McDowell tries to rekindle fire after frustrating 2011

By Jason SobelJanuary 25, 2012, 11:38 am

Graeme McDowell needs a beer. Maybe two. He’s nearing the end of a day in which he pitched product, gladhanded bystanders and played some hit-and-giggle golf with a group of reporters – standard fare for an elite pro like himself. When asked if he can stick around for a more formal interview session, the man known worldwide as G-Mac defers to the clubhouse where his wish is quickly granted.

One year earlier, these may have been celebratory beverages, spoils to the victor of four tournaments, including the U.S. Open, and hero of the Ryder Cup. Now, though, the hops and barley take on a more commiserative tone following a 2011 season during which he failed to record a single triumph.

As McDowell leans back and takes a slow pull on his drink, he candidly reflects on what went wrong last year after so much prior success.

“I guess looking back, if I could do 2011 differently, what would I do? I’d probably take a little bit more time off at the start of the season. … I played quite a few times and then I took a break. It was only a four-week break, but it was a switched-on break, not a switched-off break.

“I just never had a chance to switch off properly. And then when I did switch back on, things just felt different technically. My golf swing wasn’t really there and my head wasn’t really there. And there’s no doubt the expectation levels were cranked up a bit [last] year. I played like a man who wanted it really, really, really badly. Of course, you’ve got to work hard and prepare hard and you’ve got to want it, but you can’t want it so badly that it gets in your own way. I feel like I got in my own way a few times.”

It’s a mature stance for any player, but especially one who had never ascended to such a level before. Prior to his magical 2010 campaign, McDowell was only a fringe star. He owned four career victories – all on the European Tour – and had played in one Ryder Cup, but his likeness was hardly recognizable outside of industry circles, his name known only in households where the first language is golf.

Such lofty titles not only forged worldwide recognition, but newfound status amongst his peers. McDowell climbed as high as fourth on the Official World Golf Ranking, but soon succumbed to the weight of his own expectations.

“[In 2010], everything I touched went right and [last] year everything I touched went wrong, for whatever reason. The reason was mainly my head, the expectation levels. And the other reason was that I wasn’t really as in control of my golf swing as I was last year. Complacency is probably the wrong word – I just took my eye off the ball because of everything else that was going on.

“There’s no doubt my life got busier off the golf course and I wasn’t preparing as well for events as I had in 2010. I lost a bit of an understanding for my technique and why the ball went certain directions. In 2010, I knew why I hit great shots and I knew why I hit bad shots. For me, that’s sort of the golden chalice in golf. You’ve got to understand, you’ve got be able to self-fix. … I wasn’t able to self-fix.”

He missed the cut at the year’s first major championship, the Masters, but soon McDowell’s expectations for himself appeared they were on the verge of being realized. He was hitting the ball better; his head was in the right place; he was ready to win.

Again, those expectations started creeping back. Which only led to more of a letdown.

“The low point of the year for me was probably the Open Championship. I prepared great there. I thought I was ready. I thought, here we go. I’d gotten the U.S. Open out of the way, I’d given the trophy back. It was kind of like turning the page. Let’s go, let’s move on. I finished 14th at Congressional. I was happy with that, struck the ball great tee to green.

“I had a chance to win the Scottish Open, led going into the last round. Luke Donald shot 63 and I couldn’t catch him. But the Open Championship, I felt ready to go. I hit it unbelievable in practice, didn’t miss a shot in practice. I was ready.

“Then I remember, I hooked a 3-wood off the first tee into the left rough, got a flier over the back, duffed a pitch, chipped it up to 10 feet, missed it and walked to the second tee box going, ‘What just happened?’ That’s how short my fuse was. I had no patience at all. I wanted it too badly. I was starting to question everything.”

“I was being a bit unrealistic from what I was trying to achieve. I needed to reset and realize that fifth is a hell of a result. You can’t win every week. In 2010, I felt like I could win every week.”

There they are again. The expectations. They emanate from equal parts self-confidence and experience. Knowing he could achieve such goals and having already accomplished many of them led McDowell to a dark cloud, where even a silver lining only represented more rain.

“Your own expectations are dangerous. The good times in golf and the bad times in golf are so different. As golfers, we’re all unbelievably good at berating ourselves, you know. We’re very good at that. We’re great at giving ourselves a hard time when something goes wrong. But we’re not so good at giving ourselves credit when something goes right.

“I think there’s something to be learned there, for sure. Enjoy the good times. Celebrate. Reward yourself. Because the bad times hurt, there’s no doubt about that. You’ve got to give yourself a bit more credit when things go well. Give yourself a pat on the back when things go correctly. You just never know what’s around the corner in this game, really.”

Through it all, McDowell suggests that he may have lost inspiration. Not that he doesn’t want to reach the same heights again; it’s just that it’s difficult to still want something so badly that you’ve already gained.

David Duval underwent similar feelings following his lone major championship victory. He had risen to No. 1 in the world, won a dozen PGA Tour events, then finally claimed the Open Championship. Afterward, though, he spoke of the empty sentiment that remained, how winning a big one didn’t necessarily fill him with happiness and relief. He hasn’t been the same player since.

“I’m very motivated, but things get a bit blurry. You’ve always got that desire and motivation inside you. The ultimate goal is being out there playing Ryder Cups and holing the winning putt. Winning your first major. Everyone dreams about that. I suppose when you live a couple of your wildest dreams, all of a sudden your goals get a bit blurred. It’s difficult.

“It makes me so impressed when I see what Luke Donald has done over these past 18 months, week after week after week. It’s incredible. Tiger [Woods], when he was doing what he was doing. You need drive beyond drive. It’s not just winning your first major. You need to be looking at the big picture the entire time. It’s hard to stay very sharply motivated.

“I still love the game and I play the game to win tournaments. Of course I play it to make a living, yes, but that’s well down the list of priorities for me. It’s about the competition and winning golf tournaments and the experiences that come with it.”

McDowell will make his season debut at the Abu Dhabi Golf Championship this week. It remains to be seen which G-Mac will show up – the 2010 world-beater who climbed a few levels in status with so much success or the 2011 disappointment who ultimately failed to live up to the expectations set for himself.

We’ll soon find out.

“I’m getting very excited about it. No massive expectations, but just going to keep doing what I’m doing. I want to get my consistency back for the big tournaments. I missed three cuts at majors [last] year, which is just not good enough, because I know I’m better than that, especially on tough golf courses.

“I probably earned enough WR points [last] year for a top-50 player or a top-30 player. In the past, that would have been a good season for me, but all of a sudden it’s not a good season anymore. It’s a hugely disappointing season. Have I really changed that much in a couple of years? I haven’t, no, but it’s like the perception of what’s good. A sixth in a WGC event doesn’t really float my boat anymore, whereas it used to be I’d give my left arm for that.

“It’s amazing how your perception of what a good week is starts to change. It shouldn’t really. It really is just about consistency, what we’re all striving for. I guess the experiences I had in 2010, I was craving more of those. But those are extra, extra special experiences – you can’t really get those week-in, week-out.

“The feel-good factor in the game wasn’t really there for me. I was expecting so much more to make me feel good. It was really like a drug. Obviously I don’t do drugs, but I can only imagine that once you start to experience great highs, all of a sudden you need so much more of it to make you feel that good.”

With that, McDowell takes another sip of his beer. He’s tasted it in both celebration and commiseration. He knows which one tastes sweeter.

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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.