Hidden Tiger, famous five and a Beef stew: golf talking points

GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP/File / Tim Bradbury Wating game: Tiger Woods will be absent when the PGA Tour resumes in Texas this week

Top-level golf returns from its coronavirus shutdown Thursday as the US PGA Tour season resumes with a star-studded field at the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial in Fort Worth, Texas.

AFP Sport looks at three talking points as the players prepare to go into battle for the first time since The Players Championship was abandoned in March.

– Can’t see the Woods –

Sixteen of the world’s top 20 will tee off on Thursday at Colonial Country Club, but Tiger Woods will not be among them.

The 15-time major winner last played on Tour in February at Riviera and missed the next four tournaments, including the Players, with a sore back.

GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / Mike Ehrmann The world number 11 Tiger Woods (back) looked to have his game in top shape on May 24 when he and Peyton Manning defeated Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a charity match

The world number 11 looked to have his game in top shape on May 24 when he and Peyton Manning defeated Phil Mickelson and Tom Brady in a charity match.

But he may be saving his fragile body for the frantic revamped schedule in August and September, and so could return as late as Jack Nicklaus’s Memorial Tournament on July 16, which Woods has never missed when healthy.

The Memorial could be the first of eight events in 10 weeks for the 44-year-old.

The WGC Invitational is on July 30-August 2, followed by the US PGA Championship, three FedEx Cup playoff events, and September’s US Open and Ryder Cup.

Woods needs one victory to set the all-time wins record having tied Sam Snead’s 82 PGA Tour victories at the Zozo Championship in Japan in October.

– ‘Debutant’ Rory leads stellar cast –

World number one Rory McIlroy has been installed as favourite this week, despite never having played at Colonial before.

GETTY IMAGES NORTH AMERICA/AFP / Cliff Hawkins Colonial favourite: Rory McIlroy leads a star-studded field when the PGA Tour resumes this week

He will be joined in the hunt by the rest of the world’s top five — Jon Rahm, Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas and Dustin Johnson — with Thomas another to play the event for the first time.

But picking a winner is not easy: 101 of the 148 players have PGA Tour wins under their belt, the strongest field in the event’s history.

The top three — McIlroy, Rahm and Koepka — will play together for the first two rounds in a stellar featured group that will have an odd feel in front of empty galleries.

Number four Thomas will play alongside his great pals Jordan Spieth and Rickie Fowler in what could be a fun grouping for an expected large TV audience.

– ‘Beef’ doesn’t mince words –

While the return of the PGA Tour has been universally welcomed, the decision to restart the Official World Golf Rankings (OWGR) has not gone down so well.

AFP / Paul ELLIS England’s Andrew ‘Beef’ Johnston did not mince his words when calling the world golf rankings “dumb” to be restarting this week

Players at the Charles Schwab Challenge and a second-string Korn Ferry Tour event in the US this week will be awarded ranking points.

But the European Tour is not scheduled to return until late July and it will be September before the Asian Tour sees any action.

Players on those circuits, with no points-scoring opportunities, took to social media to vent their anger.

“Completely dumb from @OWGRltd but anyway least golf is starting,” fumed England’s Andrew “Beef” Johnston on Twitter.

Compatriot Matt Fitzpatrick, the world number 25, chimed in: “Very unfair, can’t understand this!”

South Africa’s 165th-ranked Brandon Stone tweeted: “Find this very disrespectful to all other tours around the world.”

“Agreed! Either all Tours are playing for points or none!” said Austria’s number 26 Bernd Wiesberger.

Officials from the OWGR claimed in a statement that the averaging formula used to calculate rankings will help mitigate the problem.

But a row could be brewing, especially if a player on a suspended tour were to drop out of the all-important top 50 and miss out on a major or a lucrative WGC event as a result.

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