McIlroy, collapses, anchored putters highlight 2012

By Rex HoggardDecember 14, 2012, 4:45 pm

According to the Chinese calendar 2012 was the Year of the Dragon, but as we sorted through the year-end edition of Cut Line it became clear this was a season of change (PGA Tour, U.S. Golf Association, PGA of America), collapse (Jim Furyk, Adam Scott) and coronation (Rory McIlroy).

Made Cut

Rory McIlroy. An encore was always going to be a tough pull for the Northern Irishman following what was a historic 2011, but at 23 years old he delivered again.

After a rousing victory at The Honda Classic over Tiger Woods in March, McIlroy added his second Grand Slam tilt, rewriting another major record book at the PGA, won two of four FedEx Cup playoff events and completed the transatlantic double with money-list titles on both the PGA Tour and European Tour.

Maybe more impressive, however, was how McIlroy dealt with what some called his first professional slump. After his Honda victory, McIlroy missed four of five cuts and added the Fedex St. Jude Classic to his schedule in a move to steady the ship.

It's one thing to ride a hot streak, but the Ulsterman’s ability to 'fix' things on the fly may have been his greatest accomplishment in 2012.

U.S. Golf Association. Whatever your opinion on the impending anchoring ban give credit to the USGA, with an assist to the Royal & Ancient Golf Club of St. Andrews, for moving thoughtfully and deliberately through an emotionally charged  landscape.

USGA executive director Mike Davis made the best of a complicated situation that was not of his doing and created a new rule that is clear if not concise.

Davis & Co. also get credit for a Sunday setup at The Olympic Club that tested every aspect of the players' games, including a new tee box at No. 16 that Jim Furyk is still trying to wrap his head around.

Tweets of the Year: It was Twitter at its 140-character best, two high-profile players playfully trading barbs and self-deprecating humor that began with Keegan Bradley (@Keegan_Bradley) reacting to Thursday's news that Tom Watson would captain the 2014 U.S. team.

'Congrats to Tom Watson on being named USA Ryder Cup captain! I hope to have the privilege to play for him.' Which was followed by two more tweets: 'Cue the belly putter comments . . .'

'All this Ryder Cup talk is getting me excited. Can we play now?'

Which prompted McIlroy (@McIlroyRory) to join the fun: 'You wanna get beaten again already?'

Note to Watson: Whatever you do in ’14 at Gleneagles, we have to see Rory vs. Keegan II on Sunday.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

PGA Tour. Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., secured a new long-term agreement with FedEx for its season-long race, introduced a new qualifying process and completed the delicate transition to a split-calendar schedule that begins next season. Along the way, however, there was collateral damage.

Gone from the 2013-14 lineup will be the Disney stop, a Tour staple since 1971, and direct access to the circuit via Q-School, an extreme makeover that will leave many veterans, and likely more than a few newcomers, professionally adrift next fall.

The Tour has also embraced an increasingly international schedule with the addition of the CIMB Classic and World Golf Championships-HSBC Champions in Asia to the official docket, but it seems to have come at a cost for long-time domestic stops. So much so the circuit may want to adjust its old marketing campaign to 'These guys are good and have passports.'

PGA of America. For an organization that hosts a maximum of two marquee events a season, and that's only in even-numbered years, the PGA made more than its share of headlines in 2012.

Kiawah Island, site of this year’s PGA Championship, produced a worthy champion (McIlroy) and an endless stream of 'beauties' for the national television audience but was nothing short of a logistical nightmare for the thousands who tried, and often failed, to attend Glory’s Last Shot. If the PGA is married to another Low Country major, may we suggest the powers dig up the Ocean Course and put it in a more geographically friendly locale.

The organization also broke the mold this week by naming 63-year-old Tom Watson the 2014 U.S. Ryder Cup captain. Perhaps Old Tom is a natural to lead the U.S. team in two years in Scotland, but president Ted Bishop’s acknowledgement that this pick was 13 months in the making is curious.

Let's say Davis Love III's dozen doesn’t collapse on Sunday at Medinah, and the U.S. improves to two for three since 2008 with a one-point loss in ’10 in Wales, did the system really need to be blown up?

Missed Cut

Closers. Golf had the look of a Chicago Cubs bullpen in 2012, with enough blown leads to fill an entire September swoon.

In order, Tiger Woods began the final round of the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship with a two-stroke advantage and closed with a 73; Jim Furyk started Sunday at The Olympic Club leading by two and limped in with a 74 and Adam Scott was four clear of the field at the Open Championship and signed for a 75. All three lost.

Of course the ultimate blown save came at September's Ryder Cup when the U.S. side began Sunday's singles frame with a commanding 10-6 lead, failed to win a point in the first five matches and succumbed to the largest collapse by a home team in event history.

It was, by any measure, a tough year for front-runners.

Luke Donald. Although the affable Englishman will likely close the year at No. 2 in the Official World Golf Ranking, he managed just a single win in the U.S. in 2012 (Transitions Championship), failed to seriously contend in any of the year’s majors and simply didn’t appear as sharp as he was in '11.

The lowlight, however, came during the Deutsche Bank Championship when he committed the ultimate social media faux pas and inadvertently tweeted a series of critical messages directed at architect Gil Hanse following a round at TPC Boston. 'Nothing quite like hitting my best shot of the day into the last and walking off with a (bogey), what a terribly redesigned green. #sourtaste,' was the G-Rated of the two tweets.

Donald later apologized for the tweet, which he said was supposed to be a private message, and, thankfully, has returned as one of the game’s most-creative tweeters.

Olympic Golf. Although the Games are still some four years away golf's return to the Olympics is off to a shaky start as organizers scramble to be ready for 2016.

An ongoing land dispute in Brazil has pushed back the start of construction of the Olympic golf course and may jeopardize the timing of a 'test tournament' on the '16 venue. As one official recently explained to Cut Line, the test event could be played in early 2016 but that would leave little time to make any adjustments before the Games.

Organizers also seem to have missed the mark on golf’s format for the Games. Although 72-hole stroke play may be the preferred method of crowning a champion among the play-for-pay set, there is a growing sentiment to come up with a more creative format. All these questions and concerns may be sorted out in time, but this was likely not the smooth start organizers envisioned.

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Els: Tiger playing well validates his generation

By Doug FergusonMarch 21, 2018, 12:42 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Tiger Woods has come close to looking like the player who ruled golf for the better part of 15 years, and Ernie Els is happy to see it.

Never mind that Els was on the losing end to Woods more than any other player.

He speaks for his generation of Phil Mickelson, Vijay Singh and others. Els keeps hearing about the depth of talent being greater than ever, and he has seen it. But he gets weary listening to suggestions that Woods might not have 79 PGA Tour victories if he had to face this group.

''I'm just glad he's playing like I know he can play to validate me – validate me, Phil and Vijay,'' Els said. ''We weren't bad players. This guy was a special player. To see him back, playing special stuff again ... is great for the game.''

Generational debates are nothing new.

Every generation was better than the next one. Then again, Jack Nicklaus used to lament that Woods was lacking competition from players who had more experience winning majors, such as Arnold Palmer and Gary Player, Tom Watson and Lee Trevino, Nick Faldo and Seve Ballesteros.

Mickelson, Els and Singh combined to win 12 majors. Els says Woods won 14 on his own because he was that much better.

Does it get under his skin to hear fans rave about this generation's players?

''It doesn't (tick) me off. Can you imagine how it must (tick) Tiger off?'' he said. ''He was leaps and bounds the best player. People forget very quickly, and then you see special players like we have now, the younger generation. But I know what I played against. You can't take anything away from anybody.''

Doug Ferguson is a golf writer for The Associated Press

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Recovering Thomas thinks Match Play could help cause

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 10:07 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – It’s been a tough couple of days for Justin Thomas, and he hasn’t played an event in three weeks.

The world’s second-ranked player had his wisdom teeth removed on March 7 following the WGC-Mexico Championship and has been recovering ever since.

“I'm feeling OK. As funny as it is, as soon as I got over my wisdom teeth, I got a little strep throat,” Thomas said on Tuesday at the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. “I was pretty worried yesterday, to be honest, how I was going to be doing, but I feel a lot better today and just keep taking medicine and hopefully it will be good.”

Thomas, who is listed in the Tour media guide as 5-foot-10, 145 pounds, said he lost about 6 pounds when he had his wisdom teeth removed and has struggled to put that weight back on because of his bout with strep throat.

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As a result, his energy levels are low, which is a particular concern considering the marathon nature of the Match Play, which could include as many as seven rounds if he were to advance to Sunday’s championship match. Thomas, however, said the format could actually make things easier this week.

“I told my dad, I only have to beat one person each day. I don't have to beat the whole field,” said Thomas, who has won just one match in two starts at the Match Play. “If it was stroke play then I may have a little harder time. But hopefully each day I'll get better and better. Who knows, maybe that will help me win a match in this golf tournament, because I've had a pretty hard time in the past.”

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Spieth thought Mickelson blew him off as a kid

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:50 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Phil Mickelson is widely recognized as one of the PGA Tour’s most accommodating players when it comes to the fans and signing autographs.

Lefty will famously spend hours after rounds signing autographs, but sometimes perception can deviate from reality, as evidenced by Jordan Spieth’s encounter with Mickelson years ago when he was a junior golfer.

“I think I was at the [AT&T] Byron Nelson with my dad and Phil Mickelson and Davis Love were on the putting green. I was yelling at them, as I now get annoyed while I'm practicing when I'm getting yelled at, and they were talking,” Spieth recalled. “When they finished, Phil was pulled off in a different direction and Davis came and signed for me. And I thought for the longest time that Phil just blew me off. And Davis was like the nicest guy. And Phil, I didn't care for as much for a little while because of that.”

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Entering his sixth full season on Tour, Spieth now has a drastically different perspective on that day.

“[Mickelson] could have been late for media. He could have been having a sponsor obligation. He could have been going over to sign for a kid’s area where there was a hundred of them,” Spieth said. “There's certainly been kids that probably think I've blown them off, too, which was never my intention. It would have never been Phil's intention either.”

Spieth said he has spoken with Mickelson about the incident since joining the Tour.

“He probably responded with a Phil-like, ‘Yeah, I knew who you were, and I didn't want to go over there and sign it,’ something like that,” Spieth laughed. “I’ve gotten to see him in person and really see how genuine he is with everybody he comes in contact with. Doesn't matter who it is. And he's a tremendous role model and I just wasn't aware back then.”

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This week, let the games(manship) begin

By Rex HoggardMarch 20, 2018, 7:47 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – The gentleman’s game is almost entirely devoid of anything even approaching trash talk or gamesmanship.

What’s considered the norm in other sports is strictly taboo in golf - at least that’s the standard for 51 weeks out of the year. That anomaly, however, can be wildly entertaining.

During Monday’s blind draw to determine this week’s 16 pods, Pat Perez was the first to suggest that this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is the exception to the stoic rule on the PGA Tour.

“Me and Branden [Grace] played a nine-hole match today and were chirping at each other the entire time,” Perez laughed. “Stuff like, ‘go in the trees.’ We were laughing about it, I didn’t get mad, I hit it in the trees.”

Although Perez and Grace may have been on the extreme end of the trash-talk spectrum, it’s widely understood that unlike the steady diet of stroke-play stops in professional golf, the Match Play and the Ryder Cup are both chances to test some of the game’s boundaries.

“There’s been a couple of different instances, both in the Ryder Cup. I can't share them with you, I'm sorry,” laughed Jordan Spieth, before adding. “I think they [the comments] were indifferent to me and helped [U.S. partner Patrick Reed].

Often the gamesmanship is subtle, so much so an opponent probably doesn’t even realize what’s happening.

Jason Day, for example, is a two-time winner of this event and although he was reluctant to go into details about all of his “tricks,” he did explain his mindset if he finds himself trailing in a match.

“Always walk forward in front of the person that you're playing against, just so you're letting them know that you're pushing forward and you're also letting them know that you're still hanging around,” Day explained. “People feed off body language. If I'm looking across and the guy's got his shoulders slumped and his head is down, you can tell he's getting frustrated, that's when you push a little bit harder.”

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Some moments are not so innocent, as evidenced by a story from Paul Casey from a match during his junior days growing up in England.

“I remember a player’s ball was very close to my line, as his coin was very close to my line and we were still both about 10 feet away and he kind of looked at me,” Casey recalled. “I assumed he looked at me to confirm whether his marker was in my line and it needed to be moved. I said, ‘That's OK there.’ So he picked [his coin] up. And then of course he lost his ability to understand English all of a sudden.”

While the exploits this week won’t be nearly as egregious, there have been a handful of heated encounters at the Match Play. In 2015 when this event was played at Harding Park in San Francisco, Keegan Bradley and Miguel Angel Jimenez went nose to nose when the Spaniard attempted to intervene in a ruling that Bradley was taking and the incident even spilled over into the locker room after the match.

But if those types of encounters are rare, there’s no shortage of mind games that will take place over the next few days at Austin Country Club.

“It's part of it. It should be fun,” Spieth said. “There should be some gamesmanship. That's the way it is in every other sport, we just never play one-on-one or team versus team like other sports do. That's why at times it might seem way out of the ordinary. If every tournament were match play, I don't think that would be unusual.”

It also helps heat things up if opponents have some history together. On Tuesday, Rory McIlroy was asked if he’s run across any gamesmanship at the Match Play. While the Northern Irishman didn’t think there would be much trash talking going on this week, he did add with a wry smile, “Patrick Reed isn’t in my bracket.”

McIlroy and Reed went head-to-head in an epic singles duel at the 2016 Ryder Cup, which the American won 1 up. The duo traded plenty of clutch shots during the match, with Reed wagging his finger at McIlroy following a particularly lengthy birdie putt and McIlroy spurring the crowd with roars of, “I can’t hear you.”

It was an example of how chippy things can get at the Match Play that when McIlroy was asked if he had any advice for Spieth, who drew Reed in his pod this week, his answer had a bit of a sharp edge.

“Don't ask for any drops,” laughed McIlroy, a not-so-subtle reference to Reed’s comment last week at Bay Hill after being denied free relief by a rules official, “I guess my name needs to be Jordan Spieth, guys,” Reed said on Sunday.

Put another way, this is not your grandfather’s game. This is the Match Play where trash talking and gamesmanship are not only acceptable, but can also be extremely entertaining.