This week’s edition focuses on opportunities, from the looming possibility of a great rivalry between Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy to what added up to a lost season for many of the PGA Tour’s up-and-coming players.
Rivalries. While it certainly lacks the subtle discomfort that defined Tiger Woods’ decade-long rivalry with Phil Mickelson, and maybe it’s a little too chummy for some, but there is no denying that Tiger’s budding rivalry with Rory McIlroy is good for golf.
Woods and McIlroy joined Jimmy Fallon on "The Tonight Show" on Monday where the two traded friendly barbs, and Tiger even referred to the current world No. 1 as the “little fella.”
Not to be outdone, McIlroy shot back when Fallon asked the Northern Irishman what was going through his head before he hit the ball, “I just try to pretend to be Tiger Woods. What would Tiger do?” he smiled.
While this has been a largely one-sided rivalry with McIlroy winning all four of his majors since Woods last hoisted a Grand Slam trophy, the implications and possibilities are clear.
Woods has always been at his best when he has been pushed, and no one in his career has had the potential to push as hard as McIlroy.
Fit for kings. While it may not have the ring of Turnberry or Royal Birkdale, news this week that the Ladies’ Golf Union will hold the 2017 Women’s British Open at Kingsbarns Golf Links is an inspired choice.
After stops at some of the game’s most storied venues in recent years, the event was played at Royal Birkdale this year and St. Andrews in 2013, officials have wisely colored outside the lines to bring Kingsbarns into the fold.
What the Fife-area layout lacks in history, and some purists will argue that it is not a true links course, it makes up for with stunning views of the North Sea and proximity with the course located just 10 minutes from St. Andrews’ city center.
There is only one real rule when hosting a major championship – location, location, location.
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A course half full. According to a release issued by Rio 2016 this week the golf course that will host the Olympic Games is 59 percent complete.
According to Cut Line’s math that’s 10.6 holes which seems like progress – we’ve played plenty of 10.6-hole rounds in our day – but this update doesn’t exactly fill folks with confidence that the Gil Hanse design will be at its best when golf returns to the Games in August 2016.
The release went on to say the grass needs “around 11 months to grow.” But last month Rio 2016 unveiled a “tentative” test event calendar and golf’s “test” event, which will likely be a PGA Tour Latinoamerica tournament, was scheduled to begin Aug. 15, 2015.
Construction on the Olympic course began in April 2013, which adds up to a layout that is 59 percent complete after 15 months of work with a “test” event scheduled in less than 12 months.
You do that math.
Playing through. In the hectic final moments of the PGA Championship officials made the curious decision to have Rory McIlroy and Bernd Wiesberger join Rickie Fowler and Phil Mickelson in the day’s penultimate group and play the 72nd hole as a foursome.
With darkness fast approaching there was nothing surprising about having McIlroy and Wiesberger hit their drives on the par 5. Where things get curious is when the two were instructed by officials to also hit their second shots before Mickelson and Fowler completed the hole.
“I was OK with Rory hitting up off the tee and checked with Phil prior to them doing that and he was OK with that,” Fowler said this week. “But we had no intentions or didn't say anything or were going to allow them to hit their second shots into the green, so I'm not sure where the guys at the PGA got that idea.”
“It is what it is and kind of unfortunate. It would have been nice to hit my putt and have a little bit of a better look at it.”
Fowler said he was still waiting to talk with PGA officials about the decision, and added that it likely didn’t have any impact on the outcome of the event. Wanting to finish the year’s final major before nightfall is understandable, but major championships are no place to start cutting corners.
Lost opportunities. With the Tour’s first full wrap-around regular season in the books, accountants in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., can start crunching the numbers, and there is one total that is particularly troubling.
The final 10 players from last year’s new qualifying system averaged 17.6 starts during the 2013-14 season, and, even more concerning, not one of those 10 finished inside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup point list.
Compare that total to the same group in 2012, a combination of Q-School and the Web.com Tour graduating class, which averaged 19.8 starts and featured three players advancing to the playoffs.
The issue of limited playing opportunities for the Web.com Tour Finals graduates has been a hot topic all year, and officials have zeroed in on a number of factors, including a large number of players using the “major medical exemption” category this year.
“We have had an uptick (in the major medical category), and it has put some pressure on the access to the Web.com Tour players coming up; as has the last year or two, the use of the one-time exemption for all-time money,” Tour commissioner Tim Finchem said this week at The Barclays. “So we are just evaluating it.”
That, however, doesn’t exactly add up either. There were 23 players listed in the major medical category this year compared to 18 in 2012.
Whatever the issue the circuit needs to find an answer. The future of the Tour may depend on it.
The company line. Finchem was also asked, again, about the Tour’s curious decision to comment on Dustin Johnson’s non-suspension late last month.
Johnson announced he was “taking a leave of absence from professional golf” and a day later Golf.com reported that he had been suspended for failing a drug test, his third failed drug test according to the report. The Tour, which has a policy of not commenting on disciplinary issues, responded saying that Johnson had not been suspended.
“We reserve the right to comment on anything we want to comment about if we think it’s important to do so. In that case, we felt like the information that had floated in the media was incorrect and needed to be corrected,” Finchem said Tuesday.
The Tour continues to cling to the “go ahead and ask, we won’t tell” policy despite strategies by every other major professional sports organization to make disciplinary action public.
In this the circuit seems more interested in protecting its brand than its players. While Tour officials continue to claim otherwise, full disclosure and transparency is a powerful deterrent.