Cut Line: With Tiger, Phil on top 2013 was better than most

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2013, 12:36 am

From a dramatically reworked competitive calendar to a contentious rule change, 2013 was a year of change for better or worse. Before the ball drops in Times Square, Cut Line fills out the final scorecard.

Made Cut

Leading men. Two players that don’t seem likely to share a taxi pulled off an impressive timeshare agreement atop the marquee in 2013.

It is a testament to the quality and quantity of golf that, depending on one’s point of view, 2013 could be considered the Year of Tiger or the Year of Phil.

Woods won five PGA Tour events – including The Players, a title that appeared out of his reach in recent years – claimed his 11th Player of the Year Award and secured the winning point for the U.S. side at the Presidents Cup.

While Mickelson came up one dimple short of shooting 59 on Day 1 at the Waste Management Phoenix Open, he defied the odds makers with his breakthrough at the Open Championship with arguably the best closing nine of the season and moved within a U.S. Open of the career Grand Slam.

Golf is at its best when the game’s alpha and omega are on top of their games, and 2013 was better than most.

Don’t call it a comeback. The Tour stopped doling out the Comeback Player of the Year Award a few seasons too early.

Consider the list of viable candidates in 2013. In 2011, Boo Weekley didn’t make it to the FedEx Cup playoffs, finished 180th in earnings and lost his Tour card. A year later, he narrowly kept his job after finishing 123rd on the point list. He rebounded this season, winning his third Tour title and advancing to East Lake.

And then there’s Henrik Stenson, who was ranked outside the top 100 in the world at this time last year but climbed out of his professional abyss to become the first player to complete the transatlantic slam, claiming the FedEx Cup and Race to Dubai titles.

The sentimental favorite, however, has to be Jarrod Lyle, who overcame leukemia for the second time and returned to competitive golf at last month’s Australian Masters. Whether Lyle ever plays on Tour again seemed irrelevant as he hugged his wife and young daughter after making the cut at Royal Melbourne. His comeback was complete.

Tweet of the year: @RexHoggardGC “No caddies in the Hall of Fame, but if there were (Jim Mackay) would be on the short list. #Bones”

We know, it’s more than a tad self-serving to give yourself such an honor, but the snapshot of Bones behind the 18th green at Muirfield following his bosses’ victory was a testament to the looping legend’s abilities and Lefty’s trust in his faithful sidekick.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Split decision. Other sports use split calendar schedules, a common refrain from those in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. None of those other professional leagues, however, play six games and then take a month and a half off like the Tour.

In the case of the Tour’s new wraparound line up, the ends justify the means.

With the new schedule, the Tour has a clean “out” at the Tour Championship while saving many of the former fall series starts from extinction and bringing the Asia swing events (WGC-HSBC Champions and CIMB Classic) into the FedEx Cup fold.

But there was a cost for all the cleanliness. The new qualifying system (see below) is off to an awkward start, the circuit’s Disney stop, a staple since 1971, is now a historical footnote and fans are left to digest a season that is six-events clear of the starting line and firmly on hold.

Perhaps the wraparound will grow on the golf world, like love grass in bunkers, but early reviews suggest it’s more like mold on bread.

Anchor down. In a move that pitted some of the game’s titans against each other and introduced “bifurcation” to the general golf lexicon, the move to ban anchoring left a mark on the calendar that will linger long into 2014.

The U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient’s move against anchoring was belated at best and bullying at worst. Some, like Masters champion Adam Scott, argued that there was no scientific data to back up the rule makers’ claims that anchoring provided players an advantage.

The rule was eventually passed, but not before driving a wedge between the rule makers and the PGA Tour and PGA of America.

If there’s silver lining to this episode it may be that the USGA and R&A will become more democratic in the rule making process, including those (Tour types and PGA professionals) who are most impacted by these decisions.

Missed Cut

Qualified problem. Call it collateral damage. Call it a work in progress. Whatever the sound bite, the circuit’s new qualifying system was riddled with more bugs than

As a result of the new wraparound schedule, the road to the Tour shifted from Qualifying School to the four-event Tour Finals, which concluded with the Tour Championship at the Dye Course at TPC Sawgrass.

Supporters of the new system say it was an upgrade over Q-School because it factored in an entire year of play instead of just six rounds, yet when the dust settled at the finale the scoreboard suggested otherwise.

Kevin Tway, for example, began the Finals fifth on the money list but didn’t finish better than 52nd in the last four events and was washed back to 46th on the priority list.

Conversely, Andrew Loupe, who started the finals with consecutive missed cuts and a withdrawal from the third stop, tied for sixth place at TPC Sawgrass and began the 2013-14 season ahead of Tway on the priority rankings.

“It’s turned into four one-week Q-Schools,” Jason Gore told Cut Line. “I wish over the course of time you could have four 15th-place finishes and get in, something that rewards consistent performances over just one good week.”

It doesn’t help that Q-School, once one of the year’s most compelling tournaments for stories of triumph and tragedy, is being played this week in case anyone was interested. Anyone?

Weather warning. It was a bad year for weathermen and anyone who plies their trade outside, say, like golfers.

From the gale force winds that reduced the season opener in Maui to 54 holes to the blizzard that led to delays at the WGC-Accenture Match Play, Mother Nature won in 2013.

All total, 22 of 40 events were impacted by weather delays from heavy fog at Torrey Pines to frost at the Waste Management Phoenix Open.

The elements have always been a part of the game, but after slogging through four seasons in one day at Dove Mountain it may be time for the Tour to start experimenting with domed courses.

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McIlroy (T-3) notches another Abu Dhabi close call

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:08 pm

Rory McIlroy's trend of doing everything but hoist the trophy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship is alive and well.

Making his first start since early October, McIlroy showed few signs of rust en route to a tie for third. Amid gusty winds, he closed with a 2-under 70 to finish the week at 18 under, four shots behind Tommy Fleetwood who rallied to win this event for the second consecutive year.

The result continues a remarkable trend for the Ulsterman, who has now finished third or better seven of the last eight years in Abu Dhabi - all while never winning the tournament. That stretch includes four runner-up finishes and now two straight T-3 results.

McIlroy is entering off a disappointing 2017 in which he was injured in his first start and missed two chunks of time while trying to regain his health. He has laid out an ambitious early-season schedule, one that will include a trip to Dubai next week and eight worldwide tournament starts before he heads to the Masters.

McIlroy started the final round one shot off the lead, and he remained in contention after two birdies over his first four holes. But a bogey on No. 6 slowed his momentum, and McIlroy wasn't able to make a back-nine birdie until the closing hole, at which point the trophy was out of reach.

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Fleetwood rallies to defend Abu Dhabi title

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 12:48 pm

The 2018 European Tour season has begun just as the 2017 one ended: with Tommy Fleetwood's name atop the standings.

Facing the most difficult conditions of the week, Fleetwood charged down the stretch to shoot a 7-under 65 in the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, good enough for a two-shot win and a successful title defense.

Abu Dhabi was the start of Fleetwood's resurgence a year ago, the first of two European Tour victories en route to the season-long Race to Dubai title. This time around the Englishman started the final round two shots off the lead but rallied with six birdies over his final nine holes to reclaim the trophy.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood was five shots behind countryman Ross Fisher when he made the turn, but he birdied the par-5 10th and then added four birdies in a five-hole stretch from Nos. 12-16. The decisive shot came on the final hole, when his pitch from the left rough nestled within a few feet of the hole for a closing birdie.

Fleetwood's 22-under total left him two shots ahead of Fisher and four shots clear of Rory McIlroy and Matthew Fitzpatrick. After entering the week ranked No. 18, Fleetwood is expected to move to at least No. 12 in the world when the new rankings are published.

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Garcia cruises to five-shot win in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 12:10 pm

SINGAPORE - Sergio Garcia played 27 holes on the last day without dropping a shot to win the Singapore Open by five strokes Sunday in an ominous display of his newfound self-belief as he prepares to defend his Masters title.

Still brimming with confidence after claiming his first major title at Augusta National last year, Garcia started his new season with a runaway victory at the Sentosa Golf Club, finishing at 14-under 270.

Returning to the course just after dawn to complete his third round after play was suspended on Saturday because of lightning strikes, Garcia finished his last nine holes in 4 under for a round of 66 to take a one-shot lead into the final round.

With organizers desperate to avert the constant threat of more bad weather and finish the tournament on time, Garcia promptly returned to the first tee shortly after and fired a flawless 3-under 68, cruising to victory with 10 straight pars as his rivals floundered in the stifling humidity.

''It may have looked easy, but it wasn't easy. You still have to hit a lot of good shots out there,'' Garcia said. ''It's always great to start with a win, to do it here at this golf course against a good field in Asia on conditions that weren't easy. Hopefully I can ride on this momentum.''

Garcia's closest rivals at the end were Japan's Satoshi Kodaira (71) and South African Shaun Norris (70). Both birdied the last hole to share second spot but neither was ever close enough on the last day to challenge the leader.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

''I could not reach Sergio. I was thinking, 12 or 13 under for the win, but he went beyond that,'' Kodaira said.

Jazz Janewattananond (71) and his fellow Thai Danthai Bonnma (73) finished equal fourth at 8 under, earning themselves a spot in this year's British Open, while American Sean Crocker, who was given an invitation to the event after turning pro late last year, also won a place at Carnoustie by finishing in a tie for sixth.

Garcia made just three bogeys in 72 holes and his victory provided the 38-year-old with the 33rd title of his professional career and his sixth on the Asian Tour.

He has also won three titles in the last 12 months, including the Masters, and his game looks to be in better shape now than it was a year ago.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for Augusta National because of the steamy conditions and the testing stop-start nature of the tournament, which is regularly stopped because of inclement weather.

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

"I'm extremely happy with how the week went. It was a tough day and a tough week, with the stopping and going. Fortunately, the weather held on. Still, it was hard to play 27 holes under this heat and I can't wait to get a cold shower,'' Garcia said. ''I came with some good confidence and wishing that I will play well. I hit the ball solid the whole week and didn't miss many shots.''

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Kelly beats Monty with two-shot swing on final hole

By Associated PressJanuary 21, 2018, 3:21 am

KAILUA-KONA, Hawaii – Jerry Kelly made an 18-foot birdie putt on the final hole, Colin Montgomerie missed a 6-footer for par and Kelly turned a one-shot deficit into a victory Saturday in the Mitsubishi Electric Championship, the season opener on the PGA Tour Champions.

After Kelly drove it well right into lava rocks on the par-4 16th, leading to bogey and giving Montgomerie the lead, Montgomerie made a mistake with his tee shot on the last, finding a fairway bunker. Montgomerie's approach went over the green and after Kelly converted his birdie, the 54-year-old Scot jammed his par putt well past the hole.

Full-field scores from the Mitsubishi Electric Championship

It was the third win on the over-50 tour for the 51-year-old Kelly, who finished tied for 14th last week at the PGA Tour's Sony Open in Honolulu. That gave him confidence as he hopped over to the Big Island for his tournament debut at Hualalai. The limited-field event includes winners from last season, past champions of the event, major champions and Hall of Famers.

Kelly closed with a 6-under 66 for a three-day total of 18-under 198. Montgomerie shot 69. David Toms shot 67 and finished two shots back, and Miguel Angel Jimenez was another stroke behind after a 66.

Bernhard Langer, defending the first of his seven 2017 titles, closed with a 70 to finish at 10 under.