Story highlightsTiger Woods to continue comeback in 2018Jordan Spieth targeting career grand slamJustin Thomas aims to back up stellar year
(CNN)Like a Dustin Johnson drive, the golf season seems to keep on rolling and 2018 promises to be a blockbuster year.
Here’s eight big talking points for the year ahead: Can Justin Thomas back up 2017?He may lack the box office of close friend Jordan Spieth but Thomas ended 2017 as golf’s leading man and enters the new season looking to back up a stellar year.Read MoreThomas stepped out of Spieth’s shadow with a season that included five wins, a first major at the US PGA, the season-long FedEx Cup title and $10 million bonus, and the PGA Tour’s Player of the Year award.He also shot a 59 in Hawaii in January, becoming only the seventh player to score under 60 in PGA Tour history. JUST WATCHEDJordan and Justin: From kids to pro golfersReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Jordan and Justin: From kids to pro golfers 02:42The world No. 3 has turned to longtime buddy Spieth to gain insight on handling his elevated status and the increased expectation from fans, media and himself. At the end of last season Thomas showed reporters a list of his 15 goals for the year, 12 of which he accomplished. He is again refusing to reveal his goals for this term, except to say “a great season would require a major.” “I just want to win because I like winning and I like trophies and I like beating everybody else and that’s enough hunger and motivation for me, I think,” he told reporters in Hawaii at the first PGA tournament of 2018. READ: 2017 golf season in review — Garcia glory, Tiger on the prowl JUST WATCHEDJordan Spieth: The Open’s driving range champReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Jordan Spieth: The Open’s driving range champ 02:38Career grand slam for Spieth?He lost out to Thomas in the final shootout for the FedEx Cup title, but for Spieth 2018 is all about chasing the career grand slam.A thrilling Open Championship victory, via an epic saga in the Royal Birkdale backcountry, set Spieth up for a tilt at winning all four modern major titles. Only five men have done it — Gene Sarazen, Ben Hogan, Gary Player, Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods — and Spieth can join the “Fab Five” at the US PGA in August.READ: Jordan Spieth ‘a prankster’ says Justin ThomasSpieth has finished no worse than second in three of his four Masters appearances and may well have added to his tally of three majors by the time his grand slam showdown comes around. But the 24-year-old could be beaten into sixth place in the grand slam hall of fame if Rory McIlroy completes the set at Augusta in April.JUST WATCHEDThe shot that saved Jordan Spieth’s Open dreamReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
The shot that saved Jordan Spieth’s Open dream 01:51Over the Christmas break Spieth added a diamond to his silver jug from the Open — he got engaged to longtime girlfriend Anne Verret.Compared to going down on one knee, he reckons he was “most nervous at the British” as he battled Matt Kuchar in an absorbing final-day duel.For Spieth, the new season can’t come soon enough.”Right now the unknowns are very exciting. 2018 is a pretty special time to be part of professional golf,” he told the Golf Channel in Hawaii.JUST WATCHEDTiger Woods’ ideal day: ‘Caddyshack,’ oatmeal?ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Tiger Woods’ ideal day: ‘Caddyshack,’ oatmeal? 01:35What will Tiger’s comeback look like?He’s still the biggest noise in the game and so the question of Woods’ latest comeback is arguably the hottest topic of 2018.Woods, who turned 42 on December 30, made a promising return at the Hero World Challenge after 10 months out following his most recent back surgery.
Happy birthday to myself 🙂 Nothing like shooting a cobia and an amberjack. pic.twitter.com/fqff602bk3
— Tiger Woods (@TigerWoods) January 1, 2018 Appearing pain free and able to swing aggressively, Woods’ general performance in the Bahamas — he held the lead after 27 holes — suggested this reincarnation of the 14-time major champion could be more meaningful than before.”I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect after being away from competitive golf for 10 months and came away excited about my health and my game,” Woods wrote in a blog on his personal website.Woods will begin his 2018 season at the Farmers Insurance Open at Torrey Pines from January 25-28 before the Genesis Open at Riviera in mid February, but after that is still unsure of his schedule, including whether he will be able to play back-to-back tournaments. Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsSigns of recovery: Tiger Woods’ first competitive round in 10 months included five birdies and two bogeys. The former world No. 1 returned to action at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on November 30.Hide Caption 1 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsTiger Woods has changed the face of golf since his breakthrough Masters win in 1997, but injuries and off-course problems have blighted the latter years of his career.Hide Caption 2 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods set out on his legendary path by becoming the youngest winner of the Masters — at 21 — with a record 12-shot win in 1997. Hide Caption 3 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsOne of his most remarkable feats was winning his first US Open by an unprecedented 15 shots at Pebble Beach, California, in 2000, sparking a streak never seen before or since.Hide Caption 4 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods’ victory in the 2001 Masters meant he held all four of golf’s major titles at the same time, dubbed the “Tiger Slam.” Hide Caption 5 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods’ win rate, his dedication to fitness training and his desire to succeed were changing golf. Prize money rocketed because of Woods. Off the course, he married girlfriend Elin Nordegren in 2004. Hide Caption 6 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods showed rare emotion when he broke down in tears on the shoulder of caddie Steve Williams following his win in the 2006 British Open at Hoylake, months after his father and mentor Earl passed away. Hide Caption 7 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsDespite being visibly hampered and in pain from a knee injury, Woods won the US Open in breathtaking fashion at Torrey Pines, California, in 2008. It was his 14th major title to leave him only four behind the record of Jack Nicklaus. He was later diagnosed with knee ligament damage and two fractures of his left tibia. He missed the rest of the season after surgery. It is still his last major title. Hide Caption 8 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsIn December 2009, Woods crashed his car into a fire hydrant outside his home. As the big picture emerged it was discovered Woods had been conducting a series of extra martial affairs. He took three months away from the game to sort out his private life. Hide Caption 9 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsIn February 2010 Woods addressed the world’s media to explain and apologise for his actions. His infidelity led to divorce and was the beginning of a downhill slide in Woods’ playing career. By October he lost the world No. 1 ranking, a position he had held for 281 consecutive weeksHide Caption 10 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsBack in the fold, Woods earned his first win in two years at the Chevron World Challenge in December 2011, a charity tournament he hosts that does not count on the PGA Tour money list.Hide Caption 11 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods was back in the winner’s circle in 2013, lifting five titles, including the Arnold Palmer Invitational, to get back to the top of the rankings.Hide Caption 12 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsIn March 2013, Woods and Lindsey Vonn announced they were dating on Facebook. In January that year, the champion skier had finalized her divorce from Thomas Vonn, after initializing proceedings in 2011. In May 2015, Woods and Vonn announced their breakup, with the golfer claiming he “hadn’t slept” in the days following. Hide Caption 13 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsLater in 2013 there were signs all was not well as Woods was seen to be in pain as he picked the ball out of the hole at the Barclays tournament in August. He missed the Masters the following April for the first time since 1994 to undergo back surgery.Hide Caption 14 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods pulled out of the Farmers Insurance Open in February 2015, and struggled with injury and form for the rest of the season. Hide Caption 15 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods cut a dejected figure at that year’s US Open as he struggled with his game and carded rounds of 80 and 76 to miss the cut.Hide Caption 16 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsIn August 2015 Woods made his last appearance for 15 months to undergo follow-up back surgeries. At one stage during his rehabilitation, Woods spoke of there being “no light at the end of the tunnel” — and with one eye on his fading career, he suggested “everything beyond this will be gravy.”Hide Caption 17 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods made a much-anticipated return to golf in December 2016, showing signs of promise with the highest number of birdies in the field — 24 — but he also made a number of costly errors to finish third from last in the 18-man event.Hide Caption 18 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsHe missed the cut in his first event of 2017 in the US and pulled out after the first round of the Dubai Desert Classic in February, citing back spasms. He underwent a fourth back prodecure in April. Hide Caption 19 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsThe golf legend was arrested Monday, May 29, on suspicion of driving under the influence. He was booked into a local jail in Florida and released a few hours later. He said in a statement he had “an unexpected reaction to prescribed medications.” Hide Caption 20 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsIn August Woods entered a first-offender program and pleaded guilty to reckless driving on October 28. He will avoid jail unless he commits major violations of his probation. Hide Caption 21 of 22 Photos: Tiger Woods: From highs to lowsWoods returned to golf after 301 days at the Hero World Challenge in the Bahamas on November 30 2017. He carded a three-under first-round 69 and appeared pain-free and hungry to resume his career. Hide Caption 22 of 22In the offseason Woods parted company with his swing coach of three years Chris Como, saying he had “nothing but respect for him” but adding it was time to go it alone. Woods admitted he had trouble walking and even getting out of bed at times because of his back problem and added at the end of his blog: “I’ve had some tough times this year with pain. “To come out the other end is phenomenal.”Spieth is equally excited about having the former world No. 1 back.”I think Tiger’s return and the excitement based on how he looked is probably first and foremost,” Spieth said.”I think realistically I can say based on what he does for ratings, what it does for maybe a non-golfer’s interest in golf. It’s got to be at the forefront of the excitement.”READ: Tiger Woods targets majors in 2018JUST WATCHEDWorld no. 1 Dustin Johnson speaks to CNN ReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
World no. 1 Dustin Johnson speaks to CNN 01:25Will Johnson hits last year’s heights?The world No.1 is another looking to bounce back with a statement season. Johnson’s 2017 began with a bang and ended rather less explosively as he failed to add to his sole major title at the US Open in 2016.The big hitter from South Carolina was “playing the best golf of my life” when he won three events in a row last year, but a freak back injury on the eve of the Masters ruled him out of the year’s first major.The injury put out his early-season spark and he missed the cut at the US Open before finishing down the field in the British Open and US PGA.READ: Golf great’s ‘mind blown’ by modern game’s failingsBut Johnson earned a 16th PGA Tour title in August and was second at the WGC-HSBC Champions in October to suggest the 33-year-old is easing back up through the gears.Asked if anyone could emulate Woods in his pomp and win nine or 10 times in a season, Johnson said in Hawaii: “I believe so. I definitely think I can.”Obviously I’m going to have to play very good golf, there’s a lot of really good players out here on Tour and for me to do that I’m going to have to play some really good golf, but definitely capable of it.” Photos: Golf's world No. 1sDustin Johnson, the 2016 US Open champion, moved to the top of golf’s world rankings in February this year. The American is the 20th man to occupy the No. 1 position since the rankings were introduced in 1986. Here’s a look back at the previous 19.Hide Caption 1 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sJason Day, Australia: 51 weeks at No. 1 – One major win (PGA Championship 2015).Hide Caption 2 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sJordan Spieth, US: 26 weeks – Two major wins (Masters 2015; US Open 2015).Hide Caption 3 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sAdam Scott, Australia: 11 weeks – One major win (Masters 2013).Hide Caption 4 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sRory McIlroy, Northern Ireland: 95 weeks – Four major wins (US Open 2011; British Open 2014; PGA Championship 2012, 2014).Hide Caption 5 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sLuke Donald, England: 56 weeks – No major wins.Hide Caption 6 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sMartin Kaymer, Germany: 8 weeks – Two major wins (US Open 2014; PGA Championship 2010).Hide Caption 7 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sLee Westwood, England: 22 weeks – No major wins.Hide Caption 8 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sTiger Woods, US: 683 weeks – 14 major wins (Masters 1997, 2001, 2002, 2005; US Open 2000, 2002, 2008; British Open 2000, 2005, 2006; PGA Championship 1999, 2000, 2006, 2007).Hide Caption 9 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sVijay Singh, Fiji: 32 weeks – Three major wins (Masters 2000; PGA Championship 1998, 2004).Hide Caption 10 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sDavid Duval, US: 15 weeks – One major win (British Open 2001).Hide Caption 11 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sErnie Els, South Africa: 9 weeks – Four major wins (US Open 1994, 1997; British Open 2002, 2012).Hide Caption 12 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sTom Lehman, US: 1 week – One major win (British Open 1996).Hide Caption 13 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sNick Price, Zimbabwe: 44 weeks – Three major wins (British Open 1994; PGA Championship 1992, 1994).Hide Caption 14 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sFred Couples, US: 16 weeks – One major win (Masters 1992).Hide Caption 15 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sIan Woosnam, Wales: 50 weeks – One major win (Masters 1991).Hide Caption 16 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sNick Faldo, England: 97 weeks – Six major wins (Masters 1989, 1990 and 1996, The Open 1987, 1990 and 1992).Hide Caption 17 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sGreg Norman, Australia: 331 weeks – Two major wins (The Open 1986 and 1993).Hide Caption 18 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sSeve Ballesteros, Spain: 61 weeks – Five major wins (Masters 1980 and 1983, The Open 1979, 1984 and 1988).Hide Caption 19 of 20 Photos: Golf's world No. 1sBernhard Langer, Germany: 3 weeks – Two major wins (Masters 1985, 1993).Hide Caption 20 of 20Will McIlroy get back to winning ways?Like Spieth, the early part of McIlroy’s season will be dominated by grand slam talk.McIlroy just needs the Masters to join the game’s elite, but he won the last of his four majors in 2014 and will likely be keen just to add to his tally in any of the big four events. READ: What’s it like playing golf with US President Trump?Augusta has also become something of a burden with the tempting prospect of a grand slam alongside a green jacket, despite finishing inside the top 10 every year since 2014.The Northern Irishman was hampered for much of last year with a rib injury and went through the season winless before taking three months off to regroup for 2018.The 28-year-old former world No.1 has retained best friend Harry Diamond as his caddie after splitting from longtime bagman JP Fitzgerald in July. Hideki Matsuyama can become Japan’s first major winner.Hideki Matsuyama — Japan’s first major champion?History beckons for the 25-year-old as he bids to become the first Japanese golfer to win a major title. Matsuyama, who played with US President Trump and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the American politician’s Asian tour in November, is already a superstar at home but his status would become legendary if he finally lands a big one.READ: Who is President Trump’s golf partner Hideki MatsuyamaHis best major finish was second at the last year’s US Open, only the second runner-up spot in a major by a Japanese player after Isao Aoki in 1980. That took him briefly to second in the world rankings, and with five PGA Tour wins since 2014, the intensely private Matsuyama has become a serious contender. JUST WATCHEDSergio Garcia on the Masters and his familyReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Sergio Garcia on the Masters and his family 05:34Who will win the majors?Golf’s big four events provide the framework and the running narrative for the season and are what careers are judged on.This year’s majors visit some classic courses alongside Augusta, permanent home of the Masters: Masters, Augusta, Georgia When: April 5-8Purse: $11 million Defending champion: Sergio GarciaWhat: The Masters is golf’s spring rite and has been played on the dazzling Augusta course since its inception in 1934. The event is steeped in history, from its roll call of champions donning the green jacket to famous shots, infamous meltdowns, and traditions such as the pre-event Champions Dinner and family friendly par-three tournament. US Open, Shinnecock Hills, New YorkWhen: June 14-17 Purse: $12 million Defending champion Brooks KoepkaWhat: Shinnecock is a celebrated links-style track on Long Island and claims to be one of the oldest organized golf clubs in the United States, dating from 1891. The course has hosted four previous US Opens, with South African Retief Goosen last winning on a windy and fiery final day in 2004.JUST WATCHEDBrooks Koepka: Why golf is my job, not my lifeReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Brooks Koepka: Why golf is my job, not my life 02:41British Open, Carnoustie, ScotlandWhen: July 19-22Purse: $10.25 million Defending champion Jordan SpiethWhat: Carnoustie is a feared and revered links course overlooking the North Sea near Dundee on Scotland’s east coast.It will forever be remembered as the venue where Frenchman Jean van de Velde squandered a three-stroke lead playing the last and even contemplated playing a shot out of a stream in desperation. Ireland’s Padraig Harrington beat Sergio Garcia in a playoff to win the last Open at Carnoustie in 2007.US PGA, Bellerive Country Club, St Louis, MissouriWhen: August 9-12 Purse: $10.5 millionDefending champion: Justin ThomasWhat: The historic club opened as the Field Club in 1897 but changed the name to Bellerive in 1910 and moved to its current site west of St Louis in 1959. The course, designed by the celebrated Robert Trent Jones, hosted the 1965 US Open and 1992 US PGA, won by Zimbabwe’s Nick Price. This year marks the 100th staging of the PGA Championship.Who wins the Ryder Cup? The US team broke a three-event losing streak to beat Europe in a highly charged Ryder Cup in 2016, but Jim Furyk’s men will face an even stiffer task this September.The US side has not won on European soil since Tom Watson’s team triumphed at the Belfry in England in 1993 — and after a boisterous home crowd willed its team to a 17-11 win at Hazeltine, the Euro fans will be looking to play their part at Le Golf National near Paris from September 28-30.Europe has won six of the last eight Ryder Cups, but the US side will feature some of the game’s brightest talent including Johnson, Spieth, Thomas, Rickie Fowler and Ryder Cup specialist Patrick Reed. Then there’s the prospect of Woods — at least in a reprise of his vice-captain role from Hazeltine.JUST WATCHEDBjorn: Ryder Cup represents best of EuropeReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Bjorn: Ryder Cup represents best of Europe 01:20″We have 25 years of scars to overcome,” Furyk said at the year-to-go celebrations in Paris in October. “We will have a lot of young talent on my team and I’m anxious to see how they handle that challenge. Europe has handled those away matches far better in the last 25 years than we have.”I guess you’ll call that the final frontier and that’s something that we have to accomplish to validate our team.”JUST WATCHEDDavis Love III on the 2016 Ryder CupReplayMore Videos …MUST WATCH
Davis Love III on the 2016 Ryder Cup 04:26READ: Europe’s captain hopes for ‘Brexit-proof’ Ryder CupEuropean captain Thomas Bjorn of Denmark insists his side are not worried by America’s perceived superiority and insists Great Britain’s Brexit decision will have no impact on the motivation of his team. “To be in that team room and in that environment represents, I think, everything that’s great about Europe,” Bjorn told CNN’s Living Golf.”European players come together in that team and they are the greatest of friends across borders and they represent Europe as a continent in the best possible way.”It’s something that’s very unique to a Ryder Cup team. We play under the European flag but we play for Europe as a continent.”