What should golf fans reasonably expect from Tiger Woods in 2019?
While the 2018-2019 PGA Tour schedule officially kicked off months ago and has already provided some fantastic and dramatic tournaments and finishes, the real season begins for many golf fans when Tiger Woods makes his official season debut on Thursday at Torrey Pines at the Farmers Insurance Open.
When Woods came to this tournament a year ago, expectations were much different. Following multiple back surgeries, Tiger had teed it up in just four tournaments in two years and came to Torrey Pines last January ranked 656th in the world. He had no idea what to expect from himself after so much time away but was able to finish tied for 23rd, which in the past would have been a disappointment. However, just being able to finish at all was an accomplishment and while he would miss the cut in his next start, Woods would go on to have a magnificent 2018, posting six top-10 finishes before capping off the year with a thrilling victory at the Tour Championship, his 80th PGA Tour win.
Sure, Tiger didn’t have the greatest finish to 2018 following that win at East Lake. He posted a disappointing 0-4 record in Paris at the Ryder Cup, lost to Phil Mickelson in that one-on-one spectacle and then finished 17th out of 18 players at the Hero World Challenge. Woods admitted that fatigue was a factor. After not playing a full PGA Tour season in years, Tiger played in 18 events last year, not including those just mentioned, so it was certainly an adjustment to get back out there. And let’s not forget that Woods turned 43 in December.
But after some time off, the now-13th-ranked player in the world says he’s fully rested and ready to go. So what should we expect from Tiger Woods in 2019? Let’s take a look at a few questions that are out there for Tiger this season.
How many events will Tiger play in 2019?
The only tournaments Tiger has officially committed to thus far is this week’s Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines and the Genesis Open in mid-February at Riviera. Woods contemplated playing the Sentry Tournament of Champions a few weeks back, the field exclusively reserved for the previous season’s winners, but chose instead to stay home and get used to his new equipment, including a new driver, 3-wood and updated irons from TaylorMade. That trusty Scotty Cameron putter is still in the bag though.
While those two are the only official commitments thus far, one has to think he’ll make his regular stops on the PGA Tour. After the Genesis, his next stop will likely be at Bay Hill in mid-March for the Arnold Palmer Invitational, a tournament he’s won eight times. The following week, we know he’ll be at Sawgrass for The Players Championship in its new slot. He usually plays the Wells Fargo Championship due to his foundation’s involvement with that tournament and always makes Jack’s tournament, the Memorial, in late May.
Let’s not forget, of course, about the four major championships and World Golf Championship events, of which there are three. Throw in the three FedEx Cup Playoff events, assuming he qualifies for all three, and that gets Tiger to 15 events. It certainly wouldn’t be a surprise to see him skip the WGC-Mexico the week after the Genesis or the Match Play, which falls in between The Players and The Masters.
With the new PGA Tour schedule that saw The Players move back to March and the PGA Championship move to May, many players will be making some adjustments to their schedule this year and Tiger Woods will be one of them. We’ll just have to wait and see.
Can Tiger catch Sam Snead in 2019?
So the question “Will Tiger Woods win again?” was emphatically answered last September at East Lake. So at least we don’t have to talk about that anymore. Tiger’s 80th PGA Tour win put him just two behind Sam Snead’s record so the new question becomes “Can Tiger Woods catch or even pass Sam Snead in 2019?” Yes, there’s still the matter of Woods staying healthy, which is the most important thing. But assuming he does, there are plenty of chances for him to win, beginning this week at Torrey Pines.
A full 10 percent of his wins have come here, seven victories at this tournament and, of course, the win on the broken leg at the 2008 U.S. Open. As mentioned, he’ll likely be at Bay Hill, where he’s won eight times, and the Memorial, a tournament where he’s racked up five victories. He’s won The Players Championship twice and the FedEx Cup Playoff events have been kind to him as well. The opportunities are certainly there to get to 82 or 83. Let’s also not forget that three of the four major championship venues this season will take place at venues where he’s had considerable success, which leads us right into our next question.
Will Tiger win a major championship in 2019?
Tiger Woods has never made it a secret that he works his entire schedule around the major championships and 2019 shouldn’t be any different. He hasn’t won a major in more than a decade, his last win coming at that 2008 U.S. Open, and his confidence has to be higher than it has been in years given his success in 2018. The new schedule does make things a bit more tricky as he’ll likely be playing a lot of golf come March. There’s Bay Hill from March 7-10, followed by The Players from March 14-17. That’s where skipping the Match Play may come in. That’s scheduled for March 27-31, two weeks before The Masters.
If he chooses to skip that event, he’ll have close to four weeks to prep for Augusta, which begins on April 11. Finishing 16 strokes behind Patrick Reed in a tie for 32nd last year, that may be the play. Tiger obviously knows what he needs to do at Augusta. You don’t win four green jackets without knowing your way around that golf course and Woods certainly has the game to win this tournament again, perhaps more than any other major he’ll ever play in his career. If he has some early success this year, his confidence will be even higher going in, which could make things very difficult for the rest of the field.
The PGA Championship becomes the second major of the year in 2019 and takes place this year from May 16-19. The venue, you ask? Bethpage Black. Yes, the same Bethpage Black where Tiger Woods won the 2002 U.S. Open. Yes, that was 17 years ago but going into a major knowing you’ve won there before is a big advantage. It is a very tough golf course that presents plenty of challenges, especially if Tiger can’t get this new driver working, but watching him again in that setting should be entertaining.
You know how I just said that there’s a big advantage going into a major championship knowing you’ve won there before? Well, that’s exactly what Tiger will do once again when the U.S. Open starts at Pebble Beach on June 13. Woods obliterated the field there in 2000 with that historic 15-shot victory, a record that still stands and likely will for quite some time…if not until the end of time. He holds another victory there in the Pro-Am event and has to be thrilled to be returning there for a third U.S. Open appearance.
The only unfamiliar venue for Tiger in the 2019 majors will come at The Open Championship in July when the best players in the world tee it up at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland, which hasn’t hosted golf’s oldest major since 1951. I’m sure Woods would have been a bit more comfortable at St. Andrews, where he captured two of his three Open Championship titles, but the tourney doesn’t return to the home of golf until 2021 for the 150th edition.
If I had to make a guess here, I would say that Augusta still gives Tiger Woods the best chance at major number 15. I do think that he puts himself in contention to win a major championship this season and actually wins one. He held the lead on Sunday at The Open Championship last year but nobody was beating Francesco Molinari that day, much like nobody was getting in the way of Brooks Koepka winning his second major of the year at the PGA Championship. But with a full season under his belt and his confidence higher than it’s been in a very long time, I really do see Tiger winning a major in 2019.
The quest to answer all of these questions begins at 1:40 p.m Eastern on Thursday when Tiger tees off on the South Course at Torrey Pines alongside Xander Schauffele and Tony Finau, two players who will definitely have a say all season long in keeping Woods from winning anything.
Buckle up, everyone. Tiger Watch 2019 has begun.
What are your expectations for Tiger Woods in 2019? Can he pass Sam Snead? Will he win a major championship? Feel free to join in the conversation in the comments section below.