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Cut Line: Wanna bet on it?

By Rex HoggardApril 13, 2018, 4:45 pm

The major championship season is officially underway and we start this week’s edition with some major changes to the PGA Tour schedule, the circuit’s attitude toward gambling and a curious new marketing campaign.

Made Cut

Bet on it. Although it was news this week that the Tour will embrace gambling on its competitions if the Supreme Court overturns a federal ban on betting, there really weren’t any other options.

Most experts agree that the Supreme Court will overturn the ban regardless of what the Tour or any other sports league thinks of it, but the circuit does deserve credit for making sure they at least have a seat at the table when states begin to draw up rules and regulations to govern gambling.

“It seemed to many that there is a possibility that the Supreme Court might determine that the law is unconstitutional,” said Andy Levinson, the PGA Tour’s senior vice president of tournament administration. “If that’s going to be the case then it’s in our best interest that our voices and our concerns are heard in that legislative process.”

The Tour has also been proactive in implementing programs to avoid even the hint of corruption and also sees the potential to engage fans in new ways via whatever gambling platforms might be created if the law is overturned.

But most of all the circuit sees a new reality, and that wasn’t worth fighting.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Window dressing. Dustin Johnson returned to the RBC Heritage for the first time in nearly a decade this week, opening his tournament with a 69 on Thursday.

Having the world No. 1 in the field at Harbour Town is a boost for an event that sometimes struggles to attract star players the week after the Masters. It’s also another example of how the Tour has no problem turning a blind eye toward thinly-veiled appearance fees.

Earlier this year Johnson signed an endorsement deal with RBC and has been rather clear that his decision to play the Heritage for the first time since 2009, and just the third time in his career, was a byproduct of that relationship.

“I'm happy to be back here playing in the 50th Heritage,” Johnson said. “Obviously being an RBC ambassador and they sponsor this tournament, I'll be here for the next few years and excited about it.”

This is not a criticism of either Johnson or RBC, who are simply playing by the rules, but it’s time for the Tour to realize that an appearance fee by any other name ...

Settling dust. The overhauled Tour schedule appears to be coming together, with news this week that the circuit will bolt Akron, Ohio, for Memphis.

The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, which has been played at Firestone (under various names) since 1976, will move to Memphis with FedEx as the sponsor. Given the Tour’s long relationship with FedEx the move makes sense, but it’s worth noting the flip is still a net loss with Bridgestone transitioning to the PGA Tour Champions to sponsor the Senior Players Championship.

Many lesser-known players counted on the St. Jude Classic as a valuable start during a time of year when most star players are taking breaks between marquee events. That playing opportunity may be gone now.

There’s also the issue of timing, with the new Memphis event likely to be played in August, when the average temperature is 91 degrees.

“We have its place, and it will be in and around the same position [August] that the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational has been in,” commissioner Jay Monahan said.

Most agree the new schedule will help the Tour avoid competing with college football and the NFL, but Akron’s exit is another indication that drastic change is never painless.

Missed Cut

Silence speaks volumes. Sport is not a popularity contest. We applaud nice guys, but cheer champions. That is, unless your champion is Patrick Reed.

It was a surreal scene late last Sunday as Reed completed what was by all accounts an impressive final round at the Masters. The massive gallery surrounding the 18th green applauded, some even cheered, but the eventual champion’s reception was tame compared to that given to Rickie Fowler, who finished runner-up at Augusta National.

Even on the first tee when Reed teed off alongside Rory McIlroy, the Northern Irishman was cheered while the American, who attended college less than 5 miles from the course at Augusta State, received little more than a polite acknowledgement.

Perhaps stories from Reed’s past and his sometimes brash behavior had something to do with how the crowds, and the media, treated the six-time Tour winner; but it’s worth pointing out that he might not be the most popular player but he’s now a major champion, and that’s always worth cheering.

Tweet of the week:

As a rule, the rank-and-file don’t like change and when you’ve built a brand around a campaign that most agree was timeless – “These Guys Are Good” – the new stuff will always suffer by comparison.

Maybe the circuit’s new campaign, which was unveiled this week, just needs some time to sink in. But if you have to explain a slogan it’s probably not a great slogan.

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Paisley (61) leads Tour Championship

By Associated PressSeptember 20, 2018, 11:56 pm

ATLANTIC BEACH, Fla. – Chris Paisley birdied four of the last five holes for a 10-under 61 and the first-round lead Thursday in the season-ending Tour Championship.

The South African Open winner in January for his first European Tour title, Paisley played the back nine first at Atlantic Beach Country Club, holing a bunker shot for an eagle on the par-5 18th. On the front nine, he birdied the par-3 fifth and finished with three straight birdies.

''I think just all around was really good,'' Paisley said. ''I hit it well off the tee, which gave me a lot of kind of short irons into the greens and opportunities. I hit a lot of really good iron shots close, and then a few other bonus kind of things happened where I holed the bunker shot on 18 and holed a long putt on No. 8.''

The 32-year-old Englishman missed the cuts in the first three Tour Finals events after getting into the series as a non-member PGA Tour with enough money to have placed in the top 200 in the FedEx Cup. The final card went for $40,625 last year, with Paisley needs to finish in a two-way tie for fourth or better to mathematically have a chance to secure one of the 25 PGA Tour at stake.

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

''The nice thing was I won early in the year in Europe,'' said Paisley, a former University of Tennessee player. ''I've got the first two Final series events locked up, I think I'm in those. I'm not guaranteed to be in Dubai yet. But I just thought we have a house over here, my wife's American, my goal is to try to get on the PGA Tour, so it was a perfect opportunity to try and do it.''

Cameron Tringale and Canadian Ben Silverman were two strokes back at 63. Tringale is tied for 83rd in the PGA Tour card race with $2,660, and Silverman is tied for 85th at $2,600.

''I hit a lot of good shots and made some good putts,'' Silverman said. ''Actually, it could have been lower, but I'm not complaining. Missed a couple putts inside 6x feet, but I'm not complaining at all, it was a great round.''

Lucas Glover was at 64 with Ben Crane, Nicholas Lindheim, Matt Every, Trevor Cone, Denny McCarthy, Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez. Carlos Ortiz and Jose de Jesus Rodriguez earned PGA Tour cards as top-25 finishers on the Tour regular-season money list, and McCarthy has made $75,793 in the first three Finals events to also wrap up a card. In the race for the 25 cards, Lindholm is 19th with $35,836, Every 30th with $25,733, Glover 40th with $17,212, and Cone 59th with $8,162

The series features the top 75 players from the regular-season money list, Nos. 126-200 in the PGA Tour's FedEx Cup standings, and Paisley and other non-members with enough money to have placed in the top 200. The top-25 finishers on the regular-season money list are competing against each other for tour priority, with regular-season earnings counting in their totals. The other players are fighting for the 25 cards based on series earnings.

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McIlroy likely to join PGA Tour PAC next year

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:28 pm

ATLANTA – The upside of the PGA Tour’s sweeping changes to next year’s playoff finale, along with a host of other significant changes to the schedule, seems to be more engagement in circuit policy by top players.

Jordan Spieth served on the player advisory council this season and will begin his three-year term as one of four player directors on the policy board next year, and Justin Thomas also was on this year’s PAC.

Those meetings might become even more high profile next year.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I'm not on the PAC. I'm probably going to join the PAC next year. Nice to sort of know what's going on and give your input and whatever,” Rory McIlroy said following his round on Thursday at the Tour Championship.

McIlroy said he spoke with Tour commissioner Jay Monahan about the transition to a strokes-based format for the Tour Championship starting next year. Given his take on Thursday to the media it must have been an interesting conversation.

“I like it for the FedExCup. I don't necessarily think it should be an official Tour win. I don't know how the World Ranking points are going to work,” said McIlroy, who is tied for fifth after a first-round 67 at East Lake. “There's a lot of stuff that still needs to be figured out. But in terms of deciding the FedExCup, I think it's good.”

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Thomas (67) happy to feel no pain in wrist

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:03 pm

ATLANTA – When Justin Thomas arrived at East Lake he didn’t have very high expectations.

After injuring his right wrist during the final round of the BMW Championship he spent last week in south Florida getting therapy after being diagnosed with a case of tendinitis and little else.

He said he didn’t hit a full shot last week and didn’t expect much out of his game at the finale, but was pleasantly surprised with his play following an opening 67 that left him tied for fifth place and two strokes off the lead. But most of all he was pleased that he didn’t feel any pain in his wrist.

Projected FedExCup standings

Full-field scores from the Tour Championship

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I thought that I may not be playing very well because of my preparation being able to hit as few balls as I have, but no, in terms of pain, it's not an issue,” he said.

Thomas explained that he tested the wrist earlier this week to be sure he was pain-free and conceded he considered not playing the Tour Championship in order to be as healthy as possible for next week’s Ryder Cup.

“If it would have hurt at all, I wouldn't have played,” said Thomas, who will be a rookie on this year’s U.S. team. “No. 1 most important part is my future and my career. I don't want to do anything that's going to put me out for a while. But to me, second most important is Ryder Cup. I would rather not play this week and play the Ryder Cup and be fresh and make sure I'm going to get as many points for the team as possible.”

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Fowler 'pain free' and tied for Tour Championship lead

By Rex HoggardSeptember 20, 2018, 11:01 pm

ATLANTA – The most important member of Team USA at next week’s Ryder Cup may be the team trainer.

Justin Thomas began the season finale nursing a case of tendonitis in his right wrist and Rickie Fowler skipped the first two playoff events after being slowed by a right oblique injury.

Neither player seemed impacted by the injuries on Thursday at the Tour Championship, with Thomas tied for fifth at 3 under and Fowler tied for the lead with Tiger Woods at 5 under par.

Current FedExCup standings

Tour Championship: Articles, photos and videos

“I needed the 2 1/2 weeks or so of just sitting around really not doing a whole lot,” said Fowler, who tied for eighth last week at the BMW Championship. “It was definitely the right call. If I would have played through the first or second playoff events, there was really no benefit, especially looking at the ultimate goal being ready for the Ryder Cup and to have a chance to be here at East Lake.”

Being rested and pain-free is a vast improvement over how he felt at the PGA Championship last month, when he underwent therapy before and after each round and had to wear tape just to play.

“It's nice to be back swinging pain-free because I wouldn't have wanted to deal with how it felt during PGA week for a continued amount of time,” said Fowler, who finished his day with a bogey-free closing nine to secure a spot in Friday’s final group with Woods.