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Debating Tiger's start to 2012

Each week during the 2012 golf season, ESPN's experts will weigh in on the pressing -- and not-so-pressing -- issues in the game.

It's Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship week … errr, Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines week, which means the hard-core golf fans will be getting up in the wee hours starting Thursday to watch Tiger Woods' 2012 season debut on the European Tour. Those who choose to sleep in a little can still catch all the action from Southern California as some of the biggest names on the PGA Tour kick off their season in La Jolla.

And we've started including the best tweets from you the readers who post answers to the questions sent out on our Twitter account, @ESPN_Golf, so make sure to share your opinions and we'll include the best of the best.


1. Good call or bad call: Tiger Woods starting his 2012 season by playing in Abu Dhabi instead of Torrey Pines?

Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Great call. Everyone knows golf is a game of confidence, so by Tiger going to a course he's never played before, even though he's gonna say he's there to win, the expectations won't be as high as if he started his year at Torrey Pines, where he's won six PGA Tour events and a U.S. Open.

Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer, at the Humana Challenge: With seven wins on the South course at Torrey Pines, including the 2008 U.S. Open, it's interesting that Tiger wouldn't start his season at a place where he has had phenomenal success. But the Abu Dhabi event will have one of the strongest fields of the year. The most important thing is that Tiger plays competitive golf.

Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer, at the Abu Dhabi HSBC Golf Championship: Good call. It is true that Tiger is turning his back on a venue where he has won seven times. But he had his worst finish there last year, a tie for 44th, so success is not guaranteed. And in Abu Dhabi, he gets a strong top-heavy field with each of the top-four-ranked players in the world. Of course, there is the issue of his appearance fee, which is probably in the seven-figure range. That is certainly good for Tiger.

Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: It's a terrible call for Tiger. Woods is likely getting a hefty appearance fee in Abu Dhabi. Even so, if he really wanted to start the season right, he should focus on courses that he practically owns, like Torrey Pines, instead of flying halfway around the world for a few guaranteed bucks.

@Twitter answers:

@timfarrell22:
@ESPN_Golf at this point I'd take Tiger over Phil. 2012 is the year Tiger returns to glory in at least one major(my guess is the Masters)

@Mikezzz33:
@ESPN_Golf @tigerwoods Abu Dhabi is a great move, watch when he wins it!
@victoryoutdoors:
@ESPN_Golf can't wait for tigers 2012 debut , pumped will be watchin on my phone from work


2. Many top players will receive appearance fees for playing in Abu Dhabi this week while the PGA Tour forbids such practices. Which tour has it right?

Michael Collins: Obviously the European Tour. They play for less than half the purses on a weekly basis but more and more we see stronger fields (by Official World Golf Ranking) than at PGA Tour events. Doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out why. Like most things, when you want the truth, follow the money.

Farrell Evans: The PGA Tour. PGA sponsors routinely get around the prohibition against appearance fees by signing up players to endorsement deals that require them to play in that company's PGA Tour event. But it's important to remember that PGA Tour purses are substantially higher on average than those in Europe.

Also, the U.S. is the biggest golf market in the world. Appearance fees give the European Tour and Asian Tour the ability to attract players in a very competitive landscape.

Bob Harig: The PGA Tour. Paying players to show up is a dangerous practice, and makes it more difficult for some tournaments to compete. It is one of the reasons why the European Tour has pockets of strong tournaments -- and many weak ones. And being paid to simply show up can lead to questions of full effort.

Kevin Maguire: Europe's on the mark here. The top players draw the eyeballs to the TV broadcasts and people to the tournaments, so shouldn't they get more of the loot? Purists will argue that what's great about golf is the notion that if a player plays well, he gets paid handsomely. And if he stinks up the joint, he gets nothing.

Well, it is quaint, but not exactly based in financial facts of the current times.

@Twitter answers:
@Ron_Pegram:
@ESPN_Golf thumbs down. Why should you pay someone to play your tournament? That is what the prize money for, go earn it.
@ShoshEAK:
@ESPN_Golf let's be honest, there's appearance $ on the pga tour too & if you're bringing in money, why shouldn't you be paid for it?


3. Phil Mickelson rallied to make the cut at the Humana Challenge to start his season and finished T-49. But what's in store for Lefty this year?

Michael Collins: In his 20th year as a pro, same ol' Phil. Wild off the tee, magical short game, with a putter that sometimes shows up and sometimes looks like a 15 handicap. Expect Phil to get at least one win this year, come close to winning one of the first two majors but end up with none.

Farrell Evans: Phil Mickelson will have mixed results this season. He'll have weeks when he is on the top of the leaderboard and others when he is in the middle of the pack. He doesn't play the game now to win events like the Humana Challenge. He puts everything into the majors. Look out for his game to show up in early April.

Bob Harig: More volatility. There are so many ups and downs, wild fluctuations in his game, and the offseason apparently has not cured that. Lefty at least gives himself a chance to get on a roll with a heavy early-season schedule.

Kevin Maguire: If I knew, I'd be heading to Vegas because Lefty can't even figure out Lefty.

At one point during a 10-hole stretch of the Humana Challenge's first round, Mickelson had 1 eagle, 3 birdies, 2 pars, 2 bogeys and 2 doubles. Talk about a state of confusion. A major victory in 2012 for Lefty certainly lives within the realm of possibility, but I also wouldn't be shocked if he's stuck on 39 career PGA Tour wins at this time next year.


4. Humana Challenge winner Mark Wilson earned his fifth PGA Tour victory Sunday. What player, if any, can take the title of most underrated PGA Tour player away from him?

Michael Collins: None. The problem with winning early in the season is, if you don't finish strong, everyone forgets how good you were. Heck, there were more than a few spectators at the Hyundai Tournament of Champions that asked me, "What's he doing here?" or "What tournament did he win?" when Mr. Wilson would walk by.

It's his own fault, too, since his only other top-10s on tour last year were in March and June. Underrated? Only in January and February.

Farrell Evans: There are a number of players in Mark Wilson's class of winners, most notably Jonathan Byrd, who also has five career wins. An underrated player is a notch above consistent performers like Wilson and Byrd.

Underrated is a great player who deserves more attention at the majors, but doesn't get it. He's someone who's won big events, but doesn't have a very high Q rating. That's Steve Stricker, who is in a class right now by himself as one of the most underrated superstars in the game. A few years ago, I would have said David Toms.

Bob Harig: Nobody. Wilson has now won three times on the PGA Tour in 13 months and only Steve Stricker -- who is the highest-ranked American in the world -- can say that. Anyone who wins that often will get their due, but Wilson has done it quietly.

Kevin Maguire: Wilson would certainly be deserving of this award, but I'd have to give the honor to Brandt Snedeker. Even though Snedeker has only two PGA Tour wins to Wilson's five, the Vanderbilt product owns the ability to stare down the best players in the game, like he did in taking down world No. 1 Luke Donald in a playoff last year at the Heritage.