Cut Line: U.S. Open looms; Tiger's absence lingers

By Rex HoggardJune 10, 2016, 8:36 pm

MEMPHIS, Tenn. – In this week’s edition, Oakmont and next week’s U.S. Open looms, Tiger Woods’ absence from golf lingers and the PGA Tour laments the loss of a longtime sponsor in Houston.

Made Cut

All eyes on Oakmont. It’s a common assessment each year as the U.S. Open inches closer and players get a glimpse of that year’s venue.

“Over par will win,” Daniel Berger said of Oakmont, which he played on Monday.

“It's a hard golf course. You don't want to be in the rough there,” offered Brooks Koepka, who played the U.S. Open venue last week.

Phil Mickelson’s take, however, may have been the most foreboding.

“I've played Oakmont the last two days, and I really think it is the hardest golf course we've ever played,” Lefty said on Wednesday at the FedEx St. Jude Classic.

Often lost in the U.S. Open hyperbole, however, is the fact that, at least in the Mike Davis era, officials have largely erred on the side of the players (last year’s greens at Chambers Bay not withstanding).

“It's a very fair test, even though it's hard,” Mickelson added.

Wild stories of ridiculously difficult golf courses are nothing new, but history suggests predictions of player pain and suffering are greatly exaggerated.

Tweet of the week: @TigerWoods “You’ll always be The Greatest for more than just what you did in the ring. A champion to so many people in so many ways.”

Muhammad Ali’s passing last week drew plenty of reaction, but Woods’ tweet was among the most poignant. Cut Line met the champion during the 2008 Ryder Cup at Valhalla and remembers European captain Nick Faldo being speechless afterward. It was a common reaction.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Silver lining. Tuesday’s announcement that Woods would not be playing next week’s U.S. Open or the Quicken Loans National as he recovers from multiple back procedures was not all gloom and doom.

Woods did say via his website that he is “making progress, but I'm not yet ready for tournament competition.”

Give Woods credit for clearing the speculation table before next week’s U.S. Open, if not a recovery that has now stretched to nearly 10 months since his last Tour start.

Woods is also showing an impressive amount of patience, which hasn’t always been the case for the 14-time major champion and that might be the most encouraging part of this entire process.

Low down dirty Shane. The turf war that cropped up this year between the PGA Tour and European Tour took its first casualty this week when Shane Lowry announced he would defend his title at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational and not play the French Open the same week.

Lowry’s decision is notable only because the European Tour, unhappy with the scheduling of the Bridgestone the same week as the centennial celebration of the French Open, pulled its sanctioning of the World Golf Championship and offered double Ryder Cup points for those playing in France.

“I've known for a while in my own mind that I wanted to defend in Akron [Ohio],” Lowry wrote in the Irish Times. “Any players I've spoken to have said I'm right, even though it won't count on the European Tour this season and doesn't have any Ryder Cup points.”

It’s an even tougher choice for Lowry when you consider he’s currently well outside of qualifying for the European Ryder Cup team, but then he shouldn’t have had to make the choice to begin with.

Missed Cut

Shell games. It’s been a tough few months for the energy business and maybe this week’s news that Shell Oil Company, would be dropping its sponsorship of the Tour’s Houston-area stop after next year’s event shouldn’t have been a surprise.

Still, the event has been a staple on the Tour since 1992 – only Honda and AT&T (Pebble Beach) have been title sponsors longer than Shell – and the work that Steve Timms, president and CEO of the Houston Golf Association, has done to improve the event and the field made the news something of a shock.

The event moved to its pre-Masters spot in 2007 and despite a tough position on the schedule Timms and Co. regularly produced a solid field and plenty of exciting finishes.

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem vowed to “begin the search for a new title sponsor right away and are confident we will be successful in those efforts.”

Normally, those would be encouraging words, but after the World Golf Championship’s exit from Doral last week for Mexico City, that kind of optimism is in short supply.

Guessing games. It’s a rite of summer and yet every year it seems that much more comical.

Each June the USGA creates a “reallocation list,” which is essentially the list of alternates for next week’s U.S. Open based on the various qualifiers that are held around the globe.

Although this reallocation list is likely based on a complicated formula, there’s no way to know for sure because the USGA doesn’t “make that known,” according to a spokesman for the association.

Players can get a rough idea where they are on the list based on the relative strength of each qualifying field (the first replacement was pulled from the qualifier in Japan followed by players from the Memphis and England events, respectively), but the actual list – just like the lists that are published each week on Tour – remains a well-guarded secret.

This leaves players to guess where they are on the alternate list, and the rest of us to guess why in the world the USGA would be so guarded over something that is so straightforward.

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Bergeron prevails in 24-for-1 playoff at U.S. Am

By Ryan LavnerAugust 15, 2018, 5:08 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It wasn’t just that Jacob Bergeron prevailed in an unprecedented 24-for-1 playoff Wednesday at the U.S. Amateur.

It was how he did it – with a bogey-6, on Pebble Beach’s famous 18th hole.

“Fortunate is the first word that comes to mind,” Bergeron said afterward.

There have been larger playoffs to advance to match play at the U.S. Amateur. In 1988, 31 players competed for four spots. Two decades later, 26 players battled in a two-spotter. But Wednesday was believed to be the first time that so many players duked it out for just a single spot in match play.

It was as absurd as you might imagine.

More than a dozen players were at dinner Tuesday night, at about 8 p.m., when they noticed that the cut line drifted from 3 over to 4 over.

That forced the USGA to scramble. With so many players back in the fold, they set up a playoff format for the 24 guys to compete in six foursomes in a sudden-death format, beginning on the 220-yard 17th at 7:30 a.m. The two dozen players whacked a full bucket of 4- and 5-irons on the range, then shuttled to the adjacent third green, which was used as a practice putting green for the playoff.

Fred Lacroix of France was the first to play on a 55-degree morning. He hit a towering draw with a 4-iron inside 10 feet and sauntered back to his bag.

“At least one guy is going to make birdie,” Lacroix said later, “and I wanted it to be me.”

Instead, his birdie putt raced 6 feet past, and he missed the comebacker, too. The other three players in his group made par. Lacroix went from a potentially tone-setting birdie to a bogey that dropped him out of contention.

“Very disappointing,” he said.

With nearly 36 hours to kill before his flight home to Paris, a bummed Lacroix was asked whether he’d play one of the other stellar courses in the area.

“I don’t want to play golf right now,” he sighed.

Two groups later, Lacroix watched as Bergeron hit a 4-iron to 5 feet, below the hole.

“See,” he said, “you have to make birdie.”

And Bergeron converted, sneaking his putt in the left side.  

“You just have to ball first thing in the morning,” Bergeron said. “It’s the most extreme playoff I’ve ever been in.”

Standing behind the green, he watched as player after player failed to match him. They tried to hole 50-footers. They tried to chip in. They tried to hole bunker shots.

None of them could.

Their chances dashed, they scooped up their ball and dejectedly walked off the green. Zach Bauchou even checked a USGA official’s clipboard and shook his head.

“Somebody’s gotta go get it,” Patrick Martin said after making par when he couldn’t chip in from the right fringe. “The worst thing you can do is put yourself out of position to make birdie. It sucks to not have a realistic look at it.”

For a while, it appeared as though Bergeron’s lone birdie would stand up. Then in the last foursome, Chase Johnson stuffed his tee shot to 10 feet and Peter Kuest, the last of the 24 players to tee off, matched him.

Kuest, a junior a BYU, rammed in his birdie try, while Johnson’s putt caught the left edge and stayed out.

“Good birdie, dude,” Bergeron said, extending his hand to Kuest. They were the only two players to move on to Pebble’s 18th, one of the most iconic finishing holes in golf.

After both players hammered drives down the left side, Bergeron flared his 4-iron – the same club he’d nuked about a half hour earlier – into the first cut on the right side, stymied behind the large cypress tree protecting the green.

“A love-hate relationship with that club,” he said, smiling.

With an opening, Kuest tried to play his 195-yard approach into the center of the green, but he pulled it and hit it thin.

“Just not a good shot,” he said.

His ball hit the retaining wall and ricocheted into the Pacific Ocean. A brief search ensued, as Kuest would have at least considered playing it from the rocks, but his ball wasn’t recovered until after he finished.  

He headed back to the drop zone, where his wedge shot hit the front edge and spun off the green.

No longer needing to play as aggressively, Bergeron chipped out sideways and then pitched to 10 feet. He missed his par putt, but Kuest lipped out his 5-footer, and then missed the 8-footer for double bogey, too.

“It’s OK,” Kuest said afterward. “It’s Pebble Beach, so you can’t go wrong.”

Asked if he was surprised that his bogey-6 was enough to advance, Bergeron said: “A little. But little things like this might point to this being my week.”

The 20-year-old has already informed LSU coach Chuck Winstead that he won’t return to school for his sophomore season. After qualifying for this year’s U.S. Open, he chatted with Jason Day and Jordan Spieth about their career progressions, and they advised him to choose whatever route would make him the best player in four years. Bergeron decided that was to turn pro, and so he’s attempting Web.com Tour Q-School next month.

Of course, the rest of this week could change those plans. The U.S. Amateur finalists both receive an invitation to the 2019 Masters, and Bergeron wouldn’t miss that opportunity.

“Long way to go before that, though,” he said.

But at least his path can only get easier. He beat 23 other players on Wednesday morning. To reach the final, he needs to win just five matches, beginning this afternoon against co-medalist Daniel Hillier of New Zealand.  

“The seeding just means you have a match,” Bergeron said. “And once you get in, it’s anyone’s game.”

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As Tour heads to NJ, legalized gambling comes into focus

By Rex HoggardAugust 15, 2018, 4:42 pm

It was New Jersey and then-Gov. Chris Christie who began the crusade to make sports betting legal beyond the confines of Las Vegas, so it’s no surprise that the Garden State would be the pointy end of the gaming spear.

In May, when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down the Professional and Amateur Sports Protection Act, which had made sports wagering unlawful for the last 25 years, there was no small amount of interest among states to pave the way for a market that could be worth billions in revenue. Less than a month after the court’s ruling, New Jersey approved a bill legalizing sports gambling.

About an hour’s drive south from Ridgewood Country Club in Paramus, N.J., site of next week’s Northern Trust event, Monmouth Park in Oceanport, N.J., was one of the first to open a sports book – generating an eye-catching $8.1 million handle in just 17 days after opening in mid-June – and the PGA Tour’s return to New Jersey for the first playoff tournament is sure to generate interest at the newly-minted book.

But as sports, and particularly golf, wade into the betting pool, don’t expect a wholesale change just yet. Although New Jersey was among the first states to embrace sports betting, wagers are currently limited to a few casinos and racetracks.



“I wouldn’t say the gaming would be any different than what’s currently being offered in Las Vegas or elsewhere, win bets and that type of thing,” said Andy Levinson, the Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration.

Prior to the Supreme Court’s ruling, most professional leagues, including the Tour, came out in support of sports betting, but they did so with a few important conditions. Many professional leagues, which have been speaking to state legislators across the country for months about any potential betting legislation, wanted to safeguard the integrity of the competition.

The leagues also wanted to have a say in the types of bets that will be allowed – with the Tour looking to avoid what are called negative outcome bets, like a player missing a fairway or a green or making a specific score on a hole – and assure that sports books use official data generated by the leagues (in golf that would be ShotLink data).

And the leagues also have proposed “integrity fees,” which would likely be 1 percent of the handle from betting operators.

Last month, the NBA announced a partnership that made MGM Resorts the league’s official non-exclusive gaming partner, a move that could become the template for the Tour as the sports betting market matures.

“With the NBA deal it’s nice to see an organization like MGM is committed to integrity and sharing specific betting information with the NBA. To see a gaming operator make that commitment is very positive,” Levinson said. “If it included those protections and had that balance between fan engagement while protecting the integrity of our competition, that’s a positive deal for the NBA.”

For the sports leagues, the NBA deal is less about what kind of betting MGM will allow at its various casinos than it is a snapshot into what many see as the ultimate endgame. Part of every league’s plan is a robust online gaming element, which is seen as the only way to end illegal or off-shore betting.

“When we are speaking with legislators across the country one of the important elements includes mobile betting in legislation. The vast majority of sports betting takes place online. The current black market in the U.S. is almost exclusively online,” Levinson said. “One of the goals in creating a legal sports betting market is to eliminate that black market. If it’s not easily accessible, people will continue to use that online service.”

Other than New Jersey and Delaware, which are already developing guidelines for online sports betting, most states are taking a more measured approach. In fact, Levinson explained that since most state legislative sessions have already ended for the year it’s likely that they won’t begin to develop guidelines for sports betting until mid-2019.

 The Tour also has a few hurdles to clear. Under the circuit’s current regulations, players, partners and the Tour itself are prohibited from partnering with casinos or betting institutions. Before the circuit could move forward with any type of deal like the NBA and MGM agreement that regulation would have to be changed.

“We are in the process of evaluating that category,” Levinson said. “We are looking at a wholesale evaluation of our endorsement policy. That’s for the Tour, players, networks, other constituents.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling may have potentially opened vast new markets for the Tour and created an entirely new way to engage with fans, just don’t expect things to change yet, even as the circuit arrives on the front lines of the sports betting transformation next week in New Jersey.

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Nadal checks phone for Tiger update after match

By Grill Room TeamAugust 15, 2018, 3:04 pm

Even the greatest athletes in the world were captivated by Tiger Woods' Sunday run at the PGA Championship.

After winning his match on Sunday to capture the Rogers Cup in Toronto, Rafa Nadal turned his attention to Woods. Cameras focused on Nadal scrolling through and surveying his phone. He then revealed that he was trying to get a Tiger update from the PGA Championship, where Woods made a spirited run to solo second place.



Woods has often been seen at tennis events, watching Nike buddies Roger Federer (no longer primarily sponsored by Nike) and Nadal. Woods and his children watched from Nadal's box during the 2017 U.S. Open and Nadal was on hand at the 2017 Hero World Challenge, when Woods made his return from back surgery.

For the record, Woods has 14 major wins and Nadal has 17 Grand Slam titles, both second all-time in their respective sports.

Check out the video below as Golf World's Anna Whiteley talks to Nadal about his love of golf in the 2016 interview.

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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.