Tour Confidential: Tiger’s return, PIP results, Augusta National changes
Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. This week, our team discusses Tiger Woods’ busy month of December, the results of the 2021-22 PGA Tour PIP, and the extension of Augusta National’s 13th hole.
1. For the first time in four months (since Friday at the Open), Tiger Woods will tee it up at a golf tournament (and address the media) when Woods pulls double duty and hosts/plays in the Hero World Challenge Thursday through Sunday at Albany in the Bahamas. A lot has happened in the golf world since he last played. What are you hoping to hear from Woods, see from him on the course, and what kind of finish are you expecting in the 20-player field?
[UPDATE: On Monday afternoon, Woods announced that he is withdrawing from the Hero after developing plantar fasciitis in his right foot in preparation for the event.]
Josh Sens, Senior Writer (@joshsens): All the obvious LIV-related questions. Should they get world-ranking points? Be welcomed back into the majors? Potential for a Camp David accord with the Tour? Would/should the Tour pursue a peace agreement? Also — what was he really offered to join LIV? I’m sure Tiger will have PR-vetted answers at the ready. On the course, we know he can still swing it beautifully. The question is more how much his body can handle. How he walks, bends to scoop a ball out of the cup, steps into a bunker, etc. All of those will be under Zapruder-like scrutiny as signs for the year ahead.
Sean Zak, Senior Editor (@sean_zak): I’m hoping to hear that he’s reached a different level of comfort with his body. How close is he to his ceiling, comfort-wise? Doubt he’ll share much but can it look better than the grinding he did this summer? I expect him to finish 15th. Every year a handful of pros play bad golf down there so he should be able to beat a couple of them.
Jack Hirsh, Assistant Editor (@JR_HIRSHey): I’m pretty sure we know what Tiger Woods’ takes are on LIV Golf by now, and I’m honestly more interested in hearing what his schedule might look like for next year. Will he be able to play in the U.S. Open again? His own Genesis? This will play into the second part of the question above because how he is physically determines everything here. He makes a lot of birdies on this golf course and has showed before he can do that at less than 100 percent. I foresee something similar to 2017, when he made a ton of birdies but finished tied for ninth.
Zephyr Melton, Assistant Editor (@zephyrmelton): As my comrades have noted above, my biggest curiosity concerns how Woods’ body is holding up. This year, he showed glimpses of his old self, but he didn’t have the stamina to keep it up for four rounds. December should give us an idea of his progress, and give us an idea of what we can expect in 2023.
2. This is the first of three-straight weeks Woods will star on our TV screens. He’s also playing in the Match (Dec. 10) and then teaming with his son, Charlie, at the PNC Championship (Dec. 17-18). How would you rank the three when it comes to your viewing interest as a golf fan?
Sens: The parent-kid pairings are the most interesting to me. How similar/different are the swings? What’s the family dynamic like? As tough as it is to make it in pro golf, can you imagine the weight of expectations being the child of one of the greats? For all the privilege they’ve grown up with, that’s also gotta be an unenviable burden. Maybe I’m being too shrink-y here, but that stuff is interesting to ponder as the tournament unfolds. As the most-watched famous kid golfer, Charlie seems to be still playing with youthful joy and intensity. And with that swing, he should be at least able to land a college scholarship, sparing his family the insane tuition costs that the rest of us struggle to afford. So that’s a relief.
Zak: The Hero will tell us the most about his body. The PNC will tell us … not too much. The Match will be fun! So I’ll tune in first for the Match and then the Hero and lastly the PNC.
Hirsh: Sens is spot on. As someone who grew up playing father-sons with his dad, I absolutely love these events and think they’re what golf is all about: fun! Charlie talking smack to JT and Karl Stenson’s interviews (the absence of this year is by far the greatest thing LIV has taken from the PGA Tour) were hilarious and a nice break from the uptight nature of the typical pro golf event. I also agree with Zak that the Hero will be a test of Woods’ body. As for the Match, I haven’t really cared for this series too much, save for the Tiger, Phil, Peyton, Brady match that was the ONLY live sports on during the pandemic. This one will be more like a regular Thursday buddies game. It goes PNC, Hero, then Match for me.
Melton: While the PNC might be the least competitive of the three, it’s also the most intriguing. Seeing Tiger compete alongside Charlie has been a blast the past two years, and this time should be no different. Parent-child hit-and-giggles show us a different side of these athletes, and the intel we get about the Woods family is always a treat.
3. As for the future of the aforementioned Match, Phil Mickelson, who started the inaugural event alongside Woods, will no longer be involved, Match executive producer Bryan Zuriff told our James Colgan. What are your thoughts on Mickelson’s departure, and will that hurt future installments?
Sens: Mickelson was a natural fit for these TV-made confections. But there are other decent gabbers and smack-talkers out there. The fluffy franchise hardly depends on Phil.
Zak: You can argue Mickelson was the one who kept this enterprise afloat. Last year’s duel between Brooks and Bryson was a snore, but Phil was great in the broadcast booth. It’ll be a shame not to have him involved, because who is going to fill the Phil void? It’s not Tiger, or nice guys Rory and Spieth.
Hirsh: It also isn’t going to be Barkley filling that void! Phil provided the X-factor to these things, and his presence in the booth for the LIV finale was all the more proof.
Melton: I’ll definitely miss Lefty’s quick wit on the mic, but the franchise should be OK without him as long as they keep attracting the big names.
4. Woods won the PGA Tour’s first-place PIP prize last season, and we just recently got a look at the results of how it all shook out. What most surprised you about the results from the 2022 PIP?
Sens: That Max Homa didn’t win. OK, maybe not be a shock, given the metrics and motives that actually underlie the PIP. But still — if we are measuring by the quality of content, it’s not even close.
Zak: Not as much a surprise as a reminder that people really adore Jordan Spieth. The way he plays golf is exciting. The conversations with Greller. The way he opens himself (at times) to the media. It all works well in the PIP!
Hirsh: That Rickie Fowler, who nearly lost his PGA Tour card this past season, is still considered one of the “top players” and will be required to play (and exempt for) all 13 of the PGA Tour’s elevated events next season. I don’t think the world No. 109 is qualified for any of the majors for 2023 so I’m not sure how he will hit the 20-event minimum.
Melton: You gotta feel for Collin Morikawa. This is the second year in a row he’s finished just outside the top 10, and this time it came by the slimmest of margins. Tough way to lose out on $2 million.
5. Lots of photos have surfaced over the past year, but the latest ones from Eureka Earth make it look official: Augusta National has finished its lengthening of the par-5 13th hole. It’s played around 500 yards in the past but might be in the neighborhood of 540-550 yards now. What does this change mean for the tournament, and do you like it?
Sens: Making a change simply to protect par seems misguided. But if the goal is to bring back more decision-making and require a greater variety of shots, then I’m all for it. I’m sure that’s the intent here — to force tougher choices off the tee (it looks like it’s going to be about 290 to the point where the hole begins to bend and tighten) and then more interesting decisions into the green. I’m also sure they tested this and feel that a longer hole will encourage greater variety/more interesting risks. Let’s hope it works out that way. I spoke to one respected architect who said this change runs counter to the design philosophy of the hole. He predicts lots of 3-woods off the tee and tons of layups on the second shot. That would be a bummer. The Masters would be diminished if the majority of players are playing the 13th 3-wood, mid-iron, wedge.
Zak: Lemme clue you in on something here: Not that many eagles were being made on that hole anyway. Players were hitting 3-wood to 6-iron to the center of the green and cautiously two-putting. Now, if you want the ease of a 2-putt birdie, you better hit a great drive and a solid iron shot. Otherwise, you’ll need to hit a great wedge. It’s still a great hole. It asks a slightly different question now. Contenders on Sunday will still be trying to make birdie.
Hirsh: I love it. Players are supposed to be faced with a “momentous” decision to go for the green in two, and it became more of a formality. Of course, we’ll have to see what this ends up looking like in practice, but I really haven’t seen anyone try to put a long iron on that green in a while. Would love for someone near the lead on Sunday to be in the right edge of the rough from like 220 and actually decide whether or not to go for it.
Melton: I think it’s an amazing change. The 13th has become a par 4.5 for modern players, and lengthening the hole will force players to play it closer to the way Dr. MacKenzie intended.
6. Cyber Monday is upon us! What gadget, accessory, item, etc., have you fallen in love with over the past few years that golfers should try to track down themselves?
Sens: I’m a mostly accessory-free golfer. But I recently got introduced to the Alignment Ball Mark — a ball mark with a top that swivels over a stable base so you can align its stripe with the stripe on the ball. For golfers who use that alignment mark on the ball obsessively when they’re setting up to putt — often marking and remarking to get everything just so — this is a handy little gizmo that makes alignment easy and, mercifully for the rest of us, keeps play moving. Less of that elaborate pre-putt choreography, more confidence that the ball is aligned just right. Oh. And it is USGA-conforming.
Zak: it’s so basic, but just a scorecard holder. I probably walk 80 percent of my rounds these days (humble brag), and it’s nice to keep the scorecard in decent shape without having to stuff it and bend it and manipulate it into your pocket.
Hirsh: I was lucky enough to score a Sun Mountain ClubGlider in a giveaway a couple of years ago, and I frankly don’t know why I hadn’t purchased one before. It is by far the greatest piece of luggage I’ve ever owned. When you live near a terrible airport like I do (talking about you, Philly International!) and sometimes need to navigate several terminals to go to a parked car, this bag glides effortlessly and you forget you’re even moving 40 pounds. Think of it like a push cart you can use in the airport.
Melton: A reliable rangefinder. I grew up without the means to own a distance-measuring device, but in adulthood, I’ve finally invested in one. It’s a complete game-changer and helps your game more than you can imagine. If you’ve got the disposable income, it’s a worthwhile purchase.