Cut Line: Venues, victories and very peculiar calls

By Rex HoggardJuly 24, 2015, 1:30 pm

The calm before the PGA Championship storm is upon us but that doesn’t mean there’s a dearth of winners and losers to fill out this week’s Cut Line.

Made Cut

Rule of three. While the public and some players continue to stew over everything that went wrong at last month’s U.S. Open (and there was plenty to stew over at Chambers Bay), the USGA went a long way to changing the conversation with Wednesday’s unveiling of the 2022-’24 Open venues.

Although it was not exactly a surprise, Pinehurst will host the ’24 Open – marking the fourth time the national championship is played on the No. 2 course – and The Country Club in Brookline, Mass., was named the venue for the ’22 championship.

The biggest news, however, was Los Angeles Country Club being awarded the ’23 Open to become just the sixth Left Coast course to host the national championship. It will mark the third West Coast Open venue in five years (the 2021 championship will be played at Torrey Pines) and continue an interesting shift for the USGA away from the traditional Eastern staples.

Tweet of the Week: Actually, this week’s social media snapshot comes via FaceBook and caddie Damon Green, who posted a picture (below) of Jordan Spieth drinking from the claret jug won by Zach Johnson.

Count this as reason No. 642 to admire Spieth, whose bid to become just the second player to win the Masters, U.S. Open and Open Championship came up agonizingly short on Monday in St. Andrews.

Despite the obvious heartbreak, the 21-year-old was waiting to congratulate Johnson after he won the four-hole playoff and, as this picture suggests, had no problem joining the celebration afterward.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Time for a Hall call. There seems to be plenty of blame to go around following last week’s Hall of Fame induction ceremony at St. Andrews.

Laura Davies was unable to attend the ceremony because of travel issues after she tied for 47th place at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Maybe the Hall could have tried harder to get Davies to the ceremony. Maybe Davies could have taken greater precautions to avoid the empty seat on the stage, but it seems the real issue here would be the easiest fix.

The current Hall of Fame criteria allows a player to be considered for induction at 40 years old. Given the length of current careers – Davies is 51 – it seems like a good time to adjust that minimum (55 sounds like a good number) and possibly avoid a similar scenario in the future.

Slow play. Maybe the wheels of justice grind slowly for good reason, but as the PGA Tour digs in for another protracted legal battle it’s hard not to see some of this maneuvering as a delay tactic.

On Thursday a U.S. District Court judge denied the Tour’s motion to change venue in its ongoing lawsuit with a group of caddies.

After months of motions and discovery, judge Vince Chhabria needed only about 40 minutes to deny the circuit’s request to move the case to Florida’s middle district, which is closer to the Tour’s headquarters in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

The next legal speed bump will be an Oct. 1 hearing on the Tour’s impending motion to dismiss the lawsuit and on it will go. We understand why lady justice must be blind, but does she need to be so slow?

Missed Cut

Olympic effort. As the 2016 Tour schedule continues to come into focus, it’s also becoming clearer how much of an impact next year’s Olympic Games will have on professional golf.

The Games will be played Aug. 11-14 in Brazil, leaving Tour officials to dramatically overhaul the second half of next year’s schedule, a nip/tuck that will see the Travelers Championship moved from its normal spot behind the U.S. Open to the week after the PGA Championship in early August.

Sources also suggest the John Deere Classic will be played the same week as the men’s competition in Rio followed by the Wyndham Championship.

None of these moves are ideal, although everyone involved is putting a positive spin on the overhaul, and should prompt officials to begin proactive planning to avoid a similar fire drill in 2020 when the Games are played in Japan.

Moon ball. Duty and honor are concepts Cut Line can understand. What we struggle to fathom, however, is a shortsighted and dogmatic adherence to the rules, like in the case of Sangmoon Bae.

Bae was informed this week that a South Korean court had denied his request for an extension to delay his mandatory military service.

South Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 years must complete two years of military service because the country technically remains at war with North Korea.

Bae is the second-highest ranked South Korean in the world (107th) and is currently qualified for next year’s Olympic Games in Rio. Perhaps more compelling is the 29-year-old’s potential status on this year’s International Presidents Cup team.

The two-time Tour winner is currently 23rd on the International points list and a strong candidate for a captain’s pick considering that this year’s matches will be played in South Korea.

The value of Bae to the South Korean military is understandable, but just imagine his worth to the nation as a Presidents Cup player and Olympian?

Photo by Enrique Berardi/LAAC

Top-ranked amateur Niemann one back at LAAC in Chile

By Nick MentaJanuary 21, 2018, 8:44 pm

Argentina’s Jaime Lopez Rivarola leads the Latin America Amateur Championship at 5 under par following a round of 3-under 68 Saturday in Chile.

The former Georgia Bulldog is now 36 holes from a trip to Augusta.

He is followed on the leaderboard by the three players who competed in the playoff that decided last year’s LAAC in Panama: Joaquin Niemann (-4), Toto Gana (-4), and Alvaro Ortiz (-3).

Chile’s Niemann is the top-ranked amateur in the world who currently holds conditional status on the Tour and is poised to begin his career as a professional, unless of course he takes the title this week. After a disappointing 74 in Round 1, Niemann was 10 shots better in Round 2, rocketing up the leaderboard with a 7-under 64.

Niemann’s fellow Chilean and best friend Gana is the defending champion who missed the cut at the Masters last year and is now a freshman at Lynn University. His second-round 70 was a roller coaster, complete with six birdies, three eagles and a double.

Mexico’s Ortiz, the brother of three-time Tour winner Carlos, was 6 under for the week before three back-nine bogeys dropped him off the pace.

Two past champions, Matias Dominguez and Paul Chaplet, sit 5 over and 7 over, respectively.

The winner of the Latin America Amateur Championship earns an invite to this year’s Masters. He is also exempt into the The Amateur Championship, the U.S. Amateur, U.S. Open sectional qualifying, and Open Championship final qualifying.

Getty Images

McIlroy gets back on track

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 21, 2018, 3:10 pm

There’s only one way to view Rory McIlroy’s performance at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship:

He is well ahead of schedule.

Sure, McIlroy is probably disappointed that he couldn’t chase down Ross Fisher (and then Tommy Fleetwood) on the final day at Abu Dhabi Golf Club. But against a recent backdrop of injuries and apathy, his tie for third was a resounding success. He reasserted himself, quickly, and emerged 100 percent healthy.

“Overall, I’m happy,” he said after finishing at 18-under 270, four back of Fleetwood. “I saw some really, really positive signs. My attitude, patience and comfort level were really good all week.”

To fully appreciate McIlroy’s auspicious 2018 debut, consider his state of disarray just four months ago. He was newly married. Nursing a rib injury. Breaking in new equipment. Testing another caddie. His only constant was change. “Mentally, I wasn’t in a great place,” he said, “and that was because of where I was physically.”

And so he hit the reset button, taking the longest sabbatical of his career, a three-and-a-half-month break that was as much psychological as physical. He healed his body and met with a dietician, packing five pounds of muscle onto his already cut frame. He dialed in his TaylorMade equipment, shoring up a putting stroke and wedge game that was shockingly poor for a player of his caliber. Perhaps most importantly, he cleared his cluttered mind, cruising around Italy with wife Erica in a 1950s Mercedes convertible.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

After an intense buildup to his season debut, McIlroy was curious about the true state of his game, about how he’d stack up when he finally put a scorecard in his hand. It didn’t take him long to find out. 

Playing the first two rounds alongside Dustin Johnson – the undisputed world No. 1 who was fresh off a blowout victory at Kapalua – McIlroy beat him by a shot. Despite a 103-day competitive layoff, he played bogey-free for 52 holes. And he put himself in position to win, trailing by one heading into the final round. Though Fleetwood blew away the field with a back-nine 30 to defend his title, McIlroy collected his eighth top-5 in his last nine appearances in Abu Dhabi.

“I know it’s only three months,” he said, “but things change, and I felt like maybe I needed a couple of weeks to get back into the thought process that you need to get into for competitive golf. I got into that pretty quickly this week, so that was the most pleasing thing.”

The sense of relief afterward was palpable. McIlroy is entering his 11th full year as a pro, and deep down he likely realizes 2018 is shaping up as his most important yet.

The former Boy Wonder is all grown up, and his main challengers now are a freakish athlete (DJ) and a trio of players under 25 (Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm) who don’t lack for motivation or confidence. The landscape has changed significantly since McIlroy’s last major victory, in August 2014, and the only way he’ll be able to return to world No. 1 is to produce a sustained period of exceptional golf, like the rest of the game’s elite. (Based on average points, McIlroy, now ranked 11th, is closer to the bottom of the rankings, No. 1928, than to Johnson.)

But after years of near-constant turmoil, McIlroy, 28, finally seems ready to pursue that goal again. He is planning the heaviest workload of his career – as many as 30 events, including seven more starts before the Masters – and appears refreshed and reenergized, perhaps because this year, for the first time in a while, he is playing without distractions.

Not his relationships or his health. Not his equipment or his caddie or his off-course dealings.

Everything in his life is lined up.

Drama tends to follow one of the sport’s most captivating characters, but for now he can just play golf – lots and lots of golf. How liberating.

Getty Images

Crocker among quartet of Open qualifiers in Singapore

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 2:20 pm

Former amateur standout Sean Crocker was among four players who qualified for the 147th Open via top-12 finishes this week at the Asian Tour's SMBC Singapore Open as part of the Open Qualifying Series.

Crocker had a strong college career at USC before turning pro late last year. The 21-year-old received an invitation into this event shortly thereafter, and he made the most of his appearance with a T-6 finish to net his first career major championship berth.

There were four spots available to those not otherwise exempt among the top 12 in Singapore, but winner Sergio Garcia and runners-up Shaun Norris and Satoshi Kodaira had already booked their tickets for Carnoustie. That meant that Thailand's Danthai Boonma and Jazz Janewattanond both qualified thanks to T-4 finishes.

Full-field scores from the Singapore Open

Crocker nabbed the third available qualifying spot, while the final berth went to Australia's Lucas Herbert. Herbert entered the week ranked No. 274 in the world and was the highest-ranked of the three otherwise unqualified players who ended the week in a tie for eighth.

The next event in the Open Qualifying Series will be in Japan at the Mizuno Open in May, when four more spots at Carnoustie will be up for grabs. The 147th Open will be held July 19-22 in Carnoustie, Scotland.

Getty Images

Got a second? Fisher a bridesmaid again

By Will GrayJanuary 21, 2018, 1:40 pm

Ross Fisher is in the midst of a career resurgence - he just doesn't have the hardware to prove it.

Fisher entered the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship with a share of the lead, and as he made the turn he appeared in position to claim his first European Tour victory since March 2014. But he slowed just as Tommy Fleetwood caught fire, and when the final putt fell Fisher ended up alone in second place, two shots behind his fellow Englishman.

It continues a promising trend for Fisher, who at age 37 now has 14 career runner-up finishes and three in his last six starts dating back to October. He was edged by Tyrrell Hatton both at the Italian Open and the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in the fall, and now has amassed nine worldwide top-10 finishes since March.

Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

Fisher took a big step toward ending his winless drought with an eagle on the par-5 second followed by a pair of birdies, and he stood five shots clear of Fleetwood with only nine holes to go. But while Fleetwood played Nos. 10-15 in 4 under, Fisher played the same stretch in 2 over and was unable to eagle the closing hole to force a playoff.

While Fisher remains in search of an elusive trophy, his world ranking has benefited from his recent play. The veteran was ranked outside the top 100 in the world as recently as September 2016, but his Abu Dhabi runner-up result is expected to move him inside the top 30 when the new rankings are published.