Cut Line: Paying for Tiger and Phil

By Rex HoggardJuly 6, 2012, 6:52 pm

In this week’s lineup, Dottie Pepper gets a much-deserved second chance for Solheim Cup glory, appearance fees on the PGA Tour endure a second look and the math and magic of the world golf ranking screams for a second opinion.

Made Cut

A dash of Pepper. It was a momentary lapse into what she thought was a closed microphone that led to five years of regret for Dottie Pepper, but on Wednesday U.S. Solheim Cup captain Meg Mallon took the high road and named Pepper, one of America’s most fiery competitors, an assistant captain for next year’s matches.

Pepper had been on the Solheim Cup persona-non-grata list since she referred to the U.S. side during the 2007 matches as “choking, freaking dogs.” The comment rightfully rankled many U.S. players and Pepper, once considered a shoo-in captain, was cut out of the event.

On Wednesday, an emotional Pepper admitted that she has regretted the comment every day for five years.

“I was delighted for Dottie,” Annika Sorenstam said on Thursday’s “Morning Drive.” “She is such a large part of the Solheim Cup and she brings a lot of intensity.”

High praise considering that Sorenstam once taped a picture of Pepper onto a punching bag during one particularly heated Solheim Cup.

Tweet of the day: @HunterMahan “(Steve) Nash to (the Los Angeles) Lakers? Oh happy day! I loved Canadians before this day, now I want dual citizenship!”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Appearances. Despite reports to the contrary, the PGA Tour doesn’t allow appearance fees, but as tournament officials have become more savvy the practice of doling out back-door appearance fees has become common.

The theory is simple: you don’t buy a pair of Super Bowl tickets for $5,000, you buy an envelope for $5,000 that just happens to have two tickets in it. Word on the practice range this week is that both Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson received “show up” money for this week’s Greenbrier Classic. Perhaps the most disturbing part of this is that some have used the occasion to suggest it may be time to open Tour tee sheets up to the highest bidder.

The problem with appearance fees, either overt or otherwise, is the impact they have on events that can’t or won’t sign big checks for big names. Next week’s John Deere Classic, for example, is a small-market stop that soldiers on without the occasional cameo from Woods or Mickelson.

If appearance fees were to become commonplace on Tour boutique events like the John Deere would likely move from being a success story to an endangered species.

Blind Justice. Greenbrier owner Jim Justice has, by all accounts, dusted off The Greenbrier resort, and the Old White TPC, and recreated an American gem, but the ambitious owner may have overstepped this week when he told that he has his sights set on hosting a U.S. Open.

“We have just barely got into the infancy of having dialogue in regard to the U.S. Open,” Justice said. “I’ve put out some feelers with others toward the USGA, but I have not had any direct communication whatsoever.”

While crowds this week have been impressive, White Sulphur Springs, W.Va., is closer to the middle of nowhere than a major metropolitan market and this is, after all, the same course that yielded a 59 to Stuart Appleby just two years ago.

Besides, there would be something inherently icky about a course with a “TPC” in its title hosting the national championship.

Turkey and Tiger. The idea is high-minded enough: bring together eight of the world’s top players for a showcase event in Turkey, which will use the event to help woo the 2020 Olympic summer games.

The event, which will be sponsored by Turkish Airways and feature a $5.3 million purse, is the work of European uber-agent Chubby Chandler with International Sports Management and, according to initial reports, would include the likes of Tiger Woods, Rory McIlroy, Luke Donald and Lee Westwood.

Although the event is heavy with upside, Woods’ manager Mark Steinberg said the reports were a tad preliminary and that details remain to be worked out, and Chandler admitted this week on “Morning Drive” that the event has created a bit of a scheduling “mess” this year.

This year’s event, which will feature a match-play format and award $1.5 million to the winner, will be played nine days after the Ryder Cup, but Chandler was confident a better date could be found.

Admittedly the event has found a balance between high-minded and high-dollar, but considering the logistics of an already crowded golf schedule it could quickly go from being a solution for Turkey to a problem for professional golf.

Missed Cut

Diamond roughed up. News last week that Barclays CEO Bob Diamond has stepped down amid a flurry of fines and accusations that the financial giant rigged an important interest-rate benchmark sent ripples of concern through the golf world.

Barclays has been a key player in the game for some time and currently sponsors the first FedEx Cup playoff event on the PGA Tour, an event on the European Tour and Phil Mickelson.

On Wednesday, Mickelson said the resignation would not impact his endorsement agreement with Barclays and he told one Golf Channel insider that he felt Diamond was being made a “scapegoat” for the scandal that surfaced four years ago.

“Personally I’m crushed because I have really enjoyed my time with Bob,” said Mickelson, who first signed a multiyear deal with Barclays in 2008.

Golf has established itself as a risk-free sponsorship property for some time. Too bad some of those who have subscribed to that theory haven’t been as risk-free.

Math. The world golf ranking debate is becoming as repetitive as it is ridiculous, but last week’s calculations became too much for Cut Line to ignore.

Following his victory at last week’s AT&T National, a haul that netted 48 ranking points, Woods vaulted from fourth in the ranking to . . . well, fourth. Mathematicians will explain that Woods’ lack of mobility has everything to do with the ranking’s minimum divisor (40) and his limited playing schedule over the past two years (33 events).

Fair enough, but when a player has won three out of his last seven starts and yet remains mired at No. 4 it may be time for a makeover. A 52-week ranking window may not be the answer, but it seems like a good place to start to the conversation.

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What's in the Bag: CJ Cup winner Koepka

By Golf Channel DigitalOctober 23, 2018, 12:50 am

Brooks Koepka closed strong to win the CJ Cup in South Korea, and he also took over the No. 1 ranking. Here's a look inside his bag.

Driver: TaylorMade M3 (9.5 degrees)

Fairway Woods: TaylorMade M2 Tour HL (16.5 degrees)

Irons: Nike Vapor Fly Pro (3); Mizuno JPX-900 Tour (4-PW)

Wedges: Titleist Vokey Design SM7 Raw (52, 56 degrees), SM7 Raw TVD (60 degrees)

Putter: Scotty Cameron T10 Select Newport 2 prototype

Ball: Titleist Pro V1x

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HOFer Stephenson: Robbie wants to play me in movie

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 4:20 pm

Margot Robbie has already starred in one sports-related biopic, and if she gets her way a second opportunity might not be far behind.

Robbie earned an Academy Award nomination for her work last year as former Olympic figure skater Tonya Harding in the movie, I Tonya. She also has a desire to assume the role of her fellow Aussie, Jan Stephenson, in a movie where she would trade in her skates for a set of golf clubs.

That's at least according to Stephenson, who floated out the idea during an interview with Golf Australia's Inside the Ropes podcast shortly after being announced as part of the next class of World Golf Hall of Fame inductees.

"We've talked about doing a movie. Margot Robbie wants to play me," Stephenson said.

There certainly would be a resemblance between the two Australian blondes, as Robbie has become one of Hollywood's leading ladies while Stephenson was on the cutting edge of sex appeal during her playing career. In addition to several magazine covers, Stephenson also racked up 16 LPGA wins between 1976-87 including three majors.

Robbie, 28, has also had starring roles in Suicide Squad and The Wolf of Wall Street.

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Monday Scramble: Who's No. 1 ... in the long run?

By Ryan LavnerOctober 22, 2018, 4:00 pm

Brooks Koepka becomes golf’s new king, Sergio Garcia enjoys the Ryder Cup bump, Danielle Kang overcomes the demons, Michelle Wie goes under the knife and more in this week’s edition of Monday Scramble:

Brooks Koepka added an exclamation point to his breakout year.

His red-hot finish at the CJ Cup not only earned him a third title in 2018, but with the victory he leapfrogged Dustin Johnson to become the top-ranked player in the world for the first time.

That top spot could become a revolving door over the next few months, with Johnson, Justin Thomas and Justin Rose all vying for No. 1, but it’s a fitting coda to Koepka’s stellar year that included two more majors and Player of the Year honors.

For a player whose team searches long and hard for slights, there’s no questioning now his place in the game.

1. DJ won three events this season, but he wasn’t able to create much separation between him and the rest of the world’s best players.

Koepka’s rise to No. 1 made him the fourth player to reach the top spot this year, and the third in the past month.

Who has the greatest potential to get to No. 1 and stay there? Johnson is the best bet in the short term, but he’s also 34. Koepka will be a threat in the majors as long as he stays healthy. So the belief here is that it’ll be Justin Thomas, who is 25, without weakness and, best of all, hungry for more success.  

2. Koepka had an eventful final round at the CJ Cup. Staked to a four-shot lead in the final round, his advantage was trimmed to one after a sloppy start, then he poured it on late with an inward 29. He punctuated his historic victory with an eagle on the 72nd hole, smirking as it tumbled into the cup.

It was his fifth career Tour title – but only his second non-major. Weird.

3. How appropriate that golf’s most underappreciated talent – at least in his estimation – became world No. 1 in a limited-field event that finished at 2 a.m. on the East Coast. Somehow he’ll spin this into being overlooked, again.

4. Sergio Garcia carried all of that Ryder Cup momentum into the Andalucia Valderrama Masters, where he earned the hat trick by capturing his third consecutive title there.

While the rest of the world’s best gathered in Korea or rested for global golf’s finishing kick, Garcia won the weather-delayed event by four shots over Shane Lowry. Garcia’s foundation hosts the tournament, and he extended his crazy-good record there: In 14 career appearances at Valderrama, he has three wins, seven top-3s, nine top-5s and 13 top-10s.

Garcia, who went 3-1 at the recent Ryder Cup, became the first player since Ernie Els (2004) to win the same European Tour event three years in a row.

5. Gary Woodland probably doesn’t want 2018 to end.

He was the runner-up at the CJ Cup, his second consecutive top-5 to start the season. He made 11(!) birdies in the final round and now is a combined 37 under par for the first two starts of the new season.

6. This definitely wasn’t the Ryder Cup.

Four shots back, and the closest pursuer to Koepka, Ian Poulter had a chance to put pressure on the leader in the final round. Instead, he was left in the dust, mustering only three birdies and getting waxed by seven shots (64-71) on the last day. Poulter tumbled all the way into a tie for 10th.

7. It hasn’t been the easiest road for Danielle Kang since she won the 2017 Women’s PGA.

The 26-year-old said she’s dealt with anxiety for months and has battled both putting and full-swing yips. Her problems were so deep that a week ago, she stood over the ball for four minutes and couldn’t pull the trigger.

No wonder she said that she was “pretty stunned” to hold off a bevy of challengers to win her second career title at the Buick LPGA Shanghai.

“I’m finally at a place where I’m peaceful and happy with my game, with my life,” she said.

8. In the middle of the seven-way tie for second in China was Ariya Jutanugarn, who will return to No. 1 in the world for the second time this season.

9. Also in that logjam was another former top-ranked player, Lydia Ko, who had tumbled all the way to 17th. Ko hasn’t been able to build off of her slump-busting victory earlier this summer, but she now has six consecutive top-16 finishes and at least seems more comfortable in her new position.

“Sometimes you get too carried away about the awards and rankings,” she said. “It just becomes so much. I think it’s more important to keep putting myself there and … shooting in the 60s, and that way I think it builds the confidence and the rankings kind of sort itself out.”

Here's how Tiger Woods explained his pitiful performance at the Ryder Cup: “I was tired because I hadn’t trained for it. I hadn’t trained this entire comeback to play this much golf.”

Of course, he looked just fine a week earlier at East Lake, where he snapped a five-year winless drought with one of the most memorable weeks of his legendary career. His training wasn’t a topic of conversation there.

It's reasonable to expect that the emotional victory took a lot of out of him, but if he was so gassed, why did he sit only one team session and go 36 on Saturday? By Sunday night, Woods looked like he was running on empty, so either he wasn't upfront with captain Jim Furyk about his energy levels, or Furyk ran him out there anyway.

This week's award winners ...  

Can’t Catch a Break: Michelle Wie. The star-crossed talent announced that she’ll miss the rest of the season to undergo surgery to repair a troublesome hand injury. Maybe one of these years she’ll be able to play a full schedule, without physical setbacks.  

Grab the Mic: Paul Azinger. Taking Johnny Miller’s seat in the booth, Azinger will call all four days of action at every Golf Channel/NBC event, beginning at the WGC-Mexico Championship. He was the most logical (and best) choice to follow the inimitable Miller.

Take That, Dawdler: Corey Pavin. It was Pavin – and not the notoriously slow Bernhard Langer – who earned the first slow-play penalty on the PGA Tour Champions in what seemed like ages. The one-shot penalty dropped him to 15th in the event.

Long Time Coming: Jason Day. His tie for fifth at the CJ Cup was his best finish worldwide since … The Players? Really. Wow.

The Tumble Continues: Jordan Spieth. In the latest world rankings, Spieth is officially out of the top 10 for the first time since November 2014. A reminder that he finished last year at No. 2.

Clutch Performances: Andalucia Masters. Both Gonzalo Fernandez-Castano and Richie Ramsay both moved inside the top 116 in the Race to Dubai standings, securing their European Tour cards for next season. Gonzo tied for fifth in the regular-season finale, while Ramsay was joint 11th.

That’s Messed Up: CJ Cup purse. As colleague Will Gray noted, the purse for the 78-man event was $9.5 million – or $400K more than the first 15 events of the Tour schedule combined. The difference between the haves and have-nots has never been larger.

Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. The defending champion never could get started in Korea, closing with his low round of the week, a 4-under 68, just to salvage a tie for 36th. Sigh.  

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Azinger: 'Can't see anybody beating Tiger' at his best

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:44 pm

There's a new world No. 1, and a fresh crop of young guns eager to make their mark on the PGA Tour in 2019. But according to Paul Azinger, the player with the highest ceiling is still the same as it was when he was walking inside the ropes.

Azinger was named Monday as lead golf analyst for NBC Sports, and on "Morning Drive" he was asked which player is the best when all are playing their best. The former PGA champion pondered new world No. 1 Brooks Koepka and former No. 1 Dustin Johnson, but he came back around to a familiar answer: Tiger Woods.

"I just can't see anybody beating Tiger when Tiger's at his best. I just can't see it," Azinger said. "He's not his best yet, but he's almost his best. And when Tiger's his best, there's more that comes with Tiger than just the score he shoots. That crowd comes with Tiger, and it's a whole 'nother dynamic when Tiger's at his best. And I'm just going to have to say that when Tiger's at his best, he's still the best."

Woods, 42, started this year ranked No. 656 in the world but had a resurgent season that included a pair of near-misses at The Open and PGA Championship and culminated with his win at the Tour Championship that ended a five-year victory drought. For Azinger, the question now becomes how he can follow up a breakthrough campaign as he looks to contend consistently against players from a younger generation.

"That's why we watch, to see if he can maintain that. To see what he's capable of," Azinger said. "Now longevity becomes the issue for Tiger Woods. In seven or eight years, he's going to be 50 years old. That goes fast. I'm telling you, that goes really fast."

When Woods returns to action, he'll do so with a focus on the upcoming Masters as he looks to capture the 15th major title that has eluded him for more than a decade. With bombers like Koepka and Johnson currently reigning on the PGA Tour, Azinger believes the key for Woods will be remaining accurate while relying on the world-class iron play that has been a strength throughout his career.

"I think he's going to have to recognize that he's not the beast out there when it comes to smacking that ball off the tee. But I'd like to see him try to hit a couple more fairways periodically. That'd be nice," he said. "If he can drive that ball in the fairway, with that putter, we've seen what his putter is capable of. The sky's the limit, boys."