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Cut Line: Highs and lows from 2017

By Rex HoggardDecember 8, 2017, 9:00 pm

From Maui to Manhattan, Justin Thomas emerged as the year’s most compelling player and leads Cut Line’s final breakdown of 2017.

Made Cut

Making a statement. Before this year, Thomas was a solid player with a decent resume and a single, curious qualifier – he’s Jordan Spieth’s friend.

The two twenty-somethings have been friends since their junior golf days and the relationship had a tendency to overshadow Thomas’ play, but that all changed in 2017.

Paired with Spieth for Round 1 at the Sony Open, Thomas shot a 59 on his way to the Hawaiian sweep with victories at the Tournament of Champions and in Honolulu.

In August, Thomas completed his transformation with his breakthrough at the PGA Championship, but it was a month later at TPC Boston where the two young stars seemed to pass the metaphorical torch.

Spieth had just completed a final-round 67 and was speaking with the media when he abruptly paused his Q&A to congratulate Thomas, who won the playoff stop by three strokes over Spieth.

It turns out that Thomas can be Spieth’s friend and the Tour’s Player of the Year.

Meet the new boss. When Jay Monahan took over as PGA Tour commissioner in January there was uncertainty, would he be a transformative leader like Adam Silver in the NBA or would he settle for the status quo?

Although the answer is still a work in progress, if Monahan’s first 12 months on the job is any indication it would appear he’s cut from the former mold.

During Year 1, Monahan oversaw the implementation of the circuit’s new strength of field requirement, which helped tournaments attract stronger fields without violating the spirit of the independent contractor’s freedom, and a policy this season to inject new life into pro-am rounds.

Monahan’s biggest challenge, however, looms with the overhaul of the Tour schedule, a dramatic alteration that began with the PGA Championship moving to May and The Players to March beginning in 2019.

With countless interests involved – from sponsors to tournament committees and television executives – it’s hard to imagine there isn’t some collateral damage when the ’19 schedule is finally revealed, but so far Monahan has proven adapt at both embracing change and creating compromise.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Years apart. Perhaps when Tiger Woods thinks back to 2017 it will only be those bright moments when he returned to the game he loves without pain and reservations that come to mind.

It will be those four days in the Bahamas when his first tournament in 10 months gave the former world No. 1 a legitimate reason to be optimistic about the future after so many false starts and missteps.

Of course, that would be a wildly selective effort considering that he began his year with a missed cut at Torrey Pines followed by a poorly thought-out trip to Dubai where he only managed to play 18 holes before withdrawing.

There was fusion surgery on his lower back in April – a procedure, he has conceded, that left him contemplating life without golf – and his arrest for DUI on Memorial Day in south Florida.

But somewhere during those dark times, Woods began enjoying the simpler things, like playing with his children or having dinner with friends. His dramatically improved health explains much of those quality of life enhancements, but as he closed his year last week at Albany this was about more than simply being pain free.

This was about being happy.

No match. Depending on who you ask, this year’s Presidents Cup was either a seminal moment for the matches or a disaster.

Liberty National provided the perfect backdrop for what turned out to be the most lopsided defeat in the event’s history, a beating so thorough that some suggested it may have been better if the U.S. team closed out the Internationals on Saturday (which almost happened).

“It's not what I flew back over for, that's for sure,” Adam Scott said of the eight-point loss to the U.S. “I could have quite easily stayed home with my new kid and had a good break from the game. But I've always taken something positive from this event.”

Scott was trying to take the high road, which is becoming increasingly difficult for the Internationals; but if the Tour takes anything from this year’s matches it’s that something has to change if the Presidents Cup is going to grow.


Missed Cut

Failed experiments. For the second time in three years the USGA took its most important event to an unproven golf course with mixed results.

At nearly 7,800 yards, Error Hills, eh, Erin Hills was supposed to be the answer to the modern game, a sprawling ballpark that would tame the bombers; but instead the Wisconsin layout yielded record low scoring and a largely forgettable week.

This is no reflection on Brooks Koepka, who played nearly flawless golf and is destined to win more majors, but following the issues the USGA faced at Chambers Bay in 2015 it’s becoming increasingly difficult to understand the association’s affinity for the unproven.

Perhaps there’s nothing wrong with the U.S. Open that a return to Shinnecock Hills next June can’t fix, although the 2004 championship at the Southhampton, N.Y., staple didn’t exactly go to script.

“That will not happen again. If it does, I’m retiring,” joked USGA executive director Mike Davis of the agronomic issues that plagued the ’04 U.S. Open.

Cut Line doesn’t want to see anyone retire, just a compelling championship.

Political motivations. When the Tour uprooted its event at Trump National Doral for Mexico City this year officials stressed that the move had nothing to do with the presidential election.

A year later, when President Donald Trump agreed to attend the Presidents Cup, Monahan again tried to distance the Tour from the polarizing world of politics.

“We have been consistent that this is a non-partisan event. We are not endorsing a person, we are not endorsing a party,” Monahan said. “This event has never been a political event. It's been a golf event that unites the world's best players.”

The Tour’s desire to stay above the political fray is understandable, but last week politics came looking for the Tour.

Although the item was removed at the 11th hour, the Senate’s tax-reform act included a provision titled “Repeal of Tax-Exempt Status for Professional Sports Leagues.”

It’s unclear how or why the provision was removed from the act, but the item sent a clear message to the Tour, and other organizations in golf, that not all politics is avoidable.

Tweet of the year. @GraysonMurray (Grayson Murray) “Does anyone really care is the real question ... those guys were relevant 10 plus years ago.”

The first-year Tour player was responding to a tweet about Bernhard Langer’s season on the PGA Tour Champions, and his ill-advised missive drew plenty of blowback, but the only thing that really needed to be said was, no, just no.

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Paisley (61) leads Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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 Web.com 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.