Cut Line: Walker's big breakthrough fits Hollywood script

By Rex HoggardFebruary 14, 2014, 6:27 pm

In honor of the PGA Tour’s return to Tinseltown this week, Cut Line celebrates a blockbuster breakthrough (Jimmy Walker), an ageless classic (Raymond Floyd) and a bona-fide flop (the shutting down of the men’s golf program at Furman).

Made Cut

L.A. story. It seems about right that Harold Varner III arrived this week at the Northern Trust Open with big dreams.

Playing on a sponsor exemption, he made it clear he has no interest in sentimental victories in just his second PGA Tour start. He is more interested in championships of the more tangible variety.

“That’s got to be the goal,” said Varner. “It sounds cliché, because that’s what everyone says, but I think I’m capable. I know I’m capable.”

On Thursday Varner stayed on script, shooting a 2-under 69 for a spot inside the top 20 after Round 1, a storybook start in a town that appreciates big dreams.

Walker, three-time Tour winner. In big-league circles it’s understood that it’s the process and not specific goals, like winning three times in eight starts, that should be followed; but then Butch Harmon has carved out a legacy not adhering to the playbook.

So it was after Jimmy Walker completed his 2013 season, his best year on Tour by any measure, that Harmon decided it was time to set the record straight.

“He was talking about finishing here on the money and there in FedEx Cup points, and I told him that’s not acceptable,” Harmon said. “Golf is about winning. I told him he’s too good to be worrying about money.”

Walker won the 2013-14 season opener at the Open, and he has added two more victories since then (Sony Open and AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am). For Walker, the process is now all about winning.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Senior division. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Tom Watson named Raymond Floyd his second assistant captain for this year’s matches, and he will join Andy North behind the wheel of a golf cart in Scotland.

Although Floyd was a competitive staple on eight Ryder Cup teams, his addition to the U.S. side does little to quiet concerns that Watson & Co. will have little in common with what is shaping up to be a particularly young U.S. squad.

Fred Couples, who is Cut Line’s pick for whatever team he wishes to captain, seemed to acknowledge the gender gap in an interview last week with The Scotsman.

“I think he’s going to think he knows most of the players, but it’s going to be hard because I don’t know how many he really, really knows,” Couples said. “But he’s got a few months to go to tournaments, and I’m sure he will have a few dinners and meet the guys, get to know them and figure out what to do.”

And if Couples’ voice doesn’t already carry enough weight, consider that Watson and his two assistants will be a combined 201 years old when the matches are played this year.

Out of time. After just 7 months together, Lee Westwood acknowledged this week his split with swing coach Sean Foley.

Although these types of divorces are nothing new, the move is particularly strange considering that no one has ever questioned Westwood’s swing, and the Englishman is regularly considered one of the game’s top ball-strikers.

“I am not working with Sean anymore,” Westwood told after his pro-am round Wednesday. “I am going to be working with somebody else.”

No word on who the former world No. 1 plans to team with (Butch Harmon confirmed to Cut Line that it will not be him), but after such an abbreviated stay with Foley it seems Westwood is looking for quicker answers, and we’re not sure what the question is.

Tweet of the week: @KipHenley (PGA Tour caddie for Brian Gay) “The 10th at Riviera will drive you nuts. (Gay) and I argued which is the best position for back right (pin). I won argument, he went my way and made bogey.”

The 10th at Riviera, #Brilliant.

Missed Cut

Finals folly. The success or failure of last year’s newly minted qualifying system for the PGA Tour seems to be in the eye of the beholder.

“We’re going to keep the same tack. It worked out very well if you look at all the measurements we look at,” Tour president Bill Calfee told the "Morning Drive" crew on Friday. “Overall we believe the Finals were a home run. They weren’t perfect, and we’re looking at some things in terms of seeding, but I think long term the system is a good one.”

Of course if one wants to play devil’s advocate, the four-event qualifying format had its issues, most notably a concerning amount of volatility.

Consider Andrew Loupe, whose run-up to the finale at TPC Sawgrass included missed cuts at the first two Finals events (Hotel Fitness Championship and Chiquita Classic), and a WD from the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Championship.

Yet the 24-year-old needed only a tie for sixth place at the finale to earn his 2014-15 Tour card.

Officials do plan to address one concern of the new system. Tour graduates were limited in the number of starts they received in the fall, and Calfee said the Tour is looking into possibly expanding field sizes at the Open and Shriners Hospitals for Children Open to help alleviate the problem.

Fuming over Furman. Not surprisingly, news last week that Furman would be shuttering the men’s golf program drew a steady chorus of discontent.

“The shutting down of the Furman men’s golf team by the board of trustees is a disgrace,” tweeted Furman alum Brad Faxon.

The program will be nixed beginning in July. Although the decision is baffling considering the school’s rich golf history, it appears borderline negligent when one considers the program has just one senior on this year’s squad.

According to a school statement, “the decision was based on an extensive evaluation of criteria, including public visibility, attendance, competitiveness and overall costs.”

Under that criteria, wouldn’t every NCAA sport other than football and basketball be considered wanting?

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Ortiz takes Tour clubhouse lead in Bahamas

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 16, 2018, 2:19 am

Former Tour Player of the Year Carlos Ortiz shot a bogey-free, 4-under-par 68 Monday to take the clubhouse lead in The Bahamas Great Exuma Classic at Sandals Emerald Bay.

Four other players - Lee McCoy, Brandon Matthews, Sung Jae Im and Mark Anderson - were still on the course and tied with Ortiz at 6-under 210 when third-round play was suspended by darkness at 5:32 p.m. local time. It is scheduled to resume at 7:15 a.m. Tuesday.

Ortiz, a 26-year-old from Guadalajara, Mexico, is in search of his fourth Tour victory. In 2014, the former University of North Texas standout earned a three-win promotion on his way to being voted Tour Player of the Year.

McCoy, a 23-year-old from Dunedin, Fla., is looking to become the first player to earn medalist honors at Q-School and then win the opening event of the season.

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Randall's Rant: Can we please have some rivalries?

By Randall MellJanuary 16, 2018, 12:00 am

Memo to the golf gods:

If you haven’t finalized the fates of today’s stars for the new year, could we get you to deliver what the game has lacked for so long?

Can we get a real, honest-to-goodness rivalry?

It’s been more than two decades since the sport has been witness to one.

With world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and former world No. 1 Rory McIlroy at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship this week, an early-season showdown would percolate hope that this year might be all about rivalries.

It seems as if the stars are finally aligned to make up for our long drought of rivalries, of the recurring clashes you have so sparingly granted through the game’s history.

We’re blessed in a new era of plenty, with so many young stars blossoming, and with Tiger Woods offering hope he may be poised for a comeback. With Johnson, McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Jason Day, Justin Thomas, Jon Rahm, Hideki Matsuyama, Brooks Koepka and Rickie Fowler among today’s dynamic cast, the possibility these titans will time their runs together on the back nine of Sundays in majors excites.

We haven’t seen a real rivalry since Greg Norman and Nick Faldo sparred in the late '80s and early '90s.

Woods vs. Phil Mickelson didn’t really count. While Lefty will be remembered for carving out a Hall of Fame career in the Tiger era, with 33 victories, 16 of them with Tiger in the field, five of them major championships, we get that Tiger had no rival, not in the most historic sense.

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Phil never reached No. 1, was never named PGA Tour Player of the Year, never won a money title and never dueled with Woods on Sunday on the back nine of a major with the title on the line.  Still, it doesn’t diminish his standing as the best player not named Tiger Woods over the last 20 years. It’s a feat so noteworthy it makes him one of the game’s all-time greats.

We’ve been waiting for an honest-to-goodness rivalry since Faldo and Norman took turns ruling at world No. 1 and dueling in big events, including the back nine of multiple majors. 

In the '70s, we had Nicklaus-Watson. In the '60s, it was Nicklaus-Palmer. In the '40s and '50s, it was Hogan, Snead and Nelson in a triumvirate mix, and in the '20s and '30s we had Hagen and Sarazen.

While dominance is the magic ingredient that can break a sport out of its niche, a dynamic rivalry is the next best elixir.

Dustin Johnson looks capable of dominating today’s game, but there’s so much proven major championship talent on his heels. It’s hard to imagine him consistently fending off all these challengers, but it’s the fending that would captivate us.

Johnson vs. McIlroy would be a fireworks show. So would Johnson vs. Thomas, or Thomas vs. Day or McIlroy vs. Rahm or Fowler vs. Koepka ... or any of those combinations.

Spieth is a wild card that intrigues.

While he’s not a short hitter, he isn’t the power player these other guys are, but his iron game, short game, putter and moxie combine to make him the most compelling challenger of all. His resolve, resilience and resourcefulness in the final round of his British Open victory at Royal Birkdale make him the most interesting amalgam of skill since Lee Trevino.

Woods vs. any of them? Well, if we get that, we promise never to ask for anything more.

So, if that cosmic calendar up there isn’t filled, how about it? How about a year of rivalries to remember?

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McIlroy: 2018 may be my busiest season ever

By Will GrayJanuary 15, 2018, 6:28 pm

With his return to competition just days away, Rory McIlroy believes that the 2018 season may be the most action packed of his pro career.

The 28-year-old has not teed it up since the Alfred Dunhill Links Championship in early October, a hiatus he will end at this week's Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship. It will be the start of a busy spring for the Ulsterman, who will also play next week in Dubai before a run of six PGA Tour events leading up to the Masters.

Speaking to the U.K.'s Telegraph, McIlroy confirmed that he will also make a return trip to the British Masters in October and plans to remain busy over the next 12 months.

"I might play more times this year than any before. I played 28 times in 2008 and I'm on track to beat that," McIlroy said. "I could get to 30 (events), depending on where I'm placed in the Race to Dubai. But I'll see."

McIlroy's ambitious plan comes in the wake of a frustrating 2017 campaign, when he injured his ribs in his first start and twice missed chunks of time in an effort to recover. He failed to win a worldwide event and finished the year ranked outside the top 10, both of which had not happened since 2008.

But having had more than three months to get his body and swing in shape, McIlroy is optimistic heading into the first of what he hopes will be eight starts in the 12 weeks before he drives down Magnolia Lane.

"I've worked hard on my short game and I'm probably feeling better with the putter than I ever have," McIlroy said. "I've had a lot of time to concentrate on everything and it all feels very good and a long way down the road."

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What's in the Bag: Sony Open winner Kizzire

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 15, 2018, 6:05 pm

Patton Kizzire earned his second PGA Tour victory by winning a six-hole playoff at the Sony Open in Hawaii. Take a look inside his bag.

Driver: Titleist 917D3 (10.5 degrees), with Fujikura Atmos Black 6 X shaft

Fairway Wood: Titleist 917F2 (16.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Blue 95 TX shaft

Hybrid: Titleist 913H (19 degrees), with UST Mamiya AXIV Core 100 Hybrid shaft

Irons: Titleist 718 T-MB (4), 718 CB (5-6), 718 MB (7-9), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Wedges: Titleist SM7 prototype (47, 52, 56, 60 degrees), with True Temper Dynamic Gold X100 shafts

Putter: Scotty Cameron GoLo Tour prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x