Great performances - not dominance - theme of new era

By Ryan LavnerJuly 21, 2014, 8:00 pm

HOYLAKE, England – Players can’t pinpoint the exact moment when golf’s era of dominance ended, and, really, they don’t have to. The point is that it’s over.

For years, Tiger Woods’ superior play stunted the careers of immensely talented players. Now 38, he’s no longer the biggest hitter on the PGA Tour (Bubba Watson), or the best scorer (Sergio Garcia), or the best ball-striker (Adam Scott), or the best putter (Graeme McDowell).

That’s not a knock on Woods, a five-time winner a year ago. That’s simply a statement of how deep the talent pool has become.

Heck, not even Woods himself can ignore the new world order, saying last week, “It gets harder every year, just because the fields get deeper. The margin is so much smaller. It’s only going to continue to be the case.”

And that was before Rory McIlroy’s latest tour de force, the surest sign yet that we’re in the midst of a new era in golf. Unlike the oppressive one that preceded it, this period is defined by a handful of all-or-nothing, go-for-broke studs whose careers will more resemble Phil Mickelson’s occasional brilliance than Woods’ sustained dominance.

Since Woods last won a major, in June 2008, 19 different players have captured one of the Grand Slam events. That’s a stark contrast to the 24 majors pre-Torrey, when Tiger and Phil scooped up nine of the titles – or 38 percent – in that span.

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McIlroy is the only player with a major hat trick over the past six years, which only underscores the point: Any of the top 25 players in the world are capable of putting a stranglehold on a tournament if everything perfectly aligns.

More than ever, there is a sense that the game is cracked wide open, that anyone can win on a given week.

That’s what happened with Bubba Watson, who slipped into his second green jacket with a virtuoso performance. That’s what happened with Martin Kaymer, who raced out to a huge lead at Pinehurst and then stiff-armed the field over the weekend. And that’s what happened again last week with McIlroy, who sealed the Open with a pair of eagles in his last three holes in Round 3.

Three extravagantly talented players. Three big-time victories.

“You never want to discount the possibility of someone coming along and dominating,” Mickelson said, “but nobody has really asserted themselves week-in, week-out the way Tiger did for such a long period of time. We’ll have great performances, like Rory this week and like Kaymer at the U.S. Open, but it’s very hard to do that week-in, week-out the way Tiger did. That’s why it was so impressive what he did.”

Outsized expectations accompanied both Watson and Kaymer in the wake of their second major victories, yet an encore proved difficult. An in-form Watson missed the cut in his next major start at Pinehurst, while a red-hot Kaymer finished 70th at Hoylake.

Those expectations (for the PGA and beyond) are now colossal for McIlroy, who at 25 became the third-youngest player to win the first three legs of the career Grand Slam.

With booming drives and timely putting, McIlroy reminded everyone at Royal Liverpool that his A-game is unmatched. Of course, the challenge – for Bubba, for Martin, for Rory – is sustaining that sublime form over a few months, a season, or a half-decade.

Only Woods – with a career winning percentage north of 25 percent – has been able to master that.

McIlroy briefly fell off after his redemptive 2011 U.S. Open victory. In late 2012, he added three more worldwide titles after the PGA, but then went quiet for a year and a half while dealing with equipment changes, lawsuits and breakups.

Now, as he returns to the spotlight, he finds a crowded landscape with more players who are bigger, faster, stronger, better.

“There are too many good players now,” McDowell said. “It’s so deep. It’s so strong. Everyone is so good. It’s very hard to dominate the way (Woods) did. Someone like Rory or Adam Scott maybe could do it; they’re that good. But so is everyone else, unfortunately.

“That type of dominance, I don’t think we’re going to see that again for a while unless somebody comes out who has perfected the imperfectable. These guys, the best players in the world, they’re playing pretty close to as good as you can play, really.”

Earlier this year McIlroy opined that the game desperately needed a player who could “stamp his authority,” but until this point, no one had taken the significant step forward. Just this year alone Jimmy Walker, Zach Johnson, Justin Rose, Watson and Kaymer have all staked their claim as the game’s hottest player, but their form proved fleeting.

After another eye-opening performance, there is little doubt that McIlroy possesses the most upside, but his yearlong dry spell cost him the No. 1 ranking. Having dropped all the way to 11th at one point, not even two big titles in the past month could propel him back to the top spot.

Golf is a momentum sport, and no one has a bigger head of steam at the moment than McIlroy. As he gushed Sunday night, “I want to be the guy that goes on and wins majors regularly.”

So did the others. In this era, it’s easier said than done.

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.