Turning back the clock: Ai Miyazato leads ANA Inspiration

By Randall MellMarch 31, 2016, 11:29 pm

RANCHO MIRAGE, Calif. – Ai Miyazato buried a 12-foot birdie putt at the 18th to close out her round Thursday at the ANA Inspiration and for a moment it felt like the clocks in the Coachella Valley rolled back.

With Miyazato’s name atop that giant wooden scoreboard at Mission Hills’ Country Club’s Dinah Shore Course, it felt like 2010 again.

With a 5-under-par 67, Miyazato walked off the course as the sole leader in the year’s first major championship.

It wasn’t all that long ago that Miyazato’s name was practically a fixture atop LPGA leaderboards.

She won five times in 2010 and rose to No. 1 in the Rolex World Rankings.

Of course, the clocks didn’t roll back. Miyazato isn’t 24 years old anymore. It’s hard to believe, but she’s 30 now. She isn’t No. 1 anymore, either. In fact, before her third-place finish at the Kia Classic last week, she wasn’t among the top 100 in the world. She was No. 157.

Coming off the 18th green Thursday, walking the bridge over Poppy’s Pond, Miyazato showed us all something that hasn’t changed. Her smile. It still lights up a gallery the way it always did.

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With a round of five birdies and no bogeys, Miyazato was the early story at Mission Hills from the morning wave, but she wasn’t about to get ahead of herself thinking about how her still legion of fans would like to see her name atop the leaderboard at week’s end. She wasn’t thinking about winning her first LPGA title in almost four years.

“I'm definitely happy to see my name on the board,” Miyazato said. “But it's just the first day, and there’s a long way to go ... So, I just want to keep it going. I’m just going to say to myself, `Just be patient, just have fun.”’

From back at their Vision54 base at Talking Stick Golf Club in Scottsdale, Ariz., Pia Nilsson and Lynn Marriott cheered Miyazato’s patient approach. They’ve been working with Miyazato since she joined the LPGA as a Japanese sensation 10 years ago.

“Ai’s had such incredible patience for such a long time,” Nilsson said.

Miyazato has needed it working through challenges to her game in her long slide away from No. 1. There have been injuries and struggles to stay motivated, and there have been surprising putting woes, the loss of the magic that once made her the best putter in the women’s game.

What happened?

“It kind of became one thing after another,” Marriott said. “And as we’ve seen with so many No. 1s, where they’ve reached that goal, there’s the motivation you need to keep going. She had to re-evaluate. She had to figure that out.”

The putting’s coming back for Miyazato. Back at the Founders Cup in Phoenix two weeks ago, where Miyazato missed the cut, Marriott and Nilsson helped correct something. Marriott noticed the ball skipping off Miyazato’s putter face.

“Ai likes to use that forward press, so Lynn asked her to check the loft on her putter,” Nilsson did.

Miyazato did, and she added 2 degrees of loft to her putter, taking her up to 4 degrees to compensate for the forward press. Miyazato finished third at the Kia Classic after making the change, recording her first top-10 finish in an LPGA event since 2013, when she tied for sixth at the Lotte Championship.

Marriott and Nilsson are happy to hear Miyazato focusing on patience, because they believed at year’s start that her game and mindset were back in a good place. They didn’t want to see Miyazato get frustrated with her sluggish start and then her missed cut in Phoenix.

“We said there’s nothing wrong with your game,” Marriott said. “You’re on a plateau. You’re doing all the right things. Just hang in there.”

Even in her struggles, Miyazato remains a superstar in Japan, where she doesn’t play that often. When she does, though, she’s still the largest draw in women’s golf.

“It’s amazing how much she’s adored and looked up to,” Nilsson said.

As much as all Miyazato’s fans would love to see her ascend back to the top of the game, Miyazato says she doesn’t think about that as much as she does trying to win again. She has won nine LPGA titles but is still seeking her first major.

“I know how hard it is to be No. 1 in the world, because I've experienced it before,” Miyazato said. “That's actually not my goal anymore, because I’ve been there before. But still I want to win. That's my motivation, especially this week. It has been my dream since I was a kid. So that, I think, pushes me so much.”

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.

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.