Ko coping with increased scrutiny in victory or defeat

By Randall MellFebruary 20, 2016, 7:04 pm

Lydia Ko’s back in the crosshairs again.

That’s what life is like when you’re the Rolex world No. 1 and you put yourself in position to win almost every week. Ko moved into position yet again Saturday at the ISPS Handa Women’s Australian Open, climbing one shot off the lead going into the final round.

If Ko wins, it’s another big story. It would be her second victory in a row and her fifth in her last 10 worldwide starts.

If she doesn’t win, it’s a big story, too.

That’s the growing challenge for Ko going into Sunday’s final round at The Grange Golf Club in South Australia. That’s how things are changing the more successful she becomes. That’s the burden of expectation the great ones carry.

At 18 years old, Ko is carrying that burden a lot earlier than anyone has ever carried it.

There’s more success when you’re on top of the mountain, but there’s a lot more failure, too.

Huh? How’s that?

Yes, relatively speaking, there’s more failure the better you become in professional golf, because so many more of the shots Ko hits are scrutinized by galleries, TV viewers and analysts than shots hit by her peers. It’s the nature of the beast when you’re No. 1 or near the top of so many leaderboards.

Every player misses shots, but when you’re Ko, Inbee Park or Stacy Lewis, people see a lot more of your misses. There is a tiny death in a big miss for those players, especially in misses that lead to the ultimate failure, the failure to win.

When you’ve proven yourself as gifted as Ko, good shots are expected, winning is expected.

That’s why bad shots are like tiny deaths. They’re subject to rigorous post-mortem analyses, to video being rewound to examine how every wayward swing went wrong.

So when you’re Ko, Park and Lewis, if you’re not careful, you can see a lot of folks carrying scalpels, ready to cut and dissect.

Of course, it’s a lot worse in the men’s game because the interest is even more intense. That’s also the added challenge for Jordan Spieth and Rory McIlroy and the best of the best today. Jack Nicklaus and Arnold Palmer didn’t get that in the same way, not that they wouldn’t have handled it as brilliantly as they did everything else. There just wasn’t the same intense scrutiny, not as much media and no unrelenting waves of blogs and tweets.

Sean Foley, Tiger Woods’ former coach, observed this phenomenon at its most intense.

Foley nailed it when he said we subject Woods to “daily referendums.” Nobody has faced the kind of scrutiny Woods does. Obviously, with Ko, it’s nowhere near the same intensity, but it’s still becoming something of a weekly referendum.

While LPGA pros don’t get the same valued TV time slots the men get, or the same audiences, they’re playing more live TV events than they’ve ever played before.

This is Ko’s third start this year, and she has given herself a chance to win going into the final round of all three. Two weeks ago, Ko took a share of the 54-hole lead into her first LPGA start of the year at the Coates Golf Championship and uncharacteristically collapsed with three consecutive bogeys and then a double bogey in the middle of her round. Ultimately, she rallied to tie for third.

Last weekend, Ko successfully defended her title winning the New Zealand Women’s Open, but with no other player in the field among the top 70 in the world, there was some dismissiveness over the fact that she only won by two shots and some concern that her ball striking’s not quite right.

You know you’re reaching rarified air when even your victories aren’t good enough.

So that leads to Sunday in Australia, where a victory will make Ko’s weekly referendum favorable and anything less will make it unfavorable, possibly even troubling if there’s another Coates-like stumble. You think that’s overstated? Ask Yani Tseng how the No. 1 ranking skewed everything for her.

Ko got herself into contention Saturday in Australia with a fast start, making four consecutive birdies to being her round. She shot 68 despite hitting just four fairways. Karrie Webb hit all 14 fairways. That’s something to keep an eye in the weekly referendum, because one of Ko’s stated goals starting this year was that she wanted to hit more fairways.

Swing coach David Leadbetter feels the scrutiny, too, even with all the success the two have enjoyed over the last two years. He knew what it would be like when he and his assistant, Sean Hogan, signed up with Ko.

“In the beginning, to be honest, we were a little reluctant to take her on, because it was a case of you are damned if you do and damned if you don’t,” Leadbetter told GolfChannel.com at the end of last year. “If she played well, she was supposed to play well. If she played badly, well, then it’s `You guys screwed up.’

“I went through that with Nick Faldo. It was `Who the hell are you to mess up our golden boy?’ It’s always a bit of a risk, but you have to take a little bit of risk in life sometimes.”

For such a tender age, Ko handles these burdens of expectation with remarkable grace. She seems to get that unreasonable expectations are just that. They’re unreasonable. They aren’t worth fretting over.

While expectations can create resentment, Ko shows no signs of feeling that way. She deflects them with the skill of an Aikido master.

“To see some of the headlines, you kind of don’t know what to think about it,” Ko said when her game was slightly off early last year. “I try not to think about it, because at the end of the day, we’re all trying to play our best out here. That’s all we can do.”

The “referendum” nature of evaluating top players today may seem unfair, but it’s actually part of the game’s appeal. The more intense the scrutiny of a player’s game, the more intense the interest is in a player. That’s a good thing for the game, better for the game when a popular player learns to cope.

Ko’s coping skills seem as highly advanced as her golf skills.

That’s good for her, and it’s good for the game.

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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.