Cut Line: Poulter, Woods and scheduling

By Rex HoggardApril 24, 2015, 3:30 pm

Halfway through the PGA Tour season, a strong rookie class continues to make a statement, Ian Poulter takes to Twitter to state his case 140 characters at a time and the PGA of America seems to be speaking volumes about Fred Couples’ future as a Ryder Cup captain.

Made Cut

Class acts. By comparison, this year’s Tour rookie class was always going to be an upgrade over last year’s group but midway through the 2014-15 season it’s starting to look like a rout.

Last season just two rookies kept their Tour cards, compared to nine of the 21 newcomers this season who are currently inside the top 125 on the FedEx Cup point list.

Nick Taylor, who won the Sanderson Farms Championship in November, is leading the class, while Daniel Berger is currently 22nd on the season-long points list following his runner-up showing at the Honda Classic.

But it’s Justin Thomas who has been the most consistent, posting four top-10 finishes in 16 starts. Like his friend Jordan Spieth, there doesn’t seem to be any weaknesses in Thomas’ game and he’s played well on both the East and West coasts.

Unlike last year, when Chesson Hadley was the only choice for the Rookie of the Year Award, this year’s race may actually require a vote.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

BMW brouhaha. Ian Poulter is no stranger to social media slugfests, but the Englishman took things to the next level this week when he lashed out at a story in the Daily Mail that questioned his decision to not play this year’s BMW PGA Championship, the European Tour’s flagship event.

The Daily Mail used Jordan Spieth’s decision to play last week’s RBC Heritage as evidence that sometimes professionals should consider the bigger picture and not just individual needs when it comes to scheduling.

Poulter took to Twitter to defend his decision to not play the BMW PGA (see below) and also pointed out his involvement in bringing the British Masters back to the European Tour later this year at his home course in England, Woburn Golf Club.

Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia are also skipping the BMW PGA which suggests this isn’t about world ranking points or an unpopular golf course as much as it is a wildly condensed schedule with little flexibility for the game’s top players.

Tweets of the week:



Poulter added some more colorful comments, but you get the idea.

Worlds apart. News this week that Tiger Woods will be making a goodwill tour to Asia is hardly groundbreaking, and word that he has been tabbed to redesign a golf course in Beijing is a testament to his growing global brand, but it still leaves some to wonder about his day job.

Woods announced on Friday that he will play next week’s Players Championship and Jack Nicklaus confirmed that he verbally committed to play the Memorial in June.

But that still leaves a limited number of starts for the former world No. 1 if he maintains his normal schedule – The Players, Memorial, U.S. Open, Open Championship, Quicken Loans Nationals and PGA Championship (he’s not currently qualified for the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational or the FedEx Cup playoffs).

His play at Augusta National was encouraging and the confidence he gained invaluable, but it’s still hard to imagine how he maintains that momentum with what can only be described as a part-time schedule.

Rooting interest. Maybe Nick Faldo’s comments were delivered, as Jack Nicklaus said, with his tongue firmly planted in check. Maybe the CBS Sports analyst was just playing to the crowd, but the Englishman certainly sent mix messages this week at an event in Ohio.

According to a report in the Columbus Dispatch, during a luncheon at Ohio State Nicklaus and Faldo were asked if they ever rooted against a player vying to break one of their records, like Spieth at this year’s Masters when he began his week with an 8-under 64.

While Nicklaus said he would never root against a player, Faldo added, “Oh, I do.”

“I was sitting up there dodging bullets from this young man. Day 1, he’s in the middle of the 15th fairway at 8 under par, and my fellow announcers were all, ‘Wouldn’t it be nice if he shoots a 62?’ And I’m thinking, Jack [Nicklaus] and I are both in the 63 club; that’s the best round in any major,” Faldo said to the audience.

Nicklaus defused the situation, saying, “[Faldo was] obviously making a joke with his comments about Jordan yesterday, and everyone at the function, including me, took it that way.”

While Faldo’s comments seemed to have been overblown, it should still make next year’s Champion’s Dinner at Augusta National more interesting.

Missed Cut

Captain obvious. While it remains unclear how things evolved behind closed doors the decision of the U.S. Ryder Cup task force to tab Davis Love III, and not Fred Couples, as America’s next captain continues to baffle.

According to various sources, Couples was a popular choice to captain the next U.S. team in the immediate aftermath of last year’s matches, but when Love was introduced earlier this year the company line was that he was a unanimous choice.

Couples, who is captaining an American team this week in Dubai at the inaugural Icons Cup, said he is still holding out hope to one day lead a Ryder Cup team, “I am put off by not getting it this time, but having said that, if they ask me in 2018 I will certainly jump at it and accept it,” he said.

Under the PGA of America’s new plan, however, future captains will be groomed as assistants before taking over a team and only Tom Lehman has been named as one of Love’s assistants for 2016.

It’s a curious oversight and leads one to ask: Why not Freddie?

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Tiger Tracker: 147th Open Championship

By Tiger TrackerJuly 20, 2018, 2:30 pm

Tiger Woods shot his second consecutive 70 on Friday at Carnoustie and enters weekend play at even par for the championship, still in contention for major No. 15.

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Scott and Sunesson a one-week partnership

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 2:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Adam Scott has been in between caddies for the last month and went with a bold stand-in for this week’s Open Championship, coaxing veteran looper Fanny Sunesson out of retirement to work for him at Carnoustie.

Sunesson caddied for Nick Faldo in his prime, as the duo won four major titles together. She also worked for Henrik Stenson and Sergio Garcia before a back injury forced her to retire.

But for this week’s championship, Scott convinced the Swede to return to the caddie corps. The results have been impressive, with the Australian following an opening 71 with a second-round 70 for a tie for 16th place.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“It's been going great. Fanny is, obviously, a fantastic caddie, and to be able to have that experience out there with me is certainly comforting,” Scott said. “We've gotten along really well. She's picked up on my game quickly, and I think we think about things in a very similar way.”

Scott was also asked about a potential long-term partnership between the duo, but he didn’t sound hopeful.

“It's just for this week,” he said. “It would be up to her, but I don't think she's making plans of a comeback. I was being a bit opportunistic in contacting her and coaxing her out of retirement, I guess. But I think she's having a good week. We'll just take it one week at the moment.”

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After tense Augusta Sunday, Rory ready to be aggressive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 1:51 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Rory McIlroy temporarily lost his superpowers during the Masters.  

In one of the most surprising rounds of the year, he played tentatively and carefully during the final day. Squaring off against the major-less Patrick Reed, on the brink of history, with the backing of nearly the entire crowd, it was McIlroy who shrank in the moment, who looked like the one searching for validation. He shot a joyless 74 and wound up six shots behind Reed.

No, the final round was nowhere near as dispiriting as the finale in 2011, but McIlroy still sulked the following week. He binge-watched TV shows. Devoured a few books. Guzzled a couple of bottles of wine. His pity party lasted a few days, until his wife, Erica, finally dragged him out of the house for a walk.

Some deeper introspection was required, and McIlroy revealed a healthier self-analysis Friday at Carnoustie. He diagnosed what went wrong at Augusta, and then again two months later at the U.S. Open, where he blew himself out of the tournament with an opening 80.

“I was worrying too much about the result, not focusing on the process,” he said. “Sunday at Augusta was a big learning curve for me because, even if I hadn’t won that tournament, but I went down swinging and aggressive and committing to every shot, I would have walked away a lot happier.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

And so McIlroy has a new mantra this week at The Open.

Let it go.

Don’t hold back. Don’t worry about the repercussions. Don’t play scared.

“I’m committed to making sure, even if I don’t play my best golf and don’t shoot the scores I want, I’m going to go down swinging, and I’m going to go down giving my best,” he said. “The result is the byproduct of all the little things you do to lead up to that. Sometimes I’ve forgotten that, and I just need to get back in that mindset.”

It’s worked through two rounds, even after the cool, damp conditions led McIlroy to abandon his ultra-aggressive strategy. He offset a few mistakes with four birdies, shooting a second consecutive 69 to sit just a couple of shots off the lead.

During a sun-splashed first round, McIlroy gleefully banged driver on almost every hole, flying or skirting the bunkers that dot these baked-out, undulating fairways. He wasn’t particularly accurate, but he also didn’t need to be, as the thin, wispy rough enabled every player to at least advance their approach shots near the green.

Friday’s weather presented a different challenge. A steady morning rain took some of the fire out of parched fairways, but the cooler temperatures also reduced much of the bombers’ hang time. Suddenly, all of the bunkers were in play, and McIlroy needed to adjust his driver-heavy approach (he hit only six) on the fly.

“It just wasn’t worth it,” he said.

McIlroy hit a few “skanky” shots, in his words, but even his bigger misses – on the sixth and 17th holes – were on the proper side, allowing him to scramble for par and keep the round going.

It’s the fifth time in his career that he’s opened a major with back-to-back rounds in the 60s. He’s gone on to win three of the previous four – the lone exception that disastrous final round (80) at Augusta in 2011.

“I don’t want to say easy,” he said, “but it’s felt comfortable.”

The weekend gets uncomfortable for everyone, apparently even four-time major winners who, when in form, ooze confidence and swagger.

Once again McIlroy has that look at a major.

The only thing left to do?

Let it go.

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Z. Johnson may have to pay for the jet home

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 1:23 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Zach Johnson will have some bragging rights when he gets back to the ultimate golf frat house on Friday after a second-round 67 moved him into the lead at The Open.

Johnson is rooming with Jordan Spieth, Jason Dufner, Kevin Kisner, Jimmy Walker, Justin Thomas and Rickie Fowler this week at Carnoustie. It’s a tradition that began two years ago at Royal Troon.

Kisner joked on Thursday after he took the first-round lead that the perks for the house/tournament front-runner were limited: “I probably get to eat first,” he said.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

There is, however, one running wager.

“Two years ago we, I don't know if you call it bet, but agreement that, if you win, you get the jet and you buy it, so we go home,” said Johnson, who added that because of varying travel arrangements, the wager might not be needed this year. “I didn't pay last year. Somebody else did.”

Spieth won last year’s championship at Royal Birkdale.

Despite the expense, Johnson said he didn’t know how much it costs to charter a private flight back to the United States, but it’s a good problem to have.

“I’d be happy to fork it over,” he smiled.