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?
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.”
No one commands attention like Woods. The biggest problem for golf might be battling the perception that it only matters 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.
TIGER WOODS: By most accounts, Woods made a successful return in the Bahamas.
He finished 15th out of 17 players and 14 shots out of the lead. But it was a start, and a healthy one. The best bet is that Woods will return at Torrey Pines at the end of the month, and with each event, the measure will shift from 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.
THE BATTLE 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, but there are a half-dozen players or more who could end 2017 at No. 1.
Dustin Johnson won the U.S. Open and was the PGA Tour player of the year. Henrik Stenson won his first major and became a threat every time he teed it up. Hideki Matsuyama ended last year by winning four of his final five tournaments.
MAJOR MYSTERIES: No one knows what to expect at the U.S. Open for the second time in three years. The USGA took golf’s second-oldest championship to Chambers Bay in the Pacific Northwest in 2015, and now heads to Erin Hills in the middle of Wisconsin.
The last time the U.S. Open went to two courses in a three-year span that had never held a professional major was Hazeltine (1970) and Pebble Beach (1972).