Hot Topics for 2009
Who will be Player of the Year on the PGA Tour?
Rex Hoggard - Senior Writer, GolfChannel.com:
Going to go out on a limb and ship the Player of the Year hardware to Isleworth Country Club, c/o Tiger Woods; along with the Comeback Player of the Year Award. Best guess is Woods will play between 13 and 15 events in 2009 depending on when he returns. Thats more than enough time to shake off the rust and shake down the rest of the Tour.
Brian Hewitt - GolfChannel.com Insider:
The Player of the Year on the PGA Tour will be Tiger Woods. If it isnt, it only means that Woods knee didnt heal as well as expected.
Jay Coffin - Editorial Director, Golf Channel.com:
Sergio Garcia. Tiger Woods is the easy pick but if ever there was a year to bet against Woods, this would be it. Garcia will collect a victory before Woods returns then hell finally win a coveted major championship. Hell pick up at least one more prominent win along the way which will give Player of the Year to a Euro player for the second straight year.
Mercer Baggs - Editorial Manager, GolfChannel.com:
Considering Tiger Woods has won this award nine of the last 12 years its difficult to pick against him. But just to make it fun Ill go with Phil Mickelson. I thought about taking Sergio Garcia (seriously), but you have to win a major to be Player of the Year. Mickelson is due ' for a major and for a P.O.Y. trophy.
Will Tiger come back better, worse or the same as before the surgery?
Hoggard: Expect Woods to be better than hes ever been. The legs are stronger and the rebuilt ACL will allow him to swing without pain. The only lingering question will be how his injury-imposed exile impacts him mentally. For the first time he had to come to grips with his professional immortality and the prospect of life after golf. For world class athletes, it is a difficult reality to stomach.
Hewitt: The big question will be whether the surgically-repaired knee can handle Tigers practice and workout regimen. Ligaments are less predictable than muscles. Tiger is going to have to use all his estimable smarts to know when to push and when to ease off.
Coffin: At first, worse. Eventually, way better. No one would be surprised if Woods returns to win the Masters. Afterall, its what he does. But odds are that itll take him several months to get into competitive shape. When that happens ' mid to late summer ' hell be better than ever. That could be a scary proposition for rest of the Tour.
Baggs: Every time Tiger has a surgery or overhauls his swing he always seems to return better than ever. This, however, is the most serious obstacle he has ever faced in his professional career. I dont see him being better than before ' not sure how thats possible ' but Im not betting against him being as good as he was before.
Will Michelle Wie win on the LPGA?
Hoggard: No. Having a tour card will make life easier for her, but Team Wies plan to stay the course at Stanford may limit her starts in 2009 which would make her breakthrough that much more difficult on what promises to be a hyper-competitive tour.
Hewitt: She will. And the dream scenario for the LPGA will be a Wie victory in the seasons very first event, the SBS Open at Turtle Bay (Feb. 12-14). The resultant buzz would be just what the LPGA needs right now.
Coffin: Yes. A steady Q-School performance proves that the Big Wiesy is finally ready to break through and win as a professional. It wont be at a major championship, but it will come at an event where there arent many top players. If she were playing more than 12-14 events, Id say she could potentially win twice.
Baggs: Yes. Shes just too talented to not win multiple tournaments on the LPGA. If shes focused and plays at least a semi-regular schedule shell win on more than one occasion.
Which will be more compelling: the FedEx Cup playoffs or the Race to Dubai?
Hoggard: The Race will likely draw more attention early because its in its first year, but the tweaks to the FedEx Cup will assure the big finish that has been missing from Atlanta. With a little luck, the Tour could finally end up with a suspenseful Sunday in September.
Hewitt: The Race to Dubai is a novelty that will draw curiosity seekers. But the FedEx Cup will have Tiger Woods (assuming the knee holds up). And Woods trumps all in professional golf.
Coffin: Neither. Both have a chance to be good, but I dont know if either could be great. The Race to Dubai seems to have momentum and will raise the excitement of the European Tour. But its a first-year deal and there is no way to know what to expect. The FedEx Cup tweaks will make it more compelling than the previous two years.
Baggs: Admittedly, despite the changes announced at the end of 2008, Im not enthralled with the PGA Tour Playoffs. After a pair of duds it has to prove its entertainment value. On the other hand, the Race to Dubai does pique my interest, if only because its new and has attracted some popular names from across the globe.
Who finishes the year No. 1 in the world?
Hoggard: Tiger Woods. The more compelling question is who will be No. 2. The gap between first and second, although it has narrowed, is still substantial. What is interesting is the crowd that has gathered behind Woods. Sergio Garcia recently slipped into second place, followed closely by Phil Mickelson, Padraig Harrington and young guns Camilo Villegas and Anthony Kim are closing.
Hewitt: Tiger Woods will finish No. 1 in the world ' again, only if the knee holds up. If it doesnt, my moneys on Anthony Kim. And, yes, I know thats a bit of a longshot.
Coffin: Sergio Garcia. If Garcia is Player of the Year then he likely will be No. 1 in the world rankings. Woods lead in the rankings is diminishing because hes not playing. If Garcia can knock off a couple of victories in the first half of the year, he can end the year as the best player in the world.
Baggs: Tiger Woods. Im sure its mathematically possible for Tiger to lose his top spot, but unless he re-injures himself or the current injury severely limits his ability to swing a golf club I have to figure hell do enough to retain the top spot.
What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm
Jon Rahm defeated Andrew Landry in a playoff to earn his second PGA Tour title at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Here's what's in his bag:
Driver: TaylorMade M4 (9.5 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Fairway wood: TaylorMade M3 (19 degrees), with Aldila Tour Green 75 TX shaft
Irons: TaylorMade P790 (3), P750 (4-PW), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Wedges: TaylorMade Milled Grind (52, 56 degrees), Milled Grind Hi-Toe (60 degrees), with Project X 6.5 shafts
Putter: TaylorMade Spider Tour Red
Ball: TaylorMade TP5x
Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff
Curtis Strange knows a thing or two about winning golf tournaments, and based on his reaction to the CareerBuilder Challenge playoff on Sunday, it’s safe to say he did things a little differently while picking up 17 PGA Tour victories in his Hall-of-Fame career.
While Jon Rahm and Andrew Landry were “battling” through four extra holes, Strange, 62, tweeted his issues with the duo’s constant chit-chat and friendly banter down the stretch at La Quinta Country Club, where Rahm eventually came out on top.
Watching Andrew Landry and Jon Rahm in playoff. Walking off tee talking to each other. Are you kidding me ? Talking at all. ?— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.
0 words— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
The issue is I don’t want to make you a bit relaxed or comfortable. High pressure, good.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you watch the end of the NFL games yesterday ? Enough said.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
I didn’t say you couldn’t be friends and competitive. But in a playoff, 1 tiny mistake and you lose, and that devastated me. Friends before and after, competitors during play.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
Did you win ? It’s all about surviving the competition to test yourself.— Curtis Strange (@golf_strange) January 22, 2018
So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.
Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over
The Ryder Cup may not be the King Kong of golf events yet, but you can hear the biennial international team event thumping its chest a full eight months out.
As anticipation for this year’s big events goes, there is more buzz about Europe’s bid to hold off a rejuvenated American effort in Paris in September than there is about the Masters coming up in April.
Thank Europe’s phenomenal success last weekend for that.
And Rory McIlroy’s impassioned remarks in Abu Dhabi.
And the provocative bulletin board material a certain Sports Illustrated writer provided the Europeans a couple months ago, with a stinging assault on the Euro chances that read like an obituary.
McIlroy was asked in a news conference before his 2018 debut last week what he was most excited about this year.
The Ryder Cup topped his list.
Though McIlroy will be trying to complete the career Grand Slam at Augusta National come April, he talked more about the Ryder Cup than he did any of the game’s major championships.
When asked a follow-up about the American team’s resurgence after a task-force overhaul and the injection of young, new star power, McIlroy nearly started breaking down the matchup. He talked about the young Americans and how good they are.
“Yeah, the Americans have been, obviously, very buoyant about their chances and whatever, but it’s never as easy as that. ... The Ryder Cup’s always close,” McIlroy said. “I think we’ll have a great team, and it definitely won’t be as easy as they think it’s going to be.”
McIlroy may have been talking about Alan Shipnuck’s bold prediction after the American Presidents Cup rout last fall.
Or similar assertions from TV analysts.
“The Ryder Cup is dead – you just don’t know it yet,” Shipnuck wrote. “One of the greatest events in sport is on the verge of irrelevancy. The young, talented, hungry golfers from the United States, benefitting from the cohesive leadership of the Task Force era, are going to roll to victory in 2018 in Paris.”
European Ryder Cup captain Thomas Bjorn won’t find words that will motivate the Euros more than that as he watches his prospective players jockey to make the team.
And, boy, did they jockey last weekend.
The Euros dominated across the planet, not that they did it with the Ryder Cup as some rallying cry, because they didn’t. But it was a heck of an encouraging start to the year for Bjorn to witness.
Spain’s Jon Rahm won the CareerBuilder Challenge on the PGA Tour, England’s Tommy Fleetwood started the week at Abu Dhabi paired with American and world No. 1 Dustin Johnson and won the European Tour event, and Spain’s Sergio Garcia won the Singapore Open in a rout on the Asian Tour.
And McIlroy looked close to being in midseason form, tying for third in his first start in three months.
Yes, it’s only January, and the Ryder Cup is still a long way off, with so much still to unfold, but you got an early sense from McIlroy how much defending European turf will mean to him and the Euros in Paris in September.
The Masters is great theater, the U.S. Open a rigorous test, The Open and the PGA Championship historically important, too, but the Ryder Cup touches a nerve none of those do.
The Ryder Cup stokes more fervor, provokes more passion and incites more vitriol than any other event in golf.
More bulletin board material, too.
Yeah, it’s a long way off, but you can already hear the Ryder Cup’s King Kong like footsteps in its distant approach. Watching how the American and European teams come together will be an ongoing drama through spring and summer.
Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions
Quail Hollow Club - a staple on the PGA Tour since 2003 - debuted as a longer, tougher version of itself at last year’s PGA Championship, receiving mixed reviews from players.
The course played to a lengthened 7,600 yards at last year’s PGA and a 73.46 stroke average, the toughest course in relation to par on Tour in 2017. As a result, it left some players less than excited to return to the Charlotte, N.C.-area layout later this spring for the Wells Fargo Championship.
It’s that lack of enthusiasm that led officials at Quail Hollow to send a video to players saying, essentially, that the course players have lauded for years will be back in May.
The video, which includes Quail Hollow president Johnny Harris and runs nearly five minutes, begins with an explanation of how the first hole, which played as a 524-yard par 4 at the PGA, will play much shorter at the Wells Fargo Championship.
“I had a number of my friends who were playing in the tournament tell me that tee was better suited as a lemonade stand,” Harris joked of the new tee box on the fourth hole. “I doubt we’ll ever see that tee used again in competition.”
Harris also explained that the greens, which became too fast for some, will be “softer” for this year’s Wells Fargo Championship.