Cut Line: Doubling down in the desert

By Rex HoggardJanuary 30, 2015, 9:32 pm

With all eyes on Arizona for this week’s Super Bowl, the Waste Management Phoenix Open proves to be a compelling prelude with or without Tiger Woods, while Robert Allenby pines for answers ... just not from the media.

Made Cut

Super stop. Perhaps the “greatest show on grass” isn’t your brand of vodka, but there is no denying the reach of this week’s stop at TPC Scottsdale.

In tandem with Sunday’s Super Bowl, which will be played about 30 miles down the road at the University of Phoenix Stadium, the event finds itself at the epicenter of the sports universe.

The convergence of Sunday’s big game with Tiger Woods' and Phil Mickelson’s presence in the field was expected to generate record attendance at an event that rarely struggles to fill seats.

For a sport that largely tries to avoid the vast shadow cast by the NFL, the week’s festivities are a perfect combination of sport and entertainment.

Captain curiosity. While the PGA of America still appears a few meetings shy of naming the 2016 U.S. Ryder Cup captain, the race for the ’16 European captain’s chair also seems to be heating up.

While Darren Clarke appeared to be the front-runner for next year’s matches, word surfaced last week from the Continent that Miguel Angel Jimenez is mounting a late charge.

“At the moment it would look as if it’s down to two of us, between Miguel and myself,” Clark told the Irish Golf Desk. “I’m sure whoever the committee decides will do a great job.”

There had been some who considered Jimenez’s limited English a liability, but it seems the selection committee has other ideas.

Cut Line doesn’t want to get too far ahead of ourselves, but just imagine how entertaining the matches will be with Jimenez on one sideline and Fred Couples on the other –  cigars and Merlot for everyone.

Tweet of the week: @RyanPalmerPGA (Ryan Palmer) “Ready for a fun day (at the Waste Management Phoenix Open). Twelve lucky fans on 16 get a beer on me today. Yes, ball wrapped in a $10 bill.”

For his effort Palmer enjoyed a bit of good karma, opening his week with a 64 for the first-round lead.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

The cost of justice. Rory McIlroy has tried to sidestep inevitable questions about his upcoming trial against his former manager, but this week in Dubai the world No. 1 conceded that the proceedings are taking a toll.

“It’s not something that I would want anyone to go through,” McIlroy said. “It’s a very sort of tedious and nasty process ... Yeah, look, I’m going to be heading to the States regardless with it off my mind and not having to deal with it or think about it. That will be it.”

For McIlroy this is a principled stand, but at what cost? He may save himself millions of dollars in commission fees but if he costs himself a green jacket will it have been worth it?

Tiger 4.0h! It’s too early to draw any real conclusions. It certainly seems a tad premature to use the “Y” word (yips), yet that was the consensus among many observers after Woods posted his worst round as a professional (82) and missed the cut at the Waste Management Phoenix Open on Friday.

Like at December’s Hero World Challenge, Woods’ short game was wildly substandard in his first official Tour start under the Chris Como program. While his ball-striking, and particularly his increased swing speed, was encouraging, there is no way to sugar-coat an 82 that left the former world No. 1 last in the field of 132 players.

Despite his pedestrian start to the Como era, it’s still best to avoid snap judgments. Golf is, after all, a game that defies instant analysis; but a few more weeks like this and Como will discover that some honeymoons can be surprisingly short.

Tweet of the week II: @KyleThompsonPGA (Kyle Thompson) “I battled the putting yips in 2012 on the PGA Tour and understand what Tiger is facing. It’s not something I’d wish upon my worst enemy.”

Missed Cut

Robert Allenby. The Australian returned to action this week at TPC Scottsdale and promptly called his own news conference to ask the media to let investigators do their job unraveling an incident that occurred on Jan. 16. Never mind that it was an incident he promptly told the world about via the media on Jan. 18.

“I understand the way the media works,” Allenby said on Tuesday. “You know, at the end of the day, what's happened has happened. The police will come out with the right story, so please, let them do their job, don't get in the way of them, and everything will be great.”

The Australian was angry with the media for attempting to unravel what happened during his harrowing 2 1/2-hour odyssey on Jan. 16 in Honolulu, when he told police he was kidnapped, robbed, beaten and thrown from the trunk of a car.

“What has been blown out of proportion a little bit is I was a victim, and all of a sudden you're putting all the blame on me,” he said.

Allenby is correct, he is a victim. Someone took his wallet, and phone, and has run up some $25,000 in fraudulent charges, according to Allenby. The rest of his story remains a mystery that Allenby, of all people, should want unraveled regardless of who is piecing the night together.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.