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Column: New year starts with a familiar question about Tiger Woods

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KAPALUA, Hawaii (AP) – The largest winners-only field ever assembled at Kapalua can make it seem as though getting to paradise isn’t as difficult as it used to be.

Try telling that to Dustin Johnson, who will not be starting a new year on Maui for only the second time since he joined the PGA Tour in 2008. The locals have grown accustomed to Johnson sauntering into the Honolua Store at dawn to order his egg whites and brown rice.

Winning is hard, even for the best.

Equally difficult is predicting how a new year will unfold.

Strange as it would have seemed a year ago that Johnson would not be part of the 39-man field at the Sentry Tournament of Champions, consider who is here. Phil Mickelson, who 14 times over the last two decades turned down his invitation to the winners-only event, at age 51 found 8 million reasons to play.

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By winning the Player Impact Program and its (dollar)8 million bonus, Lefty was required to add a new tournament to his schedule. So he decided to play golf on Maui.

Where will it lead? Here are five topics to ponder for the new year, which starts with a question that seems to repeat itself each year: What next for Tiger Woods?

TIGER SIGHTING

The Daily Mail published photos of Woods this week at Los Angeles International Airport wearing a hoodie that most appropriately read, “Straight Outta Ice Bath.”

The road to recovery from multiple injuries to his right leg in a Feb. 23 car crash remains long. All it took was three days playing with his son in the PNC Championship, where they finished second, to get the golf world buzzing about his next comeback.

Tiger woods

The only certainty is that Woods won’t be playing a full schedule. The swing hasn’t left him. But he was allowed to ride in a cart at the PNC Championship, and the format was a scramble. That’s a long way from anything remotely resembling serious competition.

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Bank on him being at The Players Championship, at least for his induction into the World Golf Hall of Fame. It’s also a safe bet he’ll be at Augusta National for the Masters Club dinner for champions. As for playing? That depends on his ability to navigate the toughest walk on tour.
The only big hill to climb at St. Andrews is the Swilcan bridge, and given his love for links, an appearance at the 150th British Open is a popular pick.