It was a tale of two deserts this week, one in the Middle East and one in California. Tiger Woods and Rory McIlroy kicked off their seasons – in less-than-stellar fashion with missed cuts – while other household names like Phil Mickelson teed it up for the first time in 2013 on the PGA Tour.
So what to make of Tiger and Rory going home early? And what about Brian Gay's playoff victory in a barrage of red numbers? Our experts tackle those topics and more in this week's edition of Monday Four-Ball.
1. After a missed cut in Abu Dhabi, what do you expect from Tiger Woods this week at Torrey Pines?
Michael Collins, ESPN.com senior golf analyst: I still believe Tiger has a top-20 in him this week. It's one of those places where the old adage comes into play, "No matter how bad you were hitting it before " And this is a place of comfort for Tiger. He'll find a way to get it around.
Farrell Evans, ESPN.com senior golf writer: Tiger has won a combined eight times as an amateur and pro at Torrey Pines. He loves the place. If he can't play well here, where can he?
Bob Harig, ESPN.com senior golf writer: He will be in contention this week. Had he not had the rules issues in Abu Dhabi, Woods very well might have got things turned around on the weekend and threatened the top 10 after a poor start. He's had a few extra days to practice and is going to a venue he loves.
Kevin Maguire, ESPN.com senior golf editor: Abu Dhabi was an aberration that shouldn't impact what Tiger does this week at the Farmers Insurance Open. If anything, his 10th career missed cut should help him this week as he's traveling back across 12 time zones and had a couple of extra days to get shake off the jet lag.
2. Bigger issue for Rory McIlroy in Abu Dhabi: New clubs or rusty swing?
Michael Collins: Rusty swing. But what will happen, as the swing stays off, the clubs will get blamed, the confidence in them will falter and changes will start coming in the golf bag (it started with the putter already.) This is nothing new in golf, just with Rory.
Farrell Evans: New clubs. He's not going to always have his best stuff, regardless of the time of year. But he has to always trust his equipment, and this week he didn't have that trust.
Bob Harig: Both, but more of the latter. The new clubs will take a little getting used to, but more than anything McIlroy seemed to be competitively rusty and uncomfortable off the tee. He's got a month to get things on track before the Match Play, unless he decides to add another tournament.
Kevin Maguire: I'll go 80-20 rusty swing over new clubs. The clubs will take time and I wouldn't be surprised if he added another tournament between now and the WGC-Match Play, his next expected start. A few more tournament reps wouldn't hurt as he prepares to get ready for a run at the Masters.
3. Bigger surprise: Stewart Cink's T-10 finish or Scott Stallings not making the Humana Challenge playoff?
Michael Collins: Stallings not making the playoff. It's funny what a Sunday 5-shot lead will do to your psyche. Three days he plays offense and no bogeys. On Sunday, with a 5-shot lead, he goes to the prevent defense and puts up three bogeys, including hitting it in the water on the 18th with only 219 yards left in for a second shot. Bogey on 16 really shook him, but to get to the next level you've got to get that birdie on 18.
Farrell Evans: Stallings. On a par-5, he had a 6-iron in his hands for his approach shot and couldn't make a four. That won't happen too many times in his career.
Bob Harig: Stallings. After such a stellar tournament, to bogey two of the last three holes to miss a playoff by 1 stroke is pretty tough to take.
Kevin Maguire: Cink's top-10. Even though he didn't have a great Sunday (68 isn't terrible, of course), Cink's career since his Open Championship victory in 2009 isn't one to write home about. Stallings has victories in each of the past two years, so I certainly expected him to close it out Sunday. But Cink's rise this week will hopefully for him portend bigger things to come this season.
4. More fun to watch: Birdie fests like the Humana Challenge or U.S. Opens where par is your friend?
Michael Collins: Birdie fests. If I want to watch guys struggling to make par, I go to my course and watch my friends. I like seeing pros struggle once or twice a year, but on a weekly basis I want to see them do what I can't shoot in the 60s for four days straight.
Farrell Evans: I like birdies. Par is good a couple of times a year in majors. But it's boring for the fans that don't pay to watch their heroes play like them.
Bob Harig: Both. A good mixture of both is necessary to provide some variety in golf. The Humana wouldn't work if it were set up like the U.S. Open, and consequently, we'd probably be disappointed if the U.S. Open yielded a ton of birdies and were not one of the most difficult tests of the year.
Kevin Maguire: I prefer 25 under versus 3 over. I like seeing the best in the game do something I can never dream of doing (short of video game golf.) Then again, that sort of is the appeal of even par winning a major when even the best in the game struggle to make pars like we do every time we tee it up, under vastly different conditions of course.