McIlroy making his mark on golf history

By John FeinsteinAugust 12, 2014, 10:30 pm

On the last day of the 1960 U.S. Open played at Cherry Hills Country Club in Denver, the following names appeared on the leaderboard: Ben Hogan, Arnold Palmer and Jack Nicklaus.

Hogan was 47 and that Open turned out to be his last serious run at a major championship. Palmer was 30, already a two-time Masters champion. He began the last round seven shots back, drove the first green and won his first and only Open title. Nicklaus was 20, still an amateur and had the lead on the back nine before two three-putts undid him. He was paired with Hogan, who said afterwards that if Nicklaus had had any idea what he was doing he would have won easily.

Clearly, Hogan knew from whence he spoke.

Only time will tell us if the remarkable theater we witnessed Sunday at the PGA Championship will be an equal part of golf history.

At the very least, the leading stars were a fascinating cast of characters.

On stage at Valhalla was Phil Mickelson, who is already in the Hall of Fame with five major titles and might – at age 44 – be nearing his last hurrah. He was paired on the final day with Rickie Fowler, who at 25 has become an important golfer and not just a successful marketing campaign.

Two groups ahead of Mickelson and Fowler was Henrik Stenson, representing golf’s middle-age at 38. Stenson won last year’s FedEx Cup and the Race to Dubai. He has won a Players Championship and had six top-five finishes in majors when he got to Valhalla.

Last, and certainly not least, was The Next One.

Rory McIlroy has carried that label since his eight-shot victory at Congressional in the 2011 U.S. Open and, in the minds of many, has had it on him since he was a teenage prodigy in Northern Ireland.

At 25 – even before this past weekend – McIlroy has emerged as Tiger Woods’ successor on golf’s throne. That does not mean he’s the next Tiger – no one deserves that overwhelming burden – but he is his sport’s next superstar.

He already had three majors in his pocket when he walked to the first tee late Sunday after a near-two-hour rain delay, but found himself in an unusual spot. He had a one-shot lead on a packed leaderboard on Sunday at a major. In his three prior major victories, he controlled the final 18 holes – never falling out of the lead. In his one epic meltdown at the 2011 Masters, he saw a four-shot lead disappear, shooting an 80 that landed him in a tie for 15th place.

“That’s the only time I think I’ve ever played defense with a lead,” he said last week. “I think I learned a lesson from that. You have to keep attacking.”

Knowing that and doing it are two different things. McIlroy was tentative for six holes on Sunday while Mickelson, Stenson and Fowler attacked. By the time he reached the 10th tee, McIlroy was behind all three.

It all changed on the par-5 10th, thanks to McIlroy’s power and a little bit of luck. After a huge drive, he took out his 3-wood. Having just watched Fowler make birdie in front of him, he was three shots behind the leader. McIlroy didn’t catch the 3-wood flush but, from 281 yards, it bounced just right and rolled to within 7 feet. From there he rolled in the eagle putt.

Game on.

McIlroy never missed another green and the drive he blasted at No. 16 will be replayed forever. One wonders what ran through Mickelson’s mind as he stood on the 16th green, tied for the lead, and saw McIlroy standing in the fairway 334 yards from the tee waiting to hit his second shot.

“It reminded me a little bit of Nicklaus on the 16th green at Augusta in 1975, only in reverse,” Golf Channel’s Frank Nobilo said. “Nicklaus made that putt and turned around and looked right at (Tom) Weiskopf standing on the tee. This time Phil looked down the fairway before he had that 10-foot par putt and there was Rory staring right at him.”

Mickelson’s putt came up inches short – his first bogey in 22 holes and his only one on the day. McIlroy had the lead and never gave it back.

Unfortunately, the bizarre ending in the dark may take away from the drama produced by all four players on the last day. Mickelson and Stenson both shot 66; McIlroy and Fowler 68. But it was McIlroy who went low on the back nine when the pressure was greatest, producing a 32. None of the other three shot lower than 35.

Palmer driving the first hole to start the last round at Cherry Hills in 1960 will never be forgotten. McIlroy’s drive on No. 16 at Valhalla – paired with the in-your-face birdie at No. 17 – may be remembered in much the same way.

It is possible that Valhalla will go down as the week that the sport became McIlroy’s. Woods hobbled off the stage on Friday evening, unable to even sniff the cut. If he can get healthy and become a relevant player again in the future he will be challenging McIlroy, not the other way around.

The same is true of Mickelson, who threw everything he had at McIlroy on Sunday and came up short. One could almost hear Mickelson roaring into the darkness after the round when he talked repeatedly about being excited about the next four or five years. Only when someone asked him how good McIlroy was did his true feelings come out – more in tone – than in words.

“He’s better than everyone else right now,” Mickelson said with a sigh. “He’s good. Really good.”

The question now is, how good will McIlroy’s long-term challengers be? Woods and Mickelson may block his way on a major Sunday or two before they’re done, but those who are likely to be around for a while are the likes of Adam Scott, Bubba Watson, Justin Rose, Jason Day, Fowler, Jordan Spieth and Hideki Matsuyama. Whether any of them are as good as Mickelson, Ernie Els, David Duval or Vijay Singh – Woods’ main challengers in his heyday – remains to be seen. That’s not to mention Gary Player, Tom Watson, Palmer and Lee Trevino, each of whom won at least six majors, during Nicklaus’s storied career.

That’s all for the future. For now, only one thing is certain: An invisible torch was passed on Sunday in Kentucky. The man holding it seems to be very comfortable with it in his hands.

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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.