The Players politics: Candidates in contention

By Jason SobelMay 12, 2012, 12:15 am

PONTE VEDRA, Fla. – Year after year, it’s a common refrain here at The Players Championship: “Anybody can win!”

This tournament is the ultimate democracy. It’s been claimed by elite talents and one-hit wonders, big bombers and short knockers, old guys and young guys, ball-strikers and putting whizzes.

It should come as no surprise that entering this weekend the four players atop the leaderboard are of varying talent levels, accomplishments and on-course specialties.

In fact, at this most democratic of events, in this election year, the quartet represents specific candidates each hoping to be inaugurated as the next commander-in-chief of The Players.

The Major Candidate

Of all the major champions in this 144-man field – from Rory McIlroy to Phil Mickelson to Tiger Woods to Ernie Els – the only one on the first page of the leaderboard after two rounds is Zach Johnson, who claimed the Masters five years ago.

There’s a connection, too. With cold, windy weather that week of his victory, Johnson triumphed on a fast, firm Augusta National course that played to his skill set. Not that TPC Sawgrass shares many of the same attributes as that famed venue, but this course is likewise playing fast and firm – just the way Johnson likes it.

“I never really gave the golf course much; in other words, I kept it where you need to keep it,” Johnson said after a second-round 66 that left him in a share of the lead. “My misses were proper. I was aggressive when I could be aggressive. And I caught a couple nice saves in there, too. But when you shoot that kind of score around this golf course any day in the year, or any week, you're putting well. Clearly that's what I've been doing the best.”

As for where this tournament ranks against winning a major championship, the only major champion on the leaderboard has some very adamant opinions.

“I'll tell you this: I think this tournament is huge,” he contended. “I know who's won here the last so many odd years. Maybe not in a row. But my point is if you ask me who won a random tournament on Tour the last 10 years, I don't think I can tell you, but I can tell you who's won here, and it's because it should be a major almost.”

The Consistent Candidate

To quote the most famous announcer call in Players Championship history, Matt Kuchar is “better than most.”

With four top-10s in nine starts this year – and no missed cuts – Kuchar has continued a trend that first started at the beginning of 2010. Since that season, he has competed in 59 official PGA Tour events and finished in the top-25 on 46 occasions.

Yes, he is undoubtedly better than most. But Kuchar is rarely better than all.

Despite those eye-popping consistency numbers over the past three seasons, he has won just a single event during that time – and still owns only three career victories all told.

That could change this week, as back-to-back rounds of 68 have him tied for the lead.

“I think it’s a matter of just keeping yourself in position,” he said, “having the opportunities and, before long, you find yourself in that winner’s circle.”

The Underdog Candidate

Let’s play a little word association. As soon as you read the name in the next paragraph, close your eyes and think of the first thing that comes to mind.

Kevin Na.

Just a wild guess, but did your thought process quickly meander to his proclivity for slow play?

Na often bears the brunt of criticism as the poster child for the campaign to end slow play, but often lost in that crusade is the fact that the guy plays some truly inspired golf … albeit very slowly.

On Friday, Na posted a 3-under 69 to grab a share of the lead with Johnson and Kuchar. After claiming his first career win in Las Vegas last year, he already has four top-10s in 13 starts this season.

“That win last year did a lot for me confidence-wise and being a lot more relaxed out there when I’m in contention,” he said. “I’m playing very well, rolling it great. I think the key for me is going to be the driver, putting it in the fairway.”

The Rookie Candidate

He doesn’t have the impressive array of shots of Rory McIlroy or the flashy style of Rickie Fowler, but Harris English has already proven this season that he’s yet another young 20-something to be reckoned with.

In his first PGA Tour season, the University of Georgia alum has made 10 cuts in 13 starts and already has five top-25 finishes.

Perhaps most impressive is that he doesn’t seem fazed to be playing well in a tournament that includes nearly every one of the game’s biggest names. A second-round 67 has him just one stroke out of the lead going into the weekend – and as we’ve seen in democracies, success isn’t always incumbent on experience.

“I understand it comes and goes so quickly, and you've just got to be patient,” he explained. “The past couple weeks I haven't played my best golf, but I've played patient and worked on some things and I kind of kept a level head. It's come together thus far this week.”

Four distinct candidates on one of the game’s most democratic venues. One of ‘em just may see his poll numbers equate to victory come Sunday evening.

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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 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.