WGC scheduling putting squeeze on Palmer field

By Rex HoggardMarch 8, 2017, 7:16 pm

Henrik Stenson announced this week he won’t play the WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play. He’s not a fan of the format, and the word around the PGA Tour is he won’t be the last to pass on golf’s version of March Madness.

“I was not that keen on the round robin,” the Swede said on Tuesday at the Valspar Championship. “To me, match play is do-or-die. Either I win or I lose. I kind of like that format.”

The move to pool play at the World Golf Championship was supposed to ease concerns about the one-and-done nature of the event, but – like many things in life – it’s not sitting well with some among the rank and file.

But then this isn’t about just a single event. Stenson’s issue with the round-robin format aside, the bigger problem is a schedule that’s become haphazard and disconnected.

This week’s field at the Valspar Championship is an example of what happens when players have to make tough choices. The field at Innisbrook took a bit of a hit because of a cut-and-paste schedule that bisected the Florida swing with the World Golf Championship’s move from Doral to Mexico City last week.

The Valspar field includes two top-10 players and five from the top 20; compared to three from the top 10 and six from the top 20 last year. It’s a subtle difference, based entirely on Jordan Spieth's decision to take the week off, but for an event wedged between a WGC and the Arnold Palmer Invitational even the smallest shift can be significant.

It’s even more surprising, however, that the field at Bay Hill next week may not be as deep as one would think following the passing of Palmer last September, with numerous high-profile players currently on the fence.

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Now that’s madness.

But it’s also what happens when players are forced into a corner.

Consider the plight of Spieth. He won the Valspar Championship in 2015 and has played the event every year since turning pro, but isn’t playing this week or at Bay Hill. Before we start the second-guessing, consider that Spieth will play the Match Play in Austin, Texas, where he went to college, the Shell Houston Open and the Masters. That’s four events, counting last week’s WGC, in six weeks.

Something has to give.

It’s a similar story for many players who will likely miss next week’s Arnold Palmer Invitational. Although the deadline to commit is Friday evening, there have been various reports that world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, Adam Scott and Justin Thomas are currently not committed to play the API.

“Look, every player is different and makes their schedule to play their best golf. You can’t play every event,” said Graeme McDowell, one of four players who will serve as host for this year’s Arnold Palmer Invitational.

McDowell’s role as “host” has largely focused on recruiting players to Bay Hill, but he understands as well as anyone the competing issues when making a schedule.

For Scott, it’s a change of course he made this year to play the week before every major with an eye toward swinging his competitive fortunes at the game’s most important events.

There will be plenty of handwringing in the next few weeks over decisions like these, but this isn’t a player issue as much as it is a planning problem.

Having a pair of WGCs within a four-week window will always create field imbalances and collateral damage. Factor in the unique demands of preparing for the year’s first major and you have a situation that’s going to lead to unpopular choices – like players skipping WGCs or other iconic stops.

Sliding the WGC-Mexico Championship to the end of the West Coast swing would help. Officials last week in Mexico said that would be their first option for the event and it would add a week between WGCs to help alleviate some of the scheduling concerns and return the historic flow to the Florida swing.

But that does little to address the broader scheduling questions, particularly if The Players, the Tour’s marquee event, returns to its old date in March, which is an option that’s being considered by the Tour.

Having the Match Play so close to the Masters is already an issue for some players. Trying to shoehorn the game’s “fifth major” into the neighborhood without a dramatic overhaul will only make things worse.

Stenson is one of the Tour’s most forthright players, and his issue with the Match Play format is certainly valid, but if the event were played, say, in February during a time of year when top players have a little more flexibility with their schedules would the Swede have made the same decision?

It’ll be the players who’ll be scrutinized over the next few weeks for their schedules, but it’s the planners who need to step up and do something about it.

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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.