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.
At the Hero World Challenge, after not playing competitive golf for nearly a year, Tiger Woods played all four rounds, apparently pain free and finished in the middle of the 18-man field at 8-under. After all the hype and expectations, how would you rate Tiger’s return?
Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Honestly, I’d give him 9 outta 10… a 10 being a win. Three rounds in the 60s, thumping the ball like a decade ago, it was pretty impressive, and I think exceeded almost everyone’s expectations, except perhaps for Tiger himself. Now, if his attitude and arrogance have also gone through rehab, then welcome back, I say!
TJ Rule, Golf Away Tours (GolfAwayTJ): I have to admit, it got me excited again! He is clearly swinging freely, and that’s the biggest thing. And he putted very well for the most part. All in all, he must be encouraged, and golf fans around the world should be excited. Based on this performance, I wouldn’t be surprised if he wins in 2018 and competes in a major or two. That may be overly optimistic, but I saw some great signs and if he improves his chipping and short game, who knows!
Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): A+ He played WAY better than I thought he would and, as a result, I am already chomping at the bit for spring to get here. Woods scored lower than par in three of his four rounds in the Bahamas and even dropped two eagles to finish in a tie for ninth. But I was most impressed with his range of motion throughout the week. Not only did he seem loose and limber in between shots, but he also looked extremely comfortable putting some extra power into quite a few shots when the situation called for it. And that is quite encouraging! I still think that it is too early to start making predictions about how he is going to fare next season. However, if he can stay healthy and shore up his chipping over the next several months, golf fans around the world might be in for quite the treat!
Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: It is amazing that he was able to play apparently pain free after all the surgeries. And he did show flashes of world-class shotmaking, just like all the other guys. But it was almost home course advantage squandered. (Originally it was a Woods-Els project until some off-course issues cropped up for one of them, can’t recall for whom.) Given all that, it was a solid performance but in no way was it a harbinger of a return to greatness.
Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Better than expected. Obviously, we had no way of knowing in advance if he was truly healthy but all evidence indicated that any back issues were, pardon the pun, behind him. He generated a lot of power with a smooth swing and hit lots of shots exactly as intended. His short game looked a bit wonky at times but all things considered, he looks ready to resume a competitive schedule. Tiger said he has to learn how to play with the adrenaline flowing again but I suspect that’s just a matter of time and we’ll see him contending soon.
On Monday morning, Tiger jumped over 500 positions in the Official World Golf Rankings from 1199 to 668 based on his play at the Hero World Challenge. What’s your feeling about giving world ranking points to an unofficial event that has an 18-man field and is played on a very forgiving resort course?
Deeks: Well, outside the top 50 positions, does anyone really care except the guys who are on the list? I agree that the Hero was basically an exhibition, but the field didn’t consist of Tiger, DJ, and the Bracebridge Rotary Club… it was 18 of the top players in the world, and if you can stand up well in that field (or not), I think your ranking should be adjusted, upward or downward. Whether Tiger is suddenly “better” than 531 players is debatable if not laughable. But again, who cares? He’s still got 667 players ahead of him.
Rule: Wow, over 500 spots for an event that only a few invited guys get a chance to compete? Doesn’t sound fair to the rest of the golfing world, however it obviously doesn’t take a lot of points to move up 500 spots when you’re that low on the list! I did notice that Rickie moved up two spots with his win, but the two guys he jumped were in the event as well. Really I don’t think there should be world ranking points for an event that is special invite only, that doesn’t seem fair to me.
Kaplan: I think it’s silly to give up that many ranking points for an 18-man tournament that is of relatively no importance. However, the field did consist of many of the world’s top players and Tiger beat nearly half of them. That’s got to be worth something!
Quinn: Like a lot of courses that these guys play — especially the rota in Hawaii — Albany looks better on TV through a polarized lens that it does when you’re out there walking it. It’s a resort course, very pricey and ultimately not worth it (neither is the $19 (US) hot dog). So, there should not be any reward beyond free room (incredibly pricey) and board and a fat appearance fee for the invited players. That they get World Ranking points for participating in Eldrick’s rehab (body and/or reputation) is a travesty.
Mumford: I used to think that the World Rankings were based on a pretty solid set of criteria, especially after they made a few tweaks several years back but giving out points for a limited field event such as the Hero is ridiculous. It’s an exhibition game. As much as you think everybody is trying, they’re not grinding away like it’s the U.S. Open and some were at Albany with their families for a vacay. I’d say nobody should get ranking points unless they play in a regular Tour event with at least 64 players. Otherwise, why not give out points for the weekly Tuesday money match between Phil Mickelson, Rickie Fowler and any suckers they can hornswoggle?
Rickie Fowler shot a course record 61 on Sunday to win the Hero World Challenge for his second victory in 2017. Last year Justin Thomas finished his year off with a late win, then went on to have a breakout monster year. Could this finally be the jumping off point for Fowler to have his own monster year and maybe win a major?
Deeks: Like all these questions, the answer is “who knows?” Rickie’s got great talent which we’ve seen before, and a huge fan base billowing his sails. All he’s missing is some consistency. If he finds that, then he’ll belong in the elite category. How do you find it? Again, “who knows?”
Rule: What a front nine by Rickie! That was impressive, and shows that he’s as capable as anyone to reel off a big 2018. He’s certainly due to win a major and this could be the year. It’s amazing that there are new names near the top of the rankings each year, which is great to see, and Rickie certainly could move right near the top if he breaks out. I just want someone to dominate like Tiger used to, even though I don’t think Rickie can be that guy. But we’ll wait and see.
Kaplan: That was an impressive performance by the Rickster but I’m not yet convinced that he is gritty enough to claw his way to a major championship on some of the biggest stages in the world. I hope that I am wrong!
Quinn: The real news out of Albany was Fowler’s new ‘go to’ Puma Golf P Snapback Cap. It’s really something. The ‘P’ is so versatile. The company says it can be for Puma (never would have thought of that), or Power, Passion, Practice or .. wait for it… Perseverance. Combined with the new KING F8+ Driver and fairway metals, how can he not finally have the breakout year we’ve waited all these years for? Well, I guess the P also could be for Perhaps.
Mumford: I don’t believe it changes anything for Fowler. This was an exhibition game and his 61 in the final round is nice but proves nothing. As the most hyped golfer of his generation, the expectations on Rickie have been huge and so far I’d say he has under-delivered. His wins have been far apart and he’s shown no signs that he can build on a good showing one week, then perform as well or better the next. Great players generate that kind of momentum but Rickie has had too many hiccups in between to sustain the edge that leads to more victories. He’ll probably have a decent season in 2018, maybe a win or even two, but nothing like the season JT had and I don’t have him picked to win any of the majors.