Cut Line Kings Captains and Little Guys

By Rex HoggardSeptember 12, 2009, 5:03 am
LEMONT, Ill. – No cut this week at the BMW Championship, unless of course you are one of those unlucky enough to be caught outside the top 30 in FedEx Cup points or named Greg Norman.

Made Cut

Arnold Palmer. Because he made charisma cool. Because he has a drink named after him. Because he can hang with presidents as easily as he can kibitz with the rank-and-file.

Because you still get chills watching those old black-and-whites from the 1960 U.S. Open at Cherry Hills. Because you still show up at the first tee at Bay Hill each week looking to take someone’s money. Because once a year at the Arnold Palmer Invitational you light up the press room with your wit and your wisdom.

But mostly because golf as we know it wouldn’t exist without you.

For all that, we fudge the record books and give The King one last weekend between the ropes for a cool 575 made cuts.

The little guy. Mark Wilson roared out of the gates on familiar turf on Friday and finds himself tied for the lead with Tiger Woods at the BMW Championship. We liked this story the first time we saw it, when the lead role was played by Heath Slocum and the back drop was Lower Manhattan.

Say what you will about the playoffs, but on consecutive weeks we’ve had Woods, Padraig Harrington and Steve Stricker rubbing elbows with the Wilsons and Slocums of the world. It may not be the “Duel in the Sun,” but it’s pretty good.

The NCAA Basketball Tournament has Gonzaga, Major League Baseball has the Tampa Bay Rays and golf has a group of unassuming plodders to keep things honest, and interesting.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Cog Hill. Tour golf fits the Southside fixture like baseball at Wrigley Field, and Rees Jones’ tinkering seems to be to most players’ liking. A single-minded focus to move on to something bigger and better, however, makes one wonder.

Cog Hill officials moved heaven and tons of earth in an attempt to woo a U.S. Open to the public facility and there have been rumblings that the club would push hard to host the 2016 Olympic Games if golf and Chicago get the IOC nod next month. Not so fast.

There’s nothing wrong with Cog Hill’s Dubsdread layout that some well-handled chainsaws can’t fix and before we move on to the Olympics or U.S. Open, the traffic problems on South Archer Avenue must be fixed.

Asked if Cog Hill should host a U.S. Open Zach Johnson paused for a long moment, “I’m not sure.” It wasn’t a slight against the club or course, just a sign they might be moving too fast.

Vijay Singh/Camilo Villegas/Sergio Garcia. The three-ball that ruled last year’s FedEx Cup playoffs are headed for, or are already enjoying, an early offseason.

Singh, who coasted to the Cup title last year, didn’t make it to Chicago for Round 3; Villegas, who gave the Fijian a run with victories in the last two playoff events in 2008, is 22 spots on the wrong side of East Lake and tied for 30th at Cog Hill; and Garcia, whose duel with Singh at The Barclays last year was the highlight of the postseason, is two rounds away from the sidelines.

To be fair, Singh has been hurt this year, Garcia is hurting emotionally after a high-profile split with his girlfriend and Villegas has simply been hard on the eyes. Not even the Yankees make it to the World Series every year.

Missed Cut

Greg Norman.The Australian blamed his ex-wife for not winning more major championships. Are we to understand that current wife Chris Everet plucked Adam Scott from the depths of a lost year? Doubtful.
Maybe Norman was being loyal to a friend or is hoping the heat of the Presidents Cup will give Scott the spark he’s been missing. If so, both are misguided, albeit plausible, ideas.

What flummoxed “Cut Line” is Norman’s disregard for Rory Sabbatini and the long-held tradition of calling a player that is being passed over to help soften the blow. U.S. captain Fred Couples made an emotional call to Brian Gay on Tuesday and sent Dustin Johnson a three-part text message on Monday explaining his picks and assuring the hard-hitting two-time Tour winner that he will be on a team soon enough.

Nearly a month before the matches Norman’s already under fire. He should ask Nick Faldo how clumsy captaincies go.

American LPGA players. This may sound jingoistic, but we glanced at the leaderboard today and wondered why the Pan-Asian Open is being played in Arkansas?

Some have tried to make this a tour problem, while others want to pin the blame on the Asian players. Both miss the mark. Despite the success of the U.S. Solheim Cup team last month, the home team has been something of a red, white and bust in individual events.

At one point on Friday, the leaderboard at the P&G Beauty NW Arkansas Championship featured just a single American in the top 15. It was easy for players to pin all of the tour’s woes on Carolyn Bivens, but players on the PGA Tour would likely have a different take on things – play better.
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Berger more than ready to rebound at Travelers

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:54 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Daniel Berger hopes that this year he gets to be on the other end of a viral moment at the Travelers Championship.

Berger was a hard-luck runner-up last year at TPC River Highlands, a spectator as Jordan Spieth holed a bunker shot to defeat him in a playoff. It was the second straight year that the 25-year-old came up just short outside Hartford, as he carried a three-shot lead into the 2016 event before fading to a tie for fifth.

While he wasn’t lacking any motivation after last year’s close call, Berger got another dose last week at the U.S. Open when he joined Tony Finau as a surprise participant in the final group Sunday, only to shoot a 73 and drift to a T-6 finish.

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“It was one of the best experiences of my professional golf career so far. I feel like I’m going to be in such a better place next time I’m in that position, having felt those emotions and kind of gone through it,” Berger said. “There was a lot of reflection after that because I felt like I played good enough to get it done Sunday. I didn’t make as many putts as I wanted to, but I hit a lot of really good putts. And that’s really all you can do.”

Berger missed the cut earlier this month to end his quest for three straight titles in Memphis, but his otherwise consistent season has now included six top-20 finishes since January. After working his way into contention last week and still with a score to settle at TPC River Highlands, he’s eager to get back to work against another star-studded field.

“I think all these experiences you just learn from,” Berger said. “I think last week, having learned from that, I think that’s even going to make me a little better this week. So I’m excited to get going.”

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Rory tired of the near-misses, determined to close

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:46 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Rory McIlroy has returned to the Travelers Championship with an eye on bumping up his winning percentage.

McIlroy stormed from the back of the pack to win the Arnold Palmer Invitational in March, but that remains his lone worldwide win since the 2016 Tour Championship. It speaks to McIlroy’s considerable ability and lofty expectations that, even with a number of other high finishes this season, he is left unsatisfied.

“I feel like I’ve had five realistic chances to win this year, and I’ve been able to close out one of them. That’s a bit disappointing, I guess,” McIlroy said. “But at least I’ve given myself five chances to win golf tournaments, which is much more than I did last year.”

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The most memorable of McIlroy’s near-misses is likely the Masters, when he played alongside Patrick Reed in Sunday’s final group but struggled en route to a T-5 finish. But more frustrating in the Ulsterman’s eyes were his runner-up at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic, when he led by two shots with eight holes to go, and a second-place showing behind Francesco Molinari at the BMW PGA Championship in May.

“There’s been some good golf in there,” he said. “I feel like I let Dubai and Wentworth get away a little bit.”

He’ll have a chance to rectify that trend this week at TPC River Highlands, where he finished T-17 last year in his tournament debut and liked the course and the tournament enough to keep it on his schedule. It comes on the heels of a missed cut at the U.S. Open, when he was 10 over through 11 holes and never got on track. McIlroy views that result as more of an aberration during a season in which he has had plenty of chances to contend on the weekend.

“I didn’t necessarily play that badly last week. I feel like if I play similarly this week, I might have a good chance to win,” McIlroy said. “I think when you play in conditions like that, it magnifies parts of your game that maybe don’t stack up quite as good as the rest of your game, and it magnified a couple of things for me that I worked on over the weekend.”

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Sunday run at Shinnecock gave Reed even more confidence

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 9:08 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – While many big names are just coming around to the notion that the Travelers Championship is worth adding to the schedule, Patrick Reed has been making TPC River Highlands one of his favorite haunts for years.

Reed will make his seventh straight appearance outside Hartford, where he tied for fifth last year and was T-11 the year before that. He is eager to get back to the grind after a stressful week at the U.S. Open, both because of his past success here and because it will offer him a chance to build on a near-miss at Shinnecock Hills.

Reed started the final round three shots off the lead, but he quickly stormed toward the top of the leaderboard and became one of Brooks Koepka’s chief threats after birdies on five of his first seven holes. Reed couldn’t maintain the momentum in the middle of the round, carding three subsequent bogeys, and ultimately tied for fourth.

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It was a bittersweet result, but Reed is focusing on the positives after taking a couple days to reflect.

“If you would have told me that I had a chance to win coming down Sunday, I would have been pleased,” Reed said. “I felt like I just made too many careless mistakes towards the end, and because of that, you’re not going to win at any major making careless mistakes, especially on Sunday.”

Reed broke through for his first major title at the Masters, and he has now finished fourth or better in three straight majors dating back to a runner-up at the PGA last summer. With another chance to add to that record next month in Scotland, he hopes to carry the energy from last week’s close call into this week’s event on a course where he feels right at home.

“It just gives me confidence, more than anything,” Reed said. “Of course I would have loved to have closed it out and win, but it was a great week all in all, and there’s a lot of stuff I can take from it moving forward. That’s how I’m looking at it.”

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Koepka back to work, looking to add to trophy collection

By Will GrayJune 20, 2018, 8:53 pm

CROMWELL, Conn. – Days after ensuring the U.S. Open trophy remained in his possession for another year, Brooks Koepka went back to work.

Koepka flew home to Florida after successfully defending his title at Shinnecock Hills, celebrating the victory Monday night with Dustin Johnson, Paulina Gretzky, swing coach Claude Harmon III and a handful of close friends. But he didn’t fully unwind because of a decision to honor his commitment to the Travelers Championship, becoming the first player to tee it up the week after a U.S. Open win since Justin Rose in 2013.

Koepka withdrew from the Travelers pro-am, but he flew north to Connecticut on Wednesday and arrived to TPC River Highlands around 3 p.m., quickly heading to the driving range to get in a light practice session.

“It still hasn’t sunk in, to be honest with you,” Koepka said. “I’m still focused on this week. It was just like, ‘All right, if I can get through this week, then I’m going to be hanging with my buddies next week.’ I know then maybe it’ll sink in, and I’ll get to reflect on it a little bit more.”

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Koepka’s plans next week with friends in Boston meant this week’s event outside Hartford made logistical sense. But he was also motivated to play this week because, plainly, he hasn’t had that many playing opportunities this year after missing nearly four months with a wrist injury.

“I’ve had so many months at home being on the couch. I don’t need to spend any more time on the couch,” Koepka said. “As far as skipping, it never crossed my mind.”

Koepka’s legacy was undoubtedly bolstered by his win at Shinnecock, as he became the first player in nearly 30 years to successfully defend a U.S. Open title. But he has only one other PGA Tour win to his credit, that being the 2015 Waste Management Phoenix Open, and his goal for the rest of the season is to make 2018 his first year with multiple trophies on the mantle.

“If you’re out here for more than probably 15 events, it gives you a little better chance to win a couple times. Being on the sidelines isn’t fun,” Koepka said. “Keep doing what we’re doing and just try to win multiple times every year. I feel like I have the talent. I just never did it for whatever reason. Always felt like we ran into a buzzsaw. So just keep plugging away.”