Tough Business Picking Major Champs These Days

By Rex HoggardAugust 12, 2010, 4:12 am
2010 PGA Championship

SHEBOYGAN, Wis. – Some call it parity, but the unfiltered truth is that what’s erupted in golf over the last 12 months borders on competitive anarchy.

First, the hard numbers: Five of the past six majors have been won by first-time Grand Slam champions. The trifecta atop the world’s golf marquee (Tiger Woods, Phil Mickelson, Lee Westwood) has combined for just two PGA Tour titles this year and in an ode to recent form the last competitive cards signed by those three added up to 77-78-WD respectively at Firestone.

In short, Nos. 1 (Woods), 2 (Mickelson) and 3 (Westwood) are either on a couch, or should be.

Perhaps not since 1997 when Woods made history with his maiden Masters title have the prognosticators been so utterly powerless in predicting a champion.

Even the experts in the United Kingdom betting houses flirted with the idea that Woods, along with Mickelson, should be an 8-to-1 co-favorite when play gets underway here at Whistling Straits for the 92nd PGA Championship. But then again, Woods played the final 18 at Firestone like an 18-handicap and the line was reset on Woods to a meek 16-to-1 behind Lefty.

Gone are the days when round pegs went into round holes on Sunday. All that seemed to end, at least metaphorically, at this championship last year when little-known Y.E. Yang did the unthinkable and ran down Woods on Sunday at a major.

“The days of no-names getting in contention on Sunday afternoon and backing up, it doesn’t really happen anymore,” Graeme McDowell said.

McDowell should know, he had only one gear at Pebble Beach, stormed past Dustin Johnson and never gave any mind to Ernie Els (No. 6 in the world) on his way to his first major championship.

The what, in practical terms, is simple enough. On Thursday at Whistling Straits 156 players will tee it up and no fewer than 100 have realistic title dreams. The why, however, is a little more cloudy.

Without question Woods no longer holds the mental edge over the field like he used to. He may still be No. 1, but he no longer takes the tee with a 1-up edge based on pure moxie.

Whether all that changed on Nov. 27 or the subsequent chapters is impossible to tell, but what is real among the frat brothers is that Superman no longer seems bulletproof. Not after going eight starts without a victory, the second-longest title drought to start a season. Or after 18 over par at Firestone, a course he’s owned in the past.

“I’ll be honest the feeling in the locker room is slightly different,” Paul Casey said. “Guys feel that this is very much, with the way (Woods) played the past week, this is wide open, and that’s not a feeling that a lot of guys have had before.”

There’s little doubt Woods will rediscover his mojo, but the rank-and-file – more so than those atop the ranking – seem intent on making the most of the lull in the storm.

And Woods is not the only alpha male misfiring when it matters.

Mickelson has had at least a half dozen chances to overtake Woods atop the world ranking with no crown to show for it. Sunday’s unsightly 78 at Firestone may have been the most high-profile miscue, but since his Masters victory Lefty has just three top 10s and has finished T-48, T-46 in his last two starts.

Westwood, on the DL for at least four more weeks with a calf injury, has been the most consistent player on the planet yet has just a single victory this year (St. Jude Classic) and was unable to keep pace with little-known Louis Oosthuizen at the Open Championship.

Even Els has not been as commanding as he was when he won twice earlier this year in Florida.

Yet what the headliners seem to have lost in cache’ those playing from the pack have used that void to fuel a collective confidence boost that has been years in the making.

“A top-50 tennis player in the world takes on Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal, they have absolutely no chance,” McDowell said. “The No. 50 player in the world could beat Tiger Woods or Phil Mickelson or Steve Stricker or Lee Westwood any given day.”

Try 110th. That was Yang’s ranking when he won last year’s PGA. Or 54th, Oosthuizen at St. Andrews, or even McDowell’s relatively lofty spot in the world (36th) when he outlasted all at Pebble Beach.

Picking a winner on the PGA Tour has become hazardous duty, with a Ouija board and tarot cards every bit as helpful as a media guide and performance charts. The days of penciling Woods or Mickelson into an office pool have gone the way of three-shot par 5s and square grooves.

“This could very well be a Shaun Micheel type year,” said one longtime Tour observer on Wednesday at Whistling Straits. “A player that the public might consider a fluke but that we know is a very good player.”

Oh yeah, Micheel. Now he wouldn’t be a bad pick.

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.

Getty Images

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.