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Cut Line: It's about time

By Rex HoggardOctober 27, 2017, 6:55 pm

In this week’s edition, the USGA breaks new ground at an old venue, Tiger Woods enjoy a breakout week and the European Tour introduces a breakthrough concept to speed up play.

Made Cut

Beach bound. It’s no surprise that the USGA announced this week that it will return to Pebble Beach for the 2027 U.S. Open, but it certainly qualified as a pleasant revelation that the association will bring the ’23 Women’s Open to the iconic venue.

While the ’27 U.S. Open will mark the seventh time the seaside layout will host the men’s championship, the ’23 Women’s Open will be the first time that the event is played at Pebble Beach.

“Pebble is just a special place. It’s tough, it’s long, it will be good to be able to be at the same course where the men have played,” said Paula Creamer, the winner of the 2010 U.S. Women’s Open. “Now that we have an event there I think the crowd will be huge.”

And now that the USGA has the women’s championship scheduled for Pebble Beach it might be time to expand that thinking and pull some other traditional men’s venues into the women’s mix. Yes, we’re talking to you, Shinnecock Hills.

Hero or bust? On Monday, Tiger Woods continued to entice his fans via social media, this time posting a video of his once-signature “stinger” iron shot with the caption, “Return of the stinger. #StarWars;” and on Tuesday he was spotted playing a round of golf at the Medalist Golf Club in Hobe Sound, Fla.

“His swing was smooth,” Ian Baker-Finch told “He looked normal.”

Woods also attended Game 2 of the World Series on Wednesday in Los Angeles and posted on Twitter, “I last went to the #WorldSeries with my Dad in 1988, also game 2. Amazing to be back almost 30 years later. Let’s go Dodgers!”

As to when Woods might return to competition, that remains unknown, but his former swing coach Hank Haney suggested on social media that December’s Hero World Challenge, a limited-field and unofficial event, would be the most likely option.

“Hero World Challenge is where and when; why wouldn’t he play there? Only thing that keeps him from playing there is a set back,” Haney tweeted.

Oh, and on Friday, Woods pleaded guilty to reckless driving, a lesser charge stemming from his Labor Day arrest for DUI, and entered a diversion program. So, all things considered, a good week.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Grass ceilings. Emily Nash did everything that was asked of her. She played from the correct set of tees. She carried her own bag. She shot a 3-over 75 to lap the field by four strokes.

But most importantly, she played by the rules. All of the rules, no matter how antiquated and absurd they may seem.

Nash, a junior at Lunenburg High School, won the Central Massachusetts Division 3 boys’ golf tournament, but according to state rules she wasn’t awarded the trophy or invited to next week’s state tournament as an individual. Her score only counted toward the team total.

Event director Kevin Riordan said he was simply enforcing the rules and that he planned to buy Nash a winner’s trophy; while the player who finished runner-up, and was declared the winner, offered to give the actual trophy to Nash, who politely declined the offer.

The rule is ridiculous and should be changed for a litany of reasons, but the incident should also be celebrated. From Nash’s respect for the rules to the reactions from players and officials, the moment was a real-world demonstration of everything that makes golf different.

On the clock. The European Tour has always been the pointy end of the spear when it comes to golf’s ongoing struggles with slow play, and news this week that the Continent is poised to take the fight to the next level should come as no surprise.

The tour announced that the former Austrian Open will be renamed the Shot Clock Masters and will feature, yep, you guessed it, a shot clock for every player on every shot.

The circuit tinkered with the shot clock idea this year at the GolfSixes event, but for next June’s tournament each player in the 120-man field will be timed and violators will be issued one-shot penalties.

The first player to play in each group will have 50 seconds and the other players will have 40 seconds to hit. Fans shouldn’t expect to see a similar event on the PGA Tour anytime soon, but it certainly has plenty of support on this side of the transatlantic divide.

“I think it would be very interesting,” world No. 1 Dustin Johnson said this week when asked about a “shot clock” event in the United States. “You'd see a lot of guys getting penalties on our Tour. Yeah, that would be quite fun, actually. I'd have plenty of time but there's a lot of guys that wouldn't. They would be getting a penalty on every hole.” 

Missed Cut

Tweet of the week: Speaking of the European Tour’s advantage over the U.S. circuit, the Continent’s social media platforms have set a new standard in the game for the last few years, but they curiously missed the mark with an item this week featuring the caption “Welcome to Day 1 . . . #HSBCChampions.” Missing from the short clip was Russell Knox, who won the event two years ago.

“Any reason why you missed the 2015 winner?” asked Knox in a separate post. The Scot was not qualified for this year’s event, but he’s still a former champion. Brendan Steele added via Twitter, “That’s bad.”

Well, it’s certainly not good.

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”