Cut Line: Getting in (or out) of position for playoffs

By Rex HoggardAugust 18, 2017, 10:14 pm

In honor of Monday’s solar eclipse we went with a “path of totality” edition this week as the end to the PGA Tour’s regular season marks a deadline with many different meanings.

Made Cut

Pure Ice. Henrik Stenson told Cut Line last week at Quail Hollow that he’d added the Wyndham Championship to his schedule to assure he gets his minimum of 15 Tour starts this season and that, “I don’t feel any pressure, because I don’t have any pressure.”

On Friday, the aptly named Iceman proved the point with a 66 to move to within a stroke of the lead at 12 under par.

Although the Swede added the final regular-season stop to his dance card to assure he plays his 15 events, this week’s event is his 13th start and at 75th in the season-long points race he’s assured of playing the first two post-season events, he also understands the importance of positioning in the playoffs as well as anyone.

In 2015, when Stenson finished second in the season-long race he began the post-season 41st in points, and in ’13 when he won the title he finished the regular season at ninth.

“As long as you’re in it you can go all the way to win it ... I even got the punch line, slogan in there,” he smiled.

Season’s greetings. Maybe the Tour’s playoffs don’t hold the dramatic appeal that makes golf so entertaining, but the post-season does have its moments.

Normally, the playoff drama is reserved for Sunday at East Lake with $10 million on the line, but there are other times, like this week at the Wyndham Championship where players are scrambling to secure a spot inside the top 125 on the season-long points race and a start at next week’s Northern Trust.

Johnson Wagner opened with rounds of 67-64 to move into a tie for seventh, which would currently project him just outside the top 125 (127th) after starting the week No. 141 on the list.

Ryan Armour made an even bigger jump thanks to a second-round 61 to move into a share of the lead, jumping from 187th on the points list to currently inside the top 80.

The FedExCup can be confusing and has always been exceedingly complicated, but there are times when the drama is very real.

Tweet of the week:

Thomas, among the game’s most savvy when it comes to social media, was relatively quiet this week, which is understandable considering how dramatically his professional life changed on Sunday at the PGA Championship.

Don’t expect that to continue. Just imagine the possibilities for next spring now that the crew has completed the #SB2K18 Slam (Jordan Spieth ’15 Masters, U.S. Open and ’17 Open; Thomas ’17 PGA).

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Team player. When it comes to the biennial Solheim Cup matches Europe’s Suzann Pettersen is on the fiery side – think Patrick Reed without the cowboy boots.

So imagine how difficult the decision was for Pettersen to step down, announcing on Wednesday that she would be withdrawing from the matches because of a back injury.

“I have made this extremely difficult decision to help the European team and give my teammates the best possible chance of success,” she said in a statement.

Pettersen, who was replaced by vice captain Catriona Matthew in the Continent’s lineup, has been the heart and soul of the European team and she will be missed. She should also be applauded for not getting caught up in personal desires and doing what’s best for her team.

Major review. Last week’s PGA Championship marked the end of the major season and before we turn our attention to the playoffs or Presidents Cup, it’s worth going over some Grand Slam grades.

Two first-time major venues highlighted this year’s line up, with Erin Hills (U.S. Open) and Quail Hollow (PGA) joining the rotation to mixed reviews.

Erin Hills was supposed to be a brute at 7,740 yards, but little wind and soft conditions led to record scoring; while Quail Hollow proved to be the year’s most demanding test.

Both venues could use a little tinkering before they are thrust back into the major spotlight again – at Quail Hollow officials will need to do something about the fourth green, while Erin Hills and the USGA may want to rethink that fescue rough.

None of these things, however, should be deal breakers. Neither course was perfect, but both proved they deserve a second swing at the major plate.

Missed Cut

Missing the points. The key to real drama is equal parts victory and defeat, and for all the players making moves into the top 125 on the season-long points list this week there are just as many succumbing to the mathematical reality that their year is over.

Daniel Summerhays, No. 124 on the points list, missed the cut at the Wyndham and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and Ryan Palmer (128th in points) also failed to advance to the weekend with rounds of 72-71 and will finish outside the top 125.

Although he’s not playing the Wyndham, Adam Scott’s plight is just as final. Scott returned to Australia after the PGA to be with his wife, Marie, who was expecting the couple’s second child, and he will miss the first two playoff stops, which at 62nd on the points list means his season is likely over.

Maybe golf will never fit snuggly into the playoff ideal, but there’s no denying that there is an urgency to the post-season that wasn’t there before.

Day: Woods feeling good, hitting it long

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 22, 2017, 9:33 pm

Jason Day says Tiger Woods told him he feels better than he has in three years, which is good news for Woods a week ahead of his return to the PGA Tour at the Hero World Challenge.

Day, a fellow Nike endorser, was asked about Woods during his news conference at the Emirates Australian Open on Wednesday. "I did talk to him," Day said, per a report in the Sydney Morning Herald,"and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years'" Day said.

"He doesn't wake up with pain anymore, which is great. I said to him, 'Look, it's great to be one of the best players ever to live, but health is one thing that we all take for granted and if you can't live a happy, healthy life, then that's difficult.'"

The Hero World Challenge will be played Nov. 30-Dec. 3 in the Bahamas and broadcast on Golf Channel and NBC.

Day, who has had his own health issues, said he could empathize with Woods.

"I totally understand where he's coming from, because sometimes I wake up in the morning and it takes me 10 minutes to get out of bed, and for him to be in pain for three years is very frustrating."

Woods has not played since February after undergoing surgery following a recurrence of back problems.

"From what I see on Instagram and what he's been telling me, he says he's ready and I'm hoping that he is, because from what I hear, he's hitting it very long," Day said.

"And if he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.

"There's no pressure. I think it's a 17- or 18-man field, there's no cut, he's playing at a tournament where last year I think he had the most birdies at."

Move over Lydia, a new Ko is coming to LPGA

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 5:11 pm

Another gifted young South Korean will be joining the LPGA ranks next year.

Jin Young Ko, the Korean LPGA Tour star, informed the American-based LPGA on Sunday night that she will be taking up membership next year. Ko earned the right by winning the LPGA’s KEB Hana Bank Championship as a nonmember in South Korea in October.

Ko, 22, no relation to Lydia Ko, first burst on to the international spotlight with her run into contention at the Ricoh Women’s British Open at Turnberry two years ago. She led there through 54 holes, with Inbee Park overtaking her in the final round to win.

With 10 KLPGA Tour titles, three in each of the last two seasons, Ko has risen to No. 19 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings.

Ko told Sunday afternoon that she was struggling over the decision, with a Monday deadline looming.

“It’s a difficult decision to leave home,” Ko said after the final round of the CME Group Tour Championship in Naples, when she was still undecided. “The travelling far away, on my own, the loneliness, that’s what is difficult.”

Ko will be the favorite to win the LPGA’s Louise Suggs Rolex Rookie of the Year Award next year. South Koreans have won that award the last three years. Sung Hyun Park won it this year, In Gee Chun last year and Sei Young Kim in 2015. South Korean-born players have won the last four, with New Zealand’s Lydia Ko winning it in 2014. Ko was born in South Korea and moved to New Zealand when she was 6.

Ko released this statement through the LPGA on Wednesday: 

"It has been my dream since I was young to play on the LPGA Tour and I look forward to testing myself against the best players on a worldwide stage. I know it is going to be tough but making a first win as an LPGA member and winning the Rolex Rookie of the Year award would be two of the biggest goals I would like to achieve next year."

Piller pregnant, no timetable for LPGA return

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:22 pm

Gerina Piller, the American Olympian golfer and three-time Solheim Cup veteran, is pregnant and will not be rejoining the LPGA when the 2018 season opens, the New York Times reported following the season-ending CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller, 32, who is married to PGA Tour pro Martin Piller, is due with the couple’s first child in May, Golf Channel’s Jerry Foltz reported.

Piller declined an interview request when sought comment going into the CME Group Tour Championship.

Piller told the New York Times she has no timetable for her return but that she isn’t done with competitive golf.

“I’m not just giving everything up,” Piller said.

As parity reigns, LPGA searching for a superstar

By Randall MellNovember 22, 2017, 4:00 pm

Apologies to the LPGA’s golden eras, but women’s golf has never been deeper.

With the game going global, with the unrelenting wave of Asian talent continuing to slam the tour’s shores, with Thailand and China promising to add to what South Korea is delivering, it’s more difficult than ever to win.

That’s a beautiful and perplexing thing for the women’s game.

That’s because it is more difficult than ever to dominate.

And that’s a magic word in golf.

There is no more powerful elixir in the sport.

Domination gets you on the cover of Sports Illustrated, on ESPN SportsCenter, maybe even on NBC Nightly News if the “D” in domination is dynamic enough.

The women’s best chance of moving their sport to another stratosphere is riding the back of a superstar.

Or maybe a pair of superstar rivals.

Photos: 2017 LPGA winners gallery

A constellation of stars may be great for the devoted regular supporters of the women’s game, but it will take a charismatic superstar to make casual fans care.

The LPGA needs a Serena Williams.

Or the reincarnation of Babe Zaharias.

For those of us who regularly follow the LPGA, this constellation of stars makes for compelling stories, a variety of scripting to feature.

The reality, however, is that it takes one colossal story told over and over again to burst out of a sports niche.

The late, great CBS sports director Frank Chirkinian knew what he had sitting in a TV production truck the first time he saw one of his cameras bring a certain young star into focus at the Masters.

It’s this player coming up over the brow of the hill at the 15th hole to play his second shot,” Chirkinian once told me over lunch at a golf course he owned in South Florida.  “He studies his shot, then flips his cigarette, hitches up his trousers and takes this mighty swipe and knocks the shot on the green. It was my first experience with Arnold Palmer, and I remember thinking, ‘Wow, who is this guy?’

“The thing about golf, more than any other sport, it’s always looking for a star. It’s the only sport where people will root against the underdog. They don’t want the stars to lose. They’re OK with some unknown rising up to be the story on Thursday or Friday, but they always want to see the stars win.”

And they go gaga when it’s one star so radiant that he or she dominates attention.

“It didn’t matter if Arnold was leading, or where he was, you had to show him,” Chirkinian said. “You never knew when he might do something spectacular.”

The LPGA is in a healthy place again, with a big upside globally, with so much emerging talent sharing the spotlight.

Take Sunday at the CME Group Tour Championship.

The back nine started with Lexi Thompson and Michelle Wie making the turn tied for the lead. There is no more powerful pairing to sell in the women’s game today, but there would be no duel. It would have been too far off script as the final chapter to this season.

Parity was the story this year.

Sunday in Naples started with 18 players within two shots of the lead.

Entering that back nine, almost a dozen players were in the mix, including Ariya Jutanugarn.

The day ended with Jutanugarn beating Thompson with a dramatic birdie-birdie finish after Thompson stunned viewers missing a 2-foot putt for par at the last.

The day encapsulated the expanding LPGA universe.

“I’ve never seen such crazy, brilliant golf from these ladies,” said Gary Gilchrist, who coaches Jutanugarn, Lydia Ko and Rolex world No. 1 Shanshan Feng. “It was unbelievable out there. It was just like birdie after birdie after birdie, and the scoreboard went up and down. And that’s why it’s so hard to be No. 1 on this tour. There’s not one person who can peak. It’s all of them at a phenomenal level of golf.”

If Thompson had made that last 2-footer and gone on to win the CME, she would have become the sixth different world No. 1 this year. Before this year, there had never been more than three different No. 1s in a single LPGA season.

Parity was the theme from the year’s start.

There were 15 different winners to open the season, something that hadn’t happened in 26 years. There were five different major championship winners.

This year’s Rolex Player of the Year Award was presented Sunday to So Yeon Ryu and Sung Hyun Park. It’s the first time the award has been shared since its inception in 1966.

Thompson won twice this year, with six second-place finishes, with three of those playoff losses, one of them in a major championship. She was close to putting together a spectacular year. She was close to dominating and maybe becoming the tour’s one true rock star.

Ultimately, Thompson showed us how hard that is to do now.

She’s in a constellation we’re all watching, to see if maybe one star breaks out, somebody able to take the game into living rooms it has never been, to a level of popularity it’s never been.

The game won’t get there with another golden era. It will get there with a golden player.