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Majors aside: Top 10 non-major events to get excited for in 2020

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Every golf calendar arguably begins and ends with the major championships, and 2020 will be no different with Tiger Woods returning to defend his title at Augusta National in April and Phil Mickelson eyeing one final shot at Winged Foot and the U.S. Open.

But beyond the four Grand Slam stops, the new year provides plenty of intrigue and opportunity. Here’s a look at the top 10 non-major tournaments to watch in 2020:

• The American Express (Jan. 16-19): Traditionally the old “Bob Hope” has been a key part of the Tour’s quiet start to the year, but next week’s edition has a different feel. American Express announced a five-year sponsorship deal to give the event some much-needed stability and Phil Mickelson, a two-time winner of the Hope, has signed on to host the event.

• Farmers Insurance Open (Jan. 23-26): Woods seems poised to make his first start of ’20 at a place where he’s won eight professional titles, but the debuts go well beyond Tiger. Jason Day, who withdrew from the Presidents Cup in December with an injury, is currently committed to the event as is last year’s Jack Nicklaus Award winner, Rory McIlroy. Professional golf’s wraparound schedule may keep players engaged all year, but Torrey Pines is where the game’s best return to work.

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• Saudi International (Jan. 30-Feb. 2): The European Tour stop provided plenty of content last year for mostly the wrong reasons. Players were criticized for playing the event amid growing concerns over Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, and increasing tensions between the United States and Iran will make this year’s stop even more of a talking point. Still, top players including world No. 1 Brooks Koepka, Dustin Johnson and Phil Mickelson have committed to play the event, making the second-year tournament a must-see stop.

• Arnold Palmer Invitational (March 5-8): Any return to Bay Hill and Arnie’s Place is good for the golf soul but this year’s event has the potential to be historic. While the golf world celebrated Woods’ record-tying victory in Japan last fall, he now sets his sights on triumph No. 83. The API, where he’s an eight-time winner, is as good a spot as any to make history.

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• The Players Championship (March 5-8): The “fifth” major’s return to the cooler confines of March produced one of 2019’s most inspired finishes, with McIlroy’s victory and the weather, which is going to make the March event more unpredictable, will likely be more of a factor this time around.

• Irish Open (May 28-31): Following cameos in July the last two years, the event moves back to May, perched perfectly between the PGA Championship and U.S. Open. The move should make the Irish Open more palatable for international players like McIlroy, who skipped the championship last year but has committed to playing the event in ’20.

• WGC-FedEx St. Jude Invitational (July 2-5): Last year’s schedule makeover left the Memphis stop directly after The Open and dangerously close to becoming a geographically undesirable stop. The move to early July this year helps alleviate those scheduling issues, but it’s still going to make for an interesting run with two majors (U.S. Open and Open Championship), a World Golf Championship and the Olympics scheduled in a seven-week stretch on three continents.

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• The Olympics (July 30-Aug. 2): This year’s Games have none of the concerns that haunted golf’s return to the Olympics in 2016, and so far the event has received universal support from the game’s biggest stars, including Woods and McIlroy. Fitting the Olympics into the golf calendar - not to mention the logistics of playing a high-profile event in Tokyo - has been a challenge, but the potential to have the game’s best competing for a Gold Medal in primetime is an unparalleled payoff.

• The Northern Trust (Aug. 13-16): The first playoff stop has taken on added importance following last year’s move to just three postseason events, but the event stands out in ’20 because of where it’s going to be played, not when. The tournament will be held at TPC Boston, which had been the site of the previous playoff event that was nixed from the condensed schedule. The layout has grown on players throughout the years and the fans have proven to be as passionate about golf as they are for football and baseball.

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• Ryder Cup (Sept. 25-27): Inevitably, the matches always stand out among the year’s best events, and this year’s Ryder Cup is shaping up to be particularly intriguing. Playing-captain Woods proved at last year’s Presidents Cup he’s not ready to trade his clubs for a captain’s cart just yet and Steve Stricker has proven to be the kind of leader the U.S. team is inspired by. Conversely, European frontman Padraig Harrington has been preparing for this his entire life and Whistling Straits, site of this year’s matches, isn’t the type of venue that would offer a home-field advantage. If you’re scoring at home, it's officially too close to call.