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Cut Line: Playing the results

By Rex HoggardJanuary 12, 2018, 9:22 pm

HONOLULU – In this week’s edition of Cut Line, Kevin Kisner in a 'Bama jersey, a prodigious drive by Dustin Johnson, and another curious violation of the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy.


Made Cut

Perspective. There are those who live and die by the fate of their chosen teams ... and then there’s Kevin Kisner.

Make no mistake, Kisner bleeds Georgia red and black and watched Monday’s College Football Playoff National Championship with as much passion as anyone, and even in defeat he found a way to celebrate the event.

Kisner turned a friendly wager with Justin Thomas, arguably the Tour’s preeminent Alabama fan, into a chance to generate some money for his foundation. Their bet saw Kisner have to wear an Alabama jersey while playing the 17th hole on Thursday at the Sony Open.

“We're going to raffle [the Alabama jersey] off through my foundation, sell a bunch of raffle tickets, pick out a winner, and then give that money back to the children in our community,” Kisner said. “Justin is good enough to let me do it, and I'll get him back in the future.”

One small but important note, Kisner explained that Thomas resisted numerous requests to base the bet on the game’s line, which had Alabama favored by 3 1/2 points. The Tide won by four. 

“I was lobbying for the points the whole week, and he didn't give them to me,” Kisner joked. “So I'm still not sure about this bet.”

You know what they say, every match is decided on the first tee.

Tweet of the week:

No Bones about it. Following a few months with nothing more weighty than a microphone in his hand, Jim “Bones” Mackay didn’t lose a step on Thursday when he transitioned back to a more familiar role – caddying for Thomas.

Mackay stepped in for Thomas’ normal caddie Jimmy Johnson, who was sidelined last week with plantar fasciitis in his right foot, and only had a few awkward moments on Day 1 after 25 seasons with left-hander Phil Mickelson.

“My battles were cleaning the wrong side of the club and there were two or three times when I was on the wrong side of the ball,” Mackay laughed.

One member of the gallery joked on Thursday that Mackay also had to get used to being in the fairway a little more often than he was during his two decades with Lefty, who had a tendency to get a little wayward off the tee.

Mackay’s week became even more interesting on Friday when he pulled double duty, caddying for Thomas in the morning and joining the Golf Channel broadcast team in the afternoon, walking with Jordan Spieth’s group for the ultimate inside-the-ropes moonlighting.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Alarmist. Depending on who you ask, last week’s power display by Dustin Johnson at the Sentry Tournament of Champions was either a reason to celebrate what promises to be an epic season or lament the utter dominance of the long ball at the highest levels.

While the debate over the increasing distance players hit the golf ball is certainly worth having, last week’s stop at Kapalua should never be considered an accurate snapshot of the state of the game.

Last year on Tour, two of the 11 longest drives were at Kapalua (and seven of the top 11 came at Firestone during the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational).

This week’s event at Waialae Country Club is a better representation of how far players are hitting the ball, with just a single drive over 380 yards on Thursday. It’s also worth noting that Zach Johnson and Chris Kirk shared the Day 1 lead and both players are very much mid-length guys.

Driving distances are an issue, but using a single course to prove a point is hyperbolic and hopelessly pointless.


Missed Cut

Final solutions. Last week, Tour commissioner Jay Monahan conceded that the best outcome for a pair of lawsuits between the Tour and various parties would be a settlement.

Specifically, Monahan was asked about the circuit’s ongoing lawsuit with a group of caddies, which was filed in 2015 claiming violations of antitrust, intellectual property and contract law.

“We have had discussions with various caddies and various caddie leadership, but there was a suit that they filed, and we're following the process,” Monahan said. “We're hopeful that it comes to an end, and we can get back to the business of supporting them, because they're so important to what we do.”

The commissioner had a similar take on the Tour’s lawsuit with Vijay Singh, which was filed in 2013 after the 34-time Tour winner’s suspension for using deer-antler spray was rescinded.

The best outcome for golf, the best outcome for everyone involved, is a settlement, but that will take compromise, which has been desperately lacking in both lawsuits for far too long.

Unintended consequences. For the fifth time since the Tour initiated its anti-doping policy, a player has found themselves on the wrong end of a suspension.

This time it was Brad Fritsch, who self-reported a violation of the policy when he discovered there was a banned substance in a weight-loss supplement he was taking. The announcement came about a month after Mark Hensby was suspended for failing to provide a drug-testing sample when approached by officials at the 2017 Sanderson Farms Championship.

Fritsch was popped for taking the same substance – DHEA, an over-the-counter anabolic agent that is the precursor to testosterone production and banned by the Tour – as Scott Stallings, who also self-reported his infraction in 2015 after a similarly honest mistake.

Few things play out the way you imagined, but on this front the circuit’s foray into anti-doping has stayed on script. Few, if any, believed there was a doping issue in golf, but many – including some members of the Tour’s player advisory council at the time – worried these types of inadvertent infractions would become the norm.

This is not a defense of the players, who are ultimately responsible for what they put in their bodies, but it is an indictment of a program that was always going to have collateral damage.

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Merritt earns second win at rain-delayed Barbasol

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 5:44 pm

It took an extra day, but Troy Merritt found a way back to the winner's circle at the Barbasol Championship.

With much of the final round spilling into Monday because of inclement weather, Merritt shot a 5-under 67 to finish the week at 23 under par at Keene Trace Golf Club in Lexington, Ky. That total left him one shot clear of a group that included Billy Horschel, Tom Lovelady and Richy Werenski.

Merritt started the round in a four-way tie for the lead, and the highlight of his finale came on the par-4 eighth where he holed a 133-yard approach shot for an eagle. He didn't drop a shot over his final 13 holes, securing a narrow victory when Lovelady failed to make a lengthy birdie attempt on the final green.

Merritt broke through at the 2015 Quicken Loans National for his first career PGA Tour victory, but he struggled to maintain that form in the subsequent months. Merritt had only one top-10 finish in both 2016 and 2017 and had to return to Web.com Tour Finals last fall to keep his card.

His 2018 campaign wasn't much better, with a T-8 finish at Pebble Beach his lone top-10 result, and Merritt started the week ranked 131st in the season-long points race with his 2019 status very much in jeopardy. But after earning win No. 2, he's now exempt through August 2020 and has earned spots into the PGA Championship as well as the 2019 Sentry Tournament of Champions and Players Championship.

"You always ask yourself, 'Is this the time to move on?'" Merritt told reporters. "But to get a win like this, late in the season, and to move up to 65 on the points list and to secure a job for two more years, it's a pretty good feeling."

Tour veteran Brian Gay finished alone in sixth at 20 under, while Hunter Mahan tied for seventh. The Barbasol has been played opposite The Open every year since 2015, but this year marked the first time it was played in Kentucky after three years in Alabama.

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Monday Scramble: Flawless Francesco outlasts them all

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 2:00 pm

Francesco Molinari outlasts the rest, Tiger Woods inches closer to an earth-shattering victory, Jordan Spieth lets a successful title defense slip away, Eddie Pepperell toasts his success and more in this week’s Open edition of Monday Scramble:

Forza Italia.

Amid a wild and windy afternoon at Carnoustie, where seemingly no less than a dozen players had a viable shot at the claret jug, it was a steady performance from Francesco Molinari that translated into breakthrough.

Molinari is no stranger to the big stage, and five years ago he played the final round alongside Phil Mickelson as Lefty stormed from behind to win at Muirfield. But this time, this day, it was his turn to shine as he put forth a ball-striking and scrambling clinic that yielded 16 pars and two birdies while the other leaders struggled around him.

It's the cap of an impressive heater for Molinari, who is now the first Italian to ever win a major. He outlasted Rory McIlroy at the BMW PGA Championship in May, won the Quicken Loans National by eight shots last month and now has finished first or second in five of his last six worldwide starts.

The soft-spoken veteran played the final two rounds without making a bogey, and he is a worthy champion. Expect the jug to receive a few refills of wine - and perhaps a little coffee - over the next year.


1. For about a 90-minute stretch Sunday, it seemed like Tiger Woods would finally find a way to silence the critics once and for all.

Playing alongside Molinari, Woods displayed the same tactical brilliance on the opening nine, carding two birdies while others struggled out of the gates and, at one point, taking the lead alone. But an errant approach and a poor flop shot led to a double bogey on No. 11, and his bid for the jug was diverted soon thereafter.

But man, what a ride it was through that opening stretch. For months the questions have lingered about exactly how and when Tiger might put all the pieces together, and after an early exit at Shinnecock it was easy to write him off. But his inner tactician shined for much of the week on a toasty layout, and he was steady in all facets over the weekend.

Just as Woods' five-win season in 2013 has been used as a recent example of just how high his ceiling reaches, so too this performance will be viewed like manna from heaven for Tiger apologists. He didn't quite pull it off, but there's every reason to expect that he can do so the next time around.

2. While he came up three shots short of catching Molinari, even Woods appeared to savor the final leg of a T-6 finish that serves as his best result in a major in five years and becomes the new high water mark for an already impressive season.

"It was a blast," Woods told reporters. "I was saying earlier that I need to try and keep it in perspective because, beginning of the year, if they'd have said you're playing the Open Championship, I would have said I'd be very lucky to do that."



3. A bit more on Molinari, the newest Champion Golfer of the Year who has turned into a weekend assassin over the last three months. 

Between his stirring victory at Wentworth, his rout at TPC Potomac and his comeback at Carnoustie, Molinari has now played six weekend rounds while making only a single bogey. One!

That includes 36 bogey-free holes over the last two days in Scotland, as Molinari methodically took apart the demanding links layout while turning in the only bogey-free scorecard out of the entire field on Sunday.

"To go the weekend bogey-free, it's unthinkable, to be honest," Molinari said. "But I felt really good this morning. When I came here, I felt ready for the challenge."

4 While many players would quiver at the thought of a final-round tee time alongside Woods with a major on the line, Molinari didn't blink. Perhaps because he's been in similar situations before.

In addition to his supporting role during Mickelson's win in 2013, Molinari has twice faced off with Woods in the Ryder Cup - including a 2012 singles' draw that remains Woods' most recent Ryder Cup match. So stepping to the tee Sunday, Molinari was fazed neither by his playing partner nor by the three co-leaders that sat three shots ahead of him.

"Clearly in my group, the attention wasn't really on me, let's put it that way," Molinari said. "If someone was expecting a charge, probably they weren't expecting it from me, but it's been the same the whole of my career."

5. How times change. Just a few weeks ago, Molinari opted to tee it up at the Quicken Loans National instead of the French Open at Ryder Cup venue Le Golf National. The reason? He was concerned about his FedExCup standing.

Molinari hadn't done much in the States this year, and he was 123rd in points with his 2019 status very much in limbo. Fast forward a few weeks - including two wins and a runner-up - and Molinari can safely book travel plans on both sides of the Atlantic for years to come.



6. It was a week of what might have been for Jordan Spieth.

Spieth started his stint in Scotland by handing back the claret jug in a ceremony he admitted was more bitter than sweet. But through 54 holes, he was the betting favorite as one of three co-leaders, equipped with a great chance to go back-to-back and end a victory drought that extended back to Royal Birkdale.

Amid a disappointing campaign, it was the first time he started the final round closer than four shots to the lead.

But Spieth apparently used up his magic last year in Southport, as he seemed out of sorts from the start and quickly faded. Spieth didn't make a birdie all day, and he found a gorse bush at an inopportune time en route to a double bogey on one of the easiest holes on the course.

It added up to a 76 and a tie for ninth, another disappointing finish in a year of mixed results. Now he'll have to wait another year for a potential reunion with the jug.

7. Of course, Spieth wasn't the only player who watched a share of the 54-hole lead slip away.

Kevin Kisner held at least a share of the lead after each of the first three days, but his bid for a maiden major went sideways in a bunker on the second hole Sunday. Xander Schauffele's bid lasted significantly longer, as he kept pace with Molinari until the 17th hole.

But in the end, it was a 3-over 74 and a share of second place for both men, who now find themselves firmly in the Ryder Cup mix heading into the homestretch of the selection process.



8. For the first time in his career, Rory McIlroy has a runner-up finish in a major championship. But good luck making sense of his week at Carnoustie years from now.

McIlroy was barely a factor over the weekend, having seemingly forfeited his shot at a second Open title during benign third-round conditions. But when his lengthy eagle putt fell on the 14th hole Sunday and sparked a celebration reminiscent of Hazeltine, hope was once again alive.

Ultimately, it was too little too late for the Ulsterman, who couldn't convert a lengthy birdie putt on the 72nd hole that could have putt pressure on the leaders behind him. He'll leave Scotland with a healthy check, but without the feeling that he ever got both feet planted in his quest for the claret jug.

"I just ran out of holes," McIlroy said.

9. If McIlroy's runner-up felt like somewhat of a disappointment, Justin Rose's T-2 finish was nothing short of found money.

Rose needed to birdie the difficult 18th on Friday simply to make the cut on the number, and he rebounded with a third-round 64. The Englishman added a Sunday 69 to lend credence to the notion that, despite only two top-10s in the tournament as a pro, Rose might still have an Open title in him after all.

"I just think having made the cut number, it's a great effort to be relevant on the leaderboard on Sunday," Rose said.

The weekend close continues a recent run of solid form for Rose, who won a few weeks back at Colonial and now has reached a career-best No. 2 in the world rankings.


So the Champion Golfer of the Year walks into a coffee shop...

Sadly, it seems we may not see these creative retirement plans come to fruition - at least not for a few years. But credit to Molinari for thinking outside the box, and credit to Wesley Bryan for a timely share.

This week's award winners ... 


Hair of the Dog: Eddie Pepperell. The 27-year-old Englishman admitted he was "a little hungover" during the final round, but he still put up the day's best score with a 4-under 67 that gave him a share of sixth and his first ever top-10 finish in a major. Drinks all around.

Paris Bound?: Webb Simpson. The Players champ tied for 12th to move past Bryson DeChambeau at No. 8 in the U.S. Ryder Cup standings, with the top eight after the PGA Championship qualifying automatically. Schauffele moved to 11th, while Kisner moved to 13th.

Quiet Consistency: Tony Finau. Finau tied for ninth at Carnoustie and has now cracked the top 10 in each of the three majors this year. In fact, six of his 10 career major starts have gone for T-18 or better. Perhaps something for Captain Furyk to consider.

Quietly Slumping: Sergio Garcia. The Spaniard is barely a year removed from his watershed win, but he has now missed the cut in four straight majors and has missed six of nine cuts overall dating back to the Masters.

Role Reversal: Molinari, who won The Open while playing alongside Tiger 12 years after he caddied for his brother, Edoardo, in a group with Woods at the 2006 Masters. Woods was the defending champ, and Edoardo was the reigning U.S. Amateur winner:

King of Yelp: To the Carnoustie barber that gave Spieth a trim before the third round that set social media ablaze. While Spieth admitted it was a little "high and tight," it became the most famous £9 haircut in years.

Make Your Own Bed: To the frat house of American stars that has become something of an Open annual tradition. While Spieth, Kisner and Zach Johnson fell short of winning the jug for the house, hopefully they all got a few good shots in on all-time goalie Jason Dufner during intra-squad soccer scrimmages.

Kick Him Out: To the obnoxious fan that nearly derailed Tiger's final tee shot. One-upsmanship has become somewhat of a plague among American crowds, but Sunday showed that even the revered Scottish faithful have a few bad eggs in the bunch.

Place Your Bets: With only 17 days until the opening round of the PGA Championship, the Westgate Las Vegas installed Dustin Johnson as a 12/1 co-favorite alongside Spieth and McIlroy. Woods headlines the group next in line at 16/1.


Blown Fantasy Pick of the Week: Justin Thomas. For the second year in a row, Thomas' Open chances fell apart during a rainy second round. It was 67-80 at Birkdale, and this time 69-77 to miss the cut by a shot at Carnoustie. Watching what Rose did after finishing only one shot better through 36 holes only adds salt to the wound.

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DJ, McIlroy, Spieth listed as PGA betting favorites

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 1:38 pm

Three majors are in the books, but there's still one more trophy up for grabs in two weeks' time.

While next year The Open will signal the end of the 2019 major season amid a revamped calendar, this is the final year that the PGA Championship will be held in August. The tournament returns next month to Bellerive Country Club outside St. Louis, which last hosted the PGA when Nick Price won in 1992 and hasn't hosted a PGA Tour event since Camilo Villegas won the 2008 BMW Championship.

Oddsmakers at the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook published PGA betting odds shortly after the final putt dropped at Carnoustie and Francesco Molinari left with the claret jug. Topping the board are a trio of major champions: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy and Jordan Spieth, all listed at 12/1.

McIlroy won the PGA in both 2012 and 2014, while Spieth needs only the Wanamaker Trophy to round out the career Grand Slam. Johnson has recorded four top-10s in the PGA, notably a T-5 finish at Whistling Straits in 2010 when a few grains of sand kept him out of a playoff with Martin Kaymer and Bubba Watson.

Fresh off a T-6 finish in Scotland, Tiger Woods headlines the group listed at 16/1, behind only the three co-favorites as he looks to win a 15th career major.

Here's a look at the betting odds for a number of contenders, with the opening round of the PGA just 17 days away:

12/1: Dustin Johnson, Rory McIlroy, Jordan Spieth

16/1: Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

18/1: Justin Rose

20/1: Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Tommy Fleetwood, Francesco Molinari, Jason Day

30/1: Patrick Reed, Hideki Matsuyama

40/1: Henrik Stenson, Alex Noren, Paul Casey

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Bubba Watson, Sergio Garcia, Tony Finau, Xander Schauffele, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Louis Oosthuizen, Patrick Cantlay, Bryson DeChambeau, Webb Simpson

80/1: Adam Scott, Zach Johnson, Kevin Kisner

100/1: Ian Poulter, Thomas Pieters, Tyrrell Hatton, Rafa Cabrera-Bello, Daniel Berger, Kevin Chappell, Brian Harman, Brandt Snedeker, Charley Hoffman

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Molinari moves to No. 6 in world with Open win

By Will GrayJuly 23, 2018, 12:31 pm

After breaking through for his first career major title, Francesco Molinari reached some rarified air in the latest installment of the Official World Golf Rankings.

The Italian's two-shot win at Carnoustie moved him up nine spots to No. 6 in the world, not surprisingly a new career high. But it's also a quick ascent for Molinari, who has now won three of his last six worldwide starts and was ranked No. 33 in the world after missing the cut at The Players Championship two months ago.

A share of second place helped Xander Schauffele jump from No. 24 to No. 18 in the updated standings, while the same result meant Kevin Kisner went from No. 33 to No. 25. Justin Rose and Rory McIlroy both went up one spot after T-2 finishes to No. 2 and No. 7, respectively - a new career high for Rose.

The drama in the rankings unfolded at No. 50, as Tiger Woods moved up 21 spots to exactly No. 50 following his T-6 finish. While some projections had him moving to 51st, Woods was able to sneak into the top 50 just in time to qualify for a return to the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, as the top 50 in the rankings both this week and next qualify for Akron.

That includes Zach Johnson, last year's runner-up who was not yet qualified but moved from No. 52 to No. 49 this week. It also includes Kevin Chappell, who went from 61st to 47th with a T-6 finish in Scotland.

Despite missing the cut at Carnoustie, Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1 for another week followed by Rose, Justin Thomas, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Molinari is now at No. 6, with McIlroy, Jordan Spieth, Rickie Fowler and Jason Day rounding out the top 10.