Tour Confidential: What’s Your Bold Prediction for the 2016-17 Season?

October 9, 2016
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Every Sunday night, conducts an e-mail roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and Golf Magazine. Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com. [Editor’s Note: Tour Confidential was published on Sunday night, before Woods withdrew from the Safeway Open on Monday.]

1. After a year-plus-long layoff, Tiger Woods will make his return to the PGA Tour this week at the Safeway Open, the 2016-17 season opener in Napa, Calif. What would you consider to be a successful week for Woods?

Josh Sens, contributer, GOLF (@JoshSens): Playing through the weekend injury-free. That would be my measure. As for Tiger himself, you’ve got to think he has a higher threshold for success.

Jeff Ritter, senior editor, Sports Illustrated Golf Group (@Jeff_Ritter): I don’t even think he needs to reach the weekend to call this first event a success. Getting through it injury-free is job No. 1. Next is showing no sign of those dreaded chips.

Joe Passov, senior editor, Golf Magazine (@joepassov): Realistically, I’m with you guys. Just play 36 holes, stretch the legs, shake off the cobwebs. However, I did get to see Tiger play a few holes in late April during his Bluejack National course opening near Houston. He definitely resembled Tiger Woods. This week, I’d like to see him compete, make the cut, strike it solid and have at least one or two stretches where he looks like the old Tiger. After 14 months away, that would be a very successful week.

Mark Godich, senior editor, Sports Illustrated (@MarkGodich): I want to see him playing on Sunday, even if he’s the first guy out. That would tell me he has played 54 holes injury-free and well enough to have made the cut. Baby steps.

Gary Van Sickle, senior writer, Sports Illustrated (@GaryVanSickle): I’d consider making the cut a pretty good success. You know, more reps, and all that.

2. Given that Woods hasn’t played a competitive round in 14 months, can we fairly use the Safeway to gauge the state of his game?

SENS: It’s tournament competition. What better gauge is there? I suppose we could look to his golf avatar on EA Sports, but that’s not as faithful a measuring stick. And besides, they replaced that virtual Tiger with virtual Rory a few years ago.

RITTER: Agreed, Josh. This isn’t a major, but it’s still the top tour in pro golf. No better way to see how his game currently stacks up.

PASSOV: Safeway will be a great gauge to assess where Tiger’s game is right now. Silverado North is a very traditional, tree-lined course, on the short side for modern play, but with rough, and reasonably firm, fast greens. In other words, no gimmicks. Drive it well, find the greens and you’ll be rewarded. And you won’t be embarrassed for bad misses, as at some modern tracks. There will be crowds, but not hordes, spotlight, but not much harsh glare. This will be an ideal test.

MORE: Tiger, Phil Reportedly Paired Together at Safeway Open

GODICH: Sorry, but I don’t know what kind of conclusions you can draw on a guy who’s getting back on the bike after being sidelined for almost 14 months. Unless, of course, he wins.

VAN SICKLE: The Safeway will be Tiger’s audition, nothing more. If he plays great, that would be significant. Anything else, even awful, and we’ll write it off to rust. So he’s got nothing to lose.

3. Besides Woods’ return to the course, the other storyline that is sure to dominate will be the clubs the 14-time major winner uses. Woods hasn’t played since Nike announced it’s transitioning out of the golf equipment business, so it’s unknown if Woods will unleash a new collection of sticks. At this stage in his career, how much branding power does Woods still wield?

GODICH: Plenty. He is arguably the most intriguing player in the game these days. Certainly in the top five.

SENS: He’s still the most famous golfer in the world. That counts for a lot. And if he returns to any kind of form, it counts for much, much more. Say Tiger puts himself in the mix again. Say he starts winning big tournaments again. You’ve got the good beginnings of an ad campaign.

RITTER: It’s an upside play, but the ceiling, as Josh says, is massive. There is also a downside, which makes TW a risky investment. What if he plays the worst golf of his career and fades away with your sticks in his bag?

PASSOV: Gigantic upside, no downside. If the new sticks don’t work, chalk it up to an aging, oft-injured player who couldn’t find his game one more time. Again, though, this is Tiger Woods, maybe the greatest competitor golf has ever known. If he’s sufficiently hungry and is physically able to practice, he could be great again. What equipment company wouldn’t want to take that chance?

VAN SICKLE: I agree with Joe, there’s no downside to having Tiger wield your hammers. He’s Tiger, dammit. No one is going to blame the gear if he doesn’t play well. And if he does play well, hey, maybe it is the clubs.

4. With Hurricane Matthew barreling toward Florida, the PGA Tour decided to cancel the Tour Championship, meaning players who were hoping to use that event as a last-gasp effort to move up the money list and earn a PGA Tour card were out of luck. What did you make of the Tour’s decision?

SENS: Everybody talks about the weather. If only they could do something about it. Rough luck for the guys who were hoping for that last-gasp. You’ve got to feel bad for them. But there’s no arguing with a hurricane. Safety first. I suppose they could have fought harder to reschedule, but with the wrap-around season starting up at the Safeway this weekend, time and opportunity for that was slim.

RITTER: It’s a shame there wasn’t more of a buffer in the schedule to allow for time to play that final round. You gotta feel for the guys who finished just outside the line. Really tough break.

PASSOV: Terrible result, from a suspect, though not necessarily the wrong decision. Given the incredible importance of this event for many careers, I wish going forward that the Tour would have a backup plan. I’m guessing that ranges from the impossible to the nearly impossible, but in my own state of Arizona, I’ve seen our biggest championship moved to another course on the eve of the event because the host club lost its greens. It can be done.

VAN SICKLE: Something could have been done. For starters, it should’ve been played during the Ryder Cup. But then Golf Channel would’ve been unable to air. So this misfortune was born of trying to give the event maximum exposure, but since the ratings are negligible for GC, maybe it wasn’t worth the effort. This is yet another glitch that stems from one season bumping up against the next.

GODICH: Players on the tour had 25 events to secure their cards. While I feel for the guys who came up just short and would have loved to see a Cinderella story come out of the Tour Championship, it’s not like everybody didn’t have ample opportunities. Now we know why players headed for a 42nd-place finish are grinding on a Sunday afternoon in the middle of July.

5. As mentioned, the 2016-17 Tour season officially kicks off this week. Give us one big, bad, bold prediction for the year ahead.

SENS: Patrick Reed lives up to his Captain America reputation by winning his first major: the U.S. Open.

RITTER: I’ll say the other Ryder Cup star, Rory McIlroy, gets back to his major-winning ways and returns to No. 1 before the end of the summer. I want to pick him for the Masters, but his weird juju around Augusta scares me. So, put him down for another British Open while sailing back atop the World Ranking.

PASSOV: Ultra-competitive Jordan Spieth fixes his ballstriking, and with it comes a new run of 30-footers that drop with the kind of regularity we saw in 2014 and 2015. A newly relaxed and focused Paul Casey contends in all four majors and re-establishes his position in the world’s top 10. The breakout star will be Jon Rahm, the former ASU star from Spain, who has the length, game and swagger to bag multiple wins in 2016-17.

VAN SICKLE: I’ll go with two. Rory McIlroy is back on his game and I see him winning multiple majors in ‘17, but neither of them Augusta, where he hasn’t mastered the greens. Rory will reclaim the No. 1 ranking. Also, while we all loved Patrick Reed’s showstopping performance in Minnesota, I predict he’ll return to being just another pretty good golfer. He ought to be the favorite for the match play tourney, and maybe win something else. That’s a good year but I see him outside the top five in the world.

GODICH: Jordan Spieth wins the Masters, leading everyone to reflect on how close we came to the first three-peat at Augusta National.

6. Pebble Beach has raised its greens fee from $490 to, brace yourselves, $525. What’s the most you’ve ever spent on a round of golf (and, yes, we’re well aware that golf writers don’t like to pay for golf) and was it worth it?

SENS: I once paid $55 for a round of golf at Hiddenbrooke Golf Club in the Bay Area but wound up getting paired with a three-ball of high stakes poker players. Before I knew it, I was caught up in some sort of byzantine skins game, with all sorts of junk on the side. I thought I played OK, but by the 18th hole, things had gotten out of hand, and I wound up losing $1,500 that I didn’t have on me. Hard to say it was “worth it” on the financial side. But I learned a valuable lesson about gambling beyond your means when you are not Lee Trevino.

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PASSOV: I paid more than $800 for my wife and me to play Pebble Beach back in 2004. We had met through golf, and I wanted her to experience Pebble once in her life. We both enjoyed some real highlights, and I felt it was worth the cash. The next day, we were treated to a comped round at Cypress Point, and within 24 hours, Betsy had forgotten all about Pebble Beach…until the credit card statement arrived.

VAN SICKLE: When I sucked it up and paid $100 to play Pebble in 1985, it was a big, big bite. Factor in inflation, and it was a stiff hit for a sportswriter from Milwaukee who didn’t necessarily expect to ever be back. It was totally worth it. Pebble is a golfing experience.

GODICH: I’ve been lucky to play Pine Valley several times. Between the greens fee, the caddie and lunch (snapper soup!), it gets plenty expensive. Worth every penny.