Cabrera hoping to defend Masters title

By Associated PressApril 7, 2010, 3:40 am

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The defending Masters champion normally needs to build in an extra 10 or 15 minutes anytime he walks by the crowd of reporters clustered outside the clubhouse.

There’s nothing normal about this year, however.

With reporters on the lookout for Mark O’Meara – better known as Tiger Woods’ playing partner Tuesday – Angel Cabrera was able to stroll right on by not once, but twice.

“The Masters is the Masters,” Cabrera said. “They can talk about anybody, they can talk about Tiger. But the Masters is the Masters, and we have to give that importance to the Masters.”

Cabrera’s victory at Augusta National was his last, and Woods, Jack Nicklaus and Nick Faldo are the only champions to repeat at the Masters. But Cabrera can never be counted out – especially after the way he won last year.

“I have the possibility,” Cabrera said. “Maybe I haven’t had the great results lately, but I do feel the chance is out there, and I feel confident about it.”

Kenny Perry led Cabrera and Chad Campbell by two strokes with two holes to play last year, only to drop shots on both holes and force a playoff. Cabrera seemed to be finished when his tee shot on 18, the first playoff hole, landed behind a tree, and his next shot hit another tree.

But Cabrera somehow managed to thread a sand wedge to 8 feet and made the putt. When Perry’s ball found mud in the fairway on the second hole, Cabrera had only to make a routine par for the green jacket. He was the first Argentine to win the Masters.

“Winning the Masters is the most difficult thing in golf,” said Cabrera, who also won the 2007 U.S. Open at Oakmont. “So anything that comes now is more accessible.”

As a reminder, Cabrera stopped by that tree on 18 to show his son Angel, who is caddying for him here this week, just how bad his shot was.

“Honestly, I’m the one who wanted to go see that shot, but he was a perfect excuse.”

JACK’S BACK: When Jack Nicklaus was still playing the Masters, he had little use for the idea of becoming a ceremonial starter.

After calling it a career five years ago, his stance gradually softened.

Now, Jack’s back – at least for one shot.

Nicklaus will be at Augusta National early Thursday morning to join Arnold Palmer for the ceremonial tee shots that signal the start of the year’s first major tournament.

“We’ll have fun,” the 70-year-old Golden Bear said, “and we’ll both belt it out there about 150 yards.”

Nicklaus decided to take part after getting a call from Augusta National chairman Billy Payne, who passed along Palmer’s wish that his longtime rival join him for the opening shot.

“When I was first asked about it, I was still playing. So I didn’t. I had no desire to do that,” Nicklaus said. “But I stopped playing. … And you know, I thought that it would be a nice thing to do. So I’m here. And I’m looking forward to it.”

While willing to come back to Augusta for ceremonial duties, Nicklaus had no desire to talk about Tiger Woods’ sex scandal. The retired golfer turned aside several questions about Woods with polite responses such as “I think I’ll stay away from that.”

When the half-hour news conference appeared to be wrapping up, Nicklaus noticed several reporters with their hands up and said he’d be willing to stay.

With one caveat: “Does anybody got anything other than Tiger?”

THAT’S ALL, FOLKS: Raymond Floyd’s days of tournament golf appear to be over.

Floyd announced Tuesday that he will no longer play the Masters, making last year’s appearance – his 44th – his final one.

“It was something I toyed with pretty much all year, as to whether I would play or not,” Floyd said. “I wanted to leave with really fond memories of the golf course and the way I played the golf course through all of these years, and I’m not competitive there now. I didn’t want to go out there and embarrass myself.”

Asked if he would continue to play on the Champions Tour, Floyd said he is “probably retired” from tournament golf.

Floyd had played in every Masters since 1965. He won in 1976 and was runner-up three times, including 1990, when he lost to Nick Faldo in a playoff after hitting his approach into the water on No. 11, the second playoff hole. But Floyd, 67, hadn’t made the cut in 10 years.

Floyd is the latest in a line of past champions who have decided to stop playing the Masters in recent years, including Jack Nicklaus, Arnold Palmer and Gary Player.

Floyd still plans to play the Par-3 tournament on Wednesday, joking that he can reach most of those greens off the tee.

“I don’t feel like it’s the end of an era,” he said. “I plan to come back and be part of the golf tournament.”

UNDER THE RADAR: Steve Stricker has a secret to staying out of the limelight: Live in Wisconsin.

The world’s No. 2 golfer lives year-round in his home state, where people either don’t recognize him or have gotten so used to him they don’t consider a sighting anything special. The guy ahead of him on the rankings list, Tiger Woods, should only be so lucky.

Woods, the world’s most famous athlete, has been tabloid fodder since news of his rampant infidelities broke in November, and neither he nor wife Elin can go anywhere without attracting photographers.

“I feel very fortunate to live the kind of life I do,” Stricker said Tuesday. “I can play golf out here for a living and go back to basically obscurity in Wisconsin. And I like it that way. I can go around town and really not too many people know who I am, take my family out and there’s no real cameras following me around.

“It’s nice that way,” Stricker said. “I imagine what Tiger has been going through has been very difficult, not only on him, but his family.”

YOUNG GUN: Matteo Manassero turned on the charm as if he’s been doing this for years.

The 16-year-old from Italy, the youngest to ever play in the Masters, was a delight during his news conference Tuesday, talking about everything from his admiration for Seve Ballesteros to homework to his curfew. He did it all in English, too, without an interpreter in sight.

“No, I can speak English,” Manassero said when asked if he wanted help with translations.

Manassero started golfing at 3, when his parents took him to the driving range in Verona, his hometown. He became the youngest winner in the 124-history of the British Amateur Championship last year, then finished tied for 13th at the British Open at Turnberry.

“It will definitely help me for all my pro life,” said Manassero, who turns 17 on April 19. “I started there to have a lot of crowd and more attention, so that is helping me. And will help me, of course, here.”

Manassero plans to make his professional debut at next month’s Italian Open and hopes to do well enough this year to earn his card. If not, he said he’ll go to qualifying school or play on the Challenge Tour, Europe’s second tier.

But no matter where he’s playing, he’ll be bringing his books.

Manassero currently attends traditional high school and will finish out the year. After that, though, he’ll probably get a tutor or take classes for his last two years.

“We haven’t planned it yet, but it will be something like that,” he said. “I want to finish school.”

AP National Writer Paul Newberry contributed to this report.

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'Putting Stroke Whisperer' helps get McIlroy on track

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 9:39 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – During a charity event a few years ago Brad Faxon was asked what he’s thinking about when he putts. A hush fell across the green as everyone within earshot eagerly awaited the answer.

Imagine having the chance to quiz Leonardo da Vinci about the creative process, or Ben Hogan on the finer points of ball-striking. Arguably the best putter of his generation, if anyone could crack the complicated code of speed, line and pace, it would be Faxon.

Faxon mulled the question for a moment, shrugged and finally said, “Rhythm and tempo.”

If Faxon’s take seems a tad underwhelming, and it did that day to everyone in his group, the genius of his simplicity was on display last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational.

Before arriving at Bay Hill, Rory McIlroy ranked 124th on the PGA Tour in strokes gained: putting, losing .1 strokes per round to the field. In fact, he’d missed the cut a week earlier at the Valspar Championship when he needed 58 putts for two days and made just a single attempt over 10 feet.

It’s one of those competitive ironies that having the weekend off turned out to be just what McIlroy needed. He went home to South Florida to work on his game and ran across Faxon at The Bear’s Club.

Although Faxon’s take on the art of putting was probably more involved than it had been a few years earlier, he seemed to have touched on all the right points.

“Freed up my head more than my stroke,” McIlroy explained. “I sort of felt like maybe complicating things a bit and thinking a little bit too much about it and maybe a little bogged down by technical or mechanical thoughts.”

Earlier in the week McIlroy had a slightly different take on his putting turnaround at Bay Hill, where he led the field in strokes gained: putting, picking up 10 shots for the week, and rolled in 49 feet of putts over his last five holes to end a victory drought that had stretched back to the 2016 Tour Championship.

“Just playing around with it. Seeing balls go in in the front edge, trying to hit them in the left edge, the right edge, hit them off the back of the cup,” he said on Thursday. “Just trying to get a little bit more feel into it and a little more flow.”

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If that doesn’t exactly sound like an exact science, welcome to the Faxon way. In recent years, he’s become something of F which is no huge surprise considering his status as one of the game’s best on the greens.

Between 1991, the year he won the first of eight Tour titles, through 2005, the year he won his last, Faxon ranked outside the top 20 in putting average just four times, and he led the circuit in that category three of those years. But in recent years he’s come into his own as a putting guru.

“The first clinic I attended that a Tour player gave, it was Hale Irwin, and he talked about rhythm and tempo, I was disappointed because I wanted to hear more than that,” Faxon explained. “I thought there would be more technical stuff. I thought it was the default phrase to take pressure off the player, but the more I’ve learned about teaching the best players in the world don’t have many complicated thoughts.”

Faxon’s career has been nothing short of impressive, his eight Tour titles spanning two decades; but it’s his work with players like McIlroy and Gary Woodland that has inspired him in recent years.

A man who has spent his life studying the nuances of the golf swing and putting stroke has created a teaching philosophy as simple, or complicated depending on the player, as rhythm and tempo.

“He teaches me, which is a good thing. He doesn’t have a philosophy,” Woodland said. “I was around him a lot in 2011, 2010, it’s unbelievable how well he can relay it now. He has video of a million guys putting and he’s one of the best to do it, but he can show you that you don’t have to do it one certain way and that was good for me.”

For Woodland, Faxon keyed in on his background as a college basketball player and compared the putting stroke to how he shoots free-throws. For McIlroy, it was a different sport but the concept remained the same.

“We were talking about other sports where you have to create your own motion, a free-throw shooter, a baseball pitcher, but what related to him was a free-kicker in soccer, he mentioned Wayne Rooney,” Faxon said. “You have to have something to kick start your motion, maybe it’s a trigger, some might use a forward press, or tapping the putter like Steve Stricker, sometimes it’s finding the trigger like that for a player.”

Faxon spent “a good two hours” with McIlroy last weekend at The Bear’s Club, not talking technique or method, but instead tapping into the intuitive nature of what makes someone a good putter. Midway through that session Faxon said he didn’t need to say another word.

The duo ended the session with a putting contest. Putting 30-footers to different holes, the goal was to make five “aces.” Leading the contest 4-2, Faxon couldn’t resist.

“Hey Rory, after you win Bay Hill this week you’ll have to tell the world you lost to Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” Faxon joked.

McIlroy proceeded to hole three of his next four attempts to win the contest. “I’m going to tell everyone I beat Brad Faxon in a putting contest,” McIlroy laughed.

Maybe it’s the way he’s able to so easily simplify an exceedingly complicated game, maybe it’s a resume filled with more clutch putts than one could count. Whatever it is, Faxon is good at teaching. More importantly, he’s having fun and doing something he loves.

“I have a hard time being called a teacher or a coach, it was more of a conversation with Rory, being able to work with someone like Rory is as excited as I’ve ever been in my career,” Faxon said. “It meant much more to me than it did Rory.”

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Frittelli fulfilled promise by making Match Play field

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:40 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – Dylan Frittelli attended the University of Texas and still maintains a residence in Austin, so in an odd way this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play is a home game for the South African who plays the European Tour.

Frittelli actually attended the event last year as a spectator, when he watched the quarterfinal matches on Saturday afternoon, and made a promise to himself.

“I told a lot of people, I was running into them. I said, ‘I'll be here next year, I'll be playing in this tournament,’” said Frittelli, who climbed to 45th in the world ranking after two victories last year in Europe. “People looked at me, you're 190 in the world, that's hard to get to 64. It was a goal I set myself.”

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Frittelli’s next goal may be a little payback for a loss he suffered in college when he was a teammate of Jordan Spieth’s. Frittelli is making his first start at the Match Play and could face his old Longhorn stable mate this week depending on how the brackets work out and his play.

“We had the UT inter-team championship. Coach switched it to match play my senior year, and Jordan beat me in the final at UT Golf Club. It was 3 and 2,” Frittelli said. “So I'm not too keen to face him again.

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Match Play security tightens after Austin bombings

By Rex HoggardMarch 19, 2018, 8:06 pm

AUSTIN, Texas – A fourth bombing this month in Austin injured two men Sunday night and authorities believe the attacks are the work of a serial bomber.

The bombings have led to what appears to be stepped-up security at this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play at Austin Country Club.

“I was out here [Sunday]; typically that's the most relaxed day. But they had security officials on every corner of the clubhouse and on the exterior, as well,” said Dylan Frittelli, who lives in Austin and is playing the Match Play for the first time this week. “It was pretty tough to get through all the protocols. I'm sure they'll have stuff in place.”

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In a statement, the PGA Tour said, “While we do not comment specifically on security measures, the safety and security of our players and fans is, and always will be, our top priority. Our security advisors at the Tour are working in close collaboration with federal, state and local law enforcement agencies to monitor, review and evaluate the situation and implement procedures as needed. We encourage all spectators to review the PGA Tour's bag policy and prohibited items list, available at, prior to arriving at the tournament."

Despite the bombings, which have killed two people and injured two others, the Tour has not yet reached out to players to warn of any potential threat or advise the field about increased security.

“It’s strange,” Paul Casey said. “Maybe they are going to, but they haven’t.”

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Rosaforte Report: Faxon helps 'free' McIlroy's mind and stroke

By Tim RosaforteMarch 19, 2018, 8:00 pm

With all the talk about rolling back the golf ball, it was the way Rory McIlroy rolled it at the Arnold Palmer Invitational that was the story of the week and the power surge he needed going into the Masters.

Just nine days earlier, a despondent McIlroy missed the cut at the Valspar Championship, averaging 29 putts per round in his 36 holes at Innisbrook Resort. At Bay Hill, McIlroy needed only 100 putts to win for the first time in the United States since the 2016 Tour Championship.

The difference maker was a conversation McIlroy had with putting savant Brad Faxon at The Bears Club in Jupiter, Fl., on Monday of API week. What started with a “chat,” as McIlroy described it, ended with a resurrection of Rory’s putting stroke and set him free again, with a triumphant smile on his face, headed to this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play, and Augusta National in two weeks.

The meeting with Faxon made for a semi-awkward moment for McIlroy, considering he had been working with highly-regarded putting coach Phil Kenyon since missing the cut in the 2016 PGA Championship. From “pathetic” at Baltusrol, McIlroy became maker of all, upon the Kenyon union, and winner of the BMW Championship, Tour Championship and FedExCup.

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As a professional courtesy, Faxon laid low, respecting McIlroy’s relationship with Kenyon, who also works with European stars Justin Rose, Martin Kaymer, Tommy Fleetwood and Henrik Stenson. Knowing how McIlroy didn’t like the way Dave Stockton took credit after helping him win multiple majors, Faxon let McIlroy do the talking. Asked about their encounter during his Saturday news conference at Bay Hill, McIlroy called it “more of a psychology lesson than anything else.”

“There was nothing I told him he had never heard before, nothing I told him that was a secret,” Faxon, who once went 327 consecutive holes on Tour without a three-putt, said on Monday. “I think (Rory) said it perfectly when he said it allowed him to be an athlete again. We try to break it down so well, it locks us up. If I was able to unlock what was stuck, he took it to the next level. The thing I learned, there can be no method of belief more important than the athlete’s true instinct.”

Without going into too much detail, McIlroy explained that Faxon made him a little more “instinctive and reactive.” In other words, less “mechanical and technical.” It was the same takeaway that Gary Woodland had after picking Faxon’s brain before his win in this year’s Waste Management Phoenix Open.

Sunday night, after leading the field in strokes gained-putting, McIlroy was more elaborative, explaining how Faxon “freed up my head more than my stroke,” confessing that he was complicating things a bit and was getting less athletic.

“You look at so many guys out there, so many different ways to get the ball in the hole,” he said. “The objective is to get the ball in the hole and that’s it. I think I lost sight of that a little bit.”

All of this occurred after a conversation I had Sunday morning with swing instructor Pete Cowen, who praised Kenyon for the work he had done with his player, Henrik Stenson. Cowen attributed Henrik’s third-round lead at Bay Hill to the diligent work he put in with Kenyon over the last two months.

“It’s confidence,” Cowen said. “(Stenson) needs a good result for confidence and then he’s off. If he putts well, he has a chance of winning every time he plays.”

Cowen made the point that on the PGA Tour, a player needs 100-110 putts per week – or an average of 25-27 putts per round – to have a chance of winning. Those include what Cowen calls the “momentum putts,” that are especially vital in breaking hearts at this week’s WGC-Dell Match Play.

Stenson, who is not playing this week in Austin, Texas, saw a lot of positives but admitted there wasn’t much he could do against McIlroy shooting 64 on Sunday in the final round on a tricky golf course.

“It's starting to come along in the right direction for sure,” Stenson said. “I hit a lot of good shots out there this week, even though maybe the confidence is not as high as some of the shots were, so we'll keep on working on that and it's a good time of the year to start playing well.”

Nobody knows that better than McIlroy, who is hoping to stay hot going for his third WGC and, eventually, the career Grand Slam at Augusta.