Thinking man's open

By Rex HoggardJuly 12, 2011, 4:57 pm

SANDWICH, England – Early Tuesday Rickie Fowler glared down Royal St. George’s 14th fairway, bracing against the type of storm that would rate a name and a possible evacuation warning in the United States, before launching his hybrid tee shot high into the cold, swirling air that left him just a 5-iron into the par 5.

It was a perfect metaphor for St. George’s. A day earlier, the young American had gone the driver-3-iron route to the same spot. Welcome to Royal Dust Bowl, site of this week’s Open Championship and the cure to all the equipment woes that some say plague the game.

If the powers that be want to tell how far the play-for-pay set hits the golf ball they should consider a standing game at St. George’s, topped off by a three-month bake job from Mother Nature to golden yellow perfection.

For weeks the southeast coast of England has been mired in drought leaving the seaside layout brown and at its bouncy best and many of the game’s biggest bombers wondering why they paid the extra baggage freight to even fly their drivers to the United Kingdom.

We’ve seen this show before, back in 2006 at Royal Liverpool when Tiger Woods whipped the world’s best bunting a niblick about the place. At Hoylake, Woods hit just a single driver and, more importantly, just one fairway bunker.

'As I was playing the golf course, I would hit a couple of drives, and the driver would go 350, 370 yards. How can you control that out here? You can't control that,” Woods said that hot summer Sunday in ’06. “The fairways are hard enough to hit as it is, and you add driver and they go that far, now how hard is it to hit?”

St. George’s is shaping up to be the sequel, the only question is who figures it out fast enough. For the game’s bombers it’s a difficult, if not impossible, learning curve. Before heading to the United Kingdom Gary Woodland, among the longest of the freakishly long, was giddy to see how far he could hit his 2-iron, but he may not be liking the answer.

Simply put, the modern game of high and long doesn’t play well when the rolling pitch is parched and the wind gale-like. In a scene from bizzaro world, Woodland watched playing partner Justin Leonard outdrive him on Tuesday at the par-4 fourth hole . . . Justin Leonard.

“I don’t think this golf course is about length at all,” Graeme McDowell said. “We’ve talked about the fact that there’s not rough on this golf course, I don’t think it needs rough.

“Take the par 3s out and I would say 10 of the 14 tee shots most guys will be playing from the same area. I don’t think there are too many holes where you can take on a bit more. The bunkers are such that you have to play to certain areas off the tee.”

Call it extreme target golf, or maybe the great equalizer. Either way it is an anomaly of the grand slam game that at least partially explains some of St. George’s quirky champions.

Ben Curtis’ out-of-nowhere victory in 2003 is the most-often cited example of St. George’s unique challenges. In ’03 Curtis hit just 32 of 56 fairways, a pedestrian performance by any measure, yet finished 11th in the field in driving accuracy. It’s also worth noting that Curtis ranked 119th in driving distance on the PGA Tour that year.

Conversely, Woods was 48 for 56 in hitting fairways in 2006 at Royal Liverpool, the last time the Open was played on a brown patch and considered by some to be his greatest major triumph, along with the 2000 U.S. Open, from a tactical standpoint.

The oddsmakers may like the high-ball, long-hitting likes of Rory McIlroy or Dustin Johnson this week, but the odds are against them unless they drastically change the way they play the game.

“With this wind you’re going to have to keep the ball low,” McIlroy said. “But sometimes it’s hard to run the ball into these greens because they’re so undulating and they can go so many different ways. You’re going to really need a very strong ball flight.”

Note to ShotLink: any chance you eggheads can work up a “strong ball flight” statistic for this week?

Strangely, it won’t be Fairways Hit – a relatively meaningless stat at St. George’s where good drives often end up in bad places – so much as bunkers avoided that will add up to red numbers, or more likely something in the low black figures if the wind presists.

“You throw the yardage book out, you throw straight technique out, it’s about shaping shots,” said Peter Kostis, an analyst for CBS Sports and swing coach for Paul Casey. “Everyone is playing to the same spot, unless you’re very stupid. You can’t control the bounces, but you can control the percentages.”

It is a Thinking Man’s Open, not the steady diet of smash-and-grab outings that often dot the grand slam calendar, and the winner will probably surprise you. They always do.

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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.