Getty Images

Notes: What to expect from Tiger in 2018?

By Doug FergusonJanuary 2, 2018, 5:26 pm

KAPALUA, Hawaii – The PGA Tour rings in the new year at Kapalua for the 20th straight time. After all these years, the one moment that stands above all others was the titanic battle between Tiger Woods and Ernie Els in 2000.

Both made eagle on the 18th hole to force a playoff. Both made birdie on the first extra hole. Woods ended it with a 35-foot birdie putt on the next hole that was downhill and into the grain with about 6 feet of break. Equally memorable was what Els said when it was over:

''He's 24. He's probably going to be bigger than Elvis when he gets into his 40s.''

Woods turned 42 on Saturday. He's still not bigger than Jack Nicklaus when it comes to golf's ultimate yardstick - most majors won.

But he's still Tiger, and that means a lot.

He commands more attention than major champions nearly half his age. And that's why Woods, who makes golf must-see TV when he's playing, leads the list of five questions to consider for 2018.


WHAT TO EXPECT FROM TIGER?

The question wasn't much different a year ago.

Woods returned to the Hero World Challenge after a 15-month recovery from two more back surgeries, and more was made of his 24 birdies than finishing 15th against an 18-man field in an unofficial holiday event. When the new year began, he lasted three rounds over two tournaments and was out again.

This time, he is returning from fusion surgery on his lower back. Most noticeable last month in the Bahamas was his power, and Woods said in a recent blog that he is hitting a full club longer than he was before. Adding to the higher level of optimism is the amount of golf he played leading up to his return - and not the score, but the company. Rickie Fowler, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Daniel Berger all played with Woods and liked what they saw.

The measure will be the full schedule that he wants to play, though he has not said what or where that would be. And if his health is as solid as he is letting on, golf will get a full dose of Woods in the majors for the first time since 2015.


WHO'S ON THE PLANE TO FRANCE?

The Americans haven't won the Ryder Cup on European soil since 1993, two months after Jordan Spieth was born.

That's old news.

The Americans won the last Ryder Cup at Hazeltine, and they start 2018 with the top three players in the world ranking and five of the top eight. That means they will be favored on paper, and most American golf fans will be dismissive of Europe's chances.

That's old news, too.

The more pertinent question is who goes to Paris for the matches?

Much attention will be on Phil Mickelson, who hasn't missed a team competition since 1993 and is desperate to make the next one. He hasn't won since 2013 and was a captain's pick for the Presidents Cup.

The Americans had 14 players in their 20s win on the PGA Tour last year, and six of them were on the Presidents Cup team. Odds are not all of those six will be in France, and U.S. captain Jim Furyk could have some tough choices for his picks.


WHAT WILL THE SCHEDULE LOOK LIKE?

Sometime this summer, the PGA Tour will announce a significant overhaul to a schedule that for years has been predictable.

This is the last PGA Championship in August before it moves to May in 2019. Paring the number of PGA Tour events to achieve a Labor Day finish to the FedEx Cup won't be an issue with the loss of one playoff event (Boston), moving one event to the fall (Greenbrier) and likely converting one into a World Golf Championship (Memphis).

The tough part is figuring out where everything else goes.

That starts with March, which currently features a pair of World Golf Championships (Mexico, Match Play) and next year adds The Players Championship. Something will have to give. Also, title sponsorships must be resolved for the Houston Open and possibly Colonial.


HOW WILL RORY MCILROY RESPOND?

For the first time since 2009, Rory McIlroy goes into a new year outside the top 10 in the world. Attribute that to nagging injuries that persuaded him to take a long break at the end of last year to get his health and game in order.

He will have gone more than three months without competition when he returns in Abu Dhabi, the start of an ambitious schedule in which he will play eight times before he gets to Augusta National.

Golf should have a good idea by then if McIlroy is back in the conversation.


WHO MAKES IT BACK TO PARADISE?

Justin Thomas said he would love nothing better than to start every year at Kapalua.

As good as he is, there's no guarantee.

Only nine players from the 32-man field last year made it back to start 2018. Among the missing are Jason Day, who started last year at No. 1, and Bubba Watson, missing from the Sentry Tournament of Champions for the first time in four years. Spieth missed out in 2015. Rickie Fowler wasn't at Kapalua last year.

There were 14 first-time winners last year on the PGA Tour. It's not getting any easier to win.

That applies to Woods, too.


Note: Ferguson is the golf writer for The Associated Press.
Getty Images

Like a tattoo: Ko shares early Mediheal lead

By Randall MellApril 26, 2018, 10:45 pm

Lydia Ko put herself in early position Thursday to try to extend her birthday celebration through Sunday at the LPGA Mediheal Championship.

Ko, who turned 21 on Tuesday, is off to a strong start at Lake Merced Golf Club, where she has a lot of good memories to draw upon as she seeks to regain the winning form that made her the greatest teen phenom in the history of the women’s game.

With a 4-under-par 68, Ko moved into a four-way tie for the lead among the morning wave in the first round. I.K. Kim, Jessica Korda and Caroline Hedwall also opened with 68s.

All Ko has to do is look at her right wrist to feel good about returning to San Francisco. That’s where she tattooed the date April 27, 2014, in Roman numerals. That’s how she commemorated her Swinging Skirts victory at Lake Merced, her first title as an LPGA member. She won there again the following year.

“This is a golf course where I've played well,” Ko said. “The fans have been amazing. They’ve been super supportive every single time I've come here, even since I played the U.S. Juniors here.”


Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


Ko made it to the semifinals of the U.S. Girls’ Junior at Lake Merced in 2012.

“It just brings back a lot of great memories,” she said.

Ko got this week off to a good start with friends from South Korea and New Zealand flying to California to surprise her on her birthday. She was born in South Korea and grew up in New Zealand.

“Turning 21 is a huge thing in the United States,” Ko cracked. “I’m legal now, and I can do some fun things.”

Ko is looking to claim her 15th LPGA title and end a 21-month winless spell. Her ball striking was sharp Thursday, as she continues to work on improvements under her swing coach, Ted Oh. She hit 11 of 14 fairways and 16 of 18 greens in regulation.

“My ball striking's been getting better these last few weeks, which has been really nice,” Ko said at week’s start. “But then I've been struggling with putting, which was the aspect of the game that was going really well. I feel like the pieces are there, and just, sometimes, the hardest thing is to kind of put all those pieces together. Just have to stay patient, I know there are a lot of good things happening.”

Getty Images

Watch: Rose drops trou despite gator danger

By Golf Channel DigitalApril 26, 2018, 10:12 pm

We all know how fashion-conscious pro golfers are, and sometimes that even trumps modesty.

Take Justin Rose, whose tee shot on the par-3 third hole in Thursday's opening round of the Zurich Classic found the water. But the ball was close enough to shore for Rose to try to play it. Not wanting to get his light-colored pants dirty - what is up with all the white pants on Tour these days, anyway? - he took them off to play the shot.

If there were any gators in the water hazard - and this being Louisiana, there almost certainly were - they showed no interest in the Englishman.

It was only appropriate that Rose should strip down for a shot, as his partner, Henrik Stenson, famously did the same thing (to an even greater degree) at Doral in 2009.

Finally, just to provide some closure, Rose failed to get up and down.

Getty Images

Like father like son: Bring Your Child to Work Day

By Jay CoffinApril 26, 2018, 7:51 pm

ORLANDO, Fla. – Today is Take Our Sons and Daughters to Work Day at Golf Channel, where everything is fun and games until your child promptly says something that embarrasses you beyond belief. It’s only happened six times today. So far.

My daughter, 12, is in middle school and feels like she’s too big for this sort of shindig. But my son Brady, 11, was all in. The deal was that he could spend the day with me, I’d take him to McDonald’s for lunch, but he had to write a golf story of some sort for GolfChannel.com.

Here is his unedited work, in all its glory:

By BRADY COFFIN

My name is Brady Coffin and I play golf. I started at the age of 4 years old. My two favorite golfers are Jordan Spieth and Tiger Woods. They are really good golfers and every time I watch them they always give me tips.

My dad Jay Coffin is the best editor of Golf Channel and always gave me tips when I first put the golf club in my hand. I had my very first par in Hilton Head when I was 7 years old. I am on the Drive, Chip and Putt commercial and I was in a movie where I played a young Ben Hogan. My favorite golf course is Royal Blue in the Bahamas.

I have won many golf tournaments and I am going to play in another tournament next month. I have made a couple of birdies. I am going to play in the PGA Junior League this summer.

At the Golf Channel I get to meet new people and play many games. One of the amazing people I met was Mr. Damon Hack. He is on the Morning Drive show and was very nice to me. Damon has been playing golf for 25 years and his favorite golfer growing up was Tiger Woods.

He loves working at Golf Channel.

“It gives me the opportunity to talk and write about the sport that I love. It’s a sport that I can play with my boys. It’s a sport that I can watch on television. It’s a sport that teaches great life lessons. I couldn’t ask for a better job,” Damon said to me.

(P.S. I will be better than Jordan Spieth.)

Getty Images

Not the 'prettiest' 65, but Duval, Furyk will take it

By Ryan LavnerApril 26, 2018, 7:44 pm

AVONDALE, La. – Wearing a polo instead of a dress shirt, working with a caddie and not a producer, David Duval exited the scoring tent, walked toward the group of reporters waiting for him after their 65 and grumbled to teammate Jim Furyk, “The damn media.”

Duval was joking – we think – since he now is one of us on the dark side, a successful and respected TV analyst, after an injury-shortened career in which he battled Tiger Woods, rose to world No. 1, won a major and then experienced such a miserable slump that it drove him into an entirely new line of work.

Now 46, Duval doesn’t play much anymore, only 11 events in the past four years. His last made cut was in July 2015. Earlier this year, he teed it up at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am, but only because he and his wife, Susie, enjoy the vibe there. Competitively, he knew he didn’t stand a chance. He had moved back to Colorado, worked two out of the three weeks, and then couldn’t practice the other week because the weather didn’t cooperate. Not surprisingly, he shot three consecutive rounds of 76 or worse.

And that could have been the extent of his season (save for his annual appearance at The Open), but he was drawn to the idea of the team format at the Zurich, to the idea of playing with Jim Furyk, with whom he’s been friends for the past 32 years, dating to their days in junior golf. So Duval reached out, asking the U.S. Ryder Cup captain if he wanted to team up, for old times’ sake.

“This was about being with a friend, reuniting, having our wives together for a few days,” said Duval, who estimated that he’s played more than 100 practice rounds with Furyk over the years. “Expectation-wise, I don’t know what they are for me. I don’t get to participate out here and compete.”


Full-field scores from the Zurich Classic of New Orleans

Zurich Classic of New Orleans: Articles, photos and videos


But Duval took this start seriously. He almost never travels with his clubs, but he brought them to the Masters, working with his old coach, Puggy Blackmon, between TV appearances and bouncing between Augusta Country Club and Augusta University’s practice facility.

Without any on-camera work since then, he’s spent the past two weeks grinding, even bringing Blackmon to New Orleans for a range session, just like most of the other pros in the field.

“It’s like a normal preparation,” he said. “Maybe not as much as it would be for a typical player, but a lot more than I’ve been able to do in the past.”

Duval has no intentions of diving back into competitive golf full-time, but working as an analyst has given him a new perspective on the game he loves.

“When you don’t play a lot and you don’t have that opportunity, you feel like you have to play perfectly,” he said. “Being on the other side of the desk, you see how many crappy golf shots really, truly get hit, and it’s like, look, you don’t have to be perfect. You just have to hit more good ones than bad ones and go from there.”

That also sums up his and Furyk’s opening round here at the Zurich.

Furyk joked before the event that they’re the rustiest team in the field, but playing best ball, they remained steady in a driving rainstorm, then ran off seven birdies to shoot 65 and sit in the top 10 when they finished their round.

“It wasn’t necessarily the prettiest,” Duval said, “but it was solid. It wasn’t like we had 36 looks at birdie.”

“We ham-and-egged it really good today,” Furyk added. “We got pretty much one of the best scores we could have out of the round.”

The second round could be a different story, of course, with alternate shot. It’s a more nerve-wracking format – especially for two aging warriors without many competitive reps this year – and they figure to find some unusual parts of TPC Louisiana.

But that’s a worry for Friday, because Duval was in the mood to savor his four birdies, his team score of 65 and his ideal start to a work week with his longtime friend.

“I think it was good,” he said, breaking into a wry smile, “especially for me.”