Questions to ponder in 2004
KAPALUA, Hawaii -- Mike Weir stepped into the sunshine, dropped three balls onto the putting green and rapped them toward a hole some 40 feet away.
''Those are the first putts I've hit since my final putt at Target,'' Weir said Tuesday.
Vacation is over, and it didn't last long. That final putt in the Target World Challenge was only 23 days ago.
While it seems as though last year never ended, a new PGA Tour season gets under way Thursday when Retief Goosen hits the opening tee shot in the winners-only Mercedes Championships.
The slogan at Kapalua is, ''The PGA Tour Starts Here.''
Where it leads is anyone's guess, although here are some questions to ponder:
What began with Annika Sorenstam at the Colonial, the first woman in 58 years on the PGA Tour, turned into a parade of women competing against men around the world last year.
Wie played on the Canadian tour (missed cut) and the Nationwide Tour (missed cut). But she's grown up now, all of 14, and she makes her PGA Tour debut next week in the Sony Open.
If she fails to make it to the weekend at Waialae, the novelty finally might wear off.
PGA Tour commissioner Tim Finchem suggested in November the end was near.
''I don't see a trend involved here where a lot of tournaments are going to want women golfers to play,'' he said. ''I frankly don't think there are many that add much to a tournament at this point in time.''
Shut out in the Grand Slam events for the first time since 1998, Woods now has gone six majors without winning. His longest drought is 10, although he has never gone more than one season without winning a major.
Don't be alarmed to see the world's No. 1 player do without this year.
At the same stage in his career, Jack Nicklaus won The Masters and U.S. Open in 1967, then went two seasons and 12 majors before he won his next one in the 1970 British Open at St. Andrews.
The British Open returns to St. Andrews next year.
Age is just a number for the 40-year-old Fijian, especially for someone so fit -- and hungry.
Even so, David Duval is the only player who has been able to sustain a challenge to Woods for longer than a year, replacing him briefly at No. 1 in the world.
Singh will need at least two more years to have a chance to be No. 1. If he doesn't contend with the same frequency, he soon will be regarded as another forgotten rival.
The year wasn't a total loss for Duval, who got engaged Nov. 8 to Susie Persichitte. On the golf course was a disaster, as Duval made only four cuts in 20 tournaments and was done for the year in early October.
He will not return to the PGA Tour until he feels he is ready to play.
That could be February. It could be June.
It could be next year.
Sorenstam has said repeatedly that Colonial was a one-time opportunity, and that she will only play unofficial events like the Skins Game or a pro-am at the Mercedes Championships.
But she could have scored better at Colonial (71-74), where she missed the cut by four shots.
And she knows it.
By year's end, she finished second in the Skins Game, and was second in the Singapore Skins, despite shooting 63.
Mickelson got so tired of questions about when he will win a major that he declined go to the interview room after sharing the first-round lead in the PGA Championship.
The last time Lefty failed to win a tournament was in 1999, and he won four times the following year. This could be a pivotal season for Mickelson. No one doubts his talent. Some are starting to question whether he has the focus and discipline to win a major.
The surprise is that Mickelson has never so much as held a 54-hole lead in the majors. If he doesn't contend this year, he might not get those questions.
That means commercials.
Augusta National chairman Hootie Johnson did away with his TV sponsors when Martha Burk turned up the heat in the controversy over the club's all-male membership.
Johnson suggested sponsors could return when he sees fit, although he liked the telecast so much last year that The Masters again will be commercial-free in 2004.
The club can afford to get by without advertising revenue, although lack of income means a delay to projects like a world-class practice facility on the drawing board.
Players in their 40s won more tournaments than guys in their 20s, but golf if cyclical.
The question is: Which youngster will emerge? Chad Campbell, 29, is the most likely candidate, especially the way he won the Tour Championship. Adam Scott is another, but he has to be more consistent.
Copyright 2004 by The Associated Press
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