5 big questions heading into hectic 2016

By Doug FergusonJanuary 5, 2016, 8:31 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – Jordan Spieth spent the first official practice day of the new year in good company.

As he rolled putts at Kapalua, his teenage sister Ellie sat next to him on the practice green and watched until she reclined on her back and took in the warmth of the Hawaii sun. Few tournaments are more relaxing than the Hyundai Tournament of Champions, and that's just what golf needs.

This is going to be a hectic year.

At stake is a gold medal in Rio and a gold Ryder Cup at Hazeltine.

Another prize is the No. 1 world ranking, and that could take all year to sort out.

Most of the attention, at least for now, is on Spieth. He is coming off a year that was beyond his expectations by winning the Masters and U.S. Open, three other PGA Tour titles and the FedEx Cup. His final tweet of 2015: ''Would rather this year not end.''

It starts all over on Thursday with the most star power at Kapalua in 10 years. Where will it lead? Here are five topics to ponder for 2016:

THE ENCORE: In the last 25 years, only four players have won majors in consecutive seasons - Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and Rory McIlroy. In the last 50 years, only four players have followed a multiple-major season by winning another major - Woods, Tom Watson, Jack Nicklaus and Lee Trevino.

Good luck, Jordan.

Odds are against the 22-year-old Texan matching what he did last year. Remember, he won two of those tournaments in playoffs and won the second leg of the Grand Slam when Dustin Johnson three-putted from 12 feet. And for all he did last year, Spieth could lose the No. 1 ranking this week.

The competition is strong as ever. More than just McIlroy and Jason Day, the biggest competition for Spieth might be his 2015 season.

THE BIG THREE: For the first time since the world ranking began in 1986, the top three players are all in their 20s. The No. 1 spot changed six times in six weeks last year, and more movement is likely. Spieth, Day and McIlroy are so close that any one of them could be No. 1 before the PGA Tour reaches the Florida swing.

Ten years ago, Vijay Singh, Tiger Woods and Ernie Els were battling for No. 1. That prompted Retief Goosen to say, ''There will probably be a No. 1 player a few times this year.'' Woods took over in June and stayed at the top for the next five years.

So it's possible that one player pulls away from the other two.

Or considering the deepening pool of talent, the ''Big Three'' could become a lot bigger.

OLYMPICS: Golf returns to the Olympic program for the first time since 1904, and there is sure to be plenty of discussion about whether a gold medal is more valuable than a silver claret jug, much less a green jacket.

In one respect, this might be one of the easier tournaments to win. Because if qualifying ended today, the 60-man field would have only 25 from the top 50 in the world.

Until the players get to Rio, the biggest impact of the Olympics has been on scheduling. The PGA Championship has been moved to late July ahead of the games. That means Spieth and McIlroy could play eight times in 12 weeks - two majors, four FedEx Cup playoff events, the Olympics and the Ryder Cup.

RYDER CUP: The only player who faces a tougher encore than Spieth might be Darren Clarke, captain of a European team going after an unprecedented fourth straight victory. Clarke follows the masterful leadership of Paul McGinley at Gleneagles in 2014.

As for the Americans? They really pulled out all the stops by creating - wait for it - a task force. Davis Love III returns as captain, a chance at redemption from when the Americans lost a 10-6 lead at Medinah four years ago.

TIGER WOODS: The biggest star in golf sent a mixed message in The Bahamas last month. He spent more time talking about his past than the future, saying at one point that anything he accomplishes the rest of his career will be ''gravy.'' He also tried to cool speculation about retirement by saying he wants to play.

Three back surgeries in just over 18 months kept him from doing little more than walking.

Woods missed eight months recovering from reconstructive knee surgery after the 2008 U.S. Open. He missed four months after the scandal in his personal life led to divorce after 2009. He missed three months because of injuries in 2011 and 2014. He already has been out of competition for five months.

Interest might be higher than ever when he returns. If he returns.

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

Rose wins; Aphibarnrat earns Masters bid in Indonesia

By Will GrayDecember 17, 2017, 1:59 pm

Justin Rose continued his recent run of dominance in Indonesia, while Kiradech Aphibarnrat snagged a Masters invite with some 72nd-hole dramatics.

Rose cruised to an eight-shot victory at the Indonesian Masters, carding bookend rounds of 10-under 62 that featured a brief run at a 59 during the final round. The Englishman was the highest-ranked player in the field and he led wire-to-wire, with Thailand's Phachara Khongwatmai finishing second.

Rose closes out the year as perhaps the hottest player in the world, with top-10 finishes in each of his final 10 worldwide starts. That stretch includes three victories, as Rose also won the WGC-HSBC Champions and Turkish Airlines Open. He hasn't finished outside the top 10 in a tournament since missing the cut at the PGA Championship.

Meanwhile, it took until the final hole of the final tournament of 2017 for Aphibarnrat to secure a return to the Masters. The Thai entered the week ranked No. 56 in the world, with the top 50 in the year-end world rankings earning invites to Augusta National. Needing an eagle on the 72nd hole, Aphibarnrat got just that to snag solo fifth place.

It means that he is projected to end the year ranked No. 49, while Japan's Yusaku Miyazato - who started the week ranked No. 58 and finished alone in fourth - is projected to finish No. 50. Aphibarnrat finished T-15 in his Masters debut in 2016, while Miyazato will make his first appearance in the spring.

The results in Indonesia mean that American Peter Uihlein and South Africa's Dylan Frittelli are projected to barely miss the year-end, top-50 cutoff. Their options for Masters qualification will include winning a full-point PGA Tour event in early 2018 or cracking the top 50 by the final March 25 cutoff.

Cabreras take 1-shot lead in Father/Son

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 11:23 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Two-time major champion Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. birdied their last three holes for a 13-under 59 to take a one-shot lead Saturday in the PNC Father-Son Challenge.

Cabrera, a Masters and U.S. Open champion, is making his debut in this popular 36-hole scramble. His son said he practiced hard for 10 days. What helped put him at ease was watching his father make so many putts.

''We combined very well,'' Cabrera said. ''When I hit a bad shot, he hit a good one. That's the key.''

They had a one-shot lead over Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara, who are playing for the first time. That included a birdie on the last hole, which O'Meara attributed to the strength of his son.

''My little man hit it 58 yards by me on the 18th,'' said O'Meara, the Masters and British Open champion in 1998. ''It's a little easier coming in with a 6-iron.''

Defending champions David Duval and Nick Karavites rallied over the back nine at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Club for a 61. They are trying to become the first father-son team to repeat as winners since Bernhard and Stefan Langer in 2006. Larry Nelson won two years in a row in 2007 and 2008, but with different sons.

''I'd imagine we have to break 60 tomorrow to have a chance to win, but hey, stranger things have happened,'' Duval said. ''I've even done it myself.''

Duval shot 59 at the Bob Hope Classic to win in 1999 on his way to reaching No. 1 in the world that year.

Duval and his stepson were tied with Bernhard Langer and 17-year-old Jason Langer, who made two eagles on the last five holes. This Langer tandem won in 2014.

Jack Nicklaus, playing with grandson G.T., opened with a 68.

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Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 16, 2017, 5:46 pm

Two weeks after his successful return to competition at the Hero World Challenge, Tiger Woods’ 2018 schedule may be coming into focus.

Golfweek reported on Saturday that Woods hopes to play the Genesis Open in February according to an unidentified source with “direct knowledge of the situation.”

Woods’ agent Mark Steinberg declined to confirm the 14-time major champion would play the event and told GolfChannel.com that Woods – who underwent fusion surgery to his lower back in April – is still formulating his ’18 schedule.

Woods’ foundation is the host organization for the Genesis Open and the event supports the Tiger Woods Learning Center in Anaheim, Calif.

The Genesis Open would be Woods’ first start on the PGA Tour since he missed the cut last January at the Farmers Insurance Open.