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Golf — Monday Four-Ball — What’s in store for Tiger Woods, Lexi Thompson?

Since Tiger Woods‘ fourth back surgery, questions have swirled about whether he’s done playing competitively. Will he be able to sustain yet another comeback?

In other news, Lexi Thompson returns inside the ropes this week for the first time since a 4-shot, emailed-in penalty essentially cost her the first LPGA major championship of 2017. How will she respond in Texas?

Our panel of experts wade through those storylines and more in this week’s edition of Monday Four-Ball.

1. More likely: Tiger wins another tournament or never competes again?

ESPN SportsCenter anchor Jonathan Coachman: If these are my only two choices, I have to say never compete again — and boy do I hope I am wrong. It just feels like Tiger is so far away from not only competing, but simply getting through a day pain-free. I keep saying if anyone can shock the world, it would be Tiger, but every time I say it, he has another setback. I would love to add a third choice — Tiger comes back to competitive golf but doesn’t win. This is incredibly frustrating to watch as a Tiger fan, but I know it’s not nearly as frustrating as actually going through is for Tiger. senior golf analyst Michael Collins: Only because it’s Tiger Woods, I won’t say he’ll never compete again. Tiger never play another Masters again ever? Shut your mouth! And if he plays just one more time “healthy” for one whole week. There’s still a piece of my heart that will never give up the belief that he could win. Cue the movie music as everyone cries into their bucket of popcorn. senior golf writer Bob Harig: Sadly, that he never competes again. Tiger very well might return to the PGA Tour at some point, but he now very clearly has the steepest climb of his career. Getting back to playing would be a bonus. To consider winning appears so remote at this point, even for him. senior golf writer Jason Sobel: I’ve already pleaded ignorance when it comes to all things related to Tiger’s health — hell, I’m the guy who asked him about it Tuesday and believed the “good days and bad days” line — so I clearly don’t have much of a hot take here. But if I’ve gotta choose, I’ll take the latter. As Yogi Berra once said, “It’s getting late early.”

2. How important is this week for Lexi Thompson, considering what happened the last time she teed it up?

Coachman: Thompson is mentally strong. I loved how she finished the ANA despite the devastating news about the four lost shots on penalty strokes. That’s why I don’t think that finish will have any effect moving forward. It wasn’t about badly hit shots or something she needs to fix. Her game was good enough to have a multiple-shot lead. She needs to focus on that. I do think a win or strong finish will help the questions go away.

Collins: Not important at all. It’s just another LPGA tournament, not a major. It’s not like Thompson quit golf because of what happened to her. What will matter is when she gets in contention again at a major on a Sunday and sees a rules official anywhere near her. What will matter is when the tour says, “Sorry Lexi, we won’t ever let that happen again. We should have done you like the Masters did Tiger in 2013.”

Harig: I don’t see it taking on any more importance. Thompson will undoubtedly be asked about it a good bit, and you’d like to think she will be prepared for those questions. She handled herself in the aftermath quite well, a good bit of the reaction has been favorable toward her, and the best thing she can do is acknowledge all of that and move on.

Sobel: She’s 22, she’s won seven times already and she’s ultra-talented. Thompson’s resiliency should be the least of anyone’s worries, especially her own.

3. If you were given an exemption into the Zurich Open and could pick any player as a partner, who’s your choice?

Coachman: I would pick Phil Mickelson and here’s why: He is the ultimate competitor. It doesn’t matter day or time or format — he wants to win. I love that. To have the Four-Ball format on Sunday allows a guy like Mickelson to play at warp speed and shoot at every pin. You have to have two completely different styles of players as partners to win this format: a conservative player and an ultra-aggressive one. That will be the formula.

Collins: Rory McIlroy. We’d be the greatest mostly Irish team to ever compete. Our name would either be “Hip-Hop Shamrock” or “3/4 of a Pint.” (I might have thought this through a while back.) No one would have more fun than us — McIlroy killing drives and me throwing irons into every lake, his not mine. The best part … y’all know we’d get a back-door top-10, which means your boy (me) gets to play in another PGA Tour event the next week! You know what? I’m calling McIlroy right now for 2018 before someone else snatches him up!

Harig: Mickelson. He would clearly relish the challenge of being a one-man team, and you know he could get it around from anywhere I put him in foursomes. Not to mention you know it would be fun.

Sobel: You think it’s fun watching Mickelson? Try playing with him. I’d encourage Lefty to cut off every corner, hook it around every tree and try every flop shot. We might not win, but nobody else would have more fun.

4. Who is the best PGA Tour member right now without a title?

Coachman: I am going to have to pick Graham DeLaet. He seems to be trending up and last week was in position for his first PGA Tour win. I think it’s only a matter of time before he raises a trophy, just like Kevin Chappell did on Sunday. We see it time and time again that it is incredibly difficult to win and finish on the PGA Tour. And it will continue to be.

Collins: Maybe this is cheating a little because he’s a “special temporary member” on the PGA Tour this year, but Tyrrell Hatton is ranked 16th in the world. Last year in 24 starts on the European Tour, he had one win, two runner-ups and seven top-10s. This year he finished T-4 at both the Honda Classic and Arnold Palmer Invitational in between throwing a 10th-place finish in Mexico at the WGC. Hatton might not have been on the PGA Tour long, but he’s the highest-ranked player without a win. The expectations on this guy right now are massive.

Harig: This is tough because there are members who have won on other tours, so if you stick to not winning on a major worldwide tour, I’d go with Ollie Schniederjans, who has not been a pro for a long time, but is ranked inside the top 100 in the world.

Sobel: I’m not cheating here, I’m just using the rules to my full advantage. My pick is Thomas Pieters, who only recently took up special temporary membership. He showed his firepower at the Ryder Cup last year and the Masters a few weeks ago. It’s just a matter of time before the former NCAA champion wins on the PGA Tour.

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