Cut Line Opening-day edition


It seems like just yesterday we were roasting Greg Norman over his Presidents Cup picks and celebrating the year of the spoiler.

Luckily, there is little rest for well-travelled Tour pros, and while this week’s SBS Championship may not have a 36-hole cut the game’s cosmic scoreboard has enough winners and losers to fill the year’s first edition.

Made Cut

The brothers Molinari. Thanks to Edoardo’s last-season surge – a run that included two worldwide victories in his final five individual events – he finished the year inside the top 50 in the World Ranking along with Francesco and the duo will be the first sibling tandem to drive down Magnolia Lane together since Jumbo and Joe Ozaki in 2000.

At this rate, they will have to tinker with the menu on the clubhouse’s venerable veranda. May we suggest adding a nice Italian red wine and maybe an order of pasta e fagioli to the Augusta National staples of pimento cheese sandwiches and sweet tea.

Hawaii. Let’s face it, the mainland is locked in a historic deep freeze which makes those high-def images from Kapalua that much more welcoming. It’s also comforting to know that the season-opener is on solid footing following a less-than-optimistic existence the last few years.

SBS is on board to sponsor the opener for the next decade, a salesman’s coup by any measure if you consider the world’s Nos. 1 (Tiger Woods) and 2 (Phil Mickelson) have a combined single start at the winners-only outing since 2005.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Groove hyperbole. The U.S. Golf Association’s new rule regarding the size and shape of grooves may indeed serve the intended purpose – which is mainly a few less drivers on the bomber’s tour – but the volume of analysis the new edict has received would suggest the powers have reinvented the ancient game.

One national magazine began the year with a 20-page cover story and some analyst have suggested the new grooves will reduce spin by as much as 40 to 50 percent on wedge shots from the rough (a claim, by the by, one longtime industry type quickly dismissed).

There will be an adjustment, probably some player carping as well, but the best players will still be the best players. The consensus seems to be that players will struggle with distance control from wet rough, but little else.

“Guys will have to figure out if that ball is going to jump or not,” said Allen Terrell, Dustin Johnson’s swing coach. “You’re going to see a lot of airmails this year. I wouldn’t sit in the stands right behind a green.”

Player hyperbole. There is no shortage of bright stars rotating into the Tour’s universe this year. Up-and-coming Northern Irishman Rory McIlroy took up membership and fresh-faced Rickie Fowler plowed his way through Q-School on his first attempt.

The marketers, however, seem to have gotten ahead of themselves. A recent press release from the folks at the Bob Hope Classic read, “Leading Rookie of the Year candidate Rickie Fowler conference call.”

Leading candidate? Really? It’s easy to like “The Main Event” – tons of game, Madison Avenue smile, plenty of confidence – but the lad hasn’t hit a shot as a Tour member. Let’s give him some time. And, while we’re at it, let’s give McIlroy and the other first-year players a little respect.

Missed Cut

Tim Finchem. For anyone who watched Tuesday’s Q&A with the commish it may not have looked contentious, but for the man who can make a freshman ethics lecture seem riveting the exchange was as heated as it gets.

Seems Finchem has had his fill of Woods questions, quickly dismissing queries about a Canadian doctor who has been linked to HGH investigations who treated the world No. 1 last year, and if the commissioner has spoken with the Tour’s embattled star recently.

Even more curious was a telling comment the commissioner offered later in his press conference, “Anybody who hasn’t talked about the Tiger thing in the last two months was on the moon.”

And anyone who thinks the topic is going to fade quietly into the background has been living on Mars.

Sponsor exemptions. It could be the toughest job a tournament director faces because you are never going to please everyone. And the freebies will be in even greater demand this year with the likes of David Duval, Chris DiMarco, Todd Hamilton and Rocco Mediate playing with limited status in 2010.

All of which makes this week’s announcement by Hope officials that Fowler and Sam Saunders got the nod even more curious. Fowler, who may get into the event on his current status and not need the exemption, is an easy pick, but Saunders, the grandson of Arnold Palmer, has played in a single Tour event and failed to advance out of the first stage of Q-School.

We applaud the loyalty shown by Hope officials to Palmer, but would hate to have to explain to the dozen or so players with Tour cards why they will be watching the action from the sidelines.

Colin Montgomerie. We may have to rename the “missed cut” portion of “Cut Line” to something more appropriate – how does “Monty’s Moment” sound? – because the European Ryder Cup captain promises to make this year’s matches a show.

The Scot starts the year with this assessment of Woods: “There is no question there was an aura about Tiger Woods over this incredible record he has, not just in majors but in other world events. That wall has been split slightly, and there are cracks. It gives us more opportunity to find ways of winning these events now, and I am thinking of myself as well as my peers.”

The American bulletin board at Celtic Manor may not be big enough for all of Monty’s fodder.