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Cut Line: Highs and lows from 2017

By Rex HoggardDecember 8, 2017, 9:00 pm

From Maui to Manhattan, Justin Thomas emerged as the year’s most compelling player and leads Cut Line’s final breakdown of 2017.

Made Cut

Making a statement. Before this year, Thomas was a solid player with a decent resume and a single, curious qualifier – he’s Jordan Spieth’s friend.

The two twenty-somethings have been friends since their junior golf days and the relationship had a tendency to overshadow Thomas’ play, but that all changed in 2017.

Paired with Spieth for Round 1 at the Sony Open, Thomas shot a 59 on his way to the Hawaiian sweep with victories at the Tournament of Champions and in Honolulu.

In August, Thomas completed his transformation with his breakthrough at the PGA Championship, but it was a month later at TPC Boston where the two young stars seemed to pass the metaphorical torch.

Spieth had just completed a final-round 67 and was speaking with the media when he abruptly paused his Q&A to congratulate Thomas, who won the playoff stop by three strokes over Spieth.

It turns out that Thomas can be Spieth’s friend and the Tour’s Player of the Year.

Meet the new boss. When Jay Monahan took over as PGA Tour commissioner in January there was uncertainty, would he be a transformative leader like Adam Silver in the NBA or would he settle for the status quo?

Although the answer is still a work in progress, if Monahan’s first 12 months on the job is any indication it would appear he’s cut from the former mold.

During Year 1, Monahan oversaw the implementation of the circuit’s new strength of field requirement, which helped tournaments attract stronger fields without violating the spirit of the independent contractor’s freedom, and a policy this season to inject new life into pro-am rounds.

Monahan’s biggest challenge, however, looms with the overhaul of the Tour schedule, a dramatic alteration that began with the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March beginning in 2019.

With countless interests involved – from sponsors to tournament committees and television executives – it’s hard to imagine there isn’t some collateral damage when the ’19 schedule is finally revealed, but so far Monahan has proven adapt at both embracing change and creating compromise.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Years apart. Perhaps when Tiger Woods thinks back to 2017 it will only be those bright moments when he returned to the game he loves without pain and reservations that come to mind.

It will be those four days in the Bahamas when his first tournament in 10 months gave the former world No. 1 a legitimate reason to be optimistic about the future after so many false starts and missteps.

Of course, that would be a wildly selective effort considering that he began his year with a missed cut at Torrey Pines followed by a poorly thought-out trip to Dubai where he only managed to play 18 holes before withdrawing.

There was fusion surgery on his lower back in April – a procedure, he has conceded, that left him contemplating life without golf – and his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day in south Florida.

But somewhere during those dark times, Woods began enjoying the simpler things, like playing with his children or having dinner with friends. His dramatically improved health explains much of those quality of life enhancements, but as he closed his year last week at Albany this was about more than simply being pain free.

This was about being happy.

No match. Depending on who you ask, this year’s Presidents Cup was either a seminal moment for the matches or a disaster.

Liberty National provided the perfect backdrop for what turned out to be the most lopsided defeat in the event’s history, a beating so thorough that some suggested it may have been better if the U.S. team closed out the Internationals on Saturday (which almost happened).

“It's not what I flew back over for, that's for sure,” Adam Scott said of the eight-point loss to the U.S. “I could have quite easily stayed home with my new kid and had a good break from the game. But I've always taken something positive from this event.”

Scott was trying to take the high road, which is becoming increasingly difficult for the Internationals; but if the Tour takes anything from this year’s matches it’s that something has to change if the Presidents Cup is going to grow.


Missed Cut

Failed experiments. For the second time in three years the USGA took its most important event to an unproven golf course with mixed results.

At nearly 7,800 yards, Error Hills, eh, Erin Hills was supposed to be the answer to the modern game, a sprawling ballpark that would tame the bombers; but instead the Wisconsin layout yielded record low scoring and a largely forgettable week.

This is no reflection on Brooks Koepka, who played nearly flawless golf and is destined to win more majors, but following the issues the USGA faced at Chambers Bay in 2015 it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand the association’s affinity for the unproven.

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. Open that a return to Shinnecock Hills next June can’t fix, although the 2004 championship at the Southhampton, N.Y., staple didn’t exactly go to script.

“That will not happen again. If it does, I’m retiring,” joked USGA executive director Mike Davis of the agronomic issues that plagued the ’04 U.S. Open.

Cut Line doesn’t want to see anyone retire, just a compelling championship.

Political motivations. When the Tour uprooted its event at Trump National Doral for Mexico City this year officials stressed that the move had nothing to do with the presidential election.

A year later, when President Donald Trump agreed to attend the Presidents Cup, Monahan again tried to distance the Tour from the polarizing world of politics.

“We have been consistent that this is a non-partisan event. We are not endorsing a person, we are not endorsing a party,” Monahan said. “This event has never been a political event. It's been a golf event that unites the world's best players.”

The Tour’s desire to stay above the political fray is understandable, but last week politics came looking for the Tour.

Although the item was removed at the 11th hour, the Senate’s tax-reform act included a provision titled “Repeal of Tax-Exempt Status for Professional Sports Leagues.”

It’s unclear how or why the provision was removed from the act, but the item sent a clear message to the Tour, and other organizations in golf, that not all politics is avoidable.

Tweet of the year. @GraysonMurray (Grayson Murray) “Does anyone really care is the real question ... those guys were relevant 10 plus years ago.”

The first-year Tour player was responding to a tweet about Bernhard Langer’s season on the PGA Tour Champions, and his ill-advised missive drew plenty of blowback, but the only thing that really needed to be said was, no, just no.

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Teenager Im wins Web.com season opener

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 10:23 pm

South Korea's Sungjae Im cruised to a four-shot victory at The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, becoming just the second teenager to win an event on the Web.com Tour.

Im started the final day of the season-opening event in a share of the lead but still with six holes left in his third round. He was one shot behind Carlos Ortiz when the final round began, but moved ahead of the former Web.com Player of the Year thanks to a 7-under 65 in rainy and windy conditions. Im's 13-under total left him four clear of Ortiz and five shots ahead of a quartet of players in third.

Still more than two months shy of his 20th birthday, Im joins Jason Day as the only two teens to win on the developmental circuit. Day was 19 years, 7 months and 26 days old when he captured the 2007 Legend Financial Group Classic.

Recent PGA Tour winners Si Woo Kim and Patrick Cantlay and former NCAA champ Aaron Wise all won their first Web.com Tour event at age 20.

Other notable finishes in the event included Max Homa (T-7), Erik Compton (T-13), Curtis Luck (T-13) and Lee McCoy (T-13). The Web.com Tour will remain in the Bahamas for another week, with opening round of The Bahamas Great Abaco Classic set to begin Sunday.

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Mickelson grouped with Z. Johnson at CareerBuilder

By Will GrayJanuary 16, 2018, 8:28 pm

He's not the highest-ranked player in this week's field, but Phil Mickelson will likely draw the biggest crowd at the CareerBuilder Challenge as he makes his first start of 2018. Here are a few early-round, marquee groupings to watch as players battle the three-course rotation in the Californian desert (all times ET):

12:10 p.m. Thursday, 11:40 a.m. Friday, 1:20 p.m. Saturday: Phil Mickelson, Zach Johnson

Mickelson is making his fourth straight trip to Palm Springs, having cracked the top 25 each of the last three times. In addition to their respective amateur partners, he'll play the first three rounds alongside a fellow Masters champ in Johnson, who tied for 14th last week in Hawaii and finished third in this event in 2014.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Jon Rahm, Bubba Watson

At No. 3 in the world, Rahm is the highest-ranked player teeing it up this week and the Spaniard returns to an event where he finished T-34 last year in his tournament debut. He'll play the first two rounds alongside Watson, who is looking to bounce back from a difficult 2016-17 season and failed to crack the top 50 in two starts in the fall.


11:40 a.m. Thursday, 1:20 p.m. Friday, 12:50 p.m. Saturday: Patrick Reed, Brandt Snedeker

Reed made the first big splash of his career at this event in 2014, shooting three straight rounds of 63 en route to his maiden victory. He'll be joined by Snedeker, whose bid for a Masters bid via the top 50 of the world rankings came up short last month and who hasn't played this event since a missed cut in 2015.


1:10 p.m. Thursday, 12:40 p.m. Friday, 12:10 p.m. Saturday: Patton Kizzire, Bill Haas

Kizzire heads east after a whirlwind Sunday ended with his second win of the season in a six-hole playoff over James Hahn in Honolulu. He'll play alongside Haas, who won this event in both 2010 and 2015 to go with a runner-up finish in 2011 and remains the tournament's all-time leading money winner.

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Mackay still a caddie at heart, even with a microphone

By Doug FergusonJanuary 16, 2018, 7:34 pm

HONOLULU – All it took was one week back on the bag to remind Jim ''Bones'' Mackay what he always loved about being a caddie.

It just wasn't enough for this to be the ultimate mic drop.

Mackay traded in his TV microphone at the Sony Open for the 40-pound bag belonging to Justin Thomas.

It was his first time caddying since he split with Phil Mickelson six months ago. Mackay was only a temporary replacement at Waialae for Jimmy Johnson, a good friend and Thomas' regular caddie who has a nasty case of plantar fasciitis that will keep him in a walking boot for the next month.

''The toughest thing about not caddying is missing the competition, not having a dog in the fight,'' Mackay said before the final round. ''There's nothing more rewarding as a caddie, in general terms, when you say, 'I don't like 6-iron, I like 7,' and being right. I miss that part of it.''

The reward now?

''Not stumbling over my words,'' he said. ''And being better than I was the previous week.''

He has done remarkably well since he started his new job at the British Open last summer, except for that time he momentarily forgot his role. Parts of that famous caddie adage – ''Show up, keep up, shut up'' – apparently can apply to golf analysts on the ground.

During the early hours of the telecast, before Johnny Miller came on, Justin Leonard was in the booth.

''It's my job to report on what I see. It's not my job to ask questions,'' Mackay said. ''I forgot that for a minute.''

Leonard was part of a booth discussion on how a comfortable pairing can help players trying to win a major. That prompted Mackay to ask Leonard if he found it helpful at the 1997 British Open when he was trying to win his first major and was paired with Fred Couples in the final round at Royal Troon.

''What I didn't know is we were going to commercial in six seconds,'' Mackay said. ''I would have no way of knowing that, but I completely hung Justin out to dry. He's now got four seconds to answer my long-winded question.''

During the commercial break, the next voice Mackay heard belonged to Tommy Roy, the executive golf producer at NBC.

''Bones, don't ever do that again.''

It was Roy who recognized the value experienced caddies could bring to a telecast. That's why he invited Mackay and John Wood, the caddie for Matt Kuchar, into the control room at the 2015 Houston Open so they could see how it all worked and how uncomfortable it can be to hear directions coming through an earpiece.

Both worked as on-course reporters at Sea Island that fall.

And when Mickelson and Mackay parted ways after 25 years, Roy scooped up the longtime caddie for TV.

It's common for players to move into broadcasting. Far more unusual is for a caddie to be part of the mix. Mackay loves his new job. Mostly, he loves how it has helped elevate his profession after so many years of caddies being looked upon more unfavorably than they are now.

''I want to be a caddie that's doing TV,'' he said. ''That's what I hope to come across as. The guys think this is good for caddies. And if it's good for caddies, that makes me happy. Because I'm a caddie. I'll always be a caddie.''

Not next week at Torrey Pines, where Mickelson won three times. Not a week later in Phoenix, where Mackay lives. Both events belong to CBS.

And not the Masters.

He hasn't missed Augusta since 1994, when Mickelson broke his leg skiing that winter.

''That killed me,'' he said, ''but not nearly as much as it's going to kill me this year. I'll wake up on Thursday of the Masters and I'll be really grumpy. I'll probably avoid television at all costs until the 10th tee Sunday. And I'll watch. But it will be, within reason, the hardest day of my life.''

There are too many memories, dating to when he was in the gallery right of the 11th green in 1987 when Larry Mize chipped in to beat Greg Norman. He caddied for Mize for two years, and then Scott Simpson in 1992, and Mickelson the rest of the way. He was on the bag for Lefty's three green jackets.

Mackay still doesn't talk much about what led them to part ways, except to say that a player-caddie relationship runs its course.

''If you lose that positive dynamic, there's no point in continuing,'' he said. ''It can be gone in six months or a year or five years. In our case, it took 25 years.''

He says a dozen or so players called when they split up, and the phone call most intriguing was from Roy at NBC.

''I thought I'd caddie until I dropped,'' Mackay said.

He never imagined getting yardages and lining up putts for anyone except the golfer whose bag he was carrying. Now it's for an audience that measures in the millions. Mackay doesn't look at it as a second career. And he won't rule out caddying again.

''It will always be tempting,'' he said. ''I'll always consider myself a caddie. Right now, I'm very lucky and grateful to have the job I do.''

Except for that first week in April.

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The Social: The end was nigh, then it wasn't

By Jason CrookJanuary 16, 2018, 7:00 pm

The star power at the Sony Open may have been overshadowed by a missile scare, but there were plenty of other social media stories that kept the golf world on its toes this week, including some insight on Tiger Woods from a round with President Obama and some failed trick shots.

All that and more in this week's edition of The Social.

By now you've undoubtedly heard about the false alarm in Hawaii on Saturday, where just about everyone, including most Sony Open participants, woke up to an emergency cell phone alert that there was a ballistic missile heading toward the islands.

Hawaiian emergency management officials eventually admitted the original message was mistakenly sent out, but before they did, people (understandably) freaked out.

As the situation unfolded, some Tour pros took to social media to express their confusion and to let the Twittersphere know how they planned on riding out this threat:

While I would've been in that bathtub under the mattress with John Peterson, his wife, baby and in-laws (wait, how big is this tub?), here's how Justin Thomas reacted to the threat of impending doom:

Yeah, you heard that right.

“I was like ‘there’s nothing I can do,'” Thomas said. ”I sat on my couch and opened up the sliding door and watched TV and listened to music. I was like, if it’s my time, it’s my time.”

Hmmm ... can we just go ahead and award him all the 2018 majors right now? Because if Thomas is staring down death in mid-January, you gotta like the kid's chances on the back nine Sunday at Augusta and beyond.

Before the Hawaiian Missile Crisis of 2018, things were going about as well as they could at Waialae Country Club, starting with the Wednesday pro-am.

Jordan Spieth might have been the third-biggest star in his own group, after getting paired with superstar singer/songwriter/actor Nick Jonas and model/actress Kelly Rohrbach.

You'd be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic group out on the course, and the "Baywatch" star has a gorgeous swing as well, which makes sense, considering she was a former collegiate golfer at Georgetown.

As impressive as that group was, they were somehow outshined by an amateur in another group, former NFL coach June Jones.

Jones, who now coaches the CFL's Hamilton Tiger-Cats, played his round in bare feet and putted with his 5-iron, a remedy he came up with to battle the yips.

Former NFL and current CFL coach June Jones: A master of 5-iron putting?

A post shared by PGA TOUR (@pgatour) on

Considering he made back-to-back birdies at one point during the day, it's safe to say he's won that battle.

With Tiger Woods' return to the PGA Tour about a week away, that sound you hear is the hype train motoring full speed down the tracks.

First, his ex-girlfriend Lindsey Vonn told Sports Illustrated that she hopes this comeback works out for him.

“I loved him and we’re still friends. Sometimes, I wish he would have listened to me a little more, but he’s very stubborn and he likes to go his own way," the Olympic skiier said. "I hope this latest comeback sticks. I hope he goes back to winning tournaments.”

Vonn also mentioned she thinks Woods is very stubborn and that he didn't listen to her enough. That really shouldn't shock anyone who watched him win the 2008 U.S. Open on one leg. Don't think there were a lot of people in his ear telling him that was a great idea at the time.

We also have this report from Golf Channel Insider Tim Rosaforte, stating that the 14-time major champ recently played a round with former president Barack Obama at The Floridian in Palm City, Fla., where he received rave reviews from instructor Claude Harmon.

The Farmers Insurance Open is sure to be must-see TV, but until then, I'm here for all of the rampant speculation and guesses as to how things will go. The more takes the better. Make them extra spicy, please and thanks.

These poor New Orleans Saints fans. Guess the only thing you can do is throw your 65-inch TV off the balcony and get 'em next year.

Here's two more just for good measure.

Farts ... will they ever not be funny?

Perhaps someday, but that day was not early last week, when Tommy Fleetwood let one rip on his European teammates during EurAsia Cup team photos.

Fleetwood went 3-0-0 in the event, helping Europe to a victory over Asia, perhaps by distracting his opponents with the aid of his secret weapon.

Also, how about the diabolical question, "Did you get that?"

Yeah Tommy, we all got that.

Ahhh ... golf trick shot videos. You were fun while you lasted.

But now we’ve officially come to the point in their existence where an unsuccessful attempt is much more entertaining than a properly executed shot, and right on cue, a couple of pros delivered some epic fails.

We start with Sony Open runner-up James Hahn’s preparation for the event, where for some reason he thought he needed to practice a running, jumping, Happy Gilmore-esque shot from the lip of a bunker. It didn’t exactly work out.

Not to be outdone, Ladies European Tour pro Carly Booth attempted the juggling-drive-it-out-of-midair shot made famous by the Bryan Bros, and from the looks of things she might have caught it a little close to the hosel.

PSA to trick-shot artists everywhere: For the sake of the viewing public, if you feel a miss coming on, please make sure the camera is rolling.

Seriously, though, who cares? Definitely not these guys and gals, who took the time to comment, "who cares?" They definitely do not care.