How well is Tiger Woods going to play in Abu Dhabi, and when is he going to win?
As I wrote in December, Tiger's win at the limited-field Chevron World Challenge was significant for Woods because it showed that the progress we saw in Australia wasn't an aberration. His iron game was more consistent, he putted better and he hit more fairways.
Woods wasn't missing fairways both left and right, and when he misplayed an iron he seemed to leave himself room to get up and down. Those playable misses can help transform a 73 into a 70, or a 70 into a 68.
I will be paying particular attention to how well Tiger's game holds up if the desert winds start to swirl. No one seems to pay closer attention to the wind than Woods. On the tee, he's constantly looking at tree tops and flags and tossing grass clippings. If Woods has any lingering doubts about his swing changes, the wind will expose them.
Rumors have been swirling that Tiger has played some epic rounds in Florida lately, including reports of a 62 at the Medalist and a 63 at Seminole. He'll need rounds like that this week because the field in Abu Dhabi is stacked with talented Europeans, including top-ranked Luke Donald, Rory McIlroy, Lee Westwood and Martin Kaymer.
This is the kind of event that Woods used to dominate. He has won 16 World Golf Championships; Australia's Geoff Ogilvy is second with three.
I'm not ready to say that Woods will win a major this season, but I think he'll play very well and be in contention on Sunday in Abu Dhabi. He loves playing in the Middle East, loves the relative privacy he's given there and says he is 100-percent healthy. I can't wait to see how today's top-ranked players like Donald, McIlroy and Westwood will react if Woods is near the lead with 18 holes to go. Guys used to crumble, but I think a lot of them would now relish the challenge of taking on Tiger at his best.
If Woods can finish in the top five, it will be a good sign. If he can win, watch out -- this season could be one of the best ever.
At 45, can David Toms make the Ryder Cup team?
Recently, we've seen plenty of golfers who were well past 40 accomplish great things.
In 2009, at 48, Kenny Perry nearly won the Masters. Three months later, 59-year-old Tom Watson was eight feet away from winning his sixth Open Championship. Last year, Darren Clarke won his first major at 43. Vijay Singh has 22 wins since blowing out 40 candles.
Will David Toms, thanks to a modern driver and a timeless putting stroke, be next? He won at Colonial last season a week after losing the Players Championship in a playoff, and he qualified for the Presidents Cup, where he went 3-1.
Toms finished 26th out of 27 players at Kapalua and missed the cut at the Sony, but he had a strong showing at last week's Humana Challenge, shooting 20 under to tie for sixth.
Another win would go a long way toward ensuring Toms a spot at Medinah in October, and I think Davis Love would love to have him. Toms is an experienced, feisty player who wouldn't be intimidated by the Europeans. The top eight players on the Ryder Cup points list automatically qualify, and Toms might well be a captain’s pick if he is hanging around the 10-15 range.
Torrey Pines used to be considered the unofficial start of the season because Tiger, Phil and other top pros made it their season-opening event. Is that still the case?
In a word—no. Look at where the game's top 10 players are this week:
|1. Luke Donald||Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship|
|2. Lee Westwood||Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship|
|3. Rory McIlroy||Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship|
|4. Martin Kaymer||Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship|
|5. Steve Stricker||Off|
|6. Webb Simpson||Off|
|7. Adam Scott||Off|
|8. Charl Schwartzel||Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship|
|9. Dustin Johnson||Farmers Insurance Open|
|10. Jason Day||Abu Dhabi HSBC Championship|
The Abu Dhabi Championship is a European tour event, so it's not a surprise that the top Europeans are playing there. Hefty appearance fees also make the trek to the desert easier.
With six of the world’s top 10 and Tiger Woods in the mix, golf fans will be following all the action in Abu Dhabi.
Too bad for Torrey Pines, where everything -- except for the big names – is in place. The course is made for HDTV and has been the site of some dramatic finishes. The tournament is in a great golf town and is the first PGA Tour event of the season that is not competing for eyeballs with the NFL.
But that's life in a world where golf is global and the game's best players are independent contractors. The PGA Tour's first truly big event of the season will be the AT&T at Pebble Beach with Woods, Tony Romo and Tim Tebow.
Are the best PGA Tour courses on the West Coast Swing?
I’m not a course architecture snob, but it seems pretty clear that the best venues on the PGA Tour are found on the West Coast Swing.
Last week's Humana was played at PGA West and La Quinta in the California desert. This week the guys get to play on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean at Torrey Pines. Next week it’s TPC Scottsdale, which is not especially unique except for a par 3 that is completely surrounded by rowdy, beer-swilling fans.
Then it's on to Pebble Beach, Spyglass and the Monterey Peninsula Country Club. (Dog tracks right?)
After that are visits to Riviera in Los Angeles and Dove Mountain outside Tucson, Ariz.
That run humbles the circuits in Florida, Texas and the Midwest. It’s impossible to name the best course on Tour, but you won’t find consecutive stops that offer more variety, scenery, historical significance and challenging holes than those on the West Coast Swing.