Expectations are high for Tiger Woods. When are they not? After a successful 2019 -- he won the Masters, tied Sam Snead on the all-time wins list with a late-season victory at the Zozo Championship and then closed out the calendar year with a 3-0 record as a playing captain for a victorious U.S. team at the Presidents Cup -- his 2020 schedule begins at a place where he has won eight times: Torrey Pines, site of this week's Farmers Insurance Open.
So what will happen with Woods this year? We answer those questions:
1. Did the end of 2019 set expectations too high for 2020?
Bob Harig: No doubt. But it's understandable. Expectations were extremely low after the summer, when Woods seemed like a guy who had sold his soul to win the Masters. The poor form, the bad back, a withdrawal due to an oblique injury. Woods never looked right. And then he had knee surgery, which suggested he'd have even more issues with his game. And yet, that unlocked all of the issues. Woods, after a shaky start, won in Japan. He played well enough to win in the Bahamas. And he was the best player at the Presidents Cup. It's hard not to think everything is moving in the right direction as 2020 begins for him.
Michael Collins: Didn't matter. Let's be honest, even if Woods had finished last at Zozo and gone 0-3 at the Presidents Cup, all everyone would do is make excuses for why those didn't matter and "blah blah blah" is why Tiger is going to shatter 2019. It's Tiger Woods -- when do all of us not overreact? Or does everyone forget "experts" picking him to win the 2014 PGA Championship at Valhalla after back surgery and a WD at the Bridgestone Invitational two weeks earlier?
Ian O'Connor: I don't think so. I think most people realize that Woods will never again dominate like he did in his prime, and that he will remain an opportunist for the rest of his career, picking off a win here and there. I do believe Woods will be the favorite at the Masters, as he should be. As the defending champ whose body should still be fresh in April, Woods will be more dangerous at Augusta than anyone.
Mark Schlabach: Expectations are going to be through the roof, no doubt about it, after he made such a miraculous turnaround at the end of 2019. But we can't forget how bad he looked at the PGA Championship and The Open, followed by the WD at the Northern Trust. Was it all because of the knee injury? Did the Masters really take that much out of him? Can he continue to flip a switch on and off?
Nick Pietruszkiewicz: This might be perhaps the one and only time I ever type these words: I agree with Michael. We live in a world of extremes when it comes to Woods. He plays well, and the shouts start about multiple victories and catching Jack Nicklaus' 18 majors before the year is out. He plays poorly, and the cries start that he's done, his career is over. So Zozo and the Presidents Cup will make the expectations unreasonable. That just how it goes. When it comes to Woods, we're never reasonable with expectations -- good or bad.
2. How many times does Tiger win in 2020?
Harig: So much depends on his health. The Tiger at the end of 2020 can contend anywhere. The Tiger of the summer can't win at all. Throw in the fact that he plays a lot of tough golf courses with strong fields and it makes winning all the more difficult. I'm going with two victories, but certainly would not be surprised if it is more.
Collins: A healthy Woods will win three times, including The Open at Royal St. George's. He'll also win a WGC event and a playoff event. Now if Woods has any health setbacks, well, then all bets are off. My hope is that those three wins are in fewer than 10 starts because that is what will keep him healthy.
O'Connor: I'll say twice, with a few near-misses mixed in. Woods looked really healthy in Japan and in Australia at the end of the year, which should scare all those young guns who said they wanted to compete against an able Tiger and maybe should've been more careful with what they were wishing for.
Schlabach: I think he'll win at least one, maybe two. Again, I want to see how his health holds up over the course of a long season before making any bold predictions. He's going to continue to pick and choose his starts, which is smart. He looked unflappable at Augusta last April, and then everything seemed to fall apart for months. At 44, and given his health history, you just never know when things can take a turn for the worse.
Pietruszkiewicz: What did I just say about being unreasonable? I tend to not take my own advice, don't listen to my own calls for caution. Yeah, I'm guilty after watching how much control he had of his body and game at Zozo and the Presidents Cup, so ... I say four wins. I think one comes before the Masters, too. Woods gets No. 83, to pass Sam Snead for the all-time record, before heading to Augusta to defend his green jacket.
3. Does he win a major?
Harig: I like Woods a lot at Royal St. George's, with an outside chance at TPC Harding Park in the PGA Championship. Of course he could defend his Masters victory, but I like The Open better for the reasons he showed in playing Royal Melbourne so well. A links course doesn't require length as much as strategy, and Woods was so good in navigating that type of layout in Australia. And he has all the shots required for the various types of approaches that can be played. He missed a playoff by two shots at Royal St. George's in 2003 after opening the tournament with a triple-bogey. He's also won at Harding Park, but how sharp will he be after an inevitable Masters cooldown?
Collins: The Open at Royal St. George's. And that's actually going to stink. Why? Because next year is the 150th at St. Andrews! This year he gets to put his name on the trophy with Ben Curtis -- everyone do the sarcastic Bubba Watson "yeah" eye roll.
O'Connor: Yeah, the Masters. If Woods never gets to 18 majors, at least he would have tied Nicklaus with six green jackets. The PGA is going to be the toughest one for him to win going forward. As we saw at Bethpage last year, the revamped and cramped majors schedule makes it tough for Woods to recover physically and emotionally from Augusta in time to contend at the PGA.
Schlabach: I think he'll be the favorite at the Masters and will be right back in the hunt for a sixth green jacket. I agree with Ian that the condensed majors schedule will make it more difficult for Woods to win a fifth PGA title (and first in 13 years), but he has a good track record at TPC Harding Park, where he won a WGC event in 2005, taking down John Daly in a playoff. He also went 5-0 in match play there at the 2009 Presidents Cup. He hasn't had a lot of success at Winged Foot, so his next-best chance for another major championship is probably at Royal St. George's. He tied for fourth in his only Open appearance there in 2003.
Pietruszkiewicz: I said two last year. He got one. I am sooooo tempted to say two again this year. What I didn't factor into last year's equation was the weather -- it wasn't warm in May at Bethpage Black, it wasn't warm in June at Pebble Beach, it wasn't warm in July at Royal Portrush in Northern Ireland. So I am scared a bit by that, given that the PGA is in San Francisco in May, which doesn't exactly scream tropical, and who knows what the weather will be like at The Open. This is a long way of saying Woods will win one. I don't think it'll be the Masters. I think we might be asking too much for him to go back to Augusta and defend. He's done some things in his career only he can do. I'm not sure, at age 44, that repeating at Augusta is something I'm willing to predict. But he'll get one somewhere else. I'll say either the U.S. Open at Winged Foot or The Open at Royal St. George's -- if the weather cooperates.
4. When and where will victory No. 83 happen?
Harig: A perfect place would be Riviera next month. It is where he has played the most without a victory. It is where he played in his first PGA Tour event, as a 16-year-old in 1992. And it is where his legacy will endure as the event -- now called the Genesis Invitational -- is run by his foundation and has elevated status, much like the tournaments for Arnold Palmer and Nicklaus.
Collins: WGC-Mexico Championship late in February. Woods tied Snead in Japan, so it just seems fitting that he breaks the record in Mexico. The fact that it's a small field and a good course for him shouldn't take away from how big this will be.
O'Connor: Augusta. If anything could be sweeter than winning major title No. 15 last year after an 11-year drought, winning No. 16 to go back-to-back at the Masters -- and breaking Snead's record in the process -- might do the trick.
Schlabach: Augusta. It wouldn't be as dramatic as last year's win, after such a long drought, but it would be more than fitting.
Pietruszkiewicz: That conversation we had about expectations? How about we rachet them up even more? He gets No. 83 in his first start of 2020 and wins this weekend at Torrey Pines. Think that'll have us all thinking he's going to win 10 times and grab multiple majors? Again, I'm a victim of the influence of the end of 2019. I admit it. He looked so, so comfortable playing golf in those two events. If that guy shows up at Torrey Pines -- not rusty or tired or with a mysterious ailment he hasn't told anyone about -- we might get this conversation about No. 83 out of the way in a hurry.
5. Will he make the U.S. Olympic team?
Harig: It won't be easy, and this is where Woods' personal goals really come into play. If he really wants to be in Tokyo, then I believe he will make it. He will have between nine and 11 events that he is looking to play between now and the cutoff on June 22, after the U.S. Open. He needs to be among the top four Americans in the world. He is ranked sixth, but four Americans are ahead of him: Brooks Koepka, Justin Thomas, Dustin Johnson and Patrick Cantlay. He's got Xander Schauffele right behind him, and Webb Simpson, Patrick Reed, Gary Woodland and Tony Finau could all be a factor. The competition is going to be fierce, and he can't have many off weeks. A win would certainly help, but several top-five finishes are going to be the minimum in order for Woods to have a chance.
Collins: The Olympics will find a way to have the biggest star in the sport play on the biggest stage in sports, even if organizers have to let him play under his own flag by declaring his property in Jupiter, Florida, its own independent nation. Here's something to give yourself a headache about: Woods doesn't make the team initially. A Presidents Cup captain's pick is one spot ahead. Should he give up his spot?
O'Connor: Money in the bank. Woods, at 44, knows this is probably his one-and-done chance to win an Olympic medal, and I see no chance he allows himself to fail to qualify. Seeing him on the gold medal stand, with the national anthem playing, would be a hell of a thing.
Schlabach: Given that he's contending against Koepka, JT, DJ and Cantlay, the American team is the most difficult Olympic squad to make. Four Americans will make the Olympics if they're ranked inside the top 15 in the world. Even with everything that Woods has accomplished, he called representing the U.S. in the Olympics a bucket-item list. It's going to be difficult, but I'm guessing he finds a way to get it done.
Pietruszkiewicz: He's going to make the team. He's going to carry the flag during the opening ceremony. He's going to win the gold medal.