Mid-season grades: Sergio, DJ, Tiger and more

By Rex HoggardApril 19, 2017, 5:06 pm

The major championship season may have just gotten underway and the calendar is still littered with several decisive events, but this week’s Valero Texas Open, the 24th of 47 events, is the official turn of the 2016-17 PGA Tour season and time for the annual mid-term update.

España, A+. On what would have been the 60th birthday for Seve Ballesteros, Sergio Garcia ended almost two decades of major misfortune with his playoff victory over Justin Rose at the Masters.

As if that wasn’t enough to earn Spain high marks, Garcia has been joined on the world stage by fellow Spaniard and first-year Tour player Jon Rahm.

Rahm won in just his fifth start as a Tour member at the Farmers Insurance Open, and dropped close decisions to Dustin Johnson at the WGC-Mexico Championship and WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. The most-recent Spanish Armada has arrived.

Justin Thomas, A. JT’s repeat performance in this year’s #SB2K17 trip to the Bahamas is certainly a reason to celebrate, but it’s Thomas’ play that’s truly impressed this season.

Before this season Thomas was better known as Jordan Spieth’s buddy, but the 23-year-old proved to be so much more with three victories in his first five starts of the season, including a clean sweep of the Hawaii swing.

Although Thomas has cooled since his torrid start, he has emerged in 2017 as a bona fide world-beater.

Jay Monahan, A-. Officially, Monahan took over as commissioner of the Tour in January, but he’d been handling the day-to-day operations for some time and almost immediately settled in to the corner office in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla.

Dubbed by many as a forward-thinking and dynamic leader, Monahan has shown his progressive side, like the introduction of next week’s team event in New Orleans, and he has been clear that he’s looking to dramatically rearrange the schedule in order to end the season on Labor Day.

That’s not to say there isn’t room for improvement. Two World Golf Championships in four weeks earlier this spring impacted fields from Innisbrook to Bay Hill, and continued scheduling conflicts with the European Tour need to be addressed. But those ongoing concerns aside, Monahan’s first 100 days have been impressive.

Rules of Golf, B+. This may not be a popular take given the ongoing rules snafus (see Thompson, Lexi 2017 ANA Inspiration), but the USGA and R&A have actually had a relatively good year.

Earlier this spring, golf’s rule makers unveiled a sweeping list of proposed changes and initiated a six-month feedback period. Among the proposed “modernizations,” are relaxed rules regarding penalty areas and putting greens and a focus on pace of play.

“We embraced these things because people said to heck with the rules,” said Mike Davis, the USGA’s executive director and CEO. “What this has done is gotten people thinking about the rules, and that’s a good thing.”

Golf still has plenty of room to grow on the rules front, but the proposed changes are a good start and by all accounts the current discussion is just the beginning of a fundamental overhaul.

Dustin Johnson, B+. This might seem a tad nitpicky, but the standard for DJ has escalated in recent years.

Johnson won three consecutive starts heading into the Masters, overtook Jason Day at No. 1 in the world and began the week at Augusta National as the easy favorite only to be sent to the disabled list when he injured his back on the eve of the first round.

He’s scheduled to return to the Tour in two weeks at the Wells Fargo Championship, but the real test for Johnson will come at the U.S. Open in June and at the remaining majors.

Tiger Woods, C. Let’s call this grading on a scale. Woods’ grand return ended after just 54 substandard holes and he missed the Masters for the second consecutive year, but there’s no denying the effort.

Maybe his schedule to begin the season was too aggressive, with back-to-back starts in San Diego and Dubai, but the frustration among Woods’ fans has only grown in recent weeks and this current setback appears to be more concerning than simply back spasms.

“I have good days and bad days,” Woods said on Tuesday at Big Cedar Lodge. “I’ve had three back operations, and that’s the nature of the business unfortunately. That’s all I can say.”

Notah Begay III suggested two weeks ago that Woods could return in time for the U.S. Open, which seems overly optimistic given his most-recent update. But right now optimism may be all Tiger has.

Speed control, D. In the annual review of driving distances published by the USGA and R&A in February those charged with keeping tabs on such gains noted that there has been a “slight uptick” in how far current professionals are hitting the golf ball.

Using data collected from five world tours, “between 2003 and the end of the 2016 season, average driving distance has increased by approximately 1.2 percent, around 0.2 yards per year.”

Statistical debates are about as much fun as an Uber driver with personal space issues, but it’s worth noting that there are currently 31 players on the PGA Tour who are averaging over 300 yards off the tee, compared to the ’03 season when there were just nine players averaging over 300 yards.

Whether these distance gains are a real problem is an entirely different conversation and statistically driving averages seemed to have ebbed, but there is no ignoring the fact that long-hitters are now the norm, not the exception.

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.

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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.