Cut Line: Taking the long view

By Rex HoggardMay 26, 2017, 10:45 pm

FORT WORTH, Texas – In a relationship-building edition, the USGA takes a unique step and listens; while players start to embrace the benefits of a long-term association ... with their putters.

Made Cut

Let’s talk. It’s been a complicated few years for the USGA and some PGA Tour types.

Last year’s ruling during the final round of the U.S. Open that cost Dustin Johnson a penalty stroke, but thankfully not a victory, was not exactly popular among the play-for-pay set. Earlier this year there were rumblings that the association may not be doling out a “fair” share of its earnings from its lucrative new deal with Fox into purses.

During the Tour’s West Coast swing the USGA seemed to be trying a more proactive approach by sending representatives to events to talk with players about a variety of issues, primarily a set of proposed changes to the Rules of Golf.

This week at Colonial the détente moved to another level with USGA executive director Mike Davis meeting with the Player Advisory Council.

According to one PAC member who asked not to be identified, the meeting was simply a way to begin a “dialogue,” and included conversations about rulings and next month’s U.S. Open venue in Wisconsin.

The USGA is far too often an easy target, but if this week’s meeting is any indication, at least the association is trying to see things from a player’s perspective.

Commitment issues. Much was made of Jordan Spieth’s decision to switch putters last week at the AT&T Byron Nelson, an experiment that didn’t end well (he missed the cut) and lasted just a single tournament.

Spieth first put his trusty Scotty Cameron 009 in his bag when he was 15 years old, which led to a general sense of confusion over his decision to bench the old model before returning to it this week at the Dean & DeLuca Invitational.

For players like Paul Casey, who moved into the hunt on Friday at Colonial with a second-round 66, it’s those types of long-term associations that seem to be a hallmark of all good putters.

“There is something to be said about guys that use putters a long, long time. Tiger used his putter for a long, long time. You look at obviously the veteran players, guys now on the Champions Tour,” Casey said. “They never used to switch equipment much.”

Being paired with Brandt Snedeker, who has largely used the same putter for 11 years, for Rounds 1 and 2 at Colonial made Casey consider the benefits of a long-term relationship with his putter.

“Just trying to look at little things like that, yeah, OK, why does he not change? He's obviously very good. Maybe I shouldn't change as frequently as I do,” Casey said.

The longest Casey has had the same putter in his bag? A year and a half in 2006.

“That would be a good [record] to try and break,” he laughed. “I'm in for about three months right now [with his current model].”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Baby steps. Tiger Woods revealed this week via his website that he is continuing his recovery from fusion back surgery in April and his “long-term prognosis is positive.”

Although Woods still didn’t offer any timeline for his possible return to competition, he did write that he won’t be able to “twist” for another two and a half to three months while his fusion heals.

While that seems to suggest we won’t be seeing Woods on a course anytime soon, the man who has been trying to talk Woods into having the surgery for some time sees the procedure as a potential breakthrough.

“I think it’s going to help him,” said Davis Love III, who had a similar fusion surgery in 2013. “He’s going to match [his swing] up better, he’s going to slow down a little bit and he’ll turn through it better.”

Good news has been in short supply when it comes to Woods the last few years, so we’ll take what we can get.

Missed Cut

Tweet of the week: @Danny_Willett (Danny Willett) “[European Tour] please explain that drop? Burying feet enough in to get to the base of the bunker?”

Branden Grace, who came under fire following the first round of the BMW PGA Championship for a fortunate ruling he received on the 13th hole when his ball was plugged in a greenside bunker, was at, the center of the controversy, but it’s not the South African who should be questioned.

“A rule is a rule, and I took advantage of the rule there, and it helped knowing the rule in some respects,” said Grace, who was given a drop in the bunker because his feet were touching a rubber sheet that was under the sand from his original lie.

If you don’t like the Rules of Golf let the USGA and R&A know, but until then criticizing a player for playing by the book is blatantly misplaced.

Weather warning. If you’re inclined to read tea leaves, European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley’s comments this week sent a clear message.

“The PGA of America says they're going to determine whether the PGA Championship is moved to May by the end of August this year,” Pelley said.

Those within Tour circles believe that decision will be to move the PGA from August to May, allowing for a larger schedule makeover that would also see The Players move back to March and the playoffs end in early September.

Although there are plenty of reasons why a nip/tucked schedule would be good for golf, there are drawbacks – most notably the thermometer on Friday at Colonial. Temperatures reached the high 90s on Day 2 at Colonial with no relief in sight.

If the PGA were to move to May, Texas, Florida and southern California would all likely become future venues for the PGA of America and as any weatherman will tell you, that’s not necessarily a good thing.

Rookie Cook (66-62) credits prior Tour experience

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:36 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Austin Cook is a rookie only on paper. At least, that’s the way he’s played since joining the circuit this season.

This week’s RSM Classic is Cook’s fourth start on Tour, and rounds of 66-62 secured his fourth made cut of the young season. More importantly, his 14-under total moved him into the lead at Sea Island Resort.

“I really think that a couple years ago, the experience that I have had, I think I've played maybe 10 events, nine events before this season,” Cook said. “Being in contention a few times and making cuts, having my card has really prepared me for this.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

Cook has been perfect this week at the RSM Classic and moved into contention with four consecutive birdies starting at No. 13 (he began his round on the 10th hole of the Seaside course). A 6-footer for birdie at the last moved him one stroke clear of Brian Gay.

In fact, Cook hasn’t come close to making a bogey this week thanks to an equally flawless ball-striking round that moved him to first in the field in strokes gained: tee to green.

If Cook has played like a veteran this week, a portion of that credit goes to long-time Tour caddie Kip Henley, who began working for Cook during this year’s Tour finals.

“He’s got a great golf brain,” Henley said. “That’s the most flawless round of golf I’ve ever seen.”

Cook fires 62 for one-shot lead at RSM Classic

By Associated PressNovember 17, 2017, 10:26 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – PGA Tour rookie Austin Cook sank a 6-foot birdie putt on his final hole for an 8-under 62 and a one-shot lead going into the weekend at RSM Classic.

Cook has gone 36 holes without making a bogey on the Plantation Course or the Seaside Course at Sea Island Golf Club. He played Seaside on Friday and ran off four straight birdies on his opening nine holes.

Cook was at 14-under 128 and had a one-stroke lead over Brian Gay, who shot 64 on Seaside. No one else was closer than five shots going into the final two rounds.

Brandt Snedeker is looking strong in his first start in some five months because of a sternum injury. Snedeker shot a 67 on the Plantation course and was six shots back.

Bubba (64) fires his lowest round of 2017

By Rex HoggardNovember 17, 2017, 10:12 pm

ST. SIMONS ISLAND, Ga. – Bubba Watson’s plan when he left the Dell Technologies Championship in September was to take a few months off and come back fresh in 2018

Those plans changed after a few weeks.

“What we figured out was the mental side, preparing for kindergarten - not for me, for my son - preparing for [wife] Angie's knee surgery. It's been a tough go,” Watson said.

“Being home and being with the family and everything, I realized how much I missed the game of golf, and that's why I wanted to come and play in these tournaments.”

RSM Classic: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the RSM Classic

The plan has paid off this week at the RSM Classic, where Watson is tied for 12th place after a second-round 64 on the Seaside course moved him to 7 under par.

Watson, who tied for 51st two weeks ago in Las Vegas, got off to a quick start on Day 2, playing the opening nine in 29. Despite a miscue at the 14th hole, when his tee shot wedged into a tree, he was solid coming in for his best individual round this year.

The left-hander was particularly sharp with his ball-striking after what has been a difficult year.

“I want to play golf now and right now I'm swinging at it pretty nicely,” he said.

S.H. Park (65) builds three-shot lead at LPGA finale

By Doug FergusonNovember 17, 2017, 9:58 pm

NAPLES, Fla. – Golf felt so easy to Sung Hyun Park that only when she took out her card to catch up on her scores did she realize she had closed out the front nine with five straight birdies at the CME Group Tour Championship.

Park kept right on attacking.

The 24-year-old from South Korea added a 30-foot eagle putt late in her second round and finished with a 7-under 65, giving her a three-shot lead going into the weekend at Tiburon Golf Club.

Nothing seems to bother her, even the chance to cap off an amazing rookie season by sweeping all the big awards on the LPGA Tour.

''To be honest, I don't feel quite as nervous as I thought I would,'' Park said through an interpreter. ''After the first shot, after the first hole, I felt a lot more comfortable. I'm not feeling as nervous as I thought I might be going into today.''

Leave that to the players chasing her.

Even with a three-putt bogey on the final hole, Park was at 12-under 132 and was three shots clear of Caroline Masson (66) and Sarah Jane Smith (69).

CME Group Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

More importantly, none of the other players in the chase for the $1 million Race to the CME Globe bonus or any other big award was within five shots of Park, who is trying to become the first rookie since Nancy Lopez in 1978 to win LPGA player of the year.

Lexi Thompson, who leads the Race to the CME Globe and the Vare Trophy for lowest adjusted scoring average, shot a 67 and wound up losing ground. She was six shots behind and must stay within 10 shots of Park to win the Vare.

So Yeon Ryu, who leads the points-based award for player of the year, managed a 71 with her sore right shoulder but was 11 shots back.

The other two players who need to win the tournament to collect the $1 million bonus also had their work cut out for them. Brooke Henderson had another 70 and was eight shots behind, while world No. 1 Shanshan Feng shot 73 and was 11 shots behind.

Park was in control, only she didn't see it that way.

''I don't think it's quite that far of a lead,'' Park said. ''Two, three shots of a lead can change at any moment. We will have to see what's in store for this weekend.''

Park began her big run with an 18-foot birdie on No. 5, got up-and-down for birdie from just off the green at the par-5 sixth, holed a 25-foot birdie putt on No. 7, and then closed out the front nine with birdie putts from 8 feet and 15 feet.

''I actually didn't know that I was going five birdies in a row,'' Park said. ''Come hole No. 10, I realized that I hadn't been jotting down my scores as diligently, and so I realized it a little bit later on. And it felt great.''

That gave her the lead by one shot over Suzann Pettersen, except that Pettersen faded badly on the back nine.

Pettersen dropped four shots in a three-hole stretch by getting out of position off the tee and she shot 39 on the back nine for a 70 to fall five shots behind.

''I feel like I'm playing good,'' Pettersen said. ''Three bad drives on the back nine cost me four shots. That should not be possible on this course, where the fairways are about 100 yards wide.''

Park was honored at an awards banquet Thursday night as the LPGA rookie of the year. Now, she has more awards in her sights. A victory would give her the award for player of the year. She would capture the money title, which she leads over Ryu. And depending on how the weekend goes, she might be able to surpass Thompson in the race for the Vare Trophy.

Thompson did well to recover from two bogeys on her opening three holes.

''I hit a few really erratic shots in the beginning. It wasn't a good start to the round,'' Thompson said. ''Just tried to stay positive and find something that could work for the last 14, 15 holes.''

Lydia Ko fell six shots behind in her bid to avoid a winless season. She was one shot behind going into the second round but managed only three birdies in her round of 71.

Park, meanwhile, had everything going her way. Even when she pulled her drive on the par-5 14th into a sandy area with a root next to her ball, she picked it clear and sent it through a goal post of trees back to the fairway. Three holes later, she blasted a drive and had only a 7-iron into the green at the par-5 17th, which she hit to 30 feet and made the long putt.

Does anything make her nervous?

''I hate spiders,'' she said. ''But in terms of golf, I always get nervous to this day on the first tee. I can feel my heart pounding.''

It's a feeling that doesn't appear to last very long.