As the new season gets underway this week at the Greenbrier, here are a few things to look for in 2019-20:
What will Tiger Woods offer up in 2019-20? Will it be another remarkable year with a major victory? Or will it be one where the fragile 15-time major winner gingerly moves around the golf course?
No one, not even Woods, likely knows the answer to that, but after a year that saw highs and lows in 2018-19, it seems almost certain that he’ll continue playing a limited schedule.
Post-Masters, Woods played just 17 competitive rounds. At times he looked good, but more often he seemed to be uncomfortable. While his back remains the main focus of attention, off-season knee surgery reminded everyone that he is still a medical miracle on the fairways, patched up and bolted together.
While his body may not be what it once was, his desire to play still seems strong. That can go a long way for a golfer as competitive as he is.
Who will get No. 2?
Mackenzie Hughes, Adam Hadwin, Nick Taylor and Corey Conners all have one thing in common – each has a win on the PGA Tour.
As the new season begins, the question becomes who will be the first to get a second victory?
Conners heads into the new campaign off a successful 2018-19 that saw him move from 267th on the Official World Golf Ranking up to 72nd. He also joined the winners’ club by claiming the title at the Valero Texas Open and making it to the Tour Championship.
Hadwin didn’t win but he came close, with a tie for second at the Desert Classic and a sixth at the RBC Canadian Open. He also improved his world ranking, moving from 69th to 66nd. Significantly, the 31-year-old improved his putting, going from 88th to 45th in Strokes Gained: Putting.
Taylor and Hughes had solid if unspectacular seasons, retaining their exempt status without too much stress.
As to which one will get the next win? It’s easy to look at Conners, who comes into the new year off a big finish, or Hadwin, who is the highest-ranked Canuck, but the fact is that any one of these could win at the next start. All are capable and all are hungry.
The 50 crowd
The crop of golfers born in 1970 is an elite one, to be sure. PGA Tour Champions organizers must be champing at the bit to welcome some of the big names onto their 50-and-over circuit. Phil Mickelson, Jim Furyk and Ernie Els all reach the half-century mark in 2020.
Which of them will migrate over to the Champions is yet to be seen. Mickelson and Furyk both won last year on the regular tour and are likely to make most of their swings there. Els has had just a single top-10 finish in the last four years and is expected to play most of his golf with the old boys.
For Canadian fans, the biggest name is Mike Weir. He’ll turn 50 on May 12 (the same day as Furyk) and has made no secret that he’s targeting PGA Tour Champions.
He’s put in a great deal of work to resurrect the game that led him to eight PGA Tour victories and the signs are that he’s getting back to a form that will make him competitive once again.
Canada will name its competitors for the Olympic golf competition in Tokyo at the end of June. Right now, the men’s team would be composed of Hadwin and Conners. Both have been open that making the Canadian team is high on their list of goals for 2020.
Regardless of which two Canadian men play for Canada, they’ll be in tough. While many of the game’s top players took a pass in 2016 in Rio, the best in the world are expected to compete this time. Expect a lot of attention and some last-minute schedule changes by many golfers who will add tournaments as the deadline to make national teams draws close.
If golf just dipped its toe in the Olympic waters last time around, it will be a full plunge this year.
New guys on the block
Has there been a season that started with as much attention on rookies as this year? Matthew Wolff, Collin Morikawa and Viktor Hovland are grabbing most of the headlines as the new season gets under way. Wolff and Morikawa won at the end of last season while Hovland earned his spot through the Korn Ferry Tour playoffs.
But those three aren’t the only newbies to look for. Xinjun Zhang of China was the top player over last year’s Korn Ferry Tour season, while Scottie Scheffler and Maverick McNealy – both U.S. collegiate standouts – should also make an impact.
Canadian Michael Gligic became the fourth Canadian golfer in the last four years to advance from the Korn Ferry Tour to the big circuit. After battling on mini-tours for the past decade, he’ll be hungry to sink his teeth into the game’s top circuit. Look for him to have a solid year.
New field sizes
The PGA Tour has changed the cutline from the top 70 to the top 65 in what it says is a move to improve the quality of the presentation – in other words, in an effort to speed things up. It starts this week at the Greenbrier.
As well, the opposite field tournaments, those played up against majors or World Golf Championship stops, will drop to 120 golfers from 132. In recent years, some of those events had to go way down the priority list to fill the field.