PGA Tour Action Set to Heat Up

So, to most, the PGA Tour season begins in January, with two stops in Hawaii before heading for the mainland U.S. It begins on the island of Maui with the SBS Tournament of Champions, where the winners of all PGA Tour events from 2016 are invited to partake in a pretty big purse for such a small field. Last year, South Africa’s Branden Grace finished in last place, a full 23 shots behind winner Justin Thomas. Still, Grace took home $61,000 for his efforts.

Things get harder from there, though, as the Tour hits its stride with a phenomenal run of tournaments leading up to the Masters in April. Month by month, here are the events to circle on the calendar if you’re a golf fan:

The last event of this month, the Farmers Insurance Open (Jan. 26-29) at Torrey Pines Golf Course outside San Diego, is sure to be its most talked-about. Why? Because that’s where Tiger Woods will be making his debut in an official PGA Tour event for the first time in nearly a year and a half. His appearance at December’s Hero World Challenge – an event he hosts, with an elite but only 18-player field – was encouraging, if not particularly spectacular. But given Woods’ upbeat comments in its wake, he seems to have regained a great deal of his trademark competitive fire along with his health. He has won a whopping eight Tour events at Torrey Pines (including the 2008 U.S. Open, his last major championship), so it’s a place with plenty of good memories for him. While a win might be beyond reasonable expectations, a top-30 finish would show the golf world that Woods may be ready to be a factor on golf’s biggest stages again.

As the Tour finishes up the “West Coast Swing” and heads east, each of February’s four tournaments will be compelling. But the one I’m looking forward to most is the Genesis Open (Feb. 16-19). OK, OK … yes, this happens to be another event where Tiger Woods will be teeing it up. However, this event is special not because of any one player, but because of the venue: Riviera Country Club in Los Angeles. Riviera is one of America’s greatest golf courses, and it is home to one of the most fascinating single holes in the world: the short par-4 10th. This complicated, controversial little hole yields its share of birdies and even an eagle or two, but it also bites back at numerous players, who make bogeys and double bogeys in much higher numbers than on most 310-yard holes. This is because of the hole’s narrow, angled green, which slopes off on three sides toward nasty bunkers and kikuyu (similar to Bermuda) rough. Many of the best golfers in the world leave the green shaking their heads and muttering to themselves. For this reason, you should carve out some time to watch this tournament.

March is jam-packed with golf, in large part because there’s one week with two official PGA Tour events happening simultaneously. That week’s main event, the World Golf Championships – Dell Technologies Match Play Championship (March 22-26) will be the most compelling event of the month. Two main factors are at play here. First is the format: match play, which pits two golfers against one another rather than the entire field. The Ryder Cup and Presidents Cup are match-play affairs, and it’s no coincidence that they provide some of the greatest drama during the year in golf. Second is the venue: Austin Country Club in Austin, Texas, a city with rich golf DNA that embraced last year’s event in its first playing in its new home. Austin Country Club is a scenic and exciting Pete Dye design with a number of holes that can produce wide swings in fortunes between players – perfect for match play.

The choice for April is obvious: The Masters (April 6-9). The playing of the year’s first major heralds the return of spring and the beginning of prime golf season for much of the Northern Hemisphere. That, combined with the greatness of Augusta National, makes for a special week, whether you’re fortunate enough to attend the tournament in person or just watching at home.

With the meat of the PGA Tour season underway, it’s time to get serious about enjoying the best golfers in the world gracing our TV (and computer, and smartphone, and tablet) screens weekly. I, for one, can’t wait.

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