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Cut Line: Augusta National praise, new Tour Championship format

This week’s post-Masters edition applauds Augusta National officials for a proactive break from tradition, Ernie Els’ preemptive team building for this year’s Presidents Cup and the PGA Tour’s peculiar compromise for World Ranking points at the Tour Championship.

This week’s post-Masters edition applauds Augusta National officials for a proactive break from tradition, Ernie Els’ preemptive team building for this year’s Presidents Cup and the PGA Tour’s peculiar compromise for world ranking points at the Tour Championship.

Made Cut

Prudence prevails. At Augusta National traditions mean everything.

From arguably the largest group of people disconnected from the rest of the world via the club’s no cell phone policy, to the ceremonial first tee shots by Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player, the Masters is defined by tradition. But on Sunday, officials drastically broke from convention for all the right reasons.

With a thunderstorm approaching and the possibility of a Monday finish looming, officials sent threesomes off the first and 10th tees for the final round for the first time in tournament history.  The result was one of the most memorable finishes in Masters history thanks in large part to Tiger Woods.

Those traditions are what makes the Masters so special, but it’s decisions like Sunday’s finish that makes the tournament the standard in major championship golf.

Highlights: Tiger closes out fifth Masters title with final-round 70

International endeavor. Next week’s field for the Zurich Classic won’t be official until Friday afternoon, but a glance at the run down reveals an intriguing trend that’s no accident.

The two-man team event in New Orleans will feature 14 groups with ties to the International Presidents Cup team, including Jason Day playing with Adam Scott and Branden Grace teamed with fellow South African Justin Harding. In fact, six of the top 10 players on the International points list are in next week’s field and paired with a potential partner for this year’s matches in December, just as captain Ernie Els designed it.

“We needed to take this opportunity and try some stuff,” Els told GolfChannel.com this week. “We couldn’t do all of them because some of the guys were already paired with other partners. We got a nice couple of groupings going. We’re just trying a couple different options. We’ve already started that process. Even in practice rounds, we’re getting guys playing together and allowing them to get to know each other.”

Els, who is also playing next week’s event with one of his assistant captains Trevor Immelman, may not be able to stem the U.S. victory tide at Royal Melbourne, but if he does come up short it won’t be from a lack of trying.

Tweet of the week:

There were many who took to social media to recognize the greatest comeback of our generation on Sunday but McIlroy’s was noteworthy because of what a green jacket would mean to the Northern Irishman. Even in the grips of ultimate disappointment it was impossible not to appreciate the moment.

Made Cut-Did Not Finish (MDF)

Finding the point. The new strokes-based format for this year’s Tour Championship will likely take some time for fans and players to embrace, but the World Golf Ranking has finally gotten on board. Well, sort of.

The World Ranking board approved a proposal that will award ranking points based on where players would have finished without the new staggered start, which will feature the FedExCup points leader beginning the week at 10 under par followed by the player second on the list at 8 under all the way to No. 30.

Had the new format been used last year at East Lake, Woods, who won the event, would have finished second, three strokes behind Justin Rose. This secondary leaderboard will be kept but not published, and World Ranking points will be based on where players would have finished in a normal stroke-play event.

The problem with this compromise is that the “one tournament, one leaderboard, one trophy” concept that has been touted by the PGA Tour will now come with a World Ranking asterisk.

Schedule snag. This week’s RBC Heritage has arguably its best field ever thanks in large part to RBC’s savvy move of signing a handful of top players (ambassadors) to sponsorship deals, but not every tournament has that luxury.

Those who can’t or won’t sway players with sponsorship deals are left to attract fields the old fashioned way and this year’s condensed schedule, which was particularly crowded in the run up to the Masters, proved to be a difficult market.

Numerous tournament directors who gathered last week at Augusta National lamented the new reality, with one tournament organizer observing, “something is going to have to give and it’s not getting any easier.”

The new schedule was all part of a larger makeover for the Tour to escape football’s long shadow in the fall, which will make the game stronger in the long term. But that notion doesn’t make things any easier for events impacted in the short term.

Missed Cut

Fifth element. Changes at Augusta National are normally subtle and often go unnoticed, but last week there was one makeover that drew plenty of attention.

The fifth hole was lengthened by 40 yards for this year’s Masters, transforming what was already a difficult stop on the outward loop into the week’s most demanding test. No. 5 was the toughest hole last week with a 4.336 stroke average, bumping the 11th hole, which has traditionally been the hardest hole during the tournament, to second, with a 4.247 stroke average.

The hole was particularly hard on Woods, who bogeyed it all four days, and when asked his thoughts on the fifth hole Bubba Watson only offered a sheepish grin, “it’s a golf hole.”

In golf, even major championship golf, we’ve learned that longer and harder isn’t always better. Augusta National’s fifth hole is certainly longer and harder, but it remains to be seen if it’s better.