Riviera set for strongest field this year

By Doug FergusonFebruary 17, 2011, 5:45 am

Northern Trust Open

LOS ANGELES – Steve Stricker has a new appreciation for the lengths some players go to compete on the PGA Tour.

Stricker, the defending champion at the Northern Trust Open, is fresh off the longest trip of his life. He flew halfway around the world to play in the Qatar Masters and it felt like his first day at school. He didn’t know where to register. He never got caught up on his sleep. There was more to that week than playing golf.

The collection of players at Riviera this week include Louis Oosthuizen of South Africa, Padraig Harrington of Ireland and Ryo Ishikawa, the 19-year-old from Japan. 

“I don’t know how they do it,” Stricker said. “I found it very hard to go over there and concentrate and play well. And I can see when these guys travel across from Europe to here how difficult it’s got to be for them.”

The travel is what makes Riviera so intriguing this week.

It marks the PGA Tour debut this year of Oosthuizen, the British Open champion who joined the U.S. tour for the first time. Another rookie is Robert Karlsson, a 41-year-old from Sweden who recently moved from Monaco to Charlotte, N.C. There’s also Ishikawa and K.T. Kim of South Korea, both ranked inside the top 50 in the world.

The world will be coming to America for the next several months, and while none of the top three players in the world are at the Northern Trust Open – Lee Westwood, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods – this very well could be the strongest field so far this year.

Riviera has five of the top 10 in the world, and 16 of the top 30.

From last year’s PGA Tour money list, only three players are missing from the top 20 – Ernie Els, Tim Clark and Camilo Villegas, all of whom are not here because of nagging injuries.

Next week is the Match Play Championship in Arizona for the top 64 in the world. Two weeks later is another World Golf Championship event at Doral, with more tournaments in Florida and Houston as players get ready for the Masters.

There are different starting lines in golf.

PGA Tour members tend to begin their season in Hawaii. The European Tour essentially kicks off in the United Arab Emirates. But there is a sense at Riviera, with so much depth to the field, that the best are starting to congregate.

“When I played in Hawaii, it almost felt like the silly season,” Hunter Mahan said. “Some guys were just done playing Chevron, or playing in China. San Diego was a little more of a normal routine. But it doesn’t seem like an event is a real event until all the international guys start showing up.”

Phil Mickelson is another headliner at Riviera, where he will try to win for the third time on a course that used to give him fits. And just like Ishikawa and Oosthuizen, he had to get on a plane to get here.

OK, so Mickelson didn’t have that far to fly.

As he often does, Mickelson has found it easier to stay at home with his wife and three kids in San Diego and fly his jet up the coast to Santa Monica. Door-to-door it takes him about an hour, which is how long it can take to just get down Sunset Boulevard when leaving Riviera at the wrong time.

Mickelson had a slightly tougher time Wednesday, with such low cloud cover that he was forced to land in Van Nuys, adding a half-hour to his flight. He’s not losing any sleep over that one.

“I’m a little concerned the next day or two getting in with some of the low minimums of the clouds,” Mickelson said. “It looks like it’s going to be OK.”

As for his game? Mickelson isn’t worried about that, either.

He was energized going into this year, with his health improved and his wife’s battle with cancer having turned the corner. Mickelson just hasn’t been getting the results, except for a runner-up finish at Torrey Pines. He has won twice at Riviera, and hopes to make this the sixth tournament he has won at least three times.

“I’ve been playing well,” he said. “I’ve got just a slight hurdle to get over where I’ve got to get the scores down to how I feel I’m playing. Some of that will be course management, some of that will just be getting a couple putts to drop, but I feel like I’m right on the cusp of playing some really good golf.”

Weather could be a factor beyond Mickelson’s flight plan.

It was cool, windy and rainy for the pro-am, and the forecast is for rain during various parts of the week. That hasn’t affected the course too much, as Riviera was in such great shape that it can hold water and still remain relatively fast.

Karlsson didn’t have to travel as far as he once did to get here.

With his two children getting older, and life too cramped in a small apartment in Monaco, Karlsson figured it was time to move on. One option was Sweden. But his runner-up finish in Memphis last year paved the way for him to earn a PGA Tour card, and he decided it was time to take up membership in America.

Why not move to Florida? Karlsson wanted a change of seasons, and he met enough people in Charlotte that he was hooked. Although it was cold enough in the south this year that he didn’t get much time to work on his golf.

“With the winter being quite harsh in North Carolina – not for a Swede, but for golf – I was hoping to get a bit of practice in,” he said. “And it didn’t work out that way.”

He had two top 10s in the Arabian desert, so it’s not all bad.

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.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.