- How can the Zurich Classic be improved? What should we expect from Tiger these next two weeks? Is Lydia Ko back? Ready for LPGA-PGA joint tournament?
Every week, SI.com's Daniel Rapaport will be answering four of the biggest questions from the week in golf. To submit questions for the following week's column, simply tweet at @Daniel_Rapaport or @SI_Golf.
I applaud the PGA Tour for trying something different with the Zurich Classic of New Orleans' two-man team format, but something about the week still doesn't feel right. What do you think were the positives from the week in the Bayou, and what can still be improved?
The biggest change the tournament underwent since last year was flipping the days for alternate shot and best-ball. Last year, teams played alternate shot on Thursday and Saturday and best-ball on Friday and Sunday. The advantages to the previous schedule was a Sunday with more birdies—best-ball scoring averages have been around six-to-seven shots lower than alternate shot averages in the two years of team play at Zurich—but best-ball on a Sunday probably isn't the ideal way to determine a worthy winning team. If one player is struggling on a best-ball day, his poor play can be masked by his partner. That's exactly what happened with Scott Brown on Saturday, as his partner Kevin Kisner made seven birdies and the team shot 64 despite Brown's erratic play. No one can hide in alternate shot, however, and Brown's shakiness was part of the reason the Brown/Kisner team faded from contention on Sunday with a five-over 77.
Billy Horschel and Scott Piercy would go on to win at 22-under after shooting a very impressive 67 on the final day.
If I'm forced to choose between birdies and a rightful winner, I'll choose the rightful winner every time. So in that regard, flipping alternate shot from Thursday/Saturday to Friday/Sunday was a good decision, and I'd expect it to stay like that for next year's tournament.
Another change I loved was the addition of walk-up songs this year. This was the Tour fully embracing the novelty of this week, and it's always refreshing to see the world of professional golf not take itself so seriously all the time. This moment, when Kisner stripes his opening tee shot while "Slippery" by Migos blasts on the speakers is unlike anything you'll see on Tour this year, apart from the Waste Management Open and, in a slightly different way, the Ryder Cup.
One change I'd like to see made, though one I wouldn't expect to happen, is for one of the days to be a scramble. In that kind of format, both players hit tee shots, then the team decides which ball they want to play. Then both players hit shots from wherever the preferred tee shot landed and the team then chooses again which approach shot to play. It's a preferred format for many charity functions because it gives players a chance to make more birdies and minimizes the potential for one terrible player to slow down an entire group. Best-ball gives us a good look into just how many birdies these PGA Tour pros can make, but a scramble would produce multiple sub-60 rounds. Sure, it's unconventional and not a "true" test of golf, but neither is best-ball. How awesome would next year's Zurich be if it was best-ball on Thursday, alternate shot on Friday, scramble on Saturday (cut after Saturday) and the combined score of the players on Sunday?
Tiger time! Woods will be playing in this week's Wells Fargo Championship, then again the following week at The PLAYERS. What are you expecting out of TW?
I think these next two weeks, more than any of his previous starts this year, will go a long way in showing the state of Tiger's game. My logic: He's frequently played well in both California and Florida, and his success at the Masters (four green jackets) is well-documented. The next two tournament venues—Quail Hollow for the Wells and TPC Sawgrass for The PLAYERS—have historically given Woods some issues.
Of course, everything is relative, particularly any discussion of Tiger Woods' golf results. He's won on both courses (twice at TPC Sawgrass), so it hardly feels fair to suggest he's struggled at them, but each course puts a premium on driving accuracy, and that's been Tiger's Achilles' heel both historically and in this most recent comeback. His last two appearances at Quail Hollow: a missed cut in 2012, and another MC in 2010 that included a second-round 79. He finished 69th at the 2015 Players, won the event in 2013, took 40th in 2012, and withdrew in 2011 and 2010. Both times he won the PLAYERS—in 2001 and 2013—came amid five-win seasons during which he was the No. 1 player in the world.
Tiger's been impressive in the six official starts he's made since the back fusion, but these next two weeks will show us just how complete his current game is. Because you simply can't miss wildly off the tee and expect to contend at either of these courses, both of which are major-championship difficult. If Tiger can make the cut in both weeks and give himself a chance to win one of the tournaments, that has to be considered a success. But don't be surprised if he has to pack up the sticks after Friday this week in North Carolina.
Lydia Ko nearly made an albatross on the first playoff hole en route to her first victory in nearly two years. Is it fair to expect the former World No. 1 to return to the top of the women's game?
I have a few thoughts on this. The first is that it's absolutely insane that people are talking about Ko needing a career "resurgence." She is 21 years old. She has 16 LPGA Tour wins. For comparison, Rory McIlroy has 14 PGA Tour wins, Jordan Spieth has 11, and Jason Day has 11. Annika Sorenstam didn't win her first LPGA event until she was 24. Tiger Woods had only six wins before he turned 22. Ko is still on an absolutely unprecedented pace, and anyone who wrote her off after a short period of personal and professional growing pains was a prisoner of the moment.
Even the absolute best players in history suffer through dry spells. Woods won just once in 2004. McIlroy didn't win at all in 2017. It's virtually impossible to avoid periods where your game feels out of sorts. In the truest use of the phrase, it happens to the best of 'em.
Ko seems to have finally found some stability with new swing coach Ted Oh just as her relationship with her former coach, the legendary David Leadbetter, gets messier and messier. She's spoken about wanting to play more by feel and lessening her dependence on mechanics, which sounds like a solid strategy. And she hasn't lost her propensity for the big moment—the shot she hit to win on 18 is one of the shots of the year on any tour, anywhere.
Ko obviously is a supreme talent, and if she gets back to where she feels comfortable with her swing, she will reclaim her place as the women's game's biggest star.
There has been talk of a combined PGA-LPGA team event, with PGA Tour commissioner Jay Monahan saying on Sunday that it's only a "matter of time" before one finds its way on the schedule. This is objectively a good thing, right?
Absolutely, positively, yes, and it's pretty surprising that one isn't on the schedule right now. I mean, tennis has mixed doubles at every Grand Slam...
I actually wouldn't be surprised if we see a PGA-LPGA event as early as next season. The Tour is set to officially release next year's schedule at the PLAYERS in a couple weeks. A number of notable changes have already been announced—the Players moving to March, the Valero Texas Open replacing Houston as the pre-Masters tournament and the WGC-Bridgestone becoming the WGC-FedEx St. Jude Classic in Memphis to name a few—and both tours would benefit significantly from sharing the stage for one week.
There's been some chatter that the event could end up being a joint Tournament of Champions, as the LPGA announced its intention to have its own winners-only tournament at the beginning of the season. No matter the venue, this is something we're going to see sooner rather than later.