Cut Line: It's a party on the European Tour

By Rex HoggardJanuary 20, 2017, 5:36 pm

DJs on the practice range at European Tour events, record scoring has some seeing red and Rory McIlroy takes to Twitter to prove his point, all of this and more in this week’s Cut Line.

Made Cut

Trailblazer. Last year he introduced shorts during practice and pro-am rounds and now DJ K-Pell, sorry European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley, has set his sights on livening up life on the practice tee.

Pelley and the European circuit debuted a DJ on the range this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, playing assorted tracks while players warmed up, and “walk up” music when competitors made their way to the first tee.

“We're in the entertainment business,” Pelley told the Associated Press. “As long as you are always conscious of the integrity and protection of the game's magic. But you are always looking to improve your product, in any business that you run.”

Reaction from players was largely positive with the lone exception being Paul Lawrie, who said, “I didn’t like it on Tuesday.” May Cut Line suggest the 48-year-old’s “walk-up” song be “The Sound of Silence” by Simon and Garfunkel.

Lefty’s return. It won’t garner as much attention as Tiger Woods’ return to the Tour next week at the Farmers Insurance Open, but Phil Mickelson’s start this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge is noteworthy on many fronts.

For starters, following multiple surgeries to correct a sports hernia in the off-season it’s encouraging to have the southpaw back in action for his 26th season. But it’s Mickelson’s decision to play the old Bob Hope that is the real shot in the arm for officials.

Mickelson took over this year as ambassador for the event, which has been searching for an identity since Hope died in 2003.

According to various sources, Mickelson wants to get the community more involved with the Tour stop that dates back to 1960, and given Lefty’s status as one of the circuit’s elder statesmen his association can only help the field.

“I love the golf courses here, it's a great place to come out and start the year,” Mickelson said after an opening-round 68. “You don't have to be perfect, like I wasn’t [perfect] today, to still score.”

A perfect punch line, Hope would like that.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Hazeltine hangover. There was no task force, no committee designed to forge change, but the European Tour didn’t let last year’s Ryder Cup loss go unanswered.

The circuit reduced the minimum number of starts required to maintain tour membership, which is required to play for the Continent in the biennial matches, and gave captain Thomas Bjorn an extra pick, to match the number [four] that U.S. captain Jim Furyk will have in 2018.

The four events required for membership don’t include the majors or World Golf Championships and could persuade players like Paul Casey, who plays mostly in the United States, to return to the circuit.

Both moves are aimed at assuring Europe’s best 12 players make the team in ’18. Last fall, for example, both Casey and Russell Knox were ranked inside the top 20 in the world ranking but neither were on the Continent’s team at Hazeltine National.

Tweet of the week. Full disclosure, we are neither a TrackMan maestro nor a swing expert, so we’ll stay well clear of the technical mumbo gumbo behind the spat, but this week’s give and take between Rory McIlroy and Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee – which began when Chamblee tweeted that the best players drive the ball with a level or descending strike – was worth the price of admission.

McIlroy countered with a tweet that included plenty of data to support his take, “To get the most out of modern equipment you need to hit up on the driver. #fact”

The world No. 2 finished with a tweet showing his rank in the strokes gained: off-the-tee category last year (first).

Missed Cut

Off course, again. While the golf world is still reeling from news late last year that the Olympic Golf Course in Brazil is already in financial trouble, this week officials with the International Golf Federation are facing another golf course issue.

A non-profit golf council in Japan has challenged the venue for the 2020 games outside of Tokyo because of the club’s all-male membership policies.

Although officials at the club said they are prepared to review its membership policies if asked to do so by the International Olympic Committee, the Japanese non-profit contend that having a private course host the golf competition is not in the “spirit” of the Olympic legacy.

Although officials have plenty of time to work out any issues before the 2020 Games, it’s curious that handball and table tennis never seem to have these kinds of venue issues.

Are you not entertained? There was plenty of handwringing last week as the Tour’s best and brightest took apart Waialae Country Club one record round at a time.

The week began when Justin Thomas, the hottest player on the planet right now, shot an opening 59, and on Saturday Kevin Kisner narrowly missed a 9-footer for eagle on his final hole that would have made him the eighth player in Tour history to post a sub-60 round. Chez Reavie completed the assault, with a 61 on Sunday that included a bogey on his 15th hole.

Golf purists weren’t impressed, taking to social media to decry the distance modern players hit the golf ball and lament the loss of classic courses as a challenge to the game’s best.

Lost in all this, however, was the entertainment value of good golf. If grinding pars and good bogeys are your thing, there will be plenty of that at the U.S. Open.

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x