Cut Line: Hyundai TOC suddenly a must-play event

By Rex HoggardJanuary 9, 2016, 3:30 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Thirty-two players, no cut, idyllic views of the Pacific Ocean, it’s tough to consider anyone a loser at the year’s first event, but Cut Line dug deep into the island sand to deliver the calendar’s first edition.

Made Cut

Changing priorities. There was a time, not that long ago, when the year began with a quiet rustle instead of a big bang. A time when the top players avoided the Hyundai Tournament of Champions like the dentist office.

But this week’s event features the best field at Kapalua since 2005, when then-world No. 1 Vijay Singh was joined by Nos. 2, 3 and 4, Tiger Woods, Ernie Els and Retief Goosen, respectively.

Top-ranked Jordan Spieth led the infusion of star power this year and he’s joined by six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking at the Plantation Course.

For this new generation, what had been a bye week has been transformed into a must-play stop, with only four winners from last season skipping the year’s first event, and this goes deeper than an affinity for sweeping vistas and wide open fairways.

For Spieth and Co., the Tournament of Champions is a reason to get excited and reflect on the essential fact that a tee time at Kapalua is a reward for winning, not a burden.

“This is one that we strive to make each year, and if I am eligible to play in this tournament and I'm not, I hope every single one of you [media] calls me and bashes me for it,” Spieth said this week.

It’s a refreshing take, but let’s just hope it doesn’t result in a change of heart down the road and an overloaded voicemail.

Reed on. In his last seven global starts Patrick Reed has finished inside the top 10 on six occasions, a run that dates back to his tie for third at the Hong Kong Open in October.

For all the heat Reed took following his declaration at the 2014 WGC-Cadillac Championship that was a top-5 player, he has certainly played like a top-5 in recent months.

Reed will always be a difficult study, he savors the competition but not the celebrity and is reluctant to play the media game, but his play – which is what should define every player – is ready for Broadway.

On Thursday at Kapalua, Reed was paired with Spieth and calmly eagled the last to take a one-stroke lead. Back-to-back victories at the Tournament of Champions will not move Reed into that coveted top 5 in the World Golf Ranking, but it certainly gives the golf world plenty of reasons to take notice.

Tweet of the week:

Actually, the world No. 1 sent that missive on New Year’s Eve, but after starting the new calendar with rounds of 66-64 for the early lead, it’s clear that it may be a New Year but it’s the same old Spieth.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Match madness. Second-year Tour player Justin Thomas raised a few eyebrows this week when he said on Golf Channel that he’d rather win a Ryder Cup this year than a major.

While Thomas’ take was surprising it’s not at all misplaced given the current Ryder Cup environment.

Given the U.S. team’s eighth loss in the last 10 matches in 2014 in Scotland, the sweeping changes made by the Ryder Cup task force and Tiger Woods’ early commitment to be a vice captain, it’s clear the passion on the U.S. side has never been higher.

“The new guys certainly have that attitude. They want to be on a winning Ryder Cup team,” said this year’s captain Davis Love III. “Jordan Spieth, Patrick Reed, they have been on a team and not won. They want to be on a winning team.”

Love also pointed out, “I bet with nine holes to go, a two-shot lead at the Masters, [Thomas] might not want to trade for a Ryder Cup win.”

A tough Day. Armchair quarterbacks are part of sports, but armchair bodyguards are a bit much.

Jason Day returned to work this week at Kapalua and was asked about an incident that occurred during the Cleveland Cavaliers game in December when LeBron James ran over Day’s wife, Ellie.

Ellie Day was taken to a local hospital and released the next day, but the real action occurred on social media as many questioned Jason Day’s decision not to protect his wife.

“People that think I should have jumped in front of Ellie; they must have the fastest reaction time,” Day said. “I’m not going to stop a 260-pound guy that's 6-8 running full speed. Ellie took it like a champ.”

For Day, hitting a 300-yard 3-wood to a tucked pin is easy compared to sitting courtside at a Cavs game.

Missed Cut

Who Els? In golf, it’s a word that simply can’t be washed away and it is discussed only in hushed tones. On Thursday at the South African Open Ernie Els succumbed to the yips, again.

Els, who has been beset by putting woes in recent years, missed the hole on an 18-inch putt on Day 1 in South Africa. He missed a similar putt during last year’s Dunhill Links Championship and conceded that he did not want to watch the miscue afterward.

Some, however, have no problem coming to terms with the yips. Following an opening-round 70 at Kapalua, Padraig Harrington admitted that he struggled with the yips in 2012.

“If you have it, you have it. That's the way it is. And you know what? It will never be the same. You'll never be the same once you had it,” Harrington said.

Turns out some scars don’t heal.

Anchors away. This week’s stop in Maui marks the beginning of the no-anchoring era in golf and on the PGA Tour, not that anyone seemed to notice.

There are few players who have recently used an anchored putter playing this week at the Plantation Course, and maybe the narrative changes over the next few weeks when the likes of Tim Clark and Carl Pettersson make their way into a brave new world, but the lack of attention paid to this week’s deadline is telling.

Although the change caused plenty of reaction when it was first proposed, the utter lack of fervor this week reinforces the adage that time can dull any passion.

It’s worth noting only because the general perception is the USGA and R&A are reluctant to dial back the golf ball or modern driver for fear of the ensuing blowback.

For those who would like to see further equipment rollbacks, this week is proof that, with time, anything is possible.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play: Articles, photos and videos

The PGA Tour told The Associated Press on Monday that it doesn't comment on the specifics of its security measures, but that the safety of players and fans is its top priority. The circuit is also coordinating closely with law enforcement to ensure the safety of players and fans.

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

Full-field scores from the Arnold Palmer Invitational

Arnold Palmer Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.

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Golf's Olympic format, qualifying process remain the same

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 6:25 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Potential Olympic golfers for the 2020 Games in Tokyo were informed on Monday that the qualification process for both the men’s and women’s competitions will remain unchanged.

According to a memo sent to PGA Tour players, the qualification process begins on July 1, 2018, and will end on June 22, 2020, for the men, with the top 59 players from the Olympic Golf Rankings, which is drawn from the Official World Golf Ranking, earning a spot in Tokyo (the host country is assured a spot in the 60-player field). The women’s qualification process begins on July 8, 2018, and ends on June 29, 2020.

The format, 72-holes of individual stroke play, for the ’20 Games will also remain unchanged.

The ’20 Olympics will be held July 24 through Aug. 9, and the men’s competition will be played the week before the women’s event at Kasumigaseki Country Club.

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Webb granted U.S. Women's Open special exemption

By Will GrayMarch 19, 2018, 6:22 pm

Karrie Webb's streak of consecutive appearances at the U.S. Women's Open will continue this summer.

The USGA announced Monday that the 43-year-old Aussie has been granted a special exemption into this year's event, held May 31-June 3 at Shoal Creek in Alabama. Webb, a winner in both 2000 and 2001, has qualified for the event on merit every year since 2011 when her 10-year exemption for her second victory ended.

"As a past champion, I'm very grateful and excited to accept the USGA's special exemption into this year's U.S. Women's Open," Webb said in a release. "I have always loved competing in the U.S. Women's Open and being tested on some of the best courses in the country."

Webb has played in the tournament every year since 1996, the longest such active streak, meaning that this summer will mark her 23rd consecutive appearance. She has made the U.S. Women's Open cut each of the last 10 years, never finishing outside the top 50 in that span.

Webb's exemption is the first handed out by the USGA since 2016, when Se Ri Pak received an invite to play at CordeValle. Prior to that the two most recent special exemptions went to Juli Inkster (2013) and Laura Davies (2009). The highest finish by a woman playing on a special exemption came in 1994, when Amy Alcott finished sixth.