Cut Line: Spieth, McIlroy filling void left by Woods

By Rex HoggardJune 26, 2015, 1:47 pm

If Chambers Bay’s lone fir were to fall into Puget Sound would anyone hear it? No, because the complaining about the layout’s greens is too loud.

Cut Line takes a final look back at what was a historic and heated U.S. Open.

Made Cut

Summer Slam. In a world where Tiger Woods continues to struggle to break 80, it’s a compelling development that a 21-year-old would step in to fill the void.

With his victory at the U.S. Open, Jordan Spieth will become just the sixth player to head across the Atlantic Ocean looking to win the third leg of the single-season Grand Slam next month.

While the oddsmakers still have Rory McIlroy as the favorite at St. Andrews (4 to 1), and the mathematicians have estimated Spieth has a 1 percent chance of becoming the first player to complete the modern single-season Grand Slam, the mere possibility has made the Open Championship one of the most highly-anticipated events in recent memory.

Comparisons with Woods have never been healthy and Spieth, as well as McIlroy, still have plenty of ground to cover if they are going to catch the guy in red and black, but there is no ignoring the buzz both young players have created.

Watson & Watson. Neither Bubba nor Tom have been enjoying the best of times lately.

Bubba Watson missed the cut last week at the U.S. Open and doesn’t have a top-10 finish on the PGA Tour since March, while Tom Watson is still being haunted by last year’s Ryder Cup and his best finish on the Champions Tour this season is a tie for 13th place.

Both Watsons, however, got off to a good start this week, with Bubba scorching TPC River Highlands with an opening-round 62 for the lead at the Travelers Championship and Old Tom firing a 66 in Round 1 to move atop the U.S. Senior Open leaderboard.

The duo’s start also sets up an intriguing head-to-head competition – who will be this week’s low Watson?

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Torture Chambers. Say this about last week’s visit to the Pacific Northwest, it certainly made things interesting for those who carry notebooks and microphones.

Billy Horschel was the most outspoken, blasting the greens at Chambers Bay that were a delicate mixture of fescue, poa annua and dirt.

“I think we really need to be taken seriously on this,” he said on Sunday. “I think a lot of players, and I'm one of them, have lost some respect for the USGA and this championship this year for the greens.”

Many echoed Horschel’s comments – Chris Kirk on Twitter said “the USGA should be ashamed” – and executive director Mike Davis acknowledged the agronomic issues that caused the dead and dying putting surfaces.

There hadn’t been this much focus on dead grass in the big leagues since last year’s Players Championship, and the incident proves that players will tolerate all manner of quirky golf course design as long as the putting greens are, well green.

Tweet of the week:

For those who considered the player criticism whining, know that the conditions at Chambers Bay were a universal concern, but only a handful chose to speak out about it.

Missed Cut

When less is less. Tiger Woods has more rounds in the 80s this season (two) than top-20 finishes (one) and after missing the weekend at the U.S. Open by 11 strokes it was difficult to imagine the former world No. 1 turning his game around this season.

Woods has just three events remaining on his schedule – the Greenbrier Classic, Open Championship and Quicken Loans National (although it seems highly likely he would also play the PGA Championship, which is strangely not on his summer dance card yet) – and is currently not qualified to play the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational or the FedEx Cup Playoffs.

“My schedule is set for the summer. And I'm playing every other week. I'm excited about it,” he said on Friday at Chambers Bay.

Unless Woods finds some sort of form he will finish the season with just nine starts, marking the third consecutive year he’s played fewer than 10 events.

In his continued search for answers Woods has repeatedly said he needs the “reps” to play his way out of his current funk, but at this point it doesn’t seem those answers can be found in the South Florida dirt.

Unwanted attention. Chambers Bay wasn’t everyone’s brand of vodka and there was more than enough criticism, constructive and otherwise, to cause architect Robert Trent Jones Jr. to play defense.

“Gary Player was a strong player but is so no longer,” Jones told the Global Golf Post in response to Player’s criticism of Chambers Bay.

“He is now an architect. He has not demonstrated an ability to design courses of championship quality. It is appropriate that his favorite color seems to be black because some of his points of view are dark. He and I are competing so I regarded his comments as a competitive dissing of my work.”

Player said last week’s U.S. Open was “unpleasant” and called Chambers Bay a “tragedy,” and while he was hardly the only voice questioning Jones’ design it certainly was the loudest.

The South African legend correctly blasted the layout for being overly expensive, a tee time for a Pierce County resident is about $200, and too time consuming, practice rounds last week were taking nearly six hours.

Jones ruthlessly sought out the spotlight last week, going so far as to ask Tiger Woods what he thought of the layout in a surreal news conference, yet when the narrative turned on him he lashed out.

Any publicity is good publicity, but after moving all that dirt at Chambers Bay one would have thought that Jones knew where the high road was located.

Getty Images

Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

“I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

Getty Images

DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

“I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

“Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

“It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

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Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

“I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

“DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

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Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.