Cut Line: Phil's feelin' it

By Rex HoggardJanuary 13, 2012, 9:33 pm

No need for a caucus or a primary, the PGA Tour has their man for another four years, and beyond, but Tim Finchem’s inauguration gift is more trouble in paradise. Why is it that “aloha” is starting to sound more and more like “goodbye” for the circuit?

Made Cut

The return of touchy, feely. Fresh from one of his worst putting years as a professional, which sent Phil Mickelson spiraling outside the top 100 in most putting categories and into the unorthodox clutches of a long putter, it is encouraging to hear Lefty is going back to something a little more unscientific.

“Phil has committed himself to playing more freely and mentally to getting away from mechanics,” said Mickelson’s swing coach Butch Harmon, who spent last week in Scottsdale, Ariz., working with the left-hander.

Eschewing mechanics may not be the answer, but a free-swinging Lefty is an entertaining Lefty.

Four more years. No, this isn’t a plea to keep President Barack Obama in the White House. It is in response to the PGA Tour Policy Board’s decision to extend commissioner Tim Finchem’s time in the Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., big house.

The board extended Finchem’s contract through 2016 and although he’s not always been the most transparent commissioner – his dogged reluctance to publish player fines continues to be a curious diversion from the pro sport status quo – the former lobbyist is credited with guiding the circuit through one of its most challenging chapters.

Despite a prolonged recession and Tiger Woods’ 2009 scandal, Finchem maintained a full schedule, extended the circuit’s contracts with NBC Sports and CBS Sports through the next decade and, according to various reports, is close to renewing FedEx as the sponsor of the season-long points race and signing Hyundai to replace Nationwide as the umbrella sponsor of the secondary circuit.

Nor does this seem to be Finchem’s swan song. Although he will be 69 when his current contract expires, he didn’t sound like a man who is easing happily toward his golden years late Wednesday when Cut Line caught up with him.

“When I first became commissioner after five or six years people would ask me how long I wanted to do this,” Finchem said. “I don’t have a particular time frame in mind. I think it has to do with what’s best for the organization. ... I’m getting a little older so you have to ask yourself those questions a little more often, but I’m not worried about that right now.”

Magic Whan. The LPGA, for so long a “sell” item on the golf landscape, may be the leading candidate for comeback player of the year in 2012.

The circuit released its ’12 schedule this week to widespread acclaim. The 27-event lineup includes four more events than the 2011 schedule and a total purse that is nearly $7 million more than last year.

“We’re going in the right direction, and the best news is that I don’t think we are done yet,” said Mike Whan, the circuit’s second-year commissioner. “It is fun announcing this schedule, but it’s more exciting to me knowing there is more just around the corner.”

Seems rumors of the LPGA’s death were greatly exaggerated.

Tweet of the week: @JasonGore59 “Thank you everyone! Absolutely amazing!”

Gore was referring to a Twitter campaign that landed him a coveted sponsor exemption into the Northern Trust Open. It’s time, tweeps, to turn your considerable powers to something even more pressing – #SlowPlay.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Imperfect paradise. Much was made of the less-than-stellar field at last week’s Hyundai Tournament of Champions and an extended conversation with a Tour official made Cut Line realize that sometimes there is just no painting around warts.

For 10 minutes the official outlined why the half-dozen or so no-shows skipped Kapalua. By all accounts they were excused absences, from Lucas Glover’s paddle-boarding miscue to an assortment of New Year’s newborns.

So the question remains, other than outlawing paddle boarding and baby making how do you improve on a no-cut, free-money event held in paradise on a golf course with more room to miss than a Texas driving range?

That there is no material answer may be the most concerning thing of all.

Tweet of the week II: @Elkpga (Steve Elkington) “Possible pairing for AT&T. Is Tiger (Woods) and (Tim) Tebow? Awkward. What do they talk about for three days?”

Missed Cut

The slow standard. Carping about slow play on Tour has become a cliché, like spotless black courtesy cars and anything John Daly does, but last week’s display at Kapalua renewed calls for something to be done.

Despite a 27-man field and a tee sheet of twosomes, the weekend telecast consistently went long because of the languid pace of play. “It’s not that hard, be ready when it’s your turn. Slow play is killing our sport,” world No. 1 Luke Donald tweeted.

Some complain that Tour officials are to blame for not issuing fines, but monetary penalties will not solve this. If the circuit wanted to get tough on slow play, they would assess one-shot penalties for every violation after an initial warning and publish the names of habitual offenders.

Writing checks is easy. Being saddled as a snail, well that doesn’t wash off.

Cross signals from the Crosby. Cyberspace is abuzz over which amateur, Tim Tebow or Tony Romo, Tiger Woods will be paired with when he makes his Tour debut next month at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am. Remember the days when we would get worked up over which pro Woods was going to be paired with?

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Tiger's checklist: How he can contend at Augusta

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 21, 2018, 8:31 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Augusta is already on the minds of most players here at the Honda Classic, and that includes the only one in the field with four green jackets.

Yes, Tiger Woods has been talking about the Masters ever since he started this latest comeback at Torrey Pines. These three months are all about trying to build momentum for the year’s first major.

Woods hasn’t revealed his schedule past this week, but his options are limited. He’s a good bet to play at the Arnold Palmer Invitational, where he has won eight times, but adding another start would be a departure from the norm. He’s not eligible for the two World Golf Championship events, in Mexico and Austin, and he has never played the Valspar Championship or the Houston Open.

So there’s a greater sense of urgency this week at PGA National, which is realistically one of his final tune-ups.

How will Woods know if he’s ready to contend at Augusta? Here’s his pre-Masters checklist:

1. Stay healthy

So far, so good, as Woods tries to resume a normal playing schedule following four back surgeries since 2014. Though he vowed to learn from his past mistakes and not push himself, it was a promising sign that Woods felt strong enough to sign up for the Honda, the second of back-to-back starts on separate coasts.

Another reason for optimism on the health front: The soreness that Woods felt after his season opener at Torrey Pines wasn’t related to his surgically repaired back. No, what ached most were his feet – he wasn’t used to walking 72 holes on hilly terrain.

Woods is stiffer than normal, but that’s to be expected. His back is fused.

2. Figure out his driver

Augusta National is more forgiving off the tee than most major courses, putting more of a premium on approach shots and recoveries.

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That’s good news for Woods, who has yet to find a reliable tee shot. Clearly, he is most comfortable playing a fade and wants to take the left side of the course out of play, but in competition he’s been plagued by a two-way miss.

In two starts this year, Woods has hit only 36 percent of the fairways, no matter if he was using driver, fairway wood or long iron.

Unfortunately, Woods is unlikely to gain any significant insight into his driver play this week. PGA National’s Champion Course isn’t overly long, but there is water on 15 of the 18 holes. As a result, he said he likely will hit driver only four times a round, maybe five, and otherwise rely on his 3-wood and 2-iron. 

Said Rory McIlroy: “Being conservative off the tee is something that you have to do here to play well.”

That won’t be the case at Augusta.

3. Clean up his iron play

As wayward as Woods has been off the tee, his iron play hasn’t impressed, either.

At Riviera, he hit only 16 greens in regulation – his fewest in a Tour event as a professional. Of course, Woods’ chances of hitting the green are reduced when he’s playing from the thick rough, sand and trees, but he also misfired on six of the eight par 3s.

Even when Woods does find the green, he’s not close enough to the hole. Had he played enough rounds to qualify, his proximity to the hole (39 feet, 7 inches) would rank 161st on Tour.

That won’t be good enough at Augusta, where distance control and precision are paramount.

Perhaps that’s why Justin Thomas said last week what many of us were thinking: “I would say he’s a pretty good ways away.”

4. Get into contention somewhere

As much as he would have liked to pick off a win on the West Coast, Woods said that it’s not a prerequisite to have a chance at the Masters. He cited 2010, when he tied for fourth despite taking four months off after the fallout from his scandal.

In reality, though, there hasn’t been an out-of-nowhere Masters champion since Charl Schwartzel in 2011. Since then, every player who eventually donned the green jacket either already had a win that year or at least a top-3 finish worldwide.

“I would like to play well,” Woods said. “I would like to win golf tournaments leading into it. The years I’ve won there, I’ve played really well early.”

Indeed, he had at least one win in all of the years he went on to win the Masters (1997, 2000, ’01, ’05). Throw in the fact that Woods is nearly five years removed from his last Tour title, and it’s reasonable to believe that he at least needs to get himself into contention before he can seriously entertain winning another major.

And so that’s why he’s here at the Honda, trying to find his game with seven weeks to go. 

“It’s tournament reps,” he said, “and I need tournament reps.”

Add that to the rest of his pre-Masters checklist.

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Players winner to get 3-year exemption into PGA

By Rex HoggardFebruary 21, 2018, 8:01 pm

Although The Players isn’t golf’s fifth major, it received a boost in that direction this week.

The PGA of America has adjusted its criteria for eligibility into the PGA Championship, extending an exemption for the winner of The Players to three years.

According to an official with the PGA of America, the association felt the winner of The Players deserved more than a single-year exemption, which had been the case, and the move is consistent with how the PGA Tour’s annual flagship event is treated by the other majors.

Winners of The Players were already exempt for three years into the Masters, U.S. Open and The Open Championship.

The change will begin with this year’s PGA Championship.

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Thomas: Playing in front of Tiger even more chaotic

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:52 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas may be going from the frying pan to the fire of Tiger Woods’ pairings.

Translation: He’s going from being grouped with Woods last week in the first two rounds at the Genesis Open to being grouped directly in front of Woods this week at the Honda Classic.

“Which might be even worse than playing with him,” Thomas said Wednesday.

Typically, the pairing in front of Woods deals with a lot of gallery movement, with fans racing ahead to get in position to see Woods’ next shot.

Thomas was quoted after two rounds with Tiger at Riviera saying fans “got a little out of hand,” and saying it’s disappointing some golf fans today think it’s “so amusing to yell and all that stuff while we’re trying to hit shots.”

With 200,000 fans expected this week at the Honda Classic, and with the Goslings Bear Trap pavilion setting a party mood at the 16th green and 17th tee, that portion of the course figures to be quite lively at PGA National.

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Thomas was asked about that.

“I touched on this a little bit last week,” Thomas said. “I think it got blown out of proportion, was just taken out of context, and worded differently than how I said it or meant it.

“I love the fans. The fans are what I hope to have a lot of, what all of us hope to have a lot of. We want them cheering us on. But it's those certain fans that are choosing to yell at the wrong times, or just saying stuff that's completely inappropriate.”

Thomas said it’s more than ill-timed shouts. It’s the nature of some things being said.

“It's one thing if it's just you and I talking, but when you're around kids, when you're around women, when you're around families, or just around people in general, some of the stuff they are saying to us is just extremely inappropriate,” he said. “There’s really no place for it anywhere, especially on a golf course.

“I feel like golf is pretty well known as a classy sport, not that other sports aren't, but it has that reputation.”

Thomas said the nature of the 17th hole at PGA National’s Champion Course makes it a more difficult tee shot than the raucous 16th at the Waste Management Phoenix Open. Typically, players like to hear fans get into the action before or after they hit shots. Ill-timed bluster, however, makes a shot like the one at Honda’s 17th even tougher.

“That hole is hard enough,” Thomas said. “I don't need someone yelling in my ear on my backswing that I'm going to hit it in the water, to make it any harder. I hope it gets better, just for the sake of the game. That's not helping anything. That's not helping grow the game.”

Those who follow golf know an ill-timed shout in a player’s backswing is different than anything a fan says at a football, basketball or baseball game. An ill-timed comment in a backswing has a greater effect on the outcome of a competition.

“Just in terms of how much money we're playing for, how many points we're playing for ... this is our jobs out here, and you hate to somehow see something that a fan does, or something that they yell, influence something that affects [a player’s] job,” Thomas said.

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Rory: Phil said RC task force just copied Europe

By Randall MellFebruary 21, 2018, 7:21 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Playing the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am two weeks ago, Rory McIlroy quizzed Phil Mickelson about what the Americans got out of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force’s overhaul.

McIlroy and Mickelson were paired together at Pebble Beach.

“Basically, all they are doing is copying what the Europeans have done,” McIlroy said.  “That's what he said.”

The Europeans claimed their sixth of seven Ryder Cups with their victory at Gleneagles in 2014. That brought about a sea change in the way the United States approached the Ryder Cup. Mickelson called out the tactics in Gleneagles of captain Tom Watson, who was outmaneuvered by European captain Paul McGinley.

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The Americans defeated Europe at Hazeltine two years ago with that new European model.

“He said the first thing they did in that task force was Phil played a video, a 12-minute video of Paul McGinley to all of them,” McIlroy said. “So, they are copying what we do, and it's working for them. It's more cohesive, and the team and the core of that team are more in control of what they are doing, instead of the PGA of America recruiting and someone telling them what to do.”