Cut Line: The King still draws a crowd

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2015, 8:47 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – The call of The King draws the game’s top names to Bay Hill, while madness seems to have gripped golf’s version of the big tournament, but not necessarily for all of the right reasons.

Made Cut

The King calls. At 85 years young Arnold Palmer can still command a room, as evidenced by this week’s gathering at Bay Hill.

Despite a less-than-perfect date on the PGA Tour calendar, Bay Hill consistently draws one of the year’s best fields – this year’s event featured all of the top 5 in the World Golf Ranking (Bubba Watson withdrew) – and the circuit kicked in the additional bonus of a three-year exemption for the API champion starting this season.

It’s a solid sign for an event that links to the game’s past so clearly, and a nod to Palmer’s continued influence.

“The young kids don’t know who or what Arnold was, but I was lucky enough to play with him in a major once and see what he meant to the game,” Ernie Els said on Friday.

Strength in numbers. However the class-action lawsuit between the Tour and an expanding group of caddies plays out it has created an impressive amount of unity for a group that doesn’t always appear to be reading from the same script.

On Monday lawyers for the caddies, who claim the Tour has engaged in restraint of trade and anticompetitive conduct involving caddie bibs, amended the lawsuit to include 167 caddies, more than double the original number involved in the case.

Among the additional plaintiffs was Steve Williams, Tiger Woods’ former caddie who told Cut Line, “They [the Tour] treat the caddies like second-class citizens.”

Some may not like the concept, but a new caddie credo is emerging, “show up, keep up and speak up.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Match making. The root canal continues for the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, which abandoned the West Coast swing and created a new format this season.

The Tour unveiled a new drawing process this week for the event, which has gone to three days of round-robin group play followed by the Round of 16 starting on Saturday.

The top 16 players in the World Golf Ranking on April 27 will be seeded into the 16 groups followed by a “blind draw” from three pools to determine the remaining three players for each group.

“A number of [media] have been writing for a long time that Wednesday of the Match Play is maybe one of the best days of the year in golf,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said two weeks ago at Doral. “You follow that line of thought to what we are going to have in this format, I think it could be really, really good.”

Lost in that concept, however, is the one-and-done element that made Match Play Wednesday so dramatic (see Georgia State’s victory over Baylor in Round 1 of the NCAA Tournament on Thursday).

Tweet of the Week:


Young Jordan was referring to Thursday’s slate of one-point games in Round 1 at the NCAA Tournament and not the new WGC-Match Play format. Let’s hope the Tour’s tinkering didn’t dull golf’s version of the #Madness.

Augusta National or bust. On the first day of spring it’s only fitting to check on Charles Howell III and his annual rite of spring.

Howell grew up a 9-iron from Augusta National and counts the year’s first major as something more than just another stop on the schedule. Despite that affinity, and 16 consecutive years of Tour status, he’s played the Masters just once since 2009.

On cue, Howell began his push to Augusta National recently, tying for fifth at the Farmers Insurance Open and 10th last week at the Valspar Championship.

“The Masters is a funny one because so many years I put myself in a position of trying to qualify for it, but now I’m just trying to play golf and let whatever happens happen,” Howell said. “I know that’s easy to say. I’ve found a way to miss it by the smallest margins every year. Just playing in that event is important to me, playing well would be a bonus.”

Howell shot a 68 on Friday at Bay Hill, but he’ll need to do better than that if he’s going to qualify for the Masters. A victory at Bay Hill or next week in San Antonio would earn him a trip down Magnolia Lane, otherwise he’ll need to crack the top 50 in the World Golf Ranking by March 30.

For Howell, consider it a tradition unlike any other.

Missed Cut

Speed dating. In the crowded landscape of the PGA Tour some dates on the schedule are better than others.

This week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational, for example, has created a home as the anchor event of the Florida swing, but according to various sources officials at Bay Hill wanted to be shifted to two weeks before the Masters.

That slot, however, went to the WGC-Cadillac Match Play, which will be played in Austin, Texas, next year, leaving The King’s tournament to forge its way between two World Golf Championships events.

The World Golf Championships have become a part of the Tour fabric, but would it be asking too much to space them out a little bit more? We hear Southern California in June is sublime.

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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.