With Tiger Woods making his long awaited return and 2018 being a Ryder Cup year it promises to be a sensational season.
We take a look ahead of the top five things to get excited about for the year ahead…
After a successful comeback at the Hero World Challenge in early December, the 14-time Major Champion was suitably ‘Tiger-like’ in stating his goal was to win Majors in 2018, but can he really contend at the highest level after almost a year out of competitive action?
As a four-time winner at Augusta National Woods knows better than anyone currently in the game what it takes to win a Green Jacket, but after the best part of a year out, April could be too soon for Woods to be fully prepared for a Major assault. However, this is Tiger Woods we’re talking about, so anything is possible. All eyes will be on the American as he starts a schedule that he hopes will let him peak at the Majors. He finished in 17th and 12th the last time the US Open and Open Championship were held at Shinnecock Hills (2004) and Carnoustie (2007) respectively. He has no competitive record at Bellerive, the venue for this year's US PGA Championship.
Three players have a chance of making immortality this season and join only a handful of elite players in winning all four Major titles. Rory McIlroy is first up as he attempts to finally conquer Augusta National and complete his personal jigsaw at The Masters. Phil Mickelson is a U.S Open shy of a full set of Majors and hopes the boisterous crowds at Shinnecock Hills in New York can propel him to glory. He has finished runner-up five times in his national Open, including in 2004 when it was last held at Shinnecock. Mickelson's last victory came at the 2013 Open Championship but the mercurial American still has what it takes to win when the pressure is on. Finally, Jordan Spieth will tee it up at Bellerive in St Louis looking to wrap up the US PGA Championship – and the Grand Slam – just a few weeks after his 25th birthday.
Europe tweaked their qualification process to add weight to players hitting form in the summer, a few months shy of the biennial showdown. In addition, Captain Thomas Bjørn (right) will give himself an extra wildcard selection, meaning that the 12-man team will consist of the four leading players from the European Points List, the four leading players from the World Points List, and four of Bjørn’s own choosing. The American side boasts some of the hottest young talent in the game and their collective team spirit is getting stronger after numerous successive Presidents Cup victories and a first Ryder Cup win since 2008 at Hazeltine two years ago. Captain Jim Furyk, installed as a result of the American’s new Taskforce which was implemented after the huge loss at Gleneagles in 2014, still faces a huge task as the United States haven’t won a Ryder Cup in Europe since 1993 at the Belfry.
Never an organisation to sit still, the European Tour will be in the spotlight the week before the US Open this year when they introduce the Shot Clock Masters in Austria. In a bid to speed up the play on Tour, this event begins with every player 'on the clock' – meaning the lead player in each group has 50 seconds to hit their shot and then the remaining players have 40 seconds to hit their shot when it's their turn. Players will incur a one-shot penalty for each 'bad time' with a referee following each group on the course. Every man has two 'time outs' he can use during the round which gives him twice the normal allocation of seconds. The shot clock was used on one hole during last year's GolfSixes tournament. For it to be implemented across a whole tournament will take a lot of officials, stop watches and concentration. Watch this space.
It's been a long time coming, but the Middle East again has a fourth, early-season event on the European Tour as the NBO Oman Golf Classic makes its inaugural appearance on the schedule. The former season-ending event on the Challenge Tour, the NBO Oman Golf Classic has been upgraded to a full European Tour event and will be held the week before the Qatar Masters in February, with both events having a purse of $1,750,000. The last time the start of the European Tour schedule had four events in the region was in 2011 when the inaugural Volvo Golf Champions was held in Bahrain for one edition before being relocated to South Africa the following year.