Tiger's new question: What's next?

Updated: January 23, 2005, 10:18 PM ET
By Jason Sobel | ESPN.com

While much of the country was ensconced in snow, Torrey Pines was blanketed in fog throughout much of the weekend.

And out of the thick, murky haze emerged a winner ... Tiger Woods!

Having been somewhat shrouded in a fog of another kind with only one PGA Tour victory in 2004, it was quite symbolic for Woods to win when he did.

The Weekly 18 starts with the question on everyone's mind: What's in store for Tiger this season?

Tiger Woods
GettyTiger's win at the Buick was his first in a stroke-play event since late 2003.

1.
What's next?

He's been telling us for over a year that he's close. Right there. Knocking on the door.

And Tiger proved it on Sunday.

With a three-stroke win at the Buick Invitational, Woods rid himself of that pesky Zero Stroke-Play Wins In The Last 15 Months label.

So, now what? What can we expect from the world's most popular player? Another season with one early win and some close-but-no-cigar finishes? Or will the Buick victory launch a season in which New Tiger looks a lot like Old Tiger? You know, the guy who lived on top of the leaderboard.

One thing's for sure: That was a look of relief on the faces of Woods and caddie Steve Williams once the tournament was clinched on the 72nd hole. Relief from Woods winning his first stroke-play event since the 2003 WGC-American Express Championship and relief from one shot that could have spoiled the whole celebration.

Standing over his ball, 235 yards from the middle of the green on the par-5 18th hole, Woods decided to go for the green in two. He aimed straight ahead, planning to carry the water that fronts the green ... and fired dead right into a small, but safe landing area. The shot was so bad, it was good. A little straighter and his ball is wet. A little longer and it's in the rough. Instead, Tiger got up-and-down from the landing area for birdie to ensure the win.

A lucky break? Sure, but Old Tiger used to get those breaks all the time. It's about time this new guy started getting some, too.

2.
Money man

Don't look now, but Woods is now atop the PGA Tour's money list for the first time since the 2003 season. Woods and Ernie Els joined Vijay Singh and Stuart Appleby as players who have eclipsed the $1 million-mark in earnings already this year.

3.
Life of Lehman

Tom Lehman's fabulous four days of golf shouldn't be too overshadowed by Woods, but you've got to wonder if he can still put on that finishing kick. Lehman, who owns five tour victories but none since 2000, has held (or shared) the lead entering the final round in four of his last five events, but has yet to hold a trophy. He finished T-2 on Sunday, giving him four top fives in his last seven starts, with no finishes below 17th place.

4.
Oh, captain

Surely Lehman was thinking about his own game at the Buick more than his role as Ryder Cup captain, but he got a bird's eye view of his top player throughout the weekend. Lehman played 36 holes with Woods over the weekend. You may remember, Woods openly lobbied for friend Mark O'Meara to be named the U.S. team's captain in '06, but was cordial in comments about Lehman after he was named to the position.

5.
From eagle to bogey

It's been said that golf can be an evil game, but what happened to Charles Howell III on the final hole of the Buick is pretty ridiculous. Two shots behind the leader, Howell needed to fire his approach shot right at the flagstick and hope for an unbelievable eagle. Instead, he made an unbelievable bogey. Howell's third shot on the par-5 hit the base of the flagstick, right where it meets the hole, and ricocheted backwards into the pond that guards the green. He later said, "I didn't know whether to laugh or cry." After taking a drop and spinning his fifth shot off the front edge of the green, Howell chipped in to make a crazy six.

6.
Howell's Lagoon?

Somewhere Bruce Devlin was sympathizing for Howell. Near the top of the leaderboard in 1975, Devlin ran into trouble on the same hole, taking six hacks at his ball which was halfway submerged in the pond and taking a quintuple-bogey 10 on the hole. The folly led to the lake being called Devlin's Billabong; perhaps it will now be referred to as Howell's Lagoon.

7.
Same old Torrey

Eighteen years ago, a young Ernie Els ventured to the United States for the first time, competing in junior tournaments at Torrey Pines against the likes of Phil Mickelson. It took him a while, but he finally made his way back this week and might want to consider making the Buick a permanent stop on his schedule after a T-6 finish. Els intimated at last week's Sony that the main reason he'd be playing Torrey Pines this week was to get a good feel for the South Course, which will be the site of the 2008 U.S. Open.

8.
Different tune

Just when Vijay Singh looked poised for a backdoor top-five finish -- you know, the kind where he isn't on the leaderboard for three days and all of a sudden emerges near the top when the event finally finishes -- he shot a surprising final-round 3-over 75 to finish T-24 at the Buick. A year ago Singh was sixth on the PGA Tour with a 69.78 final-round scoring average.

9.
Native son

Entering this week, there was plenty of talk about Phil Mickelson playing in his hometown. Woods and Chris Riley used to have some junior golf battles in Southern California, too. But a forgotten man from that scene was Arron Oberholser, from San Luis Obispo, Calif. Oberholser also grew up often competing against Woods and faced him plenty of times as a San Jose State player while Tiger was at Stanford. Starting with an opening-round 64, Oberholser stayed on the leaderboard all week, finishing T-6 -- his second straight top 10 at the Buick.

10.
Haas vs. Haas

Last week in this space we brought you the Battle of the Stadlers, as father Craig grabbed a T-9 at the Sony while son Kevin missed the cut. Score one for the kids this week. Bill Haas, playing on a sponsor's exemption, defeated his dad Jay by six strokes, finishing T-18 at the Buick. Looking to gain enough money through exemptions and other means to gain a permanent spot on tour, Bill missed the top 10 by three shots. Had he reached that level, he'd automatically be entered in the field for this week's Bob Hope Classic; instead, he'll be playing on another sponsor's exemption.

11.
Pavin the way

A few years ago, Corey Pavin caddied for his former UCLA teammate Jay Delsing during a successful run in Q School. This week it was payback time. With Pavin's regular caddie under the weather, Delsing filled in on the bag, and helped Pavin to a T-56 finish.

12.
Not very close

David Duval's travails continue. Double-D shot an opening-round 79 in his 2005 PGA Tour debut, then withdrew on Friday. Those looking for Duval to climb back into the winner's circle and regain a prominent standing in the World Ranking may be waiting longer than they had originally thought.

13.
All or nothing

It is becoming increasingly apparent that Hank Kuehne is an all-or-nothing player. The '04 leader in driving distance, Kuehne went low with a 66 in his first round of the year at the Sony, but shot an opening-round 80 at the Buick -- last among regular tour players -- before withdrawing on Friday. All-or-nothing isn't necessarily a bad thing, however; one by one last week, players admitted they'd rather catch lightning in a bottle and win an event than play consistent golf and finish in the top 30 on the money list. Kuehne may never be a great money list guy, but he's got what it takes to win on tour.

14.
Aussie rules

It's only a matter of time before Peter Lonard breaks through with his first career PGA Tour victory. After making a nice run during the "offseason" in his native Australia -- Lonard won the Australian Open and Australian PGA, and came four strokes shy of being the first player to claim the Aussie Grand Slam in the Australian Masters -- he shot 67-65 before a disappointing weekend led to a T-14 finish.

15.
Clark is super, man

Watch out for Tim Clark this year. On Sunday, the former International team Presidents Cup player won the South African Open in his native country. Clark has found some success while splitting time between the U.S. and overseas tours over the years, but he is finally healthy for first time in his career. This is a guy who has already finished in the top-13 in every major except the British Open and could make some headlines in the U.S. in '05.

16.
Comeback of the week

It didn't win a tournament, but Darren Clarke's final drive in the second round of the South African Open was a pretty impressive shot under pressure. How much pressure could there be on Friday of a four-round event, you ask? Plenty. As the highest-ranked player in the field, Clarke stepped up to the 274-yard par-4 18th hole knowing he was two shots off the cutline. So Clarke simply drove the green and sank his eagle putt to ensure he'd be around for the weekend. Once there, he posted a pair of 67s to grab a T-4 finish.

17.
Monkey business

Birds. Alligators. Even whales, just off the coast of Kapalua's Plantation Course. The U.S. tour has some interesting wildlife, but usually not much that interferes with the tournament at hand. And then there's the rest of the world. Like South Africa, where Durban Country Club was infiltrated by monkeys throughout the event. The best video highlights of the week showed Mark Murless' ball sitting in a greenside bunker, then being picked up by a monkey and redeposited into the rough.

18.
Quote of the week

"I've had more important things going on and I wasn't really concerned with practice or playing."
--David Duval


Jason Sobel is ESPN.com's golf editor. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn3.com

Jason Sobel | email

Golf Editor, ESPN.com
Jason Sobel, who joined ESPN in 1997, earned four Sports Emmy awards as a member of ESPN's Studio Production department. He became ESPN.com's golf editor in July 2004.

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