The LPGA and European tours are entering their stretch runs, while the PGA Tour is beginning its new season. With three months left on the calendar, GolfChannel.com writers weigh in with what they are most anticipating over the remainder of the year.
By RYAN LAVNER
It’s the Hero World Challenge – an 18-man event with plenty of intrigue.
Headlining the star-studded field, of course, is tournament host Tiger Woods, who hasn’t hit a competitive shot since the PGA Championship. When he appeared at media day last month, the former world No. 1 said he was mostly focused on getting stronger in the gym and that, barring any setbacks, he planned to start making full swings in early October. That leaves him two full months to prepare for his tournament.
Sure, too much will be made of one 72-hole event, but it should shed some light on a few burning questions:
How is his health? How does his swing (sans coach) look? If he plays well, is it all systems go for 2015?
During this largely uninspiring fall slate, the World Challenge is must-see TV.
By REX HOGGARD
Although there is still plenty of meaningful golf remaining on the 2014 calendar thanks to the PGA Tour’s wrap-around schedule and the European Tour’s Race to Dubai, the one event that stands out among the remaining fields will be one of the year’s deepest.
Last year’s WGC-HSBC Champions in China was the strongest field among the four Race to Dubai events with 66 Official World Golf Ranking points going to the winner and it was a who’s who list of top players.
Dustin Johnson won the event, by three strokes over Ian Poulter followed by Graeme McDowell, Sergio Garcia, Justin Rose and Rory McIlory.
The limited-field, no-cut HSBC affords players a multitude of opportunities, including a chance to secure a late/early start on the PGA and European tours for players who split time between the two circuits.
The World Golf Championship became a full-point event on the PGA Tour last season thanks to the new split-calendar schedule, and is the second of four Final Series events on the European circuit.
The result is one of the year’s deepest fields and one last chance to see golf’s stars compete in a meaningful event. So enjoy the HSBC; golf won’t see a field this deep until the Florida swing.
By JASON SOBEL
You can accuse me of not caring enough about the beginning of the 2014-15 PGA Tour season and the conclusion of the 2014 European Tour season – the former starts 55 days before the latter ends, by the way – but I’m more intrigued about a certain 14-time major champion returning from injury without a swing coach for the first time.
Tiger Woods has vowed to make his return to competitive golf at the Hero World Challenge in early December. His performance at Isleworth isn’t very meaningful as far as how he winds up on the leaderboard that week, but should be considered of the utmost importance when projecting his long-term potential over the next year and beyond.
If Woods can return pain-free and his swing once again finds the right angles and planes, it may be a prelude to big things in 2015. If he returns with signs of that back injury still lingering and his swing looks balkier than it did toward the end of his Foley Era, it may be a precursor to further struggles.
Neither of those is certain based on one late-season hit-and-giggle at his former home course, but during the months when golf’s never-ending schedule is less important, the prospect of seeing how Tiger returns has me more excited than anything else.
By RANDALL MELL
Unless Tom Watson and Phil Mickelson are booked together on an upcoming episode of Dr. Phil, the Hero World Challenge intrigues more than anything left to see in golf in 2014. The return of Tiger Woods is about the only event remaining this year capable of mustering more obsessive analysis and dissection than the dysfunctional American Ryder Cup team.
The Hero World Challenge might be an unofficial event, but what may unfold Dec. 4-7 looms as more compelling than anything threatening to unfold at the Race to Dubai or in the PGA Tour’s wraparound opening. This glimpse of how Woods is healing, how his swing is progressing without a coach and how hopeful his outlook is toward the new year rank as more capable of luring eyes away from NFL games than anything else golf is going to muster these last few months of the year. There will be more electricity in the air for his start than for the start of anything else this fall.