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.

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Davies, 54, still thinks she can win, dreams of HOF

By Randall MellMarch 18, 2018, 12:22 am

PHOENIX – Laura Davies limped around Wildfire Golf Club Saturday with an ache radiating from her left Achilles up into her calf muscle at the Bank of Hope Founders Cup.

“Every step is just misery,” Davies said after. “It’s just getting older. Don’t get old.”

She’s 54, but she played the third round as if she were 32 again.

That’s how old she was when she was the LPGA’s Rolex Player of the Year and won two major championships.

With every sweet swing Saturday, Davies peeled back the years, turning back the clock.

Rolling in a 6-foot birdie at the 17th, Davies moved into a tie for the lead with Inbee Park, a lead that wouldn’t last long with so many players still on the course when she finished. Still, with a 9-under-par 63, Davies moved into contention to try to become the oldest winner in LPGA history.

Davies has won 20 LPGA titles, 45 Ladies European Tour titles, but she hasn’t won an LPGA event in 17 years, since taking the Wegmans Rochester International.

Can she can surpass the mark Beth Daniel set winning at 46?

“I still think I can win,” Davies said. “This just backs that up for me. Other people, I don’t know, they’re always asking me now when I’m going to retire. I always say I’m still playing good golf, and now here’s the proof of it.”

Davies knows it will take a special day with the kind of final-round pressure building that she hasn’t experienced in awhile.

Full-field scores from the Bank of Hope Founders Cup

“The pressure will be a lot more tomorrow,” she said. “We'll see, won’t sleep that well tonight. The good news is that I’ll probably be four or five behind by the end of the day, so the pressure won’t be there as much.”

Davies acknowledged confidence is harder to garner, as disappointments and missed cuts pile up, but she’s holding on to her belief she can still win.

“I said to my caddie, `Jeez, I haven't been on top of the leaderboard for a long time,’” Davies said. “That's nice, obviously, but you’ve got to stay there. That's the biggest challenge.”

About that aching left leg, Davies was asked if it could prevent her from challenging on Sunday.

“I’ll crawl around if I have to,” she said.

Saturday’s 63 was Davies’ lowest round in an LPGA event since she shot 63 at the Wendy’s Championship a dozen years ago.

While Davies is a World Golf Hall of Famer, she has been sitting just outside the qualification standard needed to get into the LPGA Hall of Fame for a long time. She needs 27 points, but she has been stuck on 25 since her last victory in ’01. A regular tour title is worth one point, a major championship is worth two points.

Davies said she still dreams about qualifying.

“You never know,” she said.

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Stenson leads strong cast of Bay Hill contenders

By Ryan LavnerMarch 17, 2018, 11:38 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Henrik Stenson has a tortured history here at Bay Hill, a collection of close calls that have tested his mettle and certainly his patience.

Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational won’t get any easier. Not with a course that is already firm and fast and fiery, just the way the King would have wanted it. And not with 13 players within five shots of the lead, a group that includes Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Rickie Fowler and, yes, even Tiger Woods.

Without his best stuff Saturday, Stenson still managed to edge ahead of Bryson DeChambeau to take a one-shot lead heading into the final round. It’s familiar territory for the Swede, who posted four consecutive top-10s here from 2013-16, including a few agonizing near-misses.

Three years ago, Stenson appeared on his way to victory when he was put on the clock on the 15th hole. Rattled, he three-putted the next two holes and lost by a stroke. The following year, he was tied for the lead with three holes to play, then hit it in the water on 16 and bogeyed two of the last three holes.

“It wouldn’t be the only tournament where you feel like you’ve got some unfinished business,” Stenson said, “but I’ve been up in the mix a few times and we’re here again, so of course I would like to see a different outcome.”

What will be interesting Sunday is whether history repeats itself.

Neither Stenson nor DeChambeau is quick-paced, with DeChambeau even acknowledging that he’s one of the game’s most methodical players, stepping off pitch shots and checking (and re-checking) his reads on the green. With so much at stake, it’s not a stretch to imagine both players grinding to a halt on a course that got “crusty” in the late-afternoon sun.

“We’ve got a lot of guys behind me,” DeChambeau said, “so I’ve got to go deep tomorrow.”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

The 24-year-old earned his breakthrough victory last July at the John Deere Classic, but that was one hot week as he tried to play his way out of a slump.

Even this week’s performance was unexpected, after he withdrew from the Valspar Championship because of a balky back.

Last weekend he underwent an MRI (clean), didn’t touch a club for three days and showed up here cautiously optimistic. His ball-striking hasn’t suffered at all – in fact, he’s ranked fifth in strokes gained-tee to green – and now he’s relishing the chance to take on some of the game’s biggest names.

“Whatever happens,” he said, “it’s going to be a great learning experience.”

Of the 13 players within five shots of the lead, 10 are Tour winners. That includes McIlroy, whose putter has finally come alive, and Rose, who shot a third-round 67 to move within three shots, and Fowler, whose game is finally rounding into form, and also Woods, who has won a record eight times at Bay Hill. 

Even if he doesn’t pick up a pre-Masters victory – he’s five shots back, the same deficit he erased here in 2009 – Woods has showed flashes of his old self at one of his favorite playgrounds, whether it’s the blistered 2-irons off the tee, the daring approach shots or the drained 40-footers.

“I’ve got a chance,” he said.

And so do the rest of the major champions and PGA Tour winners assembled near the top of the leaderboard.

It should be a wild final round at Arnie’s Place – even if Stenson, for once, is hoping for a drama-free Sunday.

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DeChambeau uses big words to describe back injury

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 11:24 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Bryson DeChambeau needed just 30 seconds of explaining the state of his lower back to send the media center at the Arnold Palmer Invitational spinning.

DeChambeau shot an even-par 72 in the third round at Bay Hill, and he will start the final round one shot behind Henrik Stenson as he looks to win for the second time in his young PGA Tour career. DeChambeau’s strong play this week comes in the wake of his decision to withdraw from last week’s Valspar Championship because of a bad back.

DeChambeau is no stranger to new vocabulary words or adopting a scientific take on matters, and it was when he delved into the details of his injury that things got interesting.

“It was because my quadratus lumborum wasn’t working. My iliacus, longissimus thoracis, they were all kind of over-working if you want to get technical on that,” DeChambeau said. “But they weren’t working very well, and I overworked them. Pretty much my lower right back was hurting and I rested it. How about that?”

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

DeChambeau tied for fifth at the Waste Management Phoenix Open last month, but he has struggled to find results in the weeks since. One of the keys to a quick recovery between Innisbrook and Bay Hill was some time on the couch this past weekend and a binge session of The Walking Dead on Netflix.

“I literally didn’t do anything, and that’s really the first time I’ve done that in my entire life. I’ve never actually taken three days off where I didn’t touch a club,” DeChambeau said. “So that was unique for me and actually took me some time to acclimate to that, my body to get comfortable to get in a rested state. And then once it was finally able to rest, it healed a little bit and I was able to make a run for it this week.”

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Woods fielding Masters practice-round requests

By Will GrayMarch 17, 2018, 10:50 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Heading into what is likely his final competitive round before the Masters, Tiger Woods is starting to set up his schedule for the days leading into the season’s first major.

Woods has won the Masters four times, most recently in 2005, and in the wake of a runner-up at the Valspar Championship and a strong showing at the Arnold Palmer Invitational he’ll head down Magnolia Lane with more momentum than he’s had in years. As a result, it’s not surprising that he has received more than a few inquiries about a possible practice round at Augusta National Golf Club during Masters week.

“I’ve gotten a couple requests here and there,” Woods said with a grin after a third-round 69 at Bay Hill.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Woods has played the Masters only once since 2014, but don’t expect him to try out some unfamiliar pairings on Tuesday and Wednesday amid the azaleas. Woods still plans to rely on a rotation he’s had for several years, playing with former champs Fred Couples and Mark O’Meara. O’Meara, who received his green jacket from Woods in 1998, plans to make this year his final Masters start.

“I traditionally have played with Freddie, if he can. We’re hoping he can come back and play again and play Augusta. I’ve played with Mark just about every single year,” Woods said. “It’s generally been those two guys, and those are the two guys I’ve grown up with out here on Tour. We sit next to each other actually at the champions’ dinner, and so we have known each other for a very long time.”

While Woods is no stranger to fielding offers for tips and advice from younger players, especially on a course he knows as well as Augusta National, one top-ranked name continues to stick out among the requests he’s received in recent weeks.

“Just the normal JT (Justin Thomas),” Woods said. “He’s always trying to get some practice rounds in.”