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Cut Line: Tiger in the swing of things

By Rex HoggardOctober 20, 2017, 4:00 pm

A couple of firsts highlight this week’s edition, starting with news that Tiger Woods took his first few swings with a driver following back surgery in April, and a surreal cancellation of a round in Peru because of a census, of all things.

Made Cut

Road to recovery. Woods’ doctor cleared him for all golf activities last week, now it would seem his possible return to competition will depend on how clear-headed he chooses to be this time.

Woods’ manager Mark Steinberg told that the 14-time major champion recently met with his doctor who performed his back surgery in April, and that he hasn’t experienced any pain in his most recent comeback.

The news dovetailed with a video on social media of Woods hitting a driver. Not bad for a guy who just three weeks ago at the Presidents Cup said he was limited to hitting 60-yard wedge shots.

The conversation now turns to his possible return, with some speculating he may be ready in time to play December’s Hero World Challenge, which Woods hosts and is played on a golf course in the Bahamas he’s comfortable on.

That may be a tad too ambitious, and to be honest, if Woods is being as cautious as Steinberg said, it may be time to rethink an entirely new schedule and play courses that are a little more user friendly.

We hear Scottsdale, Ariz., and La Quinta, Calif., are beautiful in January.

Tweet of the week:

Haney, Woods’ former swing coach, was commenting on Tiger’s swing with his driver, which threatened to break the internet. It’s an encouraging sign for Woods, and golf, that he’s back putting in the “reps,” but let’s don’t get ahead of ourselves.

New boss. Fred Ridley moved into a new office on Monday, taking over as chairman of Augusta National Golf Club after Billy Payne announced he was stepping down earlier this fall.

In his first meeting with golf writers as chairman this week, Ridley said there’s no perfect way to prepare for such a gig; but the former U.S. Amateur champion seems to have amassed the right resume.

An accomplished amateur and college player, Ridley opted for a career as a lawyer over that of a professional golfer and ascended to president of the USGA before taking over as chairman of the Masters competition committee for the last decade.

 He also had the perfect mentor in Payne.

“Billy Payne is the best person that I have ever met with regard to the importance of relationships with others,” Ridley said. “If you listen to him speak, he always talks about the other person. He always points the light in another direction, and he probably, more than anyone I've ever met, understands the importance and the power of relationships.”

Ridley will certainly bring his own stamp to the job, but there’s no denying that he was groomed to be chairman.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Far and wide. The PGA Tour broke new ground this week, hosting its first stroke-play event in South Korea as part of the circuit’s three-tournament Asia swing.

The inaugural CJ Cup is off to a solid start with a field that includes reigning Player of the Year Justin Thomas, Jason Day and Adam Scott, fulfilling the long-held desire to expand the game beyond the Lower 48.

What lands the lucrative event in the MDF file is the curious wisdom to send the game’s best and brightest into such a tense region (technically South Korea is still at war with North Korea).

To be fair, the Tour has been proactive in keeping players up to date on the security situation in the region, but that doesn’t change the fact that there are plenty of countries across the globe that could benefit from such an event.

Places that don’t require regular updates on the evening news.

Don’t count on it. Speaking of curious planning and far-flung events, this week’s Lexus Peru Open on the PGA Tour LatinoAmerica should go directly into the swing-and-a-miss file.

The event in Lima was shortened to 54 holes because of a national census on Sunday and a government mandate that citizens, and visitors, must remain indoors from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Roads will be blocked and air traffic halted in the country during the nine-hour window, while all shops and restaurants will be closed as officials conduct the census.

A bigger concern than a cancelled round, however, are building travel concerns for players and tour officials looking to leave Peru on Sunday in order to travel to the circuit’s next event more than 2,500 miles away in Uruguay.

Delays and cancellations happen in golf all the time, but this one seems like it could have been avoided.

Missed Cut

Wheels of justice. While some may consider this the slow season for the Tour, off the course there is one department that’s been busy in recent weeks.

Last week, attorneys for the Tour and a group of more than 80 caddies argued before a three-judge panel at the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals; and last month a New York judge denied a motion from the circuit to reargue a previous decision regarding summary judgment.

The Ninth Circuit panel has not handed down a decision on the caddie lawsuit, which stems from an anti-trust claim made by the caddies who say the Tour uses them as “walking billboards” for sponsors; while the New York ruling involves Vijay Singh’s lawsuit against the circuit claiming the Tour recklessly administered its anti-doping program.

Both cases have been mired in legal wrangling for years and Singh’s attorney seemed to sum up the frustration of not being able to take his case to trial.

“This case has been going on for a long, long time,” Peter Ginsberg, an attorney for Singh, told the judge in September. “Is it possible for the court to give us a trial date? This war of attrition is just battering my client, who is still plagued by this.”

And they say golf has a slow-play problem.

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Tour still focused on security after death of suspected Austin bomber

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 4:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Although the suspect in the wave of Austin-area bombings was killed early Wednesday, the PGA Tour plans to continue heightened security measures at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

According to various news outlets, Mark Anthony Conditt has been identified as the bombings suspect, and he was killed by an explosion inside his car in Round Rock, Texas, which is 19 miles north of Austin Country Club.

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“We do not comment on the specifics of our security measures, but we are continuing to work in close collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies in Austin to ensure the safety of our players and fans at this week’s tournament,” the Tour said in a statement. “Regardless of the recent developments, our heightened security procedures will remain in place through the remainder of the week.”

Authorities believe Conditt is responsible for the five explosions that killed two people and injured five others in Austin or south-central Texas since March 2.

Play began Wednesday at the Match Play.

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Monahan addresses alcohol, fan behavior at events

By Rex HoggardMarch 21, 2018, 3:53 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Fan behavior has become a hot-button topic on the PGA Tour in recent weeks, with Rory McIlroy suggesting on Saturday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational the circuit should “limit alcohol sales on the course.”

The Tour’s policy is to stop selling alcohol an hour before the end of play, which is normally around 5 p.m., and on Wednesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play commissioner Jay Monahan said it’s something the Tour is monitoring.

“When you have people who aren’t behaving properly and they’ve had too much alcohol, then I agree [with McIlroy],” Monahan said. “In those incidences those people who are making it uncomfortable for a player alcohol sales should be cut off.”

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Fan behavior became an issue with some players when Tiger Woods returned to competition at last month’s Genesis Open. During the final round of the Honda Classic Justin Thomas had a fan removed when he yelled for Thomas’ tee shot at the par-4 16th hole to “get in the bunker.”

Monahan declined to address Thomas’ situation at PGA National specifically, but he did seem to suggest that as interest grows and the Tour continues to attract more mainstream sports crowds, vocal fans will continue to be the norm.

“I believe that there was more that went into it that preceded and in a situation like that we’re hopeful our players will reach out to our security staff and they can handle that,” Monahan said. “[But] yelling, ‘get in the bunker,’ that’s part of what our players have to accept. In any sport, you go to an away game, in any other sport, and people aren’t rooting for you. Sometimes out here you’re going to have fans that aren’t rooting for you, but they can’t interfere with what you’re trying to do competitively.”

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Senden playing first event since son's brain tumor

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 3:03 pm

John Senden is back inside the ropes for the first time in nearly a year at this week's Chitimacha Louisiana Open on the Tour.

Senden took a leave of absence from professional golf in April, when his teenage son, Jacob, was diagnosed with a brain tumor. He didn't touch a club for nearly four months as Jacob endured six rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, a gauntlet that stretched from April until mid-November.

But Senden told that his son's tumor has shrunk from the size of a thumbnail to the size of a pinky nail, and after a promising MRI in January he decided to plan his comeback.

"I haven't really played in 12 months, but in that time Jacob has really, really hung tough," Senden said. "His whole body was getting slammed with all these treatments, and he was so strong in his whole attitude and his whole body. Just really getting through the whole thing. He was tough."

Senden was granted a family crisis exemption by the Tour, and he'll have 13 starts to earn 310 FedExCup points to retain his playing privileges for the 2018-19 season. He is allowed five "rehabilitation" starts as part of the exemption, but will reportedly only make one this week before returning to the PGA Tour at the RBC Heritage, followed by starts in San Antonio, Charlotte and Dallas.

Senden, 46, has won twice on Tour, most recently the 2014 Valspar Championship.

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Added videos shed light on Reed rules controversy

By Will GrayMarch 21, 2018, 2:39 pm

Additional fan videos shed some light on a rules controversy involving Patrick Reed during the final round of the Arnold Palmer Invitational, when Reed suggested that Jordan Spieth would have gotten free relief after he was denied a favorable ruling.

Reed had sailed the green with his approach on the 11th hole Sunday at Bay Hill, coming to rest under a palm tree. As the below thread of videos from fan Tyler Soughers illustrates, Reed wanted a free drop because he believed a nearby television tower was in the way of the shot he planned to play.

The initial rules official didn't "see" the shot Reed planned to attempt given the tight confines, and his decision to deny Reed a free drop was upheld by a second rules official. Reed eventually tried to play the ball, moving it a few feet, before being granted relief from the tower from the ball's new position. He ultimately made double bogey on the hole and tied for seventh.

After finally taking his free drop away from the tower, Reed was heard muttering to nearby fans, "What a crock of s---."

Reed and Spieth will have plenty of time to discuss their favorite rulings Friday, when the two players face off on the final day of round-robin play in Group 4 during the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin.