Tour Confidential: Tiger’s schedule, rules changes and Top 100 courses
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 break down Tiger Woods playing a bunch of golf in December, top courses in America and rules changes we’d like to see.
It’s going to be a Tiger Woods-filled month of December as Woods has committed to his Hero World Challenge (Dec. 1-4) and The Match VII (Dec. 10). He’s also expected to play the PNC Challenge (Dec. 17-18) — although he has yet to commit — with his son, Charlie, which would make three straight weeks of Woods on TV. What are you most looking for out of Tiger from this stretch? Will anything he does give you a better idea of what his 2023 might look like?
Sean Zak, senior writer (@sean_zak): We can learn the most about his health from the Hero. Walking 18 holes for four straight days has been a struggle for Woods this year, but those struggles were four, five, six months ago. Has it gotten any easier? He’s been doing plenty of moving around as a caddie for his son. I think Woods the golfer can beat a handful of those top pros in the Bahamas, but how will he look doing it.? That’ll give us a good idea if there’s progress being made or if there’s a legit ceiling on his body.
Alan Bastable, executive editor (alan_bastable): That TW is playing three times in three weeks is certainly cause for cautious optimism, but let’s not mistake these starts for Torrey, Pebble and Phoenix. As Zak notes, only the no-cut Hero will ask Woods to play four consecutive competition rounds, and it’s not hard to imagine him taking a cart in the Bahamas should he feel he needs one as the event progresses. (Host perk!) As for what we might learn about his 2023 prospects from this stretch, ehh — hard to say. I mean, what did we learn from his 2022 starts? He’s still got game, sure, but seemingly not the stamina for four rounds. I really hope that’s not the case in ’23, but the way Tiger continues to lumber around, it’s hard to envision him going deep in too many tournaments.
Josh Berhow, managing editor (@josh_berhow): I don’t think it will give us any great insight into what we’ll see from Tiger in 2023. The Hero is his event and not a super taxing walk, he’ll get a cart at The Match and he can also take a cart at the PNC Championship. The Hero has long been a birdie-fest, so expect him to mix in some good scores there, and I would anticipate he looks pretty good playing casual, cart-aided rounds in the other two events. That said, I still don’t think it’s a great barometer of Tiger’s prospects come 2023. We’ll have to wait for that. But for now, watching Woods tee it up three times in December sounds good to me anyway.
Speaking of Woods, a report from the AP’s Doug Ferguson named Tiger the winner of the PGA Tour’s Player Impact Program for the second consecutive year, edging out Rory McIlroy to win the biggest portion of the Tour’s new bonus pool. If Woods only played three Tour events in the last year but still won, is the formula broken?
Zak: Great question. It might be? Woods earned it during those weeks, though. The will-he-or-won’t-he at the Masters was as great of theater as we’ve had for a non-Sunday in awhile. Then breaking par in the first round? No one was gonna compete with that. I think we’ll know if the formula is broken by next year’s race. If Woods wins again, running away with it, after playing just four events … it’s possible they’ll need to rejigger the details. But then again, this whole thing feels like a payback for his years and years of carrying the Tour on his back. It might be broken and that might be okay.
Bastable: Shame for Phil he’s not still a PGA Tour member — he would have run away with it! Yeah, as Zak said, PIP is largely another avenue by which to line the pockets of the Tour’s stars who feel (rightly!) that they have been under-compensated. And no matter how many titles Rory, Rahm or JT win, nothing riles up the golf-loving masses like any speck of Tiger news, from what he’s thinking to what he’s wearing to where his private jet is headed. Forget millions of dollars — when you consider the attention and sponsorship deals Woods has driven to pro golf, the Tour probably owes him billions.
Berhow: It sounds broken but I don’t think there’s a way to fix it, as it seems silly to make someone ineligible for playing only a certain amount of events. If the PIP continues, it will be fascinating to see if Tiger can keep winning despite not playing as often. Oh well, as Alan says, consider this backpay he very much deserves. And I don’t think other pros have any issue with it, either. They know their purses are what they are due to Tiger.
GOLF released its latest Top 100 Courses in the U.S. ranking, with Pine Valley yet again leading the way. What surprises or trends stood out to you regarding this list, and does it tell us anything about the future of golf courses in America?
Zak: Not a surprise but the list just reiterated that some of the best golf in the country (and the world) is in the sand belt of America. Nebraska has three courses in the top 100, and another couple worthy of being included. No. 18 is in Kansas and No. 24 in Oklahoma. I think it tells us that you don’t need water and/or the coast to make golf invigorating. You need fresh air, firm turf, a little wind, shot variety and golf holes that ask fair questions.
Bastable: In terms of overarching trends, easy to detect the continued affinity for spruced-up Golden Age classics, as well as newer designs that have been inspired by that same style/aesthetic. These lists also remind me how many hidden or uncelebrated gems are lurking. Take Brookside, in Canton, Ohio. Years ago, I attended a wedding reception there, totally oblivious to the fact that a future Top 100 course was sitting right outside. Fun stuff!
Berhow: I’m not a rater for a reason, but it seems like courses with great topography are getting rewarded over water-splashed designs where you can lose a half dozen balls a round. Also, I need to get to Nebraska and check out some of those spots ASAP.
Let’s stay on the ranking. Which one of the 21 public options would you most recommend to our readers, one that provides plenty of bang for its buck?
Zak: Never been to Bandon, but I’ve heard it’s nice. Never played Sawgrass, but it can’t be worth the price. Pasatiempo tops my list of publicly accessible (with an acceptable price tag) courses. It’s brilliant and not hard to get to from San Francisco.
Bastable: Pasatiempo is definitely one I’d like to play that I haven’t. Lawsonia is the best value on the list, and makes for a fab add-on to a Whistling Straits trip. But not to continue to be wowed by what Mike Keiser has accomplished at Bandon — single resort owning 5% of our list is remarkable — and, yes, each course is worthy.
Berhow: Lawsonia is obvious, so is Bethpage Black, where you will get beat up a little bit more but can at least experience it and tell people about it. Sand Valley is only going to get better with the addition of two more courses. I really like Harbour Town, which is over $400 for a peak rate these days but worth splurging for once (especially if you get it with a non-peak rate). It’s a fun, memorable, classic design and that area is loaded with other great options to complete a pretty special golf-trip itinerary.
The USGA announced a few rules modifications that will take effect on Jan. 1, which are a part of an ongoing effort to make the game’s guidelines easier to understand and apply, and more in sync with the way golf is played today. Some good additions, but what rule should they tackle next?
Zak: Make every boundary universal. Hazards, out of bounds, etc. Treat them all the same, red staked. It would simplify many a 15-handicap’s decisions on where to play No. 3 from.
Bastable: I cede my time to Jimmy, a northern Floridian and shoe-store owner with whom I played golf this weekend. Halfway through our round, Jimmy turned to me and said, “You know what’s the worst rule in golf?”
“Go on, Jimmy!”
“That you don’t have to pull the flag anymore,” he said.
Jimmy’s beef: pulling your ball out of the tight space between the bottom of the flagstick and side of the cup damages the edge of the hole. He pointed to the frayed edges of the hole at which we were looking and showed me the same issue on three or four other greens. Jimmy wasn’t wrong.
“There are better ways to speed up play,” he said.
Berhow: Down with white stakes! Stroke-and-distance everywhere unless you are playing a high-level amateur or pro golf tournament. Let’s make the game more fun and speed it up in the process.