Ko going for first major title

By Will GrayJune 18, 2014, 9:24 pm

PINEHURST, N.C. – If you ask her, Lydia Ko will peer from behind the thick frames of her glasses and tell you that she’s just like every other teenage girl.

She hates the sound of the alarm clock in the morning. She had a “mental breakdown” upon meeting some of the top PGA Tour players Sunday at Pinehurst No. 2. At age 17, she’s just trying to have some fun playing a game.

True statements, sure. But as Ko continues her ascent through the rankings, they also belie the main point: She’s one of the best golfers in the world, regardless of age.

High-level women's golf is getting younger. Lexi Thompson served notice of that fact when she won a major this year at age 19, but Ko is the poster child for the movement. As a 15-year-old amateur, she won an LPGA event, then successfully defended that title in Canada a year later.

After turning pro last fall, she has shown no growing pains while adjusting to the play-for-pay scene, and Wednesday sounded like a player blissfully ignorant of the stakes as she looks to capture her first major title.

“It’s already June and I’ve turned pro like eight months ago, and it kind of feels like yesterday,” Ko said. “Just having so much fun and just being grateful that I can play on the tour at the age of 17 is just the best thing.”

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Golfers often struggle with the question of whether success begets confidence or if it’s the other way around, but it’s not an issue right now for Ko, who has plenty of both. Already a winner this year at the Swinging Skirts LPGA Classic, she enters this week at No. 3 in the Rolex Rankings, poised to become the youngest ever to reach No. 1 should she leave Pinehurst with the U.S. Women's Open trophy.

It’s a label that the Kiwi is still getting used to wearing.

“I don’t feel like the world No. 3,” Ko said. “When people will tell me that and ask me stuff about it, then I go, oh, yeah, I am. But me, I just feel like a normal teenager and think that’s what makes it more fun and exciting.”

Teens have been bursting onto the scene in women’s golf for years. Nancy Lopez tied for second as an 18-year-old amateur at the 1975 U.S. Women’s Open, and Juli Inkster, who is making her 35th and likely final Open appearance this week, first played the event at age 15.

But few if any have risen as far – or as fast – as has Ko.

“I think I play with Lydia every week out on tour, it seems like,” said Paula Creamer, who won her first LPGA event at age 18. “It’s crazy, I’m 27 years old and I’m a veteran. I came out when I was 18 and it was like unheard of.”

At age 50, Laura Davies has watched the women’s game trend younger, with Ko now leading that charge.

“Although Lydia is not big, she still hits at it and gets after it and hits it,” Davies said. “I think that’s why people want to watch the women play now, because it’s more dynamic.”

Whether rolling to a U.S. Amateur title in 2012 or winning three LPGA tournaments since, Ko has time and again made a difficult game seem easy. Beneath the teenage smile and placid demeanor, though, she admits to possessing a strong drive to succeed.

“I probably put more pressure on myself than anybody else probably could,” she said.

Ko nearly got her first major title last year at the Evian Championship, when she finished second behind Suzann Pettersen. It was her final major start as an amateur and concluded a two-year stretch in which she finished as low amateur at six of seven majors.

Now she prepares to begin her third U.S. Women’s Open, where she is among the favorites, and she did not hesitate to make her aspirations for a major title known.

“It would be the top,” Ko said. “Everybody strives to win tournaments, and the majors are the biggest out of them all.”

With fans, media and the world’s best players gathered this week at Pinehurst, it’s a stage on which most 17-year-olds would likely wilt under the pressure.

Then again, most 17-year-olds wouldn’t have played their way here in the first place.

While Ko says there is no single secret for her success, she did reveal a game plan so delightfully simple that it could only have been crafted by a teen.

“I don’t have to think about everything else,” she said. “All I need to think about is just hitting the white ball into the hole.”

It’s a plan that has certainly worked so far.

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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 GolfChannel.com 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.