All eyes are on Tiger again

Associated Press

 

Tiger Woods lines up a putt on the 17th hole during the final round of the Hero World Challenge golf tournament in Nassau, Bahamas.

Kapalua, Hawaii — The new year in golf is consumed by an old topic, this time with a twist.

Instead of wondering when (or if) Tiger Woods will play, the question now is how will he play?

And here’s another question: Who ever imagined a time when the guys he beat for so many years would be rooting for him to play better?

“I think we’ve proved that golf does not need Tiger to be successful,” Brandt Snedeker said last month in the Bahamas. “That being said, golf is better when Tiger is around. I don’t think we need Tiger necessarily any more. We all want Tiger. I think golf is a better product, it’s better TV and I want to see Tiger play again. It’s fun. You see the crowds he brings and he still has an innate ability to do something only a couple of guys can do.”

No one commands attention like Woods. The biggest problem for golf might be battling the perception that it matters only when Woods is playing.

Compared with last year, that’s a nice problem to have.

The first tee shot of the year is Thursday. Answers to a few topics will take months to sort out.

By most accounts, Woods made a successful return in the Bahamas, except for the one that matters. He finished in 15th place out of 17 players and 14 shots out of the lead. But it was a start, and a healthy one. The best bet is Woods will return at Torrey Pines at the end of the month, and with each event, the measure will shift form his health to his score.

Jack Nicklaus is mostly curious about his motivation, and he speaks from experience. Nicklaus won his 16th and 17th majors at age 40, and he refers to his final major in the 1986 Masters as “an accident in many ways.”

“It’s really difficult when you’ve had as much success as I had over a long period of time to charge your batteries, day after day, and go back out and say, ‘Man, I want to do this again.’ That’s what he’s going to have to do,” Nicklaus said. “Whether he can do that or not, I don’t know.”

Race for No. 1

Jordan Spieth started last year at No. 1, won three times and fell to No. 5.

Spieth, Jason Day and Rory McIlroy were separated by 0.76 points of their world ranking average going into last year, so some movement was inevitable. Day has been at No. 1 since the end of the March, and there are a half-dozen players or more who could end 2017 at No. 1.

Tournament of Champions

When: Thursday-Sunday

Course: Plantation Course at Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii

TV: Golf Channel (6 p.m. Thursday, Friday and Saturday, 5 p.m, Sunday), NBC (4 p.m Saturday, 3 p.m. Sunday)

Defending champion: Jordan Spieth