Sunrise begins on 2011 season in Hawaii
Here's hoping you didn't run to the fridge for a snack. Or go check the mail. Or even blink a few too many times.
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If so, you probably missed golf's offseason. That's right -- it's over already.
There are a few different ways of measuring what exactly constitutes this time period, but I prefer to use this one: The official length from the last meaningful putt of 2010 -- though subjective, most can agree it was Tiger Woods' missed putt in the Chevron World Challenge playoff to lose to Graeme McDowell -- to the first tee shot of 2011, which happened to come off the club of Lee Slattery back on Dec. 9, opening day for the newest European Tour campaign.
Final tally: 76 hours, 54 minutes.
Of course, if you want to add in the Shark Shootout as a "meaningful" event of last season, well, it actually overlapped with the Euro opener, meaning there was no offseason in golf -- a long-held belief which can now be taken much more literally.
Those first few Euro Tour events notwithstanding, the real start to the 2011 campaign comes this week, as the PGA Tour kicks things off with its annual winners-only tournament at Kapalua. As this season-preview edition of the Weekly 18 begins, there is a different feel around the game than one year ago.
1. Hope Springs Eternal
This is kind of nice, isn't it? Refreshing. Invigorating. And best of all, business as usual.
Exactly one year ago, it was difficult to find a story about -- ahem -- "golf" that didn't invariably discuss police reports, mistresses and tabloids, as Tiger Woods' personal scandal hijacked the headlines and left actual on-course proceedings on the back burner for a while.
This year, though, the prevailing preseason themes are of hope and excitement. The fact is, there might be more intriguing plotlines than prior to any recent year.
Let's start with Woods. Coming off the most tumultuous season of his career -- to put it lightly -- there's nowhere for him to go but up. Both his refined swing and mental focus appeared much improved in the final few events of last year, all of which should spell an end to the victory drought sooner rather than later.
While he might be poised to regain his No. 1 world ranking, his competition seems more intent than ever on keeping him from that goal. Lee Westwood enters the year in the top spot, but there are a handful of worthy challengers, including Martin Kaymer, Phil Mickelson and Jim Furyk. If you need visual proof that these guys aren't afraid of the 14-time major champ, simply rewatch the final 30 minutes of last month's Chevron event, where another one of those contenders, Graeme McDowell, holed a pair of daggers to hold off Woods.
What do a handful of those players have in common? They hail from Europe. The global reach of the game's upper echelon is expanding on a seemingly daily basis. Not only will the Euro Tour be stronger than ever this year -- Westwood, Kaymer and Rory McIlroy have each eschewed PGA Tour membership -- but don't be surprised if great players emerge from nontraditional golfing nations. I'll give you a hint: Y.E. Yang became the first Asian male to win a major in 2009, but he might not stand alone for much longer.
Two of those prospects include Ryo Ishikawa and Noh-Seung Yul, each of whom happens to be a mere 19 years old. Sound young? They could still steal Matteo Manassero's milk money; he's only 17, but already owns a Euro Tour win. Let's not be so naive as to think the current crop of youngsters with potential is larger than in past years, but it might be better. These players seem more talented, polished and ready to win than any early-twentysomethings and teenagers in recent memory.
Expect all of these to remain as major plotlines throughout the 2011 season. And the best news of all? Unlike at this point one year ago, we're already talking about 'em.
2. Pablo Martin
In what other profession could someone secure a successful year on Dec. 12 of the previous year? Seriously, tell me. If a surgeon successfully operates on a patient with a few weeks left on the calendar, can he simply be mediocre for the next 12 months? If a lawyer wins a big case before Christmas, does he get to sit back and enjoy the spoils for a year?
And yet, in golf this dream can come true. Or more specifically, on the European Tour.
You see, the Euros began their 2011 season in the second week of December, way back in 2010. And so when Martin claimed the first-place prize by 2 strokes at the Alfred Dunhill Championship for the second straight year, he had also assured himself of yet another successful year before the actual year had even kicked off.
Consider it a risk that paid off for Martin. Just a few days earlier, he was competing in PGA Tour Q-school, but after a slow start decided to withdraw and make the journey to South Africa to defend his title. Good move by the former Oklahoma State player, who already owns three career Euro Tour victories at the age of 24.
And if his win already secured a successful 2011, then one of his post-round comments should be considered an early candidate for quote of the year. Upon winning, Martin received a bucket of water over the head from fellow Spaniards Rafael Cabrera-Bello and Alvaro Velasco, which prompted him to respond, "Normally, they throw people into ponds and stuff, but I'm glad they restrained themselves today, because there are crocodiles and stuff around here."
True, becoming croc candy could have ruined his year, but with one win in the books already, Martin can cruise into 2011 -- the real year, not the golf season -- brimming with confidence.
3. The Leap
Anyone can make predictions for specific tournaments. I do it all the time. Of course, not just anyone can be right about 'em. That takes either a keen sense of inside knowledge or dumb luck. I'm usually fresh out of both.
This story is a little different, though. Rather than attempt to predict the winner of a certain tournament, I will choose players to make "The Leap" to the next level. As such, each player listed will be chosen to move up in professional status via certain results during the upcoming season. Full Story
4. Six players to watch
Unlike other sports, where top draft picks can often parlay amateur stardom into professional superstardom, young golfers usually need a few years to mature. It has less to do with talent than experience -- getting comfortable playing weekly events at the highest level, learning about the courses, even knowing where to stay, where to park and where to eat.
All of those factors are reasons we rarely see fab freshmen vault to the top of this profession. Personally, I look for players in their third, fourth or fifth year as a PGA Tour member to figure these things out and gain enough experience to find success. Hunter Mahan, Jeff Overton, Nick Watney and Bubba Watson are all players who weren't overnight sensations, but recently crossed the threshold into the next echelon at this point in their careers.
Here are six players who are hardly unknown commodities. Some have already won tournaments and some have contended for major championship titles. But each one is still on the rise. If you've got a fantasy golf squad, stock up on these guys, then sit back and watch 'em rake in the big bucks for you. And if not, well, at least you can impress the other guys at the local 19th hole. Full Story
5. Kapalua champions
Poor Geoff Ogilvy. Dude keeps winning in early January, then spends the rest of his year trying to get back to the winner's circle.
Raking it in early
|Year||Winner||Other wins||% of money earned|
Actually, Ogilvy has fared better than most of his predecessors. In 2009, he backed up his victory on Maui with another at the WGC-Accenture Match Play Championship. Last season, he failed to win another PGA Tour event, but claimed the Australian Open title in December.
Consider it a long-standing trend for winners of the season-opener. Whether it's a matter of complacency or the fact that winning multiple events just isn't as easy as it sounds, these guys have had a difficult time keeping it up after winning in Hawaii.
The chart to the left examines how each of the past 10 winners has followed his victory at Kapalua, showing their other wins for that season and what percentage of money earned came from the season-opening event. As you can see, only four players have posted another win after this one -- and none have won more than once.
The lowest percentage the winner's paycheck has been was for Vijay Singh, as it comprised nearly a quarter of his yearly earnings in 2007; the highest percentage was for Daniel Chopra, who earned more than two-thirds of his winnings from this event.
Of course, that doesn't mean it is impossible for a victory at Kapalua to translate into greater success throughout the season. Just prior to the past decade of champions, Tiger Woods won this event in 2000. He followed with eight more titles that season, including each of the final three major championships.
This one comes from my always informative friend John Antonini of GolfWorld: By finishing the year ranked 51st in the world, Stenson became the first player since Mark O'Meara in 2000 to drop from the top 10 at the beginning of the year to outside of the top 50 by the end of it.
Considering the OWGR is based on a two-year rolling calendar, that's tough to do. Consider the plight of Tiger Woods, who failed to finish better than fourth in any full-field event during the 2010 season and dropped only one spot, from first to second.
So how did Stenson back up 43 places from his initial start at No. 8? It wasn't easy. As a full-time PGA Tour member, he competed in 14 events on U.S. soil and never finished better than 27th -- a stark contrast from one year earlier, when he won the Players Championship and had three other top-10s.
It wasn't all struggles for the Swede, though. He did share third place at the Open Championship and finished T-13 at the late-season WGC-HSBC Champions event in China. Also playing a full European Tour schedule, he compiled a pair of eighth-place results on that circuit, as well, but it wasn't enough to keep from sliding down the ranking.
"It's been a tough year," Stenson explained back in November. "We had our second baby early on this year and I kind of missed out on a few events. Then I didn't get going. I've been sick quite a lot, as well. I had to pull out of the Match Play with some virus and a couple of colds. Then I picked up another virus straight after the British, so I was more or less down for eight weeks in total. Just chest infection and all this, and I went over and tried to play at the PGA and win. I really shouldn't have been playing, but had to keep my numbers up. Yeah, it was a rough patch there.
"But overall I've been struggling across the board, with long game and short game and mentally as well. I've just not been on most of the season and I got two top-10s in Europe and third at the British Open. So it's not been a good year for me."
Sounds like a classic case of a player trying to do too much. With travel and accommodations easier than ever before, it's certainly possible for someone to compete globally and find a large amount of success. Just ask Ernie Els. Then again, it's difficult to play well when you don't know whether you're in Dubai, Shanghai or Fort Worth on any given week.
Stenson's recent slide should serve as a warning -- not only to himself, but players like Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Charl Schwartzel, who will attempt to balance competitive schedules on separate continents this season.
It might sound like the best of both worlds, but as Stenson can attest, it can very often be the worst of 'em, as well.
7. LPGA Tour
The calendar reads 2011. The PGA Tour is set to kick off its 2011 schedule this week. Those crazy Europeans started their 2011 season way back in 2010.
And the LPGA? Its schedule is still yet to be released.
I'm not sure I can ever recall a time when a major professional sports league had yet to produce its schedule prior to the beginning of the calendar year. Then again, using the word "major" to describe the LPGA might not be the most appropriate terminology.
Nothing against the players or the competition on the world's top women's circuit, but while most sports entities are handled like Fortune 500 companies, this is starting to have the feel of a mom-and-pop store on the corner. According to rumors, the LPGA will have somewhere around 24 to 26 tournaments this season, with anywhere from 11 to 13 taking place in the United States.
The late announcement is only a small part of the problem with the LPGA's schedule, though. Last year, it included a grand total of 24 events, beginning on Feb. 18 and ending on Dec. 5. That means more weeks when it's off than on. Think about that for a minute: During the entirety of the season, even those fortunate players who compete in every event are forced to sit out and practice more often than actually compete. Can you imagine if, say, the NFL's 16-game schedule took place over a span of nine months? Of course not, but that is, in essence, exactly the LPGA's biggest issue right now.
Look, I understand why the schedule has yet to be announced. LPGA commissioner Mike Whan is still waiting on possible title sponsors to step up and take on some events. And much like the PGA Tour, which released its schedule for 2011 almost a year ago, he likely doesn't want to announce a partial schedule with a few "TBD" tourneys on the list.
And really, it's not such a big deal. As long as players are being apprised of when and where they can tee it up, it's not as if fans and media need a wealth of advanced notice prior to the opening of the season.
Still, it all just has the feel of that mom-and-pop store on the corner. What the LPGA needs is a little creativity. Different formats. Tournaments that end on nontraditional days or at nontraditional times. New, interesting courses. And for the love of Annika, let's finally see a combined event with the men, even if they need to go the Euro Tour or Nationwide route to get it done.
Despite growth in the game globally and some very exciting players at the top, these aren't very prosperous times for the LPGA. Its failure to release the schedule before the calendar turned over isn't the biggest issue the tour is facing, but it should serve as a symbol for what has become a problematic method to its business plan.
8. I wish we knew what to make of the declines of the 2009 major champions.
As far as celebrated major champions go, 2010 was a pretty good year. There was a no-doubt-about-it future Hall of Famer in Phil Mickelson, followed by three guys with varying degrees of up-and-comingness in Graeme McDowell, Louis Oosthuizen and Martin Kaymer.
OK, so it might not be the equivalent of Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player combining to win the four majors in 1962, but it's not exactly 2003's quartet of Mike Weir, Jim Furyk, Ben Curtis and Shaun Micheel, either. Nothing against those guys, but they remain the only foursome in history to win who have combined to never win another major title before or since.
Where do the four winners of 2009 rank on that list? Well, at the time Angel Cabrera, Lucas Glover, Stewart Cink and Y.E. Yang each seemed like very good champions, though not all-time greats. And yet, one year later, each will be conspicuous in his absence from this week's Tournament of Champions.
The chart to the left shows what these players have accomplished since their major victories -- or more to the point, what they've failed to accomplish. Together, they've competed in 117 events on the PGA Tour without posting another win. It marked the first time in almost two decades that the four major winners from one season failed to capture a single PGA Tour title one year later, dating back to 1990 champions Nick Faldo (twice), Hale Irwin and Wayne Grady. As if that wasn't enough, Cabrera, Glover, Cink and Yang have combined for just 16 top-10 results during that time.
|Player||PGA Tour starts since major win||Top-10s||Best finish|
All of which begs the question: Will this foursome go down in history as one of the least celebrated collections of major winners for any given year or is it just taking a longer-than-usual period of time for each to claim another piece of hardware? I tend to believe it's the latter. I certainly wouldn't place any of these guys in the category of "fluky" major winners, considering each had won events prior to his major title and hasn't exactly fallen completely off the map since.
Even so, it's still interesting to note the lack of success. And it will be even more interesting to see if they can bounce back after such a collectively down season. One thing is for sure: If it happens, it won't happen this week.
9. I wish the list of players not competing in the season-opener didn't overshadow those who are.
But the truth is, it doesn't.
There are 39 players eligible for this week's event and 34 have elected to play. That's a robust 87 percent commitment rate, which would have tournament officials for any non-major doing backflips in their sleep.
At Kapalua, though, the big story going into the week isn't about quantity, but quality. That's because the quintet skipping the festivities includes Phil Mickelson, Louis Oosthuizen, Martin Kaymer, Lee Westwood and Rory McIlroy. If you're scoring at home, that would be three of last year's four major champions, the world's No. 1 player and the game's brightest young star.
In order to further show exactly what kind of star power will be missing, I decided to do a little number-crunching. Those five players have an average Official World Golf Ranking of 7.6, with three ranked in the top four. The 34 who are competing this week have an average ranking of 74.9, with no one higher than fifth.
(Break down this week's competitors even more and you'll find an eclectic list of winners from last season. Jim Furyk heads the list at No. 5, followed by 11 others in the top 25 and seven more in the top 50. But 10 of these players are still outside the top 100 and four rank higher than 200th, with Rocco Mediate (225), Cameron Beckman (253), Bill Lunde (258) and Matt Bettencourt (260) hardly parlaying victory into OWGR success.)
That's not to say this week's tourney will lack for elite players (Furyk, Graeme McDowell, Steve Stricker, Ian Poulter and Ernie Els are among the headliners), nor will it be impacted by worse television ratings (fans will tune in for a chance to see "real" golf once again and the majestic Hawaiian vistas) or decreased ticket sales (it's never a highly attended event anyway). Mickelson hasn't played there since 2001, a few European Tour regulars annually eschew the event and Tiger Woods -- ineligible this season because he didn't win last year -- removed it from his schedule long ago.
The real irony of ironies here is that the event has been renamed "Hyundai Tournament of Champions," but some of the greatest champions have elected to sit this one out. As independent contractors, more power to 'em for being able to pass up paradise and a guaranteed paycheck. It still casts a pall over the tourney, though. Consider it a black cloud passing through the numerous rainbows that will magically appear over the course this week.
10. I wish there was a better way for title sponsors to take ownership of tournaments.
Quick: Which teams played in this year's Beef 'O' Brady's Bowl? When was the San Diego Country Credit Union Poinsettia Bowl? Who won the Little Caesars Bowl?
Title sponsorships might offer a way for companies to get their names into the public consciousness, but they're also getting a little out of hand. I mean, did one single person in America actually call up a friend and say, "Hey, wanna go watch the Franklin American Mortgage Music City Bowl?" I doubt it.
By the same token, I can't imagine there will be many fans referring to this week's PGA Tour event by its proper name: Hyundai Tournament of Champions. Part of that reasoning is because it's a mouthful, part is because we can't figure these things out without a scorecard anyway. Prior to Hyundai taking over, the event was called the SBS Championship -- for exactly one year. Before that? Mercedes-Benz Championship. That was only for three editions of the tournament, replacing the erstwhile Mercedes Championship. I guess Benz felt slighted in the deal.
The point is, with so many sponsor changes at these tourneys, it's difficult to remember who's paying for it anyway. Heck, most players still refer to the Wells Fargo Championship as the Wachovia and the old-timers term the Northern Trust Open as the L.A. Open instead -- each of which were two titles ago.
Look, I understand the need to have sponsors -- and more importantly, sponsorship dollars -- attached to every event. And I understand these companies wanting to get the most bang for their buck by putting their names front and center on the tournament title. But if no one other than the TV broadcasting team is going to refer to it by its latest proper name anyway, is it really a beneficial partnership?
Not sure I have a better suggestion than what's out there now, but I do know that the current situation dilutes the product. If fans don't even know what to call a certain tournament, they won't be able to identify with it, either.
Personally, I'd like to see more companies as "presenting sponsors." For example, Jack Nicklaus' tournament at Muirfield Village is now called "The Memorial Tournament presented by Nationwide Insurance." OK, maybe Nationwide won't get as many on-air mentions as Hyundai will this week, but there's a trade-off, too. When someone simply mentions the "Memorial," we know exactly which event they're speaking about. You can't say the same thing for Hyundai Tournament of Champions.
11. Quote of the Week
"There was a different bounce in my step today. It was a wonderful run. For so many years, I've had the wonderful opportunity to go to so many great places and great courses and I've found myself thinking more and more: 'Hey, it would be great to visit here, not just work here.' I want to take a while for myself. It's a bit surreal, but it'll kick in quickly." -- outgoing USGA executive director David Fay, in an interview with Brendan Prunty of The Star-Ledger.
For 21 years, Fay was not just the man in the bow tie, he was the man in charge of running the game's domestic governing organization. And by all accounts, he did it well. Among his biggest accomplishments was bringing the U.S. Open to municipal golf courses in Torrey Pines and Bethpage.
His retirement -- which went into effect Friday -- came as a surprise to those within the organization, but don't expect many major changes now that Fay is out of the fray. Instead, the USGA will keep on conducting business as usual. And don't be shocked if the next guy in charge keeps Fay's phone number on speed dial for regular consultations.
12. Stat of the Week
Of the 300 highest-ranked players in the world at the end of 2010, only two finished the year in the exact same position from which they started.
Five others were displaced by just one spot on the list, including Tiger Woods, who of course maintained his same ranking at the end of each of the four previous years.
Jason Sobel is a golf writer for ESPN.com. He can be reached at Jason.Sobel@espn.com.
13. Jason Sobel Video Blog
14. Road to Augusta
While an invitation to the Masters remains an underlying subplot at most tournaments throughout the season, such a reward doesn't have much impact at the Tournament of Champions, as most of the competitors gained entry via last year's victories.
That's right. Most, but not all.
Of the 34 players in this week's field, eight still haven't punched their tickets to Augusta. How is that possible, given that the tournament includes all winners from the previous 12 months? Well, that's because it's not "all" winners who get into the Masters. Those who claim titles at opposite-field events or Fall Finish tournaments don't automatically get invited to the year's first major, which means a handful of players might have a little extra motivation to claim a W this week.
That list includes Cameron Beckman, Derek Lamely, Matt Bettencourt and Bill Lunde (opposite event winners) and Heath Slocum, Rocco Mediate, Jonathan Byrd and Robert Garrigus (Fall Finish champions). There are still a variety of ways for these players to earn their way into the Masters, but none may be easier than defeating just 33 other players this week.
15. The List
The 2011 season -- like every other PGA Tour campaign since 1999 -- will begin in Hawaii. And just in case you didn't realize it, the television broadcasts promise to offer plenty of reminders.
This week's edition of The List prepares you with five scenic shots that will either warm the hearts of those in cold-weather climates or have you throwing your mai tai at the TV set in disgust.
5. Whales. There are plenty of 'em clearly visible in the Pacific Ocean bordering the course. Best gig of the week? The cameraman who flies all the way to Hawaii just to affix his lens on some breaching humpbacks.
4. Cliffs. There is terrain so treacherous on the Plantation Course that players are shuttled from one green to the next tee box. No such luck for fans who make the journey to those holes.
3. Palm trees. Fun game: See how many coconuts you can count each time they show one up close. OK, maybe that isn't fun, but it beats staring at those extended shots of palm trees with nothing else to look at.
2. Moloka'i. This 250-square-mile island will get its share of TV time this week. Looking like the island from "Lost," it's only a few Bubba Watson drives from Kapalua.
1. Rainbows. That's right. Rainbows, rainbows and more rainbows. If there's even a glimmer of color arching through the sky, expect the golf to be interrupted for yet another scenic shot. Only fitting that the competitors below will be chasing a pot of gold.
16. From the Inbox
I really need to change the name of this section. Do most people even have an "inbox" anymore or is all information just tweeted back and forth? In any case, I asked for questions on Twitter and the readers produced. Let's go rapid-fire through a bunch of 'em
@SFBAYGOLF Which of the 2010 major winners will have the biggest year? Which will have the biggest letdown?
Great question. Let me put it this way: If I had stock in all four, I'm selling shares of Louis Oosthuizen, holding Phil Mickelson and Graeme McDowell, and buying up as much Martin Kaymer as I can afford. The 26-year-old is a solid ball-striker and seems to have graduated from the same School of Cool as Retief Goosen, which is to say, nothing seems to excite or bother him very much. What is most impressive about Kaymer, though, is his ability to consistently make midrange putts. It's a skill that most world-class players -- let alone the up-and-comers -- don't currently possess, but he is money when it comes to sinking meaningful 12-foot putts. And that's the kind of thing that wins a guy some big-time tournaments.
@MaxReiss From a TV ratings standpoint should the golf world be happy there are more challengers to Tiger or concerned about less TV time?
It's very important how the PGA Tour markets itself going forward. I think commissioner Tim Finchem learned some things in the past 13 months. For years, the tour was branded as "Tiger Woods and a bunch of other really good players." Well, there's no guarantee Woods will ever become the player he once was, so I think the goal now is to showcase the abundance of talent across the board and how on any given week, any player can win.
Finchem has already talked about marketing the younger players more and that's a good idea. If fans can buy into the idea that it's more exciting to watch players who can topple Tiger -- as Graeme McDowell did during the 170 percent jump in ratings at last month's Chevron World Challenge -- rather than his continued dominance, everything else will fall into place.
@bhaydon5 only 3 59s on tour prior to 2010, had 2 nearly 3 in a 1 month stretch this summer. sign of things to come or freak coincidence?
We might not see multiple magical numbers like that in the same year again, but I do think it's a sign of things to come. Forget about better equipment and the fact that seemingly every player has a mental guru helping him avoid the fear of going super-low. There are other reasons we're going to see this more often.
First, let's think back to when Stuart Appleby shot 59 to win the Greenbrier. One day later, mainstream sports talk shows were discussing golf and watercoolers around the world were buzzing about his accomplishment. If Appleby simply shot 64 to win, it would have been forgotten by Monday morning, but the PGA Tour wants its events to be memorable and widely discussed, of course, so setting up the tracks a bit easier to encourage these scores almost makes sense.
Second, remember that Appleby's score came in the first year of that course in the annual rotation. With any new venue, tournament officials will try to err on the side of caution, rather than setting it up to be too difficult and incur the wrath of competitors and fans alike. There are a few new venues this year, with more likely coming in 2012. So while we might not see more 59s anytime soon, don't be surprised to see lower numbers across the board.
@PsyMar Obvious one: Will Tiger Woods win a tournament in 2011?
Obvious answer: Yes. Having put his personal problems in the rearview mirror, I've got to imagine Woods is in a much better mindset going into the 2011 season. And he's playing better, too; we saw glimpses of his return to form at different times over last season's final few months. If I had to pick a Player of the Year for this upcoming season, he's my selection, though I do think it will be difficult for him to regain the No. 1 ranking in the world, thanks to an inconsistent 12-month span that will remain part of the equation.
Just a win, though? One win? Absolutely. My best guess is that Woods has an average year for him -- let's say five wins, including one major. That isn't in his top-five best seasons, but it should still be good enough to make him the top player in 2011.
@slano43 Can @RickieFowlerPGA break through in 2011 and win his first tournament and moving further up the World Rankings?
I'd be shocked if he doesn't. I know players can get burned out or complacent or just plain frustrated after finding early success in their careers, but Fowler is a well-rounded, well-grounded young guy to come through the ranks in a long time. He basically did everything but win last season; if he maintains an aggressive schedule where he continues playing a lot of golf, he'll almost win one by accident at some point.
As for moving up the rankings, his current placement of 28th was garnered largely on the strength of just one season. Those results will remain on his record for the OWGR's two-year rolling calendar, which should shoot him into the top 20, as long as he keeps playing well.
@HamlukPGA who's your best guess at mid level guy to win multiple times this year?? I'll take Steve Marino
Well, it depends on your definition of "midlevel." I'm very bullish on both Jason Day and Ryan Moore, ranked 38th and 45th in the world, respectively. If you're looking for someone further down the list, maybe outside the top 100 like Marino, my pick is Kevin Streelman. He's been knocking on the door for a few years now. Love the fact that he plays nearly every week (which gives him more chances for multiple wins) and plays some of his best golf when the pressure is on during the final round. And yes, I like Marino a lot for such an honor, too.
@mlyhlssgolf do you see anyone among best of the LPGA pulling away from the rest decisively in 2011?
There are so many good players in the top 10 right now that we might be on the verge of another season of parity -- which shouldn't be construed as a bad thing. International players such as In-Kyung Kim, Na-Yeon Choi and Ai Miyazato are only going to get better as they continue to acclimate toward playing half of their events in the U.S., but if there's one player capable of distancing herself from the pack, it's Jiyai Shin. The current No. 1 leads only Cristie Kerr and Suzann Pettersen by a small margin, though, at just 22 years old, her best golf is still ahead of her. Wouldn't surprise me to see a half-dozen different players atop the Rolex Ranking this year, but it also wouldn't surprise me to see Shin never relinquish the honor.
@mwmiller20 How do you like Dustin Johnson's chances of breaking through and winning a major this year?
This isn't going to be a popular answer among the masses, but despite his two title contentions last season, I don't love Johnson as a major championship competitor. Just look at his stats. He's a big hitter, obviously, but his ball-striking and putting stats are remarkably average. DJ is also a guy who can make birdies in bunches, but also puts up some big numbers on occasion.
While that type of aggressive strategy will rack up plenty of PGA Tour wins, I'd rather pick a solid, steady guy for majors. Johnson is an elite young player and many of you might feel like the game "owes" him something after the PGA Championship. I wouldn't be shocked to see him win one, but he's not near the top of my list, either.
@divot81 Who are the rookies that should be on everyone's radar this year?
The biggest names are three international players who have taken up membership on the PGA Tour: Louis Oosthuizen, Charl Schwartzel and Robert Karlsson. Other than them, keep an eye on two big bombers who graduated from the Nationwide Tour. Jamie Lovemark and Chris Kirk ranked 1-2 on last year's money list and each has a chance to be something special in the big leagues. I especially like Lovemark's prospects; as you might recall, he lost in a playoff (along with Fowler) to Troy Matteson at the 2009 Frys.com Open. If you're looking for two who are a little more off the radar, keep an eye on Jhonattan Vegas and Bobby Gates.
17. Hot Seat: Dustin Johnson
Dustin Johnson played the role of Dickensian character in 2010.
You know the line: "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times."
There were victories at the AT&T Pebble Beach National Pro-Am and the BMW Championship. A spot on the U.S. Ryder Cup team. And nearly $4.5 million in earnings, placing fourth on the PGA Tour.
There were also the collapses. Leading by 3 entering the final round of the U.S. Open, he shot 82 to fall out of contention. And of course, two months later, he unknowingly grounded his club in a bunker on the 72nd hole of the PGA Championship, television cameras capturing him erasing a closing bogey on the scorecard and changing it to a triple, ending his chances at winning the title.
The 26-year-old recently sat down on the Hot Seat to discuss those events and more.
Q: When you look back on the 2010 season, what will you most remember? Is it the two wins? Is it playing in the Ryder Cup? Or is it what happened at Pebble Beach and Whistling Straits?
A: The Ryder Cup, first of all. That was unbelievable. It was a very unique experience, so much fun and even though we lost, I still had a great time. I mean, it sucks losing, that's for sure, but it was so much fun and I can't wait to play another one. And the two wins, too. I had a great season. Definitely not disappointed at all and I'm looking forward to getting started in 2011.
Q: I don't want to harp on the PGA, but are you at the point where you can take some ribbing from friends? If you're out playing with buddies and you're near a bunker, will they point it out to you?
A: Oh, yeah. Always. I don't think that one is ever going away.
Q: Can you laugh about it now?
A: Yeah, I definitely laugh about it. I make jokes about it, too. It doesn't bother me. I like it when people give me s---.
Q: What has been the reaction from fans? I've been out there a few times watching you and it seems like since the PGA, there are a lot more fans rooting for you. Has that sort of been the aftereffect of it?
A: It's been great. The fans have given me a lot of support and I'm very thankful for all of the fans that I have. I definitely got a lot more fans after that. It's been very good.
Q: Do you set goals before a season?
A: Yeah, I usually sit down and map out some goals. I've really been working hard on improving my game from 150 yards and in -- wedges, short game, putting.
Q: So it sounds like your goals are more in the game-improvement category as opposed to trying to win specific tournaments or earn certain accolades.
A: I usually don't set goals like that. My goals are more like: Give myself more opportunities to win as many times as possible. I don't set specific goals about winning or anything like that. Obviously, I want to win every event, so I don't need to set goals like that. I want to focus on the things I can control, so I can play good golf and give myself opportunities.
Q: You're obviously one of the longer hitters out there. How important is distance off the tee?
A: I don't know. It's always an advantage to be able to get it out there a long way, because I'm hitting shorter clubs into holes, but it's not too important. Ask Freddie Funk or Corey Pavin. They hit it nowhere, but they still competed and won multiple times and had very long careers and are still playing well to this day. So it's not that important.
Q: Would you trade 20 yards for, say, two more made putts per round?
A: Yeah, for sure. How long are these putts?
Q: Anything. Take two misses each round and turn 'em into makes.
A: Two per round? Damn right I would trade 20 yards for that!
Q: Couple of quick ones for you. Give me a breakout player for 2011 that we should watch.
A: I would probably go with Rickie Fowler. He had a good year, but I think he's going to be a really good young player.
Q: Who's the most overrated player out there?
A: [Laughs] I can't answer that.
Q: OK, then answer this: Who is the best player in the world?
A: Me. No, right now it's Lee Westwood.
Q: If you get that No. 1 next to your name, does that mean you're the best?
A: Yeah, I mean, that's why they have it.
18. And the Winner Is ...
Excuse me if my memory is a little hazy these days. For a few years now, I've written that I like an Australian at the season-opening event because it's right in the middle of their summer season and those players' body clocks are more attuned to being in golfing shape. Then again, maybe I only conjured that theory after watching Stuart Appleby claim three straight titles en route to earning the nickname "King of Kapalua."
While Appleby is back in the field this week, he has been dethroned by countryman Geoff Ogilvy. In claiming back-to-back wins at this event, Ogilvy has posted eight consecutive rounds in the 60s on the par-73 Plantation Course. Coming off a win at the Australian Open and playoff loss at the Australian PGA last month, he seems like a pretty good bet to match Appleby's record and make it a three-peat.
But I've got a little inside info that was shared with just me -- and only some 58,000 other people.
Via his Twitter feed last week, Bubba Watson posted the following news:
Everyone there is a new course record at Estanica!!!! 60 is the new record.
It appears Watson was so ecstatic he spelled Estancia wrong, but that doesn't cheapen his course record at the Scottsdale-area track.
One day later, he followed with more news:
Everyone there is a new course record at Dessert Forrest!!!!! 62 new record!!
While a Dessert Forest sounds delicious (I have visions of apple pies, ice cream sundaes and fresh-baked chocolate-chip cookies hanging from the trees), it was Desert Forest where Bubba had his second record in as many days.
As long as he doesn't need to spell "Kapalua" in order to win, I like Bubba's chances of staying hot in Hawaii. On a long course that often calls for some severe carries, Watson should be able to use his prodigious length to his advantage.
I still like guys from Australia to play well at this one. But the pick here is a guy who's all U.S. of A.