Cut Line Sawgrass Stew

By Rex HoggardMay 8, 2010, 3:54 am

The Players ChampionshipPONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Tough time to be a golf course architect or superintendent. Last week, Phil Mickelson labeled Quail Hollow’s greens the Tour’s “worst-designed,” and on Friday, Jerry Kelly unloaded on something of an agronomic Armageddon at the PGA Tour’s crown jewel.

As if all that wasn’t enough, the field has taken it to TPC Sawgrass for two relatively calm days. The cut for this week’s pseudo-major came at 2-under 142, the lowest it’s been since 1993.

The good news for Tour types: Tiger Woods made the cut. The bad news: Rory McIlroy did not. Here’s a look at everything in between.

Made Cut

Gen Now. The gulf between expectations and reality can be unrealistic, if not crushing for the uninitiated. Just ask Ricky Barnes. Only one guy in this generation has exceeded the hype when he put on that clinic at the 1997 Masters.

So it was then that Rory McIlroy matched all the hyperbole with a historic round last Sunday to win his first PGA Tour title at Quail Hollow. On the same random Sunday, both McIlroy and Ryo Ishikawa, who shot a final-round 58 to win a Japan Golf Tour event, came of age. Not to mention Rickie Fowler, who has finished tied for eighth and sixth in his last two events.

Imagine a trio of storylines so compelling that by week’s end the unthinkable, Tiger Woods’ missed cut, was reduced to a footnote. How’s golf doing?

J.P. Fitzgerald. There are no shortage of stellar PGA Tour caddies, but Rory McIlroy’s man has separated himself from the pack in the last few weeks.

A week before his man’s breakthrough at Quail Hollow, Fitzgerald convinced him to spend a couple of days playing Royal Portrush and Royal County Down in Northern Ireland, a move that fed McIlroy’s confidence and set the stage for last week.

On Tuesday, Fitzgerald went a step further and organized a 21st birthday party/first Tour title soiree at a local watering hole.

“What goes on on Tour stays on Tour? You've never heard of that?” Padraig Harrington smiled when asked about the gathering.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

St. Jude Classic. It seemed curious that Lee Westwood, who is sponsored by UPS, would not be given a sponsor exemption into the Memphis stop, which is situated in the heart of FedEx territory.

Whether it was corporate pettiness or simply an oversight by St. Jude officials is not clear, but some negative press seems to have changed official’s minds and they have offered the Englishman a spot in the field.

“They asked him to be in the corporate pro-am. How about that?” smiled Chubby Chandler, Westwood’s manager.

Fifth Major debate. The Players Championship is a marquee event with a solid field and 17 major-championship quality holes, and whether it deserves a spot within the Grand Slam frat house is not a question for the media, fans or Tour officials. The simple truth is the players will decide where Sawgrass falls in the golf hierarchy.

All of which leads us to take a closer look at this week’s DL. In order, Steve Stricker (ranked third in the World Ranking), Retief Goosen (15th), Fred Couples and finally Anthony Kim (11th) all pulled out with injuries.

Without question the injuries are legitimate, but we’re just curious if some don’t at least give it a try at the fourth major.

Tweet of the week: @stewartcink: “Getting into car at @ZachjohnsonPGA’s house just now and something happened that hasn’t occurred in a LONG time – I got mooned by a passerby!”

Missed Cut

Rumors. It happens like clockwork: Tiger Woods misses a cut, a tee time, a 4-footer at Isleworth, a wake-up call and the “Hammer Hank” rhetoric climbs to a crescendo. Until, of course, Woods wins again, and he always wins again, and Hank Haney is given a reprieve.

This week at TPC Sawgrass the rumor mill seemed in overdrive, the end was near for the swing coach, that is until Woods gave the idea the Heisman on Thursday saying, “Hank and I talk every day, so nothing's changed. According to the press, I've fired him five times by now over the course of my four years or whatever it was, six years?”

Without question Woods is struggling with a game that used to seem effortless, but the problem is not Haney’s teachings as much as it is Woods’ off-course distractions.

One long-time swing coach said it best last week at Quail Hollow, “There are two kinds of swing coaches, those who have been fired and those who are about to be (fired).”

TPC Sawgrass. Tour officials have passed the buck to a historically frigid winter which has resulted in less-than-perfect conditions for this week’s Players Championship. At one point things got so sideways the Tour recalled former superintendent Fred Klauk from his golden years and closed the course for three weeks.

Tour players, however, don’t want excuses. Not when it comes to their “fifth major.”

“I know it was a tough winter, but I just don’t know what’s going on. I’d rather play on mud and dirt like we used to sometimes than play on a first cut,” Jerry Kelly told moments after signing for a second-round 66. “It’s like an old fringe. It’s slower than an old fringe, but when you get it down grain it’s so fast because it’s so long it’s laying down.”

“Mud and dirt,” two words you don’t hear at Augusta National.

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.

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Romo set to make PGA Tour debut at Punta Cana

By Will GrayMarch 20, 2018, 6:43 pm

While much of the attention in golf this week will be focused on the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Tony Romo may send a few eyeballs toward the Caribbean.

The former quarterback and current CBS NFL analyst will make his PGA Tour debut this week, playing on a sponsor invite at the Corales Punta Cana Resort & Club Championship in the Dominican Republic. The exemption was announced last month when Romo played as an amateur at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, and he's apparently been hard at work ever since.

"I'll be treating it very serious," Romo told reporters Tuesday. "My wife will tell you she hasn't seen me much over the last month. But if you know me at all, I think you know if I care about something I'm going to commit to it 100 percent. So like I said. you'll get the best I've got this week."

Romo retired from the NFL last year and plays to a plus-0.3 handicap. In addition to his participation in the Pebble Beach event, he has tried to qualify for the U.S. Open multiple times and last month played a North Texas PGA mini-tour event as an amateur.

According to Romo, one of the key differences between pro football and golf is the fact that his former position is entirely about reactive decisions, while in golf "you're trying to commit wholeheartedly before you ever pull the club out of your bag."

"I'm not worried about getting hit before I hit the ball," Romo said. "It's at my own tempo, my own speed, in this sport. Sometimes that's difficult, and sometimes that's easier depending on the situation."

Romo admitted that he would have preferred to have a couple extra weeks to prepare, but recently has made great strides in his wedge game which "was not up to any Tour standard." The first-tee jitters can't be avoided, but Romo hopes to settle in after battling nerves for the first three or four holes Thursday.

Romo hopes to derive an added comfort factor from his golf in the Dallas area, where he frequently plays with a group of Tour pros. While Steph Curry traded texts with a few pros before his tournament debut last summer on the Tour, Romo expects his phone to remain silent until he puts a score on the board.

"I think they're waiting to either tell me 'Congrats' or 'I knew it, terrible,'" Romo said. "Something along those lines. They're probably going to wait to see which way the wind's blowing before they send them."

Romo will tee off at 8:10 a.m. ET Thursday alongside Dru Love and Denny McCarthy.