Golf's best try to tame Stadium Course

By Rex HoggardMay 9, 2012, 7:27 pm

PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. – Since The Players Championship broke camp in 2007 and bolted for the drier climes of May, the tournament has, by almost all accounts, identified the week’s best player, if not the biggest names on the marquee.

“That's what it looks like, yeah, over the years,” Tiger Woods said when asked if TPC Sawgrass identifies the best player. “You just can't fake it on this golf course. That's the biggest thing that we've learned over the years. You have to just play well, period.”

Yet as the stars aligned on the eve of this year’s championship, the opportunity for something special has emerged. Last week at Quail Hollow, Rickie Fowler delivered on all that potential, beating Rory McIlroy – and D.A. Points – in a head-to-head bout many had long predicted.

Phil Mickelson, a winner earlier this year at Pebble Beach, came within an unfortunate ricochet of another green jacket at last month’s Masters. Meanwhile, Hunter Mahan, the PGA Tour’s only two-time winner this season, is making a pitch for top-American honors and Lee Westwood, who was 10 under par on the weekend at Quail Hollow, may be hitting the ball better than anyone else in golf.

Tee times: Round 1 of The Players Championship

Photos: Wednesday at The Players

Whether the assembled stars break the string of relatively mundane Players’ finales, however, is still something of a long shot considering the event’s recent history.

Simply put, for an event that began with Jack Nicklaus winning three out of the first five editions The Players has fallen into a bit of rut, particularly since the event’s move to May.

Mickelson won the first May Players, followed by Sergio Garcia, Henrik Stenson, Tim Clark and K.J. Choi. If you’re trying to find a degree or two of separation between that fivesome you may be looking for a while. They are as different and diverse as Pete Dye’s Stadium.

But if that eclectic group included the right champions, with the exception of Mickelson and perhaps Garcia, they weren’t exactly the type of winners commensurate with what we expect from the “fifth major.”

Clark hadn’t won before his Players breakthrough in 2010 and Stenson hasn’t come close to winning since, while Choi – who beat David Toms in a playoff – may have the proper pedigree but doesn’t exactly have the star potential to transcend the golf wires.

On Tuesday at TPC Sawgrass Woods offered a familiar lament against the Stadium Course, suggesting that the layout’s penultimate hole may be playing out of order: “Seventeen is a great hole, but not the 17th. It’s a perfect eighth hole or something like that.”

But if the island-green 17th is mislabeled, that still doesn’t explain why The Players has had good champions, but precious few great finishes. Missing from the proceedings has been a true, TPC title bout with the game’s biggest names trading blows and birdies down the stretch.

Playoffs in 2011 and 2008 were lively, but there have still been surprisingly few instant classics, particularly when compared with TPC’s stablemates on the Tour calendar.

Some tournaments enjoy an embarrassment of riches in this category. Bay Hill, thanks largely to Woods, is something of a category leader, as is Quail Hollow – which has given us Rory vs. the world in 2010, Lucas Glover vs. Jonathan Byrd in 2011, and Rickie vs. Rory this year.

Sawgrass has been good, but not great – which, not so ironically, would also be Woods’ line at the swamp-turned-stadium course.

Since his victory in 2001 Woods has one top-10 finish, three finishes outside the top 20 and consecutive WDs at TPC Sawgrass. Following pedestrian starts at the Masters – where he tied for 40th, his worse showing at Augusta National as a professional – and Quail Hollow, where he missed the cut for just the eighth time as a pro, he sounded like a guy who just wanted to remain upright for four days.

“It's either I've done really well or I haven't,” said Woods, who was headed home early nursing various injuries the last two years at The Players. “Either I've been right there in contention with a chance or I haven't. I think that's the nature of this golf course, though.”

But then Woods is hardly the only star with a love/hate relationship with TPC Sawgrass. With a shortened backswing courtesy of Butch Harmon Mickelson won the event in 2007, but in 18 Players’ starts he has just three top-10s.

“It’s pretty straightforward. I mean, the course hasn't changed over the years,” Mickelson said. “Tee shots, getting it in the right spot, you want to hit to certain spots. So it's not just stand up and hit it as far as you can, that's why there’s a lot of 3-woods and 5-woods off the tee. . . . Even though I have won, my record is not what I would have liked.”

It’s a strategic reality that may at least partially explain The Players’ often quiet finishes. Because of the angles on many fairways the Stadium Course is, however inadvertently, an answer to the bomb-and-gouge mentality that dominates the game at the highest level.

TPC Sawgrass ranked 13th on Tour last year in driving distance and one needs to look no further than Clark in 2010 and last year’s runner-up Toms to see what plays at The Players. The Stadium is the rarest of Tour courses where precision trumps power.

Even world No. 1 McIlory, who skipped the 2011 Players in what he calls a momentary lapse in reason, acknowledged the Stadium’s quirky nature, replacing his 5-wood with a 2-iron this week.

“Hitting 3-woods on some of these holes, it still goes a little too far even though you're hitting across fairways,” said McIlroy, who hasn’t made a cut in two Players starts. “Sacrificing some distance for me, it makes the targets a little bigger, and I don't mind going into a green with a 7-iron instead of a 9-iron. If you're hitting your second shots from the fairway here, it makes it a lot easier.”

The Players move to May from its traditional date in March has added to this less-is-more mentality. Drier conditions, combined with dramatic improvements in drainage and a state-of-the-art SubAir system, have created more “run out” on virtually all shots and effectively narrowed fairways and shrunk greens.

The Tour didn’t set out to mitigate the power advantage held by many of the game’s stars, but as unintended consequences go it is not entirely regrettable.

TPC Sawgrass hasn’t exactly produced the type of leaderboards befitting the “fifth major” since the jump to May, but given the recent form of McIlroy, Mickelson and Fowler’s breakthrough at Quail Hollow the stars may finally be aligned to make that jump from good to great.

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.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.