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Cut Line: Thomas, Presidents Cup eye the future

By Rex HoggardOctober 6, 2017, 8:48 pm

This week’s Safeway Open kicks off a new PGA Tour season, but before we turn the page on the 2016-17 edition it’s worth taking a look at the season’s winners (Justin Thomas) and losers (Presidents Cup).

Made Cut

Season’s greetings. Each fall the realization hits some fans like an alarm clock, the Tour’s off-season is measured in hours, not weeks or months like other sports. And with this recognition comes the predictable level of handwringing.

Some argue that the circuit is somehow doing a disservice to the game by not allowing the season to breath, as if golf would somehow resonate across all lines if the Tour embraced a less-is-more approach.

Lost in these concerns, however, is the fact that the Tour is a business, and like any business the folks in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., aren’t interested in contraction just for the sake of contraction.

As a general rule, successful corporations don’t fold successful divisions, in this case tournaments played in the fall, just for nostalgia purposes; and if sponsors like Safeway, RSM and CIMB are content with the product don’t expect the Tour to turn its back any time soon.

A break would be great, but business is business.

Goal oriented. When Justin Thomas’ historic season finally ended at the Tour Championship, he revealed his list of goals for the season, a lineup of 13 items that largely were achieved.

Missing from that list was winning the PGA Tour Player of the Year Award, which Thomas won on Wednesday following a five-win season that concluded with his claiming the FedExCup.

It took only a few moments before the inevitable question was asked – how will his goals change for next season? Thomas’ answer was an indication of why the 24-year-old has been able to achieve so much in his young career.

“That's something I'll probably spend some time talking to Mr. Nicklaus about or Tiger [Woods] or even Jordan [Spieth], those are the only people I know that have had such success in one season multiple times,” Thomas said. “They've had to deal with resetting their goals and reevaluating.”

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Tweet (or blogs) of the week: In a blog post this week Marc Leishman's wife Audrey described a scene at last week’s Presidents Cup that she correctly contended wasn’t for children.

“There were many times last week that I thought about what the kids were seeing. The crowds booing for good shots and cheering for missed putts. The drinking at 7 a.m.? Screaming ‘Big Easy’ to Ernie Els and begging for his autograph and then yelling at his players,” she wrote.

After four days at Liberty National, Cut Line can attest that there was an element to the New York crowds that didn’t exactly adhere to normal golf etiquette, but with a monsoon of respect for Audrey Leishman, what did she expect?

The Tour - and last year the PGA of America at the Ryder Cup - has made it clear these marquee events need to attract a more broad sports audience. With that additional exposure will come an element that doesn’t understand what those in golf consider appropriate behavior and will push boundaries.

It’s the price the game pays for those new fans.

Points, picks and a task force? Before we move on from last week’s Presidents Cup, the 19-11 loss the U.S. team laid on the International side at Liberty National should serve as an ultimatum for the Tour, which has been adverse to meaningful change at the biennial event.

International captain Nick Price, along with Els and Greg Norman, have been lobbying the Tour for years to reduce the total number of points to 28 to mirror that of the Ryder Cup and give the Rest of World, which is not as deep as the U.S. side, a fighting chance.

But if the circuit is looking for real change, they may take another page out of the U.S. Ryder Cup playbook and give the next International captain (Els) carte blanche to overhaul a system that is clearly broken.

Maybe it’s time for an International task force.

“Everyone who is involved in the cup going forward should get together, talk about it, what the U.S. team has done the last few years, and try and come up with something to get our guys a little more invested in it,” Adam Scott said. “It's getting to that point where we see we've got to do a bit more.”

Whatever is required to make the event more competitive, a reduction in the total number of points is a start but decision makers should also consider an overhaul of the selection process and perhaps more captain’s picks for the Internationals should be everyone’s top priority.

Missed Cut

Minimum mistakes. Following an injury-plagued season, Rory McIlroy considered skipping the FedExCup Playoffs to rest and prepare for next season.

He went on and played the postseason, failing to advance to the Tour Championship for the first time in four years and surprised many when he added last week’s British Masters to his schedule.

It seems the world No. 6 was protecting his European Tour status and his chances to play next year’s Ryder Cup in Paris.

“I want to play the Ryder Cup next year and obviously I’ve got to play my five events in Europe,” McIlroy said last week at the British Masters. “So that was a big factor in that.”

This week’s Alfred Dunhill Links Championship, where he missed the cut, will be McIlroy’s final start of the year, but there’s something inherently wrong with a system that forces a player’s hand when rest is clearly a better option.

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Reed: 'Back still hurts' from carrying Spieth at Ryder Cup

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:48 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Friday’s marquee match at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, who are both undefeated in pool play, just keeps getting better and better.

Following his 1-up victory over Charl Schwartzel on Thursday, Reed was asked what makes Spieth, who defeated HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, so good at match play.

“I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, who teamed with Spieth at Hazeltine National.

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The duo did go 2-1-1 at the 2016 Ryder Cup and have a combined 7-2-2 record in Ryder and Presidents Cup play. Reed went on to explain why Spieth can be such a challenging opponent in match play.

“The biggest thing is he's very consistent. He hits the ball well. He chips the ball well. And he putts it really well,” Reed said. “He's not going to give you holes. You have to go and play some good golf.”

The winner of Friday’s match between Spieth and Reed will advance to the knockout stage.

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Reed vs. Spieth: Someone has to go

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 10:11 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The introduction of round-robin play to the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was a necessary evil. It was needed to stem the tide of early exits by high-profile players, but three days of pool play has also dulled the urgency inherent to match play.

There are exceptions, like Friday’s marquee match between Jordan Spieth and Patrick Reed, which is now a knockout duel with both players going 2-0-0 to begin the week in the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play.

That the stars aligned so perfectly to have America’s most dominant pairing in team play the last few years square off in a winner-take-all match will only add to what promises to be must-see TV.

Sport doesn’t always follow the script, but the pre-match subtext on this one is too good to dismiss. In one corner, professional golf’s “Golden Child” who has used the Match Play to wrest himself out of the early season doldrums, and in the other there’s the game’s lovable bad boy.

Where Spieth is thoughtful and humble to the extreme, Reed can irritate and entertain with equal abandon. Perhaps that’s why they’ve paired so well together for the U.S. side at the Ryder and Presidents Cup, where they are a combined 7-2-2 as a team, although Spieth had another explanation.

“We're so competitive with each other within our own pairing at the Ryder Cup, we want to outdo each other. That's what makes us successful,” Spieth said. “Tiger says it's a phenomenon, it's something that he's not used to seeing in those team events. Normally you're working together, but we want to beat each other every time.”

But if that makes the duo a good team each year for the United States, what makes Friday’s showdown so compelling is a little more nuanced.

The duo has a shared history that stretches all the way back to their junior golf days in Texas and into college, when Reed actually committed to play for Texas as a freshman in high school only to change his mind a year later and commit to Georgia.

That rivalry has spilled over to the professional ranks, with the twosome splitting a pair of playoff bouts with Reed winning the 2013 Wyndham Championship in overtime and Spieth winning in extra holes at the 2015 Valspar Championship.

Consider Friday a rubber match with plenty of intrigue.

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Although the friendship between the two is genuine, there is an edge to the relationship, as evidenced by Reed’s comment last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational when he was denied relief on the 11th hole on Sunday.

“I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said.

While the line was clearly a joke, Reed added to Friday’s festivities when he was asked what makes Spieth such a good match play opponent. “I don't know, my back still hurts from the last Ryder Cup,” smiled Reed, a not-so-subtle suggestion that he carried Spieth at Hazeltine.

For his part, Spieth has opted for a slightly higher road. He explained this week that there have been moments in the Ryder Cup when his European opponents attempted some gamesmanship, which only angered Reed and prompted him to play better.

“I've been very nice to [Reed] this week,” Spieth smiled.

But if the light-hearted banter between the duo has fueled the interest in what is often a relatively quiet day at the Match Play, it’s their status as two of the game’s most gritty competitors that will likely lead to the rarest of happenings in sport – an event that exceeds expectations.

Both have been solid this week, with Speith winning his first two matches without playing the 18th hole and Reed surviving a late rally from Charl Schwartzel on Thursday with an approach at the 18th hole that left him a tap-in birdie to remain unbeaten.

They may go about it different ways, but both possess the rare ability to play their best golf on command.

“I’m glad the world gets to see this because it will be special,” said Josh Gregory, Reed’s college coach who still works with the world No. 23. “You have two players who want the ball and they aren’t afraid of anything. Patrick lives for this moment.”

 Where Reed seems to feed off raw emotion and the energy of a head-to-head duel, Spieth appears to take a more analytical approach to match play. Although he admits to not having his best game this week, he’s found a way to win matches, which is no surprise to John Fields, Spieth’s coach at Texas.

“Jordan gave us a tutorial before the NCAA Championship, we picked his brain on his thoughts on match play and how he competed. It’s one of those secret recipes that someone gives you,” Fields said. “When he was a junior golfer he came up with this recipe.”

Whatever the secret sauce, it will be tested on Friday when two of the game’s most fiery competitors will prove why match play can be the most entertaining format when the stars align like they have this week.

It was a sign of how compelling the match promises to be that when asked if he had any interest in the Spieth-Reed bout, Rory McIlroy smiled widely, “I have a lot of interest in that. Hopefully I get done early, I can watch it. Penalty drops everywhere.”

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Watch: Bubba casually hits flop shot over caddie's head

By Grill Room TeamMarch 22, 2018, 9:20 pm

We've seen this go wrong. Really wrong.

But when your end-of-year bonus is a couple of brand new vehicles, you're expected to go above and beyond every now and then.

One of those times came early Thursday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, where Bubba Watson’s caddie Ted Scott let his boss hit a flop shot over his head.

It wasn’t quite Phil Mickelson over Dave Pelz, but the again, nothing is.

And the unique warm-up session paid off, as Watson went on to defeat Marc Leishman 3 and 2 to move to 2-0-0 in group play.

Hey, whatever works.

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Spieth explains why he won't play in a 'dome'

By Rex HoggardMarch 22, 2018, 9:01 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – No one at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play was as excited about Thursday’s forecast as Jordan Spieth.

Winds blew across Austin Country Club to 20 mph, which is typical for this time of year in Texas, and Spieth put in a typical performance, beating HaoTong Li, 4 and 2, to remain undefeated entering the final day of pool play.

The windy conditions were exactly what Spieth, who never trailed in his match, wanted. In fact, demanding conditions factor into how he sets his schedule.

“I have, and will continue to schedule tournaments away from a dome, because it's just unusual for me. I like having the feel aspect,” said Spieth, who attended the University of Texas and played Austin Country Club in college. “Places with no wind, where it's just driving range shots, it's just never been something I've been used to. So I don't really know what to do on them.”

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Spieth used the CareerBuilder Challenge as an example. The Coachella Valley event rarely has windy conditions, and as a result he’s never played the tournament.

“I played in a dome in Phoenix, and I didn't strike the ball well there. Actually I've had quite a few this year, where we didn't have very windy conditions,” said Spieth, who will face Patrick Reed in his final pool play match on Friday. “I don't go to Palm Springs, never have, because of that. Look at where you can take weeks off and if they match up with places that potentially aren't the best for me, then it works out.”