Cut Line Calm Before the Storm
We’re not saying East Lake is quiet, but there were more cheers for Friday’s Collective Soul concert adjacent the practice tee than for anything that has happened between the ropes. But that’s not to say “Cut Line” was left with an empty notebook.
Ernie Els. Here’s the rub, the big man from South Africa was typecast early. We called him “The Big Easy” when he won his first major in 1994, the nonchalant exterior and syrupy swing belying a smoldering core.
Know this about Theodore Ernest Els: His road to golf’s Hall of Fame was paved with grit, defeat and most of all, perseverance. No one has suffered more at the hands of Tiger Woods’ competitive brilliance than Els, who has finished runner-up to the world No. 1 more times than he cares to count. There were injuries, setbacks and finally the heartbreaking news that his son Ben has autism.
The path to St. Augustine was anything but easy – Els just made it look that way.
Jim “Bones” Mackay. One of the game’s classiest caddies took it to a new level this week, giving up his business-class seat on the U.S. Ryder Cup team’s charter on Sunday to Wales so a rookie looper could enjoy the full experience.
Mackay insisted on taking a seat in the back of the plane when he learned Rickie Fowler’s caddie, Joe Skovron, had been bumped from the flight because of a last-minute plane change that limited the number of business-class seats.
“That’s Bones isn’t it?” Mickelson’s manager Steve Loy said Friday afternoon when told of Mackay’s actions.
With that kind of unselfishness, maybe the Americans aren’t underdogs.
Tweet of the week: @PaulAzinger “Fact: 2008 ten American (Ryder Cup) players in Tour Championship, Europe had one. 2010 USA has nine in Tour Championship, Europe has one. Who’s the favorite.” “Cut Line” is really going to miss Capt. ’Zinger in Wales.
Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)
PGA Tour. It’s nitpicking, really, but tell us again why we couldn’t have flip-flopped last week’s “bye” week and the Tour Championship?
Guys were already running on fumes and East Lake has a TPC Zombie-land feel this week regardless of last week’s R&R, so much so someone should check the Amino Vital for traces of Ambien.
So now nine Americans and one European take that daze to Wales for next week’s Ryder Cup and the luster of both events feels somehow dulled.
“I’m just trying to get through this week,” Jim Furyk said when asked about the Ryder Cup on Thursday.
Someone will win $10 million on Sunday at East Lake, a player of the year will likely be crowned and the news cycle for all these happenings will be about 20 minutes before the world moves on to Wales and the Ryder Cup.
There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.
PGA of America. By this time next week we may be lauding Corey Pavin as a master tactician and heir to the Captain America throne held by Azinger since Valhalla, but it’s tough not to wonder what could have been had Payne Stewart not suffered a far-too-early death and the PGA hadn’t passed on a second go-around for Azinger.
Stewart, who most say would have made a brilliant captain, likely would have captained the U.S. team in 2006 in Ireland, Azinger would have gotten Valhalla and next week in Wales and Davis Love III, the leader in the clubhouse to be named the 2012 skipper, would have rounded out the team.
We hate to Friday-morning quarterback Pavin, but that trifecta would have been hard to ignore, and probably hard to beat.
Colin Montgomerie. No, not the Justin Rose-Paul Casey snub, the former Englishman is taking care of that this week at East Lake. We tag Capt. Colin because the Scot decided to announce he is already locked into his Day 1 lineup and that all 12 of his men will play in the opening frame.
It’s one thing to have a plan, even a good plan, but blind allegiance is dangerous and unproductive. Maybe the Molinari tandem will be the homerun everyone thinks it will be, but does a 5-and-4 morning whipping really justify an afternoon try?
Monty should ask Hal Sutton, the author of the great Tiger Woods-Phil Mickelson experiment, about the ills of getting locked into a plan.
Tiger Woods. It’s been the meanest of seasons for Woods, professionally and personally, but failing to qualify for the Tour Championship for the first time in his career is rock bottom by any measure.
New swing coach Sean Foley says Woods’ swing is coming along nicely and Steve Stricker seems inspired by the chance to be the tonic that cures the world No. 1’s competitive ills.
But there is no sugarcoating it: Between the ropes Woods missed the cut in 2010.
Country singer Owen shoots 86 in Web.com debut
Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Web.com Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.
Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.
Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Web.com Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.
Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.
While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:
No prob Doug. I’m +11 now and tweeting during my round. I’m playing as hard as I can. I have 8 holes left if you want to come out and kiss my ass. https://t.co/UMeFWFKLVP— Jake Owen (@jakeowen) May 24, 2018
New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead
After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.
The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.
"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."
The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.
"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."
Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.
Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.
"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."
McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead
VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.
Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.
The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.
McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).
''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.
''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''
McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.
After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.
Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.
Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.
Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.
Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain
After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.
The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.
"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."
Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.
"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."
Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.
Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.
"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."