McIlroy a marked man in uncharted territory

By Ryan LavnerSeptember 26, 2012, 4:23 pm

MEDINAH, Ill. – At this Ryder Cup, Rory McIlroy is many things to many people.

Allegiances here vary, of course, but depending on your rooting interest he is either one of a dozen world-class European players or a “marked man,” the world’s best player or the guy whom Tiger can beat, the potential savior at Medinah or a potential antihero.

In a sport in which we’ve recently learned there is no such thing as intimidation, can a 23-year-old, floppy-haired, freckled, 5-foot-9-inch, 165-pound, affable Northern Irishman truly evoke such a nasty connotation?  

Well, it seems unlikely. Sergio Garcia and Ian Poulter already play those leading antagonistic roles, and do so well. (Especially Poulter, who on Wednesday said that he was intrigued by how “you can be great mates with somebody, but boy, do you want to kill them in Ryder Cup.” Fire up the hype machine.)

So McIlroy is no villain. What he remains, though, is the player the U.S. team – and its full-throated fans – most want to defeat. Jim Furyk described him as a “marked man,” a quote that was headline-worthy, sure, but not in the least bit inflammatory. Of course Rory is a marked man – this season he has won four times, including a major by eight strokes, and put the top of the world rankings in a full nelson.

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“It’s part of being ranked No. 1,” Tiger Woods said. “It’s part of winning major championships. You’re always going to want to try and take out their best player, and that’s just part of the deal. That’s a fun challenge. I certainly have relished it over the years, and I’m sure he’s going to relish it this week.”

Eight of the questions in McIlroy’s Wednesday news conference dealt with either expectation or being targeted. Sorry to disappoint, but golf isn’t like other sports – Rory can’t be double-teamed in the post, he can’t be blitzed on every down, he can’t be intentionally walked.

Yet theories abound as to how to best deal with McIlroy, as if he’s the five-tool player poised for a breakout game. Casual fans, of course, prefer a spectacle: Rory-Tiger, final match, cup on the line. Colin Montgomerie, the victorious European Ryder Cup captain in 2010, wrote in a European newspaper that the Euros would be wise to keep Rory away from Tiger at all costs, lest the wunderkind loses and the team’s confidence wanes.

Because of the blind draw in the Ryder Cup, though, it’s unlikely a player can be singled out or targeted, anyway. (Davis Love: “I’m not aiming at guys.”) Save for a wink-wink deal, Rory could get Tiger in Sunday singles, or he may draw Matt Kuchar.

Predictably, the European team has downplayed any kind of target talk, trotting out the well-rehearsed line that no player is above the team, that each guy already has a tremendous responsibility in playing for himself, his 11 other teammates, his captain, vice captain, country and continent.

“I don’t think I have a bull’s-eye on my back,” McIlroy shrugged. “I think it’s a huge compliment that people are saying they want to beat me and whatever. Whoever wants to take me on, they can take me on.”

McIlroy said he’d feel “very comfortable” playing all five sessions, and good thing: Given his current form (three wins in his past five events) and stature in the game, it’s a likely proposition.

In his first Ryder Cup, two years ago in Wales, McIlroy experienced the enormity of the moment while standing on the first tee next to partner Graeme McDowell. Rory admittedly was “very tentative . . . trying not to make a mistake instead of just going out and free-wheeling it” during that first fourball match, twice delayed by rain. Eventually, he totaled a 1-1-2 overall record at Celtic Manor, but the team won, 14 1/2 to 13 1/2, and that was the enduring mark.

McIlroy has always believed he’s more of a leader on the course than in the team room, which is fine, so long as he understands that it is his performance – not necessarily the form of the other 11 players – that will be the most highly scrutinized, much the same way Woods’ sub-.500 Ryder Cup record has been reviewed ad nauseam here. As Woods himself said, it’s part of being ranked No. 1.

Indeed, McIlroy may lack the flair of Poulter, or the fieriness of Garcia, but the Northern Irishman is the No. 1 player in the world, the kid who has hijacked the golf globe, and he’s being targeted, fairly or not, as the man to beat at Medinah. It’s a tremendous burden for a 23-year-old playing in his second supercharged match.

His media responsibilities complete Wednesday, McIlroy was ushered out of the media center and whisked away in a cart, through the incoming crowd. It was a chilly fall morning, and nary a man or woman, boy or girl, stopped to cheer or even give a thumbs-up to the game’s second-most popular player.

Yes, it’s most certainly Ryder Cup week. For McIlroy, it figures to be a decidedly new experience.

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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.