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Cut Line: Players changing course in different ways

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Another player-caddie split highlights this week’s edition, with Rory McIlroy deciding he can’t be a part of two until he’s a better one; while Phil Mickelson may end up being the one on the outside looking into a U.S. team room for the first time in more than two decades.

Made Cut

Bae’s back. Last we saw Sangmoon Bae he was battling the emotions of a lost Presidents Cup match, a pivotal 2-up decision to Bill Haas, and bound for two years of uncertainty.

Following those ’15 matches in South Korea, Bae reported for a two-year mandatory military obligation, which ends on Aug. 16. When the 31-year-old was forced to forego a burgeoning career to report for duty, the Tour added a regulation that would allow a player to keep his status after fulfilling this type of mandatory commitment, which means he can pick up where he left off when the new season starts in October.

Bae’s manager with All That Sports told Cut Line he plans to play a Korean PGA Tour event in September before beginning his comeback on the U.S. tour this fall.

Too often in the past a case like Bae’s would have fallen through the cracks, and he would have fulfilled his obligation only to face an uncertain future.

But thanks to some proactive governance, he has an opportunity, and for a player as talented as Bae that’s all he would want.

Changing paths. Rory McIlroy doesn’t like the term sacked or axed or even fired, so instead of a pink slip for his former caddie J.P. Fitzgerald the Northern Irishman went with a less-loaded term.

“I just changed my path a little bit,” McIlroy said this week of his split with Fitzgerald, who had been with the world’s fourth-ranked player for the better part of nine years.

McIlroy went on to explain that he needed to go in a different direction to “preserve a personal relationship,” and while that may sound a little like “it’s not you, it’s me,” the truth is the vast majority of player-caddie relationships aren’t built to last.

Look no further than the recent split of Phil Mickelson and his longtime bagman Jim “Bones” Mackay. As one caddie opined after hearing the news of Lefty’s split with Bones, “the fairytale is over.”

What McIlroy does next is always the ultimate litmus test, and it’s worth noting his first round without Fitzgerald on the bag on Thursday (67) he dubbed “awesome,” but give Rory credit for not being averse to change, even if that change was extremely personal.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

SC featured. With the ease of a fade-away three-pointer at the buzzer, Steph Curry silenced any and all critics of his moonlighting gig this week on the Tour.

The Golden State star opened with a 74 at the Ellie Mae Classic. That was a stroke better than playing partner Sam Ryder, who won two weeks ago on the developmental circuit, and two clear of Frank Lickliter II, a two-time winner on the PGA Tour.

Now, full disclosure demands we point out that Curry was five strokes outside the cut line after Day 1 and nine shots off the lead. But regardless of what happens on Friday, Curry’s play was impressive, inspired even.

What lands the Tour event in the MDF category this week is a growing concern among players on how sponsor exemptions are doled out. While Curry’s pass checked off all the right boxes – fan interest, competitive relevance, local ties – there are too many times when exemptions on the secondary tour go to the biggest name and not the most deserving player.

As entertaining as Curry’s play has been this week, this should be the exception not the rule.

Tweet(s) of the week: @wheatiePGA (Steve Wheatcroft): “I hope you're trying to move the line in Vegas re: Steph. Take the over and BIG. No chance in hell [Curry] breaks 76.”

Wheatcroft, who is playing his sixth season on Tour, was responding to ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt, who set the line for Curry’s debut at 76.

“Hell hath frozen over,” was Curry’s response on Twitter following his opening 74.

To Wheatcroft’s credit, he quickly owned his miscue, tweeting back to Curry: “Mad respect, bud. I have no problem eating this crow. Keep the mojo going tomorrow, and enjoy yourself out there.”

Social media can be fun.

Missed Cut

Lefty’s legacy. The last time Mickelson didn’t put on a U.S. team uniform Jordan Spieth was a 1-year-old and American Presidents Cup captain Steve Stricker was playing his first full season on Tour.

All total, Lefty has been a team room staple on 22 Presidents and Ryder Cup teams, but that career-defining streak may be nearing an end this year.

Mickelson is currently 17th on the U.S. Presidents Cup points list, 579 points behind the last qualifier at the moment No. 10 Charley Hoffman, and he likely has just four starts to make his move before the team is finalized on Sept. 4.

“I want to make that team,” Mickelson said this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational. “It’s more than a streak as much as it is I just love those events. I love those weeks, I love the time with the guys and I just really cherish those memories.”

Mickelson’s precarious position on the points list may end up leaving Stricker in an awkward position when the time comes to make his two captain’s selections next month. The current list of would-be captain’s picks included Gary Woodland (No. 15), Brandt Snedeker (14), Jason Dufner (13), Brian Harman (12) and Patrick Reed (11).

Unless Mickelson’s competitive fortunes change quickly, this could come down to whether Stricker wants the best available player or a team room leader.

Stay tuned.