Cut Line: Taking stock of playoffs, Presidents Cup

By Rex HoggardSeptember 8, 2017, 6:07 pm

No PGA Tour stop this week, no problem. Cut Line has plenty to fill the scorecard in a post-season pause edition.

Made Cut

Oh, captain I. Any captain, be it for a Presidents Cup or Ryder Cup squad, will tell you the toughest part of the gig is making your wildcard picks.

You want to select players who will contribute to the team and inevitably there will be those who get left off. While solid arguments could have been made for Brian Harman, Jason Dufner and Gary Woodland, Nos. 12, 13 and 14, respectively, on the U.S. Presidents Cup points list, given the landscape it’s hard to see how Phil Mickelson shouldn’t have made the American team when Stricker announced his picks on Wednesday.

Although Mickelson hasn’t had the best season, U.S. captain Steve Stricker recognized the one thing his team needed was experience and leadership, and Lefty brings plenty on both fronts.

If the International team finds some way to upset the Americans in New Jersey in three weeks, maybe it’ll be worth revisiting the Mickelson pick, until then Captain American deserves the benefit of the doubt.

More than a bagman. It’s hard to overstate the impact Jimmy Johnson has had on Justin Thomas, who teamed with the veteran caddie in mid-2015.

Thomas has won all six of his Tour titles with Johnson on the bag, including this year’s PGA Championship, and is always quick to acknowledge how important it is to have someone with as much experience as Johnson.

Late Monday following his victory at the Dell Technologies Championship, Thomas was being peppered with a few random questions when he was asked the last time he purchased golf balls?

“Last summer,” he laughed. “I was with some buddies and had no golf balls in my bag so I had to go into the pro shop and buy some. When I’m home I’m so unprepared. I never have golf balls, I never have a towel. I need Jimmy in my life, badly.”

With two playoff events remaining, Thomas still hasn’t technically wrapped up the Tour’s Player of the Year Award; but there’s no doubt who deserves to win the Caddie of the Year Award.

Tweet of the week:

@JordanSpieth: “Big congrats [Justin Thomas], good battle out there! 2 down 2 to go till [the Presidents Cup] and love where my game is trending.”

Thomas responded, “Fun battle bro. Won’t be our last either.”

Not sure if you know this, but Spieth and Thomas have been running mates for the better part of the last decade (it was only mentioned about a gazillion times during last week’s telecast), but on Monday at TPC Boston the measure of that relationship was on display when Spieth stopped his post-round interview to congratulation Thomas.

Some may like their rivalries with a dollop of animosity, but genuine friendship is tough to beat.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Postseason pangs. At the turn for this year’s playoffs it’s worth taking stock in what has been a less-than-stellar year for some of the game’s top names.

Missing from next week’s field at the BMW Championship for the first time since 2007, the year the playoffs began, will be Bubba Watson, who failed to play his way into the third postseason stop with a tie for 69th at TPC Boston.

Adam Scott also failed to advance for just the third time in the playoff era, as did Branden Grace and Chris Kirk, who just three years ago entered the Tour Championship ranked first on the points list.

The playoffs may still be a confusing mix of golf and math to many fans, but in the simplest terms if a player makes it to East Lake for the finale he’s had a very good season.

Conversely, if a player like Watson or Scott don’t even advance to the BMW, they have some work to do.

Missed Cut

Oh, captain II. International captain Nick Price is 0-for-2 as a captain – although in fairness, if the Tour would have agreed to his desire to change the event’s format to match that played at the Ryder Cup that record could be vastly different – and yet he didn’t exactly set the world on fire with his picks.

His first pick, Emiliano Grillo, made perfect sense. The Argentine finished the qualification process strong with a 22nd-place finish in Boston and has 7 top-25 finishes this season. But for his second pick, Price dipped all the way to 16th on the points list to select Anirban Lahiri, who was the only member of the International team who failed to earn even a half point two years ago in South Korea.

Even Lahiri was surprised by the pick.

“I was just shocked,” he said. “I was honestly expecting him to deliver bad news, but my wife and I were just in shock.”

Lahiri is one of the game’s most genuine and enjoyable players and perhaps he will be an unexpected boost for Price and his team. But for the sake of the matches, we should all hope Price’s gamble pays off.

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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Full-field scores from the DP World Tour Championship

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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Full-field scores from the CME Group Tour Championship

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.