All questions to the new season begin with Woods
“Right there, through those trees,” a caddie said jokingly, pointing into the distance toward the Pacific Ocean, where a white yacht was cruising along the Maui coastline below Kapalua. “He’s on his boat.”
For a guy who hasn’t been seen in more than six weeks, Woods seems to be everywhere. And while he isn’t at the season-opening SBS Championship, his presence looms larger than ever.
Woods hasn’t played this tournament since 2005, so his absence is not unusual. Last season began with a similar question – when would he return? – only that was from knee surgery, and it was a matter of time. He is gone from golf now because of a shocking sex scandal that led him to take an “indefinite break” while he tries to save his marriage.
Indefinite could mean anything from two months to all year.
In the meantime, the Tour faces a pivotal year in renewing title sponsorships and laying the groundwork for negotiations on a new television contract. The Americans have a Ryder Cup to defend in October. The major championship rotation features three of the most famous courses in golf – Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews.
Every season contains questions, yet every answer winds its way back to one player.
Pat Perez was asked for his list of questions about 2010 on the PGA Tour, and he wasted no time rattling off two of them.
“When is Tiger coming back?” he said. “And where the hell is he?”
That’s a good place to start on a few questions for the new season:
1. When will Woods appear?
Considering that a healthy Woods has started every season at Torrey Pines since 2006, the “indefinite break” really doesn’t start until he doesn’t show up at the San Diego Open starting Jan. 28.
Woods had planned on playing the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on Feb. 11, especially since Poppy Hills was replaced in the course rotation by Monterey Peninsula, the field was reduced from 180 to 156 players, the U.S. Open is returning to Pebble Beach in June and Woods carried the AT&T logo on his golf bag.
That was before AT&T ended its endorsement deal with him, and it was agreed that Woods no longer would be the host of the AT&T National this summer outside Philadelphia, a tournament that benefits his foundation.
Accenture dropped him too, making it unlikely he would return to the Match Play Championship toward the end of February. Woods returned from his knee surgery at Match Play, and his relationship with Accenture played a part in that.
Speculation has shifted to the Florida swing – either Doral or Bay Hill, as a tuneup for the Masters. But that assumes he will play in the Masters. Would he really skip Augusta National? Maybe. Could he possibly skip majors at Pebble and St. Andrews? Could he return to Torrey Pines – next year?
To borrow a slogan from the PGA Tour, anything is possible.
2. Can the Americans win another Ryder Cup?
Tom Watson, who turned 60 in September, is No. 6 in the Ryder Cup standings going into the year. That’s because points in a non-Ryder Cup year only are awarded at the majors. David Duval is No. 8.
The Americans are defending champions for the first time in eight years, and U.S. captain Corey Pavin has extra large shoes to fill after the job Paul Azinger did in 2008 at Valhalla. Europe is led by Colin Montgomerie, who believes the Ryder Cup is bigger than majors and can only hope he gets a better outcome.
It will be played the first weekend in October in Wales, and past captain Nick Faldo wasn’t kidding when he reminded everyone at closing ceremonies in 2008 to bring rain gear.
The big question: Will the Americans bring the No. 1 player?
Woods has tolerated the Ryder Cup more than he has enjoyed it. Even if he has returned to competition, his family crisis might be a good excuse for him to sit this one out. Besides, the Americans did just fine without him last time.
3. What will Phil do next?
The way Phil Mickelson ended last year, he appeared poised to make a run at several milestones – winning a money title, player of the year and reaching No. 1 in the world, none of which he has ever achieved in an otherwise stellar career.
His wife continues her recovery from breast cancer, which has allayed fears at home, and Mickelson regained his putting touch with the help of Dave Stockton. And with Woods out of the picture indefinitely (whatever that means), it would seem the stars are aligned.
Strangely, though, Mickelson is one of the few players who thrives on competition with Woods. He did next to nothing at the tail end of 2008 when Woods was out with knee surgery, and didn’t win on the PGA Tour until the week Woods announced his return.
He won Doral with Woods in the field, outplayed him in their final round pairing at the Masters, outplayed him at the U.S. Open, then ended the year by beating him in consecutive tournaments at the Tour Championship and in Shanghai.
4. Is the worst of the golf economy over?
Tour commissioner Tim Finchem already faced a big year trying to find title sponsors for San Diego, Hilton Head and Palm Springs, along with renewals at crucial venues such as Doral.
Throw in the Woods scandal and it doesn’t get any easier.
“It will be an interesting year for us with the economy and the hit we’re taking with our image,” said British Open champion Stewart Cink, a member of the tour’s policy board. “We’ll have to see how that plays out.”
Suspended Hensby offers details on missed drug test
One day after receiving a one-year suspension from the PGA Tour for failing to provide a sample for a drug test, Mark Hensby offered details on the events that led to his missed test in October.
Hensby, 46, released a statement explaining that the test in question came after the opening round of the Sanderson Farms Championship, where the Aussie opened with a 78. Frustrated about his play, Hensby said he was prepared to give a blood sample but was then informed that the test would be urine, not blood.
"I had just urinated on the eighth hole, my 17th hole that day, and knew that I was probably unable to complete the urine test for at least a couple more hours," Hensby said. "I told this gentleman that I would complete the test in the morning prior to my early morning tee time. Another gentleman nearby told me that 'they have no authority to require me to stay.' Thus, I left."
Hensby explained that he subsequently received multiple calls and texts from PGA Tour officials inquiring as to why he left without providing a sample and requesting that he return to the course.
"I showed poor judgment in not responding," said Hensby, who was subsequently disqualified from the tournament.
Hensby won the 2004 John Deere Classic, but he has missed six cuts in seven PGA Tour starts over the last two years. He will not be eligible to return to the Tour until Oct. 26, 2018.
"Again, I made a terrible decision to not stay around that evening to take the urine test," Hensby said. "Obviously in hindsight I should have been more patient, more rational and taken the test. Call me stupid, but don't call me a cheater. I love the game. I love the integrity that it represents, and I would never compromise the values and qualities that the game deserves."
Day's wife shares emotional story of miscarriage
Jason Day’s wife revealed on social media that the couple had a miscarriage last month.
Ellie Day, who announced her pregnancy on Nov. 4, posted an emotional note on Instagram that she lost the baby on Thanksgiving.
Swipe to see what’s up in my world. It’s long-winded.... short version, we lost the baby. Had to share this since we had shared the news already. I know you’re all so supportive and kind. I just couldn’t face it before. Now let’s get back to our regularly scheduled programming. #ihavealotoffeelings #andphotostocatchupon
“I found out the baby had no heartbeat anymore. I was devastated,” she wrote. “I snuck out the back door of my doctor, a hot, sobbing, mascara-covered mess. Two and a half weeks went by witih me battling my heart and brain about what was happening in my body, wondering why this wouldn’t just be over.”
The Days, who have two children, Dash and Lucy, decided to go public to help others who have suffered similar heartbreak.
“I hope you know you aren’t alone and I hope you feel God wrap his arms around you when you feel the depths of sorrow and loss,” she wrote.
Newsmaker of the Year: No. 5, Sergio Garcia
This was the year it finally happened for Sergio Garcia.
The one-time teen phenom, known for years as “El Nino,” entered the Masters as he had dozens of majors beforehand – shouldered with the burden of being the best player without a major.
Garcia was 0-for-72 driving down Magnolia Lane in April, but after a thrilling final round and sudden-death victory over Justin Rose, the Spaniard at long last captured his elusive first major title.
The expectation for years was that Garcia might land his white whale on a British links course, or perhaps at a U.S. Open where his elite ball-striking might shine. Instead it was on the storied back nine at Augusta National that he came alive, chasing down Rose thanks in part to a memorable approach on No. 15 that hit the pin and led to an eagle.
A green jacket was only the start of a transformative year for Garcia, 37, who heaped credit for his win on his then-fiancee, Angela Akins. The two were married in July, and months later the couple announced that they were expecting their first child to arrive just ahead of Garcia’s return to Augusta, where he'll host his first champions’ dinner.
And while players often cling to the notion that a major win won’t intrinsically change them, there was a noticeable difference in Garcia over the summer months. The weight of expectation, conscious or otherwise, seemed to lift almost instantly. Like other recent Masters champs, he took the green jacket on a worldwide tour, with stops at Wimbledon and a soccer match between Real Madrid and Barcelona.
The player who burst onto the scene as a baby-faced upstart is now a grizzled veteran with nearly two decades of pro golf behind him. While the changes this year occurred both on and off the course, 2017 will always be remembered as the year when Garcia finally, improbably, earned the title of major champion.
Green jacket tour
Man of the people
Ace at 17th at Sawgrass
Departure from TaylorMade
Squashed beef with Paddy
Victory at Valderrama
Newsmakers of the Year: Top 10 in 2017
GolfChannel.com is counting down the top 10 Newsmakers of the Year as voted on by Golf Channel’s writers, editors, reporters and producers. Check out the list below, including future release dates:
No. 4: Dec. 13
No. 3: Dec. 14
No. 2: Dec. 15
No. 1: Dec. 18