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Cut Line: Time to get it right

By Rex HoggardJune 8, 2018, 4:21 pm

This week’s edition takes a deep dive into the good, bad and ugly of pace of play in professional golf, along with a sweaty farewell to Memphis in June.

Made Cut

On the clock. It is interesting how opinions relating to this week’s Shot Clock Masters range from corny to a contrived attempt to address a complicated problem.

Pace of play is trending again after last week’s final round at the Memorial sent many fans over the slow-play cliff, and this week’s European Tour stop in Austria has only polarized an already contentious conversation.

Perhaps pace of play does require a more nuanced answer than an oversized stopwatch, but if rounds that are averaging between three hours, 45 minutes and four hours aren’t progress then we don’t know what is.

There are plenty of factors that contribute to slow play, from golf course design to field size, but this week’s experiment has produced on one front, with players regularly ready to hit when it’s their turn. And that’s progress.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Play time. The USGA is sometimes guilty of taking itself too seriously, but there are times when the blue blazers offer a glimpse into the softer side of the association.

Each year the USGA spends what must be an exorbitant amount of time putting together the threesomes for Rounds 1 and 2 at the U.S. Open, and each year one can imagine officials sitting in a room coming up with all sorts of combinations.

Some of these connections are rather straightforward – like the former U.S. Open champion threesome of Lucas Glover, Webb Simpson and Graeme McDowell – while others are a little more subtle, such as the All-SEC group of Jason Dufner (Auburn), Brandt Snedeker (Vanderbilt) and amateur Braden Thornberry (Ole Miss).

This year’s tee times, however, seemed a tad stale – yes, we know, Sergio Garcia, Jon Rahm and Rafa Cabrera Bello are all from Spain, got it – and in this era of marquee pairings putting Tiger Woods, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson together is down right lazy.

If the USGA really wanted to be creative they would have given Kevin Stadler and J.J. Henry, who teed off in the first group for the final round at the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills – before the association broke out the hoses – special invitations into this year’s championship and paired them with Phil Mickelson, who has been outspoken in recent weeks regarding USGA setups. Those conversations would be pay-per-view worthy.

On point. U.S. Ryder Cup captain Jim Furyk joined Matt Adams on his “Fairways of Life” show on SiriusXM PGA Tour Radio this week to discuss a number of topics, including vice captain Tiger Woods’ chances of playing on this year’s team.

“I’m starting to hear guys in the locker room, a little buzz, how far he’s hitting it,” Furyk said. “He’s definitely on my radar. When he has played he’s had some quality finishes. Anyone in that top 30, 35 are immediately on the radar if they win an event.”

Woods dropped to 34th on the U.S. point list following his tie for 23rd at the Memorial last week, and his play this season certainly justifies that kind of attention, but there is a concern that Furyk may be starting to establish the foundation of what many see as a foregone conclusion that Woods will play on this year’s team, either as an automatic qualifier or a pick.

By all accounts, Furyk is one of the most thoughtful and thorough American captains in recent history, but on this front he may be backing himself into a corner.

Missed Cut

Feeling the heat. This week’s FedEx St. Jude Classic is a swansong for the event, which has been a fixture on the Tour schedule since 1958, as the event prepares to replace the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational next season.

While the move to become a World Golf Championship will assure the event an improved field, it remains to be seen if its new spot on the calendar will lead to a better event.

Temperatures this week at TPC Southwind will hover around 94 degrees at what is largely considered the Tour’s ultimate endurance test. As the field sweats out another week of exceedingly high temperatures and humidity, it’s worth pointing out that July, which is when the new World Golf Championship will be played in Memphis starting next season, is historically the area’s hottest month.

Tweet of the week:

Flesch describes himself as an “avid realist” on his Twitter account, which, along with his 15 seasons on Tour, makes him the ultimate voice of reason on this front. Push back from fans on social media won’t improve the pace of play on Tour. That will occur only with dramatic and fundamental changes to the circuit’s pace of play policy and that seems unlikely any time soon.

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U.S. Amateur playoff: 24 players for 1 spot in match play

By Associated PressAugust 15, 2018, 1:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer and Daniel Hillier were tied at the top after two rounds of the U.S. Amateur, but the more compelling action on Tuesday was further down the leaderboard.

Two dozen players were tied for 64th place after two rounds of stroke play at Pebble Beach and Spyglass Hill. With the top 64 advancing to match play, that means all 24 will compete in a sudden-death playoff Wednesday morning for the last spot in the knockout rounds.

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They'll be divided into six foursomes and start the playoff at 7:30 a.m. on the par-3 17th at Pebble Beach, where Tom Watson chipped in during the 1982 U.S. Open and went on to win.

The survivor of the playoff will face the 19-year-old Hillier in match play. The New Zealander shot a 2-under 70 at Spyglass Hill to share medalist honors with the 18-year-old Hammer at 6 under. Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas who played in the 2015 U.S. Open at age 15, shot 68 at Spyglass Hill.

Stewart Hagestad had the low round of the day, a 5-under 66 at Pebble Beach, to move into a tie for 10th after opening with a 76 at Spyglass Hill. The 27-year-old Hagestad won the 2016 U.S. Mid-Amateur and earned low amateur honors at the 2017 Masters.

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Hammer in position (again) to co-medal at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 14, 2018, 10:37 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – Cole Hammer is in position to go for a rare sweep in this summer’s biggest events.

Two weeks ago, Hammer, an incoming freshman at Texas, was the co-medalist at the Western Amateur and went on to take the match-play portion, as well.

Here at the U.S. Amateur, Hammer shot rounds of 69-68 and was once again in position to earn co-medalist honors. At 6-under 137, he was tied with 19-year-old Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.

“It would mean a lot, especially after being medalist at the Western Am,” Hammer said afterward. “It’s pretty special.”

No stroke-play medalist has prevailed in the 64-man match-play bracket since Ryan Moore in 2004. Before that, Tiger Woods (1996) was the most recent medalist champion.  

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On the strength of his Western Am title, Hammer, 18, has soared to No. 18 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking. He credited his work with swing coach Cameron McCormick and mental coach Bob Rotella.

“Just really started controlling my iron shots really well,” said Hammer, who has worked with McCormick since 2015, when he qualified for the U.S. Open at Chambers Bay as a 15-year-old.

“Distance control with my wedges and all my iron shots, playing different shots, has become really a strength in my game. I’ve really turned the putter on this year, and I’m seeing the lines and matching the line with the speed really well. I think that’s been the key to my summer.”

A two-time New Zealand Amateur champion, Hillier is ranked 27th in the world. He said that, entering the tournament, he would have been pleased just to make it to match play.

“But to come out on top, it’s amazing,” Hillier said. “Cole is a really good golfer and has been playing well lately. So, yeah, I’m in good company.”

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Tee times, TV schedule, stats for Wyndham Championship

By Golf Channel DigitalAugust 14, 2018, 9:55 pm

It's the last tournament of the PGA Tour's regular season as the top 125 in the FedExCup points list advance to next week's playoff event. Here's the key info for the Wyndham Championship. (Click here for tee times)

How to watch:

Thursday, Rd. 1: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Friday, Rd. 2: Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET; live stream:

Saturday, Rd. 3: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Sunday, Rd. 4: Golf Channel, 1-2:45PM ET; live stream:; CBS, 3-6 p.m.

Purse: $6 million

Course: Sedgefield Country Club (par 70, 7,127 yards)

Defending champion: Henrik Stenson. Last year he defeated Ollie Schniederjans by one stroke to earn his sixth career PGA Tour win.

Notables in the field

Henrik Stenson at the 2018 Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Henrik Stenson

• Missed the cut last week at the PGA Championship

• Six top-10 finishes this year, including T-5 at the Masters and T-6 at the U.S. Open

Sergio Garcia

• Eight missed cuts in last 10 PGA Tour starts

• Currently 131 in FedExCup standings (33 points back of 125th)

Webb Simpson

• Five top-10 finishes in this event since 2010 (won in 2011)

• 56 under par in last five years in this event (best of any player in that span)

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Faldo: Woods told fellow Masters champ 'I'm done' in '17

By Will GrayAugust 14, 2018, 7:42 pm

Fresh off his runner-up finish at the PGA Championship, it's easy to get caught up in the recent success and ebullient optimism surrounding Tiger Woods. But it was not that long ago that Woods even hitting another competitive shot was very much in doubt.

Six-time major champ Sir Nick Faldo shed light on those darker times during a recent appearance on the Dan Patrick Show when he relayed a story from the 2017 Masters champions' dinner. The annual meal is one of golf's most exclusive fraternities, as only the chairman of Augusta National Golf Club is allowed to dine with the men who have each donned a green jacket.

Last spring Woods had not yet undergone spinal fusion surgery, and Faldo explained that Woods at one point turned to an unnamed Masters champ and grimly assessed his future playing chances.

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"I know he whispered to another Masters champion, two Masters dinners ago, 'I'm done. I won't play golf again,'" Faldo said. "He said, 'I'm done. I'm done, my back is done.' He was in agony. He was in pain. His leg, the pain down his legs, there was nothing enjoyable. He couldn't move. If you watched footage of him, he couldn't even get in and out of the golf cart at the (2016) Ryder Cup when he was a vice captain."

But Woods opted for fusion surgery a few weeks later, and after a lengthy rehab process he returned to competition in December. His 2018 campaign has been nothing short of remarkable, with a pair of runner-up finishes to go along with a T-6 result at The Open when he held the outright lead on the back nine on Sunday.

After apparently even counting himself out, Woods is back up to 26th in the latest world rankings and appears in line to be added as a captain's pick for the Ryder Cup next month.

"What he's been able to do is unbelievable," Faldo said. "To turn this aruond, to get this spine fusion, it's completely taken away the pain. To have this mobility is absolutely amazing. Great on him, and great for golf."