Garcia finally at peace with himself, Augusta?

By Ryan LavnerApril 7, 2017, 10:59 pm

AUGUSTA, Ga. – Who IS this guy?

It can’t possibly be the same Sergio Garcia who once said that he doesn’t have what it takes to win a major.

Who once suggested that he was playing against more than the field.

Who once criticized Augusta National – a place where Sarazen and Nelson and Snead and Hogan and Nicklaus and Palmer and Woods all have won – as unfair and “too much of a guessing game.”

Yes, this sure looks like Sergio – the playful demeanor, the fist pumps and the heat-seeking missiles coming off his clubface – but it definitely doesn’t sound like him. Now one of golf’s most tortured characters is openly talking about accepting bad breaks. About trying to be more positive. Even about winning major titles.

“Things are happening at the moment,” he said.

Garcia has been coming to Augusta for 19 years now, but never has he played like this.

With wind gusts topping 30 mph, he went bogey-free over the first 21 holes to stay in touch with Charley Hoffman, who sprinted out to the lead with an opening 65. Garcia trailed by seven, but he ran off three birdies in a row to start his second round. By the 10th hole, he led outright.

Of course, it wouldn’t be a Sergio round without some drama, and there was plenty of it Friday – a live-scoring error, a lipped-out bunker shot (his best ever!), a striped 3-iron over a creek to set up a two-putt birdie, and two stuffed short irons to close. At 4-under 140, he is tied for the halfway lead with Hoffman, Rickie Fowler and Thomas Pieters.

“He just played well,” Lee Westwood said. “Had his ball under control.”

Now, the pessimist would view Garcia’s rise to the top of the leaderboard as another chance for the Spaniard to get his heart broken Sunday – on what would have been Seve Ballesteros’ 60th birthday, no less.

In this Masters field, only Westwood (75) has more major starts without a victory than Garcia (73).

In the sport’s history, only Ed Dudley (24) has more major top-10s without a victory than Garcia (22).

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Simply put, a major title of any kind would be historically resilient. That it no longer consumes him is a clear sign of his growth.

“I feel so fortunate that I’ve been able to be healthy, that I’ve been able to play so many majors in a row and giving myself a lot of chances to win them,” Garcia said. “That for me is already a win, and if we can put the cherry on top, that would be even better.”

A cherry on top? Who is this guy?

Now 37, Garcia is coming into his own, and at Augusta National, of all places. It was two years after his painful loss at the 2007 Open – when he lamented his ongoing war with the golf gods – that he first took out his frustrations on the home of the Masters. Reinforcing his petulant reputation, he whined: “I don’t think it’s fair. It’s too tricky.”

Three years later, with his major drought growing ever longer, Garcia waved the white flag at Augusta, confessing that he wasn’t good enough to win one of golf’s most important titles. “In 13 years I’ve come to the conclusion that I need to play for second or third place,” he said then.

Reminded of those immature comments Friday, Garcia said: “It’s the kind of golf course you have to get to know a little bit. Make peace with it a little bit.”

Part of that process was accepting that good shots here aren’t always rewarded – that an approach can land next to the hole but drift 40 feet away. A younger Sergio would have railed against the course. Blamed someone else. Now, he tries to see the big picture, to absorb the bad breaks, to remind himself of the good memories and move on.

To grow up.

How did he arrive at this point? To hear Garcia, it was some occasional tough love from those closest to him, including his fiancée, Angela Akins. They are set to marry in July.

“I’m trying to change a little bit on that aspect, on accepting things,” he said. “I still have to get so much better at it. But what that shows me is that I have a lot of room for improvement, so that is something very positive.”

The physical aspects have never been a question with Garcia. He remains one of the game’s preeminent ball-strikers, even if his putting (currently ranked 193rd) occasionally abandons him.

“He’s always been a good player,” said Westwood, who has competed against Garcia for nearly two decades. “I haven’t seen him change much. His game looks the same as it did when he was a 19-year-old. Admittedly, he doesn’t run around and bounce up and down quite as much. Probably an age thing.”

But with age comes wisdom. And perspective. And balance.

And, perhaps most of all, the confidence to end all of that insecurity.

“I probably didn’t accept things as well as I should have,” he said. “But I’ve shown myself many times that I can contend and I can truly feel like I can win not only one, but more than one [major].”

Maybe he gets it done Sunday. Maybe he doesn’t.

For the first time, he sounds ready.

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 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.