SAN FRANCISCO • South Korea's Bae Sang Moon was set to return to the PGA Tour early this morning (Singapore time) after a two-year absence for military service, as the new golf season began in northern California.
Less than 100 hours after the old season wrapped up with the Presidents Cup in New Jersey, the 2017-18 campaign started with the Safeway Open at Silverado Resort in the Napa wine country north of San Francisco.
It will be the first of 49 official money events on the schedule.
Bae has not played on the PGA Tour since the 2015 Presidents Cup in his home country. The two-time PGA Tour winner stepped away from golf to complete his mandatory stint in the South Korean military.
The 31-year-old returned to competition three weeks ago in his homeland at the Donghae Open, an event co-sanctioned by the Asian Tour and Korean PGA, where he was understandably rusty and missed the cut.
He has time on his side on the PGA Tour, however, with guaranteed exempt status, which provides him with a Tour card for a minimum of two years, thanks to his victory at Silverado in 2014.
The Tour tweaked its regulations for Bae so that his two-season exemption as a winner would be delayed until his return from military service.
In with the new season
•There will be two new tournaments - CJ Cup @ Nine Bridges at Jeju Island, South Korea, later this month, and the Corales Puntacana Resort & Club Championship, the Dominican Republic's first PGA Tour event in March. This means the number of tournaments will go up to 49, an increase of two events over last season.
•There will be nine tournaments in eight countries outside the United States. Malaysia's CIMB Classic, the CJ Cup and Shanghai's WGC-HSBC Champions will combine for a three-tournament Asian stretch this month.
•The total prize money reaches a record of more than US$363 million (S$494.58 million).
•The PGA Championship is in August for the last time. Men's golf's fourth Major will be played in May in 2019.
•Three rookies likely to take centre stage are American Sam Ryder, 27, considered the Web.com Tour's best driver and ball striker; German Stephan Jaeger, 28, who shot a 12-under 58 - the lowest score ever on the developmental Web.com Tour; and American Aaron Wise, 21.
•Tiger Woods, 41, underwent back fusion surgery, his fourth back operation in three years, in April. The former world No. 1 recently said that he "would like to play competitive golf" soon. Whether he returns to action this campaign remains one of the biggest questions that even the American has no answer to now.
Also competing this week is Phil Mickelson, who has not won since the 2013 British Open, but is coming off a strong performance at the Presidents Cup, where he won three of his four matches.
The American should feel at home this week in his home state, where he has secured 11 of his 42 PGA Tour victories.
He said: "My game is back to where I'm wanting it to be. I've got the opportunity to start the new season with a bit of momentum."
He is the only member of the US Presidents Cup team competing, while two players from the losing International team, Canadian Adam Hadwin and Argentine Emiliano Grillo, will be in action.
The Safeway Open is the first of eight official tournaments over the next seven weeks as the Tour visits four countries outside the US - Malaysia, South Korea, China and Mexico - before shutting down for the final six weeks of the year.
Day 2: StarHub Ch204, tomorrow, 5.30am