Cut Line Sawgrass Stew


The Players ChampionshipPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Tough time to be a golf course architect or superintendent. Last week, Phil Mickelson labeled Quail Hollow’s greens the Tour’s “worst-designed,” and on Friday, Jerry Kelly unloaded on something of an agronomic Armageddon at the PGA Tour’s crown jewel.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the field has taken it to TPC Sawgrass for two relatively calm days. The cut for this week’s pseudo-major came at 2-under 142, the lowest it’s been since 1993.

The good news for Tour types: Tiger Woods made the cut. The bad news: Rory McIlroy did not. Here’s a look at everything in between.

Made Cut

Gen Now. The gulf between expectations and reality can be unrealistic, if not crushing for the uninitiated. Just ask Ricky Barnes. Only one guy in this generation has exceeded the hype when he put on that clinic at the 1997 Masters.

So it was then that Rory McIlroy matched all the hyperbole with a historic round last Sunday to win his first PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow. On the same random Sunday, both McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa, who shot a final-round 58 to win a Japan Golf Tour event, came of age. Not to mention Rickie Fowler, who has finished tied for eighth and sixth in his last two events.

Imagine a trio of storylines so compelling that by week’s end the unthinkable, Tiger Woods’ missed cut, was reduced to a footnote. How’s golf doing?

J.P. Fitzgerald. There are no shortage of stellar PGA Tour caddies, but Rory McIlroy’s man has separated himself from the pack in the last few weeks.

A week before his man’s breakthrough at Quail Hollow, Fitzgerald convinced him to spend a couple of days playing Royal Portrush and Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, a move that fed McIlroy’s confidence and set the stage for last week.

On Tuesday, Fitzgerald went a step further and organized a 21st birthday party/first Tour title soiree at a local watering hole.

“What goes on on Tour stays on Tour? You've never heard of that?” Padraig Harrington smiled when asked about the gathering.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

St. Jude Classic. It seemed curious that Lee Westwood, who is sponsored by UPS, would not be given a sponsor exemption into the Memphis stop, which is situated in the heart of FedEx territory.

Whether it was corporate pettiness or simply an oversight by St. Jude officials is not clear, but some negative press seems to have changed official’s minds and they have offered the Englishman a spot in the field.

“They asked him to be in the corporate pro-am. How about that?” smiled Chubby Chandler, Westwood’s manager.

Fifth Major debate. The Players Championship is a marquee event with a solid field and 17 major-championship quality holes, and whether it deserves a spot within the Grand Slam frat house is not a question for the media, fans or Tour officials. The simple truth is the players will decide where Sawgrass falls in the golf hierarchy.

All of which leads us to take a closer look at this week’s DL. In order, Steve Stricker (ranked third in the World Ranking), Retief Goosen (15th), Fred Couples and finally Anthony Kim (11th) all pulled out with injuries.

Without question the injuries are legitimate, but we’re just curious if some don’t at least give it a try at the fourth major.

Tweet of the week: @stewartcink: “Getting into car at @ZachjohnsonPGA’s house just now and something happened that hasn’t occurred in a LONG time – I got mooned by a passerby!”

Missed Cut

Rumors. It happens like clockwork: Tiger Woods misses a cut, a tee time, a 4-footer at Isleworth, a wake-up call and the “Hammer Hank” rhetoric climbs to a crescendo. Until, of course, Woods wins again, and he always wins again, and Hank Haney is given a reprieve.

This week at TPC Sawgrass the rumor mill seemed in overdrive, the end was near for the swing coach, that is until Woods gave the idea the Heisman on Thursday saying, “Hank and I talk every day, so nothing's changed. According to the press, I've fired him five times by now over the course of my four years or whatever it was, six years?”

Without question Woods is struggling with a game that used to seem effortless, but the problem is not Haney’s teachings as much as it is Woods’ off-course distractions.

One long-time swing coach said it best last week at Quail Hollow, “There are two kinds of swing coaches, those who have been fired and those who are about to be (fired).”

TPC Sawgrass. Tour officials have passed the buck to a historically frigid winter which has resulted in less-than-perfect conditions for this week’s Players Championship. At one point things got so sideways the Tour recalled former superintendent Fred Klauk from his golden years and closed the course for three weeks.

Tour players, however, don’t want excuses. Not when it comes to their “fifth major.”

“I know it was a tough winter, but I just don’t know what’s going on. I’d rather play on mud and dirt like we used to sometimes than play on a first cut,” Jerry Kelly told moments after signing for a second-round 66. “It’s like an old fringe. It’s slower than an old fringe, but when you get it down grain it’s so fast because it’s so long it’s laying down.”

“Mud and dirt,” two words you don’t hear at Augusta National.