Cut Policy Stirring up Extra Drama


Northern Trust OpenPACIFIC PALISADES, Calif. -- John Merrick was in a hopeless situation Saturday morning at Riviera.
He wound up giving hope to nine other players at the Northern Trust Open by missing a 4-foot par putt on his final hole that allowed 78 players to make the cut and keep playing.
If Merrick had made the putt he would have pushed the cut above the 78-player threshold and the field would have been reduced to the closest to 70 -- in this case, 69 players -- under the PGA TOUR's complicated new policy.
Merrick was among six players who had to return in the chill of morning to finish the second round. He was at 3-over par and needed a birdie over his final two holes to assure himself a tee time on the weekend. But when he came up short of the ninth green and chipped 4 feet by the hole, it came down to this no-win situation:
-- If he made the par putt, he would not get to play on the weekend and go home with about $12,000.
-- If he missed the putt, he would not play on the weekend and get nothing.
He missed.
The new 'Rule 78' policy allows for the top 70 and ties to make the cut. But if more than 78 players make the cut, only the closest number of players to 70 advance to the weekend, with the others getting official last-place money.
Merrick's miss meant nine players, including Sergio Garcia, Kenny Perry and Briny Baird, were given new life.
One of Garcia's managers, Carlos Rodriguez, was standing behind the ninth green watching this unfold and he called Garcia to tell him to get back to Riviera. Baird showed up about 20 minutes later, his clubs packed in his travel bag, asking an attendant to open his locker.
Baird was asked whether he expected to return, and he pointed to his bag that was stuffed and zipped.
'Obviously not,' he said. 'I had already checked out of my hotel.'
Marc Turnesa was in the final group and also at 3 over, and he had no idea what was going on.
Turnesa knew that if he or Merrick made birdie, the cut would be 2 over. If both made par, the cut would be 3 over, but 'Rule 78' would take effect and they still wouldn't play.
He hit 3-iron from 199 yards up the hill to 20 feet, but missed his birdie putt and figured he was going home. What he didn't factor was that if Merrick made bogey, 78 players would be at 3 over and he would keep playing.
'My caddie came over and told he that if John missed, I had a chance to keep playing,' he said. 'I didn't even think about that.'
Most players have criticized this 'Rule 78' since it first happened at the Sony Open, sending 18 players home with only a small paycheck. It happened again at the Buick Invitational, where 19 players offically made the cut, but did not qualify for weekend play.
The reason for the policy was to avoid a large field on the weekend, which caused rounds to last more than five hours and created log jams around the course.
The Players Advisory Council this week recommended that the policy be changed so that if more than 78 players make the cut, there would be another cut on Saturday for top 70 and ties. The policy board is to vote on the proposal Feb. 25.
'Thankfully, we only two more weeks of this,' Baird said, confident the proposal would pass.
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