Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.
Tiger Woods returned to play at the Hero World Challenge after almost 16 months off, three back surgeries and a couple of aborted comeback attempts. Did Tiger’s play exceed your expectations and how competitive do you think Tiger will be in 2017?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): I said last week that “not finishing last” would be an acceptable result, and he didn’t finish last. Close to it, but respectable enough. I don’t believe Tiger will ever achieve the success and domination he once had, but it wouldn’t surprise me at all to see him contend in the majors over the next couple of years, and perhaps even win a tournament or two. It all depends on how satisfied he’ll be to find himself not being the alpha wolf he once was. And whether he’s truly 100% physically able to play.
Craig Loughry, Golf Ontario (@craigloughry): Not a great return placing wise, but he did make a few charges up the leaderboard, and he putted quite well. He did lead the field in chickens with 24, it was the “others” that hurt in the end. These are just reps going into the real schedule. For the love of God, someone get the STINGER back in his bag, he could sure use it.
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Tiger’s play at the Hero World Challenge certainly exceeded my expectations. I didn’t think he was going to finish in red figures for the week, so it was a pleasant surprise to see the 14-time major winner pour in 24 birdies at Albany. I was expecting more double bogeys, wayward drives, and shanked chips than what we saw last week and I thought that the focus Tiger exhibited through the first three days was remarkable after such a lengthy hiatus. Apparently, Tiger still has the game to go out and do some damage. The question is, then, will he play enough over the next several months to sharpen his skill set and re-establish himself in the daily grind of high-calibre competition or will he stunt this momentum by only playing here and there in certain events like he has done over the last several years. I think if he chooses the former route, then there is a strong chance that we will see a competitive Tiger in 2017.
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: His swing looked much faster and without that vicious downward assault that (I think) contributed to his various injuries, so that was an improvement over what I’d expected. Depending on how much he plays, he should match the level of competitiveness in Tour events that he had at Albany on a pro-am setup — interesting Thursday, miles behind Sunday if he makes the cut.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Tiger played better than I thought he would, especially that bogey free 65 in the second round. Once he gets a few more events under his belt, I expect we’ll see what he really has left. The swing is more fluid and his tempo much better. However, he’s 41 years old and by his own admission, not as long as he used to be. That can only be positive. I have said for a long time that if Tiger left his driver in the bag and just focussed on hitting fairways, he would win more. He’s long enough and doesn’t have to prove he can out-drive every young kid on Tour. If he keeps his tee ball under control I think he can still win majors.
Tiger got the lion’s share of attention during the Hero World Challenge as NBC and Golf Channel fawned over him like they did during his heyday. Golf seemed to be doing OK during Tiger’s absence with a focus on the current crop of top ranked players. Was all the Tiger attention warranted and is “all-Tiger-all-the-time” the new normal if he returns to regular play this season?
Deeks: Lord, I hope not. I’m sure there’ll be an orgy of Tiger coverage for the first few events, and it’ll be non-stop if he truly succeeds beyond expectation. But if he doesn’t, let’s hope the media can do a better job than to analyze his every breath.
Loughry: Come on, this is TIGER for crying out loud, of course we’re going to GUSH over his return. Like it or not, he brought many eyeballs to the TV and golf itself. From where I sit that isn’t a bad thing at all, just in time for Christmas break. If he’s within a whisper of the lead, expect to see him on the tele a lot.
Kaplan: Oh, you can bet it’s going to be Tigermania again! Whether you like him or not, the presence of Tiger Woods moves the needle like no other golfer can on Tour. Watching Tiger is captivating television; it’s like watching Michael Jordan play. I have MANY friends who hate golf and give me crap for prioritizing it over other sports (especially football) on Sundays … and even they will tune in to watch Tiger when he is playing. In fact, I got so many text messages on Saturday about Tiger being the GOAT that I had to turn my phone off in order to watch the tournament in peace.
Quinn: The Golf Channel slavering was expected, but was still so over the top that it would have been an embarrassment if Sands and company had any self awareness. Unfortunately, the nattering nabobs and the networks are way out of tune with their audience [see NFL ratings] and have forced golf fans to record all telecasts to be able to fast forward past all the mindless Eldrick worship, and the foursomes of ads bracketing every two shots and two putts. No Eldrick any time PVR’ing is the new normal.
Mumford: Tiger’s comeback was the top story so some of the attention was warranted but come on – enough is enough. If Tiger gets the same attention in 2017 that he did in Albany, which is about the same as he got when he was the No. 1 player in the world, then I won’t be watching many PGA Tour events. It’s embarrassing how the TV guys idolize him. There are too many good stories on Tour every week to be so stuck on one player if he’s not in contention.
Although some may have missed it in the return of Tigermania, 24-year old Hideki Matsuyama actually won the golf tournament for his fourth worldwide victory in his last five starts. Matsuyama is ranked 6th in the world and is definitely the hottest player on the planet right now. Amongst the top ranked players only Matsuyama, Patrick Reed and Rickie Fowler have never won a major. Do you think any of them will break through in 2017 and if so, which one?
Deeks: Good question. My preference would be Fowler, but I’m starting to think he may be the Sergio of this generation… tons of talent and charisma, but just not enough “royal jelly” to finish it off on Sundays. I’d also love to see Matsuyama win. I think he’s a super player, but then, previously, good Japanese have also failed to close when they’ve been in contention in majors… maybe Hideki’s the one who can do it. The one who probably will achieve a major first, though, is Patrick Reed, who has talent and arrogance in spades. I won’t be happy to see him win, but I won’t be surprised, either.
Loughry: Well, this will be short. They are all very good players, but I’m afraid not one of them will win a Major in 2017. The “other guys” are just that much better. And if the “other guys” don’t happen to win 2 or 3 of them, the rest of the field is pretty good too. I’d really like to see Rickie win one though, otherwise he just may end up being the next iteration of Lee Westwood.
Kaplan: I like Matsuyama’s chances at The Masters if his putter stays hot. Matsuyama’s ball striking sets up well for Augusta National and that has shown with a solo 5th and a T7 finish there over the last two years. If that putter is working in April, I would expect Matsuyama to give Spieth and Watson a run for their money.
Quinn: Matsuyama has looked real good for a while but his latest sub-par run has been other-worldly making him the current favourite. He will win Majors. And when Reed harnesses that Ryder Cup myopia, he seems born to win a U.S. Open. Fowler’s Tour Championship win was masterful, but never think of him as a favourite in any of the Majors. Some other young guns will probably break through too, but of this threesome Mats is ahead.
Mumford: If anybody breaks through I expect it will be Matsuyama. The one thing previously holding him back was his putting and that now seems much improved. Reed is streaky and like all streaky players if he gets hot at the right time, watch out. However, I think all four majors will be won by players adding to their total, not getting their first one. Some combination of Spieth, Stenson, Johnson, McIlroy and Day should grab all the hardware. Sounds like a law firm but who’s going to beat them? Not likely little Rickie who probably deserves a major but I think will be unlucky enough to reprise Sergio’s role as a career bridesmaid.