Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods’ return, designated events, Augusta changes

Tiger Woods of the United States speaks to the media during a press conference prior to The Genesis Invitational at Riviera Country Club on February 16, 2022 in Pacific Palisades, California.

Tiger Woods says he will tee it up at next week Genesis Invitational.

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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, we discuss Tiger Woods’ return next week, the year’s second designated event at the WM Phoenix Open and the confirmed changes to Augusta National’s 13th hole.

1. Tiger Woods will host next week’s Genesis Invitational, but he announced on Friday that he’ll also play in it, making his first start since last year’s Open Championship (and excluding his PNC Championship tune-up with Charlie). What should we expect from Woods, and how significant is it (for next week and the future) that he seems healthy enough to commit to play?

Tiger Woods is in the field at the 2023 Genesis Invitational.
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Josh Sens, Senior Writer (@joshsens): Anytime Tiger plays these days, it’s huge. This gives added meaning to ‘elevated’ event and feels something like an early-season statement on behalf of the Tour. As in, see if you can match this, LIV. Of course, he wouldn’t be playing if he didn’t feel he could hack it physically, but I don’t expect him to be in contention, especially not on a course where he hasn’t had a Tiger-like track record. As for the future? His health has been too fragile for any long-term guarantees. That applies to all of us, I suppose. As the late, great baseball announcer Jerry Remy once said, ‘we’re all day to day.’

Jessica Marksbury, Multimedia Editor (@jess_marksbury): As Max Homa alluded when he jokingly said, “I imagine we’ll be carrying [Tiger] down the hill on 1 and up it on 18,” Riviera is no easy walk, so the fact that Tiger feels healthy enough to take it on is super positive. His presence adds additional excitement and gravitas to an already massive week. With the Masters less than two months away, Tiger will need some competitive reps. It will be awesome to see where he stands at (in his words) “an ACTUAL PGA Tour event.”

Jonathan Wall, Managing Editor for Equipment (@jonathanrwall): A Tiger sighting at Riviera is a big win, regardless of how he performs. I’m not expecting much from him in his return to competition. The goal should be to make the weekend and stay healthy. If he can do that, his chances at Augusta get a big bump. 

2. On Sunday, Scottie Scheffler repeated at the WM Phoenix Open, holding off Jon Rahm and Nick Taylor and winning for the fifth time in the past year. What’s the bigger takeaway from the week — Scheffler’s continued rise, the Taylor Cinderella story or Rahm’s continued dominance? Or something else? 

Scottie Scheffler of the United States and caddie Ted Scott celebrate winning on the 18th green during the final round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 12, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
Scottie Scheffler goes back-to-back at WM Phoenix Open, reclaims World No. 1
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Sens: Better than those stories to my mind is Rickie Fowler’s revival. That rebuilt swing is looking promising. Butch Harmon predicted he’d win this year. Would be great to see him back in the mix more regularly. 

Marksbury: I’m still holding out hope for a Fowler major, Josh! He deserves it — he’s been close so many times. Maybe this is the year. As the defending champ, Scottie probably deserved even more hype than he received this week. He was so solid and really delivered on Sunday. It was great to see such a strong leaderboard throughout the weekend. And you just can’t deny Jon Rahm’s results of late either. But what I loved most was the chance to watch multiple stars, all of whom appear to be firing on all cylinders, facing off in such a great atmosphere. If this is what we have to look forward to at designated events this season, I’m all in. 

Wall: I’ll go with Scheffeler’s win. Everyone and their mom has been talking about Rahm recently, and rightfully so. No one has been in better form. Scheffler, who spent some time at No. 1, made it clear he wanted to get back to the top when he said, “I don’t like finishing second.” He backed up the comment with another impressive performance at TPC Scottsdale. Scheffler and Rahm dueling on Sunday is something I could get used to. 

3. Our Dylan Dethier wrote that as the Tour’s first full-field designated event, with its strongest field ever, a massive $20 million purse and the rowdiest crowd in golf on the grounds, it was crucial for the WM Phoenix Open to deliver. So, did it?

No. 16 at TPC Scottsdale will take center stage again this week.
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Sens: The defending champ in the final group. Spieth in the mix. Rahm right there as well, with a chance to reclaim the top spot in the rankings. All that and a streaker. I’d say it delivered.

Marksbury: No question. I’ve been attending the WM Phoenix Open for more than a decade now, and I’ve never seen it so packed. And as Josh mentioned, the fact that marquee players led the charge into the final round is exactly what you want to see. 

Wall: Designated status gave the WM Phoenix Open the only thing it lacked: star power. With big names at the top of the board, it’s safe to say the event delivered — and then some. 

4. The 16th hole at TPC Scottsdale’s Stadium Course lived up to the hype once again. It seems to be pretty common knowledge that’s the best (or one of the best) bucket-list viewing areas in pro golf. What’s the other?

Volunteers clean up trash on the 16th hole during the third round of the WM Phoenix Open at TPC Scottsdale on February 11, 2023 in Scottsdale, Arizona.
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Sens: Tough to beat the area behind 12 at Augusta, where you can also watch the approaches at 11.

Marksbury: Agree, Josh. The Masters rules. Love the elevated view you can get on the par-3 16th at Augusta too. While nothing really compares to 16 at TPC Scottsdale, the driveable par-4 17th has also become a sneakily awesome experience, especially during the final round.

Wall: I’ll go with No. 7 at Pebble Beach. The view is second-to-none, and it always provides some interesting pro-caddie yardage discussions when the wind is whipping. Honorable mention is No. 6 at Riviera. Another well-known par-3 with a bunker in the middle of the green. Hang by the putting surface and see who has to pull sand wedge for their second. 

5. Speaking of the WM Phoenix Open, two years ago Brooks Koepka won it for the second time in his career. Yet this past week the LIV Golf player missed the cut at an Asian Tour event in Oman with rounds of 74 and 78. This comes around the same time Koepka reportedly revealed some of his injury-related struggles in the upcoming Netflix docuseries. So, what’s going on with Brooks Koepka? Do you expect him to be a major contender this year?

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Sens: A bad week for Koepka at a low-wattage event isn’t a total shocker for a guy who often sounds bored by anything that’s not a major. In an interview with us about a month ago, Koepka said he was feeling good physically. If that’s the case, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him contend, as he did in three of the four majors in 2021. I wouldn’t bet him to win one, though. That aura of inevitability he used to carry just isn’t there these days.

Marksbury: Even during his major-winning heyday, Kopeka wasn’t always included among the tournament favorites. That irked him, and he used the chip-on-the-shoulder to great effect. Maybe he needs some of that grittiness to resurface. He has a history of rising to the occasion, so I would never count him out, even with this recent poor performance in the books.

Wall: With guaranteed money in his bank account, it makes you wonder where the motivation comes from. I think the Tour schedule kept him sharp — even he wants to say he was bored most of the time, outside of the majors. I’m not convinced LIV’s format is going to do the same, even if he’s healthy. 

6. It’s been rumored for months and a conversation topic for years, but it’s now official: Augusta National announced the par-5 13th hole at the Masters has been lengthened from 510 to 545 yards with the addition of the new back tee. It’s played as the easiest hole in the tournament’s history and was the third-easiest last year (4.852). Do you like the new tee? And is it enough of a change to make a significant impact on the hole?

A diagram of Augusta National's Amen Corner.
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Sens: The fewer 7-iron approaches on par-5s, the better. In that sense, this change should restore some drama to the second shot. But like so many changes in the Tiger-proofing era, I suspect it will mostly favor the longer hitters. In an interview with us, for instance, DJ said he expects to be able to rip driver now without worrying about going up into the pine straw right. Less decision-making off the tee. But the second shot is where the 13th gets interesting, anyway. And we’re now to see more long irons and hybrids into the green, which brings things closer to the way the hole was meant to be played. So, yeah, this is about as meaningful a change as we could hope for … until they get around to rolling back the ball 🙂.

Marksbury: Will 35 yards make that much of a difference? I don’t know. But I’m generally not a fan of any measure that seeks to make red numbers harder to come by on the back nine. Give me eagle putts and give me roars on Sunday!

Wall: The gettable holes on the back nine have provided some incredible moments over the years. Lengthen 13 to 545 yards and Phil likely isn’t hitting from the pinestraw. Does the extra length keep Bubba from cutting the corner and having a wedge in for eagle? I don’t understand the need to lengthen the hole. At 510, the trees on the right are in play; it also makes Rae’s Creek a distinct possibility if you lose one left. An additional 35 yards makes the hole more straightforward and reduces some of the risk/reward. To me, it feels like an unnecessary alteration.

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