Cut Line: Follow the bubble


LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. – For many, the last cut of the PGA Tour calendar is the harshest. There is no “next week” for the likes of Roland Thatcher and Rod Pampling, both mired around 125 in earnings and facing the very real possibility of Q-School after missing the Magic Kingdom cut.

Uber-agent Chubby Chandler didn’t have to wait until Sunday to hear the news that he’d been cut by a client for the second time in a month, while Greg Norman rounds out this week’s lineup in familiar fashion – taking a curious and questionable shot at Tiger Woods.

Made Cut

Money matters. Webb Simpson made it a long shot with his runner-up showing at The McGladrey Classic. Luke Donald made it interesting with his opening rounds of 66-71 at Disney. Both have added a measure of excitement to the Fall Series that has been missing.

A recent poll of Tour types ranked the money title relatively low on the preseason “to do” list, but this week Simpson and Donald have proven a point. Much like the FedEx Cup, Players Championship and Player of the Year Award, the money list is important when the players say it is.

This week at Disney, the two would-be cash kings have spoken very loudly.

Bubble theory. Give James Driscoll credit. At 125th in earnings the Boston-area native could have gone fetal and slunk out of the Magic Kingdom this week secure in the knowledge that he’s exempt into the final stage of Q-School and will at least have partial Tour status in 2012.

Instead, Driscoll opened with rounds of 66-70 and is currently tied for eighth place, which puts him safely inside the projected top 125.

Ditto for Spencer Levin – 32nd in earnings and trying to move inside the top 30 to secure spots in next year’s majors – and Heath Slocum – who is exempt in 2012 via his victory at last year’s McGladrey Classic but is trying to stay inside the top 125 and earn an invitation to The Players Championship. But then Disney always seems to produce more than its share of gutsy finishes.

On Tuesday last year’s Disney champion Robert Garrigus put the money-list pressure into perspective: “It's kind of like knowing you might be the CEO of a company, and if you don't play well you're going to be the janitor,” he said.

Michael Allen could turn out to be the week’s biggest “feel good” story. Allen, 52, is currently tied for fifth and trying to become the first player to win his first PGA Tour title after having won his first Champions Tour tile.

The happiest place on earth, indeed.

Tweet of the week: @bencranegolf  “It’s a girl! Saylor Mackenzie Crane 7.6 lbs. Momma and baby are doing great! #best24hourseverthankyouLord”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Rory McIlroy. Those surprised by the Ulsterman’s split with Chubby Chandler this week weren’t paying attention.

The U.S. Open champion surprised Chandler twice in recent years, most recently at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational when he suggested he would likely return to the PGA Tour in 2012, and he joins a firm (Horizon Sports Management) that includes Graeme McDowell, who also bolted Chandler’s stable in 2010.

Yet McIlroy’s decision was not mean spirited. This move was all about business. Chandler, a former European Tour player, has been very successful at leveraging his stable’s successes, but his priorities did not always dovetail with those of the PGA Tour (see Championship, Players 2011).

This wasn’t personal, this was business, and Chandler, something of the Godfather of European golf, understands that better than anyone.

PGA Tour Latinoamerica. In theory, a Double-A circuit that opens doors for players in Central and South America is a non-starter – all at once altruistic and entirely useful considering the Tour’s interest in the region.

The devil, however, is in the details when it comes to the Tour’s planned expansion south.

“In a sense we have that with the Hooters Tour,” said Paul Goydos, one of four player directors on the Policy Board. “Would we want to put that under the umbrella of the PGA Tour? I would say no.”

The new circuit appears to be a work in progress with an estimated 11 to 12 events the first season and surprisingly low purses (around $100,000). That the Nationwide Tour, the circuit’s version of Triple-A ball, is in search of a new umbrella sponsor also complicates things. Expansion is admirable, but doesn’t charity start at home?

Missed Cut

Timing is everything. Any other year Adam Hadwin’s efforts would have been enough to qualify him for “Cinderella” status. In just five events Hadwin has earned $440,752, which would be well inside the top 150 in earnings this year ($401,000) had he been a Tour member.

But Hadwin is not a member and because he didn’t match the top 150 in earnings from the 2010 money list ($563,000) he now has a date with the dreaded second stage of Q-School.

Nor does it help that Hadwin’s request for a sponsor’s exemption into Disney was overlooked. The fall is all about heartbreak in golf, but this seems a bit much.

Shark attack. Greg Norman has never sidestepped controversy but “Cut Line” can’t help but think The International Presidents Cup skipper stepped right onto a bulletin board with his comments this week about U.S. captain Fred Couples’ decision to make Tiger Woods a wild-card pick.

“I can understand the name of a Tiger Woods and his history of what he's done on the golf course,” Norman said. “But I pick the guys who I think are ready to get in there and play and have performed to the highest levels leading up to it.”

Lost in that logic is Norman’s decision in 2009 to pick Adam Scott for his team at Harding Park. The Australian had missed 10 of 19 cuts and posted just a single top 10 in ’09 and struggled to a 1-4-0 record, not exactly a “highest levels” resume.

It’s a simple rule - captains who live in glass golf carts may want to hold off on swinging ill-advised 9-irons.