Bunker Shots Real Season Begins
Northern Trust Open
Thursday might actually feel like Opening Day for golf.
Nine of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking will tee it up, albeit it on different sides of the planet, with four of them at the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles and five at the Omega Dubai Desert Classic in the United Arab Emirates.
Everyone in the top 10 except you-know-who will be playing this week.
That’s more stars playing than any week so far this season.
No. 1 Tiger Woods won’t be playing the Northern Trust Open in Los Angeles as he remains in self-imposed exile, but he hasn’t played there since 2006 anyway.
Stance: The two highest ranked players in the world available to play will make appearances at Riviera this week. No. 2 Phil Mickelson and No. 3 Steve Stricker should be factors given their histories there. They finished 1-2 last year. Mickelson has won the last two years at Riviera and is seeking to become the first player in the 84-year history of the event to win it three consecutive years. If he does, they might have to begin calling Riviera Lefty’s Alley instead of Hogan’s Alley. Seven players have won back-to-back at Riviera’s PGA Tour stop (Macdonald Smith, 1928-29; Hogan, 1947-48; Paul Harney, 1964-65; Arnold Palmer, 1966-67; Corey Pavin, 1994-95; Mike Weir, 2003-04; Mickelson, 2008-09).
Takeaway: Jim Furyk and Padraig Harrington make their 2010 debuts. They both left ’09 on nice little rolls. Furyk finished T8 or better the last five times he teed it up, including his unofficial victory at the Chevron World Challenge. After issues with swing changes much of ’09, Harrington’s last six PGA Tour starts ended like this: T2, T10, T2, T4, T6, T4.
Bunker shot: The 2010 PGA Tour season is all about strident noise. The wonderfully rich sounds golf typically brings us, the smattering of applause when greens are hit, the chirping of birds in the still before shots are played, have given way to squabbling. From PGA Tour players and tournament directors grousing about international waivers depleting their fields to the cheating accusations tossed around in the groove debate, golf feels like one big argument this season. You can toss in the numerous debates over what Woods should and shouldn’t do before he returns to golf. Has the game ever been noisier?
Omega Dubai Desert Classic
At 20, Rory McIlroy’s the buzz at Emirates Golf Club, but so is Tom Watson at 60.
McIlroy’s the defending champ. Watson’s coming off that rousing victory in a duel with Fred Couples at the Champions Tour’s Mitsubishi Electric Classic two weeks ago in Hawaii. His brilliant run at the British Open before losing in a playoff to Stewart Cink at Turnberry last summer adds to anticipation of his first appearance in the event. Watson’s 12th in the latest U.S. Ryder Cup standings. His next PGA Tour start will be the Masters in April.
Stance: Lee Westwood got off to a sluggish start in his 2010 debut at Abu Dhabi, but he rebounded with a third-place finish at Qatar last week. At No. 4 in the world rankings, Westwood is the highest ranked international player in the world, though that doesn’t necessarily make him the best. Padraig Harrington’s three majors give him that honor. After winning the Dubai World Championship and Race to Dubai last fall, Westwood will be looking to make this his big year in the world’s biggest events. He’s already a strong contender for the title nobody covets: best player without a major championship title.
Takeaway: Watch out for Henrik Stenson this week. He’s a member at Emirates Golf Club and won the Dubai Desert Classic in 2007.
Bunker shot: Europe may not have the best young talent in the world, but it sure looks like it. European youth win more than American youth. American devotees will argue that PGA Tour events are tougher to win and the world rankings reward European success too heavily. Given that, here are the facts: Martin Kaymer and Charl Schwartzel are both 25 and they’ve each already won five European Tour titles. Sean O’Hair leads Americans under 30 with three PGA Tour titles. Eight European Tour players under 30 rank among the top 50 in the world. They’ve combined to win 21 European Tour titles. Five Americans under 30 rank among the top 50 in the world. They’ve combined to win nine PGA Tour titles.
And also this week . . .
The Nationwide Tour’s second event of the year is the Moonah Classic, scheduled to begin Thursday at Moonah Links in Fingal in Victoria, Australia. American Robert Gates won the season-opening Michael Hill New Zealand Open in his Nationwide Tour debut. He’s back in this week’s field looking for back-to-back titles.
Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge
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
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
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.
Woods' 2018 schedule coming into focus ... or is it?
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.