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Cut Line: Much talk of lawns, literal and figurative

By Rex HoggardJanuary 6, 2018, 12:30 am

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Tiger Woods headlines the first edition of Cut Line in 2018 with details on his latest return, as Rickie Fowler brings out the game’s curmudgeons with a bold wardrobe choice.

Made Cut

Tiger, the Return. OK, so you’ve heard this before - probably 12 months ago when Woods was making a similar comeback from injury - but this time does feel different.

Woods announced on Thursday he will play the Farmers Insurance Open later this month followed by the Genesis Open in February. While it wasn’t a surprise he’d play either tournament – he’s won eight times at Torrey Pines (including the 2008 U.S. Open) and the Los Angeles stop now benefits Woods’ foundation – it was a sign of his progress.

Before his start at last month’s Hero World Challenge, an unofficial, limited-field event played at Woods’ home course in the Bahamas, there were some who openly questioned if he’d ever play competitive golf again.

There are still plenty of unanswered questions, like how his surgically repaired back will endure 72 holes on the hills of Torrey Pines, but his decision to look past his next swing is a reason to be optimistic.

When more is more. The PGA Tour unveiled a new policy last year designed to encourage players to mix up their schedules.

Essentially, the policy requires those who don’t play 25 events in a season to add an event they hadn’t played in the previous four seasons. The policy has been widely applauded as a creative fix to an old problem.

A potential sign of that impact can be seen in this week’s field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, where 24 of the 34 players participated in at least 25 events in the 2016-17 season.

Full participation will never happen - no one can play every week - but it seems top players are playing more, and on this front more is better.

A January for Jarrod. If we’re being honest, it’s easy to overlook all of the charitable work the Tour is involved with on a weekly basis because, well, it’s a lot. But the circuit’s most recent push is worth applauding.

The Tour announced a new campaign, “January for Jarrod,” to help Jarrod Lyle pay the mounting medical bills his family faces as the Australian endures a third bone marrow transplant for acute myeloid leukemia.

Donations can be made to the fund right here and all proceeds will go directly to the family.

“Jarrod would be the first player to support others in their time of need, and now it’s our turn to help he and his wife Briony and their two young children, Lusi and Jemma,” said Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of tournaments and competitions officer.

Lyle’s story of perseverance is one of the most inspiring in sports, and the Tour’s efforts to support him shouldn’t get lost in the weekly giving.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

When more isn’t more. It’s become fashionable in recent months to lament the distance modern professionals hit the golf ball and to declare that the only way to challenge the Dustin Johnsons of the world is with longer golf courses.

There’s not a better example of the flaw in this thinking than this week’s event at Kapalua. The Plantation Course ranked 50th out of 50 courses in difficulty in 2017, playing to a 70.37 average (2.65 strokes under par), yet the layout was the fifth longest (7,452 yards) on Tour.

It should be noted that Kapalua, a resort course, has the circuit’s widest fairways and many tee shots play dramatically downhill along bouncy corridors, but that only solidifies the point that the game doesn’t need longer golf courses, just better designed layouts.

Untucked-gate. It’s interesting that while the USGA and R&A are engaged in a “modernization” of the Rules of Golf, and while the PGA Tour has fully embraced multiple forms of new media, certain elements of golf still seem wedged in the past, as evidenced by the reaction to Rickie Fowler’s wardrobe choices this week.

While there were plenty who embraced Fowler’s island-inspired, untucked ways on Thursday in Maui, there were still a number of get-off-my-lawn types.

To be clear, Fowler doesn’t intend to take his bold attire to the mainland.

“I thought it was fun and definitely fitting for Maui. It's not like you can really bring out this shirt in many other places but on the island,” he said. “So I thought it was definitely fitting for the start of this week.”

So relax and have fun, because if you can’t have a little fun in Maui, where are you going to have fun?

Tweet of the week.

My colleague was responding to Fowler’s choice of shirt on Day 1 at Kapalua, but we do give him points for owning his grumpiness. A special-edition Fowler shirt is in the mail.

Missed Cut

Greens aren’t always greener. If you were able tear yourself away from the idyllic views of the Pacific Ocean this week, you may have noticed the greens on the Plantation Course aren’t exactly green.

The discoloration is the result of an old variety of Bermuda grass creeping onto the putting surfaces and causing some less-than-ideal optics, prompting officials to post a notice to players.

“In order to minimize this unexpected issue, the target green speed will be slower than previously stated,” the notice read.

The 14th hole, which was described by one caddie as a bad municipal course green, is the biggest area of concern, so much so that officials will be limited to a few positions near the middle of the putting surface.

Kapalua did endure a particularly wet December that impacted the greens, which players have largely said are rolling fine even if they may not look the best.

There’s nothing more mundane than watching (or talking about) growing grass - that is, until the grass doesn’t grow like you’d hoped.

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Country singer Owen shoots 86 in debut

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:51 pm

Country music star Jake Owen struggled in his Tour debut, shooting a 14-over 86 in the opening round of the Nashville Golf Open.

Owen, who played as a 1 handicap earlier this year while teaming with Jordan Spieth at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, put three balls out of bounds over his first nine holes, including two en route to a quadruple-bogey 9 on the par-5 18th hole. After making the turn in 46, Owen came home in 40 without making a single birdie.

Owen is playing as an amateur on an unrestricted sponsor exemption, the same type used by NBA superstar Steph Curry on the Tour last year and by former NFL quarterback Tony Romo this year on the PGA Tour. Curry missed the cut after rounds of 74-74 at the Ellie Mae Classic, while Romo shot 77-82 at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship.

Full-field scores from the Nashville Golf Open

Owen tallied nine pars, six bogeys, two doubles and a quad in his opener and was the only player from the morning wave who failed to break 80. The closest player to him in the standings was two-time major champ Angel Cabrera, who opened with a 79.

While Owen struggled against a field full of professionals, he took the setback in stride and even took to Twitter in the middle of his round to fire back at some of his online critics:

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New putter propels Hoffman to Fort Worth lead

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 7:30 pm

After sitting at home last week, Charley Hoffman decided it was time for a change.

The veteran estimated that he has been using the same version of a Scotty Cameron putter for the last five years, but heading into this week's Fort Worth Invitational he wanted to shake things up.

"I had an idea on Sunday literally coming out here that I wanted to have a little more weight in my putter," Hoffman told reporters. "I went with one that was sort of in my bag of putters at home that I could add some weight here."

The swap provided immediate results, as Hoffman opened with a 7-under 63 while picking up more than two strokes over the field on the greens to take a one-shot lead over Emiliano Grillo, Jhonattan Vegas and Andrew Putnam. It was an all-around effort Thursday for Hoffman, as he missed only two greens in regulation and never faced a par putt longer than 5 feet.

"I was able to knock in some mid-range putts and played very solid," Hoffman said. "It was a nice, very stress-free round. It was fun to play."

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

Hoffman had one of the best seasons of his career in 2017, capping it with a Presidents Cup appearance and a runner-up finish at the Hero World Challenge in December. While he has made nine cuts in 12 starts this year, his T-12 finish at the Masters remains his best result as he has struggled to turn top-20s into opportunities to contend.

Hoffman is making his seventh straight appearance at Colonial, where he tied for 10th in 2015. But he had never shot better than 65 before Thursday, when his decision to switch to a heavier Scotty Cameron model seemingly put a magnet on the bottom of the cup.

"Putting is a fickle part of the game," he said. "So hopefully the good mojo continues."

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McIlroy shoots 67, two off BMW PGA lead

By Associated PressMay 24, 2018, 6:56 pm

VIRGINIA WATER, England – Rory McIlroy walked off the 18th green in disgruntled fashion, shaking his head and looking down at the ground.

Shooting a 5-under 67 at Wentworth can rarely have felt so unsatisfactory.

The four-time major winner pushed his approach shot from the middle of the fairway into the overhanging trees at the par-5 last, saw his chip clip the flag pole, then missed a 3-foot putt for birdie for a disappointing end to his first round at the BMW PGA Championship on Thursday.

McIlroy also missed out on a birdie on the par-5 17th, too. Hence his unhappiness immediately after his round, although he was only two shots off the lead held by Lucas Bjerregaard (65).

Full-field scores from the BMW PGA Championship

''Walking off the 16th green and going to No. 17 at 5 under par, it was good after being 1 over after three (holes),'' McIlroy said, before diverting away from revisiting the end of his round.

''I played really well, gave myself plenty of chances, drove it well, for the most part hit my irons a lot better than I have done, so it was nice to get off to a good start.''

McIlroy is playing the European Tour's flagship event for the first time since 2015. He won it in 2014, the year he won The Open and the PGA Championship – his most recent major victories.

After bogeying No. 3, the former top-ranked McIlroy reeled off seven birdies in 13 holes and later said the greens were in the best condition he'd seen them.

Bjerregaard, whose only win came in Portugal last year, made seven birdies in a bogey-free round – his last at No. 18 giving him the outright lead over South Africans Dean Burmester and Darren Fichardt.

Burmester earlier played his last eight holes in 6 under par – including making eagle at the 15th – to draw level with compatriot Fichardt, who was also bogey-free.

Kiradech Aphibarnrat finished 7-6 on the two par 5s to drop from the outright lead at the time to 4 under.

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Stricker opens with 65 at Colonial despite back pain

By Will GrayMay 24, 2018, 6:45 pm

After four holes of the Fort Worth Invitational, things were looking bleak for Steve Stricker.

The ageless veteran was already 1 over when he tweaked his back playing his approach to No. 13, his fourth hole of the day at Colonial Country Club. He ended up making another bogey, but at that point his score took a backseat to the health of his ailing back.

"I tried to hit a pretty solid 6-iron and got right into the impact area, and actually felt my lower back crack right where I had surgery back in 2014, pretty much right on the spot," Stricker told reporters. "Tried to walk to the green and that wasn't going so well. Kind of tightened up on me. I thought I was going to have to stop and just stand there for a minute, which I did a couple of times. It didn't look or feel very good for a while."

Slowly but surely, Stricker's back began to loosen up, and with it came a turnaround on the scorecard. Stricker had a four-hole stretch in the middle of his round that he played in 5 under, highlighted by a hole-out from the greenside bunker for eagle on the par-5 first hole. Despite the rocky start, he ended up shooting a 5-under 65 to sit two shots off the early pace set by Charley Hoffman.

Full-field scores from the Fort Worth Invitational

Fort Worth Invitational: Articles, photos and videos

"I just kept plodding along," Stricker said. "I knew there were some birdie holes out here if you can get it in the fairway. There are some short irons."

Stricker had a spot in one of the marquee early-round groups, but his score bettered both Jordan Spieth's 1-under 69 and defending champ Kevin Kisner's 2-over 72. Stricker told reporters that he planned to get his back checked after the round.

Stricker continues to straddle both the PGA Tour and PGA Tour Champions while crafting a unique schedule, and his appearance this week in Fort Worth came at the expense of skipping the Senior PGA Championnship, a major on the over-50 circuit. But Stricker won at Colonial in 2009 and has now played four straight years on what he described as one of his favorite courses.

"I like to play here. I know I'm going to play John Deere, another favorite tournament of mine, and FedEx St. Jude looks like I am going to try to play in a couple weeks, try to get in the U.S. Open," Stricker said. "So it's just kind of picking them as I go, and seeing where I want to go and seeing what feels good to me at the time."