Monday Scramble: New season, familiar faces


Updated: 1:45 p.m. ET:: Tiger Woods will withdraw from the Safeway Open, Golf Channel's Tim Rosaforte reported Monday.

Original story:

Tiger Woods returns, a new PGA Tour season arrives, the season comes to an abrupt end and more in this week's edition of Monday Scramble:

The final act of Woods’ career begins this week in Napa, Calif., and he’s as fascinating as ever.

A new body. A new swing. Maybe even a new bag of clubs.

There’s reason to believe this comeback will be short – has any athlete, ever, thrived after undergoing three back procedures in 20 months? – but since it is Woods, conventional wisdom usually doesn’t apply. Because of his past greatness, he still receives the benefit of the doubt.

His appearances will be must-see TV, but it’s anyone’s guess what kind of performances we’ll see.

The fall is usually a quiet time on the golf calendar. Not this year. 

1. Wrote more about it here, but it’s a surprise that Woods is even able to tee it up this week. 

But if he wasn’t ready now, after a full year away, it was reasonable to wonder if he’d ever be cleared to return. Among the many questions that (hopefully) will be answered this week is whether Woods suffered any injury-related setbacks this spring, when he was reportedly on the verge of a return. That never happened – in fact, there was nary an update after his disastrous media-day showing in May – and he shut it down for the rest of the 2015-16 season. 

And so the biggest question is not how will Woods play, but whether he is physically capable of playing six rounds (including practice), walking eight miles a day and spending six hours on his feet. He's been off the grid for more than a year, so there's a lot of mystery here.

2. Once Woods arrives on property at Silverado, there will be a mad dash to his golf bag. Equipment junkies have been eagerly awaiting this week.

Suffice to say, Woods has had no shortage of suitors, ever since Nike announced that it was leaving the equipment space.

It’s a best-case scenario for Woods (and, really, any Nike staffer): He can cobble together a set of whichever clubs suit his game, regardless of brand.

3. It’ll be a good week for the fans in Wine Country: Woods will play the pro-am with NBA star Steph Curry, then make his long-awaited debut alongside Phil Mickelson, according to a report by the San Francisco Chronicle

It’ll be only the second time since 2012 that Woods and Mickelson have played together.   

4. How much of an uphill climb will it be for Tiger? Consider this:

When he last played, at the 2015 Wyndham, he was ranked 257th in the world.

Now? He’s No. 786. That’s behind Fabien Marty, who plays on something called the Alps Tour, and ahead of Ross Kellett, who has only a pair of top-10s in 18 starts this year on the European Challenge Tour.  

5. About the only thing Mickelson didn’t do last season was snap his three-year winless drought.

He had six top-10s. He had three runners-up, none more impressive than his performance at The Open, where he went head-to-head with Henrik Stenson and lost to the best cumulative score in major history. And then he had a strong Ryder Cup, going 2-1-1 and making 10 birdies in his singles match. 

“It’ll be a great day to build on in the offseason,” he said at Hazeltine.  

Over the past few years, Mickelson said that his game needed significant improvement in two areas. The first was his putting, and he has accomplished that. He was ninth in putting last season – the first time he has cracked the top 10 in that statistic since the Tour began keeping track, in 2004.

“I’ve really had a great year putting,” he said, “and I’m very confident with that.” 

But one big issue remains: His driving. He ranked 132nd in strokes gained-off the tee, while finishing 163rd in driving accuracy and losing more than five yards in distance.

“I’ve got to fix my driving this offseason,” he said. “If I do that, I’m going to have some really great years.” 

6. Two players we won’t see anytime soon are Jason Day and Justin Rose, as both announced that they’ll take some time off to rest their ailing backs.

Day, who withdrew from each of the last two events of the Tour season because of a long-standing back issue, won’t play again this year on the advice of his doctors. That means he won’t play two events in his native Australia, nor will he compete against McIlroy in an exhibition in the Philippines.

Rose, meanwhile, after a busy summer that included a gold medal in the Olympics, said that he’ll miss the European Tour’s Final Series to fully recover from a herniated disk in his back, an injury that he suffered during The Players. He expects to be out about eight weeks, which could allow for an appearance at the World Challenge in the Bahamas in early December.

7. Sure, we won’t see many of the game’s biggest stars until early next year, but technically the new season begins this week.

Here are some of the biggest storylines as we look ahead to the 2016-17 season:

Who will emerge as the game’s best player?

Depending on when you asked, Jordan Spieth, Day, Dustin Johnson and even Henrik Stenson were the best players on the planet last season. It's unlikely that we'll see a complete takeover, like Tiger for a decade, but the most likely to emerge as the Tour’s alpha dog is DJ, with his unmatched combination of power, precision and touch. He has made significant strides with both his putting and his wedge play, leading to the best year of his career.

Will Tiger be a factor?

He hasn’t won in more than three years. He’s had four knee surgeries and three back operations. His competition has never been better. It all adds up to a cloudy outlook. That Woods has already accepted a role as a vice captain at the 2017 Presidents Cup might tell you all you need to know about his own level of optimism about this latest (and final) comeback. 

Which Rory will we see? 

This year has brought plenty of frustration for McIlroy, who racked up plenty of top-10s but failed to break through until Labor Day. The biggest culprit was a balky putter; he was 135th in strokes gained-putting, his worst rank in that category since 2010. If the putter heats up – and his performance at the Deutsche Bank and Ryder Cup suggests that he’s certainly on the right track – then he could enjoy the resurgent season that we all expected in 2015-16. 

Will this rookie class be as good as advertised?

It’s insanely deep, starting at the top with Jon Rahm, and continuing with money winner Wesley Bryan, Ollie Schniederjans, Trey Mullinax, Cheng-Tsung Pan and, yes, Andrew “Beef” Johnston. (The most famous of the bunch might be Bryson DeChambeau, but he won’t technically be a rookie after playing 12 events last season.) This should be the most hotly contested Rookie of the Year race in recent memory, and it wouldn't surprise if Rahm won multiple events in 2016-17. 

8. Thomas Pieters received some flak on social media for comments made by his fellow countryman, Nicolas Colsaerts, who told the Telegraph that he didn’t expect Pieters to play full time in the U.S. because he “doesn’t like (Americans) that much.”

That was news to this observer, of course, seeing how Pieters thoroughly enjoyed his three years at Illinois and maintains close relationships with many in the States.

Whether the 24-year-old ever transitions to the PGA Tour is a matter of personal preference; he still lives in Antwerp, close to his family, and has expressed no desire to leave. Selfishly, it’d be great to see Pieters over here more, because he’s a world-class talent.

9. Erik Compton’s career might be coming to an end, after the two-time heart-transplant recipient failed to earn any status on the PGA Tour this season.

“I’m thinking about packing it in,” he told Golf Digest recently. “I just can’t get it done.”

For Compton, 36, it’s time to do a little soul-searching. Two years after tying for second at the U.S. Open, he now has to toil on the mini-tours and try to make the most of his limited sponsor exemptions on Tour. He has only five career top-10s in 160 starts, and his health situation makes a long career unlikely. 

“I’m not going to learn anything out here [on the Tour] at my age,” he said. “The only thing I’m going to learn is how to be away from the family with a short life span.” 

10. Here’s a new one: An amateur just earned an invite to the Masters but won’t use it. 

He already has a spot.

Curtis Luck, who won the U.S. Amateur in August and was part of the World Amateur Team Championship, rallied from a seven-shot, final-round deficit to win the Asia-Pacific Amateur, which offers a Masters invite to the winner. (Because Luck was already exempt by virtue of his U.S. Am win, the spot does not go to the runner-up.) Ranked second in the world, the Australian had planned to turn pro after this event but will stay amateur until at least after the Masters. He looks like the next great Aussie star.

The season-ending Tour Championship was canceled because of Hurricane Matthew, costing hopefuls the opportunity for one final lottery ticket to the PGA Tour.

Not surprisingly, this move didn't go over well with tour types.

Yes, tournament officials should have fought harder to move the event – the hurricane didn't surprise anyone, after all – but it’s hard to feel bad for those left outside the bubble. They had 21 regular-season events to get the job done, then three playoff events.

It's unfortunate, no doubt, but it all comes down to golf's most simple truth: Play better.

This week's award winners ...

Good Mojo: Brandt Snedeker. After going 3-0 at the Ryder Cup, Sneds ran away from the field at the European/Asian Tour’s Fiji International for a nine-shot victory. Surely, he was there for the beautiful scenery and fierce competition, not the appearance fees … 

Don’t Even Bother Asking: So, how do you spend the offseason? The Tour Championship ended 15 days ago. Ugh.  

Quite a Breakthrough: Tyrrell Hatton. Would there be any cooler European Tour title to win than the Dunhill Links, which is played at the Old Course, Carnoustie and Kingsbarns? Hatton went 62-66 at St. Andrews to cruise to his maiden victory. 

Sighting: Sang-Moon Bae. The two-time PGA Tour winner, who is serving a mandatory two-year military sentence in South Korea, attended the Asia-Pacific Amateur. He plans to be back on Tour sometime in 2017.

Oldie but Goodie: Jay Haas. By winning the Toshiba Classic, Haas, at 62 years, 10 months and seven days, became the second-oldest winner on the senior circuit. Only Mike Fetchick, who was 63 at the 1985 Hilton Head Invitational, was older. 

Standing Ovation: Sam Saunders. What a beautiful eulogy by Arnold Palmer's grandson. If you haven't seen this yet, it is the best six minutes you'll spend today. Well done, Sam. 

Smart Take, As Usual: Martin Kaymer. The thoughtful German was asked about the rambunctious fans at Hazeltine. He was spot on with his assessment: “There are just some idiots in the crowd, and I find it amazing that they’re standing there with their children in their hands, and they say things that you think, ‘That’s your child next to you. What role model are you?’ It’s a bit shocking sometimes, the comments you hear.” 

Join the Party: Ha Na Jang. With her third LPGA victory this season, Jang, Ariya Jutanugarn (five) and Lydia Ko (four) have now accounted for nearly a quarter of the wins on tour this year.  

Quality Company: Maverick McNealy. Here is McNealy (left), with Woods and Patrick Rodgers at the Stanford football game. Last week, McNealy tied Woods and Rodgers' school record of 11 career titles. For more on McNealy and his upcoming year, click here