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Cut Line: Woods going all in for Augusta

By Rex HoggardMarch 2, 2018, 11:58 pm

MEXICO CITY – In this week’s edition, Tiger Woods adds to his comeback schedule, Francesco Molinari adds fire to the pace-of-play conversation and some parts of the early distance debate simply don’t add up.

Made Cut

Mind and body. There have been plenty of benchmarks in recent weeks that suggest Tiger Woods is heading in the right direction.

His grinding tie for 23rd at the Farmers Insurance Open with something less than his best stuff tee-to-green and his 12th-place showing last week in the Honda Classic at PGA National, which is one of the PGA Tour’s most demanding layouts, both qualify as progress.

But on Friday the 14-time major champion demonstrated an altogether new level of headway, committing to play both the Valspar Championship and Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Bay Hill, where Woods has won eight times, was an easy choice, but his decision to play next week’s stop at Innisbrook Resort for the first time in a non-team event is a measure of his commitment.

For a player who has largely stuck to the same schedule, albeit with unparalleled results, adding Valspar to his comeback is a sign Tiger has embraced a whatever-it-takes mentality.

Feeling at home. A year ago, Xander Schauffele was playing the Puerto Rico Open, the opposite-field offering held the same week as the WGC-Mexico Championship, and fighting to keep his Tour card.

Since those humble days, he’s won twice including his walk-off at the season-ending Tour Championship, been named Rookie of the Year and emerged as yet another player to watch from the high school class of 2011.

Now he’s taking the next step in what’s turning out to be an impressively small learning curve, opening with rounds of 65-68 to hold a share of second place at Chapultepec Golf Club.

“I guess you can say I'm sort of getting used to it, which is nice,” Schauffele said. “It's only my third WGC event, but I'm starting to see some familiar faces just over the past year so that helps.”

And fans should start getting used to hearing the 24-year-old’s name at the biggest events – that’s SHAW-fa-lay.

“Tiger mode": Having Woods in the field at any event is a boon for tournament organizers - just ask the folks in Los Angeles or at the Honda Classic - but landing the game’s main event for the last two decades can be game-changing for a tournament like the Valspar Championship.

“Now we’re going into what we call Tiger mode,” said Hollis Cavner, the executive director of Pro Links Sports, which manages the event. “Everything changes when he comes. We’ll have to beef up security, increase busing, concessions. Now it’s a whole different game. That’s the effect he has.”

It wasn’t that long ago that the Tampa-area event was on life support, searching for a title sponsor and stuck with a date that did little to attract a deep field.

That reality has changed dramatically, with a sponsor committed through 2020 and a field next week that will include Woods, Jordan Spieth, Rory McIlroy, Sergio Garcia and Henrik Stenson.

Innisbrook has always been something of an underrated gem on Tour, but it no longer can be overlooked.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Tweet of the week: @F_Molinari (Francesco Molinari)

“Today I got the second bad time of my career 13 years after the first one! Incredible how 62 seconds when you have 50 [seconds] to hit the shot cost you a bad time and then people taking 2 minutes over a shot are OK.”

Nothing fires up the Twitter-verse like some slow-play missives, and the Italian went on to explain:

“No reason to appeal the bad time. The rules are clear and I took too long. The problem is: players dramatically changing their routine when the referee is timing them (I clearly didn’t as I don’t feel I needed to). Let’s time players with no warning and see what happens.”

However, it was Gonzalo Fernandez-Castaño (@gfcgolf) who had the last word in the thread with a well-played zinger: “It was about time you got caught. You are slow. That’s the reason I don’t play with you any more. That and because I’m on [the Tour].”

Fan interest. Maybe Justin Thomas could have handled the situation differently, but considering the circumstances he had nothing to apologize for following an incident on Sunday at the Honda Classic.

A day after winning his eighth Tour title, Thomas sent out a series of tweets explaining and apologizing for asking for the removal from PGA National of a fan who had rooted for his golf ball to find a hazard.

“I over reacted and should not have had him kicked out,” Thomas tweeted.

Perhaps Thomas got carried away in the heat of the moment, but most agree fan behavior is becoming an issue on Tour and his actions are, at worst, the wrong execution of the right idea. No apology needed.

Tweet of the week II: @JRandolph88 (Jonathan Randolph) “The [Tiger Woods] effect is real . . . just got hip checked out of the field by the GOAT #ImNotEvenMad”

Randolph ended up getting into the field at the deadline – and there was a flurry of late additions to the field at the Valspar Championship, including Spieth, that could have initially bumped Randolph – but it’s eye-opening when a professional whose competitive fortunes are impacted can still appreciate the significance of Woods playing Innisbrook.

Missed Cut

Distance yourself. As the golf world readies for the annual distance report that should be released by the USGA and R&A any day, it seems some have started the hyperbole early.

Various stories this week laid the groundwork for what many think will be outlined in the report, essentially that last year average driving distances went up 2 ½ yards on the PGA Tour and a staggering 6.9 yards on the Tour.

One report went so far as to study driving distances for this season, which is wildly misleading considering the circuit hasn’t played the year’s first major and the Sentry Tournament of Champions, which historically produces many of the year’s longest drives, skews the limited data pool.

What these reports don’t acknowledge is that the ½-yard gain on the PGA Tour isn’t even the greatest jump in the last decade. That occurred in 2011 when the average drive jumped 3.6 yards. It’s also worth noting that last year’s distance report essentially stated that driving distances have remained relatively static over the last decade.

The distance debate promises to be a hot topic over the next few months, but using limited, or in some cases incomplete, data to form an opinion is as misguided as it is wrong.

American Junior Golf Association

Junior golfer's amazing run: ace, albatross, birdie

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 11:03 pm

While most of the golf world had its attention focused on Scotland and The Open Championship at Carnoustie on Thursday, the REALLY remarkable performance of the day was taking place in Halifax, Mass.

There, in an American Junior Golf Association tournament, a 16-year-old Thai player made a hole-in-one and an albatross on consecutive holes.

According to the AJGA, Conor Kelly holed a 5-iron shot on the 198-yard, par-3 eighth hole. It was his first hole-in-one. He then holed a 4-iron second shot from 220 yards on the 480-yard ninth holer for the albatross. (We're gonna go out on a limb and say it was his first albatross.)

Certainly a nice way to make the turn - but Kelly wasn't finished. He birdied the par-4 10th for a 1-2-3 sequence on his scorecard. For the day, he shot a 5-under 67 in the AJGA Junior Golf Hub Championship at the Country Club of Halifax.

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McIlroy, Rahm betting co-favorites after Open Round 1

By Will GrayJuly 19, 2018, 10:10 pm

They're both three shots off the lead, but after starting The Open with rounds in the 60s Rory McIlroy and Jon Rahm are now betting co-favorites to lift the claret jug at Carnoustie.

McIlroy is four years removed from his Open triumph at Royal Liverpool, while Rahm remains in search of his first major title. Both carded rounds of 2-under 69 in Scotland to sit three shots off the lead of Kevin Kisner. While McIlroy started the tournament at 16/1 and Rahm at 20/1, they're now dead even at 10/1 in updated odds at the Westgate Las Vegas Superbook.

Kisner started the week at 200/1, but after an opening-round 66 he's quickly been trimmed to 25/1. Tony Finau sits one shot behind Kisner and is now listed behind only McIlroy and Rahm at 12/1 after starting the tournament at 60/1.

On the other side of the coin, consensus pre-tournament betting favorite Dustin Johnson fell from 12/1 to 100/1 following an opening 76 while Masters champ Patrick Reed shot a 4-over 75 to plummet from 30/1 to 200/1. Trailing by five shots following an opening-round 71, Tiger Woods' odds remained unchanged at 25/1 as he seeks a 15th career major title.

Here's a look at the revised betting odds heading into the second round at Carnoustie:

10/1: Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm

12/1: Tony Finau

14/1: Justin Thomas, Rickie Fowler

20/1: Francesco Molinari

25/1: Tiger Woods, Alex Noren, Henrik Stenson, Kevin Kisner

30/1: Jordan Spieth, Zach Johnson, Tommy Fleetwood, Justin Rose, Brooks Koepka

40/1: Ryan Moore, Jason Day

50/1: Erik Van Rooyen, Brandon Stone, Matt Kuchar

60/1: Danny Willett, Thomas Pieters, Marc Leishman, Thorbjorn Olesen, Russell Henley, Matthew Southgate

80/1: Webb Simpson, Adam Scott, Patrick Cantlay, Brendan Steele, Kevin Na

100/1: Dustin Johnson, Zander Lombard, Sung Kang, Paul Casey, Louis Oosthuizen, Xander Schauffele, Chris Wood, Pat Perez, Luke List, Charley Hoffman

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Despite 78, Lincicome savors PGA Tour experience

By Randall MellJuly 19, 2018, 9:41 pm

Two bad holes derailed Brittany Lincicome in her historic start Thursday at the Barbasol Championship, but they couldn’t wipe the smile off her face afterward.

It might have been the most fun she ever had shooting a 78.

Lincicome joined Babe Zaharias, Shirley Spork, Annika Sorenstam, Suzy Whaley and Michelle Wie as the only women to tee it up in a PGA Tour event when she striped her opening tee shot down the middle Thursday at Keene Trace Golf Club in Nicholasville, Ky.

A double bogey at her ninth hole and a triple at her 16th might have spoiled her chances at joining Zaharias as the only women to make a 36-hole cut in a PGA Tour event, but it didn’t spoil her experience.

“I did what I wanted to do, with having fun,” Lincicome said. “I think I nailed that part pretty well.

“I love playing with the guys. It's so much fun, being inside the ropes with them. Hopefully, I can get a good one tomorrow.”

Lincicome, 32, held her own for 16 holes, playing them in 1 over par, but those two big numbers left her tied for last place when she signed her scorecard, though other players remained on the course.

At 6 over, Lincicome is 13 shots behind the leader, probably seven or eight shots off the projected cut line, but she savored the experience. She arrived wanting to inspire young girls to dream big, and to bring some extra attention to a title sponsor who means so much to her. She represents Pure Silk, part of the Barbasol family.

Sam Ryder, who joined Conrad Shindler playing alongside Lincicome, was impressed with the way Lincicome carried herself.

“I would play with her every day if she wanted to,” said Ryder, who opened with a 68. “She's just a great person.

“Even though I know she's probably a little disappointed with her final score, she had a smile on her face all day.”

Lincicome, an eight-time LPGA winner, made her first birdie at her 12th hole, dropping a 30-foot putt, but she wasn’t happy with her putter much of the day. She missed three other good birdie chances, a 4-footer at her eighth hole, an 8-footer at her 10th and a 12-footer at the last.

“Pretty happy with my game overall,” Lincicome said. “I had two bad holes, but I drove it well. I did all the things I said I needed to do, but my putter let me down today.”

After piping her first drive, Lincicome opened with three consecutive pars.

“I was actually calmer than I thought I was going to be,” she said. “I thought I was going to be a nervous wreck. After the first tee shot, I was pretty happy that I found the fairway.”

Lincicome said Ryder and Shindler made her feel welcome. So did the crowds.

“It was great,” she said. “I could feel the energy of the crowd support me. Every time I hit a good driver or good shot, they would cheer for me, which was great.

“Conrad and Sam were so nice. I couldn't have asked for a better pairing. They were very welcoming, and we were interacting, they were asking me questions, and it was great.”

On Tuesday, Lincicome said a key to her play would be hitting fairways. She did that, hitting 10 of 14, but she was taking in longer clubs than she does in LPGA events, with Keene Trace set up at 7,168 yards. That’s 600 yards longer than she played last week at the LPGA’s Marathon Classic, where she finished second. She hit just 8 greens in regulation in this PGA Tour start.

Lincicome is nicknamed “Bam Bam.” She is one of the LPGA’s longest drivers, but she was typically 30 to 40 yards behind Ryder and Shindler after hitting her driver. She averaged 259 yards per drive, Ryder 289 yards.

“She had a couple birdie putts that she could have made,” Ryder said. “If she made a couple of those, might've been a little bit different, just to get a little bit of momentum. Who knows?”

Lincicome’s biggest challenges were the par 3s.

At the 18th, playing 195 yards, she mis-hit her tee shot, knocking it in the water, short of the green. She took a penalty, moved up to a forward tee, dropped and hit into a right greenside bunker. She got up and down from there for a 5.

At the seventh, playing 198 yards, she missed wild right and deep. From a tough spot in the rough, she left her pitch short of the green. She chipped her third past the hole and to the fringe, where she took three putts from 20 feet.

Afterward, Lincicome wasn’t dwelling on the bad shots. She was focused on going to sign autographs for all the fans waiting for her, including all the little girls who came out to see her.

“I need to go back over there and sign,” she said. “Any time I can influence a child, especially a girl, obviously I want to get them involved with the LPGA, as much as possible.”

Her overall assessment of her day?

“It was a great experience,” she said.

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Watch: Full replays of The Open coverage

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 19, 2018, 8:55 pm

NBC Sports and Golf Channel are showcasing nearly 50 hours of live coverage of the 147th Open. Missed anything? Well, you can catch up right here. Click on the links below for replays from Carnoustie, broken down into daily segments:

Thursday, Day 1 (Times ET)

Noon-4PM (Watch): Tiger Woods was up and down in the afternoon, as winds picked up a little and no one could catch Kevin Kisner. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Woods, Russell Knox and Hideki Matsuyama.

1:30-8:25AM (Watch): Defending champion Jordan Spieth got off to a good start, while Kevin Kisner (66) set the early pace. Click here or on the image below to watch. Also, click here to watch the full replay of the early marquee group: Rickie Fowler, Jon Rahm and Chris Wood.