Cut Line: Playoff punches

By Rex HoggardSeptember 16, 2011, 5:20 pm

To hear the chorus of discontent from PGA Tour types, one would think Rees Jones is to blame for everything from the Great Chicago Fire of 1871 to the Cubs prolonged pennant curse. Meanwhile, the long putter was dubbed by a member of American golf royalty as the game’s real toxic asset.

In short, it was a tough week for scapegoats or public enemies, depending on one’s point of view.

Made Cut

A senior moment. No, not Vinny Giles’ gloves-off take on long putters - although lost in the amateur legend’s claim that the U.S. Golf Association is “gutless” for allowing long putters - is his own use of the offending implement.

Instead we leave the last word on longer-than-standard-length putters to Dave Stockton Sr., who has become the game’s preeminent putting guru and a self-titled “old school guy.” Yet when asked his thoughts on long putters this week Stockton’s take was surprisingly measured and refreshingly realistic.

“The ball is in the USGA’s court, they can’t do anything. They can’t scale back now. You can’t say Freddie (Couples) we don’t want you to use it anymore, Phil (Mickelson) we don’t want you to use it anymore,” Stockton said. “It’s not going to putt it for you, you still have to do it right.”

A surprisingly calm head amid all the hyperbole.

Unintended consequences. In this Russell Henley is a victim of time and space. When the University of Georgia senior won the Nationwide Tour’s Stadion Classic in May he likely wasn’t lamenting his bad timing. But when his Georgia teammate Harris English followed him to the winner’s circle in July at the Nationwide Children’s Hospital Invitational the clerical truth began sinking in.

When English turned pro last week after the Walker Cup he was able to accept full membership on the secondary circuit since his 60-day window to do so had not lapsed. Henley, however, was beyond his 60-day window and must wait until the 2012 season to take up Nationwide Tour membership.

Give credit to Nationwide Tour officials, who are currently reviewing the rule.

“The Policy Board is entertaining the idea of taking the 60-day window through the entire year,” Nationwide Tour tournament director Jim Duncan said. “It’s an odd situation when you have two amateurs, from the same team, win.”

It ‘s worth noting that in this era of increased scrutiny on college athletics that it would be golf trumpeting fewer restrictions and more common sense.

Tweet of the Week: @PaulAzinger “95 (percent) of Tour players loved Cog Hill. Now a high percentage don’t. Anyone can make a course harder. Not everyone can make it harder and better. #itsworse”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Playoff particulars. The Tour wanted to entice the top of the marquee to play more in the fall. Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., wanted the Tour Championship to mean something. And finally the circuit’s suits wanted to cut back on its losing head-to-head battle with football. Check, check and check.

But if the game’s fringe fans were looking for a reason to tune out the playoffs it may be fast approaching. Three of the current top 10 players on the FedEx Cup points list are winless in 2011, creating the very real possibility that this year’s cup champion will cash the $10 million lottery ticket without having crashed the winner’s circle this season.

It could have happened last year, when Luke Donald finished third on the points list and Paul Casey was sixth, both without a “W” in 2010.

The current points system is widely considered an improvement over previous editions, but until the circuit’s mathematicians find a way to close the winless loophole the playoffs are one bad fall away from an untidy finish.

Trouble in paradise. It is a measure of how important the season-opening event is to Mark Rolfing that when pressed by “Cut Line” last week for details of his split with the event the Kapalua resident simply shrugged, “It’ll all work out.”

Perhaps, but organizers of the winner’s-only event don’t have a lot of time to make it work out for the 2012 event, which is why the PGA Tour’s Championship Management division will step in to run the tournament, at least in the short term.

“It is a lengthy application process where the IRS gets your not-for-profit status and that will take us several months,” Andy Pazder, the Tour’s executive vice president and chief of operations, said last week.

“As we contemplated the best approach to the 2012 tournament we thought we had to re-evaluate our earlier thought of hiring an executive director and pursuing what I would call the standard PGA Tour-tournament model.”

There was a sliver of good news last week. Pazder said the Tour is considering increasing the number of events non-members can play, which may persuade players like Rory McIlroy and Darren Clarke to make the trip to Hawaii for the season opener.

Well, that, and a limited-field, no-cut event in paradise with a $5.6 million purse.

Missed Cut

Hall pass. This year’s Hall of Fame ballot came out last week with a deep field that included Tony Lema, Jug McSpaden, Don January and . . . Phil Mickelson. Last we checked Lefty was still looking for answers with a belly putter, not keepsakes to fill his HoF locker in St. Augustine, Fla.

Ditto for Davis Love III, who thought long and hard about taking the captain’s job for next year’s Ryder Cup because he still wants to play on a team, and Retief Goosen, one of 10 players on the international ballot and currently the 30th-ranked in the world.

There’s little doubt Mickelson - and probably Love and Goosen - is a lock for the Hall of Fame, but what’s the rush? Particularly when there are equally deserving candidates, like Stockton and Ken Venturi, who may get overlooked on the needlessly crowded ballot.

This is simple: potential Hall of Famers go on the ballot the first year after they play fewer than 15 PGA Tour events or when they turn 55 years old, whichever comes first. If you don’t qualify for the early-bird special at Denny’s, you shouldn’t qualify for the Hall of Fame.

September swoons. “What do you want?” barked Rees Jones, the normally affable architect turned understandably defensive by a storm not entirely of his own making.

Normally it’s the Cubs breaking hearts this time of year in the Second City and one man hasn’t shouldered this much collective hatred in Chicago-land since Steve Bartman reached over the fence at Wrigley Field.

Sure Jones’ nip/tuck of Cog Hill’s Dubsdread course has been widely panned by the Tour’s rank-and-field and even Steve Stricker, whose next ugly word will be his first, couldn’t avoid the roasting.

“The redo is not conducive to our tournament there. It was a little severe,” Stricker said. “It’s playable, but a little tricked up and goofy in spots. I feel real bad for the Jemsek family (owners of the course). They stuck a lot of money into (the renovation), and they’re great people. I liked it before, but the players just don’t like it. The redo isn’t good. It’s sad for the Jemsek family.”

“Cut Line,” however, can’t help but think that Jones and his handiwork at Cog Hill have become a diversion from the real problem in Chicago. The Tour is scheduled to move the BMW Championship to Indiana next year and Denver in 2014 and there is currently no official Chicago-area venue.

It’s also worth pointing out it was the Tour that relocated the BMW from its traditional July date, a much more popular spot on the Chicago sports calendar, and the Jemsek family that asked Jones to make a monster worthy of hosting a U.S. Open.

Maybe Jones went over the top at Cog Hill, but he didn’t trade away the Cubs’ bullpen, the Bears’ backfield or Chicago’s Tour stop.

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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."

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Spieth drops out of top 10 for first time since 2014

By Will GrayOctober 22, 2018, 2:08 pm

As Brooks Koepka ascended to the top of the Official World Golf Ranking, a former No. 1 continued a notable decline.

Jordan Spieth didn't play last week's CJ Cup, where Koepka won by four shots. But Jason Day did, and his T-5 finish in South Korea moved him up two spots from No. 12 to No. 10 in the latest rankings. Spieth dropped from 10th to 11th, marking the first time that he has been outside the top 10 in the world rankings since November 2014.

Since that time, he has won 12 times around the world, including three majors, while spending 26 weeks as world No. 1. But he hasn't won a tournament since The Open last July, and this year he missed the Tour Championship for the first time in his career. Spieth is expected to make his season debut next week in Las Vegas at the Shriners Hospitals for Children Open.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

Koepka and Day were the only movers among the top 10 on a week that saw many top players remain in place. Sergio Garcia's rain-delayed win at the Andalucia Valderrama Masters moved him up four spots to No. 27, while Gary Woodland went from 38th to 30th after finishing second behind Koepka on Jeju Island.

Koepka will tee off as world No. 1 for the first time this week at the WGC-HSBC Champions, where new No. 2 Dustin Johnson will look to regain the top spot. Justin Rose is now third in the world, with Justin Thomas, Rory McIlroy, Francesco Molinari, Bryson DeChambeau, Jon Rahm, Rickie Fowler and Day rounding out the top 10.

With his next competitive start unknown, Tiger Woods remained 13th in the world for the fifth straight week.