International stars fail to shine on Day 1

By Rex HoggardSeptember 29, 2017, 12:01 am

JERSEY CITY, N.J. – Officials rerouted Liberty National for this week’s Presidents Cup, moving the picturesque closing hole up in the lineup to No. 14 in order to assure matches reached the signature par 4.

At the rate things are going for the International team, just making it to the re-designated 14th will be a challenge. The day’s opening foursomes match ended on No. 14, a 6-and-4 rout for the American tandem of Rickie Fowler and Justin Thomas over Hideki Matsuyama and Charl Schwartzel.

Moments later, Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed finished off the wildly over matched pair of Si Woo Kim and Emiliano Grillo, 5 and 4, at the 14th hole.

It wasn’t the start International captain Nick Price envisioned, but it’s not as though he hasn’t been here before.

The U.S. has now won its 27th consecutive session, a streak that stretches back to Day 3 of the 2005 matches, and will take a 3 ½-to-1 ½-point lead into Friday’s fourball matches.

After those two early blowouts, things got better for Price’s crew, but only slightly.

Adam Scott and Jhonattan Vegas at least pushed the U.S. duo of Dustin Johnson and Matt Kuchar to the 18th hole only to drop a 1-up decision.

It’s as regular as the Staten Island ferry at the PGA Tour’s biennial member-member; captains and competitors talk of how evenly matched the two teams are and yet as soon as meaningful shots start to fly it’s largely only American flags that find their way to the leaderboard.

Foursomes isn’t the International team’s forte, observers note. The format, which features 30 available points, doesn’t favor the Rest of the World’s top-heavy lineup, the reasoning goes.


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Valid concerns, to be sure, but it ignores the central elephant in the International team room.

For the last decade the Rest of the World’s best and brightest have largely been a bust at the biennial event.

On Thursday at blustery Liberty National, the International side needed better from their big guns. All told, Matsuyama, Jason Day and Marc Leishman – the team’s top three ranked players – went winless on Day 1, with the two Australians halving a sloppy duel with Phil Mickelson and Kevin Kisner.

There’s no way to sugarcoat this - the International team, which is mired in a 1-9-1 slump, struggles from the top down – with the notable exception of Louis Oosthuizen and Branden Grace, who are 5-0-0 in the last two Presidents Cup as partners.

Matsuyama, the side’s top-ranked player, is now 3-5-2 in the matches and managed to make just two birdies on Day 1 on his way to the session’s most lopsided loss.

“I think he still may be reeling a little bit from the PGA [where Matsuyama tied for fifth place] and that. And also he's had such a huge year,” Price said of his Japanese star. “I think he's probably a little tired but he played so well in the practice rounds.”

To be fair, Thomas and Fowler were a combined 4 under par through 14 holes against Matsuyama and Schwartzel, which was the alternate-shot equivalent of a format haymaker; but tired or not it just wasn’t enough for a team that has proven incapable of coming from behind.

Scott wasn’t any better.

The Australian has seven cups etched into his bag this week, one for each match he’s played and the most of any active player, and they are all half empty and hopelessly beyond the benefit of perspective.

Scott, who endured perhaps his most inconsistent season on Tour in 2017 and has a 13-18-5 record in the matches, has lost with Stuart Appleby as a partner, Retief Goosen, K.J. Choi, Geoff Ogilvy and Ernie Els. On Thursday, it was Vegas, a Presidents Cup rookie, along for the walk; but it was Scott who looked like the first-year player with shots like the one he hit on No. 10, a chippie 7-iron that sailed long and into a hazard that led to the U.S. team tying the match.

Although Day and Leishman, ranked seventh and 16th in the world, respectively, appeared to be Price’s strongest duo, they failed to play like it down the stretch.

Day found the water with his tee shot at the 12th hole, missed an 8-footer for par at the 17th hole that would have won the match, mis-hit his tee shot short of the 18th green and didn’t touch the hole with his 18-footer for par at the last for the halve.

Some might say the Australians ran into the better team, but that ignores the fact that Kisner and Mickelson failed to make a birdie on the closing nine. Some might say the International core simply got beat by better play, but that ignores years of history.

Earlier this week Ernie Els, one of Price’s four assistants, was asked what it would take for the International team to do what they haven’t done since Bill Clinton occupied the White House – win.

“There’s always a core of guys that have to play well, there’s always quality guys on the team, I would say five guys and we need points from those guys and they are going to have the toughest matches,” Els said. “We need points from our star players.”

Els, a lock to captain his own International team someday, wasn’t calling anyone out, but we all know who those stars are and they know what they must do on Friday to keep this from being another blowout.

Day finishes strong, leads Aussie Open by one

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 6:12 am

Jason Day birdied three of his final five holes to take a one-stroke lead into the final round of the Emirates Australian Open. Here’s where things stand in Sydney:

Leaderboard: Day (-10), Lucas Herbert (-9), Jonas Blixt (-7), Matt Jones (-7), Cameron Smith (-6), Rhein Gibson (-5), Anthony Quayle (-5)

What it means: Day has a great shot at his first victory – in his final start – in 2017. It’s been a frustrating campaign for Day, who has dropped to 12th in the Official World Golf Ranking. A win this week, in his native Open, would be a huge boost as he embarks on the 2018 season.


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


Round of the day: Day’s 2-under 69 wasn’t the lowest of the day, but it was the most important. Day parred his first 13 holes before birdies on Nos. 14 and 15. He bogeyed the 17th, but finished with a birdie at the par-5 18th for the outright lead.

Best of the rest: Blixt’s 66 put him in position to win. Meanwhile, Japanese amateur Takumi Kanaya shot the low round of the day, a 6-under 65, to reach 4 under for the tournament.

Biggest disappointment: No one really blew it on Saturday, but Jordan Spieth was unable to make a move. His 1-under 70 has him eight shots off the lead. Herbert managed an even-par 71 but he had a two-stroke lead until an errant tee shot at the par-3 11th. Speaking of which …

Shot of the day: Not every Shot of the Day is a great shot. Herbert made a long birdie putt on the eighth and was two clear of the field through 10 holes. But he hit his tee shot long at the 11th and was not able to find it. He had to re-tee, made double bogey and lost his advantage. He’s now chasing a major champion in the final round.

Spieth stalls on Moving Day at Australian Open

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 25, 2017, 4:30 am

Moving Day? Not so much for Jordan Spieth in Round 3 of the Emirates Australian Open.

Spieth, the defending champion and also a winner in 2014, continued to struggle with his putter, shooting 1-under 70 on Saturday at the Australian Golf Club in Sydney.

“I was leaving them short yesterday and today it was kind of misreading, over-reading. I missed a lot of putts on the high side – playing wind or more break,” he said. “I just really haven’t found a nice marriage between line and speed to get the ball rolling.”


Full-field scores from the Emirates Australian Open


The world No. 2 started the day eight off the pace and was unable to make a charge. He had three birdies and two bogeys, including a 4 at the par-5 finishing hole.

Spieth praised his ball-striking in the wind-swept conditions, but lamented his putting, which has hampered him throughout the week.

“Ball-striking’s been fantastic. Just gotta get the putts to go,” he said.

Spieth, who is scheduled to compete in next week’s Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas, is still holding out hope for a third title in four years at this event. He fired a brilliant 63 in very windy conditions to prevail in ’14.

“Tomorrow is forecasted as even windier than today so you can still make up a lot of ground,” he said. “A few years ago I shot a final round that was a nice comeback and anything like that tomorrow can still even be enough to possibly get the job done.”

South Korean LPGA stars lead KLPGA team

By Randall MellNovember 24, 2017, 10:32 pm

South Korea’s LPGA team of all-stars took the early lead Friday on the Korean LPGA Tour in a team event featuring twice as much star power as this year’s Solheim Cup did.

Eight of the world’s top 20 players are teeing it up in the ING Life Champions Trophy/ Inbee Park Invitational in Gyeongju. There were only four players among the top 20 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings when the United States defeated Europe in Des Moines, Iowa.

Park led the LPGA team to a 3 ½-to-2 ½ lead on the first day.

Park, who has been recuperating from a back injury for most of the second half of this season, teamed with Jeongeun Lee5 to defeat Hye Jin Choi and Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4, in the lead-off four-ball match.

So Yeon Ryu and Park, former world No. 1s and LPGA Rolex Player of the Year Award winners, will be the marquee pairing on Saturday. They will lead off foursomes against Ji Young Kim and Min Sun Kim.

Nine of the 11 South Koreans who won LPGA events this year are competing. Sung Hyun Park and I.K. Kim are the only two who aren’t.

The fourball results:

LPGA’s Inbee Park/ Jeongeun Lee5 def. Hye Jin Choi/Ji Hyun Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Mirim Lee/Amy Yang def.  Ji Hyun Oh/Min Sun Kim, 3 and 1.

LPGA’s M.J. Hur/Mi Hyang Lee halved Ji Hyun Kim/Ji Young Kim.

KLPGA’s Ha Na Jang/Sun Woo Bae def. Sei Young Kim/Hyo Joo Kim, 5 and 4.

LPGA’s Na Yeon Choi/Jenny Shin halved Jin Young Ko/Da Yeon Lee

LPGA’s In Gee Chun/Eun Hee Ji halved Jeongeun Lee6/Char Young Kim.

NOTE: The KPGA uses numerals after a player’s name to distinguish players with the exact same name.

 

Cut Line: Lyle faces third bout with cancer

By Rex HoggardNovember 24, 2017, 5:40 pm

In this week’s holiday edition, Cut Line is thankful for the PGA Tour’s continued progress on many fronts and the anticipation that only a Tiger Woods return can generate.

Made Cut

The Fighter. That was the headline of a story Cut Line wrote about Jarrod Lyle following his second bout with cancer a few years ago, so it’s both sad and surreal to see the affable Australian now bracing for a third fight with leukemia.

Lyle is working as an analyst for Channel 7’s coverage of this week’s Emirates Australian Open prior to undergoing another stem cell transplant in December.

“I’ve got a big month coming,” Lyle said. “I’m back into hospital for some really heavy-duty treatment that’s really going to determine how things pan out for me.”

Twice before things have panned out for Lyle. Let’s hope karma has one more fight remaining.

Changing times. Last season the PGA Tour introduced a policy to add to the strength of fields, a measure that had long eluded officials and by most accounts was a success.

This season the circuit has chosen to tackle another long-standing thorn, ridiculously long pro-am rounds. While there seems little the Tour can do to speed up play during pro-am rounds, a new plan called a 9&9 format will at least liven things up for everyone involved.

Essentially, a tournament hosting a pro-am with four amateurs can request the new format, where one professional plays the first nine holes and is replaced by another pro for the second nine.

Professionals will have the option to request 18-hole pro-am rounds, giving players who limit practice rounds to just pro-am days a chance to prepare, but otherwise it allows Tour types to shorten what is an admittedly long day while the amateurs get a chance to meet and play with two pros.

The new measure does nothing about pace of play, but it does freshen up a format that at times can seem tired, and that’s progress.

Tweet of the week: @Love3d (Davis Love III‏) “Thanks to Dr. Flanagan (Andrews Sports Medicine and Orthopedic Center) for the new hip and great care! Can’t wait to get back to (the PGA Tour).”

Love offered the particularly graphic tweet following hip replacement surgery on Tuesday, a procedure that he admitted he’d delayed because he was “chicken.”

The surgery went well and Love is on pace to return to the Tour sometime next spring. As for the possibility of over-sharing on social media, we’ll leave that to the crowd.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Distance control. The Wall Street Journal provided the octagon for the opening blows of a clash that has been looming for a long time.

First, USGA executive director Mike Davis told The Journal that the answer to continued distance gains may be a restricted-flight golf ball with an a la carte rule that would allow different organizations, from the Tour all the way down to private clubs, deciding which ball to use.

“You can’t say you don’t care about distance, because guess what? These courses are expanding and are predicted to continue to expand,” Davis said. “The impact it has had has been horrible.”

A day later, Wally Uihlein, CEO of Acushnet, which includes the Titleist brand, fired back in a letter to The Journal, questioning among other things how distance gains are putting a financial burden on courses.

“The only people that seem to be grappling with advances in technology and physical fitness are the short-sighted golf course developers and the supporting golf course architectural community who built too many golf courses where the notion of a 'championship golf course' was brought on line primarily to sell real estate,” Uihlein wrote.

For anyone paying attention the last few years, this day was inevitable and the likely start of what will be a drawn out and heated process, but Cut Line’s just not sure anyone wins when it’s over.

Tiger, take II. Tiger Woods’ return to competition next week at the Hero World Challenge was always going to generate plenty of speculation, but that hyperbole reached entirely new levels this week as players began giving personal accounts of the new and improved 14-time major champion.

“I did talk to him, and he did say it's the best he's ever felt in three years,’” Day said as he prepared for the Australian Open. “If he's hitting it long and straight, then that's going to be tough for us because it is Tiger Woods. He's always been a clutch putter and in amongst the best and it will be interesting to see.”

Rickie Fowler added to the frenzy when he was asked this month if the rumors that Woods is driving the ball by him, by 20 to 30 yards by some reports, are true?

“Oh, yeah,” he told Golf.com. “Way by.”

Add to all this a recent line that surfaced in Las Vegas that Woods is now listed at 20-1 to win a major in 2018, and it seems now may be a good time for a restraint.

Golf is better with Woods, always has been and always will be, but it may be best to allow Tiger time to find out where his body and game are before we declare him back.


Missed Cut

Searching for answers. Twelve months ago, Hideki Matsuyama was virtually unstoppable and, regardless of what the Official World Golf Ranking said, arguably the best player on the planet.

Now a year removed from that lofty position, which featured the Japanese star finishing either first or second in six of his seven starts as the New Year came and went, Matsuyama has faded back to fifth in the world and on Sunday finished fifth, some 10 strokes behind winner Brooks Koepka, at the Dunlop Phoenix.

“That hurt,” Matsuyama told the Japan Times. “I don’t know whether it’s a lack of practice or whether I lack the strength to keep playing well. It seems there are many issues to address.”

Since his last victory at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, Matsuyama has just two top-10 finishes on Tour and he ended his 2016-17 season with a particularly poor performance at the Presidents Cup.

While Matsuyama’s take seems extreme considering his season, there are certainly answers that need answering.