Golf: As the PGA Tour season returns from hiatus, we say good riddance to armchair rules enforcement, wait for Tiger Woods’ next move and take Jordan Spieth off the market.
By Jeff Shain, PSN managing editor
- Goodbye, armchair rules officials. Don’t ask for the phone number at a tournament site. In a holiday gift to players and (most) fans, the world’s top tours jointly announced they will no longer take calls or texts from TV viewers, instead assigning one or more rules officials to monitor the broadcast for infractions. The move is the latest step to rein in TV intrusion, where extreme close-ups and super-slo-mo shots had penalized players unaware of what a camera had revealed. The final straw came at last year’s ANA Inspiration, in which Lexi Thompson was penalized four shots during the final round for an infraction in marking her ball on the green. The breach took place in Round 3 – unnoticed until a viewer spotted it while watching round highlights the next morning.
- Tiger Woods still hasn’t set a date for his PGA Tour return, but will do it without a formal swing coach. Those were the takeaways from a couple of year-end updates, which also coincided with his 42nd birthday. Woods told fans he feels his comeback is at “another level” with his share of ninth at the Hero World Challenge, where he was briefly tied for the lead after 27 holes. Even so, he parted ways with coach Chris Como just before Christmas, saying “it’s best for me to continue to do this on my own.” As for competition, Woods will definitely be at the Genesis Open in February, though it could be only as tournament host after back woes kept him from traveling to Riviera last year. His typical season debut has been at Torrey Pines, which tees off Jan. 25.
- Former John Deere Classic champion Mark Hensby will sit out the 2018 season after becoming just the fourth man to violate the PGA Tour’s anti-doping policy. It wasn’t a failed test that put the Aussie on suspension, though, as he walked out on testing during the Sanderson Farms Championship in October. Hensby explained he was dehydrated from a late-day round and faced having to stay on site another three or four hours to produce a sample. It’s been a rough couple of years for Hensby, who also went through a nasty divorce along with shoulder surgery.
- Yusako Miyazato has teed it up just twice on the U.S. mainland, but he has a place waiting at the Masters. The Japanese pro finished 2017 at No.50 in the world rankings, getting the last year-end invite to Augusta. He’s played U.S. Opens at Oakmont and Erin Hills, plus the past four Sony Opens in Hawaii. Thailand’s Kiradech Aphibarnrat also is in, sitting 49th after withdrawing from an event in his homeland to preserve his place. Among the less-fortunate ones: Peter Uihlein, Gary Woodland, Ian Poulter and Brandt Snedeker – who flew halfway around the world for an event in Indonesia in hopes of playing his way in before having to WD with illness.
- Jordan Spieth is leaving bachelorhood behind, announcing his engagement to high-school sweetheart Annie Verret over the Christmas holidays. The reigning Open Championship titleholder wasn’t exactly forthcoming with details, though he acknowledged the proposal wasn’t long in the planning. He just decided with his brother and Annie’s sister both in town, the time was right to pop the question.
PGA TOUR: Sentry Tournament of Champions
Site: Plantation Course at Kapalua, Maui, Hawaii
- Defending champion: Justin Thomas notched his first PGA Tour win on U.S. soil, though it required a little more work than expected to hold off Hideki Matsuyama. Thomas led by five with five holes to play, but a four-shot swing over two holes closed the gap to one before Thomas sealed it with a kick-in birdie at No.17. It was his third career PGA Tour triumph, the others having come in Malaysia.
- Tour talk: Thomas, world No.1 Dustin Johnson and Jordan Spieth top a 34-man lineup comprised solely of PGA Tour winners during 2017. … In all, Kapalua welcomes seven of the top eight players in the year-end world rankings. … Jon Rahm and Xander Schauffele are among 14 pros making their first trip to Kapalua. … Rickie Fowler hopes momentum from winning the Hero World Challenge carries into the new year.
- TV: Golf Channel (Thursday-Friday, 6-10 p.m. ET; Saturday, 3-7 p.m.; Sunday, 6-10 p.m.).
- Etc.: First Look from PGATour.com; Tournament of Champions primer from Pro Golf Weekly.
WEB.COM TOUR: Idle
First up: Bahamas Great Exuma Classic, Jan. 8-11, Great Exuma, Bahamas
- Tour talk: Former Georgia Bulldog Lee McCoy and 2016 U.S. Amateur champ Curtis Luck head the list of fresh faces for next week’s season opener. McCoy, who placed fourth at the Valspar Championship while still a collegian, finished atop last month’s qualifying finals to earn a full card for 2018. Korean pro Sung-Jae Im was two shots back, with Luck in a tie for third. … Everyone in the top 10 is guaranteed a spot in the season’s first 12 events; from there to 45th is worth eight starts.
EUROPEAN TOUR: Idle
Next up: BMW SA Open, Jan. 11-14, Ekurhuleni, South Africa
- Tour talk: Australia’s Wade Ormsby is your early Race to Dubai leader, winning the season-launch Hong Kong Open and holding the points lead through the holiday break. He’s nearly 131,000 points ahead of Indonesia’s Shubhankar Sharma. … The first marquee name on the list is Australia’s Cameron Smith in fourth, with Spain’s Rafa Cabrera Bello tied for sixth. … To no one’s surprise, Masters champion Sergio Garcia was voted the circuit’s Golfer of the Year.
PGA TOUR CHAMPIONS: Idle
First up: Mitsubishi Electric Championship, Jan. 19-21, Kona, Hawaii
- Tour talk: Tom Byrum earned another year on the circuit, outlasting Tommy Tolles in a playoff to take top honors in qualifying finals in Arizona. Byrum also was second in Q-school two years ago, but had to go back into the qualifying pool this year after finishing 52nd on the money list. Kent Jones, Tim Petrovic and Ken Tanigawa round out the list of full exemptions from this year’s proceedings.
LPGA TOUR: Idle
First up: Pure Silk Bahamas LPGA Classic, Jan. 25-28, Paradise Island, Bahamas.
- Tour talk: A handful of pros are using the offseason to cross over into made-for-TV events. Lexi Thompson teamed with Tony Finau to tie for fourth at the QBE Shootout in Florida, while Brooke Henderson and Brittany Lincicome are among five LPGA mainstays playing in next week’s Diamond Resorts Invitational celebrity event. … In Gee Chun participated in the torch relay for next month’s Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Her segment was longer than most, including a ride on a monorail.