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Cut Line: Much talk of lawns, literal and figurative

By Rex HoggardJanuary 6, 2018, 12:30 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Tiger Woods headlines the first edition of Cut Line in 2018 with details on his latest return, as Rickie Fowler brings out the game’s curmudgeons with a bold wardrobe choice.


Made Cut

Tiger, the Return. OK, so you’ve heard this before - probably 12 months ago when Woods was making a similar comeback from injury - but this time does feel different.

Woods announced on Thursday he will play the Farmers Insurance Open later this month followed by the Genesis Open in February. While it wasn’t a surprise he’d play either tournament – he’s won eight times at Torrey Pines (including the 2008 U.S. Open) and the Los Angeles stop now benefits Woods’ foundation – it was a sign of his progress.

Before his start at last month’s Hero World Challenge, an unofficial, limited-field event played at Woods’ home course in the Bahamas, there were some who openly questioned if he’d ever play competitive golf again.

There are still plenty of unanswered questions, like how his surgically repaired back will endure 72 holes on the hills of Torrey Pines, but his decision to look past his next swing is a reason to be optimistic.

When more is more. The PGA Tour unveiled a new policy last year designed to encourage players to mix up their schedules.

Essentially, the policy requires those who don’t play 25 events in a season to add an event they hadn’t played in the previous four seasons. The policy has been widely applauded as a creative fix to an old problem.

A potential sign of that impact can be seen in this week’s field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where 24 of the 34 players participated in at least 25 events in the 2016-17 season.

Full participation will never happen - no one can play every week - but it seems top players are playing more, and on this front more is better.

A January for Jarrod. If we’re being honest, it’s easy to overlook all of the charitable work the Tour is involved with on a weekly basis because, well, it’s a lot. But the circuit’s most recent push is worth applauding.

The Tour announced a new campaign, “January for Jarrod,” to help Jarrod Lyle pay the mounting medical bills his family faces as the Australian endures a third bone marrow transplant for acute myeloid leukemia.

Donations can be made to the fund right here and all proceeds will go directly to the family.

“Jarrod would be the first player to support others in their time of need, and now it’s our turn to help he and his wife Briony and their two young children, Lusi and Jemma,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of tournaments and competitions officer.

Lyle’s story of perseverance is one of the most inspiring in sports, and the Tour’s efforts to support him shouldn’t get lost in the weekly giving.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

When more isn’t more. It’s become fashionable in recent months to lament the distance modern professionals hit the golf ball and to declare that the only way to challenge the Dustin Johnsons of the world is with longer golf courses.

There’s not a better example of the flaw in this thinking than this week’s event at Kapalua. The Plantation Course ranked 50th out of 50 courses in difficulty in 2017, playing to a 70.37 average (2.65 strokes under par), yet the layout was the fifth longest (7,452 yards) on Tour.

It should be noted that Kapalua, a resort course, has the circuit’s widest fairways and many tee shots play dramatically downhill along bouncy corridors, but that only solidifies the point that the game doesn’t need longer golf courses, just better designed layouts.

Untucked-gate. It’s interesting that while the USGA and R&A are engaged in a “modernization” of the Rules of Golf, and while the PGA Tour has fully embraced multiple forms of new media, certain elements of golf still seem wedged in the past, as evidenced by the reaction to Rickie Fowler’s wardrobe choices this week.

While there were plenty who embraced Fowler’s island-inspired, untucked ways on Thursday in Maui, there were still a number of get-off-my-lawn types.

To be clear, Fowler doesn’t intend to take his bold attire to the mainland.

“I thought it was fun and definitely fitting for Maui. It's not like you can really bring out this shirt in many other places but on the island,” he said. “So I thought it was definitely fitting for the start of this week.”

So relax and have fun, because if you can’t have a little fun in Maui, where are you going to have fun?

Tweet of the week.

My colleague was responding to Fowler’s choice of shirt on Day 1 at Kapalua, but we do give him points for owning his grumpiness. A special-edition Fowler shirt is in the mail.


Missed Cut

Greens aren’t always greener. If you were able tear yourself away from the idyllic views of the Pacific Ocean this week, you may have noticed the greens on the Plantation Course aren’t exactly green.

The discoloration is the result of an old variety of Bermuda grass creeping onto the putting surfaces and causing some less-than-ideal optics, prompting officials to post a notice to players.

“In order to minimize this unexpected issue, the target green speed will be slower than previously stated,” the notice read.

The 14th hole, which was described by one caddie as a bad municipal course green, is the biggest area of concern, so much so that officials will be limited to a few positions near the middle of the putting surface.

Kapalua did endure a particularly wet December that impacted the greens, which players have largely said are rolling fine even if they may not look the best.

There’s nothing more mundane than watching (or talking about) growing grass - that is, until the grass doesn’t grow like you’d hoped.

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.

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Tour's Integrity Program raises gambling questions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 17, 2018, 7:00 pm

The video begins with an eye-opening disclaimer: “Sport betting markets produce revenues of $1 trillion each year.”

For all the seemingly elementary elements of the 15-minute video PGA Tour players have been required to watch as part of the circuit’s newly created Integrity Program, it’s the enormity of the industry – $1 trillion annually – that concerns officials.

There are no glaring examples of how sport betting has impacted golf, no red flags that sent Tour officials into damage control; just a realization that with that kind of money it’s best to be proactive.

“It's important that in that world, you can operate not understanding what's happening week in and week out, or you can assume that all of our players and everybody in our ecosystem understands that that's not an acceptable activity, or you can just be proactive and clarify and educate,” Tour commissioner Jay Monahan explained earlier this month. “That's what we have attempted to do not with just the video, but with all of our communication with our players and will continue to do that.”

But if clarification is the goal, a copy of the training video obtained by GolfChannel.com paints a different picture.



Although the essence of the policy is straightforward – “prohibit players from betting on professional golf” – the primary concern, at least if the training video is any indication, is on match fixing; and warns players to avoid divulging what is considered “inside information.”

“I thought the questions were laughable. They were all like first-grade-level questions,” Chez Reavie said. “I would like to think everyone out here already knows the answer to those questions. But the Tour has to protect themselves.”

Monahan explained that the creation of the integrity policy was not in reaction to a specific incident and every player asked last week at the Sony Open said they had never encountered any type of match fixing.

“No, not at all,” Reavie said. “I have friends who will text me from home after a round, ‘Oh, I bet on you playing so-and-so.’ But I make it clear I don’t want to know. I don’t gamble like that. No one has ever approached me about losing a match.”

It was a common answer, but the majority of the video focuses on how players can avoid being placed in a compromising situation that could lead to match fixing. It should be noted that gamblers can place wagers on head-to-head matchups, provided by betting outlets, during stroke-play rounds of tournaments – not just in match-play competitions.

Part of the training video included questions players must answer to avoid violating the policy. An example of this was how a player should respond when asked, “Hello, buddy! Well played today. I was following your progress. I noticed your partner pulled out of his approach on 18, looked like his back. Is he okay for tomorrow?”

The correct answer from a list of options was, “I don’t know, sorry. I’m sure he will get it looked at if it’s bothering him.”

You get the idea, but for some players the training created more questions.

How, for example, should a player respond when asked how he’s feeling by a fan?

“The part I don’t understand, let’s say a member of your club comes out and watches you on the range hitting balls, he knows you’re struggling, and he bets against you. Somehow, some way that could come back to you, according to what I saw on that video,” said one player who asked not to be identified.

Exactly what constitutes a violation is still unclear for some who took the training, which was even more concerning considering the penalties for a violation of the policy.

The first violation is a warning and a second infraction will require the player to retake the training program, but a third violation is a fine “up to $500,000” or “the amount illegally received from the betting activity.” A sixth violation is a lifetime ban from the Tour.

Players are advised to be mindful of what they post on social media and to “refrain from talking about odds or betting activity.” The latter could be an issue considering how often players discuss betting on other sports.

Just last week at the Sony Open, Kevin Kisner and Justin Thomas had a “friendly” wager on the College Football Playoff National Championship. Kisner, a Georgia fan, lost the wager and had to wear an Alabama football jersey while playing the 17th hole last Thursday.

“If I'd have got the points, he'd have been wearing [the jersey], and I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner said. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

It’s unclear to some if Kisner’s remark, which was a joke and didn’t have anything to do with golf, would be considered a violation. From a common sense standpoint, Kisner did nothing wrong, but the uncertainty is an issue.

Much like drug testing, which the Tour introduced in 2008, few, if any, think sport betting is an issue in golf; but also like the anti-doping program, there appears to be the danger of an inadvertent and entirely innocent violation.

The Tour is trying to be proactive and the circuit has a trillion reasons to get out in front of what could become an issue, but if the initial reaction to the training video is any indication they may want to try a second take.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.