By Dan Reardon
For what now might be labeled the Tiger Woods decade (1999-2008) there were essentially two PGA Tours. There was the “Tiger Tour” and the regular Tour. The “Tiger Tour” drew bigger galleries and got greater coverage than the regular tour, posting some of the best TV ratings ever.
Now with the PGA Tour calendar flipping to 2018, at least early on, the “Tiger Tour” will be back. It starts with Woods’ appearance this week at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego, which also tees off CBS Sports’ 2018 coverage of the PGA Tour. Even if Woods’ latest comeback has more legs than last year’s one tourney, missed cut and gone for the remainder of the year, professional golf fans may be looking at the non-Tiger tour with a fresh perspective.
The game is young and dotted with a roster of special talents who, though individually may never generate the sort of mania Woods created, bring a level of legitimacy to the season that, in many ways, makes the game healthier overall.
During that 10-year stretch of Tiger domination, which included 13 of his 14 major victories, only Phil Mickelson was able to sustain a challenge. His three majors in the same span were the next-highest collection among the Tour’s stars. It often seemed like Tiger and the field.
In the nine years since, Mickelson has added two additional majors; Padraig Harrington bunched three in a brief two-year window; Rory McIlroy has run his total to four; and Jordan Spieth, with three before age 24, has been on a Woods pace. The field is no longer just an entry.
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The roaring 20s came in 2017, when the game discovered a generation of talents, unafraid of the moment and showing little regard for their elders. Nine times the PGA Tour welcomed a first-time winner in 2017. Twenty times the player holding the trophy on Sunday was 25 or younger. More often than not the winning kiss went to a girlfriend not wife. These young guns didn’t tease with their talents. They were toasted for their talents.
Already this year we have two early validations. One is from an older demographic, and one from golf’s twenty-somethings. Dustin Johnson, 33, made it 11 consecutive years with at least one win on Tour when he buried the field on Sunday in Hawaii. Jon Rahm answered for the post-Millennials with a playoff win in the desert at the CareerBuilder Challenge. Those two have a combined six wins in less than a year, and they trail Justin Thomas and Jordan Spieth by three during that time.
Appropriately, at Torrey Pines, attention will be on the return of Woods to a venue where he has posted eight career wins. The consensus is Tiger passed his physical at the Hero Challenge in December. Six-time major winner and CBS Sports lead golf analyst Nick Faldo sees Farmers as the first mental examination. “Let him go play, and we will get a lot of our questions answered by Sunday night.”
The real question early in the season is will Tiger be the appetizer or the main course. CBS Sports anchor Jim Nantz yearns for a Woods redux, but at the present feels it would be a luxury for the Tour not a necessity. “I am really high on the young stars of the Tour. I am buying this stock. Their fearlessness dials back to younger age when they saw Tiger do it.”
Leading into the first quarter of the 2018 season, it is not a matter of who will step into the spotlight, but how many.
Shutting it down for injury late in 2017, Rory McIlroy showed signs of a healthy return with a strong third to Tommy Fleetwood at Abu Dhabi. Spieth stumbled out of the gate in Hawaii, but finished solid and identified a goal of patiently trying to capture even more magic on the greens with a focus on past technique.
Jason Day proclaimed himself physically sound and clearheaded, with last year’s off-the-course distractions behind him. Japan’s Hideki Matsuyama spent the winter trying to squeeze what is usually acquired over years of experience into a few months off. “To stay on top, to continue on top, I’m still learning how to do that, and that’s one of my goals, one of the things that I’m working on now is to be able to stay on top of my game.”
Among the qualities that made Woods special was that expectations from a past season seemed to have little effect on the season ahead. Recognizing that pressure, 2017 Player of the Year Thomas looked for advice from a player even younger than himself, Jordan Spieth, to figure out how to handle 2018.
“I understand that I’m going to be expected to do a lot more, not only from fans, peers, but from you all, and probably going to be reminded of that quite often, so I just have to deal with it. I can’t compare any years to past years or last year, it’s just golf, so I just have to go out and do what I’m doing and just don’t get affected by that stuff.”
The storylines are queued up for this year on the PGA Tour. And even if Woods, at age 41, can conjure up a reasonable semblance of the ‘old Tiger,’ Faldo cautions he will be facing more resistance than he faced in his previous incarnation. “These youngsters haven’t had their head handed to them by Tiger like dear old Ernie and Phil.” This year on Tour there is enough intimidation to go around for everyone.
The Farmers Insurance Open, live from Torrey Pines on CBS, Saturday, January 27 (4:00 – 7:00 pm ET) and Sunday, January 28 (3:00 – 6:30 pm ET), begins CBS Sports’ 2018 coverage of the PGA Tour.
Here’s complete 23-tournament CBS Sports golf schedule for 2018:
Farmers Insurance Open (January 27 – 28)
Waste Management Phoenix Open (February 3 – 4)
AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am (February 10 – 11)
Genesis Open (February 17 – 18)
The Honda Classic (February 24 – 25)
Masters Tournament (April 7 – 8)
RBC Heritage (April 14 – 15)
Valero Texas Open (April 21 – 22)
Zurich Classic of New Orleans (April 28 – 29)
Wells Fargo Championship (May 5 – 6)
AT&T Byron Nelson (May 19 – 20)
DEAN & DELUCA Invitational (May 26 – 27)
The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide (June 2 – 3)
FedEx St. Jude Classic (June 9 – 10)
Travelers Championship (June 23 – 24)
The National (June 30 – July 1)
The Greenbrier Classic (July 7 – 8)
John Deere Classic (July 14 – 15)
RBC Canadian Open (July 28 – 29)
WGC-Bridgestone Invitational (August 4 – 5)
100th PGA Championship (August 11 – 12)
Wyndham Championship (August 18 – 19)
The Northern Trust (August 25 – 26)
Dan Reardon has covered golf for radio station KMOX in St. Louis for 33 years. In that time, he has covered more than 100 events, including majors and other PGA, LPGA and Champions Tour tournaments. During his broadcast career, Reardon conducted one-on-one interviews with three dozen members of the World Golf of Fame. He has contributed to many publications over the years and co-authored the book Golf’s Greatest Eighteen from Random House. Reardon served as Director of Media relations for LPGA events in both St. Louis and Chicago for 10 years.