After injury, a hopeful McCoy returns to Valspar

By Will GrayMarch 7, 2017, 10:31 pm

PALM HARBOR, Fla. – Prior to offering his assessment of the year that wasn’t, Lee McCoy adjusted his cap, sat back in his chair and unleashed a deep sigh.

McCoy was the darling of last year’s Valspar Championship, a fresh-faced amateur playing on his home course who stared down Jordan Spieth and didn’t blink. A fourth-place finish catapulted his name alongside guys like Jon Rahm and Bryson DeChambeau in discussions of the next potential can’t-miss prospect, and it availed McCoy of a number of playing opportunities.

All of which makes his return to Innisbrook this year as the golfing equivalent of a nomad that much more difficult to stomach.

“I think I’m just as good a player, if not better,” McCoy said. “I’m just kind of back at the bottom of the totem pole.”

McCoy’s path since taming the Snake Pit last year is effectively broken up into three parts. In the immediate aftermath of his storybook finish – the best by an amateur at a non-opposite PGA Tour event since Justin Rose at the 1998 Open Championship – McCoy considered turning pro. But he opted to return to school to complete his senior season at the University of Georgia, where he helped his team win an SEC championship.

He made the jump to the professional ranks in the summer, but like Rose he experienced a rocky transition. With six sponsor invites still at his disposal, McCoy missed the cut in all six events.

“I just kind of had a really bad two-month stretch at the wrong time,” he said. “How many top 50-125 players out here could have a bad two-month stretch and nobody would say a word about it? That’s just it, I played bad for a couple months. It happens.”

Following a missed cut at the season-ending Wyndham Championship in August, McCoy went back to the drawing board and started to see his game progress. In his first start of the new season, he made his first cut as a professional and finished T-41 in Las Vegas.

Then the accident happened.

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On Nov. 7, McCoy was en route to Plantation Preserve Golf Club in South Florida with practice on his mind. The second stage of Tour Q-School was only days away, and he recognized it as one of the most pivotal weeks of his young career.

Advance, as a player of his caliber was likely to do, and you’re assured of at least some status on the Tour for the coming year. Miss out and you’re left to wander the mini-tour and Monday qualifier circuit.

McCoy got in a minor car accident en route to the course that day, and his right hand jammed against the steering wheel. His wrist soon began to swell, and the diagnosis came a few hours later: a fracture in two parts, one that would require a cast for six weeks and eliminate any thoughts of playing second stage.

Suddenly, McCoy’s well-crafted transition to the PGA Tour was thrown out the window.

“Crazy things happen in life, you just wish the timing wasn’t so bad,” McCoy said. “It’d be one thing if I didn’t have anything going on and I was playing like garbage, but I was really playing well and had the biggest week of the year a day away. Of all days, really?”

“I think it was pretty devastating,” said McCoy’s college coach, Chris Haack. “He was going into second stage riding high, knowing that he’s playing well. And that just kind of derailed him. I think anytime those type of things happen, it can set you back mentally as much as physically.”

True to Haack’s words, McCoy’s biggest hurdle proved to be mental. The cast that kept his right hand in place didn’t allow him to properly grip an Xbox controller, much less a golf club, and he struggled simply to pass the days.

But with time eventually came some perspective. McCoy focused on feedback from his orthopedic surgeon, who told him one of his fractures nearly ruptured every tendon in his hand – an injury that would have effectively ended his golf career before it truly began.

“I keep saying that I’m the luckiest unlucky guy ever,” he said. “It could always be worse, I guess.”

McCoy started testing his wrist with shots from deep rough in early January, and now declares the injury “absolutely, unequivocally 100 percent.” But without a professional tour to call his own, the 23-year-old has spent the last two months shuttling from one Monday qualifier to the next, without much success.

“It’s hard to do anything when you don’t have status,” he said. “It doesn’t really matter how good you hit it on the range, or how good you play at home, what kind of numbers you shoot. If you don’t have anywhere to play, it’s tough.”

All of which brings him back to his hometown event, where he accepted another sponsor invite and will make his first competitive start since October. He’ll likely return to a nomadic existence after this week, hoping to cobble together a start here and a start there.

But McCoy knows better than most that sometimes it only takes one week to break through, and the confidence gleaned from last year’s memorable performance remains.

“You always wonder, at home when you’re practicing and stuff,” he said. “Man, am I good enough? Can I really do this for a living? I can shoot 66, 67 at home, but do I really have what it takes to get out there and contend?

“Even though it’s been a year now, there’s a lot of guys out here that go a lot longer than a year without getting in contention. It’s nice to know that I can do it, and I’d like to think that I’ll do it again in the future.”

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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.