LPGA card provides inside track to Olympics

By Randall MellDecember 2, 2015, 11:56 pm

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Gaby Lopez’s dream radiates beyond the LPGA at Q-School this week.

If she wins an LPGA card, Lopez can move into the fast lane in her bid to represent her beloved Mexico at the Olympics next summer. That’s because LPGA membership is more than a fast pass for so many international golfers looking to represent their countries in Rio de Janeiro next August. It’s a hyper-speed pass to the Olympics. That’s because Rolex Women’s World Ranking points are used as the qualification standard for Olympic women’s golf, and the LPGA offers so many more world-ranking points than any other tour in the women’s game, disproportionately more than the PGA Tour offers over other tours in the men’s game.

Just ask Israel’s Laetitia Beck how well the LPGA’s fast pass works.

Beck didn’t have a single Rolex world rankings point starting her LPGA rookie season earlier this year. She seemed a long shot to make the Olympics. And yet, 10 months after making her first LPGA start, Beck is in prime position to make it to Rio de Janeiro. If the Olympic women’s field were decided today, Beck would qualify.

Beck soared inside the Olympic qualifying standard this year despite a ho-hum LPGA rookie season that saw her record one top-20 finish while placing 111th on the LPGA money list. She’s back at Q-School this week looking to keep her Olympic dream alive.

“What I’m doing now, it’s about representing my country and being able to fly our flag next to my name wherever I go,” Beck told GolfChannel.com. “Being the first player from Israel to play the LPGA tour put our flag on a big stage. Obviously, the Olympics are an even bigger stage. It’s a greater opportunity to put Israel on golf’s map. For me, it’s exciting.”

Beck is a perfect example of how the LPGA has become the Autobahn highway to the Olympics.

The average LPGA event offers about four times more world-ranking points than the average Ladies European Tour event and about three times as many world-ranking points as the average Japan or Korean LPGA event. The average PGA Tour event doesn’t offer anything close to that differential with the average European Tour event.

Lopez is an amateur, but her Olympic dream led her to the final stage of LPGA Q-School this week with an eye on turning pro a year earlier than she expected. She’s a senior at the University of Arkansas who finished runner-up at the NCAA Women’s Championship last spring.

“My ultimate goal is to play in the Olympics for Mexico,” Lopez said after making a strong start Wednesday at Q-School, posting a 4-under-par 68 to move into a tie for fifth, three shots off the lead. “I know the best path to the Olympics is through the LPGA, to get Rolex ranking points.”

Lopez said she will turn pro at week’s end if she earns LPGA membership. If she falls short and earns only Symetra Tour membership, she may return to the University of Arkansas.

“I haven’t made that decision yet,” Lopez said. “My coach and my family and I will make a smart decision with our minds and our hearts. I know I have the support of the University of Arkansas and coach Shawna [Estes-Taylor]. She has been a huge part of my development.”

How realistic is Lopez’s bid to make the Olympics?

She’s already on the cusp of qualifying.

The top 60 players on the International Golf Federation’s Olympic women’s rankings as of July 11 will qualify. Those rankings are based on the Rolex Women’s World Rankings but adjusted based on eligibility.

Only two players per country are eligible for the golf competition at the Olympics. However, if players are ranked among the top 15 in the Rolex Women’s World Rankings, the top four from a country can qualify. That’s how Beck can be as low as No. 347 in the Rolex rankings but No. 54 in the IGF Olympic rankings. A lot of players who are ranked ahead of her in the Rolex rankings aren’t eligible.

Brazil’s Victoria Lovelady currently holds the 60th and final Olympic spot into the women’s field, but she’s guaranteed that spot because Brazil is the Olympic host country. So Colombia’s Lisa McCloskey actually holds the last qualifying spot in the IGF Olympic ranking. McCloskey is No. 59 in the IGF Olympic women’s ranking and No. 437 in the Rolex rankings. Lopez is No. 443 in the Rolex rankings.

Limiting the number of players per country who can qualify weakens the 60-player Olympic field, but it’s also pivotal in opening Olympic golf’s door to countries like Mexico, Israel and China.

“Not many people know about my sport in our country,” Beck said. “I hear people say, `What? Golf is an Olympic sport?’ If we are represented in the Olympics, so many more people will come to know the sport.”

Lopez carries the same vision for women’s golf in Mexico.

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.