Golf

Tour Confidential: Tiger Woods’ return and new LIV Golf players 

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Tiger Woods and Charlie Woods last year at the Hero World Challenge.
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Check in every week for the unfiltered opinions of our writers and editors as they break down the hottest topics in the sport, and join the conversation by tweeting us at @golf.com. This week, we discuss when Tiger Woods might return, the potential of more players joining LIV Golf, Collin Morikawa’s win and more.   
1. Tiger Woods announced the field for his Hero World Challenge (Nov. 30-Dec. 3), with 17 of the 18 spots filled and one spot open for a “TBA tournament exemption.” Last year, Woods left this spot open for himself, yet he withdrew Monday of tournament week due to plantar fasciitis. What are the chances we see Woods play the Hero this year? If not at the Hero, when do you predict we’ll see Woods next?
Josh Sens, senior writer (@joshsens): Woods used to make it pretty plain that the Masters was his top priority. I think you could argue that at this point in his career, playing in his own tournament in the tropics and with his son in the PNC are now right up there in importance to him. So, barring any new physical setbacks, I’d bank on seeing him at the Hero. And of course in the father/son. And possibly the Genesis at Riviera, before Augusta in April. Oh, and if we’re looking further out — the senior circuit. How about Woods saying he’s looking forward to getting out there in a cart when he turns 50? Remember how unlikely that prospect used to seem? The years wear on. People change.
Ryan Barath, equipment editor (@rdsbarath): As much as I’m an optimist, I don’t have a lot of optimism for Tiger playing a lot more professional golf — even his own event. Do I believe that the final spot at the Hero is potentially for Woods? Yes. But the spot could also be filled by any number of players, including a player from LIV. Considering the swings we saw Tiger make a few weeks ago at the par-3 course at Pebble Beach, I think best-case is we see Tiger next at the Masters. 
Jack Hirsh, assistant editor (@JR_HIRSHey): I don’t think Tiger would save himself a spot if he didn’t think he could play. That said, I was more discouraged from the one swing video we saw from him at Pebble Beach a few weeks ago. That looked like a man who is almost completely unable to push off his right leg. The surgery he had looks like it has vastly limited his mobility in his right ankle, so until I’m seeing him swing away at drivers, I think this is more of an optimistic hope for Tiger than a realistic plan.
2. In a press conference during LIV Golf’s Team Championship, Phil Mickelson was confident that more PGA Tour and DP World Tour players would join LIV. “Do I think that? No,” he said. “I know that’s going to happen.” How much truth do you think there is in Mickelson’s statement? Given the state of the current golf world and the fact that LIV was just denied World Ranking points, how intrigued do you think pros are to join LIV right now?
Sens: Mickelson is both a LIV player and a LIV PR agent, so everything he says has to be taken in that context. In this case, though, I think he speaks the truth. Seems inevitable that some additional guys will jump; most people have a price, after all. If there’s enough money involved, someone will be intrigued. Whether those will be big names or players of slim relevance is another matter. With so much up in the air with the merger, it’s hard to make the calculus. Or make predictions. While the OWGR’s decision to deny ranking points wasn’t good news for LIV, it could become moot depending on the terms of the deal. We may soon see a world where players can move fluidly between LIV and the other tours. Only time will tell. I doubt even Jimmy Dunne and Yassir know exactly what’s going to happen at this point.
Barath: Similar to what Josh said, I think Phil is throwing whatever predictions he can into the void, so he can claim any that come true as him being right. As for top players, I bet there could be a few who have existing major exemptions who are willing to sign a deal with LIV if the number is high enough. Look, we can be as romantic as we want about the game of golf, but at the professional level, there are a lot of players who are simply there to use their skills to make as much money as possible — and if LIV still has a wide-open checkbook, why not take the money?
Hirsh: Barath took the words straight outta my mouth, err, off my keyboard? Anyway, I totally agree: Mickelson is just throwing you-know-what at the wall and seeing what sticks. I’m not sure he’s as keyed in with discussions as he lets on. I doubt many more PGA Tour players will jump over given how LIV’s future has never been more clouded, given the impending deal with the PGA and DP World Tours. If I’m a pro, there’s no way I’m leaving the PGA Tour for a tour that may not exist in 2025.
3. Golf Channel analyst Brandel Chamblee reacted to Mickelson’s comments and said it’s “inevitable” other stars will join, but said very few players make a difference. He also added: “Rahm worries me a bit as he seems open to the idea.” If the Tour lost another star to LIV in the offseason, how detrimental would it be to the PGA Tour after all that’s happened to appease the Tour’s top talent in the past year?
Sens: If one big-name defection led to a slew of others jumping ship, it would make waves. But I don’t think any single player switching over would be a crucial tipping point, not even someone of Rahm’s stature. It wouldn’t suddenly turn LIV into an exciting product; and it wouldn’t ruin the biggest Tour events either. You can rearrange the puzzle pieces any way you want, but the fact remains that there are a limited number of tournaments anywhere that really move the needle. That was the case before the birth of LIV, and it remains the case today. The irrational market created by LIV may have created the impression that some individual players are invaluable to the game. That’s fantasy, not reality. 
Barath: The entire sports landscape is built on regularity, familiarity and history, and no matter how hard LIV tries to force themselves into the professional golf ecosystem, it’s going to take a seismic shift to: 1) bring non-major events into the world of casual golfers; and 2) have casual sports fans pay attention to LIV. At the end of the day, sports ratings soar only when casual fans understand what’s on the line. For sports like baseball, football and basketball, that’s the playoffs. In tennis, it’s the four Grand Slams. And as much as the PGA Tour won’t admit it, golf’s four majors are when casual golf fans care the most. So with all of that in mind, I think LIV could get a few top players, but it won’t make a huge difference.  
Hirsh: We call him the needle for a reason. Unless Tiger is doing it, it’s not going to matter. And he’s not doing it. Besides, even if they could sway one player, it’s looking increasingly like it would be for only a year or so.
4. Collin Morikawa won the Zozo Championship in Japan, ending a winless drought that dated back to the 2021 Open Championship. What had been holding him back the past couple of years? And now, as he jumps from 20th to 13th in the World Ranking with the win, do you expect him to crack the top 10 in 2024? Top five?
Sens: The stats tell a pretty clear story. Heading into the week, he was second on Tour in Strokes Gained: Approach and 112th in Strokes Gained: Putting. Golfing his ball well but rolling it poorly. This week, he rolled it great. Putting is streaky. The good news for Morikawa is that his ball-striking isn’t likely going anywhere. And I’d wager on him having enough good weeks on the green to crack the top 10.
Barath: For Collin, it has always been about his putting, and it seems like his newest gear change has been a big help to that part of his game. If he is able to maintain a steady level, even if it’s not like it was this week, he will continue to show up on leaderboards in 2024 and beyond. (And here’s the story on his putter!) 
Hirsh: Morikawa just needs to have average PGA Tour performances around the greens to win. We really saw how much his short game holds him back when he blew a six-shot lead at the Sentry. And his putting was just never what it needed to be. We didn’t get strokes gained data from the Zozo, but judging from his 26 putts in round four, I bet he’d at least rank among the top 20 in the field in putting. That’s scary for a guy who is nearly guaranteed to hit 13 to 16 greens a round. Plus, he was 17th in the field in scrambling for the week, with five of his seven missed up-and-downs coming in Friday’s 73. The work he’s doing with Stephen Sweeney and Parker McLachlin is clearly paying off.
5. Netflix announced its first-ever live sports property in the Netflix Cup (airing Nov. 14), which will feature Rickie Fowler, Max Homa, Collin Morikawa and Justin Thomas competing in teams alongside Formula 1 stars Alex Albon, Pierre Gasley, Carlos Sainz and Lando Norris. What are your thoughts on the newest golf/celebrity match?
Sens: Given the stake the Saudis also hold in Formula 1, I think we can see this as further evidence of their growing influence in the game. A slam-dunk opportunity for cross-branding. I expect we’ll see more of this as time wears on. Personally, I’d rather get a root canal than sit on my couch watching Formula 1. And I’d take a root canal without novocaine over watching a bunch of Formula 1 drivers play golf with Tour pros. But I also know that that probably puts me in the minority, and I’m sure that this celebrity hoo-hah will draw plenty of eyeballs and sponsorship dollars. I just can’t get excited about it. As a wise friend recently put it, there’s just too much of everyone nowadays, clamoring for more cash, more attention, more … you name it. Thomas, Morikawa, Fowler, Homa — great golfers, all. But do we really need to see more of them in watered-down formats? What all this fluff does is make the majors and a few other meaningful events seem all the better. I’d rather save my free time for those competitions than spend it on a televised celebrity match. And while we’re at it, you kids, get off my yard!
Barath: On a personal level, I’m with Josh in that it’s not something I’m going to spend a lot of time consuming, but — and it’s a big one — these types of entertainment events are not designed to bring in hardcore fans, and because of that, I think it’s going to be a huge hit! I have a number of casual golfing friends who don’t know the Genesis Invitational from the Farmers Insurance Open, but they were quick to reach out and ask me questions about this made-for-TV event, which I think is great for golf as a whole. A lot of curious people will be tuning in.
Hirsh: I really have no interest in watching people who are not better than me at golf play golf. It’s not fun watching famous people struggle to make par on courses set up for birdie fests. I don’t like watching celebrity golf tournaments or the Match when pros aren’t involved. Now what would be a great idea is the one floated by our GOLF Subpar guys this week. Let’s do away with the celebrities and give the caddies their time to shine. A player-caddie team event would be sick.

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