Cut Line Mid-Term Grades


For all of us who feel the party was just getting started – what with Tiger Woods just nine rounds into a curious year, the Grand Slam season just past the quarter pole and September’s Ryder Cup as distant a thought as flying cars and a cure for the common cold – the golf calendar has a cruel calculation.

This week’s Texas Open is the 21st of 41 FedEx Cup season events. But if Tour golf finds itself at the turn the collective mid-term would have to be an incomplete – what with too much still to be decided at Pebble Beach, St. Andrews and beyond. Individually, however, the outward loop is littered with plenty to celebrate and slam.

Made Cut

Youth. It’s not often the media’s unrealistic expectations set the bar too low, but the freshman class has delivered like few expected in 2010.

Rickie Fowler, 21, hasn’t won but he’s done everything but collect the oversized check, posting four top-10s, finishing runner-up in Phoenix and securing his Tour card for next year.

The leader in the clubhouse for Rookie the Year, however, is Rory McIlroy. Two days shy of his 21st birthday the Northern Irishman put on a clinic at Quail Hollow, carding the rounds of the day on Saturday and Sunday on his way to Tour glory. CBS Sports funnyman David Feherty said it best, “There’s winning and there’s whatever that was.”

Augusta National. The powers that be behind the bamboo wanted cheers, they wanted to change the tune and they wanted to make a point. Check, check and check.

With a user-friendly set up the green jackets rattled the pines – one long-time caddie said the Saturday pins were as accessible as he’d ever seen – and kept the conversation on golf, not fire hydrants or scandals, but not before doing what no other entity in golf had the power, or the will, to do – call out Woods for his actions.

“I hope (Woods) now realizes that every kid he passes on the course wants his swing, but would settle for his smile,” club chairman Billy Payne said.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Phil Mickelson. That slow start, recall Lefty had just one top-10 finish in his first seven events, seems like a lifetime ago. In fact, everything post-5-iron, that is Mickelson’s bold second shot from the pine straw on Augusta National’s 13th hole on Sunday, could be classified as Lefty’s preseason.

Everything, that is, except for his petulant decision to use an old Ping Eye2 wedge with grooves that were grandfathered in to start the season. The same can be said for his characterization of Quail Hollow’s greens as the Tour’s “worst designed.” Or his thinly-veiled plug of a hamburger restaurant last week at The Players. A chain, by the by, Mickelson is in business with.

At his best Mickelson has filled the void left by Woods and filled the season with hope. We just wish he’d use his powers for good rather than petty politics or personal gain.

PGA Tour. In a down economy Tour suits have scrambled to keep the financial impact to a minimum, although the real test for Camp Ponte Vedra Beach will come as the circuit begins negotiations for a new network television contract to replace the current deal which expires in 2012.

The landscape seems destined to change, however. Tour officials appeared less-than-engaged as organizers in Hilton Head worked feverishly to replace Verizon, which pulled its sponsorship of the post-Masters staple this season, and the fate of Quail Hollow, the Tour’s preeminent mini-major, seems in jeopardy as the club inches closer to landing a proper major.

At this point, Tour types appear less concerned with the possibility of a double-dip recession than they are double-digit victory totals, but it’s looking less likely the game escapes the downturn unscathed.
Missed Cut

New grooves. More newsprint, research dollars and blustering was wasted in the name of accuracy and for what?

The Tour’s current driving distance average is 281.7 yards, that’s down from 287.9 yards in 2009 and 287.3 yards in 2008; but driving accuracy – the benchmark for those who pushed for the new groove standard – has also dropped to 61.75 percent, down from a 62.91 percent average in 2009 and 63.16 percent in ’08. The point is Tour players are no more interested in the short grass now than they were before this year’s rule change.

As one player put it when he was recently asked to participate in a clinic for the U.S. Golf Association: “I asked them not to change the grooves, so I’d say we’re even.”

Tweet of the Term. @PGA_JohnDaly. Pick a Tweet, any Tweet will do. From his self-serving commercialism to his self-entitled rants against tournament directors who don’t give him sponsor exemptions, Daly’s non-stop drivel is social media at its worst.

Tiger Woods. The guy who used to own Sunday is now having a hard time just making it to the sabbath.

Woods has been as uninspired in his last two starts (MC, WD) as he was uplifted at Augusta National (fourth place), but it’s impossible to ignore a game well short of his best, a mysterious injury with plenty of long-term potential and a swing coach who had seen enough.

Nine rounds into the comeback it’s far too early for a rush to judgment, and Wednesday’s MRI was encouraging, but suddenly Jack Nicklaus’ Grand Slam benchmark doesn’t seem like a foregone conclusion.