Newsmaker of the Year, No. 5: The Youth Takeover

By Will GrayDecember 15, 2015, 1:30 pm

When Justin Thomas penned his brief Twitter profile, he didn’t lead with the fact that he plays on the PGA Tour. He didn’t even open by pointing out the national title he won while at the University of Alabama.

Instead, the first line on Thomas’ page harkens back to his high school days: “St. X grad ’11.”

The current state of affairs on the PGA Tour isn’t just a youth movement; it’s a youth takeover. And it’s one that has been led by the decorated “Class of 2011,” a crop of prospects who have seamlessly transitioned to the professional ranks while many of their peers are still writing in blue books.

It is a group led by 22-year-old Jordan Spieth, a once-in-a-generation wunderkind, but the Class of ’11 runs much deeper than his personal trophy case. There’s Thomas, who will tee it up alongside Spieth next month in Kapalua. That winners-only field will also include Emiliano Grillo, who earned his stripes in Europe before picking up a pair of trophies in October.

There’s Daniel Berger, the reigning Rookie of the Year, and there’s Patrick Rodgers, whose Stanford career equaled that of some guy named Tiger Woods. The list goes on, each player as equipped as the last, and it even includes the likes of Ollie Schniederjans, who just last week breezed through Q-School to earn his Tour card after turning pro in June.

“Our graduating class, 2011, has probably eight or nine tour players that will come out of it,” Spieth said in January, an estimate that should prove to be rather accurate. “We should still be in school. It’s cool to see peers we grew up with for a while all making the transition pretty easily.”

And therein lies the difference with this most recent group. There are always rising stars, guys who cut their teeth more quickly than others. But these players more closely resemble hired guns than fresh-faced rookies – equal parts eager to challenge and ready to win.

Top 10 Newsmakers of 2015: The full list

The same players who were vying for AJGA hardware when Charl Schwartzel won the Masters are now taking home PGA Tour trophies with an alarming frequency. After capturing the CIMB Classic at age 22, Thomas was asked if he expected to win so quickly.

“I expected to win a lot sooner than this, honestly,” he said. “So, obviously, it’s a win, whatever, just a couple tournaments into my second year is great, but it would have been nice to win a couple last year, too.”

The insatiable quest to win quickly, of course, is instilled by the leader of the pack. Spieth’s meteoric rise won’t be challenged anytime soon, but it offered a tantalizing barometer for players who remember facing – and beating – him in junior and college events just a few short years ago.

Consider it confidence by proxy.

“Basically the only player I look up [to] is Jordan,” Grillo said after his Open victory. “I played a lot with him. He’s my age, he’s a bit younger than me. Makes you think, if he can do it, I can do it. That’s been my thought in the last year, two years.”

The other, undeniable factor in the recent rise of youth is the Tiger effect. Woods has been out of commission for essentially the last two years, but it’s more than just his recent on-course performance – or lack thereof.

It’s the fact that a typical Class of ’11 grad was 4 years old when Woods stormed Augusta National for the first time, 8 years old when he completed the Tiger Slam and 15 years old when he won his last major.

For them, there is no PGA Tour without Tiger.

The shock and awe that helped Woods steamroll his competition for more than a decade simply doesn’t exist with this group, which grew up eyeing his records just as Woods grew up chasing Jack Nicklaus.

The youth movement, though, is not limited to the men’s game. The LPGA has always trended younger than its male counterpart, but that pattern was accentuated this year as 17-year-old Brooke Henderson burst onto the scene and 18-year-old Lydia Ko became the youngest man or woman to win a major before successfully defending her Race to the CME Globe title.

In fact, the average age of the top 10 players in the Rolex Rankings is barely over 23. World No. 2 Inbee Park may seem like an elder statesman, having won her fourth different major this past summer, but at age 27 she is younger than Jason Day and only a few months older than the former standard bearer for the youth movement, Rickie Fowler.

As both Day and Fowler elevated their respective games, it seemed for much of the year that trophies were handed out exclusively to 20-somethings. Players like Woods, Phil Mickelson, Sergio Garcia and Ernie Els – names that in large part defined the early 2000s – all went winless.

In their stead rose the likes of Thomas and Grillo and Berger, all seemingly ready to step out of those sizeable shadows and establish their own names, one trophy at a time.

Led by their top-ranked ringleader, it appears they’re here to stay.

“They want to beat me as bad as I want to beat the next guy, and it’s cool to see the transition of guys in my class,” Spieth said. “I can’t imagine there’s been a class that has had this before at our age. It just speaks to what we’ve all done for each other growing up, pushing each other to get better and better.”

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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.