Florida's best events, best courses don't match up

By Rex HoggardMarch 8, 2016, 10:50 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Forget strength of field, purse size, location or even a World Golf Championship pedigree. If players picked which tournaments to play based entirely on the quality of a golf course, the fields during the PGA Tour’s Florida swing would look vastly different.

It may not be “Super Tuesday,” but the results from an unscientific poll of players on Tuesday at the Valspar Championship regarding the best track on the Florida swing may prove a surprise.

Asked to rank the PGA Tour's five Florida stops based on the courses themselves, this week’s stop just outside Tampa edged TPC Sawgrass, home of The Players in May, for the top spot.

In order, based on player polling (five points given for a first-place vote, four for second, three for third, etc.), Innisbrook was No. 1, followed by TPC Sawgrass, PGA National (Honda Classic), Bay Hill (Arnold Palmer Invitational) and, finally, Doral (WGC-Cadillac Championship).

In fairness to all five Florida stops, if a player is in this week’s field at Innisbrook, he clearly has an affinity for the course. That, and Tour types tend to make decisions about where to play based on all manner of reasons, which is the definition of partisan politics.

“The list of champions [at Innisbrook] has been pretty strong,” smiled Kevin Streelman, the 2013 Valspar Championship winner, before adding, “It’s one I played every single year. I enjoy staying here, and I like coming to Tampa.”

But Innisbrook’s popularity seems to go well beyond the normal reasons on which players base their schedules.

“It would be hard to find a course that is a better design than this on the PGA Tour,” Trevor Immelman said. “Great par 3s. The only real funky hole is the sixth. To me, that’s the only funky hole out here, and all the other ones are pretty damn strong.”

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Ryan Palmer, who added this week’s stop to his schedule in an 11th-hour attempt to secure his spot in the WGC-Dell Match Play, made a more personal argument for Innisbrook’s lofty spot in the Sunshine State lineup.

“This one is an iron-play golf course and you have to drive it well. It rewards ball-striking,” said Palmer, who annually ranks among the Tour’s top ball-strikers.

His perspective is one indicator of what factors into a player’s definition of a good golf course.

Conversely, what doesn’t seem to influence players at all is the degree of difficulty.

Of the five Florida courses, PGA National ranked as the toughest last year - it was the fourth toughest overall on Tour in 2015 - and yet received a healthy share of support in player polling.

“PGA National is the hardest just because every shot is disaster waiting to happen,” Immelman said.

“There’s water on both sides and out of bounds, bunkers. A lot of times what I found playing that course was you play away from the trouble and then you’re in the [5-to-6-inch] rough and you make bogey anyway. You might as well just aim it down the water line and give it a rip. And you throw in 15-20 mph winds it gets very tricky.”

That difficulty is seen by other players as an attribute.

“PGA National is definitely the best,” Palmer said. “It’s hard and fair. There’s nothing tricky about it. It’s right in front of you. If you hit your irons well all week you’re going to play well.”

That philosophy also explains TPC Sawgrass’ status as Florida’s second-best Tour layout.

Although the Stadium Course has been something of an acquired taste for some throughout its history, there is an appreciation for the layout’s demanding nuances.

There’s also something to be said for the eclectic list of champions TPC Sawgrass has produced, a group that includes Fred Funk, Tiger Woods and Tim Clark.

“The No. 1 thing when rating golf courses is whether there have been a lot of different players winning,” Chris Stroud said. “That’s normally the best golf course. So Sawgrass is going to be up there because every type of player has won there.”

Even Streelman, who has missed the cut four times in seven starts at The Players, conceded the home of the Tour’s flagship event is among his favorite stops.

“Obviously, I love Innisbrook, but I love Sawgrass as well, so I’d give those 1-A and 1-B,” Streelman said.

As for Doral, it's slice of prime South Florida real estate does little to influence players’ view of the Blue Monster.

In fact, one player – who asked not to be identified for fear he would be fined for being critical of a Tour course – hadn’t played PGA National and declined to vote on its place in the Florida lineup, but smiled, “Doral is still fifth.”

That presents an entirely different question: If a World Golf Championship were played at Innisbrook instead of Doral, what would the field look like?

“WGC here? Best field in golf,” Stroud said.

It’s always that way in politics, you can’t have polling without a little lobbying on the side.

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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.