Cut Line: Mixed reviews in Tiger's return

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Tiger Woods returns to competition this week to mixed reviews, and expectations; while Jack Nicklaus draws a familiar line in the sand in this week’s Silly Season edition.

Made Cut

The Return. Tiger Woods entered “phase two” of his career on Thursday at the Hero World Challenge with a predictable mix of miscues and familiar mojo, roaring out with four birdies through eight holes before stumbling in with a pair of sloppy double bogeys to close his round of 73.

It seems the pendulum has swung in a new direction for Woods, who made the game look so easy for the vast majority of his career that expectations became patently unrealistic.

After 15 months of inactivity, however, many figured that if he could remain upright for 72 holes at the Silly . . . sorry, Challenge Season event his return to the fray could be considered a moral victory.

Woods himself seemed to jokingly acknowledge the subdued expectations for his return, telling reporters he hoped to be able to crack the top 1,000 in the World Golf Ranking (he’s currently 898th in the world).

Cut Line discussed this curious new reality with Woods’ former swing coach Hank Haney this week on Sirius/XM’s PGA Tour Network.

“From what I saw today I see Tiger winning more tournaments and at least one more major, lot's of positives,” Haney tweeted after the opening round in the Bahamas.

It seems doubtful Mr. Second Sucks has lowered his own benchmarks to little more than participation goals, but it’s encouraging that Tiger has embraced the long view when it comes to “phase two.”

Tweet of the Week: ‏@GrahamDeLaet (Graham DeLaet) “It's good to have Tiger back playing our game. Embarrassing to hear/read some of the negative comments/jokes when he hasn't hit a shot yet.”

Woods isn’t one to call out social media trolls, he leaves that to Gary Player, but there is something to be said for giving the guy the benefit of the doubt.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Bearing witness. If Jack Nicklaus has a microphone the chances are good he’s taken to a familiar soapbox of preaching the ills of the modern golf ball.

So it was no surprise that the Golden Bear didn’t hold back this week during a Q&A at the HSBC Golf Business Forum.

“Fact is more golf courses have closed in the U.S. in each of the last 10 years than have opened. This is thanks in great part to changes in the golf ball and the distance it travels. Courses have had to change along with it,” Nicklaus said.

“We don’t want to change the game for the core golfer, but we need to make every effort to offer alternatives to bring more people into the game and keep them in the game. I think we need to develop a golf ball to suit the golf course, rather than build courses to suit a golf ball. Whether it’s a ball that goes 50 percent (as far), 75 percent, or 100 percent, you play a ball that fits the course and your game.”

Maybe Nicklaus’ frequent rants against the modern golf ball have caused the powers in golf to become tone-deaf to his message, but that doesn’t justify continued indifference from the game’s decision makers when it comes to his concerns and solutions.

Think globally, act locally. First the good news, the 2017 LPGA Tour schedule was unveiled this week with more events, up from 34 this season to 35 next year, and more prize money, from $63 million to $67.35 million.

The cash bump was in large part to purse increases in four of the tour’s five majors, including a $500,000 increase at the U.S. Women’s Open.

Now, the small print. Three U.S. events (Yokohama Tire LPGA Classic, Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic and Coates Golf Championship) will not be on the schedule in 2017; but the circuit added four new tournaments, including one in New Zealand and another in Scotland.

That brings the number of international stops on the LPGA’s schedule to 18, that’s 51 percent played outside the friendly confines of the United States.

Considering the international diversity of the LPGA’s membership, maybe a schedule heavy with world travel is perfectly understandable, but a couple more home games would be nice.


Missed Cut

Blame it on Rio. Anyone with even a passing interest in this year’s Olympics had to also be impressed with the golf course officials and architect Gil Hanse created under, let’s just say difficult conditions.

Nor should it have been a surprise that the Olympic Golf Course is now struggling to attract golfers and is struggling financially, according to an Agence France-Presse report this week.

Brazilian Golf Confederation president Paulo Pacheco told Cut Line via an e-mail this week the course hasn’t officially opened and disputed much of the AFP’s report, but the issues faced by Rio’s only public course are very real.

“We know of the difficulties of implementing sports projects in times of crisis, but we never stop looking for solutions and it is far from our minds giving up such a representative project for golf in Brazil and in the world,” Pacheco said.

Growing the game has been a central theme behind golf’s return to the Olympics from the outset, and nothing – not the six medals handed out this year or the worldwide attention the event generation – has the potential to grow the game like the Olympic Golf Course. Officials from the Brazilian Golf Confederation and International Golf Federation need to make sure that promise is realized.