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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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Paisley (61) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Tour Championship.

The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.

''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''

The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''

Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.

''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''

Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162

The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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McIlroy likely to join PGA Tour PAC next year

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:28 pm

ATLANTA – The upside of the PGA Tour’s sweeping changes to next year’s playoff finale, along with a host of other significant changes to the schedule, seems to be more engagement in circuit policy by top players.

Jordan Spieth served on the player advisory council this season and will begin his three-year term as one of four player directors on the policy board next year, and Justin Thomas also was on this year’s PAC.

Those meetings might become even more high profile next year.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I'm not on the PAC. I'm probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what's going on and give your input and whatever,” Rory McIlroy said following his round on Thursday at the Tour Championship.

McIlroy said he spoke with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about the transition to a strokes-based format for the Tour Championship starting next year. Given his take on Thursday to the media it must have been an interesting conversation.

“I like it for the FedExCup. I don't necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don't know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it's good.”

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Thomas (67) happy to feel no pain in wrist

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:03 pm

ATLANTA – When Justin Thomas arrived at East Lake he didn’t have very high expectations.

After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.

He said he didn’t hit a full shot last week and didn’t expect much out of his game at the finale, but was pleasantly surprised with his play following an opening 67 that left him tied for fifth place and two strokes off the lead. But most of all he was pleased that he didn’t feel any pain in his wrist.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I thought that I may not be playing very well because of my preparation being able to hit as few balls as I have, but no, in terms of pain, it's not an issue,” he said.

Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.

“If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn't have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don't want to do anything that's going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I'm going to get as many points for the team as possible.”

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Fowler 'pain free' and tied for Tour Championship lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:01 pm

ATLANTA – The most important member of Team USA at next week’s Ryder Cup may be the team trainer.

Justin Thomas began the season finale nursing a case of tendonitis in his right wrist and Rickie Fowler skipped the first two playoff events after being slowed by a right oblique injury.

Neither player seemed impacted by the injuries on Thursday at the Tour Championship, with Thomas tied for fifth at 3 under and Fowler tied for the lead with Tiger Woods at 5 under par.

Current FedExCup standings

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I needed the 2 1/2 weeks or so of just sitting around really not doing a whole lot,” said Fowler, who tied for eighth last week at the BMW Championship. “It was definitely the right call. If I would have played through the first or second playoff events, there was really no benefit, especially looking at the ultimate goal being ready for the Ryder Cup and to have a chance to be here at East Lake.”

Being rested and pain-free is a vast improvement over how he felt at the PGA Championship last month, when he underwent therapy before and after each round and had to wear tape just to play.

“It's nice to be back swinging pain-free because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with how it felt during PGA week for a continued amount of time,” said Fowler, who finished his day with a bogey-free closing nine to secure a spot in Friday’s final group with Woods.