Monday Scramble: Weird week for Spieth at Valspar

By Ryan LavnerMarch 14, 2016, 4:00 pm

Charl Schwartzel ends his drought Stateside, Jordan Spieth fires back, another amateur shines on the PGA Tour, a guarantee goes awry and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

Even major champions have to clear “mental hurdles” once they lose their way on the course. 

Schwartzel’s epic four-birdie run to steal the 2011 Masters was supposed to propel him into another stratosphere, but it only led to more frustration. 

“I figured that I would win a few times the way I played,” he said. “It just never came.”

His playoff victory Sunday in the Valspar Championship may have been his 15th career title worldwide, but it was only his second in the U.S. It doesn't add up.

The South African owns one of the most envy-inducing swings on Tour, yet he has rarely contended in the States. When his swing got off-track late last year, and his world ranking tumbled toward the top 50, he turned to the only coach he has ever known, his father, George.

“If you’re swinging well,” he said, “you start believing in yourself again because you’re hitting good shots.”

Schwartzel has hit plenty of them recently. He won twice in South Africa over the past few months, and then on Sunday in Tampa closed with the best round of the day, a 4-under 67, to earn that long-awaited second PGA Tour title. 

Consider the mental hurdle cleared. 

1. The Masters must be right around the corner – the past champions are rounding into form. 

The last five Masters winners all have won events so far this season, the latest coming at the Valspar, where Schwartzel erased a five-shot deficit on the final day and defeated Bill Haas on the first playoff hole. 

Schwartzel followed victories by Spieth (Kapalua), Bubba Watson (Riviera) and Adam Scott (Doral and Honda). Even Phil Mickelson, the 2010 Masters champion, has shown resurgent play of late, holding the 54-hole lead at Pebble Beach and coming up one shot short.

Will the streak continue this week? Zach Johnson (2007), Trevor Immelman (’08) and Angel Cabrera (’09) are in the field at Bay Hill. Hey, it could happen.  

2. The greens on Innisbrook’s Copperhead Course were resurfaced last summer, and it was clear early on at the Valspar that they were significantly slower than players were accustomed to. 

That’s why, in a sense, it wasn’t a massive surprise that Schwartzel won on Sunday. The tournament was always going to come down to which player made the adjustment and the big putts during a week when everyone – Jordan Spieth included – struggled to get the ball to the cup.

Schwartzel made nearly 145 feet worth of putts in the final round – none bigger than the 64-footer he rolled in on 13 and the 25-footer for birdie on 17. By way of contrast, Haas sank only 72 feet worth of putts on the final day. 

3. Haas became the latest frontrunner to falter down the stretch at Innisbrook. Only twice in the past nine years has the 54-hole leader gone on to win.

Haas said that he was “hanging on by a thread” on the final day, but the tournament was in his hands with three holes to play. From a perfect spot in the 16th fairway, he fanned his approach into the greenside bunker and hit such a poor shot from the sand that he said a “12-handicapper could have done that.” The bogey dropped him into a playoff, which he lost on the first hole after another bogey. 

Why all of the struggles for the leaders on the Copperhead Course? It’s a demanding, strategic layout that dishes out more bogeys than it surrenders birdies. Players are already tight while trying to protect a lead; the pressure is then ratcheted up on a course where every miscue is magnified.

4. It was an odd week both on and off the course for Spieth.

The opening 76 that fueled (absurd) talk of a slide. The quick trigger on social media. The spirited run into the top 10. The bafflement at the slower-than-normal greens. And then the caddie blame game.

The middle rounds of 68-67 showed his grit, but the common denominator last week was one of fatigue. He couldn’t adjust to the greens and showed plenty of frustration and indecision during a wind-whipped final round, his pace of play screeching to a halt at times.

Most unusual, though, was his post-round comment Sunday about poor decision-making with caddie Michael Greller – very surprising, indeed, given how in sync they were a year ago.

“We both get the credit when things are going good,” Spieth said, “and we’re going to take the fall today. I hit the shots, but we made a couple of decisions that make me look back and think, Wow, we’ve got some stuff to talk about before we get ready to go into a major. Bit of a bummer.”

Spieth still appears to be reeling from the early-season scheduling mistake. Ideally, he would take a few weeks off, regroup and get ready for the year’s first major and what figures to be an even more hectic summer. But it’s just not possible. On Monday morning, he was already in New York City promoting the Drive, Chip and Putt Championship. Then he has two events in a row, the Match Play and Houston, before the Masters. Will he ever catch his breath? 

5. By the way, Spieth may not be at the top of his game, but it's worth remembering that he still has finished inside the top 21 in six of his seven starts this year. That's some "slump," all right. 

6. I wrote a lot about amateur Lee McCoy here, but the main takeaway from his solo fourth in Tampa was that it’s time to start taking these college and amateur stars more seriously.

In the past 14 months, Arizona State’s Jon Rahm (Phoenix), Alabama’s Robby Shelton (Barbasol), Oklahoma State’s Jordan Niebrugge (Open) and now Georgia’s McCoy (Valspar) all have earned top-six finishes in PGA Tour events. 

It seems like just a matter of time before an amateur wins again on Tour. It hasn’t happened since Mickelson, then a 20-year-old junior at Arizona State, won in 1991. 

7. Even after a tough day, Spieth applauded McCoy as he finished out on the 18th green. Spieth, of course, knew the feeling well, contending in his hometown tournament as an amateur. He had done the same thing nearly six years earlier, when he stole the show at the 2010 Byron Nelson Championship in Dallas as a 16-year-old. He tied for 16th. 

8. A new USGA rule that allows amateurs to participate in a pro event and then donate the earnings to a recognized charity won’t have as much of an impact as it initially seemed. 

The PGA Tour made it clear that its regulations regarding amateur status remain unchanged and likely will stay that way for the foreseeable future. At Tour events, amateurs are not entitled to any official prize money, and the cash they would have earned goes to the player(s) directly behind him on the leaderboard.

That meant the $292,800 that would have gone to McCoy for his solo fourth instead was split by the players who tied for fifth, Graham DeLaet and Charles Howell III.

The aim of Rule 3-1b was to allow amateurs to compete in exhibitions or events that support a bona fide charity, not necessarily a U.S. Open or a Tour event. Instead, it was the tournament organizers in Tampa who stepped up for McCoy, offering to make an undisclosed donation to the charity of his choice – 50 Legs, started by a close friend of McCoy’s who provides prosthetic legs to kids and adults.   

9. Last week might be the final time that DeLaet publicly declares that he’s going to win a tournament.

One shot back after 54 holes, the Canadian, winless in 136 PGA Tour starts, proclaimed that “tomorrow is going to be the day” and left little doubt that he was about to take the title. 


DeLaet shot a birdie-less 75 and tied for fifth.

He backtracked afterward, saying that he didn’t “Babe Ruth and call my shot or anything like that. I needed to believe in myself. I wanted to take control.” 

This was DeLaet’s 19th top-10 over the last four seasons. Only Sergio Garcia, with 21, has more over that span without a victory.

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This week's award winners ... 

Double Whammy: McCoy’s amateur status. Not only did he miss out on nearly $300,000, but he couldn’t collect the non-member FedEx Cup points because he wasn’t a pro. That would have gone a long way toward qualifying him for the Tour Finals at the end of the year (and potentially earned his PGA Tour card), but now he’ll be starting from scratch once he turns pro after the NCAAs in June. Ouch. 

SOS: Steven Bowditch. Fortunately, he snapped a run of five consecutive rounds in the 80s, but his form chart has seen better days. His last eight scores on Tour: 80-72-81-80-80-84-81-76. Time for a break. 

• Have Game, Will Travel: Scott Hend. He finished 63rd out of 65 players at Doral, shooting 22 over. Seven days later, he won the European Tour event in Thailand, shooting 18 under. 

• Anyone Hiring a Writer?: Tiger Woods. The former world No. 1 tapped out his second blog post in the past nine days, only this time, well, he didn't have much to say, writing about a three-week-old Ryder Cup dinner and his nationally televised appearance at Bluejack National. Maybe writing is a form of physical therapy?

• End of an Era?: Ian Poulter at the WGC-Match Play. Barring any other withdrawals, one of the best match-play competitors of his generation will miss the event for the first time since 2003. Patton Kizzire currently holds the 66th and final spot for Austin.

Take Cover!: Justin Thomas' failed driver-off-the-deck shot Saturday. From 268 yards away, Thomas tried to reach the par 5 in two on the 14th hole at Innisbrook. He hit well behind the ball and sliced it, badly, into a few unsuspecting fans. The best part? He still made birdie. 

Um, Whatever Works?: Shingo Katayama. If you don't think pros are always looking for the next key to make more putts, check out this pre-shot routine:

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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.