GOLF.com conducts a weekly roundtable with writers from Sports Illustrated and GOLF Magazine. Check in every Sunday night for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors and join the conversation by tweeting us @golf_com.
1. Tiger Woods announced on Twitter that he is parting ways with his swing coach of three years Chris Como. Having “relearned” his body and his swing after back-fusion surgery, Woods said, “I think it’s best for me to continue to do this on my own.” Were you surprised by the split? And on a scale of 1 to 10, how significant is this development?
Jeff Ritter, digital development editor, GOLF.com (@Jeff_Ritter): A little surprised, but Woods tends to cycle through instructors every 3-4 years. I’d say for now the significance rates a solid 1 out of 10. Woods has had as many lessons as anyone and should have a good idea of how to manage his swing. I think eventually he’ll start up with another teacher, and the right match can potentially help him considerably. (A potential 10 out of 10!) But for now, it’s all about health and range time.
Josh Sens, contributing writer, GOLF Magazine (@JoshSens): Agreed on the significance ranking, Jeff. It’s hard to get too worked up about this. Tiger has shown the impulse to go it alone before. Nothing surprising here. If it says anything noteworthy, it’s that Tiger is feeling physically healthy enough that he doesn’t feel he needs help working around his injury, which is a part of what Como was doing with him. He’ll start working with someone else before long, though. He has now gone through as many instructors in his Tour career as he has back surgeries.
Joe Passov, senior editor, GOLF Magazine (@joepassov): Yes, I was surprised by the split. Certainly the partnership of Tiger Woods and Chris Como was star-crossed early and often, hamstrung by Woods’s never-ending injury battles. Yet, it also made sense (to me, anyway), that a newly pain-free Woods might now be able to practice what Como has been preaching. By the same token, now that Woods is feeling good, perhaps the operative word is “feel.” Let Tiger regain that long-lost feel, and dump the over-reliance on process and mechanics and I’m betting we’ll see the old Tiger again. Significance is a 5, impact more like a 2.
Michael Bamberger, senior writer, Sports Illustrated: Is zero an option? Zero. Chris Como is by all accounts a fine teacher and person, but I cannot see Tiger really trusting any teacher after Butch Harmon. He had an intense and successful relationship with Hank Haney, but if you read Haney closely and look at the swings closely the whole of it looks like one big, effective band-aid to produce winning scores from a body that was in the process of falling apart. I could actually see Tiger going back to Harmon now. Time to let bygones go.
2. A year ago few pundits would have predicted that Tiger Woods would miss as much time as he did, or that Rory McIlroy would go winless, or that Justin Thomas would soar to the heights that he did. Look into your crystal ball and give us a bold — but obtainable — prediction for 2018.
Ritter: As loyal GOLF.com readers undoubtedly know, some of us went deep on this topic in our most recent podcast. My pick: Jordan Spieth wins the PGA at Bellerive to polish off the career grand slam. This prediction’s boldness was debated, but closing a slam is no bargain — just ask Phil and Rory. I think Spieth gets it done sooner rather than later.
Sens: Tiger gets through the entire season without significant injury but doesn’t sniff the winner’s circle. There are heebie-jeebies in that short game. You don’t win with those, and those don’t just go away. Oh, and Xander Schauffele wins the Masters.
Passov: Josh, you just like spelling out (and probably pronouncing) “Xander Schauffele.” Not a bad pick though! I think Tiger wins twice, and I see Arnold Palmer’s grandson, Sam Saunders, fresh off a T2 at the Web.com Tour Championship, scoring a hugely popular victory at Bay Hill in March. Jon Rahm, after a breakthrough 2017, becomes the Justin Thomas of 2018 — five wins and a major.
Bamberger: Davis Love III, with a new hip and at age 54, wins a Tour event.
3. And the breakout player of 2018 will be?
Ritter: After losing the better part of three years to a back injury, last year Patrick Cantlay finally got healthy and ripped off four top 10s in 13 starts, made it to East Lake and then won the Shriners in November. He had an elite amateur career that included winning the Haskins award as the nation’s top collegian in 2011, so the pedigree is there. Look out.
Sens: Peter Uihlein didn’t bolt onto Tour like so many of us expected after he won the 2010 U.S. Amateur. He’s taken a longer route, but he’s got his card for 2018 and some vital experience on the European Tour under his belt. I like him to make a lot of waves this year.
Passov: I’ve been on the Cantlay bandwagon for a good while, just because his feel-good story makes him so easy to root for. However, I’m returning to my pick from last year in this category, veteran Englishman Paul Casey. He managed to finish fifth in 2017 PGA Tour average over 90 rounds — ahead of DJ, Jon Rahm and Hideki Matsuyama, among others — but never did win, due in part to some mediocre final rounds. He’s already started the new season with a T7, T11 and T19. Look for Casey to soar this year.
Bamberger: I’m going with Patrick Reed, by which I mean he wins a major, another event, and contends in some others.
4. Put on your Santa hat and tell us what gift you would most relish giving to a Tour pro this year?
Ritter: I’ll give Tiger 12 months of perfect health. It’s the key to his comeback, and it would give hungry fans a chance to finally see how he measures up to the new generation of stars.
Sens: I’d give Rickie Fowler a victory in one of the big four. I think we’d all be relieved to see him finally shake the label of best player on those spring break trips to never win a major.
Bamberger: I’d give Rickie Fowler Seve’s wardrobe. Look at any photo of Seve from his prime and you will see a fine illustration of Continental style.
Passov: A Tiger comeback year and a breakthrough win from Rickie would be fantastic fun, and awesome for the health of the industry. If the genie grants me a third wish, it’s for Lexi Thompson to heal from injury, find and keep a reliable putting stroke and avoid on-course collisions with controversy. She’s so phenomenally talented, with a look and personality to match, she could and should elevate interest in the LPGA Tour to the next level.
5. Of course, Santa has a naughty list, too. Which figure from the golf world is most deserving of a lump of coal in his or her stocking?
Ritter: What became of those Massachusetts high school officials who denied Emily Nash a trophy and a spot in the state championship after she beat a field of boys by four shots? I know Nash received a different kind of award but those behind the original decision will receive no sympathy trophy from me.
Sens: An easy answer is Grayson Murray for all the embarrassing tweets, but that feels like piling on, because I’m sure there’s already plenty of coal in that stocking already.
Passov: I’m hoping I won’t jeopardize future visa opportunities here, but one lump from me for Xi Jinping, the leader of China. His ardent anti-golf sentiments have helped derail the growth of the game in his country during a time (of Olympics fervor) when it should be booming. His edicts have stopped new courses from being built, closed down existing layouts and impeded coaching and junior training. We were all hoping, perhaps naively, that China would lead the next wave of development in the 21st century. Instead, they’ve gone the other direction.
Bamberger: In the spirit of the season, I extend coal lumps to no one and good tidings to with the fervent wish that in the new year we will all hit our sweet spots with more regularity.