Cut Line: Players changing course in different ways

By Rex HoggardAugust 4, 2017, 6:43 pm

Another player-caddie split highlights this week’s edition, with Rory McIlroy deciding he can’t be a part of two until he’s a better one; while Phil Mickelson may end up being the one on the outside looking into a U.S. team room for the first time in more than two decades.

Made Cut

Bae’s back. Last we saw Sangmoon Bae he was battling the emotions of a lost Presidents Cup match, a pivotal 2-up decision to Bill Haas, and bound for two years of uncertainty.

Following those ’15 matches in South Korea, Bae reported for a two-year mandatory military obligation, which ends on Aug. 16. When the 31-year-old was forced to forego a burgeoning career to report for duty, the Tour added a regulation that would allow a player to keep his status after fulfilling this type of mandatory commitment, which means he can pick up where he left off when the new season starts in October.

Bae’s manager with All That Sports told Cut Line he plans to play a Korean PGA Tour event in September before beginning his comeback on the U.S. tour this fall.

Too often in the past a case like Bae’s would have fallen through the cracks, and he would have fulfilled his obligation only to face an uncertain future.

But thanks to some proactive governance, he has an opportunity, and for a player as talented as Bae that’s all he would want.

Changing paths. Rory McIlroy doesn’t like the term sacked or axed or even fired, so instead of a pink slip for his former caddie J.P. Fitzgerald the Northern Irishman went with a less-loaded term.

“I just changed my path a little bit,” McIlroy said this week of his split with Fitzgerald, who had been with the world’s fourth-ranked player for the better part of nine years.

McIlroy went on to explain that he needed to go in a different direction to “preserve a personal relationship,” and while that may sound a little like “it’s not you, it’s me,” the truth is the vast majority of player-caddie relationships aren’t built to last.

Look no further than the recent split of Phil Mickelson and his longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. As one caddie opined after hearing the news of Lefty’s split with Bones, “the fairytale is over.”

What McIlroy does next is always the ultimate litmus test, and it’s worth noting his first round without Fitzgerald on the bag on Thursday (67) he dubbed “awesome,” but give Rory credit for not being averse to change, even if that change was extremely personal.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

SC featured. With the ease of a fade-away three-pointer at the buzzer, Steph Curry silenced any and all critics of his moonlighting gig this week on the Tour.

The Golden State star opened with a 74 at the Ellie Mae Classic. That was a stroke better than playing partner Sam Ryder, who won two weeks ago on the developmental circuit, and two clear of Frank Lickliter II, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour.

Now, full disclosure demands we point out that Curry was five strokes outside the cut line after Day 1 and nine shots off the lead. But regardless of what happens on Friday, Curry’s play was impressive, inspired even.

What lands the Tour event in the MDF category this week is a growing concern among players on how sponsor exemptions are doled out. While Curry’s pass checked off all the right boxes – fan interest, competitive relevance, local ties – there are too many times when exemptions on the secondary tour go to the biggest name and not the most deserving player.

As entertaining as Curry’s play has been this week, this should be the exception not the rule.

Tweet(s) of the week: @wheatiePGA (Steve Wheatcroft): “I hope you're trying to move the line in Vegas re: Steph. Take the over and BIG. No chance in hell [Curry] breaks 76.”

Wheatcroft, who is playing his sixth season on Tour, was responding to ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, who set the line for Curry’s debut at 76.

“Hell hath frozen over,” was Curry’s response on Twitter following his opening 74.

To Wheatcroft’s credit, he quickly owned his miscue, tweeting back to Curry: “Mad respect, bud. I have no problem eating this crow. Keep the mojo going tomorrow, and enjoy yourself out there.”

Social media can be fun.

Missed Cut

Lefty’s legacy. The last time Mickelson didn’t put on a U.S. team uniform Jordan Spieth was a 1-year-old and American Presidents Cup captain Steve Stricker was playing his first full season on Tour.

All total, Lefty has been a team room staple on 22 Presidents and Ryder Cup teams, but that career-defining streak may be nearing an end this year.

Mickelson is currently 17th on the U.S. Presidents Cup points list, 579 points behind the last qualifier at the moment No. 10 Charley Hoffman, and he likely has just four starts to make his move before the team is finalized on Sept. 4.

“I want to make that team,” Mickelson said this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “It’s more than a streak as much as it is I just love those events. I love those weeks, I love the time with the guys and I just really cherish those memories.”

Mickelson’s precarious position on the points list may end up leaving Stricker in an awkward position when the time comes to make his two captain’s selections next month. The current list of would-be captain’s picks included Gary Woodland (No. 15), Brandt Snedeker (14), Jason Dufner (13), Brian Harman (12) and Patrick Reed (11).

Unless Mickelson’s competitive fortunes change quickly, this could come down to whether Stricker wants the best available player or a team room leader.

Stay tuned.

Luke List, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood and Tiger Woods at the 2018 Honda Classic Getty Images

Honda leaders face daunting final day

By Randall MellFebruary 25, 2018, 12:46 am

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – The winner may need a cut man in his corner more than he needs a caddie on his bag in Sunday’s finish to the Honda Classic.

Smelling salts might come in handy, too.

“It just feels like you are getting punched in the face every single hole here,” Daniel Berger said of the test PGA National’s Champion Course offers. “Every single shot is so hard.”

Final rounds have been especially rough and tumble since the Honda Classic moved to PGA National in 2007.

That usually makes Sundays here as much about who can figuratively take a punch as who can throw one.

Luke List will have his jaw tested after taking sole possession of the lead Saturday with a second consecutive round of 4-under-par 66, but he can take comfort in the fact that punishment is doled plentifully around here.

“Just realizing that everyone is facing the same obstacles out there is huge,” List said. “You're not alone out there, if you make a bogey or a bad swing here or there.”

At 7-under 203, List is one shot ahead of a pair of major championship winners, Justin Thomas (65) and Webb Simpson (66). He is two ahead of Tommy Fleetwood (67), the reigning European Tour Player of the Year, and Jamie Lovemark (68).

List, 33, is seeking his first PGA Tour title in his 104th start. He will have to hold off some heavyweights, including Tiger Woods (69), who is seven shots back but feeling like he has a chance again. Woods closed with a 62 here six years ago when he finished second to Rory McIlroy.

“You never know what can happen the last few holes here,” Woods said. “A lot of things can happen and have happened in the past.”


Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Crazy things have happened here.

Three years ago, Padraig Harrington was five shots down with eight holes to play and won. He made two double bogeys in the final round but ended up beating Berger in a playoff.

Berger, by the way, was nine shots back entering the final round.

That was the year Ian Poulter took a share of lead into Sunday, hit five balls in the water and still finished just a shot out of the playoff.

Last year, Rickie Fowler made four bogeys and a double bogey in the final round and still won by four shots.

List will have a heavyweight playing alongside him in the final pairing, with 24-year-old Justin Thomas looking to claim his eighth PGA Tour title. Thomas was last season’s PGA Tour Player of the Year.

List has never held a 54-hole lead in a PGA Tour event.

“You guys build up certain players,” List said. “I know I'll be an underdog going against Justin Thomas and guys like that, which is fine.”

There is some inspiration for List in what Ted Potter Jr. did two weeks at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am. Potter, largely unknown even though he already had a PGA Tour title to his credit, held off stars Dustin Johnson, Phil Mickelson and Jason Day in the final round to win. 

Thomas earned the right to play alongside List in the final pairing Sunday with his 65, which equaled the low round of the tournament.

Thomas makes his home in nearby Jupiter and knows the punishment the Champion Course can dish out.

“It's a difficult course,” Thomas said. “If you let it get to you, it can be frustrating, but if you go into it understanding and realizing it's difficult, you just kind of embrace it and deal with it.”

Thomas played the Bear Trap’s trio of daunting holes (Nos. 15-17) in 2 under on Saturday. He birdied the 15th and 17th holes.

Fleetwood got in contention Saturday with a pair of eagles. He’s a four-time European Tour winner.

“I would love to get my first win on the PGA Tour this week,” he said. “It’s just great to be out here. It's great to be playing on courses like this that are such a test of every part of your game.”

Alex Noren, a nine-time European Tour winner, is also seeking his first PGA Tour title. He is three shots back. He lost in a playoff to Day at the Farmers Insurance Open last month.

Though this is just Noren’s second start at the Honda Classic, he knows how wildly momentum can swing on the Champion Course. He shot 65 Saturday after shooting 75 on Friday.

“I’m a few back, but anything can happen,” Noren said.

That’s the theme around here.

Getty Images

Thomas: Winning hometown Honda would 'mean a lot'

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:53 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Justin Thomas is trying to join Rickie Fowler as a winner of his hometown event.

Thomas will play in the final group alongside Luke List on Sunday at the Honda Classic after matching the low round of the week with a 5-under 65. He is at 6-under 204, one shot back of List.

The reigning PGA Tour Player of the Year is one of several residents of nearby Jupiter. After Fowler won last year, Thomas (who missed the cut) returned to the course to congratulate his neighbor on his fourth Tour title.

“I hope I give him the opportunity or the choice to come back,” Thomas said. “But I’ve got a lot of golf in front of me before I worry about him coming here.”

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

More important to Thomas, however, is winning this event, which is played at PGA National, one of the most difficult non-major courses on Tour.

“It would mean a lot,” he said. “It means a lot to win any golf tournament, but it would mean more because of how prestigious this golf tournament is and the list of winners that have won this event, how strong of a field it is, how difficult of a golf course.

“A decent number of my wins have been on easier golf courses, so it would be cool to get it done at a place like this.”

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Woods paired with hotshot rookie Burns at Honda

By Ryan LavnerFebruary 24, 2018, 11:38 pm

PALM BEACH GARDENS, Fla. – Rookie Sam Burns will be in the biggest spot of his career Sunday – playing alongside Tiger Woods.

Burns, the reigning Nicklaus Award winner who turned pro after two standout years at LSU, will go off with Woods at 12:45 p.m. at the Honda Classic.

Burns, 20, who earned his Tour card via Q-School, is playing this week on a sponsor exemption, his fourth of the season. He is 13th on the money list this year, after a tie for second two weeks ago in Colombia.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

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Burns and Woods are tied for 11th, at even-par 210.

Sunday is an important round for Burns, who can earn a spot into the Valspar Championship with a top-10 finish here.

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List leads Honda; Thomas one back

By Golf Channel DigitalFebruary 24, 2018, 11:25 pm

Luke List, one of a legion of PGA Tour players who live in Jupiter, just two exits up I-95 from PGA National, shot a 4-under 66 on Saturday to take a one-shot lead after three rounds of the Honda Classic. Here's how things stand going into the final round at PGA National:

Leaderboard: Luke List (-7), Justin Thomas (-6), Webb Simpson (-6), Tommy Fleetwood (-5), Jamie Lovemark (-5), Alex Noren (-4) 

What it means: Leader List has played well this season, with no finish lower than T-26 in six starts. Thomas, of course, is the reigning Player of the Year. The next best pedigree among the leaders belongs to Simpson, winner of the 2012 U.S. Open and three other PGA Tour titles.

Round of the day: Thomas and Noren both shot 5-under 65s. Thomas made two of his six birdies in the Bear Trap (at the par 3s, Nos. holes 15 and17), while Noren played that stretch (15-17) in 1 over. Noren made his hay elsewhere, including an eagle at the last that canceled out his two bogeys.

Full-field scores from the Honda Classic

Honda Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Best of the rest: List, Simpson and Kelly Kraft all shot 66.

Biggest disappointment: After an opening 76, Jimmy Walker probably thought he was back on track with a 68 that allowed him to make the cut. Alas, the improvement was temporary, as he ballooned back to a 74 on Saturday.

Shot of the day: Tommy Fleetwood hit a fairway wood from 282 yards to within 8 feet of the cup on the 18th hole. He then made the putt for his second eagle of the day.

Quote of the day: "The course played a fair bit easier with not as much wind." - Thomas

Biggest storyline going into Sunday: List may be in the lead, but most eyes will be on Thomas, a five-time winner last year who has yet to lift a trophy in 2018. And of course, more than a few people will be keeping tabs on Tiger Woods. He'll begin the day seven shots back, trying to channel Tiger of 2012 - when he posted a 62 on Sunday at PGA National (which was good only for a runner-up finish to Rory McIlroy).