WD's - and Twitter - have Van Zyl on cusp of Olympics

By Rex HoggardApril 27, 2016, 3:41 pm

“Yes, I am. I’m definitely playing. It’s a great honor and great privilege to represent your country in the Olympics,” laughed Jaco Van Zyl.

Reached Tuesday afternoon at his home in South Africa, the 37-year-old was still processing how his world had changed in the last 10 hours, but he certainly understood why he needed to be asked if he planned to play this year’s Olympics.

Van Zyl is likely headed to Brazil to represent South Africa at this year’s Games, an option he had never even considered before the eventful last few days.

“I really didn’t think I would [qualify for the Olympics],” Van Zyl admitted. “I was third on the [alternate] list, even if one player withdraws or doesn’t make it, the other two would go, right?”

Van Zyl’s unexpected Olympic climb began last Thursday when Louis Oosthuizen, who was a lock to represent South Africa at this year’s Games, announced he would not be making the trip to Rio later this year.

“I have always represented South Africa with pride so I didn’t make my decision without a great deal of thought,” Oosthuizen said in a statement.

On Monday, Charl Schwartzel, who would have replaced Oosthuizen in the Games, followed his fellow South African’s lead to the Olympic sidelines, citing a “tight schedule” this year.

The South African exodus left Branden Grace, who is 11th in the Official World Golf Ranking, and Van Zyl, at least that’s what his girlfriend told him early Tuesday.

“My girlfriend saw it on Twitter,” he laughed. “It shows you that social media has become more powerful than the regular media.”

Olympic golf news and rankings

At 59th in the world ranking Van Zyl will need to continue his solid play to secure his spot on the South African team – and at 85th in the world George Coetzee could certainly make things interesting – but just the idea of competing in Rio had created a mild state of shock for Van Zyl.

“I had no hope, to be honest,” said Van Zyl when asked if he’d considered the possibility of playing in the Olympics before Tuesday. “I had kind of been lingering around the last couple of years and after the start of this season where I managed to get into the top 50 in the world it had become an outside possibility.”

You see for Van Zyl this goes well beyond the rarest of chances to compete for medals, beyond an opportunity to play golf at the highest levels, beyond even his desire to play a game he loves for a living.

Two years ago this month as he lay in a recovery room following double knee surgery to replace both of his anterior cruciate ligaments, a procedure that involved removing ligaments from his hands for use in his knees, he came to terms with the fact that his golf career may be over.

Van Zyl didn’t hit a golf ball for almost a year, and when he did return to play in the WGC-HSBC Champions event in China his comeback was quickly cut short when he, “snapped a screw in my left knee,” he said.

That setback took another surgery and as his mind wandered during the recovery process he reached a personal and professional epiphany.

“The whole year I reflected on what life is really about and how fortunate you are to do what we do for a living. It’s a great privilege,” said Van Zyl, who added that he lost more than 40 pounds during his recovery. “It’s really made a difference.”

Whether it was his new perspective or his weight loss, 2015 turned out to be his best year on the European Tour with three top-3 finishes.

His breakthrough came earlier this year when he won the Eye of Africa PGA Championship and moved into the top 50 in the world ranking (No. 49) to secure a spot in the WGC-Dell Match Play.

Still, even with his improved fortunes on the course he never imagined there would be an Olympic bid afoot. Coming from a country with an embarrassment of golf riches he’s always been in the relative shadows of players like Oosthuizen, Schwartzel, Els and Grace.

He represented South Africa once in the Commonwealth Games, but that was years ago during his amateur days, and he’s never been anywhere close to Rio.

“But I’ve watched the animated movie,” he laughed before quickly adding, “I really do think it’s for the greater good and the chance to represent my country is really special.”

Oosthuizen and Schwartzel’s decision to skip the Games has drawn plenty of criticism. Selwyn Nathan, the executive director of the South Africa-based Sunshine Tour, said the duo would “regret” not playing, and South African icon Gary Player didn’t hide his disappointment in a statement: “I would have given anything to play in the Olympics. South Africa had a great team, but now obviously, it will not be as good. Players withdrawing hurt the game of golf.”

Van Zyl, however, was more understanding when asked about his fellow countryman’s decisions to skip the Olympics.

 “I’m sure they’ve got their reasons,” Van Zyl said. “It’s a long process to go through to get there, they are both family people and from what I understand it’s basically an athletes’ camp for the week. And I’m sure that had a big impact.”

Of course, Van Zyl’s is not exactly an unbiased voice in the debate, because if Twitter and his girlfriend are correct, he’s going to the Olympics.

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.

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.