Cut Line: Season in review

By Rex HoggardDecember 23, 2011, 4:30 pm

There were 1.019 million strokes taken this season by PGA Tour members, 50,841 birdies, 39,014 bogeys and more than enough heroics, hashtags and hyperbole to qualify 2011 as a happening.

This was the year words with friends became, well, less friendly, greatness was given a new benchmark in the form of a wildly understated 22-year-old from Taiwan and a new generation took a giant leap forward.

Made Cut

Rory McIlroy. In a recent interview in The Guardian the Ulsterman called 2011 “the year I grew up,” and the calendar featured miscues (Masters) and masterpieces (U.S. Open) all there for the world to diagnose and digest.

McIlroy recovered from his Masters meltdown, a closing nine of 43 that dropped him from four strokes clear of the field to begin the day to 10 shots behind eventual champion Charl Schwartzel, with a commanding performance at Congressional.

Along the way McIlroy moved to No. 2 in the World Golf Ranking, started dating No. 1 in the tennis world, tweeted before he thought when announcer Jay Townsend criticized his caddie and ran afoul of the U.K. press when he admitted “Open weather” was not his thing – as if anyone likes playing in a freezing rain.

It was hardly a flawless card, but not bad for a 22-year-old from Holywood, Northern Ireland.

Yani Tseng. Speaking of 22-year-olds, imagine the cachet a player would have following a record-breaking season of two major victories and an even dozen worldwide triumphs? An international icon, right?

Maybe not, but Tseng’s season was historic by almost every measure sans an appropriate “Q rating.” She now has five career majors and won seven LPGA events in 2011. By comparison, Tiger Woods has won seven or more PGA Tour events in a season just four times in his career.

The native of Taiwan seems poised to turn down a sponsor exemption into the Tour’s Puerto Rico Open but she may want to consider the increased competition, not to mention the additional exposure.

Tee it forward. Traditionalists can decry the evils of the long putter and juiced-up golf balls all they want, the real threat to the game is a languid pace that has trickled down from the Tour to the local tee sheet.

In July the PGA of America and U.S. Golf Association launched the “Tee it Forward” campaign with tees based on a player’s driving distance that should, in theory, speed up play.

Tierra Rejada, a Bob Cupp design north of Los Angeles, went a step further with its “Players Course,” a 5,600-yard version of the longer layout. The two biggest obstacles to growing the game are cost and pace of play. “We’re working on both,” Tierra Rejada co-owner Ted Kruger told “Cut Line.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Tiger Woods. To be fair, the body of work rates an “incomplete,” but red shirt will have to settle for a “MDF.” For the second consecutive year the former world No. 1 lost large portions of his season to injury, was forced to withdraw from The Players Championship and failed to win an official-money PGA Tour event.

Yet there were also signs of progress by way of a cup-clinching performance at Royal Melbourne (2-3-0) and drought-busting victory at the Chevron World Challenge.

It was a solid finish, but not even Woods was getting caught up in the hyperbole: “I think if I have a good year I should be on the ballot for Comeback Player of the Year,” he deadpanned at Sherwood.

Glad to see he didn’t misplace his sense of humor along the way.

Andrew “Chubby” Chandler. The affable player manager may have come within a tree root of completing the “Chubby Slam” at the PGA Championship, yet he suffered his share of slings and arrows in 2011.

Following Grand Slam victories for International Sports Management clients Schwartzel (Masters), McIlroy (U.S. Open) and Darren Clarke (British Open), Chandler’s year turned in September when Ernie Els, who had been with ISM since 2004, decided it was time for a management change.

Rock bottom for the former European Tour player may have come a month later in a lounge at Kennedy Airport in New York when McIlroy informed him “I’ve decided to move on.” Given the season’s extremes, Chandler may be thinking the same thing about 2011.

The Year of the Beard. Lucas Glover wasn’t the first Tour type to misplace his razor, but in 2011 “G-Lover’s” best Grizzly Adams beard became a bona fide trend among the play-for-pay set.

Whether it was Hunter Mahan and Kyle Stanley joining Glover with “playoff beards,” or Geoff Ogilvy and Rickie Fowler sporting 1970s-era mustaches for “Movember,' it took more than a “5 o’clock shadow” to register in 2011.

It was all enough to make Paul Azinger pine for more fresh-faced days: “In the '70s it was a $500 fine on the PGA Tour for playing with a beard,” he tweeted.

Tweet of the Year. @JustinRose99 “Winning the U.S. Open, so easy a caveman can do it.” Complete with a picture of 2009 Open champion Lucas Glover.

Missed Cut

LPGA. The way the circuit meat-handed the Lexi Thompson affair one would think the tour is overrun with world-beaters in waiting, but the truth is the LPGA needs Thompson more than the teen needed a tour card.

Whether it was simply a case of bad timing or an administrative snafu, the LPGA missed what could have amounted to a “Hello, world” moment when the 16-year-old won the Navistar LPGA Classic by five strokes. Instead, commissioner Mike Whan was on a plane to the Solheim Cup and two weeks of paperwork and posturing ensued.

The tour eventually waived its age requirement for membership (18), but the entire affair had the feel of a missed opportunity. This wasn’t about paperwork or potential. This was about a proven commodity.

Stevie Williams. First the New Zealander ran through one too many stop signs with his former boss Tiger Woods and was downsized, then he seemed to make the transition from victim to vindictive when he called his new boss Adam Scott’s victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational “the greatest week of my life caddying and I sincerely mean that.”

He completed the evolution to villain in November when he sparked a controversy with racially insensitive remarks directed at Woods during an awards dinner at the WGC-HSBC Champions in China.

Woods, in his own subtle way, put the entire affair in context when he was asked if Williams was a racist or just stupid? “Stevie's certainly not a racist, there's no doubt about that,” said Woods, leaving the rest of his answer open to interpretation.

Def. champ Fitzpatrick grabs lead at Euro finale

By Associated Press, Golf Channel DigitalNovember 17, 2017, 1:50 pm

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates – Defending champion Matthew Fitzpatrick shot a second straight 5-under-par 67 to secure a one-stroke lead halfway through the European Tour's season-ending Tour Championship on Friday.

At 10 under after two rounds on the Earth course of Jumeirah Golf Estate, Fitzpatrick leads English compatriot Tyrrell Hatton, whom he beat by one shot to win the title last year.

Hatton moved into contention with a brilliant 9-under 63, a round soured only by a closing bogey on the par-5 18th hole.

In the Race to Dubai, main protagonists Tommy Fleetwood and Justin Rose experienced contrasting emotions to their opening rounds. Fleetwood boosted his chances by rising into a tie for 11th at 6 under after a 65. Rose endured a three-putt bogey on the 18th to finish with a 70, and dropped on the leaderboard so he's just two shots ahead of Fleetwood.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia, the only other player with a chance to win the Order of Merit, stayed in contention by adding a 69 to his opening 70 to be one shot behind Fleetwood.

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Fleetwood needs to equal or better Rose's finishing position to claim the title. If Rose doesn't finish in the top five and Garcia doesn't win, Fleetwood will have done enough.

Fitzpatrick made two bogeys but eagled the 14th, and five birdies contributed to his 67.

Overnight leader Patrick Reed is now three back following an even-par 72. Reed is in the field thanks to a European Tour regulation that allows the Presidents Cup to count as an official event, thus allowing him to meet his quota of tournaments played.

Fitzpatrick was helped immensely also by the 18th, where Hatton, Rose, and Reed all made bogeys. Fitzpatrick birdied the hole for a second straight day with a 25-foot putt.

''I said to my caddie, we were putting really, really well all week so far,'' Fitzpatrick said.

''The thing is, you get so many fast putts around here, even uphill into the green, they are still running at 12, 13 (on the stimpmeter) even. You've just got to be really sort of careful. Every putt is effectively a two-putt. You've got to control your pace well and limit your mistakes, because it's easy to three-putt out here.''

Rose, hoping to win a third straight tournament after triumphs in China and Turkey, was disappointed with his finish despite playing solid golf from tee to green.

''To make six (on 18) just ends the day on the wrong note, but other than that, I played really well on the back nine,'' Rose said.

''I was aware of the scores and who had done what today. But listen, halfway stage, I'd probably have signed up for that if somebody said on Wednesday you would be in this position after two rounds. It's a position you can build on the weekend.''

Fleetwood resurrected his chances of winning the Order of Merit with a 65, eight shots better than his opening round. His only bogey of the day came on the seventh after an errant drive, but that was the only mistake on a solid day that saw him make eight birdies.

Fleetwood spent hours on the putting green after his first round.

''I needed a low one today for (a tournament win and the Order of Merit),'' he said. ''Luckily, I got a good score.''

Closing eagle gives Kirk 1-shot lead in RSM

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 12:16 am

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. - Chris Kirk holed an 18-foot putt for eagle on his final hole for a 9-under 63 and a one-shot lead Thursday in the RSM Classic.

Kirk played the par 5s on the Plantation Course at Sea Island Golf Club in 5 under.

''I kind of hit my putter on the fringe a little bit and I wasn't sure it was going to get there, but that was just kind of the day that it was,'' Kirk said. ''Even when I thought it wasn't quite going to work out, it still went in the middle of the hole.''

The seven lowest scores of the opening round came on the Plantation Course during a picturesque afternoon on the Golden Isles. Sporting a University of Georgia hat Thursday, Kirk won at Sea Island four years ago for the second of his four PGA Tour victories.

''It's a big Georgia territory out here on St. Simons,'' Kirk said. ''Hopefully, my hat will bring me some luck the rest of the week.''

The tournament is the final PGA Tour event of the calendar year, and Kirk is sorting out equipment changes.

''I'm still trying to get it all worked out and figure out what I want to do going forward,'' Kirk said. ''But keep shooting 9 under, so I won't have to worry about it too much.'

Joel Dahmen had a 64.

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Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

''I think it played a little easier today,'' Dahmen said. ''The wind was down, greens were a little softer over here on the Plantation side. But just kept the ball in front of me and made a bunch of 8- to 10-footers.

''I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

Sea Island resident Hudson Swafford was at 65 at the Plantation along with Jason Kokrak and Brian Gay.

''I feel like I've been rolling it pretty good,'' Swafford said. ''Took some time off, which was nice, after China. I was kind of frustrated with the golf a little bit. Took a little time off and got back into it. Something just kind of started clicking, but knew I don't have to be crazy aggressive and just give myself a chance.''

He played alongside fellow former Georgia players Bubba Watson and Brian Harman.

''We are right in the heart of Dawgs' territory, mine and Harman's backyard, so it's kind of nice,'' Swafford said.

Though, his caddie wore an Auburn shirt.

''We don't need to talk about that,'' said Swafford, not needing to be reminded that Auburn beat Georgia in football last week.

Nick Watney and Brice Garnett each had a 5-under 65 on the Seaside Course, which will be used for the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker opened with a 67 in his first return from a sternum injury that sidelined him since the Travelers in June.

Harman shot 69, and Watson had a 71.

Co-leader Smith credits Foley's influence

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:33 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sarah Jane Smith is making the most of the devoted efforts of Sean Foley this week.

Foley’s prize pupil, Justin Rose, is in the hunt at the World Tour Championship in the United Arab Emirates, looking to win the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, but Foley isn’t there with him.

Foley promised to help Smith this week, and he’s living up to the pledge, making the trip to Naples.

“At 33, Sarah is in her prime,” Foley told “She is going to hold a trophy at some point. She is too skilled not to win.”

Foley's extra attention is paying off for Smith.

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With a 6-under-par 66, Smith moved into early contention to make her first LPGA title memorable at the CME Group Tour Championship. She’s tied for the first-round lead with Taiwan rookie Peiyun Chien.

“I just seem to play my best with him,” Smith said.

Foley, the former coach to Tiger Woods, was No. 10 in Golf Digest’s Top 100 teacher rankings released this fall.

Foley sees a lot coming together in Smith’s game. She is a 12-year veteran building some momentum. She tied for third at the Women’s Australian Open earlier this year and is coming off three consecutive top-15 finishes in Asia. She is sixth on tour in birdies this season. 

“As a coach, you try to get a player to see something in themselves that is already there,” Foley said.

Rose, by the way, opened with a 6-under-par 66 in Dubai and is one shot off the lead.

Seeking awards sweep, Park 1 off lead

By Randall MellNovember 16, 2017, 11:03 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Sung Hyun Park made a strong start in her bid to make LPGA history with an epic sweep of the year’s major awards.

Park opened the CME Group Tour Championship Thursday with a 5-under-par 67, moving her a shot off the lead.

Park is looking to join Nancy Lopez as the only players to win the Rolex Player of the Year and Rolex Rookie of the Year awards in the same season. Lopez did it in 1978. Park has already clinched the Rookie of the Year Award.

Park, 24, can also walk away with the Vare Trophy for low scoring average, the LPGA money-winning title and the Race to the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot.

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Nobody has ever swept all those awards.

There’s even more for Park to claim. She can also take back the Rolex world No. 1 ranking. She’s No. 2, just two hundredths of a point behind Shanshan Feng.

“I think the course suits my game really well,” Park said through a translator. “I think I can play well in the next rounds.”

Park played the course just once before Thursday’s start, in Wednesday’s pro-am.

The reigning U.S. Women’s Open champion, Park won twice this year. She also won the Canadian Pacific Women’s Open this summer.