Tiger takes spotlight off other contenders

By Doug FergusonApril 2, 2010, 5:59 am

Few players have risen to No. 2 in the world with less fanfare than Steve Stricker.

When he won the Northern Trust Open so convincingly in February, it was his fourth U.S. PGA Tour victory in his last 15 starts, the highest rate of winning this side of Tiger Woods. It was enough for Stricker to be considered among the best players who haven’t won a major, and with his pure putting stroke, he should be a contender at the Masters.

Not that anyone will notice in the days leading up to the year’s first major.

“I’m sure we’ll get a ton of Tiger questions, and rightly so,” Stricker said. “It’s been a huge story.”

The biggest story in golf – at least inside the ropes – in the month leading to Augusta National has been Ernie Els. He ended two years without a victory by winning his second World Golf Championship title, then made it two in a row with a victory at the Arnold Palmer Invitational. That made Els the first player in 2010 with multiple U.S. PGA Tour victories, and a big favorite at the Masters.

Now, he’s expecting a quiet week.

“People are not going to be talking about who’s in form until probably Thursday morning when we start the event,” Els said. “It’s going to be all about Tiger and him coming back and everything. So I think we will all be sideshows until Thursday morning. And I think we’re fine with that. Everybody is fine with that.”

Stricker and Els are among the half-dozen players who can be considered favorites at the Masters. Any other year, they would be getting more attention than usual on the road to Augusta.

This year has been a little different.

Rarely has a tournament gone by without top players – just about any player, for that matter – getting asked about Woods.

“For a guy not being around, he sure has drawn a lot of attention,” Stricker said.

Few other players have stood out. Seven of the top 15 players in the world ranking have won this year, with Els the only multiple winner on the sport’s toughest circuit. Geoff Ogilvy opened his season with another victory at Kapalua. Ian Poulter captured his first victory in America. Camilo Villegas threatened in two tournaments before winning the Honda Classic. Jim Furyk won for the first time in 2 1/2 years.

All of them could be expected to do well at the Masters.

Being overshadowed by Woods might work to their advantage. They already feel pressure to perform without having to be constantly asked about the state of their game and whether this could be the year they break through at Augusta.

Mike Weir knows what that’s like from experience.

He had won the Bob Hope Classic and Riviera early in the 2003 season, along with a tie for third at Pebble Beach. The Canadian was as hot as anyone headed to the Florida swing in March, the month when the focus turns to the Masters. Indeed, media activity was busier than usual that year, but not because of Weir or how he played.

That was the year of Martha Burk’s campaign to have Augusta National change its all-male membership. While the issue wasn’t nearly as salacious or shocking as Woods’ infidelity, it dominated the conversation. Weir quietly went to the Masters, and emerged with a green jacket.

“Going in 2003, I don’t think anybody was playing any better,” Weir recalled. “I was hardly asked a question before the tournament started. So there’s some truth to that. When there’s a singular focus like this year, you’re going in under the radar.”

Once the questions get beyond Woods’ stunning fall, his public apology and his decision to return to the Masters, they shift toward how Woods will fare at the Masters after not competing in five months.

Els, Stricker, Furyk, Poulter, Ogilvy, Villegas and Martin Kaymer of Germany already have shown what they can do.

Now it’s a question of anyone noticing before the Masters gets under way.

“It’s a good thing, especially for me,” Stricker said. “I don’t care to be looked at as a favorite or a top player. I would rather do my own stuff, my own business, and slide under the radar.”

That might not last once the tournament begins on Thursday, heads into the weekend and onto the back nine on Sunday. The course has not gone through any significant changes, and Masters officials showed last year they are interested in bringing some noise back by setting up the course for birdies and eagles.

There is no shortage of players capable of taking advantage, even if all eyes are on one guy.

“I think it could be one hell of a year,” Els said before winning the Arnold Palmer Inivitational. “There’s a really good group of players playing well, and I think that bodes very well for the first major and the rest of the year. It’s not going to be a walkover for anybody.”

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.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.