Cut Line: Too close to call

By Rex HoggardNovember 9, 2012, 9:23 pm

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – In honor of the season-ending numbers crunch that is the Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals Classic, Cut Line tries to channel his inner Nate Silver, the statistician and New York Times blogger who correctly predicted the presidential election in 49 of 50 states (with Florida still counting votes), and calculate Sunday’s outcome.

In the rush to crack the top 125 on the money list and secure status on Tour in 2013 one stat stood out – 76 of the 127 eligible players at Disney are currently outside the top 125. Prediction: expect plenty of two-way traffic on Sunday at Disney.

Made Cut

Perspective. Regardless of whether Gary Christian becomes a casualty of the season-ending money crunch, Cut Line would like to nominate the affable Englishman for the season’s Reality Check Award.

At 127th on the money list the 41-year-old rookie was facing a return trip to Q-School following a first-round 71 at Disney but on Wednesday he cut through the normally insular attitudes found at the season finale with a rare sense of perspective among the play-for-pay set.

“It's a dream come true,” Christian said. “If I hear anyone whining about anything on the Tour, they need to get their head examined.”

For Christian, Disney really is the happiest place in the world even during one of the year’s most stressful weeks.

Unity. As speculation increases in the buildup to the U.S. Golf Association and Royal & Ancient Golf Club’s announcement regarding anchoring later this year the pressure is escalating on PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem to break with tradition and revert to a set of “Tour rules.”

But if bifurcation of the Rules of Golf is the answer, as many have suggested, Finchem seems categorically opposed to the idea for all the right reasons. Earlier this summer the commish dismissed the idea of a set of “Tour rules” at a meeting of the circuit’s Player Advisory Council.

“He made it clear we would follow whatever (the USGA and R&A) did,” said one PAC member.

Whether Finchem’s decision is based on a sense of tradition or a fear of legal action doesn’t matter as much as what his stand means – a unified voice at a pivotal moment.

Tweet of the week: @LukeDonald late Tuesday. “Wow this is getting close. I just don’t know which way the decision will go. Will they or will they not ban the long putter!”


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Enough Blayne to go around. For those who have attempted to keep pace with the bizarre tale of Blayne Barber it has been difficult, if not impossible, to form a lasting conclusion.

The facts are these. Barber appeared to advance out of the first stage of PGA Tour Q-School at Callaway Gardens in Pine Mountain, Ga., despite a penalty on the 13th hole in Round 1 when he appeared to brush a leaf in a bunker.

Although Barber wasn’t sure he’d brushed the leaf – his caddie/brother said he had not – he assessed himself a one-stroke penalty only to discover later that night that it was a two-stroke penalty, which meant he’d signed for a lower score which would result in his disqualification.

Here’s the rub, Barber waited six days after the tournament ended to report the infraction, which resulted in his disqualification and opened the door for six additional players to advance to second stage.

“I wanted to believe I didn’t hit it, but I was going back and forth between this uncertainty in my mind. I didn’t want to start my entire career with this uncertainty in my head …” Barber told GolfChannel.com this week. “I was definitely pretty torn up about it; it was weighing on me pretty heavily.”

The subject was a hot topic on the practice tee this week at Disney with concerns ranging from Barber’s lack of knowledge regarding the Rules of Golf to the six-day delay in reporting the infraction. As one player said, “I’m glad he did the right thing, but I’m just not sure why it took him so long to get there.”

The long wait. And you think slow play on the golf course is a concern.

Although officials with the U.S. Golf Association have said a decision regarding long putters and anchoring will be made before the end of the year, the game seems caught in the limbo of the unknown.

According to various sources the powers that be plan to ban anchoring, and by definition the use of long putters, but the wait has sparked a wider debate over the legality of such a ban (see Bradley, Keegan) and even the inequity of such a move.

“It’s not an issue that I’m involved with, I understand both sides,” Phil Mickelson said this week. “It’s just that I don’t think you can take away what you’ve allowed players to use, practice and play with for 30 years. I think it is grossly unfair.”

Davis Love III, one of four player directors briefed by the USGA last month on the potential ban, urged officials to move quickly, whatever the decision, to avoid prolonged speculation and debate. We’re starting to understand what Love meant.


Missed Cut

No Magic. After 41 years the Tour’s annual stop at Walt Disney World appears to be on life support. The Disney stop loses the Children’s Miracle Network as sponsor this year and the event was not on a tentative 2013-14 schedule that  Cut Line  got a peek at last month, although officials stress there is still time to find a replacement.

Given the new reality of the circuit’s split-calendar schedule it’s difficult to imagine a last-minute reprieve. Beginning next season the Fall Series events will move into the FedEx Cup portion of the schedule, which means Disney would need to increase its purse all the while losing the cachet of being the circuit’s final event.

Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., may in fact find some magic for the Magic Kingdom, but in the land of Mouse this week that option seemed straight out of Fantasyland.

Trying to find more from less. One of the casualties of next year’s split-calendar schedule will be fewer playing opportunities for Tour types in 2013.

Because of the loss of the four Fall Series events and the Mayakoba Golf Classic, which will move from February to the fall, officials estimate there will be about five fewer starts in 2013 for players in the Web.com Tour and Q-School category.

Although this is a one-off anomaly, and officials have tried to mitigate the losses by expanding fields at some events and limiting unrestricted sponsor exemptions, that will do little to help players hard pressed for playing opportunities.

One suggestion to lesson this impact was to expand playoff-event fields to 144. Under the proposal the number of FedEx Cup-eligible players would remain the same – 125 at Barclays, 100 at the Deutsche Bank Championship and 70 at the BMW Championship – while the rest of the field simply played for money-list status similar to what NASCAR does during its “Chase for the Sprint Cup.”

That suggestion, however, seemed to fall on deaf ears, primarily because of the timing of the new qualifying system that is scheduled to run concurrent with the playoffs. “They didn’t want to hear it,” said one member of this year’s Players Advisory Council.

Just a hunch, but as playing opportunities dry up next season Tour officials should expect to hear plenty more about this topic.

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Lexi looks to shine as LPGA season begins next week

By Randall MellJanuary 17, 2018, 6:06 pm

Lexi Thompson may be No. 4 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, but in so many ways she became the new face of the women’s game last year.

That makes her the headliner in a fairly star-studded season opener at the Pure Silk Bahamas Classic next week.

Three of the top four players in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings are scheduled to tee it up on Paradise Island, including world No. 1 Shanshan Feng and co-Rolex Player of the Year So Yeon Ryu.

From the heartache at year’s start with the controversial loss at the ANA Inspiration, through the angst in the middle of the year with her mother’s cancer diagnosis, to the stunning disappointment at year’s end, Thompson emerged as the story of the year because of all she achieved in spite of those ordeals.

Next week’s event will mark the first time Thompson tees it up in an LPGA tournament since her season ended in stunning fashion last November with a missed 2-foot putt that cost her a chance to win the CME Group Tour Championship and the Rolex Player of the Year Award, and become the world No. 1.

She still walked away with the CME Globe’s $1 million jackpot and the Vare Trophy for the season’s low scoring average.

She also walked away sounding determined to show she will bounce back from that last disappointment the same way she bounced back from her gut-wrenching loss at the year’s first major, the ANA, where a four-shot Sunday penalty cost her a chance to win her second major.

“Just going through what I have this whole year, and seeing how strong I am, and how I got through it all and still won two tournaments, got six seconds ... it didn’t stop me,” Thompson said leaving the CME Group Tour Championship. “This won’t either.”

Thompson was named the Golf Writers Association of America’s Player of the Year in a vote of GWAA membership. Ryu and Sung Hyun Park won the tour’s points-based Rolex Player of the Year Award.

With those two victories and six second-place finishes, three of those coming after playoff losses, Thompson was close to fashioning a spectacular year in 2017, to dominating the tour.

The new season opens with Thompson the center of attention again. Consistently one of the tour’s best ball strikers and longest hitters, she enjoyed her best year on tour last season by making dramatic improvements in her wedge play, short game and, most notably, her putting.

She doesn’t have a swing coach. She fashioned a better all-around game on her own, or under the watchful eye of her father, Scott. All the work she put in showed up in her winning the Vare Trophy.

The Pure Silk Bahamas Classic will also feature defending champion Brittany Lincicome, as well as Ariya Jutanugarn, Stacy Lewis, Michelle Wie, Brooke Henderson, I.K. Kim, Danielle Kang and Charley Hull.

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One & Done: 2018 CareerBuilder Challenge

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 5:55 pm

Beginning in 2018, Golf Channel is offering a "One & Done" fantasy game alternative. Choose a golfer and add the salary they earn at the event to your season-long total - but know that once chosen, a player cannot be used again for the rest of the year.

Log on to www.playfantasygolf.com to start your own league and make picks for this week's event.

Here are some players to consider for One & Done picks this week at the CareerBuilder Challenge, where Hudson Swafford returns as the defending champion:

Zach Johnson. The two-time major champ has missed the cut here three years in a row. So why include him in One & Done consideration? Because the three years before that (2012-14) included three top-25s highlighted by a third-place finish, and his T-14 at the Sony Open last week was his fifth straight top-25 dating back to September.

Bud Cauley. Cauley has yet to win on Tour, but that could very well change this year - even this week. Cauley ended up only two shots behind Swafford last year and tied for 14th the year prior, as four of his five career appearances have netted at least a top-40 finish. He opened the new season with a T-7 in Napa and closed out the fall with a T-8 at Sea Island.

Adam Hadwin. Swafford left last year with the trophy, but it looked for much of the weekend like it would be Hadwin's tournament as he finished second despite shooting a 59 in the third round. Hadwin was also T-6 at this event in 2016 and now with a win under his belt last March he returns with some unfinished business.

Charles Howell III. If you didn't use him last week at the Sony Open, this could be another good spot for the veteran who has four top-15 finishes over the last seven years at this event, highlighted by a playoff loss in 2013. His T-32 finish last week in Honolulu, while not spectacular, did include four sub-70 scores.

David Lingmerth. Lingmerth was in that 2013 playoff with Howell (eventually won by Brian Gay), and he also lost here in overtimei to Jason Dufner in 2016. The Swede also cracked the top 25 here in 2015 and is making his first start since his wife, Megan, gave birth to the couple's first child in December. Beware the sleep-deprived golfer.

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DJ: Kapalua win means nothing for Abu Dhabi

By Associated PressJanuary 17, 2018, 2:55 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – Dustin Johnson's recent victory in Hawaii doesn't mean much when it comes to this week's tournament.

The top-ranked American will play at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship for the second straight year. But this time he is coming off a victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which he won by eight shots.

''That was two weeks ago. So it really doesn't matter what I did there,'' said Johnson, who finished runner-up to Tommy Fleetwood in Abu Dhabi last year. ''This is a completely new week and everybody starts at even par and so I've got to start over again.''

In 2017, the long-hitting Johnson put himself in contention despite only making one eagle and no birdies on the four par-5s over the first three rounds.

''The par 5s here, they are not real easy because they are fairly long, but dependent on the wind, I can reach them if I hit good tee balls,'' the 2016 U.S. Open champion said. ''Obviously, I'd like to play them a little better this year.''

The tournament will see the return of Paul Casey as a full member of the European Tour after being away for three years.

''It's really cool to be back. What do they say, absence makes the heart grow fonder? Quite cheesy, but no, really, really cool,'' said the 40-year-old Englishman, who is now ranked 14th in the world. ''When I was back at the Open Championship at Birkdale, just the reception there, playing in front of a home crowd, I knew this is something I just miss.''

The Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship starts Thursday and also features former No. 1 Rory McIlroy, who is making a comeback after more than three months off.

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Kuchar joins European Tour as affiliate member

By Will GrayJanuary 17, 2018, 2:52 pm

Months after he nearly captured the claret jug, Matt Kuchar has made plans to play a bit more golf in Europe in 2018.

Kuchar is in the field this week at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, and he told reporters in advance of the opening round that he has opted to join the European Tour as an affiliate member:

As an affiliate member, Kuchar will not have a required minimum number of starts to make. It's the same membership status claimed last year by Kevin Na and Jon Rahm, the latter of whom then became a full member and won two European Tour events in 2017.

Kuchar made six European Tour starts last year, including his runner-up performance at The Open. He finished T-4 at the Aberdeen Asset Management Scottish Open in his lone European Tour start that wasn't co-sanctioned by the PGA Tour.