#AskLav: Congressional 'too much?' No, Sir Nick

By Ryan LavnerJuly 3, 2014, 1:00 pm

Nick Faldo made a curious remark last weekend at Congressional. 

“It’s too much,” he said during the CBS broadcast as he watched the tournament leader’s score drift closer and closer to even par.

Too much?

The final-round scoring average at the Quicken Loans National was 73.720, nearly 1 ½ strokes higher than during the other three rounds, but players faced a triple whammy of toughness on Sunday: a sun-baked, dried-out course; thick, gnarly rough; and a major-championship venue. Of course scores were going to be higher.

Justin Rose finished at 4-under 280 and won in a playoff. It was the highest winning score in relation to par on the PGA Tour since Patrick Reed – coincidentally, the 54-hole leader at Congressional – won at Doral with a 4-under total.

So far, seven regular-season tournaments (nine, if you include both majors) have featured a winner who was single digits under par. Not surprisingly, many of those events were played on some of the Tour’s best courses – places like Torrey Pines and PGA National, Doral and Innisbrook, Colonial and Congressional. You know, tracks that present championship tests, where players arrive expecting nothing less.

On the other hand, 15 tournaments this season have had a winning score of at least 15 under par. Five of those were more than 20 under. Track meets.

Tough conditions often don’t translate to compelling television – save for those who enjoy schadenfreude – and that may, in fact, have been Faldo’s main gripe. 

But too much? No way.

These occasional grind-fests are a nice change of pace to the week-in, week-out birdie binges that so often come down to which player is putting the best. Congressional demanded strong play throughout the entire bag, especially with the long clubs. Sorry, Sir Nick, but major-caliber tests needn’t be reserved solely for majors. 

Now, the holiday edition of the #AskLav mailbag:

This man’s top 5:

1. Adam Scott

2. Henrik Stenson

3. Rory McIlroy

4. Martin Kaymer

5. Bubba Watson/Matt Kuchar

Look, it’s hard to find fault in what the OWGR has produced at the top of the world order. Scott has won four times since the 2013 Masters and Stenson has six top-7 finishes in his last seven starts. Despite his maddening inconsistency, Rory still belongs at the No. 3 spot. Before his MC at the Irish Open, he hadn’t finished outside the top 25 in a worldwide event since October (!). Kaymer has to be on everyone’s top-5 list based on what he’s done in the past two months, while, for me, it’s a coin flip between Bubba and Kooch for the No. 5 spot. Not listed: Patrick Reed, though it’s undeniable that he can play like a top-5 player, occasionally. 

The record is held by Lorena Ochoa, who earned more than $4.36 million in 2007 – incredibly, that was over $2.5 million more than No. 2 Suzann Pettersen. Don’t remember 2007? That was the year Ochoa won eight times, including the season-ending ADT Championship, a prize worth $1 million. Stacy Lewis has already won three times this season, and she has $1.881 million in earnings with three more majors to play. More than that, though, this is the first year of the Race to the CME Globe, which will award $1 million to the season-long champion. The CME Group Tour Championship will also have a $500,000 first-place prize. Not even halfway to Lorena’s record total, however, Stacy will need to be even more dominant in the second half of the season. Don’t put it past her. 

Well, believe it or not, it does require some research – recent performances, trends, track records, horses for courses, calculated risks for Groups 3 and 4, etc. Other times, it’s one or two hunches per year that really pay off. (After all, how else could Gary Williams justify taking Shawn Stefani last week in Group 4, after he had finished inside the top 40 only once in his last seven events?) After finishing second among Golf Channel experts a year ago, I’m not taking my $1.1 million lead lightly, though. There is a lot of golf left to be played.

It’s worth noting that each of the past four Open champions have played the week before at the Scottish Open, though each with varying degrees of success. Phil Mickelson went back-to-back, of course, but before him Ernie Els finished 32nd, Darren Clarke finished 66th and Louis Oosthuizen missed the cut. Those players would probably tell you that it’s crucial to play there, not just to get in some last-minute reps but also to get used to the time change, the conditions, the weather, the style of golf, everything. To be sure, playing the Scottish Open – this year it’s at Royal Aberdeen – is a far more productive way to spend the week before than playing, say, the John Deere. In recent years, at least, it’s been a winning formula.

Earlier this week on Twitter, I threw out that my pick for the Open was Henrik Stenson. The dude has six top-7s in his last seven starts, and few guys strike it as purely. After sending that tweet, Golf Channel colleague Ryan Burr replied that he was going further “outside the box” … and instead took the No. 10 player in the world, Jordan Spieth. Some sleeper! 

Anyway, here are a few of my guys to keep an eye on: Memorial winner Hideki Matsuyama will be dangerous, because, uh, he just does everything well; Brandt Snedeker has finished T-11 and T-3 in his last two Opens, and he’s finally back to playing the type of golf that we expect (21st or better in each of his last three starts); and, finally, going even deeper thanks to @MajorAlsPicks: Mikko Ilonen, who recently won the Irish Open, captured the British Amateur at Hoylake in 2000 and also finished 16th when the Open was last held there in ’06.  

On a boldness scale? About a 2. The kid – he turns 21 this month – is the 10th-ranked player in the world. Nothing he does surprises me anymore. Whether it will actually happen is another matter entirely. The competition is so much deeper now, and you’re talking about only a five-event window. That said, what excites me about Spieth and the upcoming Open is that he’s always been a terrific links player and a guy who thrives in the wind. He can rely on his creativity and his smarts at a major that doesn’t demand perfection on and around the greens. I’d look for him to force his way into contention at Hoylake, which is good, because he probably needs another in-the-hunt major experience before he’s ready to actually take one home.

As cool as it would be … um … no. His close call in 2009 not only crushed our major spirit but his as well. His final Open next year at St. Andrews will be yet another can’t-miss moment in an arena that has given us so many.

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.