Fowler vs. Kang: 'It's time to battle'

By Will GrayApril 2, 2017, 12:00 am

HUMBLE, Texas – Sung Kang is closing in on his first-ever trophy at the Shell Houston Open, but Rickie Fowler is determined to make him earn it – if not take it with him down Magnolia Lane.

Staked to a rare lead after a pair of hot putting performances, Kang looked the part Saturday despite the blustery winds that buffeted the Golf Club of Houston. Unfortunately for him, Fowler seemed immune to any adverse conditions for nearly the entire afternoon.

Beginning the day seven shots back, Fowler drew even with Kang after just 14 holes, carding eight birdies across that span. While a trio of late putting miscues turned an other-worldly 64 into a 67, Fowler was still able to get within three shots of Kang heading into the final round.

While Russell Henley also sits one shot further back, Fowler feels like he has Kang in his sights.

“It will be a match-play situation,” Fowler said. “I’m starting the day three back, and it’s going to be fun. I like the challenge of coming from behind and then potentially being able to put pressure on the guy.”

Fowler held the 54-hole lead a few weeks ago at the Honda Classic and managed to convert that into a victory. But the lion’s share of his PGA Tour wins have come from the chase position. While Kang holds the top spot, Fowler’s name could be the one that many players watch on the leaderboard after he bent the Tournament Course to his will for the first 16 holes Saturday.

Of course, his remaining task would have been considerably easier were it not for a bogey on No. 17 and a shocking four-putt double on No. 18 when he missed a pair of putts from inside 5 feet.

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“You can’t really dwell on the last two holes,” he said. “It was a great day of golf. I put myself in a position to go win a golf tournament tomorrow, so we go get some rest, sleep and there’s 18 holes in front of us to go play.”

Fowler came to Houston to build some Masters momentum, just as he did in 2014 when he finished T-6 here before a T-5 finish at Augusta National. So far so good, and he would dearly love the confidence boost of a second win before heading into the season’s first major.

For Kang, 29, there’s considerably more to play for. Having bounced year-to-year between the PGA and circuits since 2011, he could earn some serious job security with the two-year exemption afforded to the winner.

Then, of course, there’s that final golden ticket into the Masters that begins in five short days.

It’s a compelling incentive, but with Fowler hot on his heels, he plans to focus instead on the stellar form that created the cushion he now enjoys.

“I’ll play my game. I don’t care, I don’t really care what they do,” he said. “I think I’m still being a little more defensive because I still have a three-stroke lead.”

Kang views the first few holes of Sunday’s finale as pivotal, eyeing a handful of birdie holes where he can remain on offense. It’s a similar mindset to the one he carried into the third round, where he led by six shots and nearly holed his opening approach, instead settling for a kick-in birdie.

But that six-shot lead has now been cut in half, and instead of Henley or Hudson Swafford behind him, Kang now sees Fowler in his rear-view mirror. In fact, he’ll be right next to him as the two will share the morning’s final tee time.

Then there’s the factor of the weather, which appears sure to complicate things. Play has been moved up to avoid significant storms that are expected around lunchtime, all of which could necessitate this tournament’s first Monday finish since 2004.

Such a delay would complicate Fowler’s travel plans to Augusta, and it could certainly keep Kang from closing out on his first-ever Masters invite. But both players are putting any meteorological concerns at bay and will instead focus on the duel that awaits.

“It’s fun. It’s time to battle,” Fowler said. “It’s down to a few guys. If we go play good golf, it will be nice to get off to a good start and put some pressure on him. I’ve got a lot of work to do to get the job done.”

“I’ll do my best tomorrow,” Kang said. “I’m going to try to make some birdies and see what happens after that.”

There are 93 players currently set to tee it up next week at Augusta National. If Fowler’s match-play assertion proves true, there will either be a 94th invite printed or he’ll sneak in one more trip to the winner’s circle before heading off to smell the azaleas.

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.