Press Pass Tiger and Phil MIA

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 3, 2007, 5:00 pm
Press PassEach week, Golf Channel experts and analysts will offer their thoughts and opinions on hot topics in the world of golf. This week, the Press Pass takes you to Kapalua, Hawaii for the PGA TOUR's season-opener, the Mercedes-Benz Championship.

Hot Topic
Should Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson be playing in the Mercedes-Benz Championship?

Brian Hewitt Brian Hewitt - Senior Writer,
'Should' is a slippery slope when it comes to making demands on players' schedules. They are independent contractors. Of course we would all like to see Woods and Mickelson at Kapalua. But the season-ending demands of the FedExCup were always going to mean that something would have to give earlier in the year.

Kelly Tilghman Kelly Tilghman - Anchor, Golf Channel:
Should is a strong word. It implies that they are obligated to do so. That is not the case with independent contractors. As long as they have the right to determine the direction of their own schedules, we must accept the decisions they make.

Kraig Kann Kraig Kann - Anchor, Golf Channel:
Yes. Absolutely they should. 'Winners Only' should mean something on the PGA TOUR. It hardly gets the FedExCup off to a great start. Yet, NFL stars bow out of the Pro Bowl citing injury all the time, and the same goes for a few (Pedro Martinez comes to mind) in the MLB All-Star Game. So let's not go jumping off the ledge too quickly.

Rich Lerner Rich Lerner - Reporter, Golf Channel:
Because there are no owners, coaches or general managers dictating players' schedules, there are no 'shoulds' in golf. Competitors are free to do what they wish and we need to respect that reality. However, it would certainly be nice if the game's two biggest stars elevated the importance of the season-opener. We understand that majors, not money, drive Tiger and Phil, and that history will judge them on Masters' won, not Mercedes'. Still, in any sport, the first game should be a celebration and ideally include the marquee names.

Mercer Baggs Mercer Baggs - Senior Producer,
Most definitely. One of the reasons the PGA TOUR implemented the FedExCup was to placate their stars (i.e. Woods and Mickelson). Normally, Im all for players picking and choosing events, but this time, the TOURs biggest stars needed to support the new system.

Hot Topic
Assuming they qualify for each one, do you expect Tiger and Phil to play in all four playoff events?

I would not be surprised if one of the two skipped one of the playoff events. If and when that happens, the TOUR is going to have an unhappy sponsor on its hands. The TOUR, meanwhile, tells us that the points system is structured in such a way that any player who skips a playoff event is taking a risk.

I don't 'expect' Tiger and Phil to play in every single playoff event for many reasons. First and foremost, they may not 'have' to do that. These two guys have the ability to separate themselves from the pack immediately. Furthermore, they have done well thus far in their respective careers maximizing their potential at select events. Even though they play less than most TOUR players on average, they win more and that could help them tremendously.

Simple answer: No. The points will have a big say in that. But if they're at the top of the list going into the four events, they'll have an 'out.' At this stage I'd say the odds of Tiger playing in all four is much higher than Phil.

My sense is that neither Tiger nor Phil will play in all four FedExCup events.

No, primarily because I dont think Tiger will have to play in all four in order to have a chance to win it. Also, Phil doesnt play particularly well at the end of the season and could be out of the race; if he is, dont expect to see him too much.

Hot Topic
Who is the most likely player to challenge Tiger for Player of the Year in 2007?

The most likely players to challenge Tiger Woods in 2007 are Jack Nicklaus and Byron Nelson. Nicklaus is retired. Nelson is deceased. Nevertheless, Tiger will be gunning for their records--Nicklaus' 18 professional majors (Tiger has 12 at the moment) and Nelson's 11 straight PGA TOUR victories (Tiger enters '07 having won six straight).

I would preface this answer by saying that anyone and everyone who wants to challenge Tiger Woods understands the magnitude of this task. The men who I think are the most capable in 2007 are Phil Mickelson, Adam Scott and Trevor Immelman. I am anxious to see how Phil kicks off his new year considering how he ended his 2006 campaign. After that tragic 72nd hole at Winged Foot, he failed to notch a single top-10 in 5 PGA TOUR appearances. Cialis Western Open champion Trevor Immelman is the last player to defeat Tiger Woods in a PGA TOUR stroke-play event and his 2006 season was so impressive that it earned him Rookie of the Year honors. He also played well on difficult golf courses. Both he and Adam Scott are major championship material. Scott is now a Players champion and a TOUR champion at the tender age of 26. Both young men have the skills and the belief in themselves to pose a serious challenge.

Obviously Phil would bring the biggest headlines. I hope it's Ernie Els. But my gut tells me Jim Furyk is a legit No. 2 in the world right now, so I'll go with Jim.

If Tiger decides to take the second half of the season off to be with Elin and the baby, then Geoff Ogilvy might challenge for Player of the Year. Otherwise, it's Tiger again.

Jim Furyk. He has risen to No. 2 in the world and now its time to show hes the best player not named Tiger. Furyk puts himself into contention more so than anyone other than Woods; theres no reason why he shouldnt win three or four times this year, and perhaps another major.

Hot Topic
A few notable names didnt qualify for this years Mercedes-Benz. Who do you expect to return to the winners circle in 2007 and make the Mercedes-Benz field in 08?

I would be greatly surprised if Ernie Els, who already has won on the European Tour's 2007 schedule, doesn't break his drought on the PGA TOUR. Hard to imagine Retief Goosen not getting back to Kapalua as well. The player they will always be rooting for a return at Kapalua is John Daly.

I'm focused on two of South Africa's finest. I fully expect to see Ernie Els and Retief Goosen back in the winner's circle in 2007. Ernie's finally on the right track after a long and arduous battle with his knee and his mind. The victory at the South African Open in December was the very medicine he needed to heal a nagging wound. Retief is too good to go another year without a victory on the PGA TOUR. I believe he was in a transitional state in 2006 and now that he has a strong swing instructor in his corner, the sky's the limit for this raw talent when things begin to click.

Ernie Els, Retief Goosen and Sergio Garcia are the easy choices. For fun, I'll add Robert Allenby, Chris DiMarco and a few surprises like Justin Leonard and Ryan Moore.

Ernie Els and Retief Goosen will return to the winner's circle in 2007 and punch their tickets to Maui for the start of the 2008 season. Also, look for Justin Rose to break into the circle for the first time.

Mike Weir. The left-handed Canadian seemed to struggle with his mechanics during most of '06. If he can work out the kinks in his swing, I think he can win an event or two, perhaps another major. I also think Ryan Moore will break out as the premiere U.S. player in his 20s and net his first TOUR win this season.

Related Links:
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    Watch: McIlroy gives Fleetwood a birthday cake

    By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 19, 2018, 2:58 pm

    Tommy Fleetwood turned 27 on Friday. He celebrated with some good golf – a 4-under 68 in Abu Dhabi, leaving him only two shots back in his title defense – and a birthday cake, courtesy of Rory Mcllroy.

    While giving a post-round interview, Fleetwood was surprised to see McIlroy approaching with a cake in hand.

    “I actually baked this before we teed off,” McIlroy joked.

    Fleetwood blew out the three candles – “three wishes!” – and offered McIlroy a slice.  

    Getty Images

    DJ shoots 64 to surge up leaderboard in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 1:48 pm

    Dustin Johnson stood out among a star-studded three-ball that combined to shoot 18 under par with just one bogey Friday at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    Shaking off a sloppy first round at Abu Dhabi Golf Club, Johnson matched the low round of the day with a 64 that put him within four shots of Thomas Pieters’ lead.

    “I did everything really well,” Johnson said. “It was a pretty easy 64.”

    Johnson made four bogeys during an even-par 72 on Thursday and needed a solid round Friday to make the cut. Before long, he was closer to the lead than the cut line, making birdie on three of the last four holes and setting the pace in a group that also included good rounds from Rory McIlroy (66) and Tommy Fleetwood (68).

    “Everyone was hitting good shots,” McIlroy said. “That’s all we were seeing, and it’s nice when you play in a group like that. You feed off one another.” 

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    Coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, Johnson is searching for his first regular European Tour title. He tied for second at this event a year ago.

    Johnson’s second-round 64 equaled the low round of the day (Jorge Campillo and Branden Grace). 

    “It was just really solid all day long,” Johnson said. “Hit a lot of great shots, had a lot of looks at birdies, which is what I need to do over the next two days if I want to have a chance to win on Sunday.” 

    Getty Images

    Closing eagle moves Rory within 3 in Abu Dhabi

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:57 pm

    What rust? Rory McIlroy appears to be in midseason form.

    Playing competitively for the first time since Oct. 8, McIlroy completed 36 holes without a bogey Friday, closing with an eagle to shoot 6-under 66 to sit just three shots back at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship.

    “I’m right in the mix after two days and I’m really happy in that position,” he told reporters afterward.

    McIlroy took a 3 ½-month break to heal his body, clear his mind and work on his game after his first winless year since 2008, his first full season as a pro.

    He's back on track at a familiar playground, Abu Dhabi Golf Club, where he’s racked up eight top-11s (including six top-3s) in his past nine starts there.

    Full-field scores from the Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship

    McIlroy opened with a 69 Thursday, then gave himself even more chances on Day 2, cruising along at 4 under for the day when he reached the par-5 closing hole. After launching a 249-yard long iron to 25 feet, he poured in the eagle putt to pull within three shots of Thomas Pieters (65). 

    Despite the layoff, McIlroy edged world No. 1 Dustin Johnson, coming off a blowout victory at Kapalua, by a shot over the first two rounds. 

    “DJ is definitely the No. 1 player in the world right now, and one of, if not the best, driver of the golf ball," McIlroy said. "To be up there with him over these first two days, it proves to me that I’m doing the right things and gives me a lot of confidence going forward.”

    Getty Images

    Duke to fill in for injured Pavin at CareerBuilder

    By Ryan LavnerJanuary 19, 2018, 12:25 pm

    Ken Duke will fill in for Corey Pavin for the next two rounds of the CareerBuilder Challenge – with nothing at stake but his amateur partner’s position on the leaderboard.

    Pavin was 4 over par when he withdrew after 17 holes Thursday because of a neck injury. Tournament officials contacted Duke, the first alternate, and asked if he would take Pavin’s spot and partner with Luis Lopez for the next two rounds, even though he would not receive any official money.

    Duke accepted and explained his decision on Twitter:

    Playing on past champion’s status, the 48-year-old Duke has made only four starts this season, with a best finish of a tie for 61st at the RSM Classic.

    Pavin received a sponsor exemption into the event, his first PGA Tour start since the 2015 Colonial.