Cut Line: Tour slow playing; Norman taking heat

By Rex HoggardApril 20, 2012, 7:52 pm

Turns out the old adage is true, everything is bigger in Texas – from Kevin Na’s big numbers at TPC San Antonio to the big gap between wishful thinking and reality for Greg Norman when it comes to his much-maligned AT&T Oaks Course.

Made Cut

Slow play. Although the dramatic makeover of the PGA Tour’s qualifying process is just a year and a half away, neither the players nor circuit officials seem to have any sense of urgency to finalize the details to the plan.

The 16-member Player Advisory Council met last week at the Heritage and according to Tour sources considered, and rejected, an assortment of proposals. At issue is how to seed the 150 or so players for the three-event finals series that will determine who earns the 50 Tour cards.

“There’s a reason we’re going slowly on this,” policy board member Jim Furyk told Golf Digest. “It’s very complicated, and it's very important. We know that we are determining how a professional career develops here.”

Cut Line is normally averse to any form of slow play, but when it comes to the complicated new qualifying process we suggest taking all the time they need.

Sweet 16. Self-deprecation goes a long way in Cut Line’s book and Na certainly endeared himself to fans this week when he revisited the scene of last year’s train wreck on TPC San Antonio’s ninth hole.

Na recounted each of his 16 shots he attempted during the first round on the 474-yard par-4 ninth for a camera crew, took a chainsaw to a few of the offending trees and even returned the same shirt he wore last year to the woods adjacent the ninth during Thursday’s opening round.

In a good news/bad news deal, Na made par on the hole during Round 1 this year on his way to a 7-over 79 and an inglorious withdrawal.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Mindless golf. Call it the Bubba Watson effect or maybe it’s just a sign of the times; whatever the case, the “less is more” philosophy seems to be catching on among the play-for-pay set with Thursday’s front-runner at the Valero Texas Open the embodiment of the new normal . . . or maybe it’s the new abnormal.

Three weeks ago Matt Every “fired” his swing coach and embraced a laissez faire attitude toward all things golf, eschewing the Ben Hogan model of finding your game in the dirt for a more laidback approach

“I came out here (on Wednesday) and hit about 15 balls and it wasn't good. So I went and hit some putts,” Every said following his course-record 63 at TPC San Antonio on Thursday.

“I was actually walking by the range and I saw the same guys every week, they tinker with their swings and spend all day Tuesday and Wednesday practicing and like I'm glad I'm not one of those guys.”

Love Every’s honesty, but Cut Line doesn’t see this ending well.

Missing the point(s). Whatever it was that drove Lee Westwood to the other side of the globe for this week’s Indonesian Masters – weak fields, nice golf course, good takeout – the impact on the world golf ranking is undeniably concerning.

At issue here are appearance fees, which the Englishman is likely getting to play the Asian Tour event. While free money is good for world No. 3 Westwood – to say nothing of a chance to tune up his game against a Double-A field – essentially Asian officials are paying for world ranking points.

Consider that last year’s Indonesian Masters champion – Westwood, who used the victory to climb to No. 1 in world – received 20 world ranking points while the winner of the Texas Open, Brendan Steele, received 28 points.

You do the math.

Tweet of the week: @LukeDonald “@LeeWestwood nice police escort (to the golf course on Thursday), I hear you only get one of those at that event if you are ranked in the top 500!”

Missed Cut

Feeding frenzy. News item: The Shark is stunned to hear players don’t like TPC San Antonio. In a related item, America’s farmers are flummoxed by news that 9-year-olds don’t like spinach.

On Friday’s “Morning Drive,” Greg Norman, who designed the San Antonio layout with an assist from Sergio Garcia, said most players like his handiwork.

The truth is, the Texas Open is in a tough spot on the schedule sandwiched between the Masters and the run-up to The Players Championship, but the Shark is a tad misguided, or misinformed, if he thinks the layout isn’t at least partially to blame for the weak field this week in Texas.

“I think Greg was pissed off when he made that place,” one player said following Thursday’s round.

Norman is hardly public enemy No. 1 when it comes to Tour architects – we believe Rees Jones has that title locked up – but clearly he hasn’t asked many Tour types their opinions of TPC San Antonio. We’d suggest he start with Na.

European Ryder Cup selection. This is going to get ugly. Always does, but this year’s selection process promises to be even more intriguing for European officials if Carl Pettersson’s victory last week at the Heritage is any indication.

Because Pettersson is not a European Tour member he does not appear on either the world or European points list for Ryder Cup selection and it seems possible he could get caught in the same no-man’s land that kept Justin Rose off the 2010 team.

As it now stands, the European team would include Rory McIlroy, Peter Hanson, Martin Kaymer, Rose and Paul Lawrie from the European list; while the world points list would include Donald, Westwood, Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia and Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano.

Among the players on the “outside” who would be looking to be one of the two captain’s picks would be Paul Casey, Padraig Harrington, Ian Poulter, Alvaro Quiros, Thomas Bjorn, both of the Molinari brothers and Pettersson.

“The best five players in Europe will come first followed by the best five [off the world ranking], so if Carl Pettersson is looking at a pick he’s going to have to play extremely well to get that pick,” McDowell said on Friday’s “Morning Drive.” “There are going to be four or five guys who are deserving to be a pick this year that are not going to get on that team by merit.”

Note to European captain Jose Maria Olazabal: you thought winning a green jacket was hard.

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Fleetwood flawless en route to Abu Dhabi lead

By Will GrayJanuary 18, 2018, 2:06 pm

New year, same results for Tommy Fleetwood.

The reigning Race to Dubai champ picked up where he left off in the opening round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship, carding a bogey-free 66 during which the Englishman found all 18 greens in regulation. At 6 under, he shares the lead with Japan's Hideto Tanihara and sits one shot clear of five other players.

"Very stress-free. Played really well from start to finish," Fleetwood said. "Felt like I did what you need to do around this golf course, which is drive it well, hit your irons solid. You can't really be too greedy a lot of the time, and then sort of my pace putting was really good. So basically just did what you need to do to get a good score around this golf course, and I got one."

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fleetwood shined in a marquee grouping that included world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and Rory McIlroy, as he birdied three holes on each nine. This is his first worldwide start since a T-3 finish at the Hero World Challenge.

It was at this event a year ago that Fleetwood sparked a career campaign, edging Johnson and Pablo Larrazabal for the win. He added another win at the French Open in the summer to go along with a pair of runner-up results and a T-4 finish at the U.S. Open, all of which helped him capture the European Tour's season-long title.

Fleetwood's sudden success in Abu Dhabi serves as a microcosm for his career resurgence. Prior to last year's victory, he had missed the cut in four of his five other trips to this event.

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Sergio starts season with 66 in Singapore

By Associated PressJanuary 18, 2018, 12:56 pm

SINGAPORE – Sergio Garcia opened his season with a 5-under 66 and a share of the clubhouse lead on Thursday in the first round of the weather-interrupted Singapore Open.

Playing his first tournament of the year, the Masters champion rebounded after making an early bogey to collect four birdies and an eagle at the Sentosa Golf Club.

He was later joined by American qualifier Kurt Kitayama in the clubhouse lead. Still on the course, Tirawat Kaewsiribandit was at 6 under through 16 holes when play was suspended for the day because of the threat of lightning.

Louis Oosthuizen, the 2010 Open champion, was at 5 under through 16 holes when he also had to stop his round because of the weather.

Of the players who did finish their opening rounds, only three were within two strokes of Garcia and Kitayama. One of them was Casey O'Toole, who aced the par-3 second with a 7-iron.

The 38-year-old Garcia dropped his only shot of the day on the par-4 15th, his sixth hole after teeing off on the back nine, when he missed the fairway and was unable to make par. But he made amends when he birdied the par-3 17th and then eagled the par-5 18th to go out in 33.

''I was 1 over after (the) seventh but it didn't feel like I was playing badly,'' said Garcia, who made birdies on each of the two par 5s and one of the par 3s on the second nine. ''But then I hit two greats in a row for holes 17 and 18. I got a birdie-eagle there, so that settled me a little bit and I could play solid in the back nine and it was a great round.''

Garcia made the shortlist for the Laureus Sports Awards in the Breakthrough of the Year category after claiming his first major at Augusta National last year and is hoping for more success this season.

He credits the Singapore Open as having played a part in toughening him up for his Masters win because he opted to start his 2017 campaign in the stifling humidity of Southeast Asia to prepare himself for the bigger tournaments ahead.

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

Kitayama only secured his place in the $1 million event on Monday by finishing at the top of the qualifying competition, but he made a strong start with birdies on three of his first five holes. The 25-year-old Thai was 6 under through 13 holes but spoiled his otherwise flawless round with a bogey on his last.

''I started with a birdie and I just let it roll from there. I had some good tee shots, which I think, is the biggest thing for this course,'' Kitayama said. ''I'm a little tired, but I'm hanging in there. Whenever I have time off, I'll try not to think too much about golf.''

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13-year-old beats DJ in closest-to-the-pin contest

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:26 pm

Dustin Johnson didn’t just get beat by Tommy Fleetwood and Rory McIlroy on Day 1 of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

Even a 13-year-old got the best of the world No. 1.

Oscar Murphy teed off on the 177-yard 15th hole as part of the tournament’s Beat the Pro challenge during the opening round. The Northern Irishman, one of the HSBC’s Future Falcons, carved a 3-wood toward a back-right pin, about 25 feet away, closer than both Johnson and Fleetwood.

“An unbelievable shot,” Fleetwood said afterward, “and me and Rory both said, ‘We don’t have that in our locker.’”

Johnson still made par on the hole, but he mixed four birdies with four bogeys Thursday for an even-par 72 that left him six shots back of Fleetwood and Hideto Tanihara after the opening round.

Johnson, who tied for second here a year ago, is coming off a dominant performance at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where he won by eight shots to strengthen his lead atop the world rankings. 

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McIlroy 'really pleased' with opening 69 in Abu Dhabi

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 18, 2018, 12:10 pm

It was an auspicious 2018 debut for Rory McIlroy.

Playing alongside world No. 1 Dustin Johnson for his first round since October, McIlroy missed only one green and shot a bogey-free 69 at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. McIlroy is three shots back of reigning Race to Dubai champion Tommy Fleetwood, who played in the same group as McIlroy and Johnson, and Hideto Tanihara.

Starting on the back nine at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, McIlroy began with 11 consecutive pars before birdies on Nos. 3, 7 and 8.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

“I was excited to get going,” he told reporters afterward. “The last couple of months have been really nice in terms of being able to concentrate on things I needed to work on in my game and health-wise. I feel like I’m the most prepared for a season that I’ve ever been, but it was nice to get back out there.”

Fleetwood, the defending champion, raced out to another lead while McIlroy and Johnson, who shot 72, just tried to keep pace.

“Tommy played very well and I was just trying to hang onto his coattails for most of the round, so really pleased – bogey-free 69, I can’t really complain,” McIlroy said.

This was his first competitive round in more than three months, since a tie for 63rd at the Dunhill Links. He is outside the top 10 in the world ranking for the first time since 2014.