Cut Line: PGA and PGA Tour joining forces again

By Rex HoggardJuly 4, 2014, 5:58 pm

In a red, white and bruised edition of Cut Line we look at last week’s fireworks between the PGA Tour and many of its caddies, a budding friendship between the circuit and the PGA of America and the follies of instant polling.

Made Cut

Cooperation I. It was easy to confuse Wednesday’s news conference for a long-winded filibuster about old news.

Officials from the Tour and PGA gathered at San Francisco’s City Hall to announce the worst-kept secret since the Open Championship returned to Royal Portrush.

That Harding Park was declared the center of the golf universe as host site for the 2015 WGC-Match Play Championship, 2020 PGA Championship and 2025 Presidents Cup had been well documented.

What seemed to be overlooked was the fact that the party was made up of sometimes competing organizations.

The Tour and PGA have not always played nice with one another, but Wednesday’s announcement was an undeniable détente and a sign the two organizations are firmly entrenched in the same camp.

“There was obviously a lot of give and take and a lot of respect,” PGA president Ted Bishop told on Thursday. “There has been a tremendous sense of cooperation between our organizations that has allowed us to get a lot of things done.”

Much of that cooperation began with the united front the Tour and PGA put on during last year’s anchored-putting debate, which proves once again that there is always a silver lining.

Tom’s tightrope. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson is still months away from having to name his three captain’s picks for this year’s matches, but in a scene that has become familiar in recent years the media masses want to know if Old Tom is planning to make Tiger Woods a pick if he doesn’t make the team.

Watson has clarified his stance regarding the injured alpha male, telling this week that, “If he’s playing well and he’s healthy he’s on the team.”

While some would like to interpret that broad statement as a blanket invitation for Woods to join the U.S. side later this year in Scotland, the truth is of all the recent Ryder Cup captains Watson has no interest in backing himself into a corner (see Pavin, Corey, 2010).

Woods still has plenty of time to make this year’s team, but don’t confuse Watson’s confidence for a blank check.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Cooperation II. While the Tour seems to be in an amicable mood when it comes to the PGA of America, that same cooperation doesn’t appear to be directed toward the circuit’s caddies. obtained a letter sent to the Tour last month by the Association of Professional Tour Caddies, which was formed last year in an attempt to improve working conditions for the circuit’s loopers, and secure funding for health care and retirement programs.

After numerous attempts to work out an agreement with the Tour to secure the desired funding, the APTC sent the letter dated June 17 to commissioner Tim Finchem. It doesn’t paint a pretty picture.

“The APTC has worked tirelessly to work out a mutually-beneficial structure with the Tour to achieve the above purposes, while supporting the Tour and, most importantly, its players. Nonetheless, we have generally been met with roadblocks and a lack of commitment to build a positive outcome by the Tour,” the letter read.

The Tour declined to comment about the letter, but this doesn’t appear to be the final say in the matter.

Mixed messages. In a classic goods news/bad news deal, the Tour revealed on Wednesday that the WGC-Match Play Championship will be back on next year’s schedule, but had no new information about a title sponsor or a permanent home.

The Match Play’s trip to Harding Park is an inspired choice, but only a temporary measure which has created other headaches, particularly the date swap with the Wells Fargo Championship that will likely negatively impact the field in Charlotte, N.C., one of the Tour’s best events.

Officials also announced an encouraging format change for the World Golf Championship, but until Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., secures a sponsor and a new long-term home the championship salad bowl they dole out to each year’s winner will remain half empty.

Tweet of the week. @RickieFowlerPGA (Rickie Fowler) “Friends ... a buddy of mine and I were in an accident today . . . thankful we are both ok!”

Interesting way to report news. #NewAgeMedia

Missed Cut

Rank and file. According to a Sports Illustrated poll, 64 percent of Vijay Singh’s peers think the Fijian should have been suspended for his violation of the Tour’s anti-doping policy last year.

While Singh may not be the most warm and fuzzy player, after a year covering the suspension – which was overturned when the World Anti-Doping Agency reversed its stance on deer-antler spray – know this, his lawsuit against the Tour is far from frivolous.

When all of the legal dust settles in the current bout, which could take years, many among that 64 percent will be asking to recast their votes.

Closed Open. The new qualifying for the Open Championship may make for a deeper field at the game’s oldest major, but along the way there has been plenty of collateral damage.

The Quicken Loans National and this week’s Greenbrier Classic are doubling as qualifiers, with the top-four players not already qualified who finish inside the top 12 earning a trip to Royal Liverpool.

Lost, however, is the romance of the old 36-hole qualifying, which gave players who may not have access to play in the Quicken Loans or Greenbrier events a chance of a lifetime.

The Royal & Ancient has shown no aversion to tinkering with its qualifying for the Open Championship in the past. Let’s hope they aren’t done.

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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.