Putting is key at Augusta National

By Rex HoggardApril 8, 2013, 10:20 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – If the U.S. Open is a survival test, the British Open a question of attrition and the PGA Championship “Glory’s Last Shot,” the Masters is, by every measure, the putting contest.

You may remember Bubba Watson’s twisting save from the forest right of the 10th fairway in the playoff last year, or maybe Tiger Woods’ tectonic chip-in on the 16th hole in 2005, but it is putting that ultimately decides who walks away on Sunday with a green jacket.

No one ever credits their ball-striking or driving in their acceptance speech. Putting one’s self in the right position helps, but inevitably the winner will have made, if not the most putts, the most crucial putts.

Just two players in the last decade of Masters champions have ranked outside the top 16 in putting for the week (Watson in 2012, T-37, and Phil Mickelson in 2004, T-23), and victories like Charl Schwartzel’s in 2011 – when he one-putted his last four greens – are textbook examples of what it takes to win at Augusta National.

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The Golf Fix: How to putt at Augusta National

Like everything else at Augusta National – cell phones, running, Dufnering – there are hard-and-fast rules when it comes to putting at the former fruit nursery. In simplest terms, anything from above the hole is roadkill territory, but that doesn’t help when every green features a diabolical collection of humps and bumps.

“Almost every hole there’s putts that you don’t want,” said Steve Stricker, one of the game’s best putters whose pedestrian record at the Masters (one top 10 and five missed cuts in 12 starts) is one of the game’s great mysteries. “Like on No. 1, they are going to have a pin up there on the front left over the bunker there somewhere and if you hit it long, it’s a very difficult putt.”

For some, like Stricker, putting at Augusta National is akin to a prevent defense. Forget birdie chances, just give yourself a chance to two-putt, which in some ways makes the year’s first major a lag-putting championship.

“It’s all about putting it in the right spot on the greens to give yourself a putt where you can two-putt and get out of there,” Stricker said.

Urban legend would suggest that anything downhill should be avoided, like putts form the back of the eighth green, for example, that stop only when they drop into the hole or the nearest bunker – whichever comes first. But veterans will tell you that ease is a function of familiarity, not pace.

Consider Dave Stockton Sr., a 12-time Masters participant who has evolved into the game’s preeminent putting guru, who will tell you Augusta National is not the most difficult place to putt, just the most exacting.

“The greens are fairly easy to read; the hardest courses to putt on are flat courses like in Florida,” said Stockton, who finished tied for second at the 1974 Masters. “Putting here is great because you don’t have to worry about speed. They are all going to be fast.”

Stockton ranked any putt on the par-4 fifth green the most difficult on the course and added that anything from behind the pin at No. 4 should be avoided.

It doesn’t help that officials at Augusta National have made a hobby out of tinkering with the venerable club’s putting surfaces. Consider it the club’s version of “Where’s Waldo,” with players annually trying to figure out where the needle in the stack of needles is hidden.

This year the handiwork focused on the 440-yard, par-4 14th.

“You honestly wouldn't even notice it, if you had not had years of knowing that green,” said Phil Mickelson, who made a pre-Masters scouting trip to Augusta National last month.

“That little low section to the left, behind it, there's a backstop now whereas before, it would take the ball directly to the right behind the hole 12 feet. Now, it's pitched a little bit more back where it will bring it back to the hole.”

Ben Crenshaw, a renowned architect who has been playing the Masters since 1972, has become a student of Augusta National and its ever-evolving greens.

“It’s amazing how right they get it every year and fascinating to watch,” Crenshaw said moments after his practice round on Monday with 14-year-old amateur Tianlang Guan, who is playing his first Masters.

Guan arranged the practice round so he could pick Crenshaw’s brain on the subtle nuances of the course. And what did they spend their day talking about?

“The greens, of course,” Crenshaw smiled.

What else at the game’s ultimate putting contest?

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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.