Tiger, Lefty, Rory produce lofty Masters expectations

By Rex HoggardApril 4, 2012, 5:34 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – The storm late Tuesday that felled trees and swamped bunkers across Augusta National was either prologue or postmortem for the week to come.

Pyrotechnics have become a Masters specialty with last year’s frantic final nine holes the undisputed category leader. The final two hours of last year’s tournament included an eclectic mix of eight different players who held at least a share of the lead, a monumental collapse, an historic finish and more pine-rattling roars than one should honestly expect, even at the year’s first major.

So the question remains, can the venerable layout produce another “instant classic,” as club chairman Billy Payne called the 2011 finale, or will Tuesday’s storm be the week’s most spectacular show?

Given recent history safe money is on Augusta National’s side.

Even last year’s champion, the previously little known Charl Schwartzel, made magic from mayhem, opening with a 100-foot chip-in at the first hole that many players have said is the hardest shot on the course, and closing with four consecutive birdies for a two-stroke victory.

Conventional wisdom would suggest the sequel is never as compelling as the original, but then Augusta National is adept at exceeding expectations and the cosmic tumblers certainly seem to be falling in the Masters’ favor.

For the first time in recent history there are three legitimate favorites heading into Thursday’s opening lap.

Four-time champion Tiger Woods tops most lists, fresh off his first victory in 30 months at last month’s Arnold Palmer Invitational – a five-stroke, ball-striking masterpiece reminiscent of his pre-2009 ways.

The last two years at Augusta National Woods has gutted out fourth-place finishes on a “one-dimensional swing” and a litany of personal issues and nagging injuries. But those days seemed like ancient history when he spoke with the media on Tuesday and compared his current game to the world-beater swing he ruled golf with in 2000.

“I understand how to play the golf course,” said Woods, who is playing in his 18th Masters. “I’ve spent half my life playing here.’

But if style points go to experience then Phil Mickelson may be the more compelling pick.

If the “significant changes” to the layout in 2002 did in fact “Tiger proof” the golf course, then it’s not a reach to contend that they may have also made the Georgia gem “Phil friendly.”

Since the changes, and the addition of more than 400 yards, Lefty – who is playing in his 20th Masters – has won all three of his green jackets and has finished outside the top 10 just twice. That Mickelson won earlier this season at Pebble Beach paired with Woods on Sunday only fuels the possibilities.

The two have been paired together on a Sunday before at Augusta National, most recently in 2009 when Woods tied for sixth and Mickelson was fifth, but they’ve always been on the fringe of contention, never mano a mano when it mattered.

“(Tiger) has obviously been playing well and to have won heading in gives him a lot of confidence,” Mickelson said of a potential Sunday showdown. “Sucks for us, but . . .”

Yet if a Tiger vs. Phil marquee is atop the wish list, Tiger vs. Rory is a close undercard.

Woods and McIlroy have been on a collision course ever since the 2010 Ryder Cup when the Ulsterman boldly figured that he liked his chances against the slumping star.

McIlroy further added to this week’s subtext when he set out for last year’s final round with a four-stroke lead, made the turn 1 up on the field and proceeded to hit his tee shot at No. 10 where no man, and certainly no champion, had ever gone.

Asked on Tuesday if he’d spent much time thinking about his wayward tee shot at the par-4 10th hole, which hit a pine tree and ricocheted back between two cabins barely 50 yards off the tee, McIlroy shyly admitted he’d revisited the episode during an earlier scouting trip to Augusta National and has moved on.

“I glanced over as I walked down the fairway,” he laughed. “I can’t believe how close the cabins are. They are only 50 yards off the tee. Look, it’s great to be able to laugh about it now.”

More importantly for Augusta National officials it’s great to consider the possibilities.

It wasn’t that long ago that some wondered if the club had circumvented the back-nine buzz that has defined this tournament. In consecutive years (2008 and 2007) cold, windy conditions on Sunday combined with few birdies to produce relatively pedestrian finishes. But that changed in 2009 with the tournament’s first three-man playoff since 1987 and Mickelson put on a show in '10 for his third victory followed by last year’s fireworks that finally ended the debate.

More so than any other venue in golf these finishes are as contrived as a true competition can be. Sunday’s traditional hole locations are cut into valleys that feed golf balls to birdie range and state-of-the-art drainage and new technology mitigate whatever curveball Mother Nature can hurl.

In short, no other golf course in the world changes as much as Augusta National from Wednesday to Thursday.

“Only golf courses that have true SubAir (drainage systems) can deal with rain like that,” Woods said. “You can play practice rounds however you want. You can play a hundred practice rounds, but Wednesday to Thursday it’s just a totally different golf course.”

In professional sports things rarely go to script, and no amount of technology or timely performances can guarantee a great finish. At Augusta National, however, the improbable has become strangely possible. If history holds, Tuesday’s storm will likely turn out to be the opening act for another Sunday show.

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.

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.

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Lexi (wrist) WDs from Diamond Resorts Invitational

By Golf Channel DigitalDecember 15, 2017, 11:27 pm

Lexi Thompson on Friday withdrew from the Diamond Resorts Invitational, citing inflammation in her wrist. Thompson, who teamed with Tony Finau to finish tied for fourth place in last week's QBE Shootout, said she is under strict doctor's order not to hit golf balls until mid-January.

The Diamond Resorts Invitational is scheduled Jan. 12-14 at Tranquilo Golf Club in Orlando, Fla. The field for te 54-hole event includes LPGA and PGA Tour Champions players, as well as celebrities from the worlds or sports and entertainment.