Lining Up at the Gates

By Rich LernerApril 10, 2002, 4:00 pm
AUGUSTA, Ga. -- Much has changed since Tiger shot 22-under over the final 63 holes in 1997.
 
Woods has added probably 25 pounds to his defensive backs frame, while Augusta Nationals bulked up by 285 yards.
 
And yet some essentials remain the same.
 
Hes going to be the guy to beat, said Phil Mickelson, referring to the man hes yet to defeat in a major.
 
Woods got the attention of the committee here with his onslaught on the record books five years ago. The result is what most feel is a seamless makeover to an historic venue. The clocks basically been turned back so that players are hitting the same clubs into greens that they did a decade ago before new age golf balls married titanium.
 
I think theyve done a tremendous job with it, remarked Greg Norman.
 
Woods offered a slightly different slant on the changes, saying, I dont think they were as necessary right now, but I understand where they are coming from. The guys are getting longer and they dont want to see the winning score being 16- or 18-under. They would much rather see it in single digits. They dont want to see us hitting wedges to a lot of these par-4s where they used to hit 5-irons and 6-irons and 7-irons.
 
Nine tees were stretched to add yardage, bunkers were enlarged and some fairway landing areas were regraded.
 
We just got tired of seeing players hit pitching wedge to so many of our par-4s, said Augusta National Golf Club Chairman Hootie Johnson.
 
Power is a very big issue on this course, added a man who would know, Jack Nicklaus. I think theyve eliminated part of the field.
 
Johnson disagrees with Jack. Paul Azinger and Rocco Mediate played the course last week, recalled Johnson. Theyre medium hitters and they agreed that theyd rather be hitting 6-iron where the big hitters may be hitting 8-iron as opposed to on the previous shorter layout hitting 8-iron while the power guys hit wedges.
 
Bottom line is that Augusta Nationals a much more complete test. Length and accuracy will help, and as always putting on these slick and undulating surfaces will be critical.
 
There are other changes, notably expanded television coverage for Sundays final round. For the first time ever, youll see the leaders from start to finish.
 
One of those who expects a late tee time on Sunday is Phil Mickelson. On the subject of his aggressive play, Mickelsons earned the right to do it his way. But reality is that hes trailing Tiger in the category that matters most in this sport, major championships. Phils down 6-0. If he goes down 7-0 but is comfortable with how it played out, so be it.
 
David Duvals been runner-up twice here in the last four years and seems to be healthy and positive.
 
Ernie Els game is well suited to this layout, and hes rested and ready. His last major victory, the 1997 U.S. Open, came at the outset of the Tiger era. This is the second phase of Ernies career, and hes as hungry as ever to validate his place in the game.
 
His countryman, Retief Goosen, has quietly risen to the No. 4 slot in the world rankings, one notch below Els. Goosens syrupy swing, deft putting touch and unflappable demeanor stamp him as a contender not just this week, but for years to come. A victory here will mean that the best South African player in the game will for the first time in years not be named Els.
 
Sergio Garcias growing in confidence, bordering on brashness, and thats not necessarily a bad thing. He drives the ball superbly and can heat up on the greens. The third generation of hot-running Spaniards is primed to continue his countrys proud tradition of five green jackets.
 
Of course, Jose Maria Olazabal could well win his third and no one would be surprised, so good is he around the greens. His drivers improved, and that makes him very dangerous.
 
John Daly is the peoples favorite. In an era of pre-packaged tour pros who can at times be a bit bland and predictable, Johns an open book. In an era of scientific swings concocted in Leadbetters labs, Dalys inimitable move is home-brewed. John Dalys straight out of NASCAR in a world of leather-appointed Mercedes Benzes. The question with John is, can he remain patient for 72 holes, and as well will his slightly balky putter be an issue. If he does surface on Sunday afternoon, rest assured youll see the highest ratings in tournament history.
 
Alas, Tiger remains the prohibitive favorite. And in that regard, not much has really changed here.

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.