Missing Players

By Rex HoggardMay 5, 2011, 1:24 am

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – From the back of the room one could almost see PGA Tour chief of operations Andy Pazder lean into the answer. Almost, but then Pazder is too cool for that.

Besides, Pazder has heard Rory McIlroy answer all manner of Player Championship questions, but this one stood out. Maybe it’s because golf’s “fifth major” looms next week, or perhaps it’s because the golf gods are transforming what is often referred to as the strongest field in golf into, well, something south of that.

Whatever the reason, when the Northern Irish lad spoke of TPC Sawgrass all of Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., was listening.

“This year I'm playing here, taking next week (Players week) off, and then playing Spain, Wentworth, Memorial, week off, U.S. Open,” McIlroy said on Tuesday at Quail Hollow. “I mean, if I played The Players it would be my sixth week of seven, which is a lot of golf for me.”

Rory McIlroy
Rory McIlroy is 0-for-2 in cuts made at The Players. (Getty Images)

That McIlroy regards TPC Sawgrass with all the affinity of a trip through a TSA line is also at play.

“I don't feel that comfortable on the golf course yet,” said McIlroy, who is 0-for-2 in cuts made at the Stadium Course, a statistic that either explains or exaggerates his decision to skip this year’s event depending on what side of the aisle one sits.

McIlroy’s miss, however justifiable, is hardly isolated. In order The Players could be void of the world’s top ranked, the game’s top draw and last year’s top dog.

Like McIlroy, current world No. 1 Lee Westwood is out. As 2010 members who let their cards lapse, the European two-ball are limited to 10 Tour starts this season and The Players, an 11th-hour move by the circuit to woo Westwood and McIlroy to TPC that failed.

The politics of a global game aside, McIlroy and Westwood based their decisions not to travel to north Florida next week based on what’s best for their games, a competitive litmus test that should be applied more often if truth be told.

But that reality won’t make next week’s tee sheet any stronger.

The tournament may also be missing Tiger Woods, who by all accounts is back home at Isleworth nursing an ailing knee and Achilles and hadn’t hit golf balls since Augusta National as of last Tuesday. Not that Woods needs much of a reason to pass on the 2-hour drive north to TPC Sawgrass.

Woods hasn’t won the Tour’s flagship event in a decade, has just one top-10 since that 2001 victory and withdrew last year with a bad neck. They don’t hold majors on TPC courses and Woods knows that.

This is the same man who played the 2008 U.S. Open against doctor’s orders but doesn’t seem to have the same machismo when it comes to next week’s Players. It wasn’t Jack Nicklaus’ three Players’ tilts hanging on the wall back home in California.

The last Players domino seemed to begin its tumble on Monday when defending champion Tim Clark withdrew from the Wells Fargo Championship.

Clark, slowed this season by an elbow injury, is hardly a marquee stopper, nor can the Ponte Vedra Beach powers control who ends up on the DL, but it doesn’t help a tournament already embattled by circumstance and serious injury.

The European rise in the world ranking and The Players’ field troubles are not mutually exclusive. Simply put, players from the Continent are conditioned to think of the Players as a regular Tour event with a slightly hipper rap. It’s a truth complicated by the expanding importance of the World Golf Championships.

Asked on Tuesday whether he would rather win The Players Championship or a WGC, world No. 2 Martin Kaymer didn’t hesitate: “The World Golf Championships, and preferably the one at Firestone because it's a fantastic golf course and a beautiful place. Yeah, obviously to play well at the others would be nice, but I think I would prefer the World Golf Championship event.”

Chubby Chandler, the president of International Sports Management which represents Westwood and McIlroy, once referred to The Players as the “10th major” for players from the Continent, and if Kaymer’s math is any indication, Chandler has it about right.

There will be a worthy champion crowned next Sunday at TPC Sawgrass, a sprawling crowd amassed around the famed 17th hole and a solid field with an estimated seven of the top 10 players in the world – by comparison this week’s Wells Fargo Championship features five of the top 10 – just not three or four of the most important names in golf. And maybe three out of four isn’t bad.

But the vacancies in the Sawgrass players’ lot will echo what many have figured for years, it will not be the media or the Tour or even the fans that will decide if The Players is ever anointed true “fifth major” status – it will be the players. Given the current climate, the frat brothers have not reached a consensus just yet.

Follow Rex Hoggard on Twitter @RexHoggardGC

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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.