Questions for a new season all start with Tiger

Updated: 2010-01-06 09:18
Large Medium Small

Questions for a new season all start with Tiger

Golfer Tiger Woods is shown on the cover of the February 2010 edition of Vanity Fair magazine in this publicity photo released to Reuters January 4, 2010. [Agencies] Questions for a new season all start with Tiger

KAPALUA, Hawaii: The first day of the new US PGA Tour season brought a Tiger Woods sighting.

"Right there, through those trees," a caddie said jokingly, pointing into the distance toward the Pacific Ocean, where a white yacht was cruising along the Maui coastline below Kapalua. "He's on his boat."

For a guy who hasn't been seen in more than six weeks, Woods seems to be everywhere. And while he isn't at the season-opening SBS Championship, his presence looms larger than ever.

Woods hasn't played this tournament since 2005, so his absence is not unusual. Last season began with a similar question - when would he return? - only that was from knee surgery, and it was a matter of time. He is gone from golf now because of a shocking sex scandal that led him to take an "indefinite break" while he tries to save his marriage.

Indefinite could mean anything from two months to all year.

In the meantime, the tour faces a pivotal year in renewing title sponsorships and laying the groundwork for negotiations on a new television contract. The Americans have a Ryder Cup to defend in October. The major championship rotation features three of the most famous courses in golf - Augusta, Pebble Beach and St. Andrews.

Related readings:
Questions for a new season all start with Tiger Tiger welcome back in Australia after windfall
Questions for a new season all start with Tiger 3 lessons from a shirtless Tiger Woods
Questions for a new season all start with Tiger Woods' appearance brings millions to Oz economy
Questions for a new season all start with Tiger Woods loses AT&T sponsorship
Questions for a new season all start with Tiger Top 10 questions for 2010

Every season contains questions, yet every answer winds its way back to one player.

Pat Perez was asked for his list of questions about 2010 on the US PGA Tour, and he wasted no time rattling off two of them.

"When is Tiger coming back?" he said. "And where the hell is he?"

That's a good place to start on a few questions for the new season:

1. When will Woods appear?

Considering that a healthy Woods has started every season at Torrey Pines since 2006, the "indefinite break" really doesn't start until he doesn't show up at the San Diego Open starting January 28.

Woods had planned on playing the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am on February 11, especially since Poppy Hills was replaced in the course rotation by Monterey Peninsula, the field was reduced from 180 to 156 players, the US Open is returning to Pebble Beach in June and Woods carried the AT&T logo on his golf bag.

That was before AT&T ended its endorsement deal with him, and it was agreed that Woods no longer would be the host of the AT&T National this summer outside Philadelphia, a tournament that benefits his foundation.

Accenture dropped him too, making it unlikely he would return to the Match Play Championship toward the end of February. Woods returned from his knee surgery at Match Play, and his relationship with Accenture played a part in that.

Speculation has shifted to the Florida swing - either Doral or Bay Hill, as a tuneup for the Masters. But that assumes he will play in the Masters. Would he really skip Augusta National? Maybe. Could he possibly skip majors at Pebble and St. Andrews? Could he return to Torrey Pines - next year?

To borrow a slogan from the US PGA Tour, anything is possible.

2. Can the Americans win another Ryder Cup?

Tom Watson, who turned 60 in September, is No. 6 in the Ryder Cup standings going into the year. That's because points in a non-Ryder Cup year only are awarded at the majors. David Duval is No. 8.

The Americans are defending champions for the first time in eight years, and US captain Corey Pavin has extra large shoes to fill after the job Paul Azinger did in 2008 at Valhalla. Europe is led by Colin Montgomerie, who believes the Ryder Cup is bigger than majors and can only hope he gets a better outcome.

It will be played the first weekend in October in Wales, and past captain Nick Faldo wasn't kidding when he reminded everyone at closing ceremonies in 2008 to bring rain gear.

The big question: Will the Americans bring the No. 1 player?

Woods has tolerated the Ryder Cup more than he has enjoyed it. Even if he has returned to competition, his family crisis might be a good excuse for him to sit this one out. Besides, the Americans did just fine without him last time.

3. What will Phil do next?

The way Phil Mickelson ended last year, he appeared poised to make a run at several milestones _ winning a money title, player of the year and reaching No. 1 in the world, none of which he has ever achieved in an otherwise stellar career.

His wife continues her recovery from breast cancer, which has allayed fears at home, and Mickelson regained his putting touch with the help of Dave Stockton. And with Woods out of the picture indefinitely (whatever that means), it would seem the stars are aligned.

Strangely, though, Mickelson is one of the few players who thrives on competition with Woods. He did next to nothing at the tail end of 2008 when Woods was out with knee surgery, and didn't win on the US PGA Tour until the week Woods announced his return.

He won Doral with Woods in the field, outplayed him in their final round pairing at the Masters, outplayed him at the US Open, then ended the year by beating him in consecutive tournaments at the Tour Championship and in Shanghai.

4. Is the worst of the golf economy over?

Tour commissioner Tim Finchem already faced a big year trying to find title sponsors for San Diego, Hilton Head and Palm Springs, along with renewals at crucial venues such as Doral.

Throw in the Woods scandal and it doesn't get any easier.

"It will be an interesting year for us with the economy and the hit we're taking with our image," said British Open champion Stewart Cink, a member of the tour's policy board. "We'll have to see how that plays out."