Tiger's return brings excitement, plenty of questions

By Ryan LavnerJanuary 25, 2017, 11:09 pm

SAN DIEGO – Tiger’s back at Torrey. Just like old times.

Someone asked Woods Wednesday to take a “snapshot” of his favorite moments at this SoCal gem. His favorite was obvious – that U.S. Open on a broken leg was pretty memorable – but the larger point was that there were so many highlights to choose from, whether it was his Junior Worlds title at 15 or the seven Farmers victories. Based on earnings at this event alone ($8.2 million), he’d rank inside the top 200 on the Tour’s all-time money list.

But when it comes to Tiger, there remains a temptation for fans, media and players to look back, not forward. He tends to evokes nostalgia because his future is so uncertain.

His health. His new (old) swing. His competition. His new normal.

This week’s Farmers Insurance Open won’t provide any definitive answers – golf doesn’t lend itself to instant analysis, even in the Internet age – but it’s a start. As he gears up for the Masters, Woods will play four of the next five weeks, traveling from California to Dubai, then back to California and then on to Florida. It’s an ambitious stretch. 

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“I feel like I’m strong enough to be able to handle the workload,” he said earlier this week, “but I’ve still got to go out there and do it. So feeling good about it and doing it are two totally different things.”

Translation: Not even Woods knows how this latest comeback will go. But at least he’s willing to try.

There are a few questions to consider on the eve of his 2017 debut:

How will his back hold up?

After three surgeries, he can’t practice and beat balls like he used to; his 41-year-old body can’t take the pounding.

Temperatures were in the 40s when he began his 6:40 a.m. pro-am round. He had an abbreviated warmup and made a brief pit stop at the practice putting green. He wore rain pants and four layers and still looked like a skier without a parka. He kept moving, even shuffling in position, to keep his back from tightening up. 

Woods played all four rounds in the Bahamas without setbacks, but it remains to be seen how his body will respond to international travel, pre- and post-round practice, and the potential for 16 competitive rounds when he’s played only four in the past 17 months.

How is his swing?

Woods is essentially going at it alone, trying to replicate old feelings and positions. Many point to him taking ownership of his swing as a positive sign.

The big miss to the right is gone, but Woods is still susceptible to the pull-hook off the tee. (He hit a few snipes in the pro-am.) Those who specialize in swing analysis point to compensations in his swing to take pressure off his back.

Moving forward, will he revert to old habits or swing within his body constraints?

Can Woods play small-ball?

Woods isn’t short off the tee – he averaged 300 yards in 2015, his last full season – but he’s nowhere near the longest anymore. That’ll be reinforced over his first two rounds at Torrey Pines, where he’ll be grouped with the titanium-denting duo of Jason Day and Dustin Johnson.

Woods insisted Wednesday that he won’t get tempted into a long-drive contest – “I’ll just play my game, and the name of the game is low score” – but ego and adrenaline are powerful motivators.

The strength of Woods’ game at the Bahamas, and again Wednesday in the pro-am, was his iron play. To capitalize on that, he’ll need to play out of the fairway on Torrey South, with its wickedly long rough.

Can he win this year?

There are so many question marks about the state of his game … and the competition has never been stronger or deeper … so allow Woods to answer this one himself:

“I don’t know. I haven’t played a full schedule in a very long time, so this is an unknown.”

Yeah, Tiger’s back at Torrey, all right. Only this time, it feels like the start of something new.

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What's in the bag: CareerBuilder winner Rahm

By Golf Channel DigitalJanuary 22, 2018, 10:37 pm

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

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Strange irked by Rahm-Landry friendly playoff

By Jason CrookJanuary 22, 2018, 9:45 pm

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.

The two-time U.S. Open champ then engaged with some followers to explain his point a little more in depth.

So, yeah ... don't think he's changing his perspective on this topic anytime soon ever.

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Randall's Rant: The Euros won't just roll over

By Randall MellJanuary 22, 2018, 9:36 pm

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.

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Quail Hollow officials promise players easier conditions

By Rex HoggardJanuary 22, 2018, 9:14 pm

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.