Nine takes as the golf season resumes in Hawaii (PGA Tour) and South Africa (European Tour).
No Rory, no matter
The narrative for most of the past decade has been more about those who failed to show up at Kapalua than those who did for the PGA Tour's Hyundai Tournament of Champions. And there are four prominent no-shows this year too: Rory McIlroy, Justin Rose, Jim Furyk and Shane Lowry.
And yet, it is difficult to knock a field that is the tournament's best since 2005. Jordan Spieth, Jason Day and Zach Johnson give the winners-only tournament all of the 2015 major champions. Defending champion Patrick Reed, Bubba Watson, Dustin Johnson and Rickie Fowler give the event on Maui plenty of firepower. Padraig Harrington is playing for the first time, and Graeme McDowell is back after winning in the fall.
The top-two ranked players in the world have not been together in this tournament in 11 years, helping it boast its best field since then, according to the Official World Golf Ranking. The field is just 32 players, but that's the beauty of qualifying. Nice scenery and no cut also helps.
Why Rory takes a pass
McIlroy has been eligible for the Tournament of Champions five times and has yet to make an appearance. As nice as it would be to have him in the field and let that big three -- Spieth, Day, McIlroy -- go at it in Hawaii, it is understandable that McIlroy chooses not to make the trip.
Blame golf's global game. There are so many good tournaments across the world that even a no-cut event in a glorious location is not always enough to sway the big names. Ask Tiger Woods and Phil Mickelson (they skipped the tournament for years) about that. McIlroy plays two tours and has typically started his year in the Middle East -- which is 15 times zones from Hawaii. Yes, McIlroy will get paid for just showing up in Abu Dhabi in two weeks and in Dubai two weeks later. But he spends nearly a month in the UAE, not only preparing for those tournaments, but for the year.
McIlroy finished second in Abu Dhabi last year and then won in Dubai before waiting several weeks to make his PGA Tour debut. He's changing it up some this year, playing the Northern Trust Open before the Honda Classic and the WGC-Cadillac Championship, all with an eye on being better prepared for the Masters.
Furyk sits too
The wrist injury that caused Furyk to withdraw from the BMW Championship in September -- and miss the Tour Championship as well as the Presidents Cup -- is lingering enough to keep him from playing in Hawaii. The 17-time PGA Tour winner qualified by winning the RBC Heritage, his first victory in more than four years. He began hitting balls a few weeks ago, and although he reported no pain, Furyk said he also didn't feel quite right.
"I thought it would be healed by now,'' Furyk, 45, told GolfWeek magazine about his bone contusion. The good news for Furyk is he typically sits out this time of year anyway, waiting until February to begin playing again. His hope is to return at the AT&T Pebble Beach Pro-Am next month.
What will Phil do next?
Well, he'll show up in Palm Springs in two weeks, apparently. Mickelson committed to the CareerBuilder Challenge (formerly the Humana Challenge, formerly the Bob Hope Desert Classic), where he has often started his year and where he won in 2004. What kind of game he shows up with will be interesting to see.
Mickelson parted ways with longtime swing instructor Butch Harmon following the Presidents Cup and has played no competitive golf since. Golf Digest reported that Mickelson is working with Andrew Getson, an instructor at Greyhawk Golf Club in Arizona where Mickelson has long had an affiliation. Mickelson won 11 times in eight years under Harmon, including two major championships. At age 45 (he'll be 46 in June), Mickelson is looking for new ideas after dropping out of the top 25 in the world for the first time in 20 years.
The playing captain
Most of the focus this year will be on his Ryder Cup captaincy, but Davis Love III also begins his 30th year on the PGA Tour this week at the Tournament of Champions. Love, 51, qualified with his victory at the Wyndham Championship, where he became the third-oldest PGA Tour winner (behind Sam Snead and Art Wall Jr.)
The victory not only got him a spot at Kapalua, but in the Masters and the Players Championship. "I'm going to play a full schedule all the way through Greensboro again, cherry-pick a couple of Champions Tour events, probably,'' Love said at Kapalua. "I'm going to play a full schedule so, one, I can try to make the playoffs and two, I can watch everybody around is doing.''
Love isn't wasting any time, teeing it up in three straight events to begin the year. He'll play the Sony Open followed by the Mitsubishi Electric Championship on the Champions Tour, all on different islands (Maui, Oahu, Big Island) of Hawaii.
Westwood's good fortune
Lee Westwood gradually slipped down the world rankings in 2015 after starting the year ranked 26th. He didn't have a top-10 finish after March until he tied for second in his last tournament of the year at the Thailand Open. He also missed four cuts.
Things got a bit precarious for Westwood, 42, who needed the high finish in Thailand to move into the top 50 in the Official World Ranking, thus getting him an invitation to the Masters. But the Englishman was undoubtedly fortunate. The Thailand finish moved him to 50th -- with two weeks remaining in the year. The Masters takes the top 50 off the final ranking. A week later, he fell to 51st, then by the final week he had moved back to 50th to get his spot in the first major.
This week, with no golf being played, the rankings came out again and where was Westwood? Fifty-first. Good timing.
Justin Thomas' can't-win answer
Justin Thomas is taking some heat for saying in a Golf Channel interview this week that he'd rather make the U.S. Ryder Cup team and win the event than win a major championship this year. It's sort of a silly question, because can't he want both?
Thomas, 22, who won his first PGA Tour event in Malaysia (but earned no Ryder Cup points for it) will undoubtedly be trying his hardest at the majors too. And good performances there are his ticket to an automatic place on the team.
"I bet with nine holes to go, a two-shot lead at the Masters, he might not want to trade for a Ryder Cup win,'' Love said of Thomas' comments. "But the attitude is right. 'Hey, this is one of the biggest things for me this year is to be on a winning Ryder Cup team and that's the attitude we want.'''
European Tour starts again too -- in South Africa
The BMW South African Open is the fourth event of the new season and is the second-oldest national Open behind only The Open -- although it has not been played as often as the U.S. Open. The tournament dates to 1893 -- two years before the first U.S. Open was played. Ernie Els serves as an unofficial host and Gary Player won the tournament 13 times. Among those in the field are Els, Branden Grace, Trevor Immelman and Retief Goosen.
Christy O'Connor Jr., RIP
Irish golfer Christy O'Connor Jr.'s unexpected death this week at age 67 brought back European Ryder Cup memories of his 2-iron to the 18th green in 1989 that O'Connor described as "the shot of my life.'' The 17-time tour winner was a 1-up upset winner over American Fred Couples, who missed the green with a 9-iron at the home hole after watching O'Connor's shot from 220 yards come to rest just 4 feet from the pin. When Couples chipped on and missed his par putt, he conceded O'Connor's birdie.
The YouTube video of the emotional aftermath is worth checking out. O'Connor, the oldest player on the team at age 41, had been snubbed by European captain Tony Jacklin in 1985 when the Irishman felt he deserved to make the team. He had played in only one previous Ryder Cup, going 0-2 in 1975. At the Belfry in 1989, O'Connor had played just one team match prior to singles, and lost that as well.
The victory over Couples was the only Ryder Cup point he ever earned. But it was a big one. It was the seventh match of the day and got the Europeans within one point of the 14 needed to retain the Cup. Often overlooked: The Americans won the last four singles matches that day to earn a tie.