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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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Watch: Moore does impressions of Tiger, Poults, Bubba

By Grill Room TeamJuly 16, 2018, 10:36 pm
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Johnson begins Open week as 12/1 betting favorite

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 5:15 pm

Dustin Johnson heads into The Open as the top-ranked player in the world, and he's also an understandable betting favorite as he looks to win a second career major.

Johnson has not played since the U.S. Open, where he led by four shots at the halfway point and eventually finished third. He has three top-10 finishes in nine Open appearances, notably a T-2 finish at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Johnson opened as a 12/1 favorite when the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook first published odds for Carnoustie after the U.S. Open, and he remains at that number with the first round just three days away.

Here's a look at the latest odds on some of the other top contenders, according to the Westgate:

12/1: Dustin Johnson

16/1: Rory McIlroy, Rickie Fowler, Justin Rose

20/1: Jordan Spieth, Justin Thomas, Tommy Fleetwood, Brooks Koepka, Jon Rahm

25/1: Jason Day, Henrik Stenson, Tiger Woods

30/1: Sergio Garcia, Francesco Molinari, Paul Casey, Alex Noren, Patrick Reed

40/1: Hideki Matsuyama, Marc Leishman, Branden Grace, Tyrrell Hatton

50/1: Phil Mickelson, Ian Poulter, Matthew Fitzpatrick

60/1: Russell Knox, Louis Oosthuizen, Matt Kuchar, Bryson DeChambeau, Zach Johnson, Tony Finau, Bubba Watson

80/1: Lee Westwood, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Rafael Cabrera-Bello, Thomas Pieters, Xander Schauffele

100/1: Shane Lowry, Webb Simpson, Brandt Snedeker, Ryan Fox, Thorbjorn Olesen

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Woods needs top-10 at Open to qualify for WGC

By Will GrayJuly 16, 2018, 4:34 pm

If Tiger Woods is going to qualify for the final WGC-Bridgestone Invitational at Firestone Country Club, he'll need to do something he hasn't done in five years this week at The Open.

Woods has won eight times at Firestone, including his most recent PGA Tour victory in 2013, and has openly stated that he would like to qualify for the no-cut event in Akron before it shifts to Memphis next year. But in order to do so, Woods will need to move into the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking after this week's event at Carnoustie.

Woods is currently ranked No. 71 in the world, down two spots from last week, and based on projections it means that he'll need to finish no worse than a tie for eighth to have a chance of cracking the top 50. Woods' last top-10 finish at a major came at the 2013 Open at Muirfield, where he tied for sixth.

Updated Official World Golf Ranking

There are actually two OWGR cutoffs for the Bridgestone, July 23 and July 30. That means that Woods could theoretically still add a start at next week's RBC Canadian Open to chase a spot in the top 50, but he has said on multiple occasions that this week will be his last start of the month. The WGC-Bridgestone Invitational will be played Aug. 2-5.

There wasn't much movement in the world rankings last week, with the top 10 staying the same heading into the season's third major. Dustin Johnson remains world No. 1, followed by Justin Thomas, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka and Jon Rahm. Defending Open champ Jordan Spieth is ranked sixth, with Rickie Fowler, Rory McIlroy, Jason Day and Tommy Fleetwood rounding out the top 10.

Despite taking the week off, Sweden's Alex Noren moved up three spots from No. 14 to No. 11, passing Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson and Paul Casey.

John Deere Classic champ Michael Kim went from No. 473 to No. 215 in the latest rankings, while South African Brandon Stone jumped from 371st to 110th with his win at the Scottish Open.

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Spieth takes familiar break ahead of Open defense

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2018, 3:50 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – As his title chances seemed to be slipping away during the final round of last year’s Open Championship, Jordan Spieth’s caddie took a moment to remind him who he was.

Following a bogey at No. 13, Michael Greller referenced a recent vacation he’d taken to Mexico where he’d spent time with Michael Phelps and Michael Jordan and why he deserved to be among that group of singular athletes.

Spieth, who won last year’s Open, decided to continue the tradition, spending time in Cabo again before this week’s championship.

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

“I kind of went through the same schedule,” Spieth said on Monday at Carnoustie. “It was nice to have a little vacation.”

Spieth hasn’t played since the Travelers Championship; instead he attended the Special Olympics USA Games earlier this month in Seattle with his sister. It was Spieth’s first time back to the Pacific Northwest since he won the 2015 U.S. Open.

“I went out to Chambers Bay with [Greller],” Spieth said. “We kind of walked down the 18th hole. It was cool reliving those memories.”

But most of all Spieth said he needed a break after a particularly tough season.

“I had the itch to get back to it after a couple weeks of not really working,” he said. “It was nice to kind of have that itch to get back.”