Cut Line: Party at Arnie's place

By Rex HoggardMarch 17, 2017, 9:14 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – In a St. Patrick’s Day edition, the PGA Tour returns to Arnie’s place for a party befitting a King, the membership at Muirfield guarantees the Open party will return to the East Lothian coast with a long-overdue vote and Cody Gribble goes full animal house at Bay Hill.

Made Cut

Fit for a King. From the new statue adjacent to the first tee at Bay Hill, to Wednesday’s opening ceremony, which included an impressive display of some 70 Tour players teeing off in succession, the first Arnold Palmer Invitational without the King has touched all the right notes.

The goal of organizers was to not make this week’s event another memorial for Palmer, who passed away in September, but instead a celebration of a truly remarkable life.

The ceremonies and attention to detail, including Palmer’s golf cart parked adjacent to the 16th green, have been impressive, but what has really made the week special are the stories – so many stories.

“I was fortunate and honored that Mr. Palmer even knew my name, because I didn't play in his generation,” Lucas Glover said. “But every time I came here, he knew my name and was respectful to me and I returned that favor. And all of us out here owe a lot to that man and I'm honored to be here this week and every week we get to come here.”

The 2017 API has been a celebration, not a funeral. Just the way Palmer would have wanted it.

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Second time’s a charm. The membership of Muirfield voted to allow female members this week, a move that failed to pass last year.

The vote was followed quickly by news that the R&A would allow Muirfield back into the rotation to host The Open, which was not a surprise given the club’s history with the championship and how highly regarded the layout is among some competitors.

That it took two votes for the club to allow female members, however, didn’t sit well with everyone, most notably Rory McIlroy.

“In this day and age, where you've got women that are the leaders of certain industries and women that are heads of state and not to be able to join a golf course? I mean, it's obscene,” McIlroy said. “I still think that it got to the stage, this stage, is horrendous. We'll go back and we'll play The Open, because they will let women members in, but every time I go to Muirfield now I won't have a great taste in my mouth.”

Good news, bad news. News this week that Tiger Woods is healthy enough to travel was encouraging given the last update on the 14-time major champion’s health, but we still aren’t sure how close he may be to actually playing Tour golf again.

Woods will be at a Barnes & Noble in New York City on Monday for a book signing involving his new novel on the 1997 Masters, but there was no update on whether he’ll be healthy enough to play next month’s Masters.

He withdrew from the Omega Dubai Desert Classic earlier this year, skipped the Genesis Open, which he hosts, and this week’s stop at Bay Hill, which he’s won eight times, with an ailing back. So the fact that he’s healthy enough to travel to New York City should be considered progress of sorts, but it doesn’t exactly fill Cut Line with optimism.

Tweet of the week: @bowdo83 (Steven Bowditch) “Watching @PGATOURLIVE is a great way to see where I should attack my par putts from. #kidsdoyourhomework”

It’s not been an easy few months for the Australian, who has missed the cut in 15 of his last 16 starts, but it’s refreshingly endearing that Bowditch has chosen to take the glass-half-full approach.

Missed Cut

Gator tails. Cody Gribble didn’t know he was on camera, nor was he trying to become an Internet sensation, but it’s not often a Tour event devolves into an episode of Man vs. Gator, so the attention is understandable.

Gribble was strolling down the sixth fairway on Thursday at Bay Hill when he came upon an 8-foot alligator resting on the edge of a pond and gave the gator a tap on the tail.

“The gator looked like he needed some exercise, I don't know. But he was sitting right there in the way and, you know, I guess I was trying to get some adrenaline going somehow, but I wasn't really afraid of it,” he said.

Gribble said he’s had similar exchanges with alligators on the golf course. He even said he’s caught one before, but they’ve never been quick enough to get a clean bite at him.

While that kind of quick reaction is admirable and Gribble is by all accounts one of the circuit’s genuine up-and-coming stars, it’s a commonly held notion that amateur golfers often copy what they see Tour players do on TV.

So consider this a public service announcement. Don’t try this at home. Please.

Tweet of the week II: @CodyGribble (Cody Gribble) “Gators need exercise too, no biggie guys.”

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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.