Cut Line: Shorts, slow play hit spotlight on Euro Tour

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2016, 4:01 pm

ABU DHABI, United Arab Emirates – It’s time to reflect on Jack Nicklaus’ greatness, time to trade professionalism for a more relaxed look on the European Tour, and time to realize the solution to slow play isn’t going to be pretty.

Made Cut

Contrived excitement. Officials at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship never hesitated, sending world No. 1 Jordan Spieth, No. 3 Rory McIlroy and No. 6 Rickie Fowler out together for Rounds 1 and 2 this week.

Say what you will about this type of forced showdown, considering how rarely the game’s top players get grouped together – Spieth and McIlroy have never played together on the weekend at a PGA Tour event – it’s an intriguing chance to see the headliners go head-to-head.

“We were saying walking off the last green there, we wish that we could play this group all the time,” Spieth said following the opening round. “It's very rare to get it, so we're soaking it in. It's fun feeding off each other.”

We all agree it would be a much better pairing on, say Masters Sunday to see Spieth, McIlroy, Fowler, etc. together, but this early in the golf season we’ll take what we can get.

Golden years. They say once you reach a certain age you stop counting birthdays, but when you’ve won 18 majors and are widely considered the best player of all time it’s hard to fly under the radar.

Jack Nicklaus turned 76 on Thursday, a milestone that was celebrated far and wide on social media and an opportunity to revisit some of the Golden Bear’s greatest moments.

And what does a legend do on his birthday?

“I don’t ever play golf, but I’m going to go play on my birthday,” Nicklaus said on “Morning Drive.”

No word on whether Nicklaus broke his age on Thursday, but we would like to think he did.

Tweet of the week: @TigerWoods “Happy Birthday Jack, 76 years young and could probably shoot your age anytime you wanted to.”

There was no shortage of social media shoutouts to Nicklaus on Thursday, but from one GOAT to another seems like a winner.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Pace setters. When European Tour CEO Keith Pelley declared war on slow play many figured it was little more than an empty promise. Slow play, after all, has been public enemy No. 1 for decades and yet nothing meaningful has been done to speed things up.

Pelley’s answer was a new, albeit complicated “monitoring” system announced this week in Abu Dhabi that is aimed at singling out the game’s slowpokes.

Although the new plan may end up being an encouraging first step in practice, on Thursday it was the cause of considerable handwringing when Spieth was assessed a monitoring penalty after taking too long to hit his birdie putt on the eighth hole.

Spieth was guilty of violating the new policy. The European Tour, however, is equally guilty of not properly explaining the rule to those with a need to know.

Short answers. Slow play wasn’t the only bold move made by Pelley and Co. this week.

The tour announced a new rule that will allow players to wear shorts during practice and pro-am rounds, a move that was quickly embraced by players.

“Isn’t this great,” beamed Ernie Els, who showed up for a practice round on Tuesday in Abu Dhabi wearing blue shorts.

In fact, reaction from players and fans was so positive it led some to ask if it was something the PGA Tour should consider?

“I think it's awesome. It will be something that I would love to see on the PGA Tour, as well. Guys seem to all love it over here,” Spieth said. “I've not heard one person, one tour player complain about it. And most of the guys that are really talking highly of it are the older guys oddly enough.”

It will be interesting to see who listens when the world No. 1 talks.

Missed Cut

Musical chairs. For those who keep track of such things, the last few days have been a hectic time for PGA Tour sponsors. First Barclays WD’d from the first FedEx Cup playoff event and was replaced by Northern Trust, which was then replaced by Hyundai at the annual Los Angeles-area tournament.

The empty chair, however, is now the Tournament of Champions in Maui.

While it seems likely the Tour will find a replacement for the winners-only event, it is a bit of a kick that the folks at Kapalua are left searching after one of the most successful events in a decade. This year’s field included six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking and the world No. 1 (Spieth) for the first time since 2005.

It seems no good deed goes unpunished.

Transatlantic tiff. Chalk it up to a scheduling anomaly, the byproduct of golf’s return to the Olympic Games and an exceedingly crowded summer tournament schedule, but that doesn’t make things any easier for those who have to walk the delicate transatlantic line.

This year’s WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played the same week as the French Open, a marquee event on the European Tour held at the site of the 2018 Ryder Cup outside of Paris.

Pelley decided to protect an important partner because of the conflict, removing the Bridgestone from the European Tour schedule and making the French Open count as two starts for his members with double the Ryder Cup points.

While Pelley’s move is perfectly understandable it makes many of his top players endure a tough choice, like Martin Kaymer who said he’s still not sure which event he will play the first week of July.

Henrik Stenson conjured up a slightly different solution.

“No Bridgestone for me, No French Open,” Stenson said this week. “Because of the clash with the French Open I decided not to make anyone happy or mad. I’m just not playing.”

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Poulter offers explanation in dispute with marshal

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:47 pm

Ian Poulter took to Twitter to offer an explanation after the Englishman was accused of verbally abusing a volunteer during the third round of the Scottish Open.

Poulter hooked his drive on the opening hole at Gullane Golf Club into a bush, where Quintin Jardine was working as a marshal. Poulter went on to find the ball, wedge out and make bogey, but the details of the moments leading up to his second shot differ depending on who you ask.

Jardine wrote a letter to the tournament director that he also turned into a colorfully-titled blog post, accusing Poulter of berating him for not going into the bush "feet first" in search of the ball since Poulter would have received a free drop had his ball been stepped on by an official.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

"I stood and waited for the player. It turned out to be Mr. Poulter, who arrived in a shower of expletives and asked me where his ball was," Jardine wrote. "I told him and said that I had not ventured into the bush for fear of standing on it. I wasn't expecting thanks, but I wasn't expecting aggression, either."

Jardine added that Poulter stayed to exchange heated words with the volunteer even after wedging his ball back into the fairway. After shooting a final-round 69 to finish in a tie for 30th, Poulter tweeted his side of the story to his more than 2.3 million followers:

Poulter, 42, won earlier this year on the PGA Tour at the Houston Open and is exempt into The Open at Carnoustie, where he will make his 17th Open appearance. His record includes a runner-up at Royal Birkdale in 2008 and a T-3 finish at Muirfield in 2013.

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Immelman misses Open bid via OWGR tiebreaker

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:25 pm

A resurgent performance at the Scottish Open gave Trevor Immelman his first top-10 finish in more than four years, but it left him short of a return to The Open by the slimmest of margins.

The former Masters champ turned back the clock this week at Gullane Golf Club, carding four straight rounds of 68 or better. That run included a 5-under 65 in the final round, which gave him a tie for third and left him five shots behind winner Brandon Stone. It was his first worldwide top-10 since a T-10 finish at the 2014 Farmers Insurance Open.

There were three spots available into The Open for players not otherwise exempt, and for a brief moment it appeared Immelman, 38, might sneak the third and final invite.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

But with Stone and runner-up Eddie Pepperell both not qualified, that left the final spot to be decided between Immelman and Sweden's Jens Dantorp who, like Immelman, tied for third at 15 under.

As has been the case with other stops along the Open Qualifying Series, the tiebreaker to determine invites is the players' standing in the Official World Golf Rankings entering the week. Dantorp is currently No. 322 in the world, but with Immelman ranked No. 1380 the Swede got the nod.

This will mark Dantorp's first-ever major championship appearance. Immelman, who hasn't made the cut in a major since the 2013 Masters, was looking to return to The Open for 10th time and first since a missed cut at Royal Lytham six years ago. He will instead work the week at Carnoustie as part of Golf Channel and NBC's coverage of The Open.

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Stone (60) wins Scottish Open, invite to Carnoustie

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 6:06 pm

There's never a bad time to shoot a 60, but Brandon Stone certainly picked an opportune moment to do so.

Facing a jammed leaderboard in the final round of the Scottish Open, Stone fired a 10-under 60 to leave a stacked field in his wake and win the biggest tournament of his career. His 20-under 260 total left him four shots clear of Eddie Pepperell and five shots in front of a group that tied for third.

Stone had a mid-range birdie putt on No. 18 that would have given him the first 59 in European Tour history. But even after missing the putt on the left, Stone tapped in to close out a stellar round that included eight birdies, nine pars and an eagle. It's his third career European Tour title but first since the Alfred Dunhill Championship in December 2016.

Full-field scores from the ASI Scottish Open

Stone started the day three shots behind overnight leader Jens Dantorp, but he made an early move with three birdies over his first five holes and five over his first 10. Stone added a birdie on the par-3 12th, then took command with a three-hole run from Nos. 14-16 that included two birdies and an eagle.

The eye-popping score from the 25-year-old South African was even more surprising considering his lack of form entering the week. Stone is currently ranked No. 371 in the world and had missed four of his last seven worldwide cuts without finishing better than T-60.

Stone was not yet qualified for The Open, and as a result of his performance at Gullane Golf Club he will tee it up next week at Carnoustie. Stone headlined a group of three Open qualifiers, as Pepperell and Dantorp (T-3) also earned invites by virtue of their performance this week. The final spot in the Open will go to the top finisher not otherwise qualified from the John Deere Classic.

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Daly (knee) replaced by Bradley in Open field

By Will GrayJuly 15, 2018, 12:13 pm

Former champion John Daly has withdrawn from The Open because of a right knee injury and will be replaced in the field at Carnoustie by another major winner, Keegan Bradley.

Daly, 52, defeated Costantino Rocca in a memorable playoff to win the claret jug at St. Andrews in 1995. His lingering knee pain led him to request a cart during last month's U.S. Senior Open, and when that request was denied he subsequently withdrew from the tournament.

Daly then received treatment on the knee and played in a PGA Tour event last week at The Greenbrier without the use of a cart, missing the cut with rounds of 77-67. But on the eve of the season's third major, he posted to Twitter that his pain remains "unbearable" and that a second request for a cart was turned down:

This will be just the second time since 2000 that Daly has missed The Open, having also sat out the 2013 event at Muirfield. He last made the cut in 2012, when he tied for 81st at Royal Lytham. He could still have a few more chances to improve upon that record, given that past Open champions remain fully exempt until age 60.

Taking his place will be Bradley, who was first alternate based on his world ranking. Bradley missed the event last year but recorded three top-20 finishes in five appearances from 2012-16, including a T-18 finish two years ago at Royal Troon.

The next three alternates, in order, are Spain's Adrian Otaegui and Americans Aaron Wise and J.B. Holmes.