Cut Line: Mixed reviews in Tiger's return

By Rex HoggardDecember 2, 2016, 5:52 pm

Tiger Woods returns to competition this week to mixed reviews, and expectations; while Jack Nicklaus draws a familiar line in the sand in this week’s Silly Season edition.

Made Cut

The Return. Tiger Woods entered “phase two” of his career on Thursday at the Hero World Challenge with a predictable mix of miscues and familiar mojo, roaring out with four birdies through eight holes before stumbling in with a pair of sloppy double bogeys to close his round of 73.

It seems the pendulum has swung in a new direction for Woods, who made the game look so easy for the vast majority of his career that expectations became patently unrealistic.

After 15 months of inactivity, however, many figured that if he could remain upright for 72 holes at the Silly . . . sorry, Challenge Season event his return to the fray could be considered a moral victory.

Woods himself seemed to jokingly acknowledge the subdued expectations for his return, telling reporters he hoped to be able to crack the top 1,000 in the World Golf Ranking (he’s currently 898th in the world).

Cut Line discussed this curious new reality with Woods’ former swing coach Hank Haney this week on Sirius/XM’s PGA Tour Network.

“From what I saw today I see Tiger winning more tournaments and at least one more major, lot's of positives,” Haney tweeted after the opening round in the Bahamas.

It seems doubtful Mr. Second Sucks has lowered his own benchmarks to little more than participation goals, but it’s encouraging that Tiger has embraced the long view when it comes to “phase two.”

Tweet of the Week: ‏@GrahamDeLaet (Graham DeLaet) “It's good to have Tiger back playing our game. Embarrassing to hear/read some of the negative comments/jokes when he hasn't hit a shot yet.”

Woods isn’t one to call out social media trolls, he leaves that to Gary Player, but there is something to be said for giving the guy the benefit of the doubt.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Bearing witness. If Jack Nicklaus has a microphone the chances are good he’s taken to a familiar soapbox of preaching the ills of the modern golf ball.

So it was no surprise that the Golden Bear didn’t hold back this week during a Q&A at the HSBC Golf Business Forum.

“Fact is more golf courses have closed in the U.S. in each of the last 10 years than have opened. This is thanks in great part to changes in the golf ball and the distance it travels. Courses have had to change along with it,” Nicklaus said.

“We don’t want to change the game for the core golfer, but we need to make every effort to offer alternatives to bring more people into the game and keep them in the game. I think we need to develop a golf ball to suit the golf course, rather than build courses to suit a golf ball. Whether it’s a ball that goes 50 percent (as far), 75 percent, or 100 percent, you play a ball that fits the course and your game.”

Maybe Nicklaus’ frequent rants against the modern golf ball have caused the powers in golf to become tone-deaf to his message, but that doesn’t justify continued indifference from the game’s decision makers when it comes to his concerns and solutions.

Think globally, act locally. First the good news, the 2017 LPGA Tour schedule was unveiled this week with more events, up from 34 this season to 35 next year, and more prize money, from $63 million to $67.35 million.

The cash bump was in large part to purse increases in four of the tour’s five majors, including a $500,000 increase at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Now, the small print. Three U.S. events (Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and Coates Golf Championship) will not be on the schedule in 2017; but the circuit added four new tournaments, including one in New Zealand and another in Scotland.

That brings the number of international stops on the LPGA’s schedule to 18, that’s 51 percent played outside the friendly confines of the United States.

Considering the international diversity of the LPGA’s membership, maybe a schedule heavy with world travel is perfectly understandable, but a couple more home games would be nice.

Missed Cut

Blame it on Rio. Anyone with even a passing interest in this year’s Olympics had to also be impressed with the golf course officials and architect Gil Hanse created under, let’s just say difficult conditions.

Nor should it have been a surprise that the Olympic Golf Course is now struggling to attract golfers and is struggling financially, according to an Agence France-Presse report this week.

Brazilian Golf Confederation president Paulo Pacheco told Cut Line via an e-mail this week the course hasn’t officially opened and disputed much of the AFP’s report, but the issues faced by Rio’s only public course are very real.

“We know of the difficulties of implementing sports projects in times of crisis, but we never stop looking for solutions and it is far from our minds giving up such a representative project for golf in Brazil and in the world,” Pacheco said.

Growing the game has been a central theme behind golf’s return to the Olympics from the outset, and nothing – not the six medals handed out this year or the worldwide attention the event generation – has the potential to grow the game like the Olympic Golf Course. Officials from the Brazilian Golf Confederation and International Golf Federation need to make sure that promise is realized.

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Hadwin returns to site of last year's 59

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 11:04 pm

Adam Hadwin had a career season last year, one that included shooting a 59 and winning a PGA Tour event. But those two achievements didn't occur in the same week.

While Hadwin's breakthrough victory came at the Valspar Championship in March, it was at the CareerBuilder Challenge in January when he first made headlines with a third-round 59 at La Quinta Country Club. Hadwin took a lead into the final round as a result, but he ultimately couldn't keep pace with Hudson Swafford.

He went on to earn a spot at the Tour Championship, and Hadwin made his first career Presidents Cup appearance in October. Now the Canadian returns to Palm Springs, eager to improve on last year's result and hoping to earn a spot in the final group for a third straight year after a T-6 finish in 2016.

"A lot of good memories here in the desert," Hadwin told reporters. "I feel very comfortable here, very at home. Lots of Canadians, so it's always fun to play well in front of those crowds and hopefully looking forward to another good week."

Hadwin's 59 last year was somewhat overshadowed, both by the fact that he didn't win the event and that it came just one week after Justin Thomas shot a 59 en route to victory at the Sony Open. But he's still among an exclusive club of just eight players to have broken 60 in competition on Tour and he's eager to get another crack at La Quinta on Saturday.

"If I'm in the same position on 18, I'm gunning for 58 this year," Hadwin said, "not playing safe for 59."

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Rahm: If I thought like Phil, I could not hit a shot

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 10:39 pm

When it comes to Jon Rahm and Phil Mickelson, there are plenty of common bonds. Both starred at Arizona State, both are now repped by the same agency and Rahm's former college coach and agent, Tim Mickelson, now serves full-time as his brother's caddie.

Those commonalities mean the two men have played plenty of practice rounds together, but the roads quickly diverge when it comes to on-course behavior. Rahm is quick, fiery and decisive; Mickelson is one of the most analytical players on Tour. And as Rahm told reporters Wednesday at the CareerBuilder Challenge, those differences won't end anytime soon.

"I don't need much. 'OK, it's like 120 (yards), this shot, right," Rahm said. "And then you have Phil, it's like, 'Oh, this shot, the moisture, this going on, this is like one mile an hour wind sideways, it's going to affect it one yard. This green is soft, this trajectory. They're thinking, and I'm like, 'I'm lost.' I'm like, 'God if I do that thought process, I could not hit a golf shot.'"

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The tactics may be more simplified, but Rahm can't argue with the results. While Mickelson is in the midst of a winless drought that is approaching five years, Rahm won three times around the world last year and will defend a PGA Tour title for the first time next week at Torrey Pines.

Both men are in the field this week in Palm Springs, where Mickelson will make his 2018 debut with what Rahm fully expects to be another dose of high-level analytics for the five-time major winner with his brother on the bag.

"It's funny, he gets to the green and then it's the same thing. He's very detail-oriented," Rahm said of Mickelson. "I'm there listening and I'm like, 'Man, I hope we're never paired together for anything because I can't think like this. I would not be able to play golf like that. But for me to listen to all that is really fun."

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DJ changes tune on golf ball distance debate

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 9:16 pm

World No. 1 Dustin Johnson is already one of the longest hitters in golf, so he's not looking for any changes to be made to golf ball technology - despite comments from him that hinted at just such a notion two months ago.

Johnson is in the Middle East this week for the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told BBC Sport Wednesday that he wouldn't be in favor of making changes to the golf ball in order to remedy some of the eye-popping distances players are hitting the ball with ever-increasing frequency.

"It's not like we are dominating golf courses," Johnson said. "When was the last time you saw someone make the game too easy? I don't really understand what all the debate is about because it doesn't matter how far it goes; it is about getting it in the hole."

Johnson's rhetorical question might be answered simply by looking back at his performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions earlier this month, an eight-shot romp that featured a tee shot on the 433-yard 12th hole that bounded down a slope to within inches of the hole.

Johnson appeared much more willing to consider a reduced-distance ball option at the Hero World Challenge in November, when he sat next to tournament host Tiger Woods and supported Woods' notion that the ball should be addressed.

"I don't mind seeing every other professional sport, they play with one ball. All the pros play with the same ball," Johnson said. "In baseball, the guys that are bigger and stronger, they can hit a baseball a lot further than the smaller guys. ... I think there should be some kind of an advantage for guys who work on hitting it far and getting that speed that's needed, so having a ball, like the same ball that everyone plays, there's going to be, you're going to have more of an advantage."

Speaking Wednesday in Abu Dhabi, Johnson stood by the notion that regardless of whether the rules change or stay the same, he plans to have a leg up on the competition.

"If the ball is limited then it is going to limit everyone," he said. "I'm still going to hit it that much further than I guess the average Tour player."

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LPGA lists April date for new LA event

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 17, 2018, 8:18 pm

The LPGA’s return to Los Angeles will come with the new Hugel-JTBC Open being played at Wilshire Country Club April 19-22, the tour announced Wednesday.

When the LPGA originally released its schedule, it listed the Los Angeles event with the site to be announced at a later date.

The Hugel-JTBC Open will feature a 144-player field and a $1.5 million purse. It expands the tour’s West Coast swing, which will now be made up of four events in California in March and April.

The LPGA last played in Los Angeles in 2005. Wilshire Country Club hosted The Office Depot in 2001, with Annika Sorenstam winning there.