In good times and bad, caddies play larger role

By Will GrayAugust 1, 2017, 10:45 pm

AKRON, Ohio – The third-person plural has become a trending topic this year on the PGA Tour.

A sport defined in large part by its individual nature has seen its scope expand recently, with the spotlight on player-caddie relationships growing brighter by the minute.

Jordan Spieth’s insistence on using “we” was never more evident than two weeks ago at Royal Birkdale, where Michael Greller proved invaluable down the stretch.

But caddies are again a topic of discussion this week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational, where Rory McIlroy is expected to arrive Wednesday with a new man on his bag after splitting with longtime looper J.P. Fitzgerald.

The mid-season timing is certainly curious given that McIlroy will enter next week’s PGA Championship as one of the favorites on a course where he has often dominated. But it shows that while the nature of “we” means sharing the spoils when times are good, it can also cloud things considerably amid a downturn.

“It boils down to this. The pro, the player, is always going to blame anybody else but himself,” said Dave Stockton.

Stockton came up in a far different generation on Tour, winning the PGA Championship in 1970 and 1976. He now serves as a short-game guru to the stars, which gives him an up close look at a player-caddie bond that’s a far cry from the one he enjoyed with the estimated six caddies he used during his career on Tour.

“I think it’s more of a partnership. The one thing I hear is ‘our team.’ Spieth does it, a bunch of them talk about their team,” Stockton said. “When we were out there, my team was my wife and I. That was it. That was our team.”

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The modern-day team is receiving more attention than ever because, well, it’s become more important than ever for many of the top pros.

It’s a shift that has been seen even by players who have spent the past two decades inside the ropes. Lee Westwood had his regular caddie, Billy Foster, by his side for a practice round Tuesday at Firestone Country Club, where the Englishman reminisced on how times have changed since he turned pro in 1993.

“I think you get a lot more players bringing friends out now rather than just hooking up with people when they get out here,” Westwood said. “I think caddies are more professional in everything they do, really. They have a lot more responsibility now than they did at the end of last century, or when I came out here. It was more just carrying a golf bag, and I think they do a lot more now. They’re consulted by the players a lot more.”

The days of “show up, keep up, and shut up” are long gone. As the dynamic between player and caddie continues to evolve, it’s clear that the role of looper is becoming more critical rather than the other way around.

A good caddie can afford top players with a 15th club in the bag, but it also means that high-profile changes like McIlroy’s split with Fitzgerald can cause shockwaves.

“I think nowadays with social media and all that going on, you’re part of a massive brand,” said Paul Lawrie, who turned pro in 1986. “Especially with Rory, because he’s got what, 3 million followers on Twitter? So the slightest thing and you’re under scrutiny. But that’s just how it is. You sign up for that, to be part of the team.”

Of course much of the recent caddie scrutiny started in June, when Phil Mickelson surprisingly split with Jim “Bones” Mackay after a 25-year partnership. Theirs was a rare bond inside the ropes, and one that Mickelson held in high esteem from the start.

“When I came out on Tour, there weren’t as many quality individuals like Bones that were great caddies but also had their stuff together,” Mickelson said. “And now, everybody does. You don’t see a lot of caddies like you did 40 years ago, out partying and doing things. You see them rested, walking the course, really impressive individuals.”

There remains no perfect formula for creating golf’s third-person plural. McIlroy will reportedly embark on the friend-turned-caddie route starting this week with childhood pal Harry Diamond. A similar choice has sparked a resurgence this year for Tommy Fleetwood, while Mickelson turned to his brother after Mackay’s departure and others like Spieth have taken a more conventional approach.

While tactics in choosing a caddie may vary, it’s a bond that continues to receive more and more attention. And with the scope of the role continuing to expand for top players, it’s a trend that likely won’t reverse anytime soon.

“I tell people really the caddies now are in better shape than the players were when we were playing,” Stockton said. “The relationship to the player has changed dramatically, and I think for the better. They’re very serious, and there’s no stone unturned. And that’s kind of it. If you’re going to beat everybody, you kind of have to do that.”

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.