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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.

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Third-round tee times for the 147th Open

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 9:05 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Eighteen major champions made the cut at The Open and will be playing the weekend at Carnoustie, including 60-year-old ageless wonder Bernhard Langer, and both major champs so far this year, Patrick Reed and Brooks Koepka.

Twenty-four-year-old Gavin Green will be first off solo Saturday at 4:15 a.m. ET. Reed and Rhys Enoch will follow along 10 minutes later.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Phil Mickelson and Tiger Woods, both at even par for the tournament, six shots behind leaders Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner, are in consecutive groups. Mickelson is playing with Austin Cook at 8:05 a.m. and Woods is with South Africa’s Shaun Norris at 8:15 a.m.

Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler, both three shots off the lead, are also in consecutive groups. Fowler is at 10 a.m. with Thorbjorn Olesen and Spieth is 10 minutes later with Kevin Chappell. Rory McIlroy, looking to win his first major since the 2014 PGA Championship, is at 10:40 a.m. with Xander Schauffele. McIlroy is two shots behind.

Johnson and Kisner are last off at 11 a.m.

4:15AM ET: Gavin Green

4:25AM ET: Rhys Enoch, Patrick Reed

4:35AM ET: Kiradech Aphibarnrat, Justin Rose

4:45AM ET: Yusaku Miyazato, Tyrrell Hatton

4:55AM ET: Ross Fisher, Keegan Bradley

5:05AM ET: Ryan Fox, Jason Dufner

5:15AM ET: Bryson DeChambeau, Henrik Stenson

5:25AM ET: Tom Lewis, Sam Locke (a)

5:35AM ET: Paul Casey, Chris Wood

5:45AM ET: Bernhard Langer, Rafa Cabrera Bello

6:00AM ET: Paul Dunne, Brett Rumford

6:10AM ET: Masahiro Kawamura, Shubhankar Sharma

6:20AM ET: Cameron Smith, Brendan Steele

6:30AM ET: Marc Leishman, Lee Westwood

6:40AM ET: Byeong Hun An, Kevin Na

6:50AM ET: Julian Suri, Adam Hadwin

7:00AM ET: Gary Woodland, Si-Woo Kim

7:10AM ET: Yuta Ikeda, Satoshi Kodaira

7:20AM ET: Marcus Kinhult, Thomas Pieters

7:30AM ET: Beau Hossler, Haotong Li

7:45AM ET: Cameron Davis, Sean Crocker

7:55AM ET: Louis Oosthuizen, Stewart Cink

8:05AM ET: Phil Mickeslon, Austin Cook

8:15AM ET: Tiger Woods, Shaun Norris

8:25AM ET: Lucas Herbert, Michael Kim

8:35AM ET: Jason Day, Francesco Molinari

8:45AM ET: Sung Kang, Webb Simpson

8:55AM ET: Patrick Cantlay, Eddie Pepperell

9:05AM ET: Matthew Southgate, Brooks Koepka

9:15AM ET: Kyle Stanley, Adam Scott

9:30AM ET: Charley Hoffman, Alex Noren

9:40AM ET: Ryan Moore, Brandon Stone

9:50AM ET: Luke List, Danny Willett

10:00AM ET: Thorbjorn Olesen, Rickie Fowler

10:10AM ET: Jordan Spieth, Kevin Chappell

10:20AM ET: Zander Lombard, Tony Finau

10:30AM ET: Matt Kuchar, Erik Van Rooyen

10:40AM ET: Rory McIlroy, Xander Schauffele

10:50AM ET: Pat Perez, Tommy Fleetwood

11:00AM ET: Kevin Kisner, Zach Johnson

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Facial hair Fowler's new good-luck charm

By Rex HoggardJuly 20, 2018, 8:12 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Before, during and after the Fourth of July, Rickie Fowler missed a few appointments with his razor.

He arrived in the United Kingdom for last week’s Scottish Open still unshaved and he tied for sixth place. Fowler, like most golfers, can give in to superstition, so he's decided to keep the caveman look going for this week’s Open Championship.

“There could be some variations,” he smiled following his round on Friday at Carnoustie.

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

At this rate, he may never shave again. Fowler followed an opening 70 with a 69 on Friday to move into a tie for 11th place, just three strokes off the lead.

Fowler also has some friendly competition in the beard department, with his roommate this week Justin Thomas also going for the rugged look.

“I think he kind of followed my lead in a way. I think he ended up at home, and he had a little bit of scruff going. It's just fun,” Fowler said. “We mess around with it. Obviously, not taking it too seriously. But like I said, ended up playing halfway decent last week, so I couldn't really shave it off going into this week.”

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Spieth (67) rebounds from tough Round 1 finish

By Ryan LavnerJuly 20, 2018, 7:55 pm

CARNOUSTIE, Scotland – Guess whose putter is starting to heat up again at a major?

Even with a few wayward shots Friday at Carnoustie, Jordan Spieth made a significant climb up the leaderboard in the second round, firing a 4-under 67 to move just three shots off the lead.

Spieth showed his trademark grit in bouncing back from a rough finish Thursday, when he mis-clubbed on the 15th hole, leading to a double bogey, and ended up playing the last four holes in 4 over.

“I don’t know if I actually regrouped,” he said. “It more kind of fires me up a little.”

Full-field scores from the 147th Open Championship

Full coverage of the 147th Open Championship

Spieth missed more than half of his fairways in the second round, but he was able to play his approach shots from the proper side of the hole. Sure, he “stole a few,” particularly with unlikely birdies on Nos. 10 and 11 after errant drives, but he took advantage and put himself in position to defend his claret jug.

Spieth needed only 25 putts in the second round, and he credited a post-round adjustment Thursday for the improvement. The tweak allows his arms to do more of the work in his stroke, and he said he felt more confident on the greens.

“It’s come a long way in the last few months, no doubt,” he said.

More than anything, Spieth was relieved not to have to play “cut-line golf” on Friday, like he’s done each start since his spirited run at the Masters.

“I know that my swing isn’t exactly where I want it to be; it’s nowhere near where it was at Birkdale,” he said. “But the short game is on point, and the swing is working in the right direction to get the confidence back.”

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After 36, new Open favorite is ... Fleetwood

By Golf Channel DigitalJuly 20, 2018, 7:49 pm

With a handful of the pre-championship favorites exiting early, there is a new odds-on leader entering the third round of The Open at Carnoustie.

While Zach Johnson and Kevin Kisner share the 36-hole lead, it's England's Tommy Fleetwood who leads the betting pack at 11/2. Fleetwood begins the third round one shot off the lead.

Click here for the leaderboard and take a look below at the odds, courtesy Jeff Sherman at

Tommy Fleetwood: 11/2

Zach Johnson: 13/2

Rory McIlroy: 7/1

Jordan Spieth: 8/1

Rickie Fowler: 9/1

Kevin Kisner: 12/1

Xander Schauffele: 16/1

Tony Finau: 16/1

Matt Kuchar: 18/1

Pat Perez: 25/1

Brooks Koepka: 25/1

Erik van Rooyen: 50/1

Alex Noren: 50/1

Tiger Woods: 50/1

Thorbjorn Olesen: 60/1

Danny Willett: 60/1

Francesco Molinari: 60/1