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Cut Line: Say bye-bye to 'bye' week

By Rex HoggardSeptember 14, 2018, 4:41 pm

There’s no cut this week as the PGA Tour endures its annual playoff intermission, but there’s still plenty to cover in what will be the final “bye”-week edition of Cut Line.

Made Cut

The envelope, please. This was a foregone conclusion for some time, but with just a single playoff event remaining it’s time to end the pretense and ship the Jack Nicklaus Award to Brooks Koepka, the only two-time major winner on Tour this season.

Just as clear is the race for the Rookie of the Year Award. Aaron Wise won the AT&T Byron Nelson in May and is the only rookie to qualify for the Tour Championship (he's 21st on the points list). Austin Cook also won this season (RSM Classic), but failed to qualify for the finale.

Voting begins after the Tour Championship and concludes on Oct. 1, but the Tour may want to save the postage and just call this race now.

Bye “bye” week. This will be the final year for what has turned into an awkward lull in the Tour lineup.

This week’s “bye” on the schedule following three consecutive playoff events was built in originally to give players a breather before the final postseason stop but has become the victim of the circuit’s move starting next year to finish before Labor Day weekend and just three playoff events.

In theory, the bye week made sense considering the top players rarely played four consecutive weeks, but the pause evolved into a momentum-killer for an organization trying desperately to keep fans engaged during a busy part of the sports calendar.

Everybody loves a week off, but as Phil Mickelson explained, when it comes to golf’s postseason, less really is more.

“Since Day 1, years before it started, I was hopeful it would only be three, because it's easy to go one, two, three, play three events. It's hard to play four,” Mickelson said earlier this month. “So we are taking five weeks to play four as opposed to just three weeks. I think it's a great thing.”

Keeping it simple. The USGA and R&A announced this week that more than 30 changes to the Rules of Golf will be implemented on Jan. 1.

Among the changes are new procedures for dropping the ball when taking relief, the elimination or reduction of several penalties, relaxed putting green and bunker rules, and rules that encourage improved pace of play.

Although Cut Line will stop short of claiming that golf’s rulebook is now simple, it’s certainly been simplified and that’s a start.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Short-sighted. For the first time in Jordan Spieth’s professional career he did not qualify for next week’s Tour Championship. As if that wasn’t bad enough, the 11-time PGA Tour winner also finds himself in violation of the circuit’s strength-of-field requirement.

Under the rule that began last season players are required to add an event they hadn’t played in the last four seasons if they didn’t play in at least 25 events in the previous or current season. Spieth will finish with 23 starts (24 counting the Ryder Cup) and did not add a new event to his schedule.

“I obviously accept whatever fine it is and move on and try and add one every year, but it's kind of tough,” said Spieth, who is now subject to a “major penalty” in excess of $20,000 or even suspension, although that seems highly unlikely.

Here’s the rub. Spieth played 23 events, which is actually more than the average (22.2) for the 30 players who did qualify for East Lake. Nor does the policy apply to veteran (over 45) or life members, like Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson. This is likely the root of Spieth’s frustration and will certainly make next year interesting when Spieth ascends to the Tour’s policy board for his three-year term.

Tweet of the week: @maxhoma23 (Max Homa) “While walking off the 18th tee today [at the Nationwide Children's Hospital Championship], nearing the end of a pretty difficult/breezy day, my caddy said that if golf were easy it wouldn’t be fun. It was a deep and philosophical comment. I wanted to punch him.”

The next week Homa finished tied for sixth at the DAP Championship to secure his Tour card. Good for Homa, even better for the Tour’s social media profile.

Missed Cut

Going the distance. The distance debate has predictably heated up as the Tour inches toward a new season and proponents of potential equipment rollbacks have started crunching the numbers.

Some have pointed out that Rory McIlroy is on the verge of becoming the first player to average over 320 yards off the tee and that the Tour average (296 yards) has increased by about 4 yards this season.

There is no question golf needs to address the distance gains, at least at the highest level, but perspective and facts need to be a part of this debate. First, McIlroy won’t become the first player to average over 320 yards off the tee. Hank Kuehne did it in 2003 (321.4-yard average) and the conversation needs to go well beyond equipment’s role in the increases.

“Every professional sport, it doesn't matter, guys continue to get better, that's just the way it goes. And I don't see why everyone has such an issue with that,” Chris Kirk said earlier this month at TPC Boston.

The athletes who play the Tour are now bigger and stronger and their training has intensified to maximize how far they hit the golf ball. Unless golf’s rule makers intend to outlaw gyms and trainers, this has the potential to become an arms race that can’t be won.

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Likely ROY Wise not looking past 'special' East Lake

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 8:05 pm

ATLANTA – Much like the PGA Tour Player of Year Award, voting for the Rookie of the Year Award is very much a rubber stamp this season.

Brooks Koepka is a lock to win the Jack Nicklaus Trophy after winning two majors - the U.S. Open and PGA Championship - despite missing a portion of the season with an injury. Similarly, Aaron Wise, who won the AT&T Byron Nelson, is the only rookie this year to advance to the Tour Championship, which is normally the threshold players use for voting for Rookie of the Year.

“I knew with the rookie class that we had it was going to be tough, and the players still have to vote but it’s definitely something that was important to me,” he said on Wednesday at East Lake. “My focus is just finishing strong this week and giving them a reason to vote for me.”

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For Wise, who had four top-10 finishes this season and begins the week 21st on the FedExCup point list, the chance to win the award is gratifying, but being among the best 30 players on Tour, and securing his spot in all four major championships next season, is an accomplishment worth savoring.

“To win Rookie of the Year you have to have a solid season, but to make it to East Lake, so many guys don’t get this far. You really have to have a special season and this is really special,” Wise said.

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Stanford returns home to share Evian celebration

By Randall MellSeptember 19, 2018, 5:33 pm

Angela Stanford’s eyes welled with tears when her flight touched down at Dallas/Fort Worth International Airport in her return from winning the Evian Championship.

When she lands from the south, as she did Monday, she always looks for the towering grain elevators in her Saginaw hometown. She also always looks for downtown Fort Worth’s skyline.

She got teary with the replica of the Evian Championship trophy in her carry-on in the luggage bin above her seat, knowing she wasn’t bringing it home just for her.

But for her mother, Nan, who’s battling a second bout with breast cancer.

For her father, Steve, who got her started in the game.

For other family and friends.

For Shady Oaks, the club Ben Hogan made famous, where she is a member.

And for TCU, her alma mater.

She realized how empty she felt in so many returns from major championships.

She’s 40 now.

She won in her 76th try in a major.

For so long, Stanford believed she had what it took to win a major, but that only made the string of disappointments harder.

“So I remembered what it felt like coming home from so many disappointments, but not this time,” Stanford said. “This time I got to bring something home for everyone to see.”

When Stanford got off the plane, her parents were among a group of family and friends waiting to greet her. So was her TCU coach, Angie Larkin, who brought along the Horned Frogs mascot, Superfrog.

Tour pros Kristy McPherson, Dori Carter, Kendall Dye and Emory University coach and former tour pro Katie Futcher were all in Fort Worth helping Stanford celebrate.

“It was pretty cool,” Stanford said. “Of course, I asked them all if they wanted to see the trophy.”

She pulled it out of her carry-on and never put it back.

“It’s a heavy trophy, but I told them I’m carrying this everywhere,” Stanford said.

There was a celebration dinner with family and friends Monday night, and another celebration with friends on Tuesday.

“I think it’s just the start of many celebrations with more friends to see,” Stanford said.

Stanford went to work with a new swing coach about a year ago, Todd Kolb, from Sioux Falls, S.D. In her flight home, she thought about how grateful she was for all the help poured into her game, not just the good work Kolb is doing, but the foundation important figures in her life helped to lay. She thought about the lessons and wisdom Amy Fox, Mike Wright and Joe Hallett passed along.

“I’m still using things I learned from my first instructor,” Stanford said. “Amy Fox is a huge reason I’m playing on tour. Mike Wright is a huge reason why I’ve won on tour. Joe Hallett helped me navigate through a tough time in my career.

“They were all important to my winning Sunday. They all gave me building blocks, and they’ve all helped lay the foundation to what I’m learning now from Todd.”

Stanford said being able to share her gratefulness made her return home special.

“It’s been a whirlwind,” she said. “It’s been everything you could imagine it would be.”

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Finau plays with 'idol' Tiger, but don't get excited

By Rex HoggardSeptember 19, 2018, 5:05 pm

ATLANTA – This has been a season of firsts for Tony Finau.

He played his first Masters – after severely injuring his ankle, no less – and all four of the World Golf Championship events for the first time. He also made his first Ryder Cup team.

On Tuesday at East Lake there was another first. He played a nine-hole practice round with Tiger Woods.

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“It was pretty special for me because it's the first time I ever played with him in a practice round, tournament, whatever the case may be,” Finau said. “I've been on Tour four years now, and that's the first time I ever had the chance to play with him. Again, my golfing idol. That was a special day for me yesterday to play with him, pick his brain a little bit, and just get to know him a little bit better.”

Woods and Finau played with Bryson DeChambeau, who has become the popular choice to be a potential partner for Woods at next week’s Ryder Cup. Some have speculated that Finau could partner with Phil Mickelson in Paris, but Tuesday’s practice round created the scenario of another rookie possibly playing with Woods. Finau seemed to quickly dismissed that idea.

“I don't see a lot of potential playing with Tiger,” Finau said.

Celia Barquin Arozamena Iowa State University athletics

Pros share condolences for slain Iowa State player

By Golf Channel DigitalSeptember 19, 2018, 5:01 pm

As details continue to emerge surrounding the murder of 22-year-old Celia Barquin Arozamena, multiple professional athletes took to Twitter to share their condolences for the former Iowa State star.

Arozamena was found dead Monday at Coldwater Golf Links in Ames, Iowa, where she was playing a round of golf by herself when she was allegedly attacked by a nearby homeless man. Twenty-two-year-old Collin Daniel Richards is charged with first-degree murder after allegedly stabbing Arozamena and leaving her body in a pond on the golf course.

Arozamena was the 2018 Big XII champion and Iowa State Female Athlete of the Year, and she was a native of Spain. As the Iowa State community mourned her death, fellow Spanish athletes shared their thoughts, including former Masters champ Sergio Garcia and NBA star Pau Gasol:

Arozamena's amateur accomplishments extended beyond the collegiate setting, as she also won the European Amateur Championship in July. Hall of Famer Annika Sorenstam tweeted a photo she took with Arozamena at a previous event, calling the incident "horrendous."

Iowa State is planning to honor Arozamena Saturday during their home football game against Akron, with the team wearing "CBA" decals bearing her initials.