Cut Line: Getting in (or out) of position for playoffs

By Rex HoggardAugust 18, 2017, 10:14 pm

In honor of Monday’s solar eclipse we went with a “path of totality” edition this week as the end to the PGA Tour’s regular season marks a deadline with many different meanings.

Made Cut

Pure Ice. Henrik Stenson told Cut Line last week at Quail Hollow that he’d added the Wyndham Championship to his schedule to assure he gets his minimum of 15 Tour starts this season and that, “I don’t feel any pressure, because I don’t have any pressure.”

On Friday, the aptly named Iceman proved the point with a 66 to move to within a stroke of the lead at 12 under par.

Although the Swede added the final regular-season stop to his dance card to assure he plays his 15 events, this week’s event is his 13th start and at 75th in the season-long points race he’s assured of playing the first two post-season events, he also understands the importance of positioning in the playoffs as well as anyone.

In 2015, when Stenson finished second in the season-long race he began the post-season 41st in points, and in ’13 when he won the title he finished the regular season at ninth.

“As long as you’re in it you can go all the way to win it ... I even got the punch line, slogan in there,” he smiled.

Season’s greetings. Maybe the Tour’s playoffs don’t hold the dramatic appeal that makes golf so entertaining, but the post-season does have its moments.

Normally, the playoff drama is reserved for Sunday at East Lake with $10 million on the line, but there are other times, like this week at the Wyndham Championship where players are scrambling to secure a spot inside the top 125 on the season-long points race and a start at next week’s Northern Trust.

Johnson Wagner opened with rounds of 67-64 to move into a tie for seventh, which would currently project him just outside the top 125 (127th) after starting the week No. 141 on the list.

Ryan Armour made an even bigger jump thanks to a second-round 61 to move into a share of the lead, jumping from 187th on the points list to currently inside the top 80.

The FedExCup can be confusing and has always been exceedingly complicated, but there are times when the drama is very real.

Tweet of the week:

Thomas, among the game’s most savvy when it comes to social media, was relatively quiet this week, which is understandable considering how dramatically his professional life changed on Sunday at the PGA Championship.

Don’t expect that to continue. Just imagine the possibilities for next spring now that the crew has completed the #SB2K18 Slam (Jordan Spieth ’15 Masters, U.S. Open and ’17 Open; Thomas ’17 PGA).

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Team player. When it comes to the biennial Solheim Cup matches Europe’s Suzann Pettersen is on the fiery side – think Patrick Reed without the cowboy boots.

So imagine how difficult the decision was for Pettersen to step down, announcing on Wednesday that she would be withdrawing from the matches because of a back injury.

“I have made this extremely difficult decision to help the European team and give my teammates the best possible chance of success,” she said in a statement.

Pettersen, who was replaced by vice captain Catriona Matthew in the Continent’s lineup, has been the heart and soul of the European team and she will be missed. She should also be applauded for not getting caught up in personal desires and doing what’s best for her team.

Major review. Last week’s PGA Championship marked the end of the major season and before we turn our attention to the playoffs or Presidents Cup, it’s worth going over some Grand Slam grades.

Two first-time major venues highlighted this year’s line up, with Erin Hills (U.S. Open) and Quail Hollow (PGA) joining the rotation to mixed reviews.

Erin Hills was supposed to be a brute at 7,740 yards, but little wind and soft conditions led to record scoring; while Quail Hollow proved to be the year’s most demanding test.

Both venues could use a little tinkering before they are thrust back into the major spotlight again – at Quail Hollow officials will need to do something about the fourth green, while Erin Hills and the USGA may want to rethink that fescue rough.

None of these things, however, should be deal breakers. Neither course was perfect, but both proved they deserve a second swing at the major plate.

Missed Cut

Missing the points. The key to real drama is equal parts victory and defeat, and for all the players making moves into the top 125 on the season-long points list this week there are just as many succumbing to the mathematical reality that their year is over.

Daniel Summerhays, No. 124 on the points list, missed the cut at the Wyndham and will miss the playoffs for the first time since 2011, and Ryan Palmer (128th in points) also failed to advance to the weekend with rounds of 72-71 and will finish outside the top 125.

Although he’s not playing the Wyndham, Adam Scott’s plight is just as final. Scott returned to Australia after the PGA to be with his wife, Marie, who was expecting the couple’s second child, and he will miss the first two playoff stops, which at 62nd on the points list means his season is likely over.

Maybe golf will never fit snuggly into the playoff ideal, but there’s no denying that there is an urgency to the post-season that wasn’t there before.

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1, 2, 3 out: Thornberry, Suh, Morikawa lose at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 1:14 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – The top three players in the world had a tough afternoon Wednesday at Pebble Beach.

Braden Thornberry, Justin Suh and Collin Morikawa – Nos. 1-3, respectively, in the World Amateur Golf Ranking – all lost their Round of 64 matches at the U.S. Amateur.

Thornberry lost, 2 and 1, to Jesus Montenegro of Argentina. As the No. 1 amateur in the world, the Ole Miss senior was in line to receive the McCormack Medal, which would exempt him into both summer Opens in 2019, provided he remains amateur. But now he’ll need to wait and see how the rankings shake out.

Suh and Morikawa could have played each other in the Round of 32, but instead they were both heading home early.

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Suh, a junior at USC, never led in his 1-up loss to Harrison Ott, while Cal's Morikawa lost to another Vanderbilt player, John Augenstein, in 19 holes.

Englishman Matthew Jordan is the fourth-ranked player in the world, but he didn’t make the 36-hole stroke-play cut.

The highest-ranked player remaining is Oklahoma State junior Viktor Hovland, who is ranked fifth. With his college coach, Alan Bratton, on the bag, Hovland beat his Cowboys teammate, Hayden Wood, 3 and 2, to reach the Round of 32.

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Fiery Augenstein outduels Morikawa at U.S. Amateur

By Ryan LavnerAugust 16, 2018, 12:55 am

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Around the Vanderbilt golf team John Augenstein’s nickname is “Flash,” and it’s easy to see why.

The swing loaded with speed.

The on-course charisma.

The big shot in the big moment.

The Commodores junior added another highlight to his growing collection Wednesday, when he defeated world No. 3 Collin Morikawa in 19 holes during a Round of 64 match at the U.S. Amateur.

Out of sorts early at Pebble Beach, Augenstein was 2 down to Morikawa after butchering the short seventh and then misplaying a shot around the green on 8.

Standing on the ninth tee, he turned to Vanderbilt assistant coach/caddie Gator Todd: "I need to play the best 10 holes of my life to beat Collin."

And did he?

“I don’t know,” he said later, smirking, “but I did enough.”

Augenstein won the ninth hole after Morikawa dumped his approach shot into the hazard, drained a 30-footer on 10 to square the match and then took his first lead when he rolled in a 10-footer on 14.

One down with three holes to go, Morikawa stuffed his approach into 16 while Augenstein, trying to play a perfect shot, misjudged the wind and left himself in a difficult position, short and right of the green. Augenstein appeared visibly frustrated once he found his ball, buried in the thick ryegrass short of the green. He told Todd that he didn’t think he’d be able to get inside of Morikawa’s shot about 6 feet away, but he dumped his pitch shot onto the front edge, rode the slope and trickled it into the cup for an unlikely birdie.

“Come on!” he yelled, high-fiving Todd and tossing his wedge at his bag.

“It was beautiful,” Todd said. “I’m not sure how he did that, but pretty cool that it went in.”  

U.S. Amateur: Articles, photos and videos

Morikawa answered by making birdie, then won the 17th with a par before both players halved the home hole with birdies.

On the first extra hole, Augenstein hit his approach to 15 feet while Morikawa left it short. Morikawa raced his first putt by 6 feet and then missed the comebacker to lose the match.

It may not have been the best 10-hole stretch of Augenstein’s career, but after that pep talk on 9 tee, he went 4 under to the house.

“He’s a fiery little dude,” Morikawa said of his 5-foot-8-inch opponent. “You don’t want to get him on the wrong side because you never know what’s going to happen. He’s not going to give shots away.”

The first-round match was a rematch of the Western Amateur quarterfinals two weeks ago, where Augenstein also won, that time by a 4-and-2 margin.

“It’s the most fun format and where I can be my true self – emotional and aggressive and beat people,” Augenstein said.

That’s what he did at the 2017 SECs, where he won the deciding points in both the semifinals and the finals. He starred again a few weeks later at the NCAA Championship, last season went 3-0 in SEC match play, and now has earned a reputation among his teammates as a primetime player.

“I’ve hit a lot of big shots and putts in my career,” said Augenstein, ranked 26th in the world after recently winning the Players Amateur. “I get locked in and focused, and there’s not a shot that I don’t think I can pull off. I’m not scared to fail.”

The comeback victory against Morikawa – a three-time winner last season at Cal and one of the best amateurs in the world – didn’t surprise Todd. He’s seen firsthand how explosive Augenstein can be on the course.

“He’s just fiery,” Todd said. “He does things under pressure that you’re not supposed to do. He’s just a special kid.”

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Fowler (oblique) withdraws from playoff opener

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:44 pm

The injury that slowed Rickie Fowler at last week's PGA Championship will keep him out of the first event of the PGA Tour's postseason.

Fowler was reportedly hampered by an oblique injury at Bellerive Country Club, where he started the third round two shots off the lead but faded to a tie for 12th. He confirmed the injury Tuesday in an Instagram post, adding that an MRI revealed a partial tear to his right oblique muscle.

According to Fowler, the injury also affected him at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where he tied for 17th. After receiving the test results, he opted to withdraw from The Northern Trust next week at Ridgewood Country Club in New Jersey.

"My team and I feel like it's best not to play next week in the Northern Trust," Fowler wrote. "I will be back healthy and competitive ASAP for the FedEx Cup and more than ready for the Ryder Cup!!!"

Fowler is one of eight players who earned automatic spots on the U.S. Ryder Cup team when the qualifying window closed last week. His next opportunity to tee it up would be at the 100-man Dell Technologies Championship, where Fowler won in 2015.

Fowler has 12 top-25 finishes in 18 starts, highlighted by runner-up finishes at both the OHL Classic at Mayakoba in the fall and at the Masters. He is currently 17th in the season-long points race, meaning that he's assured of starts in each of the first three playoff events regardless of performance and in good position to qualify for the 30-man Tour Championship for the fourth time in the last five years.

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Playoff streaks in jeopardy for Garcia, Haas

By Will GrayAugust 15, 2018, 8:12 pm

Since the advent of the FedExCup in 2007, only 13 players have managed to make the playoffs each and every year. But two of the PGA Tour's stalwarts head into the regular-season finale with work to do in order to remain a part of that select fraternity.

Sergio Garcia has rarely had to sweat the top-125 bubble, but the Spaniard enters this week's Wyndham Championship 131st in the current standings. Left with even more work to do is former FedExCup winner Bill Haas, who starts the week in Greensboro 150th.

Garcia got off to a strong start in the spring, sandwiching a pair of top-10 finishes in WGC events around a fourth-place showing at the Valspar Championship. But quality results largely dried up after Garcia missed the cut at the Masters; he has made only two cuts in 10 Tour starts since April, including early exits in all four majors.

Wyndham Championship: Articles, photos and videos

Garcia has some history at Sedgefield Country Club, having won this event in 2012 to break a lengthy U.S. victory drought. He also finished fourth in 2009 but hasn't played the Donald Ross layout since a T-29 finish as the defending champ in 2013.

It's been a difficult year for Haas both on and off the course, as the veteran was involved as a passenger in a car accident on the eve of the Genesis Open that killed the driver. He returned to action three weeks later in Tampa, and he tied for seventh at the RBC Heritage in April. But that remains his lone top-10 finish of the season. Haas has missed 11 cuts including three in a row.

While the bubble will be a fluid target this week at Sedgefield, Garcia likely needs at least a top-20 finish to move into the top 125 while Haas will likely need to finish inside the top 5.

One of the 13 playoff streaks is assured of ending next week, as Luke Donald has missed most of the year with a back injury. Other players to qualify for every Tour postseason include Phil Mickelson, Matt Kuchar, Zach Johnson, Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Brandt Snedeker, Charles Howell III, Charley Hoffman and Ryan Moore.