Rozner: PGA Tour golf returns Thursday…finally
How desperate are PGA Tour pros to get back on the course and compete?
Well, let's say just as desperate as you are to watch some live sports.
The field for Thursday's Charles Schwab at Colonial in Fort Worth is the best for any regular-season event in 13 years, excluding majors, The Players and WGCs, all of which have limited fields.
The Top 5 in the world and 18 of the Top 25 will be there. On hand in Texas will be 101 players with at least one victory, 24 major champions, 8 Players and 7 FedEx Cup champs.
Outside of missing Tiger Woods, who has yet to announce his schedule as he preps for the majors, this roster has the anticipation of a major championship with the PGA Tour returning for the first time in 91 days, the longest gap since World War II.
In one group will be Rory McIlroy, Jon Rahm and Brooks Koepka, the top three players in the world. In a normal week, this group would draw huge crowds and big roars, but there will be no fans on Tour courses for the next month.
"I figured they were going to entice the viewers with a couple of really good groups," Rahm said in Texas Tuesday. "We're looking forward to a couple of fun days. No crowd like we would have had for this group, but still fun."
Koepka needed some time off as he was battling a knee injury when play was suspended and hardly in form, but the first two were poised for a huge year when The Players Championship was called off in March after one round.
With a victory this week, Rahm could jump to No. 1.
"It's hard to say who's the best in the world after not competing for three months," Rahm said. "It all depends on who has prepared the best and who has handled this situation the best.
"It's just a ranking. It's a continually moving thing. Since we've been stopped, I don't think those numbers matter a lot anymore. We all have to come back and prove we deserve that spot."
It will be different in many ways, not the least of which is no galleries to stop errant shots, no build-out of hospitality tents and grandstands to intentionally use as a backstop and a line-of-sight free drop from a temporary movable obstruction.
It's a tight course where you really need to hit fairways, though McIlroy and the biggest hitters have displayed the ability to overpower any course.
From a viewing standpoint, it's a huge opportunity for golf to capitalize on the demand for something to watch, and gamblers will be out in full force.
Among the perks for all of us watching at home will be players wearing microphones, though they have yet to announce which players have agreed.
"We've been talking to the Tour about it for years," said CBS Sports boss Sean McManus on a conference call Monday. "There's probably a greater appreciation for wanting to contemporize golf coverage and the players are beginning to realize that they can play a role in that and make the product a little more interesting for the viewer at home."
Not all players will be interested as not all are ready for what they view as a distraction.
"What a great opportunity," said CBS analyst and six-time major winner Nick Faldo. "We have plenty of fun talkers, fun tweeters (in golf), haven't we?
"Maybe they'd like to get their face and their sponsor on TV. I can't see any harm. They have to switch it up a little bit. The players are entertainers right now and they have to do a little entertaining."
Faldo will broadcast with fellow analysts Ian Baker-Finch and Frank Nobilo from Golf Channel studios in Orlando, while Jim Nantz will be alone in the 18th tower at Colonial.
On course and following the action will be reporters Dottie Pepper and Mark Immelman.
"This is a wonderful opportunity for the PGA Tour," Nantz said. "They have a chance to go before a sports-starved nation and have a chance to create a wider fan base than it has ever had before.
"How do you do that? A lot of it has to be personality driven. We have to hear from the players."
CBS will have the weekend afternoon coverage and, as always, PGA Tour Live will air about 12 hours a day beginning early Thursday morning. Golf Channel will broadcast 2 to 5 p.m. Thursday and Friday, and noon to 2 p.m. before CBS coverage on Saturday and Sunday.
Only a half-dozen members of the national "print" media will be on-site at Colonial. All interviews will be orchestrated by a Tour official and conducted outside. Reporters will not be allowed in the clubhouse or to approach players on their own or in practice areas.
Caddies are supposed to wipe down bunker rakes and flagsticks, and players are not supposed to shake hands or get near one another.
Will anyone care if any rules are forgotten?
"The main difference is no fans and no stands," Rahm said. "It will be a different atmosphere, but hopefully nothing that we will ever repeat."
For the leaders and top players, it will be strange, but for 120 players who are used to small or no galleries, it won't feel all that different.
"There will be a period of getting used to things," Rahm said. "I have a lot of good history on this course, so hopefully all the good vibes come through."
Well, we made it. We made it three months without much to watch, but starting this week there will be golf tournaments every week for as far as the eye can see.
It has been a marathon of sporting silence and we managed to survive with hardly a cup of water.
Here's a chance to quench your thirst.