Cut Line: Tiger, Trump and the PGA Tour

By Rex HoggardMay 2, 2014, 4:28 pm

In this edition of Cut Line, The Donald gets his major championship, The Lefty can’t get a tee time at Pinehurst and The Players asks the eternal question – Why is the grass always greener elsewhere?

Made Cut

Bounce back. The early-week theme at next week’s Players Championship is sure to focus on grass, or lack of it, on some of the putting surfaces following a particularly cold and wet winter.

It was a similar story last year for Quail Hollow Club’s greens prior to the Wells Fargo Championship, which makes this week’s event that much more endearing.

Tom Fazio’s makeover of Quail Hollow in the run up to the 2017 PGA Championship, which the club will host, has been widely applauded by players this week and scores on Day 1 in Charlotte, N.C. (45 players were under par) suggests the club was looking for better, not harder, which is a key distinction in today’s world.

“It’s one of the best tee‑to‑green golf courses in the world, and what Tom Fazio has done is just perfect, just perfect,” Phil Mickelson said.

Note to TPC Sawgrass officials: It’s better when folks are talking about the championship and not course conditions.

On the mend. Sources confirmed to Golf Channel last week that Tiger Woods is targeting a return to competition at the Open Championship in July at Royal Liverpool.

Woods had microdiscectomy surgery in March to repair a pinched nerve in his back and indicated at the time that he planned to return to the PGA Tour “sometime this summer.”

Woods’ manager Mark Steinberg confirmed to that the world No. 1 experienced “zero” setbacks following his surgery and had resumed “light” chipping and putting.

Although Steinberg said, “absolutely no target date has been set,” it is encouraging that Woods is at least looking at the calendar. With these types of injuries caution is always the better option, but golf is better with Woods.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Trumped. OK, nobody wants to see a two-story fountain dug into the middle of the wee course at Turnberry (see Doral, Trump National) or The Donald’s logo emblazoned across Ailsa Craig, but if this week proved anything it is that Trump is in golf to stay.

In the same news cycle, Trump announced he’d purchased the iconic course on the Firth of Clyde and sealed a deal with the PGA of America to host the 2022 PGA Championship at his course in New Jersey as well as the 2017 Senior PGA at another of his properties in the Washington, D.C., area.

Perhaps Trump and his grandiose style isn’t your cup of whiskey, but after his ultimate makeover of Doral in recent months and his genetic predisposition to do everything to the extreme we may as well settle in for the show.

The Wanamaker-Trump Trophy has a nice ring to it.

Tweet of the week:


Lefty-out. With Tiger Woods on the extended DL and a notable lack of star power in men’s golf this year, Phil Mickelson will be the undisputed headliner heading into next month’s U.S. Open at Pinehurst.

Lefty’s career is closely tied to the Donald Ross masterpiece following his runner-up finish to Payne Stewart in 1999 on No. 2 and his quest for the career Grand Slam, which would be complete with a victory at Pinehurst this summer.

That kind of history, however, doesn’t seem to carry much weight in the Pinehurst pro shop.

“I’ve been trying but the course is booked,” Mickelson said when asked if he’d made a scouting trip over to Pinehurst, which has been dramatically redesigned since the layout hosted its last U.S. Open in 2005. “There are 300 people on the golf course. They won’t let me out there.”

When pressed, Mickelson admitted he probably could have gotten a tee time but with so much play he wouldn’t have been able to prepare the way he normally does.

“It will be closed the weeks prior to the tournament and I’ll go then,” he said.

Perhaps the most amazing part of this story is that with all the play these days at No. 2, nobody was looking for a fourth this week?

Missed Cut

Fun with math. Rory McIlroy dropped outside the top 10 in the Official World Golf Ranking for the first time in 169 weeks, which is reason No. 562 to question the numbers that factor into the ranking.

Although the Ulsterman struggled throughout much of 2013, he’s been on the rebound this season to the tune of eight global starts and not a single finish outside the top 25.

McIlroy finished tied for eighth at the Masters, was a runner-up at the Honda Classic and in Abu Dhabi on the European Tour, and won the Australian Open in December to finish his ’13 campaign.

The world ranking is weighted toward winning, maybe justifiably so, but shouldn’t a little more importance be placed on solid, consistent play?

It’s not easy being green. Particularly at TPC Sawgrass, home of next week’s Players Championship.

Through the combination of a particularly cold, wet winter, foot traffic and the “misapplication” of a mysterious product, five of the Stadium course’s greens were less than championship-ready a little more than a week before what is considered the “fifth major.”

The agronomic snafu has prompted the Tour to plan a dramatic makeover of the Stadium course’s greens after the 2015 Players, including regressing the putting surfaces, expanding some greens (specifically Nos. 4, 9, 11 and 12) and the removal of more trees.

Stadium Course superintendent Clay Breazeale is sure to take heat next week for the quality of some greens, but if players want someone to blame they should consider starting with the economics of scale – too much play, too little sunlight.

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Four players vying for DJ's No. 1 ranking at Open

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 8:41 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Four players have an opportunity to overtake Dustin Johnson for world No. 1 this week.

According to Golf Channel world-rankings guru Alan Robinson, Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm each can grab the top spot in the world ranking.

Thomas’ path is the easiest. He would return to No. 1 with either a win and Johnson finishing worse than solo third, or even a solo runner-up finish as long as Johnson finishes worse than 49th.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Twenty years after his auspicious performance in The Open, Rose can get to No. 1 for the first time with a victory and Johnson finishing worse than a two-way tie for third.

Kopeka can rise to No. 1 if he wins consecutive majors, assuming that his good friend posts worse than a three-way tie for third.

And Rahm can claim the top spot with a win this week, a Johnson missed cut and a Thomas finish of worse than solo second.   

Johnson’s 15-month reign as world No. 1 ended after The Players. He wasn’t behind Thomas for long, however: After a tie for eighth at the Memorial, Johnson blew away the field in Memphis and then finished third at the U.S. Open to solidify his position at the top.

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Punch shot: Predictions for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 18, 2018, 4:00 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – In advance of the 147th Open Championship, writers sound off on burning questions as players ready for a fast and firm test at Carnoustie. Here’s what our writers think about myriad topics:

The Monday morning headline will be …

REX HOGGARD: “Survival.” This one is easy. It always is at Carnoustie, which is widely considered The Open’s most demanding major championship test. Monday’s headline will be that the champion - pick a champion, any one will do - “survived” another dramatic Open. You don’t dominate Carnoustie; you endure.

RYAN LAVNER: “DJ Bashes Way to Victory at Carnoustie.” If somehow a two-win season could be disappointing, it has been for DJ. He’s first in scoring average, birdie average, par-4 scoring, par-5 scoring, strokes gained: tee to green and proximity from the rough. Those last two stats are the most important, especially here at Carnoustie, with these dry conditions. The game’s preeminent long-and-straight driver, there’s a better-than-decent chance he rolls.

MERCER BAGGS: “Rahm Tough: Spaniard charges to Open victory.” Jon Rahm will claim him maiden major title this week by powering his way through the winds and fescue at Carnoustie.

JAY COFFIN: “Thomas wins second major, ascends to world No. 1 again.” Shortly after The Open last year, Thomas rolled through the end of the PGA Tour season. This is the time of year he likes best. Despite a poor Open record the last two years, he’s not remotely concerned. He’s a tad miffed he didn’t win in France two weeks ago and comes to Carnoustie refreshed, with a gameplan, and ready to pounce.

Who or what will be the biggest surprise?

HOGGARD: Style of play. Given Carnoustie’s reputation as a brute, the surprise will be how the champion arrives at his lofty perch. Unlike previous editions at Carnoustie, this week’s dry conditions will promote more aggressive play off the tee and the winner will defy the norm and power his way to victory.

LAVNER: Tiger Woods. This is Woods’ best chance to win a major this year, and here’s believing he contends. His greatest strengths are his iron game and scrambling, and both aspects will be tested to the extreme at Carnoustie, helping separate him from some of the pretenders. With even a little cooperation from his putter, he should be in the mix.

BAGGS: Padraig Harrington. He had a good opening round last week at the Scottish Open and has some good vibes being the 2007 Open champion at Carnoustie. He won’t contend for four rounds, but a few days in the mix would be a nice surprise.

COFFIN: Alex Noren. Perhaps someone ranked 11th in the world shouldn’t be a surprise, but with so much focus on some of the bigger, household names, don’t be surprised when Noren is in contention on Sunday. He hasn’t finished worse than 25th since early May and won two weeks ago in France. He also tied for sixth place last year at Royal Birkdale.

Who or what will be the biggest disappointment?

HOGGARD: Jordan Spieth. Although he was brilliant on his way to victory last year at Royal Birkdale, Spieth is not the same player for this week’s championship, the byproduct of a balky putter that has eroded his confidence. Spieth said giving back the claret jug this week was hard, but his finish will be even tougher.

LAVNER: Weather. This might sound a little sadistic, but one of the unique joys of covering this tournament is to watch the best in the world battle conditions they face only once a year – the bone-chilling cold, the sideways rain, the howling wind. It doesn’t appear as though that’ll happen this year. With only a few hours of light rain expected, and no crazy winds in the forecast, the biggest challenge for these stars will be judging the bounces on the hard, baked-out turf.

BAGGS: Jordan Spieth. The defending champion is still trying to find his winning form and Carnoustie doesn’t seem the place to do that. As much as he says he loves playing in strong winds, there should be enough danger around here to frustrate Spieth into a missed cut.

COFFIN: Rory McIlroy. I hope I’m wrong on this, because the game is better when Rory is in contention at majors. Putting always has been his issue and seemingly always will be. While there isn’t as much of a premium placed on putting this week because of slower greens, he may still have to hit it close. Super close.

What will be the winning score?

HOGGARD: 10 under. The last two Opens played at Carnoustie were won with 7-under and 6-over totals, but this week’s conditions will favor more aggressive play and lower scores. Expect to see plenty of birdies, but the great equalizer will come on Sunday when wind gusts are forecast to reach 25 mph.

LAVNER: 15 under. An Open at Carnoustie has never produced a winner lower than 9 under (Tom Watson in 1975), but never have the conditions been this susceptible to low scores. Sure, the fairway bunkers are still a one-shot penalty, but today’s big hitters can fly them. The thin, wispy rough isn’t much of a deterrent. And the wind isn’t expected to really whip until the final day.

BAGGS: 12 under. We aren’t going to see the same kind of weather we have previously witnessed at Carnoustie, and that’s a shame. Any players who catch relatively benign conditions should be able to go low, as long as they can properly navigate the fairway rollout.

COFFIN: 14 under. Walked into a local golf shop in the town of Carnoustie wearing a Golf Channel logo and the man behind the counter said, “It’ll take 14 under to win this week.” Well, he’s been here for years and seen Carnoustie host The Open twice before. He knows more about it than I do, so I’ll stick with his number.

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Watch: Na plays backwards flop and practices lefty

By Grill Room TeamJuly 18, 2018, 3:16 pm

Fresh off his victory at The Greenbrier, Kevin Na is taking a quite-literally-backwards approach to his Open prep.

Caddie Kenny Harms has been sharing videos of Na's early work at Carnoustie.

This one shows Na standing in a bunker and playing a flop shot over his own head (as opposed to someone else's):

While it's unlikely he'll have a need for that exact shot this week, it's far more likely a player may have to think about turning his club over and playing from the wrong side of the ball, like so:

Na has made 4 of 6 cuts at The Open and will look to improve on his best career finish, currently a T-22 in 2016 at Royal Troon.

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McIlroy growing 'comfortable' on Open courses

By Ryan LavnerJuly 18, 2018, 1:45 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – For a player who once complained about the vagaries of links golf, Rory McIlroy enters this Open with a dazzling record in the sport’s oldest championship.

Though he missed the 2015 event because of an ankle injury, McIlroy has now posted three consecutive top-5 finishes in the year’s third major.

“It’s surprising a little bit that my best form in major championships has been this tournament,” he said Wednesday, “but at the same time I’ve grown up these courses, and I’m comfortable on them. I think going to courses on The Open rota that I’ve played quite a lot. I think that helps. You have a comfort level with the golf course, and you’ve built up enough experience to know where to hit and where not to hit it.”

Full-field tee times from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

McIlroy still regrets what happened in 2015, when he “did something slightly silly” and injured his ankle while playing soccer a few weeks before the event. That came a year after he triumphed at Royal Liverpool.

“Since 2010, I couldn’t wait to play The Open at St. Andrews,” he said. “I thought that was one of my best chances to win a major.”

He tied for 42nd at Carnoustie in 2007, earning low-amateur honors.