Cut Line: Big Three, NCAA finish, Doral controversy

By Rex HoggardJune 3, 2016, 8:43 pm

The Big Three reunite this week at the Memorial, a big finish at the NCAA Championship and a big decision to leave Doral could lead to a difficult future for the World Golf Championship and Florida swing.

Made Cut

A true title bout. With the exception of Longhorn nation, few could consider the final outcome of the NCAA Men’s Championship anything less than an instant classic.

Texas, the top-ranked team looking to be the first No. 1 seed to win the title since the event transitioned to match play in 2009, would have been the 800-pound gorilla if not for a game-time decision by Beau Hossler to not play in the final with an injured shoulder.

The drama further escalated when the title came down to the last match, with Oregon’s Sulman Raza rolling in a 6-footer for birdie on the 21st hole to secure the Ducks’ first golf title.

Hossler’s conceded match aside (seriously, for a title this important there has to be an option for replacements), the final was, by definition, a classic.

Big Three-peat. In consecutive weeks at the game’s highest level the best three players proved yet again they deserve their lofty status.

Jason Day cruised to victory at The Players, Rory McIlroy rolled at the Irish Open (arguably the Northern Irishman’s “fifth major”) and Jordan Spieth won the Dean & Deluca Invitational (again, a tournament with increased personal value given its proximity to his Dallas home).

“I heard a couple of weeks ago that it bothered Jordan that I was winning tournaments and have the No. 1 spot in the world, and it should. It should bother guys who are competitive and want to stay on top as well,” Day said this week at the Memorial. “I know I'm pushed that way as well when I see Rory or Jordan on top of the world.”

The era of Tiger Woods was defined by singular dominance and it was certainly historic; but the age of parity – be it among the Big Three or beyond – is proving to be just as entertaining.

“Unfriended.” The golf world got its first glimpse of Ted Bishop’s new book, “Unfriended,” on Callaway Live this week. While the book seems to have no shortage of controversy, by early accounts it is neither a tell-all nor sour grapes.

Bishop, who was removed as president of the PGA of America in 2014 after tweeting insensitive comments, said he hoped the book would offer some insight into many important historical events in golf during his tenure at the PGA.

“For me, it helped bring a little closure to the situation,” Bishop said. “I wanted the book to be positive.”

History will ultimately judge Bishop’s time in office, but having a platform to tell his side of the story is a good start.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Always about money. Funny how it goes when someone says it’s not about the money, it’s always about the money. In the case of the PGA Tour’s split with Donald Trump and Doral, the circuit has told anyone who will listen it’s all about the cash.

“I know everybody's talking about politics, but it's actually not that,” commissioner Tim Finchem said on Wednesday. “It's more Donald Trump is a brand, a big brand, and when you're asking a company to invest millions of dollars in branding a tournament and they're going to share that brand with the host, it's a difficult conversation.”

From that difficult conversation will emerge an even more strained dialogue in the coming months as the Tour explains the World Golf Championship’s transition to Mexico City.

There has been no official announcement regarding the host venue in Mexico City for next year’s WGC and the scheduling will likely be awkward, at best.

Doral has always slid neatly into the Florida swing and even though travel has never been easier, this will not be a painless move for the other Sunshine State tournaments hoping to secure solid fields.

Whether it was money or politics, leaving Doral will not be easy.

Lefty’s legal issues. For the first time since being named a “relief defendant” in a federal lawsuit Phil Mickelson spoke publicly this week.

“I'd like to say that I'm disappointed to have been a part of that whole thing, but after a thorough investigation, I'm pleased that it's behind me, that it's over,” Mickelson said.

The bigger comments, however, came from Finchem when he was asked about Mickelson’s association with noted sports gambler Billy Walters, who is accused in the federal lawsuit of insider trading.

The Tour’s player handbook specifically says a member shall not “associate with or have dealings with persons whose activities, including gambling, might reflect adversely upon the integrity of the game of golf.”

Yet when asked if Mickelson’s association with Walters would prompt any kind of disciplinary action Finchem declined to comment, which is the Tour’s default response to uncomfortable situations. In this case, that silence only makes things more uncomfortable.


Missed Cut

Law & Order. Lawsuits are, by nature, rarely friendly situations, but Vijay Singh’s litigation against the Tour has become particularly acrimonious.

Singh’s attorneys filed a request for partial summary judgment in the Fijian’s lawsuit against the Tour over his use of deer-antler spray, which was initially considered a violation of the Tour’s anti-doping policy but later dismissed.

Among the legal issues, Singh has claimed that his treatment was arbitrary and the circuit breached its duty of good faith in administrating the policy.

Part of that claim involves Finchem’s statement to the media that the Tour dropped its case against Singh when the World Anti-Doping Agency adjusted its list of prohibited substances.

Singh’s lawyers, however, say WADA’s view of deer-antler spray had long been established but the Tour failed to keep up with the changes. During his deposition in December 2014 Finchem was asked to explain his public comments.

“Remarkably, Finchem refused to respond to the questioning about whether WADA ever changed the list or why he told the world that WADA had changed the list and, instead, stormed out of the deposition, and refused to return,” the filing for summary judgment read.

And here we thought the legal system was supposed to keep things civil.

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Molinari retirement plan: coffee, books and Twitter

By Will GrayJuly 22, 2018, 9:35 pm

After breaking through for his first career major, Francesco Molinari now has a five-year exemption on the PGA Tour, a 10-year exemption in Europe and has solidified his standing as one of the best players in the world.

But not too long ago, the 35-year-old Italian was apparently thinking about life after golf.

Shortly after Molinari rolled in a final birdie putt to close out a two-shot victory at The Open, fellow Tour player Wesley Bryan tweeted a picture of a note that he wrote after the two played together during the third round of the WGC-HSBC Champions in China in October. In it, Bryan shared Molinari's plans to retire as early as 2020 to hang out at cafes and "become a Twitter troll":

Molinari is active on the social media platform, with more than 5,600 tweets sent out to nearly 150,000 followers since joining in 2010. But after lifting the claret jug at Carnoustie, it appears one of the few downsides of Molinari's victory is that the golf world won't get to see the veteran turn into a caffeinated, well-read troll anytime soon.

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Molinari had previously avoided Carnoustie on purpose

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 9:17 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Sometimes a course just fits a player’s eye. They can’t really describe why, but more often than not it leads to solid finishes.

Francesco Molinari’s relationship with Carnoustie isn’t like that.

The Italian played his first major at Carnoustie, widely considered the toughest of all The Open venues, in 2007, and his first impression hasn’t really changed.

“There was nothing comforting about it,” he said on Sunday following a final-round 69 that lifted him to a two-stroke victory.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


In fact, following that first exposure to the Angus coast brute, Molinari has tried to avoid Carnoustie, largely skipping the Dunhill Links Championship, one of the European Tour’s marquee events, throughout his career.

“To be completely honest, it's one of the reasons why I didn't play the Dunhill Links in the last few years, because I got beaten up around here a few times in the past,” he said. “I didn't particularly enjoy that feeling. It's a really tough course. You can try and play smart golf, but some shots, you just have to hit it straight. There's no way around it. You can't really hide.”

Molinari’s relative dislike for the layout makes his performance this week even more impressive considering he played his last 37 holes bogey-free.

“To play the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest. So very proud of today,” he said.

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Rose: T-2 finish renewed my love of The Open

By Jay CoffinJuly 22, 2018, 9:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Justin Rose made the cut on the number at The Open and was out for an early Saturday morning stroll at Carnoustie when, all of a sudden, he started putting together one great shot after another.

There was no pressure. No one had expected anything from someone so far off the lead. Yet Rose shot 30 on the final nine holes to turn in 7-under 64, the lowest round of the championship. By day’s end he was five shots behind a trio of leaders that included Jordan Spieth.

Rose followed the 64 with a Sunday 69 to tie for second place, two shots behind winner Francesco Molinari. His 133 total over the weekend was the lowest by a shot, and for a moment he thought he had a chance to hoist the claret jug, until Molinari put on a ball-striking clinic down the stretch with birdies on 14 and 18.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I just think having made the cut number, it’s a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday,” said Rose, who collected his third-career runner-up in a major. He’s also finished 12th or better in all three majors this year.

In the final round, Rose was well off the pace until his second shot on the par-5 14th hole hit the pin. He had a tap-in eagle to move to 5 under. Birdie at the last moved him to 6 under and made him the clubhouse leader for a few moments.

“It just proves to me that I can play well in this tournament, that I can win The Open,” Rose said. “When I’m in the hunt, I enjoy it. I play my best golf. I don’t back away.

“That was a real positive for me, and it renewed the love of The Open for me.”

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Woods does everything but win at The Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:57 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a proud man who spent the majority of his prime scoffing at silver linings and small victories, Tiger Woods needed little cajoling to look at the bright side Sunday at Carnoustie.

Sure, after a round in which he took the solo lead at The Open with nine holes to go, the first words out of Woods’ mouth were that he was “a little ticked off at myself” for squandering an opportunity to capture his 15th major title, and his first in more than a decade. And that immediate reaction was justified: In the stiffest winds of the week, he played his last eight holes in 2 over, missed low on a 6-footer on the final green and wound up in a tie for sixth, three shots behind his playing partner, Francesco Molinari.

“Today was a day,” Woods said, “that I had a great opportunity.”

But here’s where we take a deep breath.

Tiger Woods led the freakin’ Open Championship with nine holes to play.

Imagine typing those words three months ago. Six months ago. Nine months ago. Twelve months ago.

The scenario was improbable.

Inconceivable.

Impossible.

At this time last year, Woods was only a few months removed from a Hail Mary fusion surgery; from a humiliating DUI arrest in which he was found slumped behind the wheel of his car, with five drugs in his system; from a month-long stay in a rehab clinic to manage his sleep medications.

Just last fall, he’d admitted that he didn’t know what the future held. Playing a major, let alone contending in one, seemed like a reasonable goal.

This year he’s showed signs of softening, of being kinder and gentler. He appeared more eager to engage with his peers. More appreciative of battling the game’s young stars inside the ropes. More likely to express his vulnerabilities. Now 42, he finally seemed at peace with accepting his role as an elder statesman.

One major, any major, would be the most meaningful title of his career, and he suggested this week that his best chance would come in an Open, where oldies-but-goodies Tom Watson (age 59) and Greg Norman (53) have nearly stolen the claret jug over the past decade.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


But success at this Open, on the toughest links in the rota?

“Just need to play some cleaner golf, and who knows?” he shrugged.

Many analysts howled at Woods’ ultra-conservative strategy across the early rounds here at big, brawny and brutish Carnoustie. He led the field in driving accuracy but routinely left himself 200-plus yards for his approach shots, relying heavily on some vintage iron play. Even par through 36 holes, he stepped on the gas Saturday, during the most benign day for scoring, carding a 66 to get within striking distance of the leaders.

Donning his traditional blood-red shirt Sunday, Woods needed only six holes to erase his five-shot deficit. Hearing the roars, watching WOODS rise on the yellow leaderboards, it was as though we’d been transported to the mid-2000s, to a time when he’d play solidly, not spectacularly, and watch as his lesser opponents crumbled. On the same ancient links that Ben Hogan took his lone Open title, in 1953, four years after having his legs crushed in a head-on crash with a Greyhound bus, Woods seemed on the verge of scripting his own incredible comeback.

Because Jordan Spieth was tumbling down the board, the beginning of a birdie-less 76.

Rory McIlroy was bogeying two of his first five holes.

Xander Schauffele was hacking his way through fescue.

Once Woods hit one of the shots of the championship on 10 – hoisting a 151-yard pitching wedge out of a fairway bunker, over a steep lip, over a burn, to 20 feet – the outcome seemed preordained.

“For a while,” McIlroy conceded, “I thought Tiger was going to win.”

So did Woods. “It didn’t feel any different to be next to the lead and knowing what I needed to do,” he said. “I’ve done it so many different ways. It didn’t feel any different.”

But perhaps it’s no coincidence that once Woods took the lead for the first time, he frittered it away almost immediately. That’s what happened Saturday, when he shared the lead on the back nine and promptly made bogey. On Sunday, he drove into thick fescue on 11, then rocketed his second shot into the crowd, the ball ricocheting off a fan’s shoulder, and then another’s iPhone, and settling in more hay. He was too cute with his flop shot, leaving it short of the green, and then missed an 8-footer for bogey. He followed it up on 12 with another misadventure in the rough, leading to a momentum-killing bogey. He’d never again pull closer than two shots.

“It will be interesting to see going forward, because this was his first taste of major championship drama for quite a while,” McIlroy said. “Even though he’s won 14, you have to learn how to get back.”

Over the daunting closing stretch, Woods watched helplessly as Molinari, as reliable as the tide coming in off the North Sea, plodded his way to victory. With Woods’ hopes for a playoff already slim, Molinari feathered a wedge to 5 feet on the closing hole. Woods marched grim-faced to the bridge, never turning around to acknowledge his playing partner’s finishing blow. He waved his black cap and raised his mallet-style putter to a roaring crowd – knowledgeable fans who were appreciative not just of Woods making his first Open start since 2015, but actually coming close to winning the damn thing.

“Oh, it was a blast,” Woods would say afterward. “I need to try to keep it in perspective, because at the beginning of the year, if they’d have said you’re playing The Open Championship, I would have said I’d be very lucky to do that.”

Last weekend, Woods sat in a box at Wimbledon to watch Serena Williams contend for a 24th major title. Williams is one of the few athletes on the planet with whom Woods can relate – an aging, larger-than-life superstar who is fiercely competitive and adept at overcoming adversity. Woods is 15 months removed from a fourth back surgery on an already brittle body; Williams nearly secured the most prestigious championship in tennis less than a year after suffering serious complications during childbirth.

“She’ll probably call me and talk to me about it because you’ve got to put things in perspective,” Woods said. “I know that it’s going to sting for a little bit here, but given where I was to where I’m at now, I’m blessed.”

But Woods didn’t need to wait for that phone call to find some solace. Waiting for him afterward were his two kids, Sam, 11, and Charlie, 9, both of whom were either too young or not yet born when Tiger last won a major in 2008, when he was at the peak of his powers.

Choking up, Woods said, “I told them I tried, and I said, 'Hopefully you’re proud of your Pops for trying as hard as I did.' It’s pretty emotional, because they gave me some pretty significant hugs there and squeezed. I know that they know how much this championship means to me, and how much it feels good to be back playing again.

“To me, it’s just so special to have them aware, because I’ve won a lot of golf tournaments in my career, but they don’t remember any of them. The only thing they’ve seen is my struggles and the pain I was going through. Now they just want to go play soccer with me. It’s such a great feeling.”

His media obligations done, Woods climbed up the elevated walkway, on his way to the back entrance of the Carnoustie Golf Hotel & Spa. He was surrounded by his usual entourage, but also two new, younger additions to his clan.

Sam adhered to the strict Sunday dress code, wearing a black tank top and red shorts. But Charlie’s attire may have been even more appropriate. On the day his dad nearly authored the greatest sports story ever, he chose a red Nike T-shirt with a bold message emblazoned on the front, in big, block letters:

LOVE THE HATERS.

After this unbelievable performance, after Tiger Woods nearly won The Open, are there really any left?