Bets on the Masters

By John HawkinsApril 7, 2010, 6:32 pm

Zach Johnson. Trevor Immelman. Angel Cabrera. The last three Masters champions are as diverse a trio of players as one could imagine, and as a group, they reflect the impact of course changes made at Augusta National during the tenure of former Masters chairman Hootie Johnson (1998-2006). A layout originally designed to minimize the importance of driving accuracy and emphasize the value of the second shot, regardless of where it was struck, has taken on the characteristics of a traditional parkland venue.

Nowadays, it’s mostly about moving your ball from point A to point B, keeping it in your own fairway, then pondering the delicate balance of risk and reward when plotting the approach. Johnson lengthened numerous holes, and that altered things to a certain extent, but it was the addition of hundreds of trees that really affected the competitive element. Control players such as Zach Johnson now have a better chance of winning at a ballpark where the value of attacking the par 5s has been compromised, where creative shotmaking and playing the angles won’t yield the same level of success as it once did.

If Hootie began his tinkering back in 2002 with the intention of negating advances in equipment technology, he instead produced parity few people envisioned. The Masters is now an equal-opportunity tournament, the last three gatherings serving as evidence, but the world’s best players got to the top for a reason, and they’ll tee off Thursday on my short list of favorites.

Tiger Woods – If you don’t think he’ll come back better than ever, be it this week, next month or next year, you’ve either got a short memory or a long drive to reality. Woods’ return may begin with a certain amount of rust, but he’ll find his footing by the weekend, and from there, it comes down to how much trouble he finds off the tee and how sharp he is inside 15 feet. Since you can’t win this tournament from the treeline anymore, Tiger has been stuck on four Masters titles since 2005. Still, he’s the best golfer in town every time he tees it up. ODDS: 10-1.

Ernie Els – Winning doesn’t cure everything, but victories at Doral and Bay Hill have vaulted Easy to the top of the short list, which may or may not be a good thing. Els has missed three consecutive cuts at Augusta National, opening with rounds of 78, 74 and 75 in that stretch. He hasn’t shot lower than a 71 on any day since Phil Mickelson nipped him at the buzzer in the 2004 thriller, a loss that has come to define one of the finest players of his generation. It was easy to figure Els would win three or four green jackets before all was said and done. Now the challenge involves not trying too hard to win just one. ODDS: 15-1.

Phil Mickelson – As great as Lefty was playing at the end of 2009, nothing he has done this year indicates he’s ready to win a third green jacket. He’s hitting 47.8 percent of his fairways, a ridiculously low number even by his crooked standards, and is missing more greens than usual with both short irons and long ones. Medical issues involving his wife, Amy, may explain his recent play, but nobody gets hot faster – or more often – than Philly Mick. ODDS: 25-1.

Padraig Harrington – Another top-tier guy who has never factored at Augusta National on Sunday, but unlike Westwood, Paddy has turned previous opportunities at other majors into career-defining victories. His short game is ultra-reliable, his putting inside 10 feet superb. No one wastes fewer strokes over the long haul than Harrington, who is more likely to claim his first Masters if the winning score falls in the five- to 10-under range. Unlike most on this list, he benefits from the course changes. ODDS: 25-1.

Fred Couples – He’s tearing up the Champions Tour, and if you think that doesn’t help him this week, think again. When Couples is mentally engaged, which is always the case at the Masters, and driving the ball straight, which has been the case in 2010, he can still win anywhere, especially on courses he has won on before. Loosely translated, Freddie’s senior success sends him to Augusta with a boatload of confidence. Those three-footers can get a bit scary, but if Tom Watson can come so close at the British, Couples can win another Masters. ODDS: 28-1.

Lee Westwood – An emerging big-game player who has contended at three majors since the 2008 U.S. Open, Westwood’s weak history at Augusta National cannot be ignored. A T-6 in 1999 remains his best Masters finish, perhaps because of his short-game shortcomings, but a pair of recent top 10s (Honda, Houston) indicate he’s rounding into form. Gave himself chances to win last summer at the British Open and PGA. The more often you work your way into the hunt, the more likely you are to do it again. ODDS: 30-1.

Steve Stricker – His low ball flight does him no favors at this tournament, but Stricker’s steady rise to a place among the game’s elite has come about through dramatic improvements in his ballstriking and increased mental toughness, both of which can take you a long way at the year’s first major. He holes more long putts than anyone, a strength that is neutralized somewhat by Augusta National’s treacherous greens, but if he’s in position off the tee and hitting his irons accurately, he won’t be left with many long putts to make. His chances improve if the greens aren’t crazy-firm. ODDS: 30-1.

Paul Casey – Has all the tools, although his putting comes and goes, but Casey, at least on paper, represents England’s best hope at Augusta National. He hasn’t finished outside the top 10 in four starts this year, but Casey withdrew from his title defense in Houston last week had hasn’t competed since the WGC event at Doral more than a month ago. Has the type of monster length that can dominate the par 5s, but Casey’s penchant for missing time with nagging injuries has stunted his progress just as his career was beginning to take flight. ODDS: 40-1.

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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.