Azinger Rides Surprising Start to First-Round Lead

By Mercer BaggsMarch 22, 2001, 5:00 pm
For the first time this year, Thursday was kind to Paul Azinger. Not only was his 6-under-par 66 his first sub-70 first round of the season, it was also good enough to give him the first-round lead in the $6 million Players Championship.
Thanks to birdies over his first three holes and eight straight pars to close the round, Azinger was able to grab a one-shot advantage over Scott Hoch, Jonathan Kaye and Vijay Singh.
Thats a nice start for a change, said Azinger. Ive played really great on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, and then been frustrated with the starts to all of my tournaments.
Such was not the case this Thursday. A noted low-ball striker, Azinger didnt need to navigate the wind in Round One. In relatively benign conditions, Azinger was able to record six birdies to nary a bogey.
His round began with a 25-foot birdie putt on the 1st. Following two more birdies on hole Nos. 2 and 3, Azinger used his mid-length putter to guide in a 35-foot birdie on the par-4 8th. A sand wedge to four feet at the 9th closed out his front nine in style with a 5-under-par 31.
Another birdie at the 10th moved Azinger to 6-under, where he finished the day after eight consecutive pars.
The course is drying out just a little bit, you can tell from the front nine to the back, Azinger said. Today, I was determined not to let my start affect how I felt or change the way I did things, and as it turned out, maybe that freed me up a little bit.
While the greens were softer than normal and the wind more of a breeze, the course was hardly there for the taking. A thick rough and tucked pins protected the course from a birdie assault.
Anything under par today is good, said Nick Price, who shot 70.
That proved to be a difficult task, as only 36 of the 141 players managed to break par in Round One.
That group did not include Tiger Woods, who was 2-under-par through 17 holes before he found trouble on the par-4 finishing hole.
Tiger tried to smooth a 3-wood around the banana-shaped fairway, but laid the shaft down and flipped it. The result was a hook into the water. He carded a double bogey 6 to finish with an even-par 72.
This was the 16th time in 17 professional rounds on the Stadium Course that Woods has failed to break 70. Still, Woods was in a much better mood than when he tripled bogeyed the penultimate hole in the first round of last weeks Bay Hill Invitational and marched off the premises without talking to the media.
I thought I played beautifully today, said Woods. Unfortunately, I didnt get a whole lot out of the round. I played great - putts just didnt go in.
Overall, Im very pleased with the way Im hitting the golf ballwell see what happens.
Last week, Woods won at Bay Hill while staying in his residential home in Orlando, Fla. Two weeks ago, Jesper Parnevik commuted from his home in Jupiter, Fla. to win the Honda Classic.
Now, Singh is trying to make it three in a row.
The 38-year-old Fijian lives just five miles down the road from this weeks venue in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Thursday, he avoided the pitch-out rough by hitting 13 of 14 fairways - which led to 15 of 18 greens hit in regulations and 29 putts taken.
If you drive the ball in the fairways, youve got a lot of chances to make good approaches to the green, said Singh, whose 67 was his lowest score in 33 career rounds at The Players.
I played conservative in the beginning; but when I had my chances, I took it. Im really excited about it.
Despite the close proximity to his house, Vijay said he doesnt play the Stadium Course very often; though he does use the driving range quite extensively.
Still, the fact that he doesnt have to order room service is a definite advantage.
You can go home. Eat your own food. Thats very important, Singh said. If you have a family at home, youre very comfortable in your own environment, so I think it helps a lot.
Should Singh prevail this week, he might consider giving a share of the $1,080,000 first-place prize to Azinger. It was the latter who first introduced the former to his current flatstick.
Vijay asked me at the (2000) Memorial what I was doing and if he could borrow my putter to hit some putts on the putting green, and I said, Sure, go ahead, Azinger recalled.
Singhs been using it ever since.
Azinger first tried the device, which locks into the players belly button, at the end of 1999. Lo and behold, the first time he used it competitively on the PGA Tour he won.
It improved me, Azinger said of the putter. I havent putted very well this year, at all, until Sunday at Bay Hill. So its not foolproof by any means, but it helped me. Im just happy it improved me.
Azingers victory at the 2000 Sony Open in Hawaii was his first Tour title in seven years. It was also the first time he stepped into the winners circle following his victory over lymphoma.
From 1987 to 1993, Azinger won at least once every season. In 93, he won three times, including the PGA Championship.
Then cancer struck. After missing the majority of the 94 campaign, Zinger returned to the Tour fulltime in 1995. It would take five more years before he would add his 12th PGA Tour trophy to his mantle.
Youd better be aware that one day youre The Man and the next day you are going to walk by all those press guys and they are not even going to look at you. I lived it for years.
2000 was a season of redemption for Azinger. Aside from his victory, he collected nearly $1.6 million in earnings and was a captains selection for the victorious U.S. Presidents Cup Team.
For me, last year I played pretty well, and I got, you know, I got my share of interviews last year to feed and stroke my little ego, he joked.
Azinger knows hes close to reclaiming his spot as a bonafied major contender. A win this week would ensure it.

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News, Notes and Numbers
*David Duval (wrist injury) and Chris Perry (stomach ailment) withdrew prior to their first rounds. Tommy Armour III withdrew after nine holes after injuring his hand.
*In his first 14 Players appearances, Scott Hoch missed seven cuts and withdrew twice. In his last six starts, Hoch has finished inside the top-20 on every occasion, including a runner-up finish in 1997.
*Thursday, 19 balls landed in the water on the 137-yard par-3 17th. Only 23 birdies were recorded in the first round.
*The first-round scoring average of 73.372 was the highest on the PGA Tour this year. It is the seventh highest first-round average in 19 years at this event.
Full-field Scores from The Players Championship

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.

Rose weathering delayed Indonesian Masters

By Associated PressDecember 16, 2017, 3:52 pm

JAKARTA, Indonesia - Justin Rose held a three-stroke lead after eight holes of the third round Saturday when play was suspended for the day due to bad weather at the Indonesian Masters.

Rose was 3-under on the day and led his playing partners Kiradech Aphibarnrat and Scott Vincent. The Englishman led both players by a stroke after the second round was completed Saturday morning due to weather delays on Friday.

Brandt Snedeker withdrew with apparent heat exhaustion on Friday on the 11th hole of the second round. Ranked 51st in the world, he flew to Jakarta looking to move inside the top 50 by the end of the year and ensure a spot in next year's Masters.