The men’s first major championship of the year is two weeks away, the women’s just a week away.
Here’s our Hot Seat lineup with the approach of the Masters and the ANA Inspiration in mind:
Smoking carbon composites – Tiger Woods
Woods is the betting favorite to win the Masters in most sportsbooks, and while his game is coming together quickly, he won’t be the experts’ pick without getting his driver under control.
The driver looks like the last piece Woods needs to once more become the favorite wherever he goes.
Right now, though, there’s an open wound that needs to be cauterized before he heads to Augusta National.
That double-cross Woods blew into someone’s backyard along the 16th hole Sunday at the Arnold Palmer Invitational came from a reservoir of uncertainty that his driver continues to create.
Woods has come a long way with his driver. When he pulls it out of the bag, it isn’t like he’s ripping a bandage off anymore, not the way it was three and four years ago. Still, he doesn’t pull that club with the same relish Rory McIlroy does, or Dustin Johnson and Jason Day, for that matter. Physically and psychologically, they’ve got an advantage on him until he does.
Woods did not qualify for this week’s WGC-Dell Technologies Match Play Championship, so he’s got extra time to address his biggest shortcoming.
“Project No. 1 over the next two weeks is going to be the driver,” Golf Channel’s Notah Begay said earlier this week. “Tiger has to focus in on trying to find some way to navigate Augusta National with the driver, because it’s a course that’s going to force you to hit driver.”
Smoldering Tex Mex Tango – Dustin Johnson
The world No. 1 is playing just fine enough since his victory at the Sentry Tournament of Champions at year’s start. He’s just been overshadowed by the brilliance of a lot of fellow stars.
With McIlroy, Phil Mickelson and Justin Thomas all winning in the last month, with Woods stepping up his game, Johnson has been quietly toiling toward the Masters.
Johnson has won 10 times since Woods' last victory, and yet Woods is the 8-to-1 favorite to win the Masters.
Johnson, McIlroy and Thomas are listed at 10-to-1 by the Westgate Las Vegas SportsBook.
It doesn’t rankle Johnson.
“It’s fine with me,” he said Tuesday. “He’s playing pretty well.”
Even as the defending champ this week at the WGC Dell Technologies Match Play in Austin, Texas, Johnson isn’t center stage, not with McIlroy marching into town off his dominant finish at the API.
Flying relatively under the radar might seem like a comfortable position for a world No. 1, but he won’t stay atop the world rankings for long flying under the radar.
Rolex Ranking Roast – Shanshan Feng
The women’s Rolex world No. 1 enters the week at the Kia Classic trying to hold off a strong field with the ANA Inspiration looming next week.
The top seven players in the world rankings, and 11 of the top 12, are at Aviara Golf Club in Carlsbad, California.
Feng has quietly reigned atop the world rankings for 19 consecutive weeks, holding off bids to overtake her by No. 2 Lexi Thompson, No. 3 So Yeon Ryu and No. 4 Sung Hyun Park.
They’ve all been close enough in world ranking average this year to take the top spot, but Feng isn’t backing down. She’s winless so far this this year, but she has finished fifth or better in two of her three starts.