Cut Line: Speeding up play; Phil's driver snafu

By Rex HoggardFebruary 12, 2016, 5:38 pm

In this week’s edition, it was an intriguing start for a new European Tour initiative to speed up play, while a judge’s ruling may have put an end to a push by PGA Tour caddies for better treatment.

Made Cut

Speed II. European Tour chief executive Keith Pelley said his goal in implementing the circuit’s new pace of play policy was to trim 15 minutes off the average round and after just three events it seems he might be on to something.

The tour released results of the new policy following the Middle East swing, with rounds at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship five minutes faster on Thursday and Friday compared to 2015.

Even more impressive was the final group’s pace for Rounds 1 and 2 at the Qatar Masters, which were 19 and 14 minutes faster, respectively.

Five players were issued monitoring penalties and although a second penalty will result in a fine, it’s not the cash (about $2,800) that will prompt players to move quicker as much as it is the looming specter of being publically tagged as a slow player.

All five players who received monitoring penalties – Jordan Spieth (Abu Dhabi, Round 1); Daniel Brooks (Abu Dhabi, Round 2); Benjamin Hebert (Abu Dhabi, Round 4); Eddie Pepperell (Dubai, Round 1); and Gavin Green (Dubai, Round 2) – were released to the public.

Most contend that penalty strokes, not fines, are the only way to speed up play, but announcing the slowpokes is a good start.

Tweet of the week:

It’s 58 days until the Masters starts. You can almost smell the dogwoods.


Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Judge & jury. U.S. District Court judge Vince Chhabria dismissed with prejudice – meaning that the same suit cannot be re-filed – a lawsuit filed against the PGA Tour by a group of caddies on Tuesday.

The lawsuit, which focused on alleged breach of contract and antitrust violations, was filed last February and centered on the “bibs” caddies wear during tournament rounds and revenue associated with the advertisements placed on those bibs, which the caddies claim they have been forced to wear without receiving any compensation.

“Even if this contract language might appear susceptible to two different interpretations when considered in isolation, there is only one reasonable interpretation when the language is considered in the context of this case,” Chhabria wrote. “The bib has been the primary part of the ‘uniform’ that the Tour requires caddies to wear.”

An attorney for the caddies told Cut Line he was disappointed with the ruling and hopes to be able to take the case to an appeals court, and Chhabria suggested in his ruling there is room for improved treatment of caddies.

“The caddies’ overall complaint about poor treatment by the Tour has merit, but this federal lawsuit about bibs does not,” Chhabria wrote.

Even if the caddies decide not to pursue an appeal the lawsuit has shed light on the need for better communication and cooperation between the Tour and a group ESPN’s Scott Van Pelt once said were treated like “outside dogs.”

Temp jobs. Speaking of caddies, Spieth returned to work at this week’s AT&T Pebble Pro-Am with a familiar face on the bag, longtime looper Michael Greller.

Greller missed last month’s Singapore Open with an ailing ankle and was replaced by Jay Danzi, Spieth’s manager with Lagardère Unlimited.

The world No. 1 finished one stroke behind champion Young-han Song in Singapore and was asked on Wednesday at Pebble Beach about his runner-up showing.

“Work harder to not finish second and maybe have a caddie that can help close the deal,” joked Spieth, who referred to Danzi as his “previous caddie.”

It’s nice to see Spieth is just as adept with a one-liner as he is with his putter.


Missed Cut

Tough choices. The PGA Tour Latinoamerica informed players last week that two events, the Guatemala Open and Honduras Open, have been moved further into the spring because of concerns over the spread of the Zika virus.

Although the move is understandable considering the level of anxiety the outbreak has caused it will likely lead to more tough choices in the next few weeks.

“We are monitoring it, but those are the first two we felt it was necessary to make a change,” Ty Votaw, the Tour’s executive vice president of communications, told Cut Line.

The next scheduled events on the PGA Tour Latinoamerica are the Colombia Open (Feb. 25-28) and Panama Classic (March 17-20); and the PGA Tour’s Puerto Rico Open will be played in late March.

The Web.com Tour – which began its season with the Panama Championship and Colombia Championship – has numerous events planned in the affected areas, including the Brasil Champions (March 31-April 3), Servientrega Championship in Columbia (April 7-10) and Mexico Championship (April 21-24).

The World Health Organization said on Friday that possible Zika vaccines are at least 18 months away from large-scale trials, which means more adjustments to the international golf schedule are likely.

Signature southpaw. PGA Tour players make tough choices every week with predictably varying results, the only difference when it comes to Phil Mickelson is that he’s so willing to talk about his decisions.

For example, following a 4-under 68 on Thursday at Spyglass Hill Mickelson explained that he switched to a new version of his Callaway driver before Round 1 and regretted it.

“Well, like an idiot I switched drivers, and today I hit a few shots that I haven’t hit,” Mickelson said. “I hit some shots I didn’t care for today. So I’ll go back to my other driver.”

Every player makes choices, whether it’s about equipment or schedules or course strategy, and maybe Lefty’s only misstep is being so honest with the media.

But for a guy who once played a U.S. Open without a driver and a Masters with two drivers in his bag, this feels like another example of Mickelson making things more complicated than they need to be.

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Molinari hopes to inspire others as Rocca inspired him

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:43 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Francesco Molinari was 12 years old when Costantino Rocca came within a playoff of becoming Italy’s first major champion at the 1995 Open at St. Andrews.

He remembers being inspired by Rocca’s play and motivated by the notion that he could one day be the player who would bring home his country’s first Grand Slam title. As he reflected on that moment late Sunday at Carnoustie it sunk in what his victory at The Open might mean.

“To achieve something like this is on another level,” said Molinari, who closed with a final-round 69 for a two-stroke victory. “Hopefully, there were a lot of young kids watching on TV today, like I was watching Constantino in '95 coming so close. Hopefully, they will get as inspired as I was at the time, watching him vie for the claret jug.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Molinari had already made plenty of headlines this year back home in Italy with victories at the European Tour’s flagship event, the BMW PGA Championship, and the Quicken Loans National earlier this month on the PGA Tour.

A major is sure to intensify that attention. How much attention, however, may be contingent on Sunday’s finish at the German Grand Prix.

“It depends on if Ferrari won today. If they won, they'll probably get the headlines,” Molinari laughed. “But, no, obviously, it would be massive news. It was big news. The last round already was big news in Italy.”

Molinari won’t have any competition for the front page on Monday; Ferrari didn’t win the German Grand Prix.

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Schauffele on close call: Nothing but a positive

By Ryan LavnerJuly 22, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Playing in a final group at a major for the first time, Xander Schauffele awkwardly splashed out of three pot bunkers, went out in 40 and still somehow had a chance to win at Carnoustie.

Playing the 17th hole, tied with Francesco Molinari, Schauffele flared his approach shot into the right rough and couldn’t get up and down for par. He dropped one shot behind Molinari, and then two, after the Italian birdied the final hole.

Just like that, Schauffele was doomed to a runner-up finish at The Open.

“A little bit of disappointment,” he said. “Obviously when you don’t win, you’re disappointed. Hats off to Francesco. I looked up on 17 and saw he got to 8 under, which is just incredible golf and an incredible finish.”


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


Schauffele did well to give himself a chance. The 24-year-old was in the final group with Spieth, but both youngsters fell off the pace after rocky starts. The Tour’s reigning Rookie of the Year birdied the 14th but couldn’t convert a 15-footer on the treacherous 16th that would have given him a one-shot cushion.

“It’s going to go in the memory bank as a positive,” he said. “I had a chance to win a major championship. I was in the final group. I had to face a little bit of adversity early in the round, and I still gave myself a chance. Anyone can look at it however they want to, but I’m going to look at is as a positive moving forward and try to learn how to handle the situations a little better next time.”  

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They came, they saw and Molinari conquered The Open

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:28 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – From a perch above the 17th tee, next to a three-story grandstand that may well be the tallest structure on the Angus coast, the 147th Open Championship unfolded with more twists and turns than a Russian novel.

It was all there like a competitive kaleidoscope to behold. In quick order, Rory McIlroy’s title chances slipped away with a whimper, a par at the last some 100 yards to the left of the 17th tee. Tiger Woods, seemingly refreshed and reborn by the Scottish wind, missed his own birdie chance at the 16th hole, a half-court attempt near the buzzer for a player who is 0-for-the last decade in majors.

Moments later, Kevin Kisner scrambled for an all-world par of his own at No. 16 and gazed up at the iconic leaderboard as he walked to the 17th tee box, his title chances still hanging in the balance a shot off the lead.

Francesco Molinari was next, a textbook par save at No. 16 to go along with a collection of by-the-book holes that saw the Italian play his weekend rounds bogey-free. He also hit what may have been the most important drive of his life into what a Scot would call a proper wind at the 17th hole.

Xander Schauffele, who was tied with Molinari at the time at 7 under par, anchored the action, missing a 15-footer for birdie at the 16th hole. Moments later the Italian calmly rolled in a 5-footer for birdie at the last to finish his week at 8 under par.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


All this unfolded over a frenzied final hour of play at Carnoustie, offering just a taste of what the other four-plus hours of play resembled.

“I couldn't watch Xander play the last two holes, to be honest,” said Molinari, who became the first Italian to win a major. “That's why I went to the putting green, because I probably would have felt sick watching on TV,”

Carnoustie may not be the fairest of the Open rotation courses, but it certainly delivers the dramatic goods regularly enough.

Woods’ prediction earlier in the week that this Open Championship would come down to no fewer than 10 would-be champions seemed hyperbolic. It turns out he was being conservative with his estimate.

All total, 11 players either held a share of the lead or moved to within a stroke of the top spot on a hectic Sunday. For three days Carnoustie gave, the old brute left exposed by little wind and even less rough. Earlier in the week, players talked of not being able to stop the ball on the dusty and dry links turf. But as the gusts built and the tension climbed on Sunday, stopping the bleeding became a bigger concern.

If most majors are defined by two-way traffic, a potpourri of competitive fortunes to supercharge the narrative, this Open was driven in one direction and a cast of would-be champions with a single goal: hang on.

A day that began with three players – including defending champion Jordan Spieth, Kisner and Schauffele – tied for the lead at 9 under, quickly devolved into a free-for-all.

Kisner blinked first, playing his first three holes in 3 over par; followed by Spieth whose poor 3-wood bounded into a gorse bush at the sixth hole and led to an unplayable lie. It was a familiar scene that reminded observers of his unlikely bogey at Royal Birkdale’s 13th hole last year. But this time there was no practice tee to find refuge and his double-bogey 7 sent him tumbling down the leaderboard.

“I was trying to take the burn out of the equation by hitting 3-wood to carry it. It was unlucky. It went into the only bush that's over on the right side. If it misses it, I hit the green and have a birdie putt,” Spieth said.



Schauffele’s struggles coincided with Spieth’s, with whom he played on Sunday, with a bogey at the sixth sandwiched between a bogey (No. 5) and a double bogey (No. 7).

This opened the door to what the entire golf world has awaited, with Woods vaulting into the lead at 7 under par, the first time since the ’11 Masters he’d led at a major, and sending a low rumble across the course.

Since Woods last won a major, that ’08 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines on one leg, Spieth and Schauffele, who Tiger spotted four strokes on Sunday, graduated from high school; McIlroy went from phenom to four-time major winner and Donald Trump was transformed from being a TV celebrity to the President of the United States.

But the fairytale only lasted a few minutes with Woods playing Nos. 11 and 12 in 3 over par. They were the kind of mistakes the 14-time major champion didn’t make in his prime

“A little ticked off at myself, for sure. I had a chance starting that back nine to do something, and I didn't do it,” said Woods, who finished tied for sixth but will have the consolation prize of moving into the top 50 in the world ranking to qualify for the last WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone in two weeks.

But as Woods faded, McIlroy made a familiar move, charging in an eagle putt at the par-5 14th hole to tie Molinari and Schauffele at 6 under par. The Northern Irishman would run out of holes, playing the final four in even par to finish tied for second, but the moment wasn’t lost on him.

“It was great, just to be a part of it and hear the roars. Tiger being back in the mix. You know, everything,” McIlroy said. “There's a lot of big names up there. It was nice to be a part of it. For a while, I thought Tiger was going to win. My mindset was go and spoil the party here.”

By the time the final groups reached Carnoustie’s finishing stretch it was a two-man party, with Molinari proving for the second time this month that boring golf can be effective.

Although he’d won the European Tour’s flagship event in May, Molinari decided to add the Quicken Loans National to his schedule because of his precarious position on the FedExCup points list (122nd) – he won that, too. The week before the Open, he fulfilled his commitment to play the John Deere Classic, a requirement under the PGA Tour’s new strength of field rule, and finished second.

Although his track record at The Open was nothing special – he’d posted just a single top-10 finish in his first 10 starts at the game’s oldest championship – his machine-like game was always going to be a perfect fit for a brown and bouncy links like Carnoustie and a topsy-turvy final round.

“I told his caddie earlier this week, because I didn’t want to say it to [Molinari], I have a good feeling this week,” said Molinari’s swing coach Denis Pugh. “It was the perfect combination of clarity and confidence.”

With the sun splashing against the baked-out fairways, Molinari emerged from the clubhouse, wide-eyed and a little dazed after what could only be described as a major melee, his no-nonsense, fairways-and-greens game the perfect tonic for an Open that defied clarity until the very end.

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Spieth and Schauffele were put on the clock Sunday

By Rex HoggardJuly 22, 2018, 8:13 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Contending in a major championship on what is largely considered the toughest major championship course can be hard enough, but as Jordan Spieth reached the 10th tee box, he was given another layer of anxiety.

Spieth, who was playing with Xander Schauffele on Sunday at Carnoustie, was informed that his group had fallen behind and been put on the clock. On the next tee, he was given a “bad time” for taking too long to hit his drive.


Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship


“I handled it OK, but looking back, you know, that was a turning point in the round,” said Spieth, who played Nos. 10 and 11 in even par and finished tied for ninth after a closing 76. “If you get 1 under on those two holes with a downwind par 5 left [No. 14], it's a different story.”

Spieth, who began the day tied for the lead with Schauffele and Kevin Kisner at 9 under, had dropped out the top spot with a double bogey-7 at the sixth hole. He was tied for the lead when officials put his group on the clock.

“I took over the allotted time on the tee on 11 to decide on 3-iron or 3-wood, but throughout the day, I think I played the fastest golf I've probably ever played while contending in a tournament,” he said.