Things to Look Out for in 2008

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If anybody had asked me, I would have told them:
 
  • Look out for Tiger in 2008. More than ever.
     
    I know, I know. The guys he plays against are always looking out for Tiger Woods. But Im talking about the big stages in 2008.
     
    Woods, for the foreseeable future, will always be the favorite at Augusta National where he has won the Masters Tournament four times. The more they change the golf course there, putatively to protect it against his talents, the more it plays into his hands.
     
    The 2008 PGA Championship will take place at Oakland Hills, a golf course that got the better of Woods at the 1996 U.S. Open where he played as an amateur. And Woods didnt especially distinguish himself at the 2004 Ryder Cup matches at Oakland Hills. But the subsequent Rees Jones re-design has lengthened the course Ben Hogan famously called a monster to 7,303 yards. Thats long enough to give Woods more of an advantage but not too long to keep him from hitting his more easily-controllable 3-woods off a lot of tees.
     
    The 2008 Open Championship returns to Royal Birkdale where Woods came within a cats whisker of chasing down winner Mark OMeara on the final day when they played the British there back in 1998. Birkdale, like St. Andrews, fits Woods eye more than rota courses like Carnoustie.
     
    The 2008 U.S. Open comes, for the first time, to the South course at Torrey Pines near San Diego. Another Rees Jones re-design, Torrey South in June will play differently, and longer, than it perennially does early in the year at the Buick Invitational. But it wont be that different. Woods has captured the Buick Invitational five times, including the last three in a row, and has been playing the course competitively since he was a junior. Can you say Calendar Grand Slam?
     
    Finally, the 2008 Ryder Cup will be played at Valhalla in Louisville. Valhalla is where Woods engaged Bob May in a memorable duel before winning out in a playoff. This will be the first time in six Ryder Cups the event will be staged at a venue where Woods has previously won an event. Kentucky is a state that knows, better than most, about horses for courses.
     
    And in case you hadnt noticed, Woods is golfs answer to Secretariat.
     
  • Look out for Annika in 2008.
     
    Not too many people have noticed that the engaged-to-be-married Sorenstam doesnt plan on getting to the altar until 2009. That leaves all of this off-season to completely recover from the neck and back injuries that slowed her this year.
     
    It also could mean, especially if starting a family is a priority in 2009, that 2008 will be the last year she devotes solely to competitive golf.
     
    That is not good news for the rest of the women; although world No. 1 Lorena Ochoa likes the taste and feel of sitting atop the womens game.
     
    So before you get ready to anoint Paula Creamer or Morgan Pressel as the next big thing; and before you buy into Ochoa vs. Norways Suzann Pettersen as golfs next big rivalry, pay proper respect to Sorenstam. Theres a lot of game left there.
     
  • Dont look out for Michelle Wie.
     
    The volume of e-mails received by this reporter after the recent resignation of Wies agent, Greg Nared, was huge. And there was, to be redundant, complete consensus: People want Wies parents to leave her alone and let her lead the life of a normal student at Stanford.
     
    So the less we see of Michelle in 2008, the better it could be for her future as a person and a player.
     
    Meanwhile interest in Wie from PGA TOUR tournament directors looking to spike their gates, is pretty much dead. A recent inquiry from GOLF CHANNEL regarding a 2008 sponsors exemption, to an official with the Sony Open in Wies home state of Hawaii was met with a short reply.
     
    Sponsors exemptions, came the response, wont be considered until November. Hardly a ringing endorsement for Wies chances of playing there early next year.
     
  • The Stack and Tilt is alive and well.
     
    Teaching pros Andy Plummer and Mike Bennett continue to win PGA TOUR converts to their idiosyncratic method of striking a golf ball.
     
    Meanwhile theres no truth to the rumor that the FedExCup will present a non-deferred $10 million first prize, in cold cash, at the 72nd green of next years TOUR Championship. Now THAT would have been a stack and tilt.
     
    Email your thoughts to Brian Hewitt