Monday Scramble: No Spieth in Rio; more rules drama

By Will GrayJuly 11, 2016, 4:25 pm

Sand gets in the way of a great tournament finish, the Olympic field suffers another notable loss and the golf world turns its attention to Royal Troon, plus more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble.

The USGA just can't seem to escape controversy.

First it was Dustin Johnson and his wobbling golf ball at Oakmont. This time it was Anna Nordqvist, who was denied a chance at the U.S. Women's Open title because her club found a few specks of sand at the wrong time.

Make no mistake, the penalty was correctly applied. Upon video review, it was evident that Nordqvist had, unknowingly, grounded her club in a bunker.

But that doesn't do much to dispel the notion that the USGA seems like an organization that can't stay out of its own way. Its shepherding of some of the game's most intricate (and arcane) rules aside, the USGA has seen the defining moment of both of its biggest tournaments this year turn into a rules official tapping a player on the shoulder and starting into a "We regret to inform you..." speech.

"It's definitely a shame for it to come down to something like that," said winner Brittany Lang. "You never want it to be because of a penalty. You want it to be because of better play."

It's certainly not the scenario officials had hoped for at the beginning of the week, and it's a situation where the optics were worsened with most golf fans still recovering from the debacle of Johnson's penalty at Oakmont.

1. As with Oakmont, the USGA exacerbated the issue with poor communication. While they took too long to decide Johnson's fate last month, at CordeValle the timeline was compressed as the penalty occurred in the midst of a three-hole aggregate playoff.

An odd scene played out on the third and final hole, as TV viewers equipped with video replay realized that Nordqvist would be docked two shots, but the players actually competing for the title strolled down the fairway blissfully unaware of the circumstances.

By the time USGA officials informed Nordqvist and Lang of the penalty, it was after Nordqvist had hit her final approach - but before Lang hit hers, arguably the worst possible time to make such an announcement.

Lang clearly altered the strategy for her wedge shot, as Nordqvist certainly would have done the same with such crucial knowledge in hand. To inform the players at an uneven juncture only increased Lang's advantage, since she was able to play more shots with a full grasp of the big picture.

If officials couldn't reach Nordqvist with a definitive answer before her approach, fine. But in that case, they should have waited until Lang had hit her third shot to No. 18 before informing either player.

2. The whole situation unfortunately overshadows a breakthrough victory for Lang, who at age 30 now has a major title to her credit. Eleven years after she was a surprise runner-up at this event as an amateur, stunned along with Morgan Pressel by Birdie Kim's 72nd-hole bunker shot, this time she remained cool under pressure and made a number of critical putts, none more important than the 12-foot par save on the second extra hole after an errant approach.

Her win also breaks the Korean stranglehold on this national championship, as she becomes just the second American (along with Michelle Wie in 2014) to win the U.S. Women's Open since Paula Creamer took home the trophy at Oakmont in 2010.

3. The rules controversy also took some heat away from Lydia Ko, who let the trophy slip away in surprising fashion.

Ko began the day with a one-shot lead and appeared on cruise control until a hiccup on the eighth hole was followed by a disastrous double bogey on No. 9. After displaying a calm demeanor throughout the week in California, the Kiwi was never quite able to get back on track and ultimately missed the playoff by two shots.

It was an uncharacteristic wobble from the world No. 1, who has two majors in her pocket and likely many more ahead of her. But after she was topped in a playoff by Brooke Henderson at Sahalee, Ko's season could very well be as marked by her multiple wins as by the hardware she let get away.

4. Ko was in the anchor pairing along with Sung-Hyun Park and Eun-Hee Ji when they were put on the clock on the 12th hole, a decision that seemed to rattle all three players coming down the stretch.

"When it is windy and when every shot really counts, to kind of feel a little rushed is tough," Ko said after a 75.

It's a tough break for the final group at a major, until you realize that the trio took 5 hours and 43 minutes to play 18 holes. Nearly six hours! There were winds, sure, but the weather in sunny NorCal certainly seemed to be less of a factor than it was, say, at the Scottish Open.

The women's game is already plagued by the label of slow play. Ko and the tournament leaders did little to flip that script under the spotlight of one of the biggest events of the year.

5a. The U.S. Olympic team got a big boost Sunday when both Rickie Fowler and Patrick Reed confirmed their plans to tee it up in Rio.

The entire commitment process hasn't gone exactly as planned over the past few weeks, as seemingly one big name after another has dropped out with most citing Zika concerns. Dustin Johnson was the latest to skip the Olympics, a decision that gave Reed another chance to wear the stars and stripes after an entertaining Ryder Cup debut in 2014.

5b. Of course, their decision was quickly overshadowed by the withdrawal of Jordan Spieth on Monday.

Spieth's comments about the Olympics had grown increasingly non-committal in recent weeks, and he now joins the other three highest-ranked players in the world on the sidelines next month. It's arguably the biggest loss for golf's return to the Games, and somewhat surprising given Spieth's earlier comments and his sponsorship deal with Coca-Cola, which pumps large amounts of sponsorship dollars into the Olympics every other year.

There are a number of valid issues surrounding golf in the Rio Games, and there will be plenty of time to dissect where things went wrong for the International Golf Federation. But if the top four players in the world withdrawing from the competition isn't a worst-case scenario, it has to be pretty close - and might get even closer if Spieth decides to defend his title at the John Deere Classic while the Olympics are being conducted half a world away. 

6. Clearly, the current theme of Olympic golf is more about who will be sitting out than who will participate in the sport's return from a 112-year hiatus. But expect that to change.

After all, there were rumblings back in 2008 that Padraig Harrington's two major wins should come with an asterisk because world No. 1 Tiger Woods missed both events with a leg injury. But eight years down the line, Harrington is simply viewed as a three-time major champion - and rightfully so.

The notables skipping the Olympics are a legitimate story, and a sizeable one at that leading into the Games. But once the first ball goes in the air, the story will shift to the players, and the course, and the glory that comes with winning a medal while representing one's country.

Twenty years from now, fans won't remember which golfers skipped the Olympics. But they'll remember who won.

7. No one is questioning the Olympic spirit of Jaco van Zyl these days. The South African has a spot in Rio after three of his countrymen withdrew earlier this year, and he's not taking it lightly: van Zyl announced this week that he would withdraw from both the Open and the PGA Championship to rest up for Rio.

It's an unconventional choice, sure. And perhaps if he had been as enthusiastic about playing in the WGC-Cadillac Championship in March, he would have stayed in the OWGR top 50 long enough to book his first trip to the Masters. But credit to van Zyl for owning up to his decision, despite the potential consequences, to make the Olympics a clear priority.

8. After a rare bye week on the PGA Tour, it's officially time to turn our attention to the 145th Open. While Zach Johnson will look to defend the claret jug, much more attention will be on Dustin Johnson as he looks for his second straight major and third win in as many starts after his victory last week at the WGC-Bridgestone Invitational.

Royal Troon may not seem like an ideal course for Johnson, but keep in mind that he appeared on cruise control en route to the 36-hole lead last year at St. Andrews and, were it not for an ill-fated long iron approach, could very well have won at Royal St. George's in 2011.

Then again, when you have a 340-yard power fade on speed dial, there isn't a course in the world that seems too tough to handle.

9. Some players who are not receiving nearly enough attention heading into tournament week, with odds courtesy the Westgate Las Vegas SuperBook:

- Branden Grace (20/1): The South African's last four major championship results? T-4, T-20, third, T-5. Expect him on the leaderboard come Sunday.

- Louis Oosthuizen (30/1): Twice a runner-up in majors last year, Oosthuizen has now finished T-30 or better in seven straight majors dating back to the 2014 PGA Championship.

- Martin Kaymer (50/1): A two-time major champ who is starting to turn things around at just the right time heading into a busy summer stretch.

- Russell Knox (60/1): Fresh off a top-10 at Castle Stuart, Knox has stepped his game up considerably over the past year and will have plenty of support from the Scottish crowds.

10. One player not flying under the radar would be Phil Mickelson, who closed with a 66 at Castle Stuart to post a T-13 finish that makes it seem like he was much more of a factor than he was. Mickelson is one of the few players in the Open field with some Troon experience, having missed the playoff in 2004 by only a single shot.

Lefty is always prone to stepping up in the biggest occasions, and he is not that far removed from a run of strong play that carried him through much of the spring. But this week marks the three-year anniversary of his most recent worldwide win, a stat that no one would have believed when he walked off the final green at Muirfield with the claret jug in tow.

11. One notable absence this week in Scotland was that of Fowler, who didn't return to defend the title he won in dramatic fashion last year at Gullane.

The summer schedule is hectic for all the top players, and Fowler has a sponsorship deal with Quicken Loans which meant he played Congressional the week between the U.S. Open and WGC-Bridgestone. It also meant that a two-week stint in Scotland would have made the Open his fifth start in as many weeks, and the PGA would have been six out of seven.

It's an understandable decision in a situation where something has to give. But it's still unfortunate that Fowler couldn't find a way to defend at one of the more prestigious events on the European Tour.

"Bethany Lang."

That's the name that USGA president Diana Murphy went with during the trophy ceremony at CordeValle - not once, but multiple times, to the point that the crowd tried to chant "Brittany" in unison to get her to realize her error. Murphy never appeared to do so, and by the time she issued an apology late Sunday night, the damage was already done.

This week's award winners ... 

Golden first win?: Gerina Piller's T-8 finish at CordeValle was just enough to sneak her into the top 15 in the world, earning her an Olympic berth in the process. It's a testament to her consistency this year, and an even more remarkable achievement considering the fact that she has yet to record her first LPGA win. To find a male counterpart without a PGA Tour or European Tour win, you have to go all the way down to K.T. Kim at No. 42.

Better late than never: The final player to crash the Olympic party on the men's side was Espen Kofstad, who will represent Norway in Rio after his playoff win at a European Challenge Tour event in Slovakia. Known more as a winter sports destination, Norway actually took home four medals at the 2012 Olympics, including a pair of golds.

Check, please: Rick Lamb pulled off a Cinderella story at the Tour's LECOM Health Challenge, going from Monday qualifier to the winner's circle in the span of a week. Lamb capped things with a chip-in birdie to win a four-man playoff, and after missing the cut in his first two Web events, both after Monday qualifying, he made his first check of the season one of the big, novelty kind.

Next event up: Golf doesn't have an Ironman award, but if it did, the hardware might go to Danny Lee. After floods prevented him from defending his title at The Greenbrier, Lee flew to Scotland and tied for third at Castle Stuart. While many top names are finding any reason they can to snag a week off, Lee was given a very legitimate reason to rest and instead challenged himself against a new venue on short notice.

Whatever works: John Daly played his way into the mix this weekend on the PGA Tour Champions, then proceeded to putt one-handed during the final round:

Because, why not?

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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.