Cut Line: Kirk rebounds at Crowne; Rory sinks in Ireland

By Rex HoggardMay 29, 2015, 6:26 pm

In this week’s meteorological edition of Cut Line, an “Irish” gale blows Rory McIlroy off course at Royal County Down, Chris Kirk rebounds from an imperfect storm at TPC Sawgrass and the PGA Tour endures another soggy week in Texas.

Made Cut

Sawgrass inspiration. How a player handles defeats is often much more telling than what follows a victory and Kirk certainly proved a point last Sunday at Colonial.

Following a closing-round 75 at The Players, where he started the final round with a one-stroke lead but faded into a tie for 13th place, the Crowne Plaza Invitational was Kirk’s next start.

After beginning the final 18 holes three shots back, Kirk played his last four holes in 1 under for his fourth PGA Tour title and a healthy measure of redemption.

“It looks like he doesn’t have pulse out there, but he does. He does get nervous,” said Scott Hamilton, Kirk’s swing coach. “Sawgrass was a good learning experience for him and he used that to deal with the pressure on Sunday at Colonial.”

Losing is never easy, but channeled the proper way it can make things easier the next time.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Weather warning I. In 2011 after closing rounds of 74-73 at Royal St. George’s, McIlroy revealed that links golf, in particular links weather, was not exactly his thing.

“I'm not a fan of golf tournaments that the outcome is predicted so much by the weather. It's not my sort of golf,” McIlroy said at the time. “I’m looking forward to getting back and playing in Akron [WGC-Bridgestone Invitational], playing the PGA [Championship] and getting back into some nice conditions.”

The world No. 1 seemed to put that miscue behind him with his victory last July at Royal Liverpool, but an opening-round 80 at the Irish Open in difficult conditions reminded observers that while McIlroy’s game is largely above reproach, he’s still vulnerable to the elements.

Clarifications. When U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis recently suggested that Chambers Bay, site of this year’s U.S. Open, was a test that would require an additional level of preparation many Tour types bristled at the notion.

“What’s Mike Davis’ handicap?” asked McIlroy following his victory at the Wells Fargo Championship.

This week at the opening of the Jack Nicklaus room at the USGA Museum, Davis expanded on his comments, telling Golf Digest: “This is going to be my 26th U.S. Open, and I’ve noticed that players just don’t play as much golf there [at the Open site].

“They’ll play nine holes a day, rely on their caddies instead of coming in early to play three or four rounds the week before like they did in the past . . . it’s just the way things have become. And what I wanted to communicate is that the advantage really goes to the player who knows the course inside and out. There is so much bounciness to that course that you just can’t learn it quickly.”

While Davis’ extended explanation dulls the edges of his original comments, it still doesn’t indemnify his thoughts on Chambers Bay. The best player the third week of June should win, not the player with the most extra credit.


Missed Cut

Weather warning II. As bad as things looked at Royal County Down on Day 2 at the Irish Open, it was continued storms in Texas that most impacted play this week.

Some 4 1/2 inches of rain fell Thursday night at the AT&T Byron Nelson, delaying second-round play for three hours and swamping an already soaked TPC Four Seasons Resort. Officials even had to shorten one of the layout’s holes, the 406-yard, par-4 14th, to 100 yards (par 3) because of water in the fairway.

It’s the second consecutive week of wet and wild conditions for the Tour’s Texas swing which doesn’t bode well for next week’s Memorial, which has endured notoriously bad weather for years.

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Olympic effort. While the 2015-16 Tour schedule continues to be a work in progress, early indications suggest next year’s hodgepodge of events will be a confusing mess of conflicting events and crowded calendars.

Although the circuit continues to piece together the later portion of the 2016 line up, according to various sources things will become compacted early with the movement of the WGC-Dell Match Play to the last week of March, two weeks before the Masters.

Because of the Olympic Games, which will be played in Brazil Aug. 11-14, the PGA Championship will be held two weeks earlier than normal, July 28-31, and will be one of two majors played in a three-week span.

It also means there will likely be a Tour event played the week of the men’s Olympic Games and allow for just a six-week window to play the four FedEx Cup playoff events and Ryder Cup.

Officials wanted to grow the game with golf’s return to the Olympics and one thing is certain, there will be an increase of rounds played late next summer. At least at the highest level.

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McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

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Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.


Full-field scores from the Singapore Open


Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

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Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.


Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship


McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the title was out of reach.