Previewing the Biggest Golf Stories of 2018

The PGA Tour no longer takes a break from October to January, so although the calendar year is just beginning, the golf season is roughly one-sixth completed. Following the FedEx Cup playoffs and the Presidents' Cup, the official PGA Tour season actually kicked off October 5 of last year at the Safeway Open in Napa, California, an event won by Brendan Steele.

For most fans, however, the golf season begins in Hawaii this week with the Sentry Tournament of Champions and reaches serious levels with the first major at the Masters Tournament in April. With the Northeast under a foot of snow and experiencing brutally low temperatures, it's a good time to take a look at some stories of the ongoing PGA Tour season.

The return of Tiger Woods

After competing at his own Hero Challenge tournament at the Bahamas in late November and briefly taking the lead in the second round, expectations for the 14-time major champions have taken on a life of their own. As expected, Tiger has announced that he will begin his latest PGA Tour comeback on January 25th at the Farmers Insurance Open in San Diego and follow that up with an appearance at the Genesis Open in Los Angeles, an event run by his foundation, three weeks later.

After an extended layoff that ended in 2013, Woods won five times and earned his 11th Player of the Year honor, although a 15th major eluded him. I watched every shot of Tiger's that was aired in the Hero, and was impressed with his driving accuracy. He looked rusty, not a surprise after 300 days off from competition. His putting was good and he was hitting the ball as far as anyone in the limited, but stellar field. If he can stay healthy, I expect him to contend for a win and maybe even make a run at a major.

Dustin Johnson's return to form

Prior to the 2016 U.S. Open champion's injury at the Masters last year, the number one player in the world was poised to have an enormous season. Before the injury, D.J. had three wins in seven events. After withdrawing from the Masters, he only recorded one win the rest of the season, although it came in the first tournament of the FedEx playoffs, giving him some momentum heading into the current season. If Johnson regains his health, he could again be a dominant figure in 2018.

Ricky Fowler's quest for a major

With four career victories and a pair of major championship runner-ups, Fowler is poised to take the next step. He had two fifth-place finishes in the majors in 2017 and is looking to follow up last season's success with the one accolade that has escaped him since joining the PGA Tour in 2010. The 29-year-old is as popular as any player, especially with the young fans, but despite incredible consistency, victories have come sparingly to the talented pro.

Will Fowler end up taking his game to a new level and win multiple majors, or will his career look more like those of Fred Couples or Steve Stricker, both extremely popular players who tasted success on the PGA Tour, but have only a single major championship between them? Or will he blossom in his thirties and find a way to close out major championship victories the way Phil Mickelson did with his Masters win in 2004? Perhaps we'll find out in 2018.

Speaking of Mickelson, does Phil have another major in the tank?

The five-time major champion managed five top ten finishes in 2017, but didn't really challenge in the majors. At the age of 46 (he'll turn 47 on the Saturday of the U.S. Open), history is against him winning another major, although Jack Nicklaus was Mickelson's age when he won his final major. My feeling is that one of the game's most appealing figures can still compete, but that a major would be surprising accomplishment.

Justin Thomas' follow-up to his breakout season

After a season during which he won five times, captured his first major, recorded 12 top-10s, won the FedEx Cup and was named Player of the Year, Thomas is poised for more success. He comes into 2018 with a win in the CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges already under his belt. Thomas is as long off the tee as anyone and showed great mental toughness in his win at the PGA Championship. However, even with his great success in 2017, he only ranked 162nd in driving accuracy so there is room for improvement in his game. That's a scary thought for the rest of the tour.

Jordan Spieth as an afterthought

It's hard to believe that despite three wins, a major victory, and a runner-up finish in the FedEx Cup in 2017, the three-time major winner at the ripe old age of 24 might be overlooked as others make strides in their games. Spieth's competitiveness should set him up for long term success and there hasn't been a player since Tiger Woods that I've perceived as having a shot at bettering Jack Nicklaus' 18 major championships. I look for him to continue his assault on the record books in 2018, especially since his good friend Justin Thomas in now hot on his heels.

Where is Rory McIlroy?

After an injury delayed the start to the Irishman's 2017, he never seemed to get his season going. He did manage six top-10 finishes in 14 tournaments, but McIlroy was victimized by his putting woes that left him ranked 176th in on the greens on the PGA Tour and didn't find his way to a victory. I look for the talented 28-year-old to bounce back in 2018.

There will be countless other golf stories in 2018, some predictable and others that will be surprising and thrilling. With the a great crop of young players and the return of Tiger Woods, the PGA Tour is in position deliver unpredictable and entertaining events.

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