Open coming down to Mickelson, Stenson

By Rex HoggardJuly 16, 2016, 7:48 pm

TROON, Scotland – At the risk of offending the other 79 players remaining at Royal Troon, Sunday’s finale will be a two-man act.

Sure, Phil Mickelson can always have, well ... a Phil moment; and Henrik Stenson remains a quirky Swede desperately looking to crack the major ceiling for the first time.

It’s always dicey making the early call, particularly at a major where a single gust of wind off the Firth of Clyde can ruin one’s day, but this 145th Open has become a two-ball. The other 79 will make the rounds on Sunday, but barring a Van de Velde-like meltdown Mickelson and Stenson will have the run of the place.

Rory McIlroy knew it. “Henrik and Phil are sort of playing their own tournament right now,” the Northern Irishman said following a 73 on Sunday that left him a dozen strokes adrift of the lead.

Jordan Spieth even conceded he plans to use Sunday’s final turn as a tuneup for the PGA Championship in two weeks.

“I’ll try to take momentum tomorrow, but understanding that we're going to be working towards the PGA now,” said Spieth, who was 17 shots back when a blustery day drew to a close.

Even Stenson, who got the best of Lefty on Day 3 with a 68 to grab a one-stroke lead over Mickelson, allowed what everyone else with an internet connection and a passing interest sensed.

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“As of now you’d think it’s a battle between Phil and myself,” said Stenson, who briefly took the lead early on the front nine on Saturday and pulled away for good with a birdie at the 17th hole and finished at 12 under par.

In fact, it seems the only person who wasn’t willing to buy into the notion of a two-man show was Mickelson.

Asked if he considered Sunday’s final pairing a match-play setting, Mickelson was concise, “No, not at all.”

But then the southpaw has been here before. Literally he’s been here, at Royal Troon, in a similar position only to watch the engraver etch Todd Hamilton’s name into the claret jug.

Mickelson began the final round in 2004 along the Ayrshire coast two strokes off the lead and finished one shot out of a playoff between Hamilton and Ernie Els.

This week, after two days of “easy” golf, the game’s most eclectic left-hander endured a game that, at least early in his round, was downright hard.

Mickelson said his rhythm abandoned him early in Round 3, the byproduct of a helping wind on the outward loop and a closer’s desire to put the competition away as quickly as possible.

“I was a little bit jumpy and my rhythm wasn't very good today,” Mickelson said. “Today could have been a day that got away from me, instead I shot under par and kept myself right in it heading into tomorrow's final round, so I'm proud of that.”

By the time he reached the turn, however, Lefty rediscovered his touch for a 1-under 70 to assure a late afternoon pairing with Stenson at 11 under par.

Although Phil was reluctant to allow himself the luxury of a mano-y-mano match with Stenson, the bright yellow leaderboard told a different story.

No one is closer to the two leading men than five strokes (Bill Haas), and the only players with any real experience on a major Sunday are Sergio Garcia (2 under) and Dustin Johnson (1 under).

That’s not to say Sunday’s matinee will be devoid of the kind of give and take that makes major championships so compelling, at least if Saturday’s bout was any indication.

Mickelson pulled two strokes clear of Stenson with a 30-footer for birdie at the 13th hole, rattling off fist pumps like he was at his beloved San Diego Chargers’ season opener.

But within a 40-minute window there were a pair of dramatic two-stroke exchanges, first at the 14th when Mickelson three-putted, missing a 3-footer for par, and Stenson rolled in a 10-foot birdie putt; followed by another at the 17th when the Swede converted from 20 feet for birdie and Lefty posted his second bogey of the day.

“On 14 without making birdie you don't know how it's going to finish up, but the one on 17 certainly put me in front and gave me that little edge going into tomorrow,” Stenson said. “I've always been of the thought that it's better to be one ahead than one behind, because that means Phil's got to play better than I do tomorrow.”

On paper, another Open title for Mickelson would do little to further Lefty’s legacy other than to spike the sale of binder clips as makeshift hat fasteners, but on second brush the context of the accomplishment would be remarkable.

At 46, Mickelson would be about a month younger than Jack Nicklaus when he won the 1986 Masters to set the standard for timeless accomplishment in golf.

It’s been three years, exactly, since Lefty last won on the PGA Tour and he’d drifted so far from his normal form that Jay Haas had to make him a captain’s pick for last year’s Presidents Cup.

But then age is a relative ideal in golf today and 40-something champions are not exactly unheard of in the modern game.

“I'm 25 pounds lighter, I'm in better shape, I'm physically stronger than I was. I feel better and I'm playing well, now that my swing is back on plane,” he said. “I'm starting to hit some shots like I did 10 years ago and starting to play some of my best golf again.”

Whether it would hold the same historical significance as Jack in ’86 is a debate for another day. What isn’t up for debate with 18 holes remaining at Royal Troon is that this is now officially a two-man race. 

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 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.