deeper field.”

This week’s two-man team format at the Zurich Classic has attracted one of the deepest fields to New Orleans in decades, with 13 of the top 25 in the world ranking (last year just 10 of the top 50 played the NOLA stop) teaming for two rounds of alternate shot and two of better-ball play.

There will always be room for traditional formats, but experiments like this week in Louisiana and next week in England will only give fans more reasons to pay attention.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Simply put. When the game’s rule makers start throwing around phrases like “naked-eye standard” and “reasonable judgment” it’s impossible not to take notice.

Although the USGA and R&A didn’t use the term “common sense,” that’s essentially what this week’s announcement meant to those who play the game at the highest level.

Officials will now have a more broad ability to assess possible infractions during replay reviews that could “reasonably have been seen with the naked eye.” Players will also be given more leeway when taking drops or determining a particular line, “as long as the player does what can reasonably be expected under the circumstances to make an accurate determination.”

These adjustments were billed as “limitations on use of video evidence,” which is understandable given the game’s recent run-ins with replay (see Thompson, Lexi 2017 ANA Inspiration).

While any adjustment to the Rules of Golf that allows for a measure of common sense is welcome, exactly where this new technological line will be drawn is not exactly known; and what golf needs right now is more answers, not more questions.

First 100 days. No, not that guy. Earlier this month (April 10), Jay Monahan marked his 100th day in office as PGA Tour commissioner with much less fanfare than the guy who resides at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

By all accounts, Monahan has been the energetic and engaging leader everyone thought he would be, ushering in what many consider a new era in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

The increasingly crowded Tour schedule, however, continues to be an issue. Earlier this season some players balked at having two World Golf Championships in a four-week window, and things will get more interesting in the coming weeks as the European Tour enters a crucial part of its new Rolex Series schedule.

Monahan has been clear that his plan is to end the season earlier and condense the biggest events into a better-defined window. To do this the new commish will need to make some tough choices and work hand in hand with the European Tour, which – as the other guy celebrating his first 100 days in office has learned – is more challenging than he probably imagined.

Missed Cut

No, thank you. Steve Stricker figured it was a long shot but given the unique circumstances surrounding this year’s U.S. Open he decided to ask the USGA for a special exemption.

“I wrote them quite a while back and asked for one, and they politely called me and declined,” Stricker told the Associated Press.

This year’s U.S. Open is at Erin Hills in Wisconsin, about an hour from Stricker’s home in Madison, and at 50 the native son figured this would be his last chance to play a “home” major.

The USGA has granted special exemptions in the past, including Retief Goosen last year, but it is rare and the association is understandably reluctant to dole out free passes to the national championship.

But if Stricker, who remains competitive on Tour and will captain this year’s U.S. Presidents Cup team, doesn’t qualify as a worthy recipient Cut Line isn’t sure who would.

Tweet of the week:

Gillis, who played seven seasons on the Tour but hasn’t made a start since last year’s Wyndham Championship, went on to explain that Crane lost a $6,000 bet earlier this season in Phoenix, but declined to say who Crane lost to.

Charley Hoffman posted on Instagram that it was Daniel Berger who won the putting contest; and after his round on Thursday Crane told reporters “we’re all good. We had a great conversation about it.”

Berger confirmed that the issue had been “handled,” but the social media brouhaha proves that what happens in Phoenix doesn’t always stay in Phoenix.

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from what would be a return trip to Augusta National but his first Masters.

"The truth is that I crossed off on my bucket list playing Augusta [National], because I happened to play there," Rivarola said. "I've played every year with my university. But playing in the Masters is a completely different thing. I have been to the Masters, and I've watched the players play during the practice rounds. But [competing would be] a completely different thing."

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Click here for full-field scores from the Latin America Amateur Championship

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

“Today, I had a completely different mentality, and that's usually what happens in my case," Niemann said. "When I shoot a bad round, the following day I have extra motivation. I realize and I feel that I have to play my best golf. The key to being a good golfer is to find those thoughts and to transfer them into good golf."

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, 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.