As the new year unfolds in the golf world it’s always fun to ponder what events will take place (majors, Ryder Cup), which players will rise or fall (Spieth, McIlroy) and wait to see the unpredictable (Drop Gate, Dufnering).
On the front end 2014 lays out as well as an Alistair Mackenzie Sand Belt classic. It’s tough to beat the major championship venues; Augusta National, Pinehurst No. 2, Royal Liverpool and Valhalla – don’t forget the women playing their US Open on the No. 2 the week after the men. It’s a Ryder Cup year with Gleneagles hosting the matches in Scotland and none other than Tom Watson captaining the American side. A very interesting trio…no, wait, foursome…eh, I suppose it’s really a quintet of super-talented young players seem poised to either elevate themselves to the game’s elite or remind everyone that they never really left in the first place. None of the three first-time major champs from 2013 was a fluke and any or all of the three want to at least double his major total. Lastly, the two greatest players of this era seem as motivated as ever to add a green jacket, or silver trophy to their respective mantles. Now that I’m all geeked up and ready watch, here is part one of what I fully expect to happen in golf in 2014; which means it most certainly will not!
The venues are about as top-shelf as it gets in 2014 – perhaps topped only a year featuring both Pebble Beach and St. Andrews (which is not on the foreseeable calendar until perhaps 2030). Augusta needs no description. Pinehurst No. 2 is one of the ten best courses in the United States and has an incredible US Open legacy, albeit a brief one. Royal Liverpool boasts an impressive roll call of past Open Champions (Woods, DeVicenzo, Thomsen, Jones and Hagen, among others) and should feature another top-level winner. And when last we left Valhalla in Louisville, Paul Azinger was spraying champagne with his victorious US Ryder Cup squad. Let’s also not forget that both previous PGA Championships went to playoffs including the epic David-versus-Goliath showdown between Tiger Woods and Bob May in 2000.
Coming off of his Friday meltdown on the 15th hole that led to a [bleep]-storm no one could have predicted, I fully expect Tiger Woods to win his 5th green jacket. More than ever, he has unfinished business at Augusta National. It’s not a bridge to far to say Tiger had a great chance to hold on and win had his third shot stayed on the green and not ricocheted in the pond Friday afternoon last year. He’ll settle the score this spring.
No other golfer, ever, has more unfinished business at a particular event than does Phil Mickelson at the U.S. Open. Couple that with his loss to Payne Stewart in a down-the-stretch clash back in 1999 at Pinehurst No. 2, and Phil Mickelson is ready to win this championship. Having captured the Open Championship, which he admitted he never thought he’d win, and surely still feeling the sting of his 6th runner-up finish to Justin Rose last June, Phil seems as motivated as ever to lock up the one major that now evades him. And I fully expect that he will and spend his 44th birthday (the Monday after the final round) with the trophy.
Trivia time: Name the player who held a piece of the final round lead in each of the last two Open Championships…Adam Scott. The Aussie memorably had five fingers on the Claret Jug in 2012 before a bogey-fest coming in and a missed putt on the 72nd hole. He was also in the mix at Muirfield in 2013. I fully expect Scott (along with Steve Williams, caddy for Tiger Woods during Woods’ romping win there in 2006) to back up his Masters win by becoming the “Champion Golfer of the Year.”
There was no better comeback story in 2013 than Sweden’s Henrik Stenson. With prodigious ball striking and driving distance to spare (literally, he hits 3 wood just as often and just as far as his driver) Stenson went on a stellar run to close 2013 as the Fed Cup and Race to Dubai champion, the first man to do so. His skills will lead him to the PGA Championship. I fully expect that Stenson, similar to Scott at the Masters last year, will be the first male Swede to hold a major championship.
Wait a minute!
That sounds like it could be the most storybook year ever. Clearly this is not going to happen! No way at all.