Cut Line: A Pat on the (come)back

By Rex HoggardOctober 13, 2017, 1:36 pm

The PGA Tour’s Asian swing kicks off this week with a pair of inspiring tales; while the circuit seems to be slow-playing, or worse, ignoring, some of last season’s most inspirational stories.

Made Cut

Being Pat. A year ago Pat Perez finished tied for 33rd at the CIMB Classic, a relatively non-descript finish that the veteran has since credited for his dramatic turnaround last season.

After being sidelined for most of 2016 by a shoulder injury, Perez received a sponsor’s invitation to play the Malaysian stop in ’16 and said the event helped boost his confidence and led to his victory a few weeks later in Mexico.

Asked last month at the Tour Championship why he plays the CIMB Classic, Perez’s answer was distinctly Pat:

“I'll give you two reasons: Free money and free points. Three [reasons], free [airline] ticket,” he laughed. “I mean, it's a no-brainer.”

There is no cut at the event, which kicks off the circuit’s three-event Asian swing, and that means players are guaranteed to earn FedExCup points; and Perez is making the most of the opportunity with rounds of 66-65 to take a one-stroke lead at TPC Kuala Lumpur.

“How could I possibly not go?” he said. “I'm not that big-time to act like I'm too good to go.”

Picking up the pieces. Paul Casey left East Lake quietly last month, no smile, no easy laugh. He’d come close, again, and he’d come up short, again.

After starting the final round of the Tour Championship with a two-stroke lead, he limped home with a 73 to finish fifth, the third time in four playoff events he failed convert a Sunday opportunity. He doesn’t need to be reminded that he’s now eight years removed from his lone PGA Tour victory (2009 Shell Houston Open) or that at 40 years old he’s closer to the end of his career than the beginning.

The Englishman could have gone home and spent a few weeks lamenting his play and pouting, but that’s not his style. Instead, he went back to work this week and rebounded from an opening 77 at the CIMB Classic with a second-round 63 to move into a tie for 23rd.

Casey said at East Lake that his second Tour victory was just around the corner. Perhaps, but he ended up on the right side of the cut this week because he refuses to stop trying.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Time for courage. Last week the Tour announced that Justin Thomas had won the circuit’s Player of the Year Award and Xander Schauffele had collected top-rookie honors, a pair of obvious winners that probably didn’t even need a vote.

Missing from those announcements, however, was whether the circuit plans to dole out the Courage Award this season. The Courage Award was created in 2012 for “a player who, through courage and perseverance, has overcome extraordinary adversity (such as personal tragedy or a debilitating injury or illness).”

Although the award hasn’t been given out since 2015, there would seem to be a few worthy candidates this season. Gary Woodland advanced to the Tour Championship following a difficult year that included the loss of one child due to complications during pregnancy and the premature birth of his son (he said at East Lake that his son, Jaxson, is doing much better).

Patrick Cantlay would also seem to qualify as a candidate following years of lingering back issues and the tragic loss of his caddie, who died in a hit-and-run accident earlier this year. Despite all this, Cantlay advanced to East Lake after making just 13 starts last season.

The Courage Award, which is voted on by Tour commissioner Jay Monahan and the four player directors, was always going to be an occasional accomplishment, but if Woodland and Cantlay’s seasons don’t qualify as courageous we’re not sure what does.

Long ball. While we’re leaving the more esoteric debate over how increased driving distances impact the modern game for another day, it’s worth noting that last season’s Tour average was 292.5 yards, a 2 1/2 yard gain over the 2015-16 season.

In fact, it’s a record average, but the more concerning statistic to come out of the season-ending numbers crunch was this: 17 years ago only one player (John Daly) averaged over 300 yards off the tee. That number ballooned to 43 last season.

Although you can dress up statistics however you’d like, continued distance gains will only make the powers that be (USGA and R&A) intensify their efforts to reel in the long ball, and that’s probably not going to be painless for anyone involved.


Missed Cut

Fully booked. Although much has been made of the Tour’s endless schedule and non-existent off-season, the bigger issue is how the wrap-around concept has impacted players graduating from the Web.com Tour.

For the second consecutive year, the secondary circuit’s finale was impacted by weather that led to a Monday finish, which under normal circumstances wouldn’t be a huge concern. But for the 50 players vying to secure their status in the Big Leagues it did create a problem with the PGA Tour’s season opener looming just two days and a cross-country flight away.

Included in that list was Chesson Hadley, who won both the regular season and finals money list. After finishing tied for 46th at the Web.com Tour Championship in Atlantic Beach, Fla., he opened the new season with rounds of 72-61-70-73 to finish tied for third in Napa, Calif. It’s too much golf in too small of a window, and it doesn’t have to be this way.

The Web.com Tour schedule is riddled with early holes – with this season’s line up featuring two events in January, two in February and just one in March – that could help space out events and ease the late-season crunch.

There’s no scenario that leads to a real off-season for the PGA Tour, but the Web.com Tour needs a break.

Tweet of the week: @chessonhadley (Chesson Hadley) “My caddie told me this week that this was our 19 [of] 21 weeks in a row competing. I just landed in Raleigh [N.C.] and home feels so good. Off week baby!”

 

 

Vegas lists Woods at 20-1 to win a major in 2018

By Will GrayNovember 22, 2017, 12:53 pm

He hasn't hit a competitive shot in nearly a year, but that hasn't stopped one Las Vegas outlet from listing Tiger Woods among the favorites to win a major in 2018.

The Westgate Las Vegas Superbook published betting odds this week on dozens of players to win any of the four majors next year. Leading the pack were Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth at 3/2, with Rory McIlroy next. But not far behind was Woods, who has been sidelined since February because of a back injury but was listed at 20/1.

Woods will make his much-anticipated return next week at the Hero World Challenge, and next month he will turn 42. Next summer will mark the 10-year anniversary of his last major championship victory, a sudden-death playoff win over Rocco Mediate at the 2008 U.S. Open.

Here's a look at the odds for several marquee players on winning any of the four biggest events in golf next year:

3/2: Dustin Johnson, Jordan Spieth

5/2: Rory McIlroy

7/2: Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Rickie Fowler, Jason Day

9/2: Justin Rose

5/1: Brooks Koepka

15/2: Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Paul Casey

10/1: Adam Scott

12/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Tyrrell Hatton, Matt Kuchar, Phil Mickelson, Marc Leishman, Thomas Pieters, Patrick Reed

15/1: Daniel Berger, Matthew Fitzpatrick, Patrick Cantlay, Branden Grace, Kevin Kisner, Alex Noren, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Charl Schwartzel, Brandt Snedeker, Bubba Watson

20/1: Tiger Woods, Francesco Molinari, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Tony Finau, Martin Kaymer

25/1: Ryan Moore, Zach Johnson, Webb Simpson, Lee Westwood, Jimmy Walker, Kevin Chappell, Bryson DeChambeau, Bill Haas, Jason Dufner, Charley Hoffman

30/1: Pat Perez, Gary Woodland, Bernd Wiesberger, Brian Harman, Padraig Harrington, Emiliano Grillo, Ross Fisher, Si Woo Kim, J.B. Holmes

Open Qualifying Series kicks off with Aussie Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 4:24 pm

The 147th Open is nearly eight months away, but there are still major championship berths on the line this week in Australia.

The Open Qualifying Series kicks off this week, a global stretch of 15 event across 10 different countries that will be responsible for filling 46 spots in next year's field at Carnoustie. The Emirates Australian Open is the first event in the series, and the top three players among the top 10 who are not otherwise exempt will punch their tickets to Scotland.

In addition to tournament qualifying opportunities, the R&A will also conduct four final qualifying events across Great Britain and Ireland on July 3, where three spots will be available at each site.

Here's a look at the full roster of tournaments where Open berths will be awarded:

Emirates Australian Open (Nov. 23-26): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Joburg Open (Dec. 7-10): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

SMBC Singapore Open (Jan. 18-21): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Mizuno Open (May 24-27): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

HNA Open de France (June 28-July 1): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The National (June 28-July 1): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 12 and ties

Dubai Duty Free Irish Open (July 5-8): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

The Greenbrier Classic (July 5-8): Top four players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

Aberdeen Standard Investments Scottish Open (July 12-15): Top three players (not otherwise exempt) among top 10 and ties

John Deere Classic (July 12-15): Top player (not otherwise exempt) among top five and ties

Stock Watch: Lexi, Justin rose or fall this week?

By Ryan LavnerNovember 21, 2017, 2:36 pm

Each week on GolfChannel.com, we’ll examine which players’ stocks and trends are rising and falling in the world of golf.

RISING

Jon Rahm (+9%): Just imagine how good he’ll be in the next few years, when he isn’t playing all of these courses for the first time. With no weaknesses in his game, he’s poised for an even bigger 2018.

Austin Cook (+7%): From Monday qualifiers to Q-School to close calls on the Web.com, it hasn’t been an easy road to the big leagues. Well, he would have fooled us, because it looked awfully easy as the rookie cruised to a win in just his 14th Tour start.

Ariya (+6%): Her physical tools are as impressive as any on the LPGA, and if she can shore up her mental game – she crumbled upon reaching world No. 1 – then she’ll become the world-beater we always believed she could be.  

Tommy Fleetwood (+4%): He ran out of gas in Dubai, but no one played better on the European Tour this year than Fleetwood, Europe’s new No. 1, who has risen from 99th to 18th in the world.   

Lexi (+1%): She has one million reasons to be pleased with her performance this year … but golf fans are more likely to remember the six runners-up and two careless mistakes (sloppy marking at the ANA and then a yippy 2-footer in the season finale) that cost her a truly spectacular season.


FALLING

J-Rose (-1%): Another high finish in Dubai, but his back-nine 38, after surging into the lead, was shocking. It cost him not just the tournament title, but also the season-long race.  

Hideki (-2%): After getting blown out at the Dunlop Phoenix, he made headlines by saying there’s a “huge gap” between he and winner Brooks Koepka. Maybe something was lost in translation, but Matsuyama being too hard on himself has been a familiar storyline the second half of the year. For his sake, here’s hoping he loosens up.

Golf-ball showdown (-3%): Recent comments by big-name stars and Mike Davis’ latest salvo about the need for a reduced-flight ball could set up a nasty battle between golf’s governing bodies and manufacturers.

DL3 (-4%): Boy, the 53-year-old is getting a little too good at rehab – in recent years, he has overcome a neck fusion, foot injury, broken collarbone and displaced thumb. Up next is hip-replacement surgery.

LPGA Player of the Year (-5%): Sung Hyun Park and So Yeon Ryu tied for the LPGA’s biggest prize, with 162 points. How is there not a tiebreaker in place, whether it’s scoring average or best major performance? Talk about a buzzkill.

Titleist's Uihlein fires back at Davis over distance

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 21, 2017, 12:59 am

Consider Titleist CEO Wally Uihlein unmoved by Mike Davis' comments about the evolution of the golf ball – and unhappy.

In a letter to the Wall Street Journal, the outlet which first published Davis' comments on Sunday, Uihlein took aim at the idea that golf ball distance gains are hurting the sport by providing an additional financial burden to courses.

"Is there any evidence to support this canard … the trickle-down cost argument?” he wrote (via Golf.com). “Where is the evidence to support the argument that golf course operating costs nationwide are being escalated due to advances in equipment technology?"

Pointing the blame elsewhere, Uihlein criticized the choices and motivations of modern architects.

"The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate," he wrote.

The Titleist CEO even went as far as to suggest that Tiger Woods' recent comments that "we need to do something about the golf ball" were motivated by the business interersts of Woods' ball sponsor, Bridgestone.

"Given Bridgestone’s very small worldwide market share and paltry presence in professional golf, it would seem logical they would have a commercial motive making the case for a reduced distance golf ball," he added.

Acushnet Holdings, Titleist's parent company, announced in September that Uihlein would be stepping down as the company's CEO at the end of this year but that he will remain on the company's board of directors.