Woods returns, Mickelson marches on, back-to-back Cups: golf talking points

HONG KONG (AFP) – The build-up to next month’s United States (US) Masters is in full swing, while men and women are teaming up for a match play feast. Here are AFP Sport’s golf talking points this week:

TIGER EYES 83

The PGA Tour’s displaced Asian swing pitches up in California this week with the Zozo Championship at Sherwood Country Club where Tiger Woods will defend his title memorably secured a year ago, when he equalled the all-time record of 82 PGA Tour wins.

The 15-time major champion triumphed at the first PGA Tour event to be held in Japan to tie Sam Snead’s mark, and Woods is on a happy hunting ground as he goes for the outright record.

Woods hosted his World Challenge tournament at the Sherwood layout, Thousand Oaks, from 2000 to 2013, winning five times.

The 44-year-old American hasn’t won this year and has looked out of sorts since golf resumed post-lockdown.

But a year ago he arrived in Japan having not played since August following arthroscopic knee surgery and blew away the elite 78-player field, leading from gun to tape in a marathon event that saw a Monday finish because of weather delays.

Claiming the record of 83 wins at Sherwood could tee up Woods nicely for his rescheduled US Masters defence in November, where he will be going for a sixth green jacket and a 16th major.

PHIL’S UNTOUCHABLE

Phil Mickelson heads to California to start his own Masters build-up at the Zozo Championship having completed a second dominant win in two starts on the seniors tour.

Mickelson is a rookie on the PGA Tour Champions circuit this year but is now two-for-two after beating another left-hander and former major champion, Mike Weir, by three strokes to win the Dominion Energy Charity Classic on Sunday.

He may be 50 now, but Mickelson is averaging well over 310 yards off the tee – not quite in the Bryson DeChambeau class but up there with many of the PGA Tour’s best – which has many thinking he could become the oldest ever major champion at Augusta.

Meanwhile the busy ‘Lefty’ announced his latest charity challenge will see him team up with NBA legend Charles Barkley in made-for-TV match against two-time NBA MVP and accomplished golfer Steph Curry and five-time NFL MVP-winning quarterback Peyton Manning.

‘The Match: Champions for Change’ will take place on November 27.

Proceeds from the event will help promote diversity and inclusion, through donations to historically Black colleges and universities.

Mickelson said he was looking forward to pairing with Barkley, despite his notoriously poor golf swing.

“While we may need a handicap for Chuck,” said Mickelson. “I’m looking forward to playing with Peyton and Stephen and to help raise money for another important cause.”

RYDER, SOLHEIM COME TOGETHER

Fans are in for a feast of match play golf between the best of the US and the cream of Europe after it was announced on Monday that the Solheim Cup and Ryder Cup will be played back-to-back for the first time in 2023.

Spain will host the women’s Solheim Cup US vs Europe match for the first time at Finca Cortesin on Spain’s Costa del Sol from September 22-24, 2023, and the Marco Simone Golf and Country Club is the venue for Italy’s debut as a Ryder Cup host a week later.

Normally the women’s and men’s showdowns take place in alternate years. But when the 2020 Ryder Cup was postponed until 2021 by the coronavirus pandemic, the knock-on effect was that Italy would host in 2023 giving officials the chance to coordinate dates to generate heightened interest.

“The fact it is also a first for both hosting nations simply adds to the anticipation,” said European Tour Chief Executive Keith Pelley. “And if we can recreate the excitement generated at Le Golf National in 2018 and at Gleneagles in 2019, the whole world of golf will be in for a truly fabulous fortnight.”

The next Solheim Cup is scheduled for September 4-6, 2021, at the Inverness Club in Ohio. The delayed Ryder Cup at Whistling Straits will be held September 25-27, 2021.