Chaplet earns Masters berth with gutsy LAAC win

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 17, 2016, 11:26 pm

LA ROMANA, Dominican Republic – With a memorable performance this week at the Latin America Amateur Championship, Paul Chaplet hoped to persuade a few more college coaches to take a leap of faith, to extend the 832nd-ranked amateur in the world a scholarship to play in the U.S.

Prior to this week, only four coaches had sent the 16-year-old senior-to-be an offer.

There should be plenty more now.

With gut-check pars on three of the last four holes, Chaplet emerged from the Teeth of the Dog’s brutal closing stretch with his lead intact, his 2-under 70 in windy conditions good enough for a dramatic one-shot victory Sunday over Venezuela’s Jorge Garcia.

When Garcia’s 10-footer to tie missed low, Chaplet wrapped his arms around fellow Costa Rican Alvaro E. Ortiz, his 47-year-old mentor and frequent championship nemesis.

“I’m so proud,” Ortiz whispered into his ear.

Around and around they spun in the clubhouse, their eyes welling with tears, until a tournament official stepped in and ushered them back toward the 18th green. After spotting countryman Jose Mendez and fill-in caddie Andres Russi near the manual scoreboard, the normally reserved Chaplet took off on a dead sprint. During the group hug he was doused with a bottle of Cool Heaven water – fitting, for this title sent Chaplet to the 80th Masters, as well as the final stage of qualifying at both the U.S. Open and Open Championship. He’ll be the first Costa Rican to play at Augusta National, and, at 16 years, 8 months and 29 days, the second-youngest participant in history.

“A child’s dream, really,” he said afterward.

Starting the final round four shots behind Gaston Bertinotti of Argentina, Chaplet ripped off three birdies in his first eight holes to pass the leaders. His most important shot was his third at the par-5 14th, the last gettable hole at the Teeth of the Dog. Long and left of the green, he played his chip shot perfectly, bumping his ball into the bank and winding up with a tap-in birdie to regain the outright lead.

Of course, this was the same position he enjoyed a day earlier, only he imploded coming home: A 4-iron into the water on 15 led to a triple; a snap hook off the tee on 17 that could (and probably should) have led to a score worse than bogey; and a gutsy 8-footer for par on the last just to salvage an under-par total.

Yet Chaplet’s only mistake Sunday came on the par-3 16th, which was playing into a brutal hook wind, with the Caribbean Sea to the right and bunkers all down the left side. His tee shot rode the wind and landed in the back bunker, leaving a particularly daunting shot, given the stakes: With just a one-shot cushion, he needed to clear another bunker but stay short of the water that loomed over the back. Deciding to limit the damage, he smartly splashed out short of the green, then did well to two-putt for bogey. Routine pars on the last two holes set a 3-under target.

Tied for the lead in the 17th fairway, Garcia, a freshman at Florida with a sparkling amateur record, was in between clubs and pushed his 8-iron into the greenside bunker. Unable to get up and down for par, he needed to hole a last-gasp 10-footer for birdie on 18 to force a playoff, but he opened the blade and shoved it right, a familiar refrain during the final day. About 100 yards away, the celebration was already underway in the clubhouse.

“There’s no way I could have lost this tournament putting just OK,” Garcia said.

He wasn’t the only contender who left paradise frustrated.

George Trujillo climbed within a shot of the lead, only to play the last three holes in 3 over.

Alejandro Tosti, the runner-up from a year ago who was back in the final group, shot 74 and didn’t factor on the back nine.

Nicolas Echavarria, the 36-hole leader, posted a second consecutive 77, which included a back-nine 42 Sunday.

Yet none of that compared to the travails of Bertinotti, the overnight leader. Unable to sleep Saturday night, he went for a walk at 2 a.m. to clear his head. He finally fell asleep at 3 and conked out until 8:30, when he was finally stirred by a text from his national coach:

Where are you?

Bertinotti had overslept for his 9:28 tee time, and he rushed to the range for an abbreviated warm-up session. Perhaps not surprisingly, he went out in 40 and carded a final-round 77, ultimately tying for sixth.

“I don’t think it had anything to do with it,” he said of his hurried start. “It was a tough day for everybody. Others just did a better job of controlling themselves than I did.”

That it was Chaplet who emerged victorious might have been the biggest surprise.

Of the 4.6 million people in Costa Rica, only an estimated 3,500 are golfers. There are 11 courses, though fortuitously, Chaplet’s home club, Valle del Sol, is only a 10-minute drive from his family’s home.  

He started to play only six years ago, so he could keep up with his mother and sister. The hook was set early. Oftentimes, he would wake at 6 a.m. to practice with his friends, then go to school and play again until dark. Sleepovers usually included eight or nine kids from the Costa Rican Golf Federation, because they wanted to eat, sleep and play golf together.

“They are a small community,” said Rodrigo Cordero, the vice president of the federation.  

Success has been slow and steady, and most of Chaplet’s titles have come when he handed Ortiz a loss in the stroke- and match-play championships in Costa Rica. Over the past few years, Ortiz has been instrumental in Chaplet’s development, showing him how to travel, teaching him how to handle pressure and adversity, offering tips on equipment and fitness.

“It’s really nice,” Ortiz said, “when it all works out how you plan and think about for what you’d like to see in the future.”

Chaplet’s future has never seemed so promising.

Despite a few high finishes in the States – a U.S. Kids Championship in the 15-18 age division, a seventh-place showing at the Junior Worlds, a few spot starts on the AJGA – Chaplet has been lightly recruited by college golf coaches.

Chaplet said that four schools have extended offers so far, but Minnesota’s assistant coach, Justin Smith, was here all week, in the school’s bright yellow polo, cheering on fellow Costa Rican Mendez and keeping tabs on Chaplet.

“The phone is going to be ringing, the emails are going to be coming,” Ortiz said. “It’s going to be overwhelming, and he’s going to need to organize himself and analyze what’s coming up.”

Most imminent, of course, is the Masters, a tournament that – showing his age here – he said he first watched four years ago, in 2012, when Bubba Watson won his first green jacket.

In his winner’s news conference, Chaplet was asked who would be on his bag that week.

“I think my caddie is sitting right here somewhere,” he said with a smile, pointing at Russi, his childhood friend who had agreed to loop for the final round here because he knew Chaplet’s game so well.

Expectations for the Masters will be low, but that’s to be expected after a performance that changed everything and surprised many, even those who know his game best.

“I came into this tournament knowing I had a chance if I played my best golf, and this just proves to me that I can,” Chaplet said. “That’s really all that matters.”

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Cabreras win PNC Father/Son Challenge

By Associated PressDecember 17, 2017, 11:36 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. - Angel Cabrera and Angel Cabrera Jr. closed with a 12-under 60 for a three-shot victory in their debut at the PNC Father/Son Challenge.

The Cabreras opened with a 59 at The Ritz-Carlton Golf Club and were challenged briefly by the defending champions, David Duval and Nick Karavites, in the scramble format Sunday. The Argentines went out in 30, and they had a two-shot lead with Cabrera's son came within an inch of chipping in for eagle on the final hole.

They finished at 25-under 199 for a three-shot victory over Duval and Karavites, and Bernhard Langer and Jason Langer. The Langer team won in 2014.

Mark O'Meara and Shaun O'Meara tied for fourth at 21 under with Jerry Pate and Wesley Pate.

Cabrera wasn't even in the field until two-time U.S. Open champion Curtis Strange and his son, Tom Strange, had to withdraw.

Duval and his stepson went out in 28, but the Cabreras regained control by starting the back nine with back-to-back birdies, and then making birdies on the 13th, 14th and 16th. The final birdie allowed them to tie the tournament scoring record.

''This is certain my best week of the year,'' said Cabrera, the 2009 Masters champion and 2007 U.S. Open champion at Oakmont. ''To play alongside all the legends ... as well as playing alongside my son, has been the greatest week of the year.''

The popular event is for players who have won a major championship or The Players Championship. It is a scramble format both days.

In some cases, the major champions lean on the power of their sons for the distance. O'Meara said Saturday that his ''little man'' hit it 58 yards by him on the 18th. And on Sunday, Stewart Cink said son Reagan told him after outdriving him on the opening four holes, ''In this tournament I may be your son, but right now I'm your Daddy!''

Jack Nicklaus played with his grandson, G.T. They closed with a 64 and tied for 15th in the field of 20 teams.

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.