Being the 54-hole leader not always an envious position

By Jason SobelFebruary 8, 2012, 10:21 pm

PEBBLE BEACH, Calif. – It isn’t fun baffling a legend, especially one known as The King. A man of such royalty – even if it is just a nickname – deserves the dignity that comes with his role. He deserves to maintain that regal appearance without having to scramble for answers.

And yet, there was Arnold Palmer, a look of complete bemusement stretched across his face. This was three years ago, just days after Tiger Woods had shocked the world. This time, though, it wasn’t because of another dominant victory or clutch putt that led to an awe-inspiring celebration.

Instead, the greatest closer in the game’s history shocked us by losing. For the first time in 15 tries, Woods let a 54-hole major championship lead slip through his hands, as he watched Y.E. Yang climb past him for the PGA Championship title. He was roundly criticized for taking a conservative approach after jumping out to an early lead, a valid criticism considering his apparent strategy.


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Palmer is known as golf’s consummate riverboat gambler, a player who would hitch up his britches and take a mighty lash at the ball every single time. So when he was queried about Woods’ cautious game plan, The King could hardly contain his puzzlement.

The seven-time major champion wrinkled his nose and furrowed his brow, then finally explained, “I don't like that. I think he's too good to be conservative. If you have the ability like he does, why be conservative? And obviously it didn't work out.'

That condemnation could serve as a mental slogan for many of this season’s conservatives. In three of five tournaments so far, the 54-hole leader has failed to emerge as the champion. Two weeks ago, Kyle Stanley led the Farmers Insurance Open by five strokes entering the final round and lost; last week, Spencer Levin led the Waste Management Phoenix Open by six and lost, as well. In each instance, the players talked about not only how difficult it was to play with a lead, but a healthy lead at that.

“I think playing from behind was quite a bit easier,” said Stanley, who was the beneficiary of Levin’s misstep in Phoenix. “I think when you have a big lead, it's human nature to want to protect it. I think it's a little easier kind of being on the chasing side.”

“I didn't really know how hard it was until I was actually in that situation,” Levin explained. “You've got to have a little different mindset. It feels weird because at least for me I just wanted to get the holes over with, just run out real quick. It was a really strange feeling.”

Defense wins championships. Football players bark the axiom into the camera. Baseball managers impress it upon their players. Basketball coaches preach it ad nauseam.

We hear it all the time in those other sports. The intonation is that scoring is important, but preventing the opponent from scoring is of the highest priority when it comes to winning.

If we’ve learned anything recently, it’s that defense doesn’t win golf tournaments. Stanley and Levin are just the latest examples of players who led, then failed to claim the hardware, but the list is lengthy and varied. In fact, last year, just under half of all 54-hole leaders failed to win one day later.

All of which leads to the $1 million – and in some cases, a few stacks of bills more – question: Why?

“One, it's hard to win,” said Woods, who owns a 48-4 career PGA Tour record when holding the 54-hole lead. “Being a frontrunner, everyone's kind of chasing you. You're in a position where if you do make a few mistakes, it's alright because obviously you have shots to play with. … But it also depends on how many guys are chasing you, too. If you've got a whole wolf pack behind you or one or two guys, it's a totally different deal.

“I think for me, personally, I've always been excited about being in that position. I know I've played well to get there, so just trying to do the same things I did to get there and hopefully it will be enough.”

At last year’s AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am, Steve Marino held the 54-hole outright lead in hopes of earning his first title, but was one of only four players in the eventual top 20 to post an over-par score, getting lapped by D.A. Points in the end.

“I can just kind of put my nose down and not look up and not care about what anybody else is doing,” Points said about playing from behind. “When you've got the lead, you kind of have to be cognizant of what's going on around you. I think that's maybe the harder part.”

Call it golf’s ultimate Catch-22. Every player understands that it’s less comfortable to be playing with a lead – and yet no player would wish to be anywhere but atop the leaderboard entering the final round.

That list even includes Stanley and Levin, fresh off their Sunday miscues. When asked whether he may hit a few stray shots on a Saturday afternoon in order to pass on the lead, Stanley laughed and said, “I don't know about that.”

Levin, meanwhile, relishes another shot at finishing off a big lead. “Don't get me wrong,” he intoned. “I'd like a six-shot lead again. I think that would be great. But I think it's easier [playing from behind] from the aspect that you aren't expected to win. You know what I'm trying to say?”

Palmer doesn’t. The legendary swashbuckler was once asked about players getting weak in the knees and aiming for the fat part of the greens. He cocked his head to the side, produced a crooked little smile and spoke a truism that doesn’t often exist in today’s game: 'I don't know what conservative is.'


Watch first- and second-round coverage of the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am Thursday and Friday on Golf Channel, 3-6PM ET.

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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.