Cut Line: Good, bad and ugly from an eventful week

By Rex HoggardJanuary 10, 2014, 7:22 pm

The year’s first cut looms today at the Sony Open and 2014’s maiden Cut Line ushers in the season with a breakdown of the good (Zach Johnson), bad (more point races) and ugly (the WGC-Match Play field) from an eventful week.

Made Cut

Zach Attack. Lightly recruited, undersized, largely overlooked – if that sounds like a ready-made feature for the upcoming NFL draft, then you haven’t been paying attention to Zach Johnson the last few years.

At 5-foot-11, 160 pounds, Johnson arrived on the PGA Tour via a path cut through the mini-tours and various secondary circuits and proceeded to outwork his competition, at times to his own detriment.

There was no pedigree and few outside Johnson’s inner circle recognized his true potential, but his victory on Sunday at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions was his second consecutive title, dating to last month’s World Challenge, and his third in his last six starts.

Following his Masters’ victory in 2007, the everyman demurely announced, “I'm Zach Johnson and I'm from Cedar Rapids, Iowa.”

Although he’d never be so boastful, his new calling card is that he is one of just three Tour players to have 10 wins and a major championship, along with Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson, since 2007.

Refreshing Wie. The question was absurd when considered in context. Essentially, your scribe wanted to ask Michelle Wie in an interview earlier this week if she felt as if she’d under-achieved in her career?

Wie had been atop golf’s radar for more than a decade and yet has just two LPGA victories to show for it. But then you realize she’s just 24. Weren’t we all under-achievers at 24?

Yet when asked if she was where she thought she would be 10 years earlier, Wie’s answer was refreshingly honest.

“No, I am not,” she admitted. “But I wouldn’t trade any of the experiences I’ve had or any of the decisions I made.”

Wie has been an easy target for the better part of a decade and time will tell if she ever lives up to the hype, but in the final analysis it is clear she’s pleased with the person she’s become if not the player everyone thought she would be.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Point missing. It’s official, all of professional golf has gone point crazy.

At least that’s the immediate takeaway from Wednesday’s news that the LPGA Tour will go to a season-long, points-based system this year (the Race to the CME Globe) similar to what the PGA Tour has used since 2007.

Lost in this rush to mathematical madness is the fact that it was the Champions Tour, with the Charles Schwab Cup, that first waded into the points pool and that the vast majority of golf fans still have little interest in the season-long sprint.

Majors and money earned have always been the benchmark in professional golf, and that’s a point many of the game’s decision makers continue to miss.


Tweet of the week:

 

 

The tweet was directed at Vanderbilt head football coach James Franklin, who was being wooed by various NFL and college teams to leave Vandy. Unfortunately for Sneds, it looks like Franklin is headed to Penn State. However, his offer may still be a boon for the Commodores. We hear Steve Spurrier will work for golf lessons.


Missed Cut

Campus visit. It’s impossible to know for sure the details behind Matt Fitzpatrick’s decision to bolt Northwestern University after just one semester, but considering the importance he placed on receiving a quality education, as well as a quality game, during the recruiting process it was a curious move.

“The surprising part for us was how much his family valued education and how important it was to them during the recruitment at Northwestern,” Northwestern golf coach Pat Goss told GolfChannel.com’s Ryan Lavner. “His family and Matt had nothing but espoused the value of education here.”

Perhaps the reigning U.S. Amateur champion’s decision to return to England and “dedicate 100 percent of my time to the game,” will be the right choice. But given the cautionary tales that litter the golf landscape (see Wie, Michelle above) the move feels reactionary at best and potentially disastrous at worst.

No Match (Play). Be it the unintended consequences of the PGA Tour’s new wraparound season, an embarrassment of playing opportunities for the world’s top players or just a less-than-endearing golf course, this year’s WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship is starting to feel less like “March Madness” than it is a February flop.

Adam Scott, Justin Rose and Phil Mickelson have already announced they do not plan to play the year’s first World Golf Championship, and it appeared that Tiger Woods would likely skip the event to watch his girlfriend, Lindsey Vonn, compete in the Winter Olympics until Vonn withdrew from the Games with an injury.

If Woods plays, and that’s a healthy if, that still means three of the world’s top 5 players are out at the no-cut, big-money event.

Perhaps this is all no more than an imperfect storm, but the truth is Dove Mountain was in a deep freeze with players long before last year’s snow storm halted play. Relocation may not be the tonic to assure the Match Play lands every top player, but it would be a good start.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.



The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”



Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.