Cut Line: Spieth makes it big; Chambers a big miss

By Rex HoggardDecember 11, 2015, 3:38 pm

Jordan Spieth was nearly perfect, the PGA Tour was perfectly baffling and Chambers Bay proved to be an imperfect storm at this year’s U.S. Open as Cut Line reviews an eventful 2015.

Made Cut

Jordan rules. When Jordan Spieth began his year at the Waste Management Phoenix Open there were doubts.

Doubts he could close out a PGA Tour victory despite finishing 2014 with back-to-back victories in Australia and the Hero World Challenge. By the time he completed his historic 2015 season there were no such concerns.

The 22-year-old wunderkind won the Masters in record fashion – setting 36- and 54-hole scoring records and tying the 72-hole record – the U.S. Open, and he came within one putt of possibly winning the first three legs of the single-season Grand Slam.

After adding a runner-up showing at the PGA Championship, Spieth closed the year with a fifth Tour title at East Lake to claim the FedEx Cup.

“I’m extremely pleased and I'm happy to go into the offseason now with this year under my belt knowing that I can do this,” Spieth said at the World Challenge earlier this month.

As he exited 2015, no one, not even Spieth, was doubting his ability to close.

Roars and rehab. En route to his first start of the season in Abu Dhabi, Rory McIlroy penned a few goals for 2015 on the back of his boarding pass.

When the Northern Irishman returns to the Middle East early next year he should add a footnote to that list – avoid “kickabouts.”

The Northern Irishman derailed, however innocently, what was shaping up to be one of the most competitively compelling seasons in recent history when he injured his left ankle playing soccer in July and missed title defenses at the Open Championship and WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Prior to his extracurricular snafu, McIlroy matched Spieth with victories at the WGC-Match Play and Wells Fargo Championship. When he did return at the PGA Championship he was rusty and regretful, but by the time he wrapped up his year with a victory at the European Tour’s finale in Dubai his season had come full circle.

“I saved the best for last,” he smiled in Dubai. “I feel like I finally showed this week what was in there. I just needed to find something to be able to let it out and thankfully this week I was able to do that.”

The possibilities to add to next year’s boarding pass are limitless, let’s just hope he commits to cutting back on the “kickabouts.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Top heavy. Attendance was up, viewership at all-time levels and sponsorship nearly universal across all platforms, and yet the Tour still found ways to bewilder in 2015.

To start the season, the No Fun League nixed what is largely considered the greatest show on grass when the circuit announced it would no longer allow players to throw items into the crowd adjacent the 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale because of safety concerns. This follows the Tour’s move to end the always-entertaining caddie races on No. 16 a few years ago.

At the CIMB Classic in November John Peterson was last in the field of 77 players when he teed off on Sunday with a “Happy Gilmore” swing. After multiple calls from the Tour regarding the incident, Peterson took a unique approach to the potential fine.

“I told them I’d tweet that I’d been fined and then start a GoFundMe page to pay the fine,” Peterson said. “I bet it would have worked.”

Even the Tour had to laugh at that.

Task at hand. Technically, the U.S. Ryder Cup task force was formed in late 2014 in the wake of another European boat race at Gleneagles, but the details and delivery were a central theme in 2015.

As a sign of progress, American captain Davis Love III spent more time texting with Tiger Woods during the Presidents Cup than he did serving as an assistant captain in South Korea.

“We saw some things that we want to be part of the plan next year,” Love said. “If you don’t think the task force is working, Tiger Woods is interested in what’s happening this week to apply it to the Ryder Cup.”

Woods’ commitment level has been elevated to the point that he bought in as a vice captain for next year’s matches – along with Jim Furyk and Steve Stricker – whether he turns his competitive fortunes around or not. The PGA of America’s move to bring the players into the process seems to have injected new life into the event.

Those same players now must do their part and bring some much-needed parity to an event that has been largely one-sided for the better part of two decades. The alternative is another loss and the uncomfortable question – where do you go from here?

Tweet of the year: @JordanSpieth “Pebble yesterday. Cyprus Point today. Spyglass tomorrow. Hard to imagine a better 17 miles than out here.”

Actually, it was Tour rookie Justin Thomas’ response to Spieth’s grammatical faux pas that earns the year’s top tweet: “[It’s] Cypress you dropout.”

His social media miscue ended up being about the only thing that Spieth, who did bolt the University of Texas early to turn pro, got wrong in 2015.

Missed Cut

Bay watch. Some of the greens at Chambers Bay were rough around the edges for the U.S. Open, others were dead long before the first tee shot went in the air for Round 1.

As U.S. Golf Association executive director Mike Davis explained, bringing fine fescue grasses to the Pacific Northwest is a tricky proposition. Yet making an agronomic gamble at the national championship was probably not the most egregious mistake officials made at this year’s U.S. Open.

With apologies to Dustin Johnson – who probably would have converted that birdie putt at the 72nd hole at, say, Muirfield Village – a major championship golf course that doesn’t afford spectators a single view of the eighth hole and only limited glimpses of many other holes is fundamentally flawed.

“For the architect, Robert Trent Jones, to say that they built this golf course for the U.S. Open is awful,” said Billy Horschel, who was also not a fan of the putting surfaces. “I heard today that Mike Davis had input in this golf course, which blows my mind even more that they would build a golf course and not think about the fans and the viewing aspect of it.”

The Open will return to the Pacific Northwest municipal course sometime in the future. Let’s hope they’ve perfected 10-story grandstands and a green thumb by then.

Trump-ed. Donald Trump has vaulted to a substantial lead in the race for the Republican Party’s presidential nomination in large part thanks to his bombastic ways, but his politics aside it was golf’s reaction to The Don’s histrionics that missed the mark in 2015.

In July, Trump said “the Mexican government is forcing their most unwanted people into the United States,” adding that in many cases they are “criminals, drug dealers, rapists, etc.”

The PGA of America cancelled this year’s Grand Slam of Golf, which was to be played at Trump National Golf Club in Los Angeles, but the LPGA, PGA Tour and USGA all balked when faced with a chance to make a stand.

Despite the fallout from Trump’s comments, the Ricoh Women’s British Open was played at Trump Turnberry, the WGC-Cadillac Championship will continue at Trump National Doral and the candidate’s course in Bedminster, N.J., is still set to host the U.S. Women’s Open in 2017.

Growing the game has become a central theme for all of golf’s ruling bodies, yet when faced with a real and meaningful chance to make an inclusive statement they blinked and hoped the political winds would blow by.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

Although he finished tied for 11th in Singapore, Garcia won the Dubai Desert Classic the next week and was in peak form when he won the Masters two months later.

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.