Punch Shot: Who needs Masters momentum in Texas?

The PGA Tour hits Texas for two weeks as players get a final fortnight to either qualify or find their form for the season's first major. Who most needs to gain some Masters momentum in the Lone Star State? Our writers weigh in:

By RYAN LAVNER

With all of the will-he-or-won’t-he questions surrounding Tiger Woods, and the doubts about Rory McIlroy’s form, and the possibility of Bubba Watson repeating as champion, one superstar has gone virtually unnoticed during this Masters run-up: Phil Mickelson.

You remember Phil, right? The three-time Masters champion? The 42-time PGA Tour winner? The guy who was supposed to be competitive at Augusta into his 50s?

Things haven’t gone so well of late. He has finished outside the top 10 in 30 of his last 32 PGA Tour starts. He’s down to No. 21 in the world, or a spot ahead of Kevin Na. This season, he’s regained some pop in his driver but is still hitting it crooked. He’s not finding many greens. He’s not finding the bottom of the cup, either.

All of which has lowered expectations for Mickelson entering this year’s Masters, a tournament he won three times in a seven-year span but has either missed the cut or finished outside the top 50 in the last two editions. For the first time in forever, he’s under the radar, which is probably how he’d prefer it as he works out the kinks.

His first chance to show some form comes this week in San Antonio, where he’s making just his second start since ’92. A better barometer will come next week in Houston, where he’s fared well each of the past four years, finishing inside the top 16 each time, including a win in ’11.

If Phil has another Masters run in him, then it’s time to come out of hibernation. 


By REX HOGGARD

For every player, the drive down Magnolia Lane is a reason to get out of bed in the offseason, a reason to go to the range when it’s cold and empty.

So when Harris English finished 36 holes last week at the Arnold Palmer Invitational tied for second place, the pressure understandably mounted.

English needed to finish tied for sixth or better at Bay Hill to move into the top 50 in the world rankings and qualify for the Masters. He struggled on the weekend to rounds of 72-75 to slip back to 29th place.

So instead of preparing for his second start at the year’s first major, he headed west to play this week’s Texas Open, where the ultimate deadline looms.

For a kid raised in south Georgia, who played four years at the University of Georgia, a tee time at Augusta National in early April transcends just another start.

It’s similar to the pressure he endured last year when he played his first Masters. He’d started the season with a victory in Mexico and five top-10 finishes and headed to Augusta with dark-horse status.

Last spring he let the pressure of the moment get to him, carding rounds 74-76. A year later he has a chance to see how far his game has progressed.


By RANDALL MELL

You can’t win if you’re not in.

Paul Casey is showing flashes of a return to the form that once helped the Englishman rank as high as No. 3 in the world, but it won’t help him at the Masters if he isn’t playing. Casey is No. 49 in the world today with a weak grip on an invite to Augusta National. To guarantee his first trip there since 2012, Casey has to remain among the top 50 in the world rankings when they come out at the conclusion of this week’s Valero Texas Open. Casey, though, isn’t playing the Texas Open. So, he’ll be holding his breath this week, hoping Marc Warren (No. 52) and Harris English (No. 53) don’t take his invite away. They are both playing the Texas Open, and nobody’s more motivated to make it than English, who was raised in Georgia and played for the University of Georgia.

If Casey doesn’t get in via the world rankings, he’ll still have one more possible route to Augusta. He is committed to playing the Shell Houston Open next week, the last chance players have to earn a Masters invite. If he falls out of the top 50 this week, Casey will need to win in Houston. The upside if he is in that desperate position is that he has won the Shell Houston Open before. He won it in ’09, his lone PGA Tour title.

If Casey does gets his Masters invite this week, his showing in Houston will still matter. After missing the cut at the Arnold Palmer Invitational last week, Casey will want to take as much as confidence as he can to Augusta National, where he has shown he can play. He was T-11 at the Masters in ’08, T-10 in ’07 and T-6 in ’04.


By NICK MENTA

After the neck issues and the haircut and the weight loss, at this point neither Jason Dufner nor his game are recognizable.

It’s been roughly 18 months since anyone has seen the ball-striking machine that was knocking down flagsticks at Oak Hill. Since losing to Adam Scott in a playoff last year at Colonial, the 2013 PGA champion has just one top-10 finish in 13 Tour events. In five starts in 2015, he’s been cut twice and finished no better than T-17. He’s 120th in total driving, 120th in ball striking and 97th in strokes gained-putting. Not exactly a recipe for success on Tour, let alone at Augusta.

Winless since his lone major victory, Dufner has gone from eighth in the Official World Golf Ranking in August 2013 down to 50th at present. If he wasn’t guaranteed a Masters invite through 2018, he’d be fighting just to get in the field.

Dufner hasn’t played the Valero Texas Open since 2008, before the tournament’s move to TPC San Antonio, but he’ll be in the field this week with the option of playing the Shell Houston Open – known for its vaguely Augusta-like setup – the week before the Masters.

People go to Texas to find themselves all the time, right? Right.

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.