New US PGA Tour sea­son tees off with­out Woods

The Sun (Malaysia) - - SPORTS -

PHIL MICK­EL­SON, en­er­gized by Amer­ica’s Ry­der Cup tri­umph, was rar­ing to go yes­ter­day in Napa, Cal­i­for­nia, where the US PGA Tour sea­son tees off with the Safe­way Open.

“Well, af­ter five solid days off it’s ex­cit­ing to start the year,” the five-time ma­jor cham­pion said in a jokey jab at the quick turn­around from the Ry­der Cup to the open­ing event on the 2016-17 cal­en­dar.

Lit­tle more than a fort­night ago, Rory McIl­roy capped the 2015-16 sea­son with a scin­til­lat­ing vic­tory in the US PGA Tour Cham­pi­onship – nab­bing the US$10 mil­lion FedEx Cup play­off bonus into the bar­gain.

Many of golf’s elite who bat­tled in the play­offs and Ry­der Cup will skip the first low-key events of the new sea­son, and this week’s tour­na­ment will have its cus­tom­ary laid-back feel now that 14-time ma­jor cham­pion Tiger Woods has de­layed his re­turn from an in­jury ab­sence last­ing more than a year.

“We all want Tiger to come back, but we want him to come back when he’s ready,” Mick­el­son (pix) said. “If he doesn’t feel like he’s ready, then he should wait.

“We’ll all wait in an­tic­i­pa­tion and we’re ex­cited, but I un­der­stand there’s a lot of pres­sure not just to come back but to per­form when he does come back.”

But plenty of top golfers who bat­tled through 2016 sea­son find them­selves in re­cov­ery mode in the wan­ing months of the year.

World No. 1 Ja­son Day of Aus­tralia, forced out of the Tour Cham­pi­onship and the BMW Cham­pi­onship be­fore that with a back in­jury, has pulled out of next month’s Aus­tralian Open and the World Cup of Golf, and in­di­cated he might not com­pete un­til 2017.

Day won three US PGA Tour ti­tles in 2015-16. But Player of the Year hon­ors went to Amer­i­can Dustin Johnson, whose three ti­tles in­cluded his break­through ma­jor at the US Open.

Johnson is plan­ning to make his sea­son de­but at the WGC HSBC Cham­pi­ons in Shang­hai later this month, then play the elite Tour­na­ment of Cham­pi­ons in Hawaii in Jan­uary.

“Ob­vi­ously my ex­pec­ta­tions go­ing into next year are go­ing to be very high, and that’s go­ing to drive me to keep con­tin­u­ing to work hard and keep do­ing ex­actly what I’m do­ing be­cause it’s work­ing,” Johnson said on a con­fer­ence call to dis­cuss his Player of the Year award.

So with play­ers like Day, Johnson, third-ranked McIl­roy and fourth-ranked Jor­dan Spi­eth wait­ing in the wings, Eng­land’s world No. 12 Paul Casey is the high­est-ranked player in this week’s field. – AFP

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