All Grown Up

By Jay CoffinMarch 25, 2011, 10:37 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Spencer Levin is all grown up.

The one-time bad boy of amateur golf has softened now that he’s 26 years old. His temperament has settled, his attitude has improved immensely and he now listens intently to everything his swing coach/father tells him. He’s even switched to a belly putter that, more than anything else, has helped him convert more key putts from outside 12 feet.

It’s an oxymoron of sorts but Levin is best described as a new-school throwback. Whatever the moniker, he is one shot back of the lead halfway through the Arnold Palmer Invitational, shooting 66-70 for an 8-under-par 136 total.

“I scored a lot better than I played today,” Levin said of his 70 that ended with a birdie from 22 feet on the 18th hole. “I didn’t drive it very good. But all in all, I’m happy with that for sure.”

Levin grew up in California and burst onto the amateur scene some eight years ago when he opted for the glitz and glamor of college life at UCLA. That stint didn’t work well because, as a student-athlete, Levin was more interested in being an athlete than he was a student. So he and Bruins’ coach O.d. Vincent decided it was best to part ways and Levin transferred to the University of New Mexico.

Spencer Levin
Levin ranks third on Tour this year with a 69.45 scoring average. (Getty Images)

The first major national exposure for Levin came in, well, his first major. Playing in the 2004 U.S. Open at Shinnecock Hills Levin tied for 13th and was low amateur of the championship. He converted a ticklish 4-footer for par on the last hole that sealed a top-15 finish, which earned him a spot in the 2005 U.S. Open at Pinehurst No. 2. The highlight of the week came late Thursday following a weather delay when he aced the par-3 17th hole. That hole-in-one was aired repeatedly over the next few days and put Levin on the golf map.

That same summer Levin won the California State Amateur at Pebble Beach (he was runner-up there in 2003), the Porter Cup and the Scratch Players Championship – all three amateur events of major prestige.

With all the amateur success, those in the know always believed that Levin’s attitude was what kept him from being more successful. He would often rub people the wrong way with the way he chain-smoked cigarettes and blew ashes and butts all over a golf course. His language was rarely rated PG and his swagger and popped shirt collar always gave off the impression that he was arrogant.

All has not changed. He still smokes and, at 5-9, 155 pounds, has that unmistakable swagger. But he’s mellowed a bit now that he’s in his third full year on the PGA Tour.

“I still get frustrated, but I’m able to keep it together better,” Levin said Friday. “I’m getting older and more mature. That must be it.”

Levin has grown up and so has his game. He has recorded four top-15 finishes in his last five starts and has only missed one cut this year. His biggest chance at his first PGA Tour victory came a month ago when he lost a playoff to Johnson Wagner at the Mayakoba Golf Classic. Still, he did shoot a final-round 65 to get into that playoff.

“Right after that I was disappointed,” Levin said. “But I earned enough money to secure my card for next year and overall it gave me a lot of confidence.”

Five years ago, a disappointment like that could’ve evoked different emotions. Now, he used that to play without pressure and continue to perform at a high level. The following week at the Honda Classic Levin opened with at 67 in howling wind and ended the week in a tie for 14th place.

This week has been more of the same. The opening-round 66 here at the Arnold Palmer Invitational was considered by several of his fellow pros one of the best three rounds of this year. The 30 mph winds produced more scores in the 80s than it did scores in the 60s.

The second-round 70 also was impressive, but for different reasons. Levin opened with two birdies in his first six holes and held a 7-shot lead on the rest of the field through eight holes. But he started to leak oil some on the closing stretch when others – Steve Marino, Charles Howell, Tiger Woods – started to heat up. Levin stopped the bleeding on 18 when he drained the 22-footer for birdie.

“His putting is just unbelievable,” said Marino, Levin’s good friend who is only three shoots off the lead. “He made almost everything he looked at and just played awesome.

“Today, on the front nine, he made a bunch of long putts for birdies and save some putts. He missed a couple on the back but overall very impressive. I’ve never really seen anyone putt like that for two days.”

It’s the next two days that will test Levin’s moxie. It’s not a dud leaderboard here at Arnie’s Place. Marino and Rickie Fowler are hungry for their first Tour victory, Woods is looking to continue his domination of Bay Hill while finding form before The Masters and Howell posted a second-round 65 to get into the mix.

“If you’re making a bunch of birdies out here, there is somebody else who is going to make a bunch of birdies,” Levin said. “If you think you’re playing great, somebody else is going to be playing great. That just shows you the competition is so packed that one shot is always huge at the end of the week.”

It took Levin awhile to get into this position. It’s one that he’s capable of handling now that he’s all grown up.

Follow Jay Coffin on Twitter @JayCoffin

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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.