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KAPALUA, Hawaii – The PGA Tour marks the New Year in Kapalua for the 20th consecutive time. After all these years, the one moment that towers above all others was the titanic battle between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els in 2000.
The two made the eagle on the 18th hole to force the playoffs. Both birdie on the first extra hole. Woods finished it with a 35-foot bird putt on the next hole that was downhill and in the grain with about 6-foot break. Equally memorable was what Els said at the end:
“He’s 24. He’ll probably be bigger than Elvis when he turns 40.”
Woods turned 42 on Saturday. He’s still no taller than Jack Nicklaus when it comes to the ultimate standard in golf most majors have won.
But he’s still Tiger, and that means a lot.
He attracts more attention than the big champions almost half his age. And that’s why Woods, who makes golf’s staple TV when he plays, leads the list of five questions to consider for 2018.
WHAT TO EXPECT FROM TIGER?
The question was not much different a year ago.
Woods returned to the Hero World Challenge after a 15-month recovery from two more back surgeries, and his 24 birdies made it more than finishing 15th against an 18-man field in an unofficial holiday event. When the new year started he lasted three rounds in two tournaments and was out again.
This time he’s just coming back from fusion surgery on his lower back. Most notable in the Bahamas last month was his power, and Woods said in a recent blog that he was hitting a full club longer than before. The amount of golf he played prior to his return adds to the highest level of optimism – not the score, but the company. Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson, and Daniel Berger all played with Woods and loved what they saw.
The measure will be the full program he wants to play, although he hasn’t said what or where it will be. And if his health is as strong as he suggests, golf will receive a full dose of Woods in the majors for the first time since 2015.
WHO IS ON THE PLANE TO FRANCE?
The Americans haven’t won the Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993, two months after Jordan Spieth was born.
The Americans won the last Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and they start 2018 with the top three players in the world rankings and five of the top eight. This means that they will be favored on paper, and most American golf enthusiasts will be dismissive of Europe’s chances.
The most relevant question is who is going to Paris for the matches?
Much attention will be paid to Phil Mickelson, who has not missed any team competition since 1993 and who is desperate to participate in the next one. He hasn’t won since 2013 and was the captain’s choice for the Presidents Cup.
The Americans won 14 players in their 20s on the PGA Tour last year, and six of them were on the Presidents Cup squad. Chances are not that all of those six will be in France, and US captain Jim Furyk might have some tough choices for his picks.
WHAT WILL THE CALENDAR BE?
This summer, the PGA Tour will herald a major overhaul of a schedule that has been predicted for years.
This is the last PGA Championship in August before moving to May in 2019. The number of PGA Tour events to end Labor Day at the FedEx Cup won’t be an issue with losing an event. playoff (Boston), move an event to fall (Greenbrier) and possibly convert one to a world golf championship (Memphis).
The hardest part is figuring out where everything else is going.
It starts in March, which currently includes two golf world championships (Mexico, Match Play) and next year adds the players’ championship. Something will have to give. In addition, title sponsorships must be resolved for the Houston Open and possibly Colonial.
HOW WILL RORY MCILROY RESPOND?
For the first time since 2009, Rory McIlroy is entering a new year outside the world top 10. Attribute this to lingering injuries that convinced him to take a long hiatus late last year to get his health and play in order.
He will have spent more than three months without competition on his return to Abu Dhabi, the start of an ambitious schedule in which he will play eight times before arriving at Augusta National.
Golf should have a good idea by then if McIlroy is back in the conversation.
WHO GIVES IT TO PARADISE?
Justin Thomas has said he would love nothing better than to start each year in Kapalua.
As good as it is, there are no guarantees.
Only nine players from the 32-man squad last year returned to start 2018. Among the missing are Jason Day, who started last year at No.1, and Bubba Watson, absent from the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time. times in four years. Spieth missed the game in 2015. Rickie Fowler was not in Kapalua last year.
There were 14 first-time winners last year on the PGA Tour. It is not easier to win.
This also applies to Woods.