Star-studded leaderboard will vie for gold

By Rex HoggardAugust 19, 2016, 9:10 pm

RIO DE JANEIRO – Maybe it’s the golf course, with Gil Hanse’s handiwork proving to be the light that draws the game’s best players to the top. Maybe it’s the unique gravity of the event, with golf’s return to the Olympics taking on an importance that somehow transcends the game’s marquee stops.

Whatever the reasons that have brought the game’s best and brightest together for the second consecutive week at the Olympic Golf Course, the result is a prime-time leaderboard all vying for a spot on Saturday’s podium.

The uncertainty that seemed to define golf’s return to the Games for the first time in 112 years (116 years for the women) was whisked away last week when Henrik Stenson, the top-ranked player in the men’s field, was outdueled by Justin Rose on Sunday for the gold medal.

While Matt Kuchar proved the unique benefits of a late rally, closing with a 63 to claim the bronze medal, there doesn’t seem to be much of a chance for a like-minded comeback on Saturday at the women’s finale – at least not as far as the gold medal is concerned.

On cue, the competition, or maybe it was the course, has again produced a cast of leading women befitting an event that has gone from curiosity to compelling championship in a fortnight.

World No. 5 Inbee Park continued to surprise most observers through three rounds, essentially going straight from the DL to a potential date with a gold medal.

The South Korean, who hasn’t played an LPGA event since early June while she nursed a left-thumb injury, pulled away from the field on a blustery day in Rio, carding a 1-under 70 for a two-stroke lead.

Third-round highlights at the Rio Olympics

Olympic golf coverage: Articles, photos and videos

That she leads world No. 1 Lydia Ko only adds to the notion that however you define the game’s return to the Olympic stage there’s no debating the purity of the competition.

“It’s a great scenario,” said Park, who overcame five bogeys on Day 3 after penciling in just a single miscue for her first 36 holes.

While Park may have put one foot on the podium with her play on a day when winds gusted to 35 mph, the supporting cast is a best-case scenario for those who hope for the best but often brace for the worst at events like this.

Ko rallied early on Friday with an outward nine of 29 that included the New Zealander’s first hole-in-one (at No. 8) to move into a tie for second place with America’s Gerina Piller.

“We all know that there is a lot on the line at the end of tomorrow, but I think I've just got to take it on as just another day out there and just focus on the shot I have in front of me, and have a lot of fun,” said Ko, who finished with a day’s best 65. “To be in this position in my first ever Olympics, I think it's cool enough being there. Just focus and have fun.”

Piller had a similarly light-hearted plan for Saturday’s final round, which will begin earlier than anticipated with the field going off the first and 10th tees in threesomes to avoid a unfavorable forecast, to savor the moment, but history suggests it probably won’t be that easy.

“I think I'm just going to accept [the pressure]. I'm going to welcome them into my head,” said Piller, the only player this week to card three rounds in the 60s (69-67-68).

Sounds solid, but then that ignores what’s at stake on Saturday.

On Tuesday when Piller assembled with the rest of Team USA for a news conference she was asked if she’d ever envisioned herself winning a gold medal.

“I'll probably get choked up even saying this, but just standing on the podium and hearing the national anthem, I think that's pretty awesome,” Piller said before fighting back tears.

And that was on Tuesday.

The unique dynamic of golf in the Olympics, where second and third place take on an entirely new meaning, was certainly evident last week for the men and will undoubtedly be a part of Saturday’s dynamic in Rio.

For Park, however, there doesn’t seem to be much room for a consolation prize. After enduring the worst of years with various injuries and just two top-10 finishes, the Olympics are a chance to change her competitive fortunes in a dramatic way.

The seven-time major winner didn’t even know if she’d be healthy enough to play the Games until about a month ago and arrived in Rio with decidedly low expectations.

But after two nearly flawless ball-striking days, she showed familiar grit on Friday as the winds sent players tumbling down the leaderboard. Without her best game, Park rebounded from bogeys at Nos. 12 and 14 with clutch birdies at the 16th and 17th holes to solidify her advantage.

“It was very challenging conditions. I feel like I really struggled out there,” she said. “My putting was really, really good today, six birdies out in those conditions is phenomenal.”

There has been an ongoing debate the last two weeks with players repeatedly asked to compare Olympic golf to the game’s major championships. Most players sidestepped the issue, figuring golf in the Olympics was just different. Park offered no such ambiguity.

“It's definitely a lot more attention than the major championship. I definitely feel a lot more pressure. I've felt it since the first round of this week,” Park said. “I feel exhausted, every day, it feels like every day is a final round of a major championship in the final group.”

Comparing the Olympics to golf’s Grand Slam gatherings has always felt unfair, unwarranted even, but considering how the final round is shaping up for the second consecutive week it’s certainly starting to feel like a major.

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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 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.