Five questions to consider as the PGA Tour emerges from the holiday break this week to begin 2016 at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions at Kapalua:
Will Rory McIlroy overtake Jordan Spieth to regain the No. 1 ranking?
McIlroy has made no secret that’s his goal as the new year begins. He’s done the math (he starts the year at No. 3) and figures he can regain the No. 1 spot prior to The Masters if he plays the way he expects.
He called 2015 a lost year because he failed to win a major, at least in part because of the ankle injury he suffered in July. That speaks to where McIlroy’s priorities are these days.
It felt like his victory in Dubai at the end of 2015 sent a signal about this year. Throw in the fact he’s added the Northern Trust Open in February to his early-season PGA Tour schedule and McIlroy’s intentions seem clear, though Spieth and Jason Day will have something to say about it.
How will Spieth follow his spectacular 2015 season?
It’s a tough act to follow, for sure, but Spieth thrives on great expectations.
He showed up in Hawaii before New Year’s Day to do prep work for the season opener at Kapalua and no player has more confidence than Spieth. The bigger the stage, the better he likes it. A lot of players say that but few have proven it the way Spieth has.
He doesn’t see last year as a fluke. Spieth sees it as a model of what he can do.
How big a deal will golf’s return to the Olympics be?
It will get a lot of attention as the Summer Games approach and for the players who qualify, it will be a special achievement.
No one expects the Olympics to feel like a major championship. The pro game still will revolve around those four – and the Ryder Cup in September – but golf in the Olympics will be a curiosity.
For whoever wins the gold medal, standing on the podium for the medal ceremony will feel like a major.
Who’s the next star to emerge?
That depends if you count Justin Thomas as having arrived with his victory in Malaysia last fall.
Thomas flirted with winning several times on Tour last year and finally got it done on the far side of the world. He’s a huge talent who has the potential to win anywhere, once he consistently saves shots around and on the greens and learns to play at less than full throttle.
And remember the name Matthew Fitzpatrick on the European Tour. His victory in the British Masters last fall was a hint of things to come.
Will we see Tiger Woods play this year?
Despite the uncertain status of his back, Woods made it clear in December that he doesn’t think he’s finished. He’s just not sure when he can play again.
Woods, who just turned 40, still has the benefit of time. He can take as long as he needs to get healthy and, assuming he eventually does, who’s to say he can’t come back and be a competitive factor again?
Until then, the Tour marches into 2016 with the magic of 2015 still a happy memory.