Spieth, McIlroy hope to turn good seasons into great

By Ryan LavnerJuly 26, 2016, 8:42 pm

SPRINGFIELD, N.J. – The PGA of America ditched the Glory’s Last Shot tag line a few years ago, at the PGA Tour’s request, because, it reasoned, important golf is still played deep into the fall. (Hello, FedEx Cup.)

That’s true, of course, but the PGA’s former slogan still underscores the importance of this week for players like Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, whose outlooks could change dramatically depending on how they fare at Baltusrol.

It’s been a turbulent few months for both superstars, but the numbers suggest they’re far from spiraling toward Armageddon.

McIlroy has a victory and eight top-5s in 15 starts this year.

Spieth has won twice and likely was a solidly struck 9-iron from sliding another green jacket onto his shoulders.

Yet for various reasons, both players enter the year’s final major unfulfilled and unsatisfied.

Asked Tuesday to describe his year in a single word, McIlroy chose "neutral."

“I’m trying to stay as positive as I can,” he added. “I feel like I am positive because my game is in good shape. But I guess I’m just maybe running out of patience a little bit and trying to make it happen.”

His frustration has boiled over at various points over the past few months. In May, he was less-than-enthused about the negative spin regarding his game. In June, he missed the cut at the U.S. Open and blew out of town before speaking with the media. And just two weeks ago at The Open, he slammed his 3-wood and snapped the head after an errant shot.

Surely, he’s desperate to get back to world No. 1, to his winning ways?

“I think you guys are more desperate for it to happen than I am,” McIlroy said at Royal Troon.

Yet in this era of awe-inspiring power players, a year in neutral is oftentimes a year left behind. If McIlroy fails to win the PGA, he’ll have gone two full years without a major. That’s far from an eternity, of course, but it comes at a time when Spieth, Jason Day and Dustin Johnson all have taken significant strides. Fair or not, it appears as if McIlroy is lagging behind, which led an ambitious headline writer for The Telegraph (U.K.) to suggest that the former Boy Wonder was in danger of becoming Ringo.

Is it unrealistic, McIlroy was asked, to expect a world-class golfer in today’s environment – with better equipment, better fitness, better depth and talent – to capture a major title every year?

McIlroy believes it’s possible. And he should – from 2011-14, he averaged a major per year.

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“There’s no reason to think that I can’t do that for the foreseeable future,” he said. “Obviously that’s what my benchmark is, and I feel like I can attain that. I have to play my best golf, and sometimes it’s hard to come up with your best golf each and every week. But I definitely think it’s attainable.”

Like McIlroy, Spieth’s toughest challenge this year has been outracing the massive expectations that followed one of the best seasons in recent memory.

Spieth has won twice this year, but history suggested he was due for a market correction after he came up four shots shy of the single-season Grand Slam. Of the 14 players who won two majors in a season, only five returned the next year and added to their Slam total.

Even without his best stuff, Spieth led the Masters by five shots before ultimately coming undone on the back nine. He hasn’t finished inside the top 30 in each of the past two majors, however, only fueling the critics who say he’s mired in a slump.

“I don’t think that I am a better player this year than I was last year,” he said. “I think I’m the same player – I’ve just been getting a bit too frustrated.”

On the course, Spieth has seemed at times both impatient and uncertain, engaging in long, lively chats with caddie Michael Greller in which he overanalyzed each shot and club selection. In hindsight, he said, it served little purpose, other than to drive his pace of play to a screeching halt. In recent weeks, he’s tried to revert back to a “gunslinger” mentality – chose a club, pick a target, pull the trigger – but it could be further proof that his mind is cluttered with unnecessary thoughts.

Spieth has even expressed frustration with some of the negative questions about his game, as if to imply that he’s had a bad year. Though the statistics show that he’s taken a step back with his ball-striking, he’s longer off the tee and more confident in his mid-to-long iron game. And even if he’s not quite as sharp, even if he’s major-less this year, the kid still knows how to get the ball in the hole – his scoring average (69.501) is third-best on Tour.

“I set my own expectations so high,” he said. “So have I met them this year? Not yet. But I still can, based on the goals that we set for the year.”

Which brings us back to the PGA, and to, ahem, Glory’s Last Shot. A FedEx Cup title could pad their already overflowing wallets, and a Ryder Cup victory might bring a sense of collective achievement, but nothing would compare to the satisfaction of capturing another major, of transforming a good year into a great one, of silencing the questions, if only for a few moments.

It’s the only tournament left on their schedules with that singular power.

McIlroy seems to understand the stakes this week at Baltusrol. Grading his season so far, he said it’s either a “B-minus, or a B … but I could change that into an A-plus on Sunday.”

“There’s a lot of golf left, the last major of the year,” he said, “and I want to give it my all to get in the mix and try to win another one of these things before I have to wait another eight months.”

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.

Trump playing 'quickly' with Tiger, DJ

By Golf Channel DigitalNovember 24, 2017, 1:33 pm

Updated at 11:14 a.m. ET

An Instagram user known as hwalks posted photos to her account that included images of Tiger Woods, President Trump and Dustin Johnson Friday at Trump National, as well as video of Woods' swing.

Here are some other social media posts that have surfaced:

Original story:

Tiger Woods is scheduled to make his return to competition next week at his Hero World Challenge. But first, a (quick) round with the President.

President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday that he was going to play at Trump National Golf Club in Jupiter, Fla., alongside Woods and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson.

Woods and President Trump previously played last December. Trump, who, according to trumpgolfcount.com has played 75 rounds since taking over the presidency, has also played over the last year with Rory McIlroy, Ernie Els and Hideki Matsuyama.

Chawrasia leads major champs in Hong Kong

By Associated PressNovember 24, 2017, 1:19 pm

HONG KONG – S.S.P. Chawrasia extended his lead at the Hong Kong Open to two strokes Friday after a 4-under 66 in the second round.

Chawrasia, who had led by one at the Hong Kong Golf Club, is at 9-under 131 overall and took as much as a five-stroke lead at one point.

''Yesterday I was putting very well, and today, also I make some up and downs. I saved a couple of short putts. That's why I think I'm leading by two shots most probably,'' the Indian said. ''The next two days, I'm just looking forward.''

Full-field scores from the UBS Hong Kong Open

Thomas Aiken (64) is second, followed by Alexander Bjork (66), Joakim Lagergren (66), Poom Saksansin (68) and Julian Suri (67) at 5 under 135.

Aiken's round was the lowest of the tournament.

''It is tough out there. The greens are really firm. You've got to hit the fairway,'' Aiken said. ''If you get above the holes, putts can get away from you.''

Justin Rose (69) had six birdies, but three bogeys and a double-bogey at the par 3 12th kept him at 3 under for the tournament.

Masters champion Sergio Garcia (71), playing for the first time in Hong Kong, was at even par, as was defending champion Sam Brazel (71) and 2014 champion Scott Hend (67).

''I have to play better,'' Garcia said. ''The way I felt like I played, it's difficult. This kind of course, you need to play well to shoot a good score.''