Five things to watch in 2016
January 06, 2016
By Brian Wacker, PGATOUR.COM
- After winning THE PLAYERS and a FedExCup Playoffs event in 2015, Rickie Fowler has a major goal for 2016. (Tom Pennington/Getty Images)
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Sweeping views of the Pacific Ocean, swaying palm trees, whales breaching in the distance and a winners-only field.
The Hyundai Tournament of Champions is no longer the season-opener -- that changed when the PGA TOUR went to a wrap-around schedule in 2013-14 -- but that doesn’t dampen the enthusiasm for the most scenic stop in the game.
“This is one that we strive to make each year,” said Jordan Spieth. “If I am eligible to play in this tournament and I'm not, I hope every single one of you calls me and bashes me for it.”
Spieth headlines a star-studded cast as the 2015-16 season resumes after a six-week break. Last year’s major winners are all in the field -- Spieth, who won two of them, along with Jason Day and Zach Johnson. Four of the top six and six of the top 10 players in the Official World Golf Ranking are teeing it up.
Here are five storylines to keep an eye on this week and over the next nine months:
1. Jordan Spieth-Jason Day-Rory McIlroy-Rickie Fowler. Whatever moniker you want to give this group, they have clearly separated themselves from the field. Three of them are playing this week -- McIlroy is the one who’s not.
Last year Spieth won five times, including the season’s first two majors, captured the FedExCup and was named Player of the Year. So what does he do for an encore?
“Doesn't an encore mean that the show is then over?” Spieth said.
The 22-year-old’s career is just beginning. With just three weeks off because of tournaments late in the year in Australia and the Bahamas, he’s looking at this week as just a continuation of last season.
“What's a great year for me?” Speith said. “Last year.”
Day, meanwhile, is playing for the first time since The Presidents Cup last October. During the break he played just four holes in a charity outing, though he did arrive at the Plantation Course nine days ago and has been practicing since.
“I'm very motivated to get back to No. 1 (in the world),” said Day, currently second. “I'm very motivated to win as many tournaments as I can this year, and to be a more dominant player, that's kind of the mind-set.
“I know that I've got it in me because of how the second half went last year.”
As for Fowler, his biggest goal is to win a major, something the other three have done but he hasn’t.
Jordan Spieth talks about the field at Hyundai
2. Twenty is the new 30. It used to be said that players didn’t hit their stride until their 30s. That no longer seems to be the case. Last year, 24 victories were recorded by players under the age of 30. Eleven of the 32 players in the field this week at the Plantation Course are still in their 20s.
“It seems like the younger guys are picking up momentum as far as building more and more confidence just off of seeing other guys play well,” Fowler, 26, said. “It's fun to see your buddies win. Seeing Justin (Thomas) win in Malaysia and seeing what Jordan did last year, and Jason, the summer he put together, and Rory continuing to play well, Brooks (Koepka) has been playing well these past couple years, it's a lot of fun. It motivates me, and we all want to kick each other's butts out on the golf course.”
Added Patrick Reed, whose four career victories, including one last year in this tournament, all came by age 25: “Just like every sport, you look at football back in the day, guys were smaller. Now they are bigger, faster and stronger. Same thing with basketball. Just seems like that is kind of the trend that golf is going in now, as well.”
Then there’s 51-year-old Davis Love III. He got here by winning the Wyndham Championship.
Love also won this tournament in 1993 -- the same year Spieth was born.
3. Hard to pass up. The Hyundai Tournament of Champions is the eighth tournament on the 2015-16 schedule. Many players are no longer waiting for the new year to play. They can’t afford to give up the FedExCup points.
It’s also hard to pass on a trip to paradise and a no-cut event with guaranteed FedExCup points, world ranking points and money. All seven eligible players in the top 10 of the FedExCup standings are teeing it up this week.
2016 PGA TOUR Preview
4. Tiger watch. No one knows when Tiger Woods will play golf, not even Woods. He’s still at home recovering from a third back procedure in 20 months.
He also turned 40 at the end of last month.
This much we do know: The road back will be a long one, and it won’t be easy.
“My knee, that was easy compared to a nerve,” Woods, a two-time winner at Kapalua in 1997 and 2000, said last month. “It’s a thousand times easier.”
5.Anchor’s away. No one in the field at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions has used an anchored putter in recent years (J.J. Henry did a few years ago but it didn’t last long).
With the anchor ban having taken effect on Jan. 1, no one will use one going forward.
The adjustment will be bigger for some than others. Carl Pettersson, for example, has used one his entire career. Others, like Adam Scott, have gone back and forth.
How long will it take for players to adjust? We’ll find out next week when Scott and a number of other former users of the anchored putter are expected to compete.