To play or not to play in final Masters tune-up?

By Will GrayMarch 29, 2017, 6:00 pm

HUMBLE, Texas – When it comes to preparing for the biggest event of the year, even the top players in the world admit it’s an inexact science.

Phil Mickelson always plays his way into the Masters. Tiger Woods historically didn’t. For most others, though, it’s a moving target that borders on whack-a-mole as scheduling decisions vacillate from one year to the next.

This week there are 29 players at the Golf Club of Houston with a Masters invite firmly planted in their back pockets. Their goal remains to emulate the feat Jordan Spieth pulled off two years ago, when a playoff loss here led to his first green jacket a week later.

Play well – just not too well, too early. Get the competitive juices flowing, but still leave plenty of gas in the tank.

“It’s a double-edged sword,” said Justin Rose. “You don’t want to grind too hard this week, but you’re here to win a golf tournament as well.”

Of course, there are as many as 65 Augusta-bound players absent this week. Danny Willett took this week off last year, as did Bubba Watson prior to each of his Masters triumphs. In fact, only six of the last 11 Masters champs have played the week prior – nearly split right down the middle.

It’s hardly a reliable trend, and it leaves players to interpret the tea leaves as they see fit.

“I like to play the week before a major if I can. Sets me up better, puts me in game mode,” said Henrik Stenson. “Instead of coming straight from practice, I tend to analyze a little bit too much at times, I guess, what I do, and that might get in the way of things.”

According to Stenson, the time for significant work is over with a trip down Magnolia Lane now so close. This week is all about fine-tuning the small stuff, trying to find your footing before heading east.

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It’s a notion with which Spieth agrees, although he eyes an opportunity to sharpen up mentally that only a spot on the leaderboard can afford.

“The mental stuff certainly comes into play if you can work yourself into contention and you start feeling the pressure,” Spieth said. “You start seeing how your visuals change, what shots you are playing, what are you most comfortable with.”

For others, though, a trip to Houston is a rare occurrence. Adam Scott won this event in 2007, but this week the Aussie returns for the first time since 2010.

Scott hopes to add a few more competitive reps after just three PGA Tour starts in 2017. But there are other logistical considerations as well, namely a pregnant wife at home in Australia that has affected his travel options.

Then there is Scott’s unique caddie situation. While he uses David Clark for most events throughout the year, Scott still opts to have Steve Williams on the bag for majors. This year he plans to play the week before each major with Williams by his side to give the duo a better chance to gel.

“There are lots of different things to consider,” Scott said. “I’ve got to make sure where my game is at before going to the toughest test in golf. It’s important that Steve sees me play this week and doesn’t come in blind going to Augusta.”

Like Scott, Rose is seldom a participant at this event. But his lone start in the last six years came in 2015, when he chased a T-37 finish with a runner-up result at Augusta that would have won all but a handful of previous Masters.

He skipped it again last year, but this time around he followed Scott in bypassing a WGC start last week in Austin to make room for this event.

“I just wanted to come here, work on the things that are going to be important for Augusta: my routines, my mental approach,” he said. “I just feel sometimes that’s the type of stuff that you need competition to work on.”

Playing or resting before a major is a calculated decision, even for one of the youngest players in this week’s field. Jon Rahm only has a pair of major appearances under his belt, but he regrets not playing the week before The Open last year and presented a unique rationale for teeing it up this week in Houston.

“What I didn’t want to do was fly early to Augusta and spend too much time in Augusta, make it more important in my mind than it already is,” Rahm said. “By playing here this week, the earliest I can get there is Sunday night. Play three practice rounds and try to think of it as one more week. As simple as that.”

Try as they might, players have an uphill battle convincing themselves – or anyone else – that next week is just another event. It’s one that requires exacting precision and attention to detail, starting with the choice of simply when to show up.

Some will use this week to springboard into a strong performance, while others will fail to carry over momentum. Someone might even win the Masters after missing the cut in Houston, as Trevor Immelman and Angel Cabrera did in consecutive years.

But regardless of individual outcomes, each player will be faced with the same scheduling conundrum next year, a choice of whether to play or prep. And it likely won’t get any easier to decide.

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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.